19-Year Olds are not Children, Terrorists or Otherwise

This last week has been a chilling reminder of the painful reality that America has enemies who will stop at nothing to hurt her. Whether it be two radicalized Islamic terrorists from a radicalized Islamic country, or the coordinated effort of twenty terrorists working within a globally coordinated terrorist cell, there is a basic reality at play here, and it is an uncomfortable one: We have enemies who will not go away. In between the unforgettable attacks of 9/11 and the drama that ended Friday night in Boston, there were many other attempted attacks on American soil, but the tools available to law enforcement and the paradigm terrorists now have to work in defeated those particular efforts (and God only knows how many others we do not even know about). My heart goes out to the victims’ families of the Boston Marathon attack, and my heart goes out to all the victims who [praise God] were not killed, but who did suffer unspeakable pain and suffering. This was an eggregious terrorist attack against the most innocent of women and children. There should be no mercy for the perpetrators of this act.

Which brings me to the purpose of this little article: The 19-year old perpetrator we have in custody 24 hours after his little rampage of car-stealing, cop-killing, and bomb-throwing came to an end. I am firmly in the camp of those who do not believe this man should have been carried out of there alive, but things unfolded the way they did. His 26-year old brother is now where he belongs, after attempting to murder half the Boston police force, and we are stuck with a 19-year old who, at this writing, is recovering in a hospital from various medical impediments suffered Friday, and awaiting formal charges for his role in this week of terror. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is nineteen years of age, and already the cries are loud and rampant: “He is just a baby” … The issue of this young man’s age has prompted a larger societal consideration I feel compelled to address.

Let me cut right to the chase for you and just show my cards – A nineteen-year old male is not a kid, he is not an adolescent, and he is certainly not a baby. He is a grown adult. He is an impressionable young man, and he has a lot to learn, but he is a grown-up member of society. I am not saying this right now only for the purpose of defending the prosecutorial approach I recommend for this degenerate murderer, a murderer, I might add, who killed an eight-year old boy. I would like to apply my underlying point to all of society, for the only reason we are struggling with how to classify Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is because we struggle with how to classify all people under the age of 40 in this society. These are grown adults, and to the extent that arguments can be made that many nineteen year olds do not act like adults, that is not an argument for the case, it is the consequence of the argument. We have successfully treated so many people like children for so long, that of course, they act like it. This has absolutely got to stop.

In my defense, long before the tragedy of the Boston Marathon, I have been bemoaning the newly-discovered “odyssey” phase (David Brooks description) inserted into the life of an American individual. For generation after generation we expected people between the ages of 12 and 17 to go through a training or education period, while simultaneously working and developing discipline, and upon the completion of that period to enter a stage of productivity in society. I have a hard time understanding why those who either enter a more advanced training stage or early work stage of their lives could not and would not also enjoy themselves – take in the benefits that go with having a lower level of responsibility than, say, a husband or father of multiple children with a mortgage may have. There is obviously a progression to it all, but we are no such progression in our society whatsoever. We are raising an entire generation of video game-playing, live at home until they are thirty, no job, no contribution, no dignity, no self-respect degenerates. We are codifying this by mandating that they be included on their parents health insurance until they are old enough to run health insurance companies. The cultural expectation is not that people spend the ages of 18-30 develop skills, working, experiencing important things, and setting the stage for a productive adulthood; that would be the exception now, not the rule. Rather, the cultural assumption is that people will begin adulthood at age 30, and I will add, that number is being pushed up slowly but surely as well. The entire system is being facilitated by an utterly tragic higher education system that will take anybody, create nobody (special), and throw everyone back out, unprepared for the realities and complexities of life (and of course, this is for the percentage who actually go to school). I can bemoan the job market prospects for young people all I want, but what is even more tragic is the job aspirations of so many young adults: None whatsoever.

I am not going to tell every parent how to deal with their own situations – it is none of my business, and I am purposely writing this piece as a generalization. I am well aware of the countless complexities, challenges, and unique circumstances that exist in our present context. The complaint of this article is not particular but general: We have confused when adulthood begins. When I see an 8-year old child who does not do what is expected of him, I believe he should be disciplined and lovingly exhorted into getting his stuff done (homework, chores, etc.), but I do not see a degenerate. He or she is, well, eight years old. And when I see a 14-year old sleeping in longer than I wish, or procrastinating key things that need to be handled, I hope that the necessary prodding and poking will be there, but again, I know that individual is fourteen. But those tolerances and sentiments of forebearance need to go away when our children become adults. At age 18, 19, and 20, we no longer have kids. We have adults that used to be kids.

I will take some flak for this piece, and that is unfortunate because the only reason is that some people will unnecessarily personalize what I am saying. This is a piece about an underlying principle – a prima facie assumption – that I am recommending. We are doing unspeakable economic and cultural damage by enabling a system where people literally have 10-15 years of their lives disappear into a black hole (and I might add, those 10-15 years are among the most exciting and opportunistic years of one’s life). My dog in this fight is that I want a more engaged and productive and dignified culture for men and women of all ages. Our current approach is jeopardizing all of the above.

In Dave-land, not only would Dzhokhar Tsarnaev receive the death penalty he is due by Monday morning, but an entire generation of people age nineteen would be taking the early adult steps towards a life of meaning and contribution.