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Jul. 27th, 2014

I've had a couple of new comments lately on Black Ships, so if you're just finding my work, welcome! Please feel free to ask questions or comment.

One reader said, "I was struck by how young all the main characters are. And yet they seem like adults!"

Modern society has a very different idea of where adulthood begins than most other peoples and times. At seventeen Gull is an adult through most of human history. It's only our society that would say she's a child or unable to be fully responsible. And that's our expectation -- we give far less responsibility and trust to young people than most societies have -- far less than most young people are capable of. For example, we would never expect a twelve or thirteen year old to be an apprentice, running a shop or making things that people use or seriously learning a craft. And yet in most of human history twelve and thirteen year olds have been doing these things. It's not that they're intrinsically incapable -- but that modern society has not prepared them for it.

Neas, at twenty four, is a leader of his people and again in most societies a man twenty four is a husband and a father. We say he's barely out of college and too young to have "found himself." Xandros at twenty is a captain and already widowed. We'd say he was too young to drink. Gull, having her son at eighteen, is perfectly normal for her society rather than a "teen mother."

I think one of the big disconnects in our society is the frustration that comes from infantalizing young adults instead of expecting them to step up to maturity. They have the exact same potential as young adults have had throughout human history, and yet they're relegated to the nursery. They're not supposed to be working, making, and doing. They're not supposed to have relationships, form families, have children. And so I think there's this enormous frustration that comes out in unhelpful ways because they aren't actually allowed to do the things that they would normally do in most human cultures and times. I think that's often the root of destructive behavior -- the inability to do anything actually meaningful. In fact, the very term "young adult" is a problem. How about just "adult?" How about not putting an eighteen year old in a sandbox? How about having the expectation that an eighteen year old is perfectly capable of adult interaction and responsibility? We know that most are, as most eighteen year olds have been throughout human history. I hope that Black Ships illustrates that.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 27th, 2014 04:00 pm (UTC)
That's something I found remarkably refreshing about Black Ships, because yes, that's the way it was in those days.

While I don't necessarily think that modern adults should be wedding and birthing as young as the folk from Black Ships, I think it's a sorrowful thing that we don't expect more maturity from young adults.
Jul. 31st, 2014 12:24 pm (UTC)
I think it creates a problem to expect people to be younger than they are. For example, how much effort is spent trying to get teenagers not to have sex? Every natural biological impulse tells sixteen year olds that they're ready while society tries to prevent them. And so we pathologize things that are perfectly natural, and that would have simply been part of growing up in other societies. As the mother of a pre-teen, I feel like there's an enormous amount of energy spent telling especially our daughters that they shouldn't want what they want, or that they're bad or "sluts" if they're interested in sex.
Jul. 31st, 2014 07:35 pm (UTC)
I agree. I grew up in a very sex-positive household, and I was never shamed for wanting to have sex or for having it. My mother's attitude was "Be safe, only do what you want to do, and if you get into trouble, come to me and I'll do whatever I can to help you." The scene in which Gull discusses Tia's pregnancy with her, and how it should not shame but empower her, reminded me very much of that.

Have you read "The Purity Myth" by Jessica Valenti? Amazing book about that very topic. I'd like it to be required reading for all adolescents, regardless of gender identity. You and the youngun should check it out!
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 27th, 2014 06:14 pm (UTC)
Agreed. That's another thing I liked about Black Ships, as well as Hand of Isis - elders were valued and respected, not shut away and forgotten.
Jul. 31st, 2014 12:26 pm (UTC)
That's a good point. We don't respect age as many societies do. And anyone who doesn't appear eternally youthful is blamed for it. "Why doesn't she take care of herself?" My mother gets this for using a cane. My mother is 88.
Jul. 28th, 2014 02:34 pm (UTC)
Yup, exactly this, as we've talked about before. Peter Pan syndrome is never a good thing in real life.
Jul. 31st, 2014 12:27 pm (UTC)
Yep. And I think a lot of kids desperately want to grow up but are being held back.
Jul. 28th, 2014 07:57 pm (UTC)
I have a theory that this has to do with the shrinking employment opportunities that our economy is able to provide. When manual labor was a much more intensive part of our lives, there was enough work that children as well as adults were necessary to keep homes, farms, and businesses running.

Nowadays, at least in the developed world, we just don't need that much labor. A lot of jobs that do need doing require very minimal knowledge or skills, but they have come to require first high school diplomas, then college degrees, now master's degrees and certifications. When the job supply contracts, job criteria rise and potential employees stay in school longer because the available job options are less attractive. And that in turn means that we are considered in-training for longer and longer segments of our lives.

Thus we've created the concepts of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood in turn over the decades since the Industrial Revolution, with less and less involvement in the economy, less and less independence, and less and less maturity at every level.

None of which negates anything you've said above, just adding that it's not simply indulgence that is driving this phenomenon.
Jul. 31st, 2014 03:16 am (UTC)
Interesting thought. And the fact that now people can't afford to retire must be making the whole thing worse, since the workforce doesn't really reliably drop off again -- I know hardly anyone who is no longer working at 60-65, for example.
Jul. 31st, 2014 12:31 pm (UTC)
It is, especially as the big hamster through the snake that is the Millennials comes of age. You're at the front end, so most of the hamster is still behind (ok, gross metaphor) but you're being followed by a horde of unemployed kids who outnumber the Baby Boom. And they're all going to need jobs in the next five to ten years.
Jul. 31st, 2014 12:41 pm (UTC)
Love the visual, thanks.

This is why I really need to cement myself into, if not a job, then a clear niche: because if I don't manage it soon, I am never, ever going to be functionally employed. You read that article a while back about the effect unemployment sustained for more than a few months has for the rest of a worker's life.

What a mess.
Jul. 31st, 2014 12:29 pm (UTC)
Good point! I read a really fascinating article some months ago about how student loans are a way of keeping people in school and thus out of the workforce for a number of years. Requiring degrees of various sorts for jobs that don't really need them means that you can keep young people safely occupied and not officially unemployed. And not competing with older workers.

The problem, as the author concluded, was that eventually they have to get jobs and do so with an enormous debt burden.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )