Epistemic Status: Personal
I haven’t written a lot of personal stuff here recently, because I’ve been doing a lot more private contemplation, and been busy with life things. (Nonprofit and baby, among other things.) But I thought I might want to put out some thoughts about what growing in maturity means to me and what I’ve come to believe — since I still believe firmly in the blogging medium and the practice of transparency.
There’s a transition that a lot of people go through as they get older, that has to do with “practicality” or “prudence.” They no longer want to do things that will predictably fail. They are no longer as willing to deal with people who will predictably fail at life. They are no longer as interested in ideas that can’t stand up to practical tests.
I’ve noticed more of this spirit in myself as I get older, but I’ve always been somewhat ambivalent about it. I like interestingness. I want to avoid the natural tendency to stop exploring as I age. Meeting new people, learning new things, having new experiences, expanding my boundaries, are still important to me.
On the other hand, I’ve really enjoyed becoming more adept at the “practical” or “operational” side of things — schedules, housework, childcare, managing a small organization, etc. My identity up until now has been “talented mess” — so much so that I got an ADHD diagnosis quite by accident, and am now exploring the very different world of practicality and detail-orientation and organization. It’s strange. It’s very calm, and it’s a satisfying challenge to keep up with things and bring more order to different parts of my life, and it’s completely non-narrative. Life becomes a series of tasks, rather than a story. I’m continually marveling that this is how some people have been living all along.
Of course, the real reason for being more prudent in your thirties or as a parent is hard necessity. You have less energy, and more responsibilities, and so you have to be more cautious with resources and time. This isn’t something I really want to spin as a good thing — it’s scarcity, plain and simple.
You have to give up something, and the cheapest thing to give up is being a dumbass.
I want to have an “abundance mentality”, to be generous and spendthrift with my time and energy; but sometimes I come up against irreducible scarcity.
A friend advised me last year to “have an ego.” He meant it in Freud’s sense of the “rational self-interest” part of the psyche. An ego is an institution you build around yourself, like the Republic of Sarah, or Sarah Incorporated. Your household, your career, your reputation, your health, all these structures around yourself that you build and maintain and use to interface with the world.
So I did that.
I do a lot of adjusting and updating on these structures; in a sense that’s most of what I do all day long. Taking care of my work, my family and household, my physical body, etc. Like a hermit crab, the little soft emotional creature that is me is hidden within all this prudence and structure. I notice it works better. I notice people like it better. But I’m a little melancholy about it.
One value I still hold very firmly is something I call “humanism”, or being “pro-human” or believing in the worth of the human spirit. I don’t think that has to go away with age.
The whole human mind, which is a general intelligence, which can learn anything and create anything, is a beautiful thing and not to be destroyed.
This is in contrast to some people who become traditionalists or authoritarians when they hit the age where they realize they need prudence. The temptation is to believe “people just need to be kept under tight enough control that they can’t do dumb shit, because the consequences of doing dumb shit are tragic.”
The thing is, I don’t think that controlling people actually is a feasible way to prevent tragedy.
A child prevented from making mistakes isn’t a perfect child, but an underdeveloped child.
If you manage to control someone’s behavior well enough to “keep them out of trouble”, there’s a good chance you’ve damaged their ability to problem-solve, and — I don’t know how to say this any other way — injured the sacred thing that makes them human.
People who say “autonomy is a figment, some people need to be controlled for their own good” are sometimes the same people who do actually really bad things to human beings, by dehumanizing them.
As I get less easily susceptible to opinions I hear, and more interested in the boring-but-true over the hot take, I become more humanist, not less so. It’s not naive. It’s actually looking at what people are, and noticing that they are a lot more complex and able than cynics give them credit for, that “people aren’t all that special” or “some people aren’t really people” is a brute’s excuse.
You can totally be a mature person, or a parent, and still believe in humanism and autonomy. People have been doing it for hundreds of years.