Identity Capital

I watched a ted talk this morning by a psychologist who argued that the twenties are not a wasted decade, as so much hipster-leaning rhetoric would have you believe, but a time to actually plan and invest in your future. She argued that exploration should ‘count,’ for something, instead of just being a clever term for procrastination. Here’s a link to a youtube of the video:

I am torn on this, because for some reasons I believe that this is a message worth saying. It is tragic if anyone actually believes that an entire decade of their life doesn’t, “count.” Economically driven extended adolescence makes it harder to get meaningful jobs and to start a family. Yes, I believe that research. I am definitely in the camp of, “adolescence continues until the mid-twenties.” But, to believe that adolescence is a meaningless time is a mistake, and so, I agree with her that the feeling of drifting, unengaged, melancholy is completely avoidable. What I don’t agree with is the framework that she uses.

Towards the end of the talk she throws out a key term, “Identity capital.” Immediately I flashed back to the introduction of social capital into pop-culture and the book, Bowling Alone. Oddly enough I don’t really remember much of the book, except that it was completely new to me, and the term social capital stuck. Ten years later I am looking back with a new concept of capital and capitalism and seeing how painful and potentially harmful that framework can be.

Social Capital. Identity Capital. These key phrases are breaking everything in our lives down to questions of investment and worth. It takes two of the most important, complex, and wonderful things in life, relationships with others and yourself, and commodifies them. It turns them into something clinical and measurable. Exchange theory and capitalism hasn’t stopped with economics. Everything needs to be worth something, leading to the ultimate life of the good worker.

Which leads me to the next point that I did not like about her talk. She never even mentions alternative lifestyles. The pinnacle of life remained marriage, children and a job. What if we took this extended adolescence and actually did something with it to change society? What if things like art and discussion and philosophy became more important. What if you decide to become a monk, and that’s okay? What if you decide not to marry, not to have children, and not to work, and that is actually okay as well? What if, instead of constantly insisting that everything be of value in the current social schema, we take this time to really question and maybe even attack the definition of value? There is so much room for questioning, and room for change, especially in the twenties, thirties, forties, fifties (see where I’m going here?) and to encourage people to fill every ‘gap’ in their life with preparation for their next capital success is simply sabotaging any chance at liminal space that we might have.  

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