Are you living, or living well….REALLY???

st louis

~ Yesterday at coffee a father and mother were lamenting to me their frustration regarding their 14 year old daughter,

“She openly rebels against us!” said the father

“She simply won’t listen, she is constantly pushing the envelope to see how far we will bend” said the mother

Conflict between parents and young adults seems to be one of the most consistent phenomena over the past 100 years. If you’ve read anything by authors who wrote more than 100 years ago like H.L. Mencken or Sinclair Lewis you’ll quickly realize that the tensions between parents and young adults is not something that occurred recently, but rather, it’s been going on since at least the 1910’s.

The 1920’s saw a massive sexual revolution among young adults (thanks to the invention of the automobile, young adults had a more convenient place to have sex away from the prying eyes of their parents) which was quelled a bit by the Great Depression and WWII, but by the 1950’s, teenage “rebellion” popped up again (the play “Grease” typifies the “rebellion” of the 1950’s) and then, I’m sure you don’t even need me to remind you about the 1960’s.

But what do we really mean by teenage rebellion?

Classical philosophers (such as myself) would argue that teenage rebellion never existed in the pre-modern world, or at least it didn’t exist as a major issue within culture. The reality of the situation is that teenage rebellion as we know it in our day and age is something of a modern invention.

From a psychological perspective, part of the problem is that modern Western Culture does not offer young adults a clear break from childhood. In past societies, there would come a definite moment in a young person’s life when the community regarded them as an adult. Yet in our day and age, a young adult can go to college, get married, or even have children, and yet their parents still look down at them.

From a philosophical perspective, the main problem is that our culture has replaced objective truth with relativism. We call the phenomena post-modernism. You see, in post-modernism, there is no absolute truth and very little connection to basic common sense. People believe what they believe….because…well, because they believe it, and not because their beliefs are wrapped up in eternal objective truth.

Consider for instance this conversation which occurs every day throughout the Western World;

Parent: “You have to go to college”

Child: “Why?”

Parent; “Because studies show that people who go to college will earn more money in their career”

Child”; “Why is it important that I earn more money?”

Parent; “Because studies show that people who earn more money are more financially secure in life”

Child: “Why do I need to be more financially secure?”

Parent; “Because you can’t have a family and live your life if you aren’t financially secure”

Child: “Why can’t I just live a simple life and hang out with my friends and have community?”

Parent: “Stop being a blockhead and go to college!”

Well, maybe the parent doesn’t make the last statement, but do you get the point I’m trying to make? In the Western World we’ve created a new way of life in which we tell young adults what they have to do……but how many of us are asking whether this way of life that we’ve created is the best way to live?

You see, modern professors, educators, and scientists are only concerned with people living comfortably…..but classical philosophers understood that there was a distinction between living and living well.

One of the things I’ve pointed out in my writings over the past three years is that in many third world countries, people do not have as many mental disorders and chemical addictions……sure, they do not have all of the technologies and creature comforts we have in the Industrialized Western World……but while we are just living; they are living well.

In the industrialized Western World we are plagued with people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, and a whole host of mental disorders that are simply too long for me to list. So should we really be thinking that we are a “better” society than other cultures?

This brings me back to teenage rebellion, a phenomena that simply didn’t exist before the industrialized Western World led to it’s creation. Do you see the connection? As our society departed from traditional ways of thinking and adopted post-modern ways of thinking; we suddenly created a brave new world where common sense has simply been turned upside down.

This past week I mentioned that the reason I wrote my novel is because I was trying explain something to a friend; I was trying to give him a better way of understanding how technology has changed the way we think and the way we live.

If we don’t start questioning how smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, television, and other modern forms of technology are changing and have changed the way we think and live, then I fear we will wake up one day having built a society that we will truly regret.

Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee,


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Categories: Culture & Society

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18 replies

  1. This brings me back to teenage rebellion, a phenomena that simply didn’t exist before the industrialized Western World led to it’s creation.

    That’s an interesting thesis but hardly a compelling conclusion. Wasn’t Socrates convicted of ‘corrupting the youth’ of Athens and ‘impiety’?

    People seem determined to assume teenage rebellion as a social problem than what the evidence suggests it is: a biological step (leaning heavily on emotional separation) necessary for parent/child physical separation. I think Genesis has something to demonstrate about reaching a point where the rules will not be followed by fiat and the consequences of asserting one’s self.

    • Perhaps you put the book down after you read they sentenced Socrates to death and he drank the poison….because the next chapter of history involves the Athenians realizing they had been entirely wrong.

      Plato is not commenting at all about the modern convention of “teenage rebellion” (as outlined by materialists in the 20th century) because such a thing did not exist in Plato’s era; the narrative has everything to do with promoting socratic dialogue

  2. Good points. One thing that really shifted was tradition, the things kids could put their faith in. We redefined marriage, the structure of the family, culture, values, and really left kids free falling through the universe, seeking something to hang onto. That is what rebellion really is all about, testing the edges of your world so you can try to define it and understand how it works.

    Something you didn’t mention is the degree of comfort, ease, the entire notion of childhood actually, that we have created in the last century. There are some drawbacks, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that rebellious kids aren’t digging through garbage dumps focused on trying to get enough to eat and sheer survival. Free time, safety, the opportunity to rebel, are actually the conditions produced by an affluent society.

    • comfort is a big part of; our entire society is aimed at designing a life based around comfort, but nobody seems to be asking if that is a good philosophy with which to start

  3. The only time we will be living well, will be that time when we have recognized the three main cons that society has laid upon us . . . finances/religion/warfare . . . and have searched for and found the open road leading us back to our purpose for being here in the first place.

    Until then we will always be, whether rich or poor, strong or weak, just living in the shadows of our parents.

    • warfare is the one that gets to me, because especially here in the U.S., Americans refuse to vote for a third a party candidate who opposes warfare, even though personally americans say they are against war.

    • When are we going to learn that we are NOT defending our country and our way of life! . . . We are defending the profiteers and THEIR way of life! We need to learn to just say . . . NO!

  4. How does a dependent child become an autonomous adult? This is the right question for parents to deeply consider and then facilitate the process. If this is done well, no rebellion is necessary. If this is not done well then rebellion is to be expected (in the form of heightened sensitivity, emotional upheavals, and ongoing friction over what will become trivial differences).

    You keep claiming that teen rebellion is a product of modernity and state as if true because such a thing did not exist in Plato’s era. That’s a very strange conclusion to reach when history – including as well as prior to Plato’s time – is filled with tales of rebellious children. You make it sound as if everyone is one day a child and then – POOF! – the next an autonomous and responsible adult… right up until the last hundred or so years. This is quite a ‘conclusion’ when there is little supporting evidence in its favour and a mountain of evidence against it!

    Look, ask yourself if it is reasonable to expect children to navigate their way into adulthood and accept the responsibility that comes with it without significant challenges to the parents of that child along the way, much of which is approached by the child from the child’s basis – the very perspective about to undergo a rather radical reformation in a relatively short time? To assume rebellion against the parent’s rules and regulations and control – all very typical parenting of times past and still widely used today – is only a relatively modern expression is an incredible assumption when cultures around the world are filled with stories of rebellious teens trying to find their way into adulthood and coming into conflict not just with parents but their social institutions and laws as well… stories passed on from one generation to the next (indicating that maybe, just maybe, such stories had a waiting audience because it was a common problem and not, as you insist, a recent one). If this were a modern invention, then why does the bible, for example, explicitly tell children not to be rebellious but rather honor their father and their mother or pay the ultimate price if disobedient? If such disobedience we call rebellion were unheard of, then you face a very difficult problem to your assumption that it didn’t exist until recent times. So either all these cultures filled with stories about becoming an adult and overcoming all the challenges to the authority of others along the way is inexplicable, or your thesis is wrong.

    Teaching children how to live well has to include direction, ongoing guidance, and the incremental transfer of power to become an autonomous and responsible, happy and healthy and well adjusted individual in society. Understanding that what rebellion represents is a natural biological imperative for separation from the parental units is the first step in preparing to avoid as much of its unpleasantness as possible! The tighter the parental control, the greater the rebellion needed to overcome it. And this is not a modern problem but one as old as humanity itself.

  5. It’s kind of amazing…I wonder how this period of time will be looked back on by school books, philosophers, etc., once we’ve “outgrown” this so called rebellion and issues with technology. Different eras have always brought about a certain culture with it – Victorian, the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, and what not. Some “technology” was thrown in to make changes and we’ve adapted. You say that teen rebellion is only modern and that may be true but during certain time frames, they weren’t “teens” – they were already married and popping out kids – who had time to rebel? Life expectancies were much shorter so yeah by the time you were a teen you were almost “middle aged” (maybe a lil’ exaggerated but you get my point). I think that you’re right in that once life expectancy changed, our expectations of what a teen can or can’t do changed because life as a whole had changed. There was no longer a need to pop out kids at such a young age and make ends meet by everyone living on a farm, if you will, and what not. There are much more options. That said, I do agree that technology is changing us and certainly not all for the better, but I do wonder how much of this is simply a “growing pain” and how much of it is permanent damage. Just some thoughts.

    • Jen, everything you said is spot on.

      As far as technology and growing pains, im afraid the next wave of technology is only going to continue removing us from being close to the earth, eventually we will be surrounded with so much technology we will have entirely lost our connection to where we came from

    • LOL maybe but then again maybe not; I sure as hell hope not anyway! It could be that eventually this stuff evens out and we develop some genuine social norms that include ethics and what not – at least that’s what I’m hoping for…it remains to be seen.

  6. “You harvest what you plant, whether good or bad” in most cases. Teenagers lifestyle has changed gradually for decades and they have reached the limit an increasingly competitive, moderate and accelerated world.

  7. “One of the things I’ve pointed out in my writings over the past three years is that in many third world countries, people do not have as many mental disorders and chemical addictions”

    I would argue that they do, we just don’t hear about it. In many other cultures, mental illness is still a taboo – it is not something they discuss openly or raise awareness about. Have you seen VICE’s segment on India’s Mental Health Crisis? ( )

    As for addiction, I think a lot of the issue is how various substances are viewed across cultures. We make a big deal about not using a great many substances in the US where in other parts of the world those same substances we wage war on are accepted as just part of life. Even within just the Western World, look at the way Italy handles alcohol – it is part of their every day life and culture. The way they view and drink alcohol is very different and they have far fewer cases where the use of alcohol becomes problematic.

    • Your example of Italy is exactly what i’m getting at; the main problem regarding mental disorders and chemical additions is related to the way we live; it has less to do with biological problems, and more to do with cultural problems.

  8. Ho Ho Ho!! I am going through teenage rebellion. I was told, however, that this is the time when teens start to explore and firm up their personalities.
    It is a tough period for the teens and the parents

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