A few years ago, a young woman winced as she described yet another evening of binge drinking, and the guy she thought she remembered having sex with in the bar parking lot. Her long wavy hair framed bright eyes that seemed to catch every change in light. Her arms, long and graceful, sat folded upon her chest. She had graduated at the top of her class at an Ivy-League college, and was now a young professional in Manhattan. Still, she spent most evenings out at bars, and her social life consisted of brief sexual encounters with people she either just met or barely knew. I once suggested to her that she try going to dinner with a romantic interest.
“Are you crazy?” she admonished. “Have dinner with someone I don’t know? I would never do that “.
That was my introduction to what is know commonly known as hooking up. Since then I have discovered that it is the common form of socializing in high schools and on college campuses. Denise Ann Evans made a movie about it. Tom Wolfe has written about it. The behavior is an implicit aspect of most reality TV. Yet, while limited media attention views the phenomena with some degree of fascinated voyeurism, very few remark on the fact that these young people are simply enacting everything they have been taught. What else might be expected from young people raised on commercials, treated as consumers from the time they were toddlers and flooded with imagery of the earth being violated for the sake of materialistic consumption?
The link between youth hooking up culture and environmental degradation became apparent in my interviews with young people about their relationship to their ecosystems. Indeed, the less contact they had with the the outdoors and non-human animals, the more connected they were to the moment-to-moment instant gratification of peer pressure.
The sexual, feminist and gay rights revolution of the sixties and seventies did much to liberate people from the oppressive societal control of sexuality. Yet, it seems as though once advertisers and marketers could use to sex to sell products, the idea that sexuality could be a meaningful expression of romantic feelings or emotional intimacy between two people gave way to a notion of sexuality as only a drive based need, a pleasure inducing excitement much like that of drugs and alcohol. Sexuality, for young people, has been mostly represented as brain stem release from the pressures of a manic society.
The reason this is problematic is that people get hurt. Further, communities suffer when they people who constitute them no longer engage with the challenge of humanistic fulfillment or of striving to make the most expansive use of their talents and abilities. Since I work with a large number of young adults, hooking up behaviors seem linked to a reduced capacity for integrating of the different aspects of their personality. Some people can’t have sex unless “wasted.” Some don’t develop more emotionally mature capacities for relationships. Many women and some men report a large number of unwanted and abusive sexual experiences, and suffer the psychological consequences of those traumas.
All of this damage has similarities to what is happening in our relationship to the environment. The planet’s capacity for holistic integration is damaged leading to more erratic weather patterns. People have undeveloped relationships to the planet that leads to “using” planetary resources rather than caring for them. There is an abuse of the planet that leads to its destruction.
When young people hook up today they enact exactly what is being reflected in the human relationship to nature. Since children identify so strongly with the non-human world and feel so much a part of it (see this), what we do to the earth is something that is also done to them. As they get older, they enact such abuses on each other. Physical and psychological intrusions have become ordinary. Most young people don’t expect to have their boundaries respected.
Susan Walsh writes that parents are blissfully ignorant of what is going on in high school and on college campuses, and that “of course, the real tragedy of this is that it results in their children keeping secrets, afraid to communicate about what is really happening in their lives. I believe that good parenting in the 21st c. requires being willing to look at these issues honestly and without judgment.” I agree. I would only add that as parents try and speak honestly with their children about what is happening to them socially, that the same parents understand that they also need to look at themselves. In what way does our disregard of the earth translate to a disregard for our children? have our children internalized our throw away attitude toward our resources and now project that onto their regard for one another? Maybe when we support alternative choices for their social lives, it might also be important to demonstrate the values of respect, limits, and collaboration to the earth as well as to our children.