I originally titled this article “The Insanity of Biology”. Upon looking at it again I realized that I used insanity in the wrong way. I should have called it “The insane mismatch between biology and our reality!”
Here is my thesis: I believe the world has become so complicated that the amount of time it takes to be productive in the modern era is at odds with the biological reality that has developed over the millennia.
The fact is that girls and boys become sexually mature during their mid-teens. If you have not dealt with this period of development on a personal level, let me just tell you this: they go insane. I’m sure you have head it called boy crazy, or girl crazy. It’s just bat-s–t crazy to me. Boys have a short circuit in their brain that disconnects thrill and risk avoidance. It’s why teenage boys think it’s a good idea to go rolling down a steep hill in a shopping cart with three or four of their buddies and no way to brake. That’s just one example but the options really are Limitless. Think back to your own teenage years. What were some of the stupid things you did? I distinctly recall jumping up and down on my car to impress a girl and falling and smashing in my windshield and playing it off like it was nothing. That is the key, it’s all about impressing the girls.
Girls, are very different, but still insane at this age. Their entire focus is on boys and relationships. it starts with the teeny bopper heartthrob posters on the wall and in some cases ends with the 15 year old sneaking out at night to be with the boyfriend. A boyfriend who owns a car that he pushed up the street with the engine and lights off so nobody would catch their illicit rendezvous.
In the end I firmly believe that all of this short-circuiting is done with the biological imperative of making more human beings. From an evolutionary perspective this isn’t too insane actually if you think about it. The period of our lives where we are biologically the healthiest and most resilient is also the period of our life where we feel the strongest urge to enter into activities that ultimately result in the propagation of another generation. No matter if you are a believer in darwinian theory or intelligent design theology we can’t escape the reality of the existence of crazy teenagers.
All of this is directly at odds with the needs of the modern and highly complex professional world. Career development is structured so that to gain all of the skills you need to earn a reasonable wage, then training needs to continue into your mid-twenties. This is pretty much true no matter what position you get as long as it’s a professional job.
This makes your teen years and early twenties a veritable minefield of life. Poor decision-making at this time in your life can completely derail you out of the system. In this case “poor decision-making” is pretty much anything that your biology is calling you to do. If you consider girls, many have to choose between school and the boy. If you’re a boy it’s a choice between that boring classroom and actually doing something interesting and exciting like getting a job which leads to your own place for hanging out with the girl who left school for you. Instead of spending the majority of their time preparing a solid foundation for a lifetime of work, they pass the time rolling their eyes at each other in the boy’s pleasure palace and proclaim how much in love they are to their friends or in our modern world, on facebook and Instagram. Don’t forget to add three or four heart emoticons!
There are absolutely those who avoid this minefield. Part of this is because of modern conveniences such as ubiquitous birth control, helicopter parents who keep their kids on track or that rare kid who is prioritizing their career over the immediacy of biology. I’ve know a few of these people who put everything on hold to focus on their career when they are young, but they are very rare indeed.
I’m picking on the youth but I am not blind to the fact that biology driven decision-making colored by psychology can lead people to make poor decisions beyond their early years. That being said, the low-hanging fruit for this article is absolutely the crazy period of entering into adulthood.
On the other side of the coin is training for the complex world in which we live in. Whether you’re targeting human resources, being an engineer, or some sort of medical profession the training is intense and long-term. It really doesn’t matter what the career choice is. If it’s anything that requires any sort of training beyond learning while on the job, it’s somewhat at odds with biology. Without going into the uncounted number of societal developments that has led to it, for the most part, all households have to have two working adults to maintain an average lifestyle.
The biology is saying to the individual: Nest, make babies, raise babies. The world is saying to the individuals get your butt to school for years of training so you can eventually work at a complex job. Make sure the person you’re with is doing the same thing or you won’t be able to keep up with everyone around you.
If you look at the numbers you can see where the technical majority of people choose the first option rather than the latter option. When you consider the pull of biology, this is not in anyway surprising to me. When you hear people say “school is not for me” what they are really saying is I’ve got other things I’d rather be doing. I find this frustrating because there are many different types of training that meet the needs of every personality type. School is not just a classroom. In addition, I have never heard a young person say I want to earn the minimum income and I don’t really want to own reliable or nice things.
So what can we do?
The solution in the old days was that biology and training worked in tandem. People would get married very young and have babies as the biology called them to do. Life was simple and for the most part people were employed in food production. Junior would follow mommy and daddy around the farm and learn everything they needed to learn about growing the crops and caring for the animals. Interestingly enough this Is not a simple job. Managing a farm is actually quite complex even in the prior centuries.
People can live on less!
If you live on less then you only need a single wage earner. This was the adopted model when society first moved into the Industrial Age. We only had a single wage earner who provided for the rest of the family. When I say less I don’t mean what most people think of as less. Today when you tell somebody to live on less they are thinking that they’ll only have a two bedroom apartment In the older complex that only has one pool and an out of date weight room. Maybe they think of less as having a formica countertop instead of granite in their new build 3 bedroom 2 bath house. When I say less, considering today’s median household incomes, I’m thinking garage apartment in somebody’s backyard or 30 year old mobile home. Unfortunately, This path is much more difficult than simply ‘choosing’ to live on less. There are certain societal expectations that simply cost more than they did in the past. For example, it’s expected that every member of the family has a cell phone. It’s a cultural norm to have access to modern media via digital devices and internet access. This is for both work and entertainment / family / cultural connections. Can anyone today comprehend a household with two adults and a single car as being an accepted norm? Some people do make this choice today but it is very rare indeed and usually only temporary. It’s also not a good idea when you consider the transitory nature of employment. Papa is not guaranteed to hold down that good paying job at the Mill for the next 30 Years.
We can re-architect everything!
We can completely re-architect our education system to be 99% work-based learning. I see this theory at my regular job with things like career Pathways and a push for expansion of apprenticeships. The idea is conceptually sound: Create a way for people to jump in and out of training as they work through life or combine training with work in such a way that people are getting paid from day one.
Unfortunately this is not an overnight change. It took a hundred years to get to our current educational infrastructure and it will take just as long to get out of it. Student loans feeding college and university systems as they exist today are completely at odds with the reality of the information age. Our education system was built around the needs of the Industrial Age. Imagine the chaos in society if all of a sudden you said no more student loans because nobody really needs them. If they can learn highly complex work based information on the job and via online resources then employers can just pay for the training they want in their people. Government, education providers, citizens and employers are all vested into working with an admittedly flawed system that would grind to a halt. Nobody is prepared to figure out a new one for the scope and level of adoption needed to replace the old one.
Let’s not forget biology in all of this as it is the point of this article. Imagine a comprehensive work-based Learning System being paid for by an employer who now has to take care of a new mom. With two kids, this mom has about 10 to 20 hours a week to dedicate to her work and training but needs 60 hours worth of income to live. Is there an employer on Earth who’s going to think this is a good investment with the possible payout being in 15 years. That’s the time it’ll take to reap the benefits of a highly trained employee who is dedicated to the company after their life has settled down beyond the child rearing period. Remember we are in the age of the just-in-time workforce. Employers want the workers that they need this moment and they want them gone the second they do not need the employees around without any strings attached. It’s great financial efficiency, but poor societal consistency. This potentially could work if it was interwoven into the fabric of society in the same way that apprenticeships are interwoven into the European corporate culture. Speak to any seasoned European manager and they want to give back to the next generation in the same way they were given their chances as young apprentices by the former generation. Our senior generation cares about profits this moment because that’s how they were raised and that is how our government and society is structured. Our publicly traded companies are measured on quarterly numbers, not societal impact and long term workforce planning. I don’t have all of the data put together but I’m definitely in the camp that believes that our education system is unsustainable long-term. There are too many similarities between it and the housing bubble for my tastes and I really believe some sort of crash will eventually happen. The question is: Will that destroy the system to the point where it gets rebuilt to a model that meets the modern needs, or just be a corrective action?
There is no fix…
Biology is a problem when it comes to the modern workforce professional. Biology leads to a disinterest in educational commitment and a practical outcome of children. Children are very expensive and tremendously time-consuming both in short term daily needs and long term commitment. There simply isn’t a company on Earth that would be happy hiring somebody and giving them all the time and all the money they need to raise their children properly. They’re also does not exist a model where the kids are integrated into the business save for very small family-run business that are chaotic and probably not that competitive. There really is no fix that doesn’t include a reworking of society from the ground up. Until then, we are going to have to make due with what we have and keep trying again and again, generation after generation, because biology doesn’t change.
I’m sure I could explore this subject much more deeply but I just heard a crash coming from downstairs and now I hear my two-year-old crying. I’m guessing my seven-year-old decided to play Batman and Catwoman again. I’m sure my two-year-old probably didn’t like the idea that the plastic batarang just got bounced off of her head. It’s time for me to go down and kick some butt and/or kiss some bo boo’s. I guess maybe this type of play is a good thing. maybe my son and daughter will actually figure out the types of superpowers they need to be resistant to the minefield of life they will encounter in their years of Workforce preparation. Or maybe they shouldn’t develop superpowers because in a few short years I can guarantee they will be as crazy as the Joker.