Michael Pollan “The Animals: Practising Complexity” emerging 2 pp 142 — 156David Foster Wallace “Consider the Lobster” emerging 3 pp 53 — 67In “Consider the Lobster,” Wallace lays out some aspects of the ethical complexity surrounding the production and consumption of food, while Pollan’s account of his visit to Polyface Farm discusses organic farming. Consider how the issues raised by Pollan and Wallace relate to, and complicate, one another, and write an essay addressing the following question: To what extent should we consider issues of ecology and animal welfare in the production and enjoyment of food?
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Robin Marantz Henig
remain always a few steps behind the early bloomers? Is emerging adulthood a rich
and varied period for self-discovery, as Arnett says it is? Or is it just another term for
The discovery of adolescence is generally dated to 1904, with the publication of the
massive study “Adolescence,” by G. Stanley Hall, a prominent psychologist and first
president of the American Psychological Association. Hall attributed the new stage to
social changes at the turn of the 20th century. Child-labor laws kept children under 16
out of the work force, and universal education laws kept them in secondary school, thus
prolonging the period of dependence-a dependence that allowed them to address
psychological tasks they might have ignored when they took on adult roles straight
out of childhood. Hall, the first president of Clark University- the same place, interestingly enough, where Arnett now teaches-described adolescence as a time of “storm
and stress,” filled with emotional upheaval. sorrow, and rebelliousness. He cited the
“curve of despondency” that “starts at 11, rises steadily and rapidly till15 … then falls
steadily till 23,” and described other characteristics of adolescence, including an increase in sensation seeking, greater susceptibility to media influences (which in 1904
mostly meant “flash literature” and “penny dreadfuls”), and overreliance on peer relationships. Hall’s book was flawed, but it marked the beginning of the scientific study of
adolescence and helped lead to its eventual acceptance as a distinct stage with its own
challenges, behaviors, and biological profile.
In the 1990s, Arnett began to suspect that something similar was taking place
with young people in their late teens and early 20s. He was teaching human development and family studies at the University of Missouri, studying college-age students,
both at the university and in the community around Columbia, Mo. He asked them
questions about their lives and their expectations like, “Do you feel you have reached
“I was in my early- to mid-30s myself, and I remember thinking, They’re not a
thing like me,” Arnett told me when we met last spring in Worcester. “I realized that
there was something special going on.” The young people he spoke to weren’t experiencing the upending physical changes that accompany adolescence, but as an age
cohort they did seem to have a psychological makeup different from that of people just
a little bit younger or a little bit older. This was not how most psychologists were thinking about development at the time, when the eight-stage model of the psychologist Erik
Erikson was in vogue. Erikson, one of the first to focus on psychological development
past childhood, divided adulthood into three stages-young (roughly ages 20 to 45),
middle (about ages 45 to 65). and late (all the rest)-and defined them by the challenges that individuals in a particular stage encounter and must resolve before moving
on to the next stage. In young adulthood, according to his model. the primary psychological challenge is “intimacy versus isolation,” by which Erikson meant deciding
whether to commit to a lifelong intimate relationship and choosing the person to commit to.
But Arnett said “young adulthood” was too broad a term to apply to a 25-year
span that included both him and his college students. The 20s are something different
from the 30s and 40s, he remembered thinking. And while he agreed that the struggle
for intimacy was one task of this period, he said there were other critical tasks as well.
What Is It about 20-Somethings?
Arnett and I were discussing the evolution of his thinking over lunch at BABA
Sushi, a quiet restaurant near his office where he goes so often he knows the sushi chefs
by name. He is 53, very tall, and wiry, with clipped steel-gray hair and ice-blue eyes,
an intense, serious man. He describes himself as a late bloomer, a onetime emerging
adult before anyone had given it a name. After graduating from Michigan State University in 1980, he spent two years playing guitar in bars and restaurants and experimented with girlfriends, drugs, and general recklessness before going for his doctorate
in developmental psychology at the University of Virginia. By 1986 he had his first
academic job at Oglethorpe University, a small college in Atlanta. There he met his
wife, Lene Jensen, the school’s smartest psych major, who stunned Arnett when she
came to his office one day in 1989, shortly after she graduated, and asked him out on
a date. Jensen earned a doctorate in psychology, too, and she also teaches at Clark. She
and Arnett have 10-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.
Arnett spent time at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago before
moving to the University of Missouri in 1992, beginning his study of young men and
women in the college town of Columbia, gradually broadening his sample to include
New Orleans, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He deliberately included working-class
young people as well as those who were well off, those who had never gone to college as
well as those who were still in school. those who were supporting themselves as well as
those whose bills were being paid by their parents. A little more than half of his sample
was white, 18 percent African-American, 16 percent Asian-American, and 14 percent
More than 300 interviews and 250 survey responses persuaded Arnett that he
was onto something new. This was the era of the Gen X slacker, but Arnett felt that
his findings applied beyond one generation. He wrote them up in 2000 in American
Psychologist, the first time he laid out his theory of “emerging adulthood.” According to
Google Scholar, which keeps track of such things, the article has been cited in professional books and journals roughly 1, 700 times. This makes it, in the world of academia,
practically viral. At the very least, the citations indicate that Arnett had come up with
a useful term for describing a particular cohort; at best, that he offered a whole new
way of thinking about them.
During the period he calls emerging adulthood, Arnett says that young men and
women are more self-focused than at any other time of life, less certain about the future, and yet also more optimistic, no matter what their economic background. This
is where the “sense of possibilities” comes in, he says; they have not yet tempered their
idealistic visions of what awaits. “The dreary, dead-end jobs, the bitter divorces, the
disappointing and disrespectful children … none of them imagine that this is what
the future holds for them,” he wrote. Ask
them if they agree with the statement “I am
60 percent of his subjects told
very sure that someday I will get to where I
want to be in life,” and 96 percent of them . him they felt like both grownwill say yes. But despite elements that are : ups and not-quite-grown-ups.
exciting, even exhilarating, about being this
age, there is a downside, too: dread, frustration, uncertainty, a sense of not quite understanding the rules of the game. More than positive or negative feelings, what Arnett
Robin Marantz Henig
heard most often was ambivalence- beginning with his finding that 60 percent of his
subjects told him they felt like both grown-ups and not-quite-grown-ups.
Some scientists would argue that this ambivalence reflects what is going on in
the brain, which is also both grown-up and not-quite-grown-up. Neuroscientists once
thought the brain stops growing shortly after puberty, but now they know it keeps
maturing well into the 20s. This new understanding comes largely from a longitudinal study of brain development sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health,
which started following nearly 5,000 children at ages 3 to 16 (the average age at enrollment was about 10). The scientists found the children’s brains were not fully mature until at least 25. “In retrospect I wouldn’t call it shocking, but it was at the time,”
Jay Giedd, the director of the study, told me. “The only people who got this right were
the car-rental companies.”
When the NIMH study began in 1991, Giedd said he and his colleagues expected to
stop when the subjects turned 16. “We figured that by 16 their bodies were pretty big
physically,” he said. But every time the children returned, their brains were found still
to be changing. The scientists extended the end date of the study to age 18, then 20,
then 22. The subjects’ brains were still changing even then. Tellingly, the most significant changes took place in the prefrontal cortex and cerebellum, the regions involved
in emotional control and higher-order cognitive function.
As the brain matures, one thing that happens is the pruning of the synapses.
Synaptic pruning does not occur willy-nilly; it depends largely on how any one brain
pathway is used. By cutting off unused pathways, the brain eventually settles into a
structure that’s most efficient for the owner of that brain, creating well-worn grooves
for the pathways that person uses most. Synaptic pruning intensifies after rapid braincell proliferation during childhood and again in the period that encompasses adolescence and the 20s. It is the mechanism of “use it or lose it”: the brains we have are
shaped largely in response to the demands made of them.
We have come to accept the idea that environmental influences in the first three
years of life have long-term consequences for cognition, emotional control. attention,
and the like. Is it time to place a similar emphasis, with hopes for a similar outcome, on
enriching the cognitive environment of people in their 20s?
NIMH scientists also found a time lag between the growth of the limbic system,
where emotions originate, and of the prefrontal cortex, which manages those emotions. The limbic system explodes during puberty, but the prefrontal cortex keeps
maturing for another 10 years. Giedd said it is logical to suppose-and for now, neuroscientists have to make a lot of logical suppositions-that when the limbic system
is fully active but the cortex is still being built, emotions might outweigh rationality.
“The prefrontal part is the part that allows you to control your impulses, come up with
a long-range strategy, answer the question ‘What am I going to do with my life?’” he
told me. “That weighing of the future keeps changing into the 20s and 30s.”
Among study subjects who enrolled as children, MRI scans have been done so
far ‘only to age 25, so scientists have to make another logical supposition about what
happens to the brain in the late 20s, the 30s, and beyond. Is it possible that the brain
just keeps changing and pruning, for years and years? “Guessing from the shape of the
growth curves we have,” Giedd’s colleague Philip Shaw wrote in an e-mail message, “it
does seem that much of the gray matter,” where synaptic pruning takes place, “seems
What Is It about 20-Somethings?
to have completed its most dramatic structural change” by age 25. For white matter,
where insulation that helps impulses travel faster continues to form, “it does look as
if the curves are still going up, suggesting continued growth” after age 25, he wrote,
though at a slower rate than before.
None of this is new, of course; the brains of young people have always been works
in progress, even when we didn’t have sophisticated scanning machinery to chart it
precisely. Why, then, is the youthful brain only now arising as an explanation for why
people in their 20s are seeming a bit unfinished? Maybe there’s an analogy to be found
in the hierarchy of needs, a theory put forth in the 1940s by the psychologist Abraham
Maslow. According to Maslow, people can pursue more elevated goals only after their
basic needs of food, shelter, and sex have been met. What if the brain has its own hierarchy of needs? When people are forced to adopt adult responsibilities early, maybe
they just do what they have to do, whether or not their brains are ready. Maybe it’s
only now, when young people are allowed to forestall adult obligations without fear of
public censure, that the rate of societal maturation can finally fall into better sync with
the maturation of the brain.
Cultural expectations might also reinforce the delay. The “changing timetable for
adulthood” has, in many ways, become internalized by 20-somethings and their parents alike. Today young people don’t expect to marry until their late 20s, don’t expect
to start a family until their 30s, don’t expect to be on track for a rewarding career until much later than their parents were. So they make decisions about their futures that
reflect this wider time horizon. Many of them would not be ready to take on the trappings of adulthood any earlier even if the opportunity arose; they haven’t braced themselves for it.
Nor do parents expect their children to grow up right away-and they might not
even want them to. Parents might regret having themselves jumped into marriage or a
career and hope for more considered choices for their children. Or they might want to
hold on to a reassuring connection with their children as the kids leave home. If they
were “helicopter parents” – a term that describes heavily invested parents who hover
over their children, swooping down to take charge and solve problems at a moment’s
notice- they might keep hovering and problem-solving long past the time when their
children should be solving problems on their own. This might, in a strange way, be part
of what keeps their grown children in the limbo between adolescence and adulthood.
It can be hard sometimes to tease out to what extent a child doesn’t quite want to grow
up and to what extent a parent doesn’t quite want to let go.
It is a big deal in developmental psychology to declare the existence of a new stage of
life, and Arnett has devoted the past 10 years to making his case. Shortly after his American Psychologist article appeared in 2000, he and Jennifer Lynn Tanner, a developmental psychologist at Rutgers University, convened the first conference of what they later
called the Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood. It was held in 2003 at Harvard
with an attendance of 75; there have been three more since then, and last year’s conference, in Atlanta, had more than 270 attendees. In 2004 Arnett published a book,
Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties, which
is still in print and selling well. In 2006 he and Tanner published an edited volume,
Emerging Adults in America: Coming of Age in the 21st Century, aimed at professionals and
Robin Marantz Henig
academics. Arnett’s college textbook, Adolescence nnd Emerging Adulthood: A Cultural
Approach, has been in print since 2000 and is now in its fourth edition. Next year he
says he hopes to publish another book, this ohe for the parents of 20-somethings.
If all Arnett’s talk about emerging adulthood sounds vaguely familiar … well, it
should. Forty years ago, an article appeared in the American Scholar that declared “a
new stage of life” for the period between adolescence and young adulthood. This was
1970, when the oldest members ofthe baby boom generation-the parents oftoday’s
20-somethings- were 24. Young people of the day “can’t seem to ‘settle down,’” wrote
the Yale psychologist Kenneth Keniston. He called the new stage of life “youth.”
Keniston’s description of “youth” presages Arnett’s description of “emerging adulthood” a generation later. In the late ’60s, Keniston wrote that there was “a growing
minority of post-adolescents [who] have not settled the questions whose answers once
defined adulthood: questions of relationship to the existing society, questions of vocation, questions of social role and lifestyle.” Whereas once, such aimlessness was seen
only in the “unusually creative or unusually disturbed,” he wrote, it was becoming
more common and more ordinary in the baby boomers of 1970. Among the salient
characteristics of “youth,” Keniston wrote, were “pervasive ambivalence toward self
and society,” “the feeling of absolute freedom, of living in a world of pure possibilities,”
and “the enormous value placed upon change, transformation and movement” -all
characteristics that Arnett now ascribes to “emerging adults.”
Arnett readily acknowledges his debt to Keniston; he mentions him in almost everything he has written about emerging adulthood. But he considers the ’60s a unique
moment, when young people were rebellious and alienated in a way they’ve never been
before or since. And Keniston’s views never quite took off, Arnett says, because “youth”
wasn’t a very good name for it. He has called the label “ambiguous and confusing,” not
nearly as catchy as his own “emerging adulthood.”
For whatever reason Keniston’s terminology faded away, it’s revealing to read his
old article and hear echoes of what’s going on with kids today. He was describing the
parents of today’s young people when they themselves were young-and amazingly,
they weren’t all that different from their own children now. Keniston’s article seems
a lovely demonstration of the eternal cycle of life, the perennial conflict between the
generations, the gradual resolution ofthose conflicts. It’s reassuring, actually, to think
of it as recursive, to imagine that there must always be a cohort of 20-somethings who
take their time settling down, just as there must always be a cohort of 50-somethings
who worry about it.
Keniston called it youth, Arnett calls it emerging adulthood; whatever it’s called, the
delayed transition has been observed for years. But it can be in fullest flower only
when the young person has some other, nontraditional means of support-which
would seem to make the delay something of a luxury item. That’s the impression you
get reading Arnett’s case histories in his books and articles, or the essays in 20 Something Manifesto, an anthology edited by a Los Angeles writer named Christine Hassler.
“It’s somewhat terrifying,” writes a 25-year-old named Jennifer, “to think about all the
things I’m supposed to be doing in order to ‘get somewhere’ successful: ‘Follow your
passions, live your dreams, take risks, network with the right people, find mentors, be
financially responsible, volunteer, work. think about or go to grad school, fall in love
and maintain personal well-being, mental health and nutrition.’ When is there time to
What Is It about 20-Somethings?
just be and enjoy?” Adds a 24-year-old from Virginia: “There is pressure to make decisions that will form the foundation for the rest of your life in your 20s. It’s almost as if
having a range oflimited options would be easier.”
While the complaints of these young people are heartfelt. they are also the complaints of the privileged. Julie, a 23-year-old New Yorker and contributor to 20 Something Manifesto, is apparently aware of this. She was coddled her whole life, treated to
French horn lessons and summer camp, told she could do anything. “It is a doubleedged sword,” she writes, “because on the one hand I am so blessed with my experiences and endless options, but on the other hand, I still feel like a child. I feel like my
job isn’t real because I am not where my parents were at my age. Walking home, in the
shoes my father bought me, I still feel I have yet to grow up.”
Despite these impressions, Arnett insists that emerging adulthood is not limited to
young persons of privilege and that it is not simply a period of self-indulgence. He takes
pains in Emerging Adulthood to describe some case histories of young men and women
from hard-luck backgrounds who use the self-focus and identity exploration of their
20s to transform their lives.
One of these is the case history of Nicole, a 25-year-old African-American who
grew up in a housing project in Oakland, Calif. At age 6, Nicole, the eldest. was forced to
take control of the household after her mother’s mental collapse. By 8, she was sweeping stores and baby-sitting for money to help k …
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