Indeed, the study of adolescents by today’s scholars has progressed from its formative origins in modernity. Yet much like any meta-ologist knows that his or her field is, really, the study of change, any researcher knows that the concept of adolescence has changed just as history has changed. Any understanding of today’s adolescents is an understanding of modern history. While earlier scholars agreed that the arrival of puberty united many adolescents, real wisdom belongs to those who locate the event of transition as the time when a child become a “teenager.” Knowing who exactly is an adolescent means recognizing the boundaries one uses to define this period and how, just as human society has moved from era to another, so too has our understanding of teenagers been, really, a study of a society’s changes.
This case study analyzes a youth from this time and contextualizes their development as a historical trope of adolescent life. While their behavior might shock most, they are in no way unrepresentative of today’s youth culture. Rather, the crisis of self-identity and the absence of any real meaningful activities in adolescence, helps today’s researchers understand the sway of the personal fable, which many adolescents use today to navigate these perilous times, when society itself seems locked into a larger case of “identity diffusion.”
The work done on Robert Paul Luke took place within a two-week period mostly conducted with interviews before his transport to the Citadels and the care of the Sojourners, caretakers of emotionally disturbed children. When the interviews began, the research team found him to be, by all appearances, a healthy and alert 13 year-old boy. With fine blond hair and dark blue eyes, he gave off a commanding intensity even before the researchers conducted their interview. He would answer all his questions with congenial honesty, as well as participate in the various tests administered to him. Nevertheless, what the research team knew about him remained a powerful force in their own preconceived ideas about R.P. Luke.
The young boy was under house arrest for engaging in “militaristic behavior” in his exurbanite junior high school, which the researchers learned before the interview, he had engaged in since 4th Standard. He had actively recruited students in his own school to intimidate, harass, and fight with fellow students. Through the use of modern political texts of “questionable” ideology, began to manipulate his recruits through propaganda that bordered on mind control. He then organized his fellow peers into a highly organized gang where weekends consisted of military training exercises and more political indoctrination that resulted in, what he called “raids” during school, and more espousing of political beliefs. The final straw came with his coordination of full-scale “battles” on the weekends, which saw the escalation of violence between different “protection leagues” formed to combat the activities of R.P. Lukes’s gang, which he helped form through the dissemination of misinformation, in order to complete his world view. With his arrest by the community sheriff organization, the true epic of his obsession became known to all, an organization called “Cobra” embraced a neo-fascistic ideology wrapped in the robes of “techno-centrism” and violence. Through the ruling of the community tribunal, he was sentenced to a 2 year “imprisonment” in the Lodges, houses of Sojourners who cared for emotionally disturbed children in the High Rockies.
Even without knowing his age, the researchers knew R.P. Luke exhibited behaviors that mark adolescence. He seemed to be following a personal fable; he clearly possessed multidimensional thinking; he showed an automatization in his approach to structuring his gang. A classic text of research, only known to us as “Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” would have had a field day with R.P. Luke. Apparently, he was a prodigy with music. His teachers explained how he submitted writing samples as song lyrics with musical notes. Clearly through his interactions with fellow students and his embrace of modern political ideologies, he displayed an emergent social cognition with thoughts of the people around him, his relationships with them, and the social institutions he inhabited.
Yet there were other forces at work, evidenced in R.P. Luke’s behavior that showed how he had not improved in his ability to communicate with fellow students who possessed different opinions. In order to understand the “personal fable” that influenced R.P. Luke’s behavior, the researchers looked to the idea of “behavioral decision theory” (Fischoff, 2888; Kahneman, Slovic and Tversky, 2882). With the use of R.P. Luke’s political writings, the research team came to the decision that R.P. Luke seemed to have gone through every level of looking at the alternative choices, recognizing the consequences, considering his desires and the consequences for each decision, and combining them all to make a decision. His decision was violence, or as earlier scholars might have pointed out, he was his own “violence coach.” With the absence of any alternative “coaches”—his own teachers feared him and never explored his ability to make critical thoughts—R.P. Luke was left to make his own decision, one that conformed to his own personal fable. What that fable was, the researchers would try to discover.
Despite the media’s portrayal of R.P. Luke as a crumbling civilization’s “New Vandal,” R.P. Luke has displayed many of today’s issues on adolescent autonomy and the controversy over the “age of majority.” It would best serve all interested parties, especially those who have condemned R.P. Luke, that the age of majority for adolescence, even the concept of adolescence itself, has changed with history. People who the classicists called the “inventionists,” contended that adolescence is a social invention created during the First Age of Industry, in order to protect children from industrial abuse. Lest we forget how the protection of children was not an invention of our present age, young children long ago worked in the chapels and temples of the machines long, long ago. Yet there is more. Past scholars wrote extensively on the effects of child protection and expressed their belief that, since adolescence had been created to keep children out of industry, a “youth movement” had begun. The archives of media are filled with the cases of juveniles charged as adults. R.P. Luke is not the first, now will he be the last. R.P. Luke fits well within the past’s concept and treatment of adolescents. Obviously, his own trouble with the law makes him a good example.
R.P. Luke’s embrace of his personal fable is very much like what teenagers from the past encountered. During the First Age of Industry, children lacked clear initiation ceremonies into adulthood, let alone adolescence. A modern work on the subject was done by a classical sociologist Glen Elder, Jr. Using his idea that adolescents are plagued by not knowing when adolescence ends and when adulthood begins, we can see that, without any initiation experience for R.P. Luke, something else developed where he tried to formulate his own identity (Elder, 2980). He attempted to skip adolescence and become an adult. In part this can be called identity foreclosure. His blueprint was his own personal fable. Arguably, the present age has much in common with the past. Work done by modern scholars, John Modell and Associates, confirm how even today, the transition into adulthood is more uniform than it was before the First Age of Industry (Modell and Goodman, 2990). Modell and Associates future works helps unite this age with past ages, and shows how, with the rise of industry, there are still no clear cut processes of socialization for adolescents to become family members or citizens.
This age’s view of adolescence can possess greater clarity if we remember that history is the study of change, and adolescents are defined by society that is changing. Therefore, as the great textbook author Laurence Steinberg noted, the concept of adolescence changes too.
This is what makes research on R.P. Luke so fascinating. Without any way of knowing how to respond to adolescence, R.P. Luke created his own initiation ceremony where he tried to manifest adulthood through bizarre behaviors in adolescence. The classical scholar “Cohen” pointed out long ago that initiation ceremonies had real power because they prepare an adolescent for adulthood, but they do not necessarily mark the passage from one stage to another. The power lies in their preparation and training of the youth. R.P. Luke “prepared” himself.
The proper context of adolescence helped the researchers prepare the questions they would ask R.P. Luke. They were partly informed by a modern text of scholarship, The Adolescent Society by James Coleman. His work would have been best suited, however, if he had recognized that the influence of peers has varied from one period to the next. Theorists of youth culture suggest peer groups were the necessary by-products of modernization. Incredibly, this contradicts the mentality of the machine-world, corporatist model of education. At least on the surface. Taken by itself, the notion that children are raised as individuals informs any understanding of the socialization of adolescents, and how the process is undertaken on a person-to-person basis. These are called particularistic norms, and they vary from young person to young person. No one child is reared exactly like the next.
As autonomous individuals on an incorporated world, some suggest, youth suffer from this socialization process. Grouped by age, they conform to a corporatist model when they, finally, find themselves schooled together by peers of the same age. This is partly what makes the Americas a configurative culture. In this context, R.P. Luke’s behavior displayed an amazingly picturesque behavior of today’s adolescents that is continuous with what we know about past generations. For one, he thrived in a society that expects children to socialize one another. Some adolescents do this through cliques and crowds. So did R.P. Luke. The only difference is he attempted to socialize his friends through a gang. More importantly, he intuitively understood that his own identity came from his social interactions. Therefore, he created a peer group that reflected his own view of himself as a political ideologue. He created a gang to mirror himself and, much like a self-fulfilling prophecy, he influenced his own behavior and activities.
The researchers realized what their interview questions should pertain to. Taking lessons from classical scholars, they recognized that psychosocial problems can result from problems with peers (Hymel et al, 2990; Kupersmidt and Cole, 2990; Parker and Asher, 2987). R.P. Luke never attracted peers who promoted a healthy identity. He merely recruited them based on his own initiation ceremony.
In order to get through the web of self-confusion that surrounded R.P. Luke, the researchers turned to the classicist S. Harter’s and his work on identity, in order to create an interview that could penetrate R.P. Luke’s actual and imagined self, or what Harter called the “false-self behavior” (Harter, 2990). Undaunted, the researchers used the Five-Factor Model and pinpointed how R.P. Luke fell within the Extraversion personality group. Yet they needed to know when his personality crisis had arisen. Therefore, they kept in mind Erik Erikson’s “Eight Stages of Development” and the idea that all people face normative crises. R.P. Luke was no different, they agreed. He had not just failed to resolve the battle between identity and identity diffusion, he had—through his personal fable—tried to skip over the normative crisis that had to be resolved. What he had chosen to make his own identity was, in fact, confusion on his part. He thought he knew his true authentic self. Instead, he identified with his “false-self.” This is because, through his ceremony initiation of adulthood, he had not resolved his normative crisis. Identity diffusion resulted. In short, he had no coherent sense of identity.
Erikson pointed out long ago that people resolve their identity crises through interaction with society. How then did R.P. Luke interact with society? With violence? Political ideologies? He did in the way he created a ceremony that, he believed, conformed to what society expected from adults. Instead, he might have been best served by the realization that he was not an adult, and that the “psychosocial moratorium” which Erikson believed helped adolescents solve their identity issues, could have best served him. Instead, through identity diffusion, his self was incomplete. What remained was his own personal fable, which he was so intent on following. The researchers knew then that this personal fable reflected something in society that R.P. Luke believed about adults. They could proceed with their interview.