Maturity, Orthogonality

8 December 2001

Evan is an arguer. This is fine; I'm an arguer, too. But it does mean that we have a couple of e-mail threads going about whatever topics strike us as subjects for debate. Right now, one of them is about how strongly maturity and social skills are related. Evan seems to be more in favor of the presence of positive behaviors being necessary, whereas I'm claiming that the absence of negative behaviors is necessary and anything beyond that is up to the individual to determine whether he/she wants to deal with it.

But what's been really nagging around the edges of my brain is the concept of maturity in the first place. I think I'm having a problem with it -- and I said this to Evan yesterday -- because it's so often used by the "definitely mature" to beat the "tentatively mature" into submission. I have a couple of examples in mind, even.

Say you're in your late teens/early twenties. You're talking with someone in their forties about the choices a friend of yours has made. If that person disapproves, all he/she has to do is murmur, "Don't you think that's a little immature?" Sometimes it is. Sometimes your friend has been immature. But it's not an arguable stance. Once you start arguing that no, your friend may be in disagreement with the speaker or may be a jerk but isn't particularly immature, well, that's just a little immature of you. The harder you argue, the worse it is. There's just no getting around it.

I haven't dealt with the other misuse in, oh, about ten years. But you heard it a lot on the playground. The little grunt-sigh that preceded such proclamations like, "So?" and "Oh, yeah, I'm so sure.", and then, "Oh, that is so immature." I don't think I ever heard a little boy use it that way, but little girls were just vicious. Girls who didn't like New Kids On The Block? So immature. Girls who weren't pushing their moms to let them wear make-up at the age of ten? So immature. Boys in any form? So immature. Anything that was outside the herd was immature. That was that.

So I'm having trouble with the term, because it's too often used as a blunt instrument. Also because I think it's orthogonal with things like charm. I haven't decided yet what it does mean, but I'm leaning towards the ability to cope with a reasonable range of what your own life throws at you. So a six-year-old can be a very mature six-year-old and not have a clue about HMOs vs. PPOs. And mature people can plan their lives so that they don't have to deal with dinner parties, for example, if they don't like them. Or they can hire someone to do their financial planning for them, when their lives start throwing those things their way, if they have the money. But that's a form of dealing with the situation, removing oneself from it. Hmm.

Too many orthogonal terms are conflated. Intelligence and goodness and skill, for example, are conflated in a threesome or in pairs. Bad, bad idea. Not much I can do about it, though, except point out specific cases when I notice them and ask others to do the same for me.

Kofi Annan did a "Sesame Street" show for February. Um. I'm noting that, but I'm not at all sure what to say.

Yesterday I read The Magicians of Caprona (oh, yes, priorities) and started both MI-6 and Imagined Communities (about nationalism, borrowed from David). I got MI-6's companion volume, MI-5, at the library as well. I need to know about both, so it was handy they were shelved next to each other, I suppose. After I'm through with them, I'm afraid I'm going to have to make another library run up to Hayward State. (Probably that'll be after the New Year, though.) I need to know more about British Intelligence in the 1950-1952 period in Finland, and I can find a lot broader time and place variations. Those are useful for background, but not sufficient. It's like the Finnish history stuff that's all about the Winter War -- it's lovely, and I do need to know it, but it's not directly useful.

I swear, after this one, I'm going back to science fiction for awhile. Much easier -- less research.

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