Liberalism is the dominant ideology of the capitalist system, encompassing ideas like classical liberalism, social liberalism, and neoliberalism. Modern conservatism melds old school concern for tradition with classical liberal and neoliberal economics (so in many ways conservatives are still liberal), and modern “Democrat Party style liberals” fall into social liberalism. It’s confusing because there’s a lot of overlap, but what’s important to realize is that everyone acquires varying levels of liberal ideology by default through living in capitalist society, regardless of whether or not they’re Democrats or Republicans, Tory or Labor, etc.
By dominant ideology, here’s a few examples of what that might mean in real-world context:
-Liberal representative democratic capitalism is seen as the “end of history”, an unspoken dogma that social organization cannot advance beyond what we find ourselves in right now
-A vague notion that “all views” ought to be accepted at the “marketplace of ideas”, with zero concern for power dynamics (which merely reinforces the imbalanced status quo)
-A belief that the system can be worked with and reformed to eventual perfection, even if there’s disagreement on what those reforms entail
-A reverence for the concept of private property and a belief that hierarchical market transactions are economic freedom in its purest form, even if they believe that that “economic freedom” needs to be curbed a bit for the betterment of society (as social liberals argue)
-Believes in some degree of horseshoe theory, where politics is seen as a “circle” (militant ideologies are all seen as inherently the same thing) rather than as historical struggle over the modes of production and the accompanying ideologies
-Will ultimately admit that the economy’s #1 priority is to meet the needs of capital when the chips are down (indeed, that is capitalism’s primary function).
With regard to the above examples, it doesn’t generally matter what a person labels themself – if they subscribe to a mainstream political position, they very likely believe in most of the above. When politicians accept “bipartisan” actions; when crisis afflicts the capitalist system and people need to “come together” to find solutions; when Michelle Obama hugs George W Bush and they act like best pals; when Democrats peacefully hand power over to Donald Trump after months of labeling him dangerous and on-par with proto-fascism – that’s when the idealistic bubble of political liberalism tears and you’re able to see the unified interests of the ruling classes, realized in the maintenance of capitalist society.
It’s probably one of the first things that anyone who converts to feminism realizes, and so it may be somewhat trivial, but the word “girls” used to designate grown women is pretty infantilizing. Adult females are women, not girls or chicks (newly hatched birds), and they should be called women.
That much is obvious, but there’s a lot more behind these words. There is a whole ideology of infantilization, and this is only the most visible manifestation of it. It is also one of the least significant, especially since these words have changed in meaning over time, like all words do. The words are symbols emergent from a disease, not the disease.
The infantilization of women takes many forms, from BDSM and DD/lg to mansplaining, the association of women with frivolous pursuits like shopping and shoes while serious things are associated with men, the belief in women as emotional and pre-rational beings, and so on. I have commented about most of these issues on this blog, so I will not repeat myself here.
Infantilization doesn’t just mean equating women with children. As I’ve discussed on the issue of childism, children are associated with wildness, and the need to be tamed and pacified so they can fit within society. Likewise, women have been associated with wildness, although in their case wildness means sexual depravity. So we get things like “girls gone wild,” and the association of “savages” with being oversexed and animalistic.
Some women have reappropriated this and have associated wildness with courage, adventure, and independence in general. But liberal feminists still associate women with being oversexed, by calling all women sluts and whores through the use of the terms “slut-shaming” and “whore-shaming.” Men, of course, also love to link women to oversexed terms, even women who refuse to have sex with them.
But infantilization is not strictly a gender thing. Think of Catholic priests, “fathers,” calling everyone “my child.” God being the “father” of all mankind, and humans as “his” property to dispose of as “he” wills, with violence if “he” finds it necessary. Citizens being the sons and daughters of the motherland/fatherland. People seeing pets as their children. The infantilization of people of color, especially indigenous populations. The paternalistic State. “Childish” being used as an insult: to be like a child is to be “immature,” that is to say, to not conform to social norms, to be disobedient, to remain “wild,” to not be serious or responsible. And while, clearly, not all abusive personal or social relationships are infantilizing, most abusive relationships have some elements of infantilization (e.g. “I really know better than you, so just do what I say”).
You don’t really hear anyone talking about any of these things as childist phenomena, or even as specific phenomena worthy of note (except for the infantilization of people of color, which has been analyzed in The Culture of Conformism, by Patrick Hogan, and probably others places I don’t know about). Childism is the very first hierarchy we experience, albeit not completely consciously, and a case can be made that that experience is where we derive our hierarchical dynamics, with the metaphorical father as the strict dispenser of “discipline” and punishments.
I think childism fits well with other hierarchies because there is no doubt in everyone’s mind that children are actually biologically and mentally inferior. Therefore, treating women or POC like children reinforces the belief that women and POC are biologically or mentally inferior, even to people who may not hold this belief consciously. Likewise, being treated like a child by a superior, whether explicitly or implicitly, is likely to make you feel inferior, incompetent, or irresponsible. And there’s the added bonus that, because we are so unconcerned by childism, infantilization most often passes under the radar. Being treated paternalistically may make you feel frustrated or want to escape the situation, but you’re not likely to jump from there to the concept of infantilization or childism.
Deep Dark Fears is a pretty self-descriptive tumblr, where people’s deepest fears are confessed and then put to drawing. Many of these fears are deeply imaginative or evocative. Some, however, open a window into child abuse. We do not recognize it as child abuse because we do not see it as physically or psychologically “violent.” For the same general reasons, our societies do not recognize brainwashing as a form of abuse. If brainwashing, the extreme end of such abuse, is not recognized as abusive, then what hope do we have to point out such abuse in “normal” parent-child relationships?
The fear of Hell is one form of abuse commonly used in Christian families. Also, consider the following two fears from Deep Dark Fears:
It’s easy to dismiss these horrifying fears as “the result of overimaginative children.” But the fact is, it’s adults that put these ideas in children’s heads. The imagination is not the source of the fear, the lies of adults are. The reaction of the children is a natural reaction to the trust they have in their family members. Also note the reason for these lies, including the lie of Hell: the reason is to threaten children into correcting their behavior for the parent’s benefit, into pleasing the parent. This has nothing to do with improving children’s lives. Even if it was, the child’s terror would negate any such improvement.
I don’t know if all adults have experienced these fears as a child. I know I have, although to a lesser extent. It’s a terrifying thing. The terrifying thing is not merely the belief in the horror itself, but the belief that the horror is with you always, every minute of the day. I can’t even begin to imagine what children who believe in Hell go through. That in itself is a form of Hell, a concerted attack against a child’s sense of well-being, empathy, and freedom. No one deserves that.
What could justify inflicting terror on a child? Parents love to defend their right to parent any way they wish. To make such an argument is to consider a child to be an object, a piece of property, to be treated as one wishes, not a human being with their own needs and values. There can be no such thing as the right to terrorize a child.
The parents who inflict these fears on their children probably believe that it’s no big deal. Such people can’t possibly have any sort of kindness or sympathy towards themselves as children, otherwise they would recognize themselves in their children. The disconnection between our adult selves and our child selves is necessary for childism because, unlike other prejudices, we were all once children. This disconnection usually takes place through one’s parents. If your parents rejected your humanity when you were a child, and you still identify with your parents, then you will reject the humanity of your past self as a child.
All children are under tremendous psychological pressure to identify with their parents, and for most adults refusing to continue to do so is extremely difficult. When you ask most adults what they think about their parents, they will tell you that their parents could do no wrong, except for children who were severely abused or who are particularly freethinking in their mental attitudes. Some may say that their parents did some wrong, but nothing really important (“I still came out okay,” as if being raised was supposed to be the equivalent of World War 2 and you’re lucky to get out with all your limbs). A few may say their parents were monsters (and no doubt some parents are).
Likewise, many adults say spanking is no big deal and that they “came out okay.” Well, if they believe that inflicting violence on children should be supported, then they clearly did not “come out okay.” They are severely damaged human beings. So are people who support terrorizing children for training purposes (or for any other purpose).
As far as I know, there is no adult equivalent. The closest case I can think of is extreme cult brainwashing, but even in these cases, the terror is pretty diffuse and alleviated by the presence of other people (other believers) to share the burden with. Partially the lack of equivalent is because adults are somewhat more sophisticated and don’t believe that worms could live in their nasal cavity or grow out of urine (although, to be fair, spontaneous generation used to be taken seriously). Adults tend to fall to delusions more easily when the delusion posits that they’re special or superior, and those terrors are not about making the person seem more special or superior. The main terror that adults still have is the belief in Hell, but that’s because it’s tied to a religious worldview that makes them feel special.
Terror as punishment is based on exploiting children’s imagination. There is also the opposite error, which is far, far less damaging to a child, but is still wrong: not letting children use their imagination at all, refusing to allow children the freedom to make-believe. So you get parents who refuse to let their children play make-believe about Santa Claus, for instance. Sure, one should never lie to children, but children are capable of understanding the difference between make-believe and lies, if you tell them.
Another example with graver consequences is the belief that a child which states that it’s of a certain gender must be of that gender. Again, there is no freedom given for the child to play make-believe. Instead, we indoctrinate it into its “real gender” without regard for the consequences. No word on whether children who play pretend at being a horse or a dragon should be transitioned as well.
The core of the issue, I think, is that people have a lot of trouble dealing with myths or make-believe of any kind, and they reckon that any instance of it that they don’t classify as “play” (within their narrow classification of “play”) must either be true or false. That’s a whole other subject, though.