Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Playground Arsonist

Police Report, May 2:

An early morning fire caused substantial damage to playground equipment at Randall Elementary School, 1802 Regent St. Police officers and firefighters were dispatched to the school's playground around 12:30 a.m. after a citizen called 911. Shredded tire chips contributed to the fire's spread. The cause of the blaze is under investigation by both the MPD and the MFD.

We subsequently learned that the blaze had been ignited by fireworks set to go off on asphalt in the shape of the word "PROM", and that its spread to the nearby combustibles was likely unintentional.

Police Update, May 9:

Earlier this week, Madison Police and Fire investigators were able to identify and speak to a 17 year old male suspect in last week's playground fire at Randall Elementary School. The young man admitted to causing the damage and described how the fire resulted from a fireworks related high school prom prank. The suspect was remorseful and apologetic to investigators about the damage he caused.

At this time, no arrest or charges have placed against the suspect. South District detectives will be meeting with the Dane County District Attorneys Office in the near future to discuss appropriate charges and a resolution for the case.

Our area's alder (city councilperson) observed that ...

... this incident reminds us all that errors are all too human, especially in our youth. Fortunately forgiveness is also a great human quality.

One nabor, a recipient of that message, took issue with it:

Sorry, I disagree that a 17 year old should not be charged & prosecuted (as a minor, of course). He is old enough to be cognizant of what he has done, This is not a 6 year old. He knew what he was doing and "remorseful" doesn't cut it. What about teaching young adults some responsibility for their actions?

Which led to my own longer-term musings on the subject:

There was a time when 13-year-olds were considered mature enuf to be treated like adults. You could become a midshipman at that age in the British Navy when it was the mightiest military force on the planet for a stretch of 2 centuries. In a few cases, where all the senior officers had been killed in combat, these teenagers found themselves in command of a ship of the line. Bar mitzvahs thousands of years ago recognized 13 as an age of transition into adulthood; they still do today, in a kind of abstract, pro forma way.

But, as society became more and more complicated, it took longer and longer to learn the ropes. Somewhere around 1910 we invented the concept of being a teenager. That's also about when we started thinking that maybe leaving school after the 8th grade wasn't necessarily the mark of an educated person. (The percentage of high-school graduates in the total population then was lower then than college graduates are a century later.)

By the end of the 20th Century, we were hearing phrases like "infantilization" and "prolonged adolescence" as the vast amount of life experience needed to cope with the world as a full-fledged adult continued to swell.

Now, in this week's cover story in Time, I learn that the Millennials (kids born after 1980, whose earliest exposure to adult awareness was probably 9/11) have carried this trend even further and are narcissistic and low on empathy and ambition until their late 20s. The article makes the point that they're more tolerant of other people's differences in part because they're exposed to so many different kinds of people via social media but also in part because they're much less plugged into institutions that can affect people; they're way more personally interactive but less organizationally aware. And, if they can't affect something directly and almost instantly via their iPhones, they quickly give up caring about it.

As a science-fiction fan, I have to say that I find parts of this scenario admirable. In the world of the future, nobody should have to work at some job — let alone a stultifying, drudgerous, possibly dangerous one — for 40 years before collapsing into a miserable heap of poverty, physical debility, and declining relevance. We should be aiming at letting machines handle the drudgery while human beings are freed up (and financially enabled) to indulge in their curiosity, creativity, compassion, and camaraderie. I think the Millennials have kind of a gut feeling for that.

There are upsides and downsides to everything, of course. That part about diminished empathy? Not a good development.

= = = = = =
One-dimensional, repetitive work is exactly what computers, robots, and other machines are best at — and what human workers are poorly suited to and almost uniformly despise.

— Bill Gates, Business @ the Speed of Thought, 1999


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