High school in the American consciousness

Dear son,

Americans like to believe that people grow up right after high school and to me this is proof that they're childish.  There's no reason to believe that a diploma means a change in behavior or that high school, a process involving almost zero dedication or danger beyond football and breakups, will force you to make any serious decisions.  The hormones you began it with are there when you leave.  A senior is really no smarter than a sophomore.  To expect adults by the end is an exercise in fantasy.  We expect high school to be over only because the high schoolers have left the building.

In truth the only thing that makes you into a man is fear and we've taken the fear out of schooling.  Our leftism is an attempt to take it out of the general consciousness.  A sober look at the world (which most teachers refuse to give high schoolers) will yield the fact that almost the whole universe is against you and that you're struggling to survive in a world where you don't own enough property to feed yourself and are unlikely to be born into a business and where you have no chance at physically fighting the government.  The fear of suffering and death and the respect of what saves us from them is something you learn after high school when you begin fighting for a family and start reading the news -- probably too little, and probably too late.  Until then life is a game, work doesn't hurt, and the women are in better shape.  Checks and balances in government are as irrelevant as balancing a checkbook.

The process of maturity comes through a grueling gauntlet of trial and error in a world where other people have built things and need you to maintain them and are terrified of you ruining them.  There's no chance of "making it" on your own and so we view all maturity as relational.  These businesses we enter, many times handed down from generation to generation, each have their own cultures and are run by their own tyrants. They're the accumulation of centuries of the experience of survival, of hard-won livelihoods carved out of the ground by centuries of conflict and innovation*.  They're the difference between life and death and we enter them as "jobs" and we complain about them as a nuisance as though we could have made them and the only thing stopping us was our poverty.

Our adaptation to this system of production and the building of our families, a pursuit of happiness in resources and reproduction, is what eventually makes you a man, and then only if you're smart and tough enough to make yourself one.  All other ideas about growing up or reaching sainthood or becoming perfect are a joke and a lie.  You adapt to your environment or you don't; and the people who do it best are thought the most mature -- or to put it a more honest way, a man who follows the law and does well in business and runs a happy family is well-adjusted.  Youth is said to be an age but it really means you haven't adapted yet.  Old people are too old because the system they adapted to is either passing or has already passed away and they're unwilling to move along with it.  You're either good for what you and your family and your country need or you aren't.  The end of high school is when you start finding out what you're good for and what you have to improve**.  It has little to do with whether you're any good.

A wise person is never surprised about the immaturity of high-school passing into adult life.  All you need to know about the rest of your life, the kinds of people you're going to meet, the bullies, the jocks, the nerds, the stoners, the popular kids; the heroes and slackers and good girls and sluts, is acted out in a crammed work environment where cliques form according to races and interests; where shame and honor prove losers and winners; where romance is dirty and hearts will get broken; where some strive to stand out and most to fit in; where authority gives reasons and you're expected to follow them; where credits from an authority are a pretense to a mind; where group projects prove who works best and all others are layabouts; where beauty rules all and where ugliness needs skills; where promises are broken, where truth-telling is inconvenient, where slights are taken seriously and serious things are taken lightly; where stupid things are believed simply because others believe in them and where believing in them is necessary to your advancement.  All of this before we go into business or government.  All of this before we begin our families or go to college or pick our own church.  Our nature in its infancy is our nature in old age.  We are many of us the same idiots we knew when we were children.  The difference is that some of us have learned how to work with it, and others are busy complaining about a continuance of "high school" at the workplace.


*Just a cursory look around your house will tell you what I'm saying above.  Every product that you see, from the toys on the shelf to the soap on your sink, is the product of a man who was fighting for his family.  In many cases it's the product of several companies and thousands of men fighting for thousands of families; and the companies have been in existence for decades; and the companies they fought and put out of business are living in the innovations to the products we're building on today.

When I look around my house I see a collision of genius and hard work and organization beyond anything I could ever dream up myself, and it leads me to think two things.  First, that I'm grateful to be where I am when I am; and second, that I'm deeply dependent on a system that I didn't create and couldn't create but I have to defend with my life.  Your toys say this to me when I pick them up and hand them to you.  I have no choice but to be reverent.  An anti-capitalist, to me, is nearly the worst kind of heretic.

**I fully believe that everyone can be good for something.  As such my advice is that a person should be as complete in as many areas as possible, but if you can't be gorgeous, be brilliant; if you can't be brilliant, be handy; if you can't be handy, be pleasant; if you can't be pleasant, then hang yourself.