Neoteny is the persistence of juvenile characteristics into adulthood. It is a useful term in biology, and one could hardly talk about axolotls without it. Many evolutionary biologists believe that the human form is the result of neoteny: we preserve traits into adulthood that are found only in the juvenile phases of other primate species, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and European royalty. We are apes who failed to grow up.

Dr. Boli finds this term so useful that he would like to apply it to the arts of civilization as well. Although a few anthropologists and whatnot have used the phrase “cultural neoteny” to describe various aspects of human behavior, they have used it sparingly and inconsistently. We may therefore regard the term as up for grabs.

Cultural neoteny, then, as Dr. Boli defines it, is the persistence of behaviors formerly considered juvenile into adult culture and discourse. It seems to Dr. Boli, who takes a longer view of cultural history than some people do, that the twentieth century was the century in which the culture of the United States, and to a lesser extent Western Europe, and perhaps to a greater extent Japan, refused to grow up.

This process has been gradual, and some of the steps have been bigger leaps than others. We might say it began right after the First World War, when the Flaming Youth of the 1920s began to dictate what was profitable in entertainment. There was a great leap forward in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when perhaps for the first time in history the repudiation of adulthood was adopted as a stated principle by a large part of a generation. To be fair to that generation, the Nixon administration was not a good advertisement for adulthood. But the process has continued since that time, and a wholesale juvenilization of culture has resulted.

We propose, therefore, to deal with the phenomenon by noting some of its manifestations in a series of occasional articles. Here are some of the topics we have in mind:

  • Comic books and superhero movies consumed by adults
  • The interrogative tone in declarative discourse
  • The rise of the tragic backstory
  • Big rims and other trends in automotive design
  • The loss of honorifics and the abandonment of surnames

Why begin with this announcement, rather than just shove the first article out there? Well, for three reasons. First, Dr. Boli has not yet written the first article. Second, the term “cultural neoteny” is likely to require some explanation, at least if we wish to be understood. If we wish to publish an article in a sociological journal, it is probably all the better if we write complete gibberish, but Dr. Boli can manage only incomplete gibberish at best. Third, it gives our readers a chance to make suggestions. Have you noticed, among your adult acquaintances, any behaviors or tastes that you consider egregiously juvenile? This is your chance to document your observations and push back the frontiers of science.


  1. von Hindenburg says:

    If we’re postulating that this process began in the 20’s, could we partly ascribe it to the horrors and deprivations of WWI? A generation had to suddenly grow up and put away their childish things. Those that came home and those who had spent the war starving at home wanted to make up for lost time.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      We might also mention that the immediate aftermath of the First World War was a pandemic that specifically targeted healthy young adults, largely sparing children and older people. It did not reward forward thinking among the youth of our country, and it might have seemed to a young person that the penalty for growing up was death.

  2. tom says:

    I hope you will be adept at dodging the spitballs of the neotenizing class.

    Nyah, nyah, nyah

  3. Belfry Bat says:

    A rise in the kind of movie in which villains and heroes can only be distinguished by their accents, and not the kinds of thing they do to each other…

    • Colin says:

      Along those lines, heroes whose main accomplishment is simply solving the problems which they themselves created in the first place. Megamind and G-Force come to mind.

  4. Daniel says:

    Consider the rise of Verbal Emojis in place of adult speech. One or two ritual words are offered instead of a thoughtful comment. Examples: “Bro!”, “Right?!”, “True that.”, “Ship it!”.

  5. John Salmon says:

    The culture is fundamentally juvenile because it’s not oriented towards raising children; instead, it looks to sustain childhood-permanently.

    It’s death anxiety-the inevitable result of a secularized worldview. Sartre and Freud have won; CS Lewis and Solzhenitsyn have lost, though they’ll triumph over the long run.

  6. Someone may cite: “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” ― C.S. Lewis

    But Lewis was talking about “being grown up” as growth like a tree’s, with both early rings and later ones. The children’s pleasures are included in the more encompassing adult ones. Collecting children’s toys seems to have no mature aspects.

    Out the window I can see young children playing in the sidewalks and yards, but beyond a certain age they seem to vanish into electronic amusements, and I wonder if they actually play anymore.

    Perhaps the ease with which you can be amused reduces the need for musing, and we run the risk of flabby minds and undeveloped appetites.

    On a perhaps related note: how often do you hear someone whistling to themselves? The good Doctor is old enough to remember the art.

  7. Belfry Bat says:

    … in a different direction, the fascination of late with Self-Driving Cars — we used to have self-driving cars, on demand, in fact: we called them “taxis”; and alternatively on fairly reliable schedules, called “trains”…

    The Learned Doctor has written elsewhere on the Impending Liberation from Utility that Thinking Machines (TM, for short) either promise or threaten, depending on how you phrase the question; my own overarching thought on these devices runs: “Similes illis fiant qui faciunt ea, et omnes qui confidunt in eis”. Both the plebian tyrannical impulse (“there oughta be a law that you can’t say or even think anything against my perversities”) and the preference for SuperAutomation of all ordinary activities finds root in our collective preference to avoid and disclaim all personal responsibility and invest it in The Government (but defund the police) or Machines (but sign this waiver that nothing’s guaranteed, privacy limb or life) or The Free Market… or (I shudder) Science.

    … because, you see, my understanding of the Garden Episode (forgive me if I run too much to Novelty) is that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge Of Good And Evil isn’t Knowledge et.c., but the burden of Responsibility. And enough of us, culturally, just don’t want to bear that responsibility. Even the US Military doesn’t want humans to be responsible for Nuclear Defense anymore — they say they’ve got to assume that Everyone Else is working on automated Strategics, so We’ll have to, too, because that’s the only way We’ll survive… if, you know, our survival ever depends on destroying stuff cubic miles at a time.

    But I digress. Responsibility, the Curse of The Law, we have decided to shrug off; when Nietzsche (erroneously) pronounced the Divine Obit, he didn’t think it was Good News, but most of his fanclub aren’t quite as grown up.

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