Maturity and making peace with the establishment

I recently took the Political Compass test. I rather predictably ended up in the bottom left (the anarchist corner), though I do not think it is a brilliant measure of where a person lies politically–some of the questions were worded poorly, and I think more than two dimensions are required to measure political leanings and… That is essentially beside the point. This post is about one of the questions on the test:

“Making peace with the establishment is an important aspect of maturity.”

I have heard this line before. I have heard it from trolls. I have heard it from friends. It is nigh-on memetic. Grow the fuck up and accept the system.

I vehemently disagree. To unpick this statement, let us turn to the work of Jean Piaget, a hugely influential developmental psychologist. Piaget’s research focused on how children learned, and how they mature cognitively. Through observation and experimenting with teaching, he identified key cognitive milestones which children pass as they mature.

According to Piaget, children are natural, curious “mini-scientists”. As they grow older, they develop and refine the ability to develop and test hypotheses, building an understanding of how the world works. Maturity is dynamic, as conceptualised here: a constant quest of questioning everything. Making peace with the establishment is the opposite of this: making peace with the establishment is to take a step back from logical experimentation and exploration.

Acceptance of the establishment also requires the belief that everyone thinks the same way: that the established set of default options is what is generally accepted as correct and that anyone who believes otherwise is somehow strange. The belief that everyone thinks in the same way as you is known as egocentrism. According to Piaget, one should grow out of this belief by the age of seven.

Unswerving acquiescence has an ancient tradition. In is apparent in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 3 is basically St Paul bollocking the Corinthians for being immature and telling them to grow the fuck up and do what God tells them. A little later in the same book, the famous quote comes up:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Here, Paul is talking about settling down into a monogamous relationship and starting the traditional family favoured by the system.

For two thousand years, submission to the established order has been incentivised by dangling the carrot of maturity. When boiled down, it sounds like a schoolyard taunt. “If you don’t do as we say, you’re a baby“. It is the clique setting the rules, enforcing their law in any way they can. The law of the playground plays out on a large scale, and many of us buy it wholesale.

In a way, I was lucky to be so thoroughly unpopular at school that nothing I could do would gain social approval. I grew immune to such disdain and therefore had the means to allow myself to flourish. I read, I tried on identities. I experimented with views and beliefs. I learned all I could. And I came to the conclusion that something was not right in the world, and I fight what I, through Piaget’s top level of reasoning, concluded was correct. I accept I may be wrong, and presented with good evidence can be swayed.

I arrived where I am through thought. Surely this is more mature than blind acceptance?


13 thoughts on “Maturity and making peace with the establishment”

  1. “I grew immune to such disdain and therefore had the means to allow myself to flourish. I read, I tried on identities. I experimented with views and beliefs. I learned all I could. ”

    If only school, and the education system encouraged this, if only…

  2. “If only school, and the education system encouraged this, if only…”

    It sounds like I had similar experiences, with similar results. (As did my mother in her day, now I come to think of it.) So perhaps it does, in a way.

  3. I was actually pretty popular at school, in part because my mum was the most popular teacher there, but I still always had a feeling of not fitting in despite being ‘accepted’ by my peers.

    Now I’m 31, and have increasingly little in common with any of the people I went to school with. In fact, I routinely get old friends on Facebook – who have nice houses and cars and loads of other shit they can’t understand why I don’t want – asking me why I’m so angry, or miserable, or depressed.

    They don’t get that you can be happy (I’ve never been happier) and still aware of and concerned about shit things in the world.

    One said to me the other day, and I quote,

    “I couldn’t give a toss what Murdoch gets upto as long as it doesn’t involve me. Look after number one mate and stop worrying about all the cunts in the world”

    I deleted him.

    My parents were asked to stop sending me to Sunday school when I was 8 because I wouldn’t accept what they told me about Jesus and “asked too many questions”.

    I’m proud I haven’t changed!

  4. Political “maturity” is complacent and defeated subservience into uniformity. Though it should be noted the question referred to is deliberate phrased to position the person responding to it. One inclined to agree would likely be placed in the authoritarian paradigm.

  5. And on a personal level, I know very well of how the nature of the education system vilifies and suppresses free-thinking dissident. It can’t deal with minds seeking to function intellectually.

  6. I’ve always hated the glib assumption that bending the knee to the status quo was a mark of maturity – I think this in an excellent challenge to a complacent view.

    One’s politics and outlook does change as you get older though – a combination of more work shit to deal with, increasing family and financial commitments and, to be honest, getting fed up when every week yet another load of self-serving bullshit by an upper-middle-class murderer with a rosette is trotted out, explaining how war will deliver peace, enshrining governmental privilege to deprive you of liberty is safeguarding human rights or that increasing taxes for the poor will make a fairer society.

    Believe me, it gets to you. It really does. But the thing I’d argue is that while you rightly suggest that the opposite of this dismal ‘making peace’ is continuing to fight – that isn’t what happens to most of us. What happens is a third thing – that we just lose the will to fight. Being the citizen of an occupied country doesn’t make you a collaborator, any more than it makes you a partisan. Coercion, as we all know, does not equal consent. Getting beaten down and distracted from political struggle doesn’t mean we make peace with the status quo, it just means we have other shit that has become, over time, more important to our immediate lives.

    And this, the conformists claim, is maturity of age. My favourite quote from the late, great Abbie Hoffman “They say when you get old, you get wise. I tell you what you get; you get haemarroids.”

  7. With age, you acquire stuff. Poorer people can (and will) rebel against the establishment all their lives. Those who have money may rebel out of a “naive” sense of decency – hence “Trustafarians” and sixties hippies, who are/were generally upper-middle class in Marxist hermeneutics – but many never do, or “grow up”: i.e. they sacrifice the moral ideals taught by religious or secular institutions for the less complex and more profitable pragmatics of individualism or capitalism.

    We have, after all, been taught to look at life in terms of yes or no answers, true or false, Left or Right; and we are becoming more binarised in the digital age, with “Like” or “Dislike”, “Friend” or “Not Now”, 1 or 0. We come to adore simplicity over complexity, and immediate gratification over life-long searches.

    It is easier to believe what an abstracted majority asserts, rather than engage with issues personally. But it does not necessarily equate to “maturity”, rather to “intellectual laziness”, “fear”, or “self-interest”. By “maturity” logic, slaves should have embraced the slave trade. So should the abolitionists, who had nothing to gain from protest but a warm inner glow. Nothing good that has been created beyond barbarism and might-is-right was ever produced without questioning the establishment.

  8. It’s odd. Your classic coming of age story involves leaving the comfort and innocence of childhood, and coming to realise that life is hard and (sometimes) that you have to fight for your rights and what you believe in.

    This whole “grow up and get a job” trope seems to be the opposite: learn to stop fighting for what you believe in, become indifferent to hardships that aren’t your own, and crawl into a nice semi-detached womb in the suburbs.

  9. To me making peace with the establishment does not mean that we do not seek political reforms. To me it means that we must first make peace with the fact that the establishment is what it is before we seek to reform it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.