Coming of Age Rituals

[epistemic status: pure speculation]

1) There has been many articles written on the phenomenon of prolonged adolescence. Some downsides to this: immaturity, an unwillingness to learn about how to do your taxes even after you have to do your own taxes, and engaging in risky behaviour such as binge drinking, regular drug use, and unsafe sex. Let’s take the premise that this is bad, even though there are actually lots of upsides also to prolonging adolescence.

2) In a class I’m taking we’re learning about something called the Pygmalion Effect, which is that when you know you’re expected to do something, you will do it better than someone who doesn’t have this expectation.

w/r/t coming of age rituals: if there is an expectation that you’re more mature now, you’re going to start behaving more maturely. If you think that you should be wiser now, you’ll start to be more considerate of all your actions. If going through a widely used and recognized ritual causes everyone to expect you to start behaving like an adult, then that will happen.

Another good thing that will come from a widely used coming of age ritual is that it bridges the generational schism, which is currently awful and still getting worse.

If there was something that everyone has gone through, then it’s something that everyone can talk about. It’s a way to connect to everyone, from the bus driver to people in retirement homes to your professors and bosses. It might have to be something kind of unpleasant, to build a “haha yeah we all had to go through this hell” sense of camaraderie. I talked to a Danish person in a Discord that said that this is basically what happens in Denmark, because of mandatory military service.

(This would contribute to immigrants and refugees feeling even more isolated and not like part of the community, though.)

3) There are many problems with things that are similar to coming of age rituals in North America today. 

  • The “sweet 16” celebration is very gendered, and has a very sexualized undertone. I would argue that it allows girls to see themselves as sex objects, instead of women.
  • Things like a hazing process in universities and colleges can be coercive and abusive. Also, they are limited to the group of people who go to institutes of higher education.
  • Things like losing your virginity is, like, just a bunch of patriarchy nonsense. Also the concept of virginity as we see it now is still kind of homophobic?
  • Some countries have mandatory military service or training, and this seems like a good idea in comparison with the rest of the things. My dad was in the generation that had all males doing mandatory military training in China. He said that it helped him a lot with some basic life things, like keeping organized and maintaining good posture. He also got to build forts out of school desks with his classmates, which sounds like the coolest thing ever. However, I’m iffy about having something innately nationalist, violent, and masculine being the rite of passage. I will reconsider this if I can be guaranteed an opportunity to build forts out of desks. (disclaimer: I am an immigrant and my family was dirt poor when we came to Canada. I remember being so amazed that not only did the government help us so much with just living stuff like housing credits and food stamps, there were also things like free, public libraries that gave away free passes to the zoo and subsidized swimming and skating classes at community centres. Ever since I moved here I have loved our government. It has major flaws, but I believe that Canada is a beautiful country still and I will be forever grateful to it for giving me the childhood that I had. But as much as I love Canada, I think standing for the national anthem during grade school is about as nationalist as it should get.)
  • Getting married. No.
  • Getting your driver’s licence. Maybe okay, but limited to those who can, well, drive. Which means, less prominence in urban areas, and in poorer communities. I have a feeling that as urbanization and ride-sharing tech progresses this one will be phased out.
  • Moving out. Won’t be applicable to cultures that live in inter-generational households.
  • Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Okay these are pretty great, carry on, except maybe the part where some girls are gifted with nose jobs. But too local to a specific community.

4. I think we should have a coming of age ritual. But what would a modern one look like? My first thought was that you can’t just make one up, since they’re entrenched in tradition. But some examples that I gave aren’t particularly ritualistic at all, and honestly, it doesn’t take very long at all for traditions to get entrenched.

What do I want in a coming of age ritual?

  • Civic pride and a sense of civic duty would be good, but it would need to be done very carefully to not veer into nationalism.
  • The seven unitarian principles might be a good starting point, but I have a feeling that it would inspire too much useless (or actively harmful) voluntourism.
  • In a previous iteration of this post I suggested a short internship in a government office, but wow, looking back, I can’t imagine anything less inspiring than that. No offence @civil servants, I will join your ranks after I’m done school after all!!!

If I’m allowed to indulge my inner romantic futurist, I think we can afford to shelve this idea until space travel is affordable to all. Because I think the ideal coming to age ritual might be a trip to the moon.

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
— Neil Armstrong

The Turing Test

[Epistemic status: assume that I know absolutely nothing about computers.]

So I know that if a machine passes the Turing test, it means that it fools humans 50% of the time, right? At that point it emulates a human perfectly, and whether the interrogator chooses “correctly” is left to chance.

But imagine a machine that passes the test more than 50% of the time. Wouldn’t that be an interesting tool to realise and analyse inherent biases that humanity has about itself?

Maybe the machine will portray itself as having been shaped by childhood experiences more than most of us really are. Maybe the machine must exaggerate different traits in different cultures. Maybe we’ll realise that we’re all pretty boring when it comes down to it. The same way that characters in Serious Broody Literature™ are incredibly realised but my personality can pretty much be boiled down to “really, really likes naps”, maybe we’ll find that the archetype of the renaissance man or the “fully realized human” or whatever has only ever been an abstract ideal.

This is something that’s interesting to me, because humanity has always defined itself as being superior in all the ways that “count”, right? We’re the most intelligent species, the ones that are capable of abstract thought and symbolic language. We have that divine spark. It’s hard to find that upper bound on humanity when we are the definition of the upper bound, although one can argue that having something we made be the upper bound isn’t that much better.

And then, well, if we aren’t the best at being “human”, what then? How will we define ourselves, when programs can not only automate all our jobs, but can come up with more sublime poetry, more moving choreography, wittier social commentary? Will we let ourselves be defined by our sudden mediocrity?

Will we start put emphasis on the importance of that one thing that the system haven’t figured out perfectly yet? Imagine if, due to some inexplicable bug, the machine cannot answer convincingly the question “Why do you like the movie Mean Girls?” Imagine if, because of that, suddenly everyone is thinking Very Seriously about the movie

Mean Girls and writing think-pieces about how the movie

Mean Girls is the single most thorough interrogation about what being human entails. 

Imagine if cults start up worshipping the holiness that is being able to be allergic to things, being able to get sick, having breakable skin and fragile bones and dying. A return to worshipping death would be kind of poetic. 

And then the methods we’ll develop to get that percentage back down to 50% is also pretty fun to think about:

Interrogator: “So what do you do in your spare time?”

Player A: “I’m super into making origami models, because it’s soothing to me and I like making stuff with my hands, although making anything more substantial has always seemed daunting to me.”

Player B: “lol i smoke doobies and play overwatch”



On Ethnoburbia

I’m writing my term paper on (so, reading a lot about) the Canadian ethnoburb – a relatively new subtype of suburb populated by newer, wealthier Asian immigrants.

I spent most of my life living in Don Mills and Scarborough, two very prominent Torontonian examples.

I’m reading about the ethnic shift in areas near Chinatown that my parents used to rent a basement in. When I still wrote my journals in Chinese as a very small girl.

I remember that even once we moved out from Chinatown, my parents would bus in on the weekends to buy groceries, since they were much cheaper there and it had selections of Chinese vegetables that weren’t available outside it.

I remember the first time a Chinese supermarket opened near where we lived, how much more convenient our lives got.

I’m reading about a place that our family used to go to for takeout a lot before it shut down. It’s located in the first Chinese shopping centre outside of Chinatown, and it’s a block away from where my parents still live. One that sparked massive protest by the then-mostly-white residents of Scarborough. It’s now mostly empty. (We still go to the dim-sum place next door though, pretty much every time I head back to Toronto. It’s really good.)

My parents tell me stories about the struggles they first faced here, and now I see them reflected in my textbooks. And suddenly it’s like I realize another facet to this whole personal-being-political thing.

Future History

My grandfather owns a small museum, tucked away in my hometown. It is about the cultural revolution. Some things inside are my mother’s childhood silk slippers, the mahogany carriage my grandmother rode in for her wedding ceremony, and a curious wooden tool whose purpose was to help with darning socks. Although things like these were ubiquitous two generations ago, by the 90s my grandfather had to go to the furthest of traditional, dirt poor farming villages to curate new items for his collection.

If I follow in his footsteps, and start a museum in my retirement age, of things that existed during my childhood but not any longer, what would be there? Old technology is obvious, so I won’t bother with that. But what else? As dress codes loosen more and more, I think household irons might die out. As would print newspaper, as traditional media continues to lose their authority. Simpler kinds of candy, such as popeye’s candy sticks. Books won’t, but printed photographs might. Dollar store ceramic figurines, also.

This also makes me wonder about the things that existed in a baby boomer’s household, but don’t anymore. Again, radios and vinyls, yes, but what else? What things will be lost to time because no one thought to keep them until too late? Some clever tool to solve a transient problem that only existed in the nuclear age, something that would otherwise make us pause and exhale at the ingenuity of humanity, except they’re all decomposing now, and no one would even put them up in an attic because they’re tools, they were bought at the local general store for pennies, they don’t hold any sentimental value.

You throw them away when you move, saying to yourself that it will only take up space and you’ll buy a new one if the problem comes up again, and you’re relatively sure you won’t. You haven’t encountered that problem in ages.