Sunday, February 14, 2016

Adulting

As a general rule, I'm not a fan of the contemporary obsession with gerunding (#seewhatIdidthere), i.e., turning words that were perfectly fine being nouns, perfectly fine accepting the assistance of helping verbs to make sense of some phenomenon, into stand-alone verbs themselves. My allergy to this practice is, for the most part, a consequence of countless, maddening hours spent experiencing first-hand the frequency (and sloppiness) with which nouns are gerund-ed in academic-assessment-speak (see: tasking) and business-speak (see: leveraging).. My suspicion is that there is a deep, unacknowledged, and fundamentally utilitarian impulse at work in this tendency, which subordinates being to doing, and which would explain its popularity in academia and business. At any rate, in neither case is anything substantially meaningful added to the gerunding of so many poor, defenseless, perfectly and independently functional nouns, in my view.

One notable exception to my generic aversion to gerunding is the neologism "adulting." which Urban Dictionary defines as "to do grown up things and hold responsibilities, such as a 9-to-5 job, a mortgage/rent payment, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown ups."  (For examples of other things "that make people think of grown ups" see here, here, here and here.) "Adult" isn't only a noun and an adjective, but a bona fide verb, something that one not only does or does not do, but that one does well or does poorly.

But what does it mean to adult?

Just searching the hashtag #adulting on Twitter won't yield much in terms of helpful instruction for successfully articulating whatever it is we mean to mean by "adulting."  In just the last week, there were these options:











So, yeah, "adulting" is not a scientifically-determinable category of human activity. Not by a long shot. Which makes it all the more strange that we-- those of us intimately familiar with "adulting," anyway-- can nevertheless easily intuit the common thread in the tweets above. Closing on a house, washing your face and brushing your teeth every night, hanging out in your underwear and drinking a beer, pairing hot choco and Don Julio and Hello Kitty because you can-- yes, of course, all of these are "adulting." These are but glimpses into what it means to experience responsibility and accountability as not only ideally distinguishable, but substantively separable, categories. This is what it means to say to oneself, simultaneously, that there are good reasons to believe that conventional rules ought be followed and also that, well, you are not the boss of me.

In at least one important sense, I think, "adulting" is nothing other than voluntarily taking upon oneself the sorts of obligations to which adolescents and children are mercifully immune.  To that end, yes, adulting is about mortgage payments and mammograms and colonoscopies and exercising the assumed Natural Right to do whatever the f*ck I want to do in the privacy of my own home as long as it doesn't interfere with the freedom of others.  But if we take "adulting" to mean that, and I think we do, what we are more or less affirming is that "adulting" equals autonomy.

What is adulting, really, other than assuming, then exercising, the power to govern oneself?  What is it other than the assumption that one is capable of giving the law to oneself? That is to say, what is it other than a synonym for autonomy? Because I'm a (closet) Kantian, I think that, ideally, whatever law "adults" give to themselves qua adults ought be universalizable, and (strangely enough) I think that intuition is confirmed by the way #adulting is currently used on Twitter and in popular discourse. That is to say, whatever purchase the neologism "adulting" has at the moment,  I think it only has as a consequence of an unacknowledged rejection of utilitarian values in favor of fundamentally deontological values.

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