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?