Friday, October 07, 2005

Adolescence, the Eternal Struggle, and Bear 4

By: Michael Akerman

**Crickets Chirp**

Well, time to break that silence. I was actually going to hold off on posting until I wrote the next installment of Bear, but the blog is so quiet and cold! So, hopefully the next installation will be soon.

Wait! I just remembered that I do have the next installment done. I thought I had already posted installment four, but I couldn't find it. That'll be at the end of the post.

The (Allegedly) Changing Face of Adolescence

A few weeks ago in sociology, we had to do a sociological journal entry consisting of our thoughts on one of the readings we covered (it's a nice little assignment, because it's essentially what I do for fun on this blog, except I have to punctuate it down to a page). I chose a reading that claimed that understanding a sociological viewpoint of recent times would allow teenagers and parents to understand and cope with the changing, and perhaps exacerbating, nature of teen-parent conflicts. I claimed that the basic premise of the reading was false, because the nature of teen-parent conflicts is not changing in any fundamental manner.

A fundamentally incorrect, yet widely prevalent, trend in social sciences is the assumption that the nature of basic social phenomena and relationships must be re-examined every few years. This is, bluntly, not necessary. Like the laws of physics, sociology merely stretches in almost all cases.

I would venture to claim that the last time a fundamental shift in adult-adolescent relations occurred was the Industrial Revolution, and I think that's on shaky grounds, but more on that later.

It's important to define the use of "adolescent." Adolescence should not be defined by a span of ages, except in the narrow sense of defining the current span of ages that adolescence occurs in. While the standard definition of adolescence is the span between puberty and maturity, this definition is sociologically useless. It is better to define a set of traits: an adolescent is an independently functional person who is not ready for full independence. This is most commonly coincidental to the years between puberty and adulthood, but is not necessarily so.

In the Industrial Revolution, child labor was outlawed, and work moved from farm to factory. This could be considered a paradigm shift, as prior to the Industrial Revolution teenagers were virtually mature, with years of labor under their belt, and a significant possibility of marriage before age 18. So what we call "adolescent" years were essentially adult.

The problem is these teens obviously don't meet the useful adolescent definition, as they were entirely capable of full, mature independent. The children who were working prior to the Industrial Revolution obviously do fit the useful definition: they were immature, yet independently functional.

To give other examples to discredit the age-based definition: what of the people of Venice, circa 15 c., where the girls were often married by age 12? What of the many cultures where the people are married sometimes by age 8 or 9? Can we call them adolescent, with all the connotations, and indeed, denotations, of immaturity when they have already moved away from their parents and taken all the household or farming/hunting tasks unto themselves? Obviously not.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, it is fair to say that adolescence commonly occurred at childhood ages, say between 8 and 14. After the Industrial Revolution, the ages merely stretched upward, moving to between about 13 and 18. So, it is evident that the Industrial Revolution was no fundamental shift in adolescence.

This trend in age stretching continues. Now, it is fair to say that adolescence lasts between 13 or 14 to the age of at least 19, although, realistically, it's probably 20 or 21. This is reasonable: average life spans have increased, and a long adolescence better prepares one for a successful adult life; since we can afford the extra years, why not take them? This trend is likely to continue: by the time the young readers of this are 60, we're entirely likely to be complaining that by the time we were 24 we were well into starting our careers.

The real question, then, is whether relations between adolescents and parents have become more strained. It is difficult to find hard evidence prior to the Industrial Revolution, as literacy was relatively low, especially in the then-adolescent years, and children were not to feud with their parents, so any feuding would have been kept tightly under wraps, lest the parents lose the respect of their peers.

There is some useful anecdotal (and popular) evidence. Consider To Kill a Mockingbird. Although the book is post-Industrial Revolution, the situation in the South was still largely agrarian. Even at Scout's young age, she argues with her father over matters of morals and socialization, over who she should be kind to, and over how she should generally lead her life. It is something that, to a large degree, is not seen in the modern day at that age.

One common claim is that rapidly advancing technology has widened the gap between adolescents and adults, as adolescents have an almost uncanny understanding of computers, and adults commonly don't. This is nothing more than an extension of an age-old phenomenon: adults, raised using the old tools, are reluctant to learn new ones. Adolescents, unfettered in this manner, tend to learn the new tools, and they appear to have a wide gap between themselves and their parents. It was, logically, the same way with the onset of the steam engine, the combine, and the automobile: parents may have used the tools, but their children, specifically their adolescent children, understood the tools.

It is also common to point to anecdotal evidence to support the claim that the nature of adolescence has changed. When elderly men comment on adolescents, it is nearly universally a form of reprimand. They claim that they would be punished, usually in the form of beating, for what today's adolescents do freely, and that they "would be working by that age." The punishment claim contains some truth, although it's akin to criticizing modern theaters because they're not segregated. That said, adolescents are punished, more often than not, for misbehavior, although it may not seem like it, as the conspicuous cases are the outliers. The punishments today do not generally include beating, but range from parental, or worse, peer disappointment to a good old-fashioned grounding.

So, it is illogical to claim that the fundamental nature of adolescent-peer relations has changed, as adolescence itself has not changed. It has merely stretched into older age groups, just as the years of reproductive viability have stretched into older age groups.

Good versus Evil

I've been pondering the question of good and evil since my philosophy professor discussed the so-called Problem of Evil. The idea is to disprove God as follows:

1. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
2. Since God is all these thing, he must have created the best universe possible.
3. Our universe contains evil, which is not good.
4. Our universe is not the best one possible.
5. Therefore, there is no God.

Granted, this doesn't come close to shaking my belief, because my belief isn't quite so simple. I'm sympathetic with, although not quite a believer in, the Deist view of God as the watchmaker: that is, the belief that God created a universe that runs on its own, with small nudges from Him to fix flaws. I view God as, essentially, a Sims player, and, frankly, universes without conflict are boring. I would not want to be the God running one.

Anyway, I have misgivings with the Problem of Evil hypothesis, and for a while I couldn't pinpoint why (I'm still not sure I can). I've got an intuitive twinge that the reasoning is incorrect, so I aim to explore why.

The first objection I raised was one of comparison: I claimed that for good to exist, there must be evil for comparison. My professor pointed out that I was constraining myself with a limitation of the universe we know. It is possible to conceive of a universe where the inhabitants can contemplate evil without ill-feeling and without ever committing evil. A second criticism to consider (this being raised by other, more famous minds) is that the best universe requires that free will exists, and free will begets evil. This is actually a fair criticism, but does not explain natural disasters, in which innocent lives are lost to nature itself.

It is important here to remind you of the constraints that must be forgotten in this essay. We must consider all possible universes, not just the peculiar constraints of ours. In the above example, disasters are a force that keeps nature in balance. However, one can conceive of a universe in which nature is balanced without killing people every few months.

My contemplations keep coming back to the basics of the comparison argument I raised. My intuitive sense (which is very good. It's why I'm good at physics) tells me that some part of it is correct. The task before me, then, is to manage to sort out what or to give up, whichever outcome comes first.

The most important thing to address, of course, is the retort to my criticism: the claim that a logical possibility is a universe that holds no evil, yet holds the concept of evil. I think the milllion-dollar question is whether that concept of evil is enough to make what should be considered a good act actually good.

Before I move on, defining good and evil is necessary. It is safe, and, indeed, necessary to assume the God would have the same concepts of good and evil as man, if we are to either say that this universe is not perfectly good, or that it is. Furthermore, it is evident that good and evil are on a continuum, rather than a simple binary relationship. For instance, helping an old lady cross a street is good; saving a child from a burning building is better. Hitler was more evil than that con artist down the street.

In a universe with no evil and no concept of evil, it is evident that nothing could be comparatively good. Everything would simply "be," as the continuum breaks down. One could claim that the least good acts would then become the low end of the continuum, but that would logically be the equivalent of evil, and so return us to how our universe currently is. So any argument requires at least a conception of evil to form the low end of the spectrum.

Evil acts are defined by their consequences. Consequences are defined by the emotions evoked. Thus, Katrina caused death, which caused sadness and loss. It is concluded that evil acts are identified because they cause "bad" emotions. So, a tree falling down is not evil (unless you're one of the odd environmentalists who see every dead tree as a personal blow to one's oxygen supply). A tree falling down on one's roof and damaging shingles is, although it's not very evil, assuming no one gets hurt.

It follows that the conception of evil is the conception of things that cause uncomfortable emotions. Without the uncomfortable emotions, they're just occurrences, like a random star going supernova versus our star going supernova. In the alternate universe we're considering, recall that there is no evil, yet one can conceptualize evil.

I hold that this is a logical impossibility. To conceptualize evil requires the conceptualization of uncomfortable emotions. To conceptualize uncomfortable emotions is, as emotions are simply mental concepts, is to experience them. There's no way to even imagine experiencing an emotion without experiencing the emotion on some level. Experiencing an uncomfortable emotion causes an uncomfortable emotion by definition, so considering uncomfortable emotions is evil. Thus, considering evil is evil. It follows that a universe cannot contain good without containing evil.

It is not difficult from here to conclude that our universe, designed by God, would be the one variety that contains the perfect balance of evil to make the "best" good.

I want to remind you that my personal beliefs do not hinge on this in any way, but I wanted to argue it because I felt the Problem of Evil conclusion incorrect.

And finally...

"The Bear of Wolf Creek": Installation 4

Installment 3

Installment 2

Installment 1

"Now that cub was a-bleatin' and hollerin', its leg all bloodied up in that trap. Now, Sue had used those traps afore, and she weren't no stranger to blood. She had et plenny o' critters that had found theirselves in her traps, but this time was diff'rent! She didn' know whether it was 'cause of the compass bear, or 'cause it weren't her trap, or jes because the cub were darned cute, but Big Sue strolled on up to that cub, and, pettin' its back, she pried that trap clean open.

"That cub was overjoyed, I'll tell you! He done near jumped outta that trap, busted leg and all, and ran over to his mama. Sue smiled as the likkle baby bear nuzzled up 'gainst his mama, and walked off, deciding to let the two alone.

"As Sue was headin' back to her camp, plannin' on grabbin' an early supper and fishin' in that crick she found, she started to hear suspicious noises. At first, they was jes some rustling sounds, but then they started gettin' louder. Eventually, she spun around with her knife out, rarin' to fight, an' found herself face-ta-face with the compass bear and her cub!

"Sue, having jes caught her knife mid-swing, done toppled right over, laughing as she landed on her back. As she giggled thar, the likkle bear and big bear plodded over and snuffled up against her face! Big Sue wiped her cheek, an', standin' up, looked at the bears. She says to herself, she says, "Sue, looks like you jes got yerself some new friends!"

"So, she brought the bears on back to her camp for dinner. She cooked up a nice rabbit stew, and let them bears partake jes the same as her. Once the bears had et their fill, and Sue had et 'bout the same amount as 'em, she walked back to the crick she found with her bear-friends. In just a few seconds, Sue had gotten herself a pole rigged up, and cast her line in the water.

"The bears looked confuddled, wonderin' what she was doin' with that string in the water, 'til up came a nice trout from that crick! Realizing what she was doin', those bears decided to help Sue out for the good meal. They walked themselves right into the creek, an' started swipin' at the fish with their paws. Sue was plenny careful to keep her hook away from the bears, an' she was soon wonderized to see a big pile of fish on the bank where the bears was workin'!

More to come in "Bear." Stay tuned. I should be able to post more often now that I've settled into my 18-hour class load.

~By my hand,
~Michael Akerman