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Why Youth Matters

We start out young, ignorant, and helpless, with few ideas and believing almost anything people tell us. This absence of beliefs and ideas actually matters in a world where things are changing and in which past ideas might be outdated, no longer relevant, or even harmful. Having young people to replace those whose bodies are old and worn out is only one reason we need new generations. In this post I suggest three reasons why youth matters.

New Ideas, Beliefs, and Knowledge

As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. While it’s not an absolute truth, the maxim is valid enough in most cases. A cursory look around will reveal age patterns in preferences for reading content on paper versus online, in what methods are used for communicating, and what conceptual models are used to understand the world, whether spiritual, empirical, or otherwise. It takes real energy, measured in calories—or whatever unit you prefer—to lay down the cognitive circuits we use to model and navigate the world. And as anyone who has tried to shake an old habit knows, those circuits are never unwired. At best, we can route new connections around them. To produce large change—the kind that is needed to adapt to a rapidly evolving world—we need new generations of children.

The single most powerful element of our youth is our inability to know what is impossible. — Adam Braun, American CEO

New Bodies

Viruses, bacteria, oxidative stress, and physical injuries all take their toll. Much like our cars and computers wear out, so do our bodies. All of the above can last longer if cared for properly, while “repair shops” can often fix the physical damage caused by accidents and mishaps. But eventually, it comes time to replace that computer that’s running on Windows-XP, that car that gets 9 miles to the gallon, and that body that can’t make it up the stairs. Our ability to reproduce and have children is both a miracle and a necessity for the continuation of the species. Much as we might want to live forever, it’s not the thing that will move humanity forward.

Giving Older Generations a Cause to Care

It has been said that people will do more for others than they will do for themselves, and the literature bears this out, particularly for family members and loved ones. When we have children, or work with children, it gives us cause to care about the future beyond our own lives. It encourages us to be better stewards of the environment and better managers of the World’s resources. When we don’t have children, we increasingly become both self-centered and nihilistic about the future. It becomes all too easy to take the view that we’ll be dead by the time things collapse, so who cares? In the end, giving us cause to care about the future may be the most important reason why youth matters, and why it behooves us to support today’s youth.


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