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Utopia Talk / Politics / Infantilization of Western Culture
Fri Nov 20 12:12:26

Trigger warning: I don't know anything about theconversation.com and there is a a window dressing of social sciences woo woo hyperlinks, but this 2018 article does make a point about lots of things I'd considered separate problems characteristic of many parts of the political and social as stemming from a single cause, which wasn't an angle I'd really considered before.

E.g., the modern problem solving strategy of tattling to Twitter has bothered me for a while now. My thoughts on why weren't fully formed, so I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me. I was thinking about it in terms of how it exhibits a lack of personal agency, or an external locus of control, or something. the expectation that you just tell the world your problem and some adult (or the adult proxy, the Twitterverse) will solve it for you? While the analogy of tattling to the teacher had occurred to me, I hadn't considered that it was more than just a way to describe the thing I was complaining about.

The article nicely wraps up a lot of what bothers me about how people conduct themselves in 2020 though, beyond just tattling on Twitter. For instance, grown fucking adults who "stan" for this or "stan" for that like they are 14 year olds talking about their comic book collection.

Anyway, something for everyone to disagree with. Our resident Trump supporting "conservatives" and "libertarians" will write it off because it partly talks about how failing to just be god damned adults enables authoritarianism, libtards can take offense because it bags on victimhood and "therapy culture" (and everybody knows the famous Bush adage, "if you're not with us, you are a SJW social media influencer").


The infantilization of Western culture
August 1, 2018 6.39am EDT
Simon Gottschalk, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

If you regularly watch TV, you’ve probably seen a cartoon bear pitching you toilet paper, a gecko with a British accent selling you auto insurance and a bunny in sunglasses promoting batteries.

This has always struck me as a bit odd. Sure, it makes sense to use cartoon characters to sell products to kids – a phenomenon that’s been well-documented.

But why are advertisers using the same techniques on adults?

To me, it’s just one symptom of a broader trend of infantilization in Western culture. It began before the advent of smartphones and social media. But, as I argue in my book “The Terminal Self,” our everyday interactions with these computer technologies have accelerated and normalized our culture’s infantile tendencies.


Society-wide arrested development

The dictionary defines infantilizing as treating someone “as a child or in a way that denies their maturity in age or experience.”

What’s considered age-appropriate or mature is obviously quite relative. But most societies and cultures will deem behaviors appropriate for some stages of life, but not others.

As the Bible puts it in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “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 childish ways behind me.”

Some psychologists will be quick to note that not everyone puts their “childish ways” behind them. You can become fixated at a particular stage of development and fail to reach an age-appropriate level of maturity. When facing unmanageable stress or trauma, you can even regress to a previous stage of development. And psychologist Abraham Maslow has suggested that spontaneous childlike behaviors in adults aren’t inherently problematic.

But some cultural practices today routinely infantilize large swaths of the population.

We see it in our everyday speech, when we refer to grown women as “girls”; in how we treat senior citizens, when we place them in adult care centers where they’re forced to surrender their autonomy and privacy; and in the way school personnel and parents treat teenagers, refusing to acknowledge their intelligence and need for autonomy, restricting their freedom, and limiting their ability to enter the workforce.

Can entire societies succumb to infantilization?

Frankfurt School scholars such as Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm and other critical theorists suggest that – like individuals – a society can also suffer from arrested development.

In their view, adults’ failure to reach emotional, social or cognitive maturity is not due to individual shortcomings.

Rather, it is socially engineered.


A return to innocence

Visiting America in 1946, French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss commented on the endearingly infantile traits of American culture. He especially noted adults’ childish adulation of baseball, their passionate approach to toy-like cars and the amount of time they invested in hobbies.

As contemporary scholars note, however, this “infantilist ethos” has become less charming – and more pervasive.

Researchers on both sides of the Atlantic have observed how this ethos has now crept into a vast range of social spheres.

In many workplaces, managers can now electronically monitor their employees, many of whom work in open spaces with little personal privacy. As sociologist Gary T. Marx observed, it creates a situation in which workers feel that managers expect them “to behave irresponsibly, to take advantage, and to screw up unless they remove all temptation, prevent them from doing so or trick or force them to do otherwise.”

Much has been written about higher education’s tendency to infantilize its students, whether it’s through monitoring their social media accounts, guiding their every step, or promoting “safe spaces” on campus.

Meanwhile, tourist destinations like Las Vegas market excess, indulgence and freedom from responsibility in casino environments that conjure memories of childhood fantasies: the Old West, medieval castles and the circus. Scholars have also explored how this form of Las Vegas-style “Disneyfication” has left its stamp on planned communities, architecture and contemporary art.

Then we’ve witnessed the rise of a “therapy culture,” which, as sociologist Frank Furedi warns, treats adults as vulnerable, weak and fragile, while implying that their troubles rooted in childhood qualify them for a “permanent suspension of moral sense.” He argues that this absolves grown-ups from adult responsibilities and erodes their trust in their own experiences and insights.

Researchers in Russia and Spain have even identified infantilist trends in language, and French sociologist Jacqueline Barus-Michel observes that we now communicate in “flashes,” rather than via thoughtful discourse – “poorer, binary, similar to computer language, and aiming to shock.”

Others have noted similar trends in popular culture – in the shorter sentences in contemporary novels, in the lack of sophistication in political rhetoric and in sensationalist cable news coverage.


High-tech pacifiers

While scholars such as James Côté and Gary Cross remind us that infantilizing trends began well before our current moment, I believe our daily interactions with smartphones and social media are so pleasurable precisely because they normalize and gratify infantile dispositions.

They endorse self-centeredness and inflated exhibitionism. They promote an orientation towards the present, rewarding impulsivity and celebrating constant and instant gratification.

They flatter our needs for visibility and provide us with 24/7 personalized attention, while eroding our ability to empathize with others.

Whether we use them for work or pleasure, our devices also foster a submissive attitude. In order to take advantage of all they offer, we have to surrender to their requirements, agreeing to “terms” we do not understand and handing over stores of personal data.

Indeed, the routine and aggressive ways our devices violate our privacy via surveillance automatically deprive us of this fundamental adult right.

While we might find it trivial or amusing, the infantilist ethos becomes especially seductive in times of social crises and fear. And its favoring of simple, easy and fast betrays natural affinities for certain political solutions over others.

And typically not intelligent ones.

Democratic policymaking requires debate, demands compromise and involves critical thinking. It entails considering different viewpoints, anticipating the future, and composing thoughtful legislation.

What’s a fast, easy and simple alternative to this political process? It’s not difficult to imagine an infantile society being attracted to authoritarian rule.

Unfortunately, our social institutions and technological devices seem to erode hallmarks of maturity: patience, empathy, solidarity, humility and commitment to a project greater than oneself.

All are qualities that have traditionally been considered essential for both healthy adulthood and for the proper functioning of democracy.
the wanderer
Fri Nov 20 13:30:20
i kept expecting Japan to be mentioned (& their kawaii culture)
Fri Nov 20 13:53:44
Yeah, kawaii-ness came to mind for me as well, probably because of UGT. It fits the bill of infantilization but I'd say it hasn't had a huge impact western culture outside the internet.
Fri Nov 20 22:13:29
what is kawaii?
Fri Nov 20 22:55:57
something about japanese animation, too lazy to look it up,
the wanderer
Fri Nov 20 22:58:27
all the weird shit going on in Japan that isn't porn... or at least not to the females
Sat Nov 21 04:12:03
I don’t know what to make of this. I think some of the things mentioned are part of the feminization that has taken place over the last 100 years. Some of that in turn is actual female ”think of the children” mentality, thus orienting culture and society towards being more infantile aka child friendly.

Right? What other force is behind such systematic shift?
Sat Nov 21 04:28:07
"Right? What other force is behind such systematic shift?"

I don't think women have anything to do with it. I think comfort and convenience are the main things. We have easy lives in the west. We carry around unlimited entertainment in our pockets. When we want something, we can get it delivered at our door the longer the faster. We generally just don't need patience anymore. Except for the big things. But we're not trained by the little things.

We hardly experience any hardship and thus are far less equipped to deal with it when it does.

Is it a bad thing? I mean... on the one hand these are results humanity has always strived for. To make life better and easier for the next generation.

But yeah... like everything, it has its negative sides. And those negative sides might become pretty dangerous indeed. How do you solve it though? It doesn't feel like intentionally creating more hardship would be a good idea.
Sat Nov 21 04:47:00
For sure, there are other tributaries, but many things mentioned in the article are not the ”high tech pacifiers”. One of the biggest social changes of the 20th century was the entrance of women and increased influence in society. They have had _nothing_ to do with it? Seems like a strange categorical things to say, considering women and children literally go hand in hand, still. This cozy kind of infantilization is female, male infantilization looks different, it is chimp like and often violent.

Just pick a random ”think of the children” group and 9/10 times they are concearned mothers.

Case in point

I don’t think the general effect is bad, but I can take issue with specifics.
Sat Nov 21 20:38:54
This is a case of overly litigious society and being completely risk-averse.

If one employee of a group is violating dress code, for example, often rather than addressing this with the person face-face, a memo/email is sent out reminding *everyone* of the dress code.

Conflict avoided is not conflict solved.

Conflict is not a bad thing, it often leads to real solutions.
Sun Nov 22 02:44:07
”Conflict is not a bad thing, it often leads to real solutions.”

1. That is because that is how the game is set up
2. The game (centered around conflict) also creates stupid risks of ruin for you (the individual) and for the specie (existential risk). This little game of ”conflict creates solution”, gave us nuclear power, but also MAD.
Sun Nov 22 04:17:57
"One of the biggest social changes of the 20th century was the entrance of women and increased influence in society. They have had _nothing_ to do with it? Seems like a strange categorical things to say, considering women and children literally go hand in hand, still. This cozy kind of infantilization is female, male infantilization looks different, it is chimp like and often violent."

Well, that's what I think, yes. I think generally women are better equipped to deal with hardship than men, actually. They tend to still face some more than we do.

When looking at relationships around me, the man definitely tends to be the more childish one of the two as well. My own included. Although I'm definitely the patient one... bloody hell that woman has no patience at all lol.

Of course women getting some basic rights and respect has been a big change of the past century and you can point to some feminization in society that I do agree has definitely occurred.

I just don't think that has much to do with the infantilization the article speaks of. I think this is mostly a consequence of extremely increased comfort and decreased hardship. I don't see the link to feminization... you say "women and children literally go hand in hand", which is just conjuring up a familiar image.

I feel like you haven't argued your point much apart from saying "women take care of kids and thus have made the world more child-like".

But do women encourage everyone to be looking for constant validation on instagram and shit? Do they encourage agreeing to terms of services nobody reads? Do they push us to lock our parents up in old folks' homes?

I don't think they do at all... I think it is convenience and comfort driving the masses towards all this.

Convenience really is the killer thing. We all so love for things to be easy and convenient. This is not a feminine trait though, it's a human one.
Sun Nov 22 05:41:36
You have focused on convience for whatever reason, missing out that infantilization is also the product of a desire for safety and security. You should get to know more mothers, witness this change as they become mothers.

And it is more than a familiar picture, it is past and present reality, that women are those primarily (personally and proffesionally) occupied with children. So, these things are rightfully given more consideration and take up more space. It is not without excess, hence ”I don’t know what to make of this”. I am not convinced as chuck, that there is something systematically wrong going on. You are dismissing these things too casually and without any thought it seems.

I gave you Tipper Gore and the birth of the parental advisory sticker. A symbol of the ”what about the children” mentality. Since we live in the same society, it becomes the lowest common denominator. What is good for the children is good enough.

”the man definitely tends to be the more childish one of the two as well. My own included.”

Childish men/women are not setting the pace of society. This isn’t what I am saying at all, women like Tipper Gore are NOT childish, they are concearned about the environment in which their children live in. Huge difference I thought I was clear about.

See, I had this feeling, you are still playing this men vs women game. Sad.

My position is still as my first post, is there really something to see here? Feminization leads to a society more geared towards children and this process, like anything else, isn’t without excess and overreach. And in the minds of some people the harsher and more masculine, this softer aka ”pussified” mentality looks ”childish”.

Take the examples from Japanese culture, those cultural phenomena did not exist prior to ww2. Prior to ww2 Japan was a highly martial and patriarchal society, 100% masculine. Their main cultural export was martial arts, now it is anime full of emo male heroes and inapropriately groaning women.
Sun Nov 22 05:50:10
Compare that with Russia today. Russian society is very loving of children (nothing unique), yet no one would say they are infantilized. Because Russia is still very much a patriarchal society.

Yes, I think some significant part is mere feminization and some part is the female preoccupation with children and safe spaces (environment) taking more bandwidth. Which, if it isn’t clear, I think as a whole is a good thing. We can discuss the excess.
Sun Nov 22 07:29:16
"You have focused on convience for whatever reason"

This reason being that I can see how it leads to the phenomenon being discussed.

"You should get to know more mothers, witness this change as they become mothers."

Apart from my own gf and a few young coworkers, I no longer know many women who aren't mothers. I see a lot of change in both men and women becoming parents... as is to be expected. It's quite literally life changing. I assume you yourself have also changed a lot since becoming a father.

"You are dismissing these things too casually and without any thought it seems."

I really don't think so... I just don't see the causality from one to the other. I could be missing something. I'd love for you to expand your argument.

"See, I had this feeling, you are still playing this men vs women game. Sad."

I don't even know what game you mean by that. I just think it's an interesting topic. I'm also not allergic to the thought of the feminization of society being the cause of this. I just don't see it and I feel like you're not really trying to show me any causality there.

I also don't believe for a minute that you are not concerned about the environment in which your child lives. The idea that this is a feminine thing feels utterly absurd to me. And also, it is not really what the article was about, was it?

The way I read it, it was about people accepting all sorts of monitoring. Being OK with a loss of self determination. Being unable or unwilling to handle hardships or take responsibility for things. People being less patient, empathetic,... all the traits that differentiate children form adults. That is what stuck in my mind from the article. And I don't see the link you claim.

As for the change in Japanese culture, it has so many causes, I find it hard to take anything from that... I don't think any society in history has seen more dramatic change in such an insanely short period of time as Japan pre and post WW2.

As for Russia... I really don't know what life in Russia is like. IS their culture less infantilized than ours? I honestly don't know... I was in Moscow a couple of years ago and that is pretty much a Western city... but Moscow is not all of Russia of course. I think their love for an authoritarian leader speaks more towards infantilization than against it though. Accepting an authoritarian leader is very much child like behaviour.
Sun Nov 22 12:03:09
”Just pick a random ”think of the children” group and 9/10 times they are concearned mothers.”

I expanded on it, you avoided it. The fact that there is no real male analog to ”concerned mothers”, is a hint. I am surprised you think the massive overrepresentation of women in child caring occupations wouldn’t lead to such things as safe spaces

>>I assume you yourself have also changed a lot since becoming a father.<<

It manifest quite differently compared to my wife and yes, it often manifests typical for a father. I don’t take my sons crying as seriously as my wife. I don’t feel like he needs comfort every time he cries. In principle, I don’t believe ”safe spaces” makes anyone safe. I need to put my son in increasingly unsafe situations, so he can take care of himself. Risking being misunderstood, I am more apathetic towards my sons day to day suffering. She sits at a table and does arts and crafts with him and I wrestle with him and learn him to punch.

”And also, it is not really what the article was about, was it?”

I have quite explictely refuted what the article was about, but one example given was ”safe spaces”. Are there alot of men concerned with safe spaces for university students? Or do these ideas stem from social science and gender studies departments, where there are more women than men? 70% of new psychologist are women, care to take a guess if it is lower or higher for child psychologists?

Your categorical denial that women have _anything_ to do with this is silly.

Simplified and broadly, women care about safety and security, men care about about law and order. You can even see this in how men and women vote.

>>I think their love for an authoritarian leader speaks more towards infantilization<<

You would think wrong. It is a direct consequence of instability and disorder. It isn’t a ”love” as much as a necessity for a basic level of civilization.
Sun Nov 22 12:12:46
I mean, it doesn’t strike you as odd that ALL the social scientists and academics the article cites, warning us about this infantilization, are all men? Despite the fact that social sciences are predominantly female?
large member
Sun Nov 22 13:00:21
I was outraged by this until my wife brought me a beer, kissed my cheek and told me everything will be ok.
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