Most who read this blog with any regularity know that I am pro-meritocracy. This means that I believe we should select college students, employees, products, services, and leaders all based on their merits. I do not believe in any system that selects people based on characteristics they can’t control like race, gender, socioeconomic background (with respect to their upbringing, because you can certainly control this once you’re independent).
I do acknowledge that in the medical field, characteristics like race, gender, and age are incredibly important in determining the care the person will receive. People of different genetic backgrounds, ages, and sexes require different care, and those of the same genetic backgrounds, ages, and sexes are oftentimes susceptible to similar infirmities. When presenting a patient, age and sex are the first two things you say! “19 year old female presents with a twelve hour history of vomiting and right lower quadrant abdominal pain” makes a physician think of a completely different differential diagnosis than if the patient was a 79 year old man.
But in all other aspects of life, I present the case that age should not be a consideration for any laws or policies. There has been chatter lately about raising the age to buy firearms, lowering the voting age, raising the age to collect social security, etc, etc. Similarly, I’ve heard critics state that the leaders of my Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, tend to be unusually old (for instance, our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, is 94 as of the time of this writing). This is what prompted me to write this blog post, and propose that we do away with age as a deciding factor in pretty much everything.
Why do people care about age? Well, it has little to do with the actual numbers that represent how many years a person has been on this Earth, but rather what those numbers imply. A 17-year-old can join the military with parental consent, even though he is not yet an “adult” legally. At 18, he can vote. At 21, he can purchase alcohol. What happens at 17, 18, and 21, that make us think that being on earth for this long gives us the ability to make wise decisions about our bodies and our country?
We know that the brain is plastic, but most believe that the prefrontal cortex of the brain has reached “maturity” by a person’s mid-twenties. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that helps us make wise choices–it is the executive planning center of the brain. This is why teenagers and those in their early twenties are notorious for making terrible choices where they simply did not factor in the consequences of those actions–they do not yet have a fully developed frontal lobe. Based on this information, we should not let anyone serve in the military, vote, buy alcohol, purchase a firearm, drive, or have consensual sex until their mid-twenties.
There are some individuals who never seem to make good choices, at any age. They destroy their bodies with harmful substances, they live their lives hopping between low-paying jobs, they have children out of wedlock with no means to support them, and they end up living off of the charity of others or the taxpayers’ money. Should we consider these individuals capable of making wise choices for themselves and others?
I propose a system that examines an individual’s ability to legally make decisions for himself and others based on merit, instead of age. If a person can demonstrate that he is able to be a responsible, independent person, then he should be legally classified as an Independent. If he is not, then he should legally be classified as a Dependent.
- Is currently financially independent, without the use of welfare programs, student loans, parental support, or charity.
- Has taken and passed a citizenship test, a civics course (including education on the Constitution), and a household financial management course (taxpayer dollars will pay for the administration of the tests, public libraries must have materials available to study for these, and an online course paid for with taxpayer dollars will be made available).
- Files tax documents annually regardless of whether taxes are paid.
- Has never been a convicted felon
- The opposite of all of the above.
Independents and Dependents should be eligible to apply for the same merit-based programs. For instance, Dependents who meet other criteria should be allowed to enlist in the military–their Dependent status alone should not disqualify them. In fact, if they enlist, they will become Independents, because they will then meet the Independent criteria.
There are some things we should only allow Independents to do, but there are others that both Independents and Dependents should be permitted to accomplish. Currently, I see no reason to exclude Dependents from driving. As long as they can take and pass a driving test and meet physical criteria needed for driving or use assistive devices to meet those physical criteria (pedal extensions, hand-only controls, etc), there is no reason why a Dependent should not be permitted to drive.
Do we want those who are Dependent to vote? Do we want Dependents to be allowed to purchase alcohol, cigarettes, or firearms? Do we want to give Dependents the ability to make their own medical decisions?
These issues should be debated individually, and perhaps other criteria should come into play as it does for most merit-based programs. If an individual is a Dependent, he should be able to apply to be a firefighter, but if he is unable to lift the required weight to pass the test, then he should be disqualified. Perhaps there should be criteria for voting, purchasing certain products or services, and making medical decisions that would enable both Dependents and Independents to apply, but would filter out those who society feels are not fit. A Dependent might apply to purchase cigarettes but be denied because, instead of getting his money for living from a charity (voluntarily given), he obtains money to live from a welfare program (involuntarily taken from citizens and redistributed to him). Another Dependent who lives solely off of others’ charity might be permitted, because those who give him his money have control over doing so.
We can make the determination of who is Independent and who is Dependent based on tax documents. If one doesn’t submit tax paperwork annually, then one cannot be classified as an Independent. We can add paperwork proving that one has passed the necessary coursework to the tax documents, and the person should be required to renew the paperwork at least every 10 years.
By adopting this system, we will set a new standard for what it means to be an “adult”. Independents and Dependents can both be of any age, and if one wants certain privileges in society, one must “grow up” and meet the Independent criteria. Nothing should prevent a Dependent from becoming Independent. Indeed, I would actually support a taxpayer-funded system whereby Dependents might be coached on how to become Independent. We want to lift people up, not push them down. In order to help individuals progress, though, just like a baby learning to walk, we have to stop holding them in our arms and let them take stumbling steps toward independence. That means that it might be necessary for society to set the bar a little higher than “has breathed for XX years” if we want to see improvements in the quality of decision-making among our citizens. It’s time to abandon age as a deciding factor and take steps toward becoming a true meritocracy.