4. Childism justifies the forced identification imposed on children.
As you probably know if you read this blog, I am a social constructionist, and therefore I’m particularly interested in how we position ourselves relative to the social constructs structuring our societies. And childhood is ground zero, because children are forcibly indoctrinated to identify with a multitude of social constructs, such as gender, race, religion, nationality and intelligence.
Young children are not social agents, and therefore do not, and cannot, have a gender, a religion or a nationality, since these concepts arise from our social roles (and I would argue that even though it has a physical component, a child should not be given a race identification either). A child should have only one social role: being a child. Anything else is a lie, an unfair and unnecessary burden, a denial of the child’s rights.
Religion has been especially good at creating a captive audience by brainwashing children, and it’s a strategy that works as long as you also heavily promote natalism. Most other constructs are promoted by parents, I think, mostly out of fear or sincere belief: fear that their children will not “come out” right, or sincere belief that their children will be better people if they are correctly indoctrinated.
We have to come back to the “alignment” paradigm: in order to ensure that the child develops correctly and fit in with the rest of society, it must hold the correct beliefs and align its preferences with what’s “normal” in their assigned culture. The role of the child is not to be a child, but to become (transform into) a good citizen, a good Christian, a real man or a feminine woman, college-educated, and so on.
There are justifications behind each of these beliefs: religion and nationality (through the manichean framework) are associated with morality, gender is associated with happiness, race is associated with identity, and intelligence is associated with material success. The beliefs are also predicated on the notion that these are not social constructs at all but innate human traits, otherwise it would make no sense to attribute them to babies or young children.
Especially strong indoctrination is needed in the cases of religion and gender because they both entail a certain set of behaviors and beliefs, and many child have a personality which clashes with those behaviors and beliefs. It is therefore necessary to stomp down gender non-conforming children and non-believing children, with all the psychological torture that this implies (blackmail, destruction of the child’s self-image, withdrawal of love, and so on).
A further effect of indoctrination is to divide children against each other. They fight for grades, they compete in sports, they berate each other for not performing gender correctly, for being of the “wrong” religion, for not being smart enough (or being too smart!). Meanwhile, cooperation is marginalized and disvalued in schools. The net effect is that children are ego-centric (turned towards their own egos) and trained to think in a tribalist way (manichean worldview- my tribe, right or wrong) and against their class interests. Children are born egalitarians and it’s stomped out of them by this process.
The child ego-centric and tribalist grows up into an adult who’s ego-centric and tribalist. Is it any surprise that the United States, the Western country where competition is most worshipped, has such a high proportion of the population voting so dramatically against their own class interests, and has such a low proportion of individualism?
One particular area of indoctrination which has been the target of a great deal of public criticism (perhaps because it is committed by the media and not by parents!) is the negative body image for girls generated by the portrayal and manipulation of the image of women in the media. A great deal has been said about this (see for example the body image category on Anti-Porn Feminists), and I don’t have much else to say about it.
Since gender is an important form of indoctrination, this is as good a place as any to explain my use of gender-neutral pronouns to talk about children. I hope it is not misinterpreted as an equation of children with non-humans, because that’s precisely the opposite of my intention. My position is that gender is imposed on children, that it has no biological basis (either in the brain or in the rest of the body), and that using “he” and “she” to talk about babies, toddlers and preschoolers is a form of invalidation and imposition. It is also implicitly a declaration of war against gender non-conforming children.
As an extension of forced identification, albeit in a less deliberate way, we can observe that authoritarian parenting will tend to force children to turn into authoritarian adults: the Strict Father model will tend to produce conservatives and the Nurturant Parent model will tend to produce liberals. This has been confirmed by at least one psychological study.
I don’t think this is overly surprising. If you raise children to see themselves as fighting to make their place in the world, believing in strict social roles (including gender roles), and worried about their moral rectitude, then their values will bend in a conservative direction, towards an ideology of fear, loathing and blame. If you raise children without teaching them cooperation or class consciousness, they will tend to grow up as adults who don’t want to cooperate and have no class consciousness.
5. Childism justifies the use of a prejudicial framework that demeans and stereotypes children.
Probably many of you had Lord of the Flies as required reading or recommended reading at school. This fantasy book about a group of children marooned on a desert island who turn against each other has become the prototype of the modern “child as savage” metaphor. An interesting choice of reading for children, don’t you think?
I already made a general discussion of the stereotypes about children in the introduction, so on this point I will get into some more specific discourse on the subject, in the form of an entry from the Secular Outpost, a blog on atheology which I read regularly. This particular entry was supposed to be about why we should be skeptics (a premise which I find dubious at best), but degenerated into a good example of childism.
Bowen’s argument is that “[d]ishonesty and deception begin at an early age for human beings.” He uses two studies, one done exclusively on babies and another done on all ages, to try to make that point. The first is entitled “Babies not as innocent as they pretend”:
Dr Vasudevi Reddy, of the University of Portsmouth’s psychology department, says she has identified seven categories of deception used between six months and three-years-old.
Infants quickly learnt that using tactics such as fake crying and pretend laughing could win them attention. By eight months, more difficult deceptions became apparent, such as concealing forbidden activities or trying to distract parents’ attention.
Wow, children want to get attention and not be punished. An incredible scientific discovery, for sure, but labeling such things as a baby crying, laughing and concealing information “deception” and “deviousness” is absolutely ridiculous. A six month old baby is not “deceiving” its parents any more than it “resists” orders, “pretends” to be innocent, or “seduces” its rapist (as is often argued in the case of child rape).
The general principle is that inferiors, those who don’t have the control, are not allowed to defend themselves. Those who do are called uppity, crazy, devious or ungrateful. Their needs and feelings are trivialized and negated. A small child, who has no control over its own life and must obtain everything through its parents, has no choice but to manipulate its parents in order to get what it wants. To use this as a proof that babies use “deception” is profoundly offensive.
Another study details the amount of cheating done in schools:
At the Pre-School level children understand that cheating is morally wrong, as opposed to a social transgression (i.e. eating with their fingers). Because moral development consists of their own needs vs. punishment, they are prone to cheat in order to win.
At 5-6 years of age many children cheat if the opportunity arises. In one study of this age group, 84% knew that cheating was not allowed. However, 56% cheated. This is primarily true because they have an inability to inhibit their actions at this age.
I don’t have the details of this study, but the writeup is glib at best. As the study was financed by an anti-cheating organization (whose propaganda could provide quite a bit of fodder about authoritarian morality), they have an interest in presenting cheating as morally wrong, and they have an interest in presenting cheating as a widespread problem.
To portray cheating as wrong only makes sense if one holds the “objective” testing of children’s abilities as necessary, and only someone with a vested interest in child indoctrination would hold such a belief. Obviously most children know cheating is considered wrong by teachers, but do they “understand” that it’s “morally wrong”?
Again, we observe the same principle as in the previous example: with their intelligence and the good will of their parents threatened by bad exam results, children defend themselves by cheating, and this is portrayed as a defect of character. Instead of taking the side of the child, and questioning the perceived necessity of relentless competitive testing, we side against the child and accuse it of being immoral or incapable.
I’m sure many people will accuse me of supporting the actions of bad apples and that surely some children act mendaciously. My answer is that it really does not matter at all, because they all deal with a hostile system in their own way and none of them should be blamed for cheating. The dispossessed should never be blamed for the ways they find to deal with an unjust system.
6. Childism supports and is supported by religious and psychological doctrines such as Original Sin and Freudian psychology, which invalidate children’s experiences and demand forgiveness.
These are topics on which Alice Miller has written extensively. In her book The Untouched Key, she discusses the Biblical story of Isaac and Jacob. She has also written about her days as a psychotherapist and how she discovered that Freudian theories serve to cover up and repress fear and abuse in childhood.
Alice Miller was aware that the constant and unrelenting demand that children, the victims, forgive their parents, their abusers, could only beat a person down to complete and abject submission:
[Some therapists] work under the influence of various interpretations culled from both Western and Oriental religions, which preach forgiveness to the once-mistreated child. Thereby, they create a new vicious circle for people who, from their earliest years, have been caught in the vicious circle of pedagogy. This, they refer to as “therapy”. In so doing, they lead them into a trap from which there is no escape, the same trap that once rendered their natural protests impossible, thus causing the illness in the first place. Because such therapists, caught as they are in the pedagogic system, cannot help patients to resolve the consequences of the traumatization they have suffered, they offer them traditional morality instead.
But Alice Miller’s main concern was the repetition compulsion, the compulsion on the part of parents to repeat the abuse that was inflicted on them as children. This is all based on the deception perpetrated on them, when their parents made them believe that unconditional love included, or even needed, invalidation, emotional blackmail, control and abuse. No one who was raised to believe this about love can raise their own children with love.
They are repeating the “sins” of their parents BECAUSE they have forgiven them. If they could consciously condemn the deeds of their parents they wouldn’t be urged to do the same, to molest and to confuse children by forcing them to stay silent – as if this was the most normal thing to do and not a crime. They just deceive themselves.
For the sake of simplicity, let me name the position I’ve outlined in the six points above anti-childism. Anti-childism is necessarily a radical position because it outlines the root cause of misopedia, the domestication hierarchy, and seeks to eradicate it. It does not find the causes of children’s problems in those children themselves but in the wider parenting-schooling-capitalism system which frames their thoughts and actions.
If anti-childism is radical, then it must have a liberal (individualistic anti-radical) counterpart, which we can call liberal childism. Does liberal childism exist? Absolutely, and I think a lot of parents are in this category. They profess to want to treat their children as well as possible, and give them a maximum of freedom (although whether they do so in reality is a different story), but they are unwilling to examine any of the institutions, including parenting, which are based on the premise that children have no human rights except those granted to them by an authority figure.
Liberal childists believe that being a benevolent dictator is exactly the same as being equal. Anti-childism identifies the hierarchy and states unequivocally that we cannot be equal as long as we stratify each other and give some people power over others, or give ourselves power against the environment that sustains us. As such, it is inscribed within the radicalist schema and only makes sense if we accept the concepts of class and systemic oppression. All forms of liberalism, on the other hand, are predicated on the belief that all problems are personal and that systemic analysis goes against people’s agency (an inherently reactionary concept).
The solution is not to have better parents (i.e. well-intentioned rulers) or to have better child-protecting laws (i.e. to give more power to the State as opposed to the parents). Neither of these approaches would resolve the core issues, which include: the fact that some children are randomly born in “good” families and others in “bad” families, resulting in some getting abused and others not, the economic concept of poverty imposed on children, and the indoctrination of children on a massive scale. Two of these three all based on luck of the draw and they are all universal conditions that children live under. None of these can be solved by personal measures or by acts of contrition.
The major difference between anti-childism and any other position is likely to be one’s stance on parents. My position is that we should hate parents, not children. Furthermore, I think that a lot of the hatred against children should logically really be directed against parents. When you see babies crying at the store or in a restaurant, don’t blame the children, they didn’t ask to be there and it’s not a place made for them. Blame the parents who were too poor or lazy to get a babysitter.
For example, this man (Mr. Mean-Spirited) openly and without shame describes himself as a misopedist (how openly do people declare themselves racists or misogynists?). But none of his reasons are actually good reasons to hate children: if anything, they seem to me more like reasons to be an antinatalist. What does a child have to do with turning ordinary people into vapid self-absorbed assholes (a sad process, to be sure) or for wasting the Earth’s resources? The child never asked to be born and it never actively sought to turn its parents into vapid self-absorbed assholes or to waste the Earth’s resources.
Natalism is the position that procreation, no matter its consequences, is morally justified. As I’ve discussed before, natalism as an ideology treats women and children as means to an end: their rights, health or desires are not part of the natalist equation. So natalism is inherently childist.
I’ve written above that I believe parents are to blame for the crimes of their children. Granted, I don’t actually believe in blame, but our justice system is founded on blaming people for crimes and an increasing number of children are being tried as adults under the rhetoric of blame. Actually, the fact that children are being tried at all should be the problematic. If blame must be attributed, then why not attribute it to the people whose decisions made the child what it is?
If all children were raised in complete freedom and with mastery of themselves and their own thoughts, then sure I could understand blaming the children for how they end up. But we do not live in such a world.
I’ve seen it argued before that no one could really be a misopedist. After all, we all have a difference race, gender or nationality, but we’ve all been children. But the adult misopedists are not children anymore, and can hate children safely. Furthermore, internalized prejudice does not disappear when one identifies with the object of hatred: women can be misogynists, POC can be racist, workers can be free market conservatives, and so on. As I’ve noted, these prejudices all inscribe the individual within a hierarchy, and everyone is very well aware what their status is in that hierarchy.
To side with one’s oppressors against one’s own in-group (making the prejudice itself a new in-group) is a coping strategy when dealing with oppression. It hurts to validate the fact that one is being oppressed, and it’s much less painful to argue that the oppression is actually natural and therefore not really oppression at all. Of course I don’t think it’s a rational strategy, but I don’t blame anyone for taking such an approach. The problem is that those people end up fighting for the status quo, which hurts everyone, not just themselves. Beyond the issue of blame there is an issue of truth.
Everyone must be free or no one is free. This is especially true of children as the way we are raised as children determines the kind of person we become later in life. Authoritarian parents give birth to fearful, boot-licking children. Repressive pedagogies give birth to repressive societies. Violent homes give birth to violent societies. I would love to be proven wrong, but, as far as I can see, raising children to be free is the only concrete, viable hope we have left to keep raising the level of confront and empathy in our societies.