James Hollis on why we have an infantilizing culture

The following is a transcribed excerpt from a James Hollis interview titled “A summons to a deeper life”, from Sounds True: Insights at the Edge.”

As a parent I felt what Hollis has to say is very profound and makes me consider strongly the way in which I’m raising my children.  I have always said I want to raise well-adjusted kids, who understand the value of hard work and are capable of thinking for themselves.  In the first paragraph in the interview below James Hollis is refering to the transition from childhood to adulthood that all peoples must go through.

“..one had to learn to face ones fear, mobilize ones resolve, find courage, find persistence and where-with-all – these are (some of) the attributes of adulthood, and nature equips us with these potentials, with these tools, but they’re not necessarily developed by our culture.  If anything we have an infantilizing culture, and they’re not supported by the wise elders by and large and so people are out there adrift in… big roles, huge responsibilities and accountabilities and are psychologically speaking still children.”

Interviewer (Tami Simon) > “Why do you say we have an infantilizing culture?”

“When you stop and think about children and adolescents – what do you think about in terms of their emotional disposition?  They are impulsive, they are impatient, they don’t like ambiguity, they want clarity & resolution, they tend to fall into black and white thinking.  They are too insecure to own their own stuff, so they are always looking to somebody else to blame it on.  They organize their lives out of evading as much responsibility as they can, and they are looking for someone to explain it to them.  Most of all it’s a culture driven by sensation, meaning you don’t have to reflect upon yourself if you are distracted all the time – and our electronic world has made distraction more possible than any time in history.  Blaise Pascal in the 17th century in France wrote ‘even the King grows miserable if he reflect on himself’, so we invented the jester to distract the court from reflecting upon self.  He said at that point all of our troubles stem from one thing, that ‘we can not bear to be alone with ourselves in our private chambers’.  That’s Pascal before the internet and the 24/7 buzz that our culture represents.  Our cultures answer to the existential anxiety of being human is distraction.  If you’re distracted we’ll keep you entertained or diverted in someway. until someday you realize – that was your life… that was your life.”

James Hollis is a licensed Jungian analyst and the author of many books on personal development and the search for meaning. His works include What Matters Most, Why Good People Do Bad Things, and Through the Dark Wood. With Sounds True, he has published Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey.  In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with James about what it means to “grow up” in a contemporary society that infantilizes its citizens. They talk about how to recognize the summons of our deep psyche and the steps we must take in order to answer it. James explains that the greatest obstacles to attaining spiritual maturity are fear and lethargy, and describes the inevitable periods of darkness that we will encounter along the way. Finally, James and Tami discuss why it’s important to our development that we choose meaning over happiness. (67 minutes)

Listen to the full Insights at the edge podcast at soundstrue.com and check out James Hollis’ books at amazon (below, aff. link)

Do you think we have an infantile culture? Share your thoughts below in the comments.



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