Acknowledging Competence and Maturity

In post I wrote yesterday, I discussed my ideas of acknowledging a progression of increasing maturity based on age milestones.   I described the maturity phases in terms of levels of independence we grant to an individual in terms of his commitments to others, starting with in initial level of that only impacts his individual person, to an ability to enter a joint relationships of mutual and total commitment so that all consequences are shared between partners, to an ability to enter contracts with third parties where the responsibilities are limited to the contract (making neither party responsible for poor outcomes for the other), to an ability to make decisions (first as part of a group of peers, and later as an individual) that affects other people including those in opposition.

The defining thresholds for these levels is based on some age criteria.   I suggested a 6 year interval between stages in part because it is easy but also because the numbers seem right to me.   By the time a person reaches 36 years old, he is mature enough to consider the consequences of his actions on others who did not voluntarily choose his service.

In that earlier post, I suggested that we have dropped age-levels for consideration of policy decisions.   We end up debating policies based on the idea that the entire population has the same level of maturity.  Inevitably, that assumption policies designed to protect the lowest level of maturity must apply to all ages.  

It would be easier for us if we recognized we want certain restraints and protections often for purposes of protecting the less mature age groups.

By the time a person reaching the age of 35 and gains the majority vote of an election, he has all the requirements necessary to make decisions affecting the lives and liberties of an entire country.   We should be able to assume that a person of the same age has earned a broad level of autonomy in deciding who to marry, how many hours to work at a job and at what rate, what level of insurance is most appropriate, etc.   

We don’t discuss it but most regulations impacting individuals are mostly motivated by our concerns to protect the young adult levels of maturity.   The debates may be easier if we can put an upper age limit on what the restriction.  Even though the young may contest the ruling, they understand that eventually they’ll become old enough that it will not be an issue.   I’d share my personal experience of turning 19 in the same year my state changed the legal drinking age from 19 to 21 (giving me 3 months of legal drinking followed by a 2 year dry spell).  I recall rebelling at the unfairness of it all but that rebellion was muted because 2 years didn’t seem long to wait.

One of the polar opposites driving current politics is the concept of a libertarian vs a highly regulated state.   It seems to me we can have both: highly regulated for ages we are most concerned about protecting, and more libertarian for the more mature that we have less concern about.

After making that point, I realized that I confused maturity with competence.   For example, we require a minimum age to be allowed to be an operator of a bus, train, or plane carrying passengers who do not voluntarily choose the operator.   However, we also require that the operator is trained and certified for that particular vehicle and it operation on shared routes.

My point is that maturity is not the same thing as competency.  Maturity just opens the door to enter the field.   The candidate must still undertake training and testing and then often an explicit appointment before being allowed to perform his duties.

The annoying exception to this rule is in government where we grant great powers to people with only the need for appointment or votes after reaching a certain age.   For most other risk-assuming tasks over anonymous others, we require proof of competence.

Different levels of maturity does not automatically qualify one to assume risks especially to those who didn’t voluntarily enter a contract with that person.    The maturity levels only make the associated risk-assumption acceptable to the population.

On the other hand, the need for certification of competence is primarily for the protection of those whose must trust their safety and welfare to that person who assumes the risk.   We want to make sure that that faith in the operator is well placed.

In cases where everyone whose welfare is at stake has signed an agreement to trust each other as spelled out in a contract, there should be little interest by the government.   This is especially true when person has reached the level of maturity that qualifies him for an executive role running a super-power country.

After surpassing the age of 35, one should enjoy broad liberties.   That person should be permitted to decide for himself what qualifies as a marriage commitment, whether to work for a sub-minimum rage or for hours far beyond a 40 hour work week, whether to enter sub-standard health insurance plans, etc.   These protections, if they are justified at all, are primarily justified to protect the ages we consider not yet ready to make an informed decision and recognize the full range of risks.

At the same time, attaining this age does not immediately qualify one in activities that risk the welfare of less mature people or of people who do not voluntarily choose to participate.   Proof of competence is required for those activities.   

The exception is government.   The only requirement is age and earning an appointment or winning an election.   I find this annoying even though I more or less understand the reasoning.    In any case, I use this as evidence that we can grant liberty to people to run their own lives based solely on the attainment of similar ages.  If one can be old enough to govern a country, he’s old enough to govern his own life.

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