Becoming Socialized

My sister and I had a long conversation yesterday about becoming socialized as a result of my answer to one of the questions on the political compass test Steve linked to. The question asked how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statement: “Making peace with the establishment is an important aspect of maturity.” I clicked “agree.”

I’m sure that years ago I would have thought giving the establishment the bird was a good thing. When common sense fails, however, experience often steps in and teaches the same lesson differently. My siblings and I have always had a strong bent towards individualistic behavior which has been a blessing and a curse. Among ourselves we are famously fractious despite dozens of family home evenings about unity. Not having much regard for what other people think about you, and not thinking too much about other people causes problems in other spheres as well–some of us are over-educated and underemployed at least in part because academia tolerates a higher standard of deviation from social niceties more than the professions.

Most people never wage war against the establishment anyway, but are rather simply intransigent in the face of it. I suppose it is a form of disobedience that most youths pass through, although my own youth lasted well into my twenties. Of course the so-called establishment is not some monolithic thing that seeks to crush youthful ideals–in my life it came in various distinct forms familiar to most people–schools, church, the work place. The common thread seems to be a discomfort with authority. My wife informs me that I haven’t exorcized this demon yet, but my more rational self tells me that great governments, churches and corporations work because people find ways to voluntarily repress at least some of their individual wants and engage in a communitarian enterprises. Having a stake in the system, as writers on Middle-East politics constantly remind us, also helps. Where you find your stake is still individual. I went to law school because the job I had before that didn’t give me the kind of stake I wanted–more prestige and money. I liked the job itself well enough–I taught high school.


  1. Ah, the epic battle – young me versus old me. I’m not sure which me my family would rout for.

  2. As long as the subject is liberalism, your post made me think of Ben Folds’ song to the current liberal establishment. “Once you wanted revolution, now you’re the institution, how’s it feel to be the man, it’s no fun to be the man.”

    Myself, I’ve always thought the “establishment” is kind of a self-styled rebel’s straw man. So, to the extent it’s a sign of maturity to make peace with a straw man, yes, I’d say your observation are about right on.

  3. I clicked “agree” on that question, too.

    And I protested Reagan and nukes in high school. Oh, man, if my punk rock friends could see me now… wait, I did see one… at a Republican fundraiser!!!!

  4. I don’t know that it’s really a straw man, but I can see what you’re talking about. Maybe as we get older the perceived differences between our ‘individuality’ and mainstream convention become less important.

    But I’ve got to admit, if my younger self could see where I am now & what I do for a living, young-me probably would shoot future-me. I always thought I’d have a much cooler job. In fact, I still hold out that hope. Like Mat I haven’t exorcized that demon yet, I guess.

    Marcus, do you really think the establishment is such a straw man?

  5. I’m still in college. That basically means that “old me” is still fabulously wealthy, has perfect kids, and has an unbelievably fulfilling job changing the world for the better. I imagine that the closer in age I get to “old me”, the more he’ll seem, you know, like just me.

  6. Marcus,

    Why is the establishment just a straw man? Depending on your definition, I can see plenty of things that are wrong with it and that I would like to change. But I think you are probably referring to the stereotype of the angry youth who is demanding a place in society through what are often childish acts of rebellion. The left has been associated with this for a long time, but as many of their views have become increasingly mainstream, the same phenonmenon can be seen on the right. I perceive affirmative action bake sales as less of an attempt to engage people in thinking about a timely topic and more about sticking it to the man–but the Man (in this case composed of not just white men, but also many (but obviously not all) minorities and women). It’s the same sort of obnoxious behavior that gays and other marganalized groups long ago mastered (think queer parades in the seventies–I think they are too mainstream now, more of a carnival than a coming out).


  7. Mat,
    By saying “depending on your definition” you’re making my point. Ain’t no “establishment” out there. It has to be defined by the person that’s railing against it. Those who characterize their cause as a struggle against “the establishment” are creating a straw man. They’re setting up their own opposition (on their own terms) and taking their cause to others against that opposition.

    Creating a straw man is a not entirely useless debate technique. But it’s a fallacy, and it’s foolish to think you’re creating reality there. Not to get all Truth and Method on you (or pick your own good postmodern text) but to the extent there is a reality, it’s certainly not solipsistic.

    So, that’s my point, it’s a sign of maturity to make peace with any establishment because it’s maturity to realize that a struggle for change involves worldviews other than one’s own, and involves a complexity that cannot be captured by characterizing the struggle as simply contra-“est

  8. That last word should have read contra-“establishment.”

    In your examples, you sleight the affirmative action bakers. Fine, it’s a silly stunt. But it’s more of a reductio ad absurdum than a straw man. In other words, the bakers aren’t setting up their own reality as much as trying to point the internal inconsistencies of a policy that’s already there.

    But I don’t want to quibble too much over whether baking affirmative action goodies is a legitimate syllogism as opposed to a fallacy, so I’ll give you the motivation might be the desire to stick it to the man. Fine, they’ll grow up. I think Justice O’Connor set a 25 year track, so they’ll be a mature 45-ish. Yeah, O’Connor was just giving everyone time to grow up.

  9. These comments are starting to remind me of the old “cavemen vs. astronauts” debate. Cavemen win, btw.

    Brayden, I think ultimately new me would win vs. old me. All that money, a wife, etc. That’s hard to compete with. When I was a kid (or even in college!) I didn’t have any money and thought I’d be alone for a long, long time. That being said, I golfed all day and had fun all the time. Tough call.