I’ve previously delineated, and debunked, the three main arguments used to rationalize childism:
1. Children are not fully physically developed, therefore they are not mentally developed and (if young enough) are incapable of moral reasoning, decision-making, figuring out what’s true and what’s not, and so on, and must be controlled for their own good by a monogamous family structure.
2. Children are dependent on adults for their survival, therefore children are inferior, therefore children must be controlled for their own good by a monogamous family structure.
3. Children are inherently gullible and believe anything their parents (and presumably, anyone else) says, because evolution made them that way, therefore children should listen to their parents (instead of other people).
As I discussed in a previous entry, we have to delineate childism from its implementation: childism lies in the premise that children must be controlled, and that control is implemented through the monogamous family structure (a shorthand I use for the current methods of child-rearing).
My purpose in this entry is to look at these further: why people believe these pitiful excuses for arguments, and how they don’t apply to other areas of life. I also want to talk about the wild notions people have about children controlling their own lives.
But I shouldn’t call them “arguments,” as it is clear that these are rationalizations, not arguments. A quick way to tell the difference between a rationalization and an argument is that, in rationalizations, the conclusion is far, far more specific than the premises and is much wider in scope than the premises.
In each of these lines of reasoning, the conclusion is very specific and vast in scope: keep in mind that these are rationalizations used to justify the current family structure and current child-raising, with all the institutions that go along with them. This is an extremely specific and vast conclusion. But the premises are all vague, narrow facts, like “children are dependent on adults” or “children are gullible.” There’s no way to start from vague narrow facts like this and get to such a specific conclusion.
You can compare this to Christian apologetics, which is another form of rationalization. Their arguments also start from vague, narrow facts, like “there is design in the universe” or “the Bible is a coherent book” and end with the extremely specific conclusion that the Christian god, and no other god, exists and that his son is the only way to salvation. But, even if they were true, the premises could not support such specificity.
It is true that children are dependent on adults (although this is true of many adults as well, a point on which I will return). But they are not dependent on their parents specifically: they are dependent on any adult who will give them the resources they need to survive, parents or not. There’s no more way to go from “children are dependent on adult” to the modern family structure than to go from “the universe has design in it” to the god of the Bible.
The conclusion of rationalizations are much more specific precisely because the conclusion came first, and the rationalization came afterwards. Their goal is not to apply logic or to persuade, their goal is to eliminate any doubts about the existing state of affairs.
But for the magic trick to work, the premise has to be at least credible, if not true. For instance, the first premise, that children are not physically developed, is true, and no one disputes it. So is the second premise, that children depend on adults for their survival, at least as babies, toddlers and little children. The rationalization “works” because everyone accepts these premises as credible and no one looks any further.
But once you analyze these rationalizations logically, they don’t make any sense. Children are not physically developed, but that doesn’t imply that they are incapable of moral reasoning (for more on how children are capable of moral reasoning even at a very young age, see Why We Cooperate by Michael Tomasello). Actually, other primates are perfectly capable of moral reasoning, and they are not even human, so obviously we cannot determine the presence of moral reasoning by looking solely at human physical development.
And if children are not shown to lack moral reasoning, then they are also not shown to lack the capacity to take good (i.e. moral) decisions. While children may understandably lack the information they need to make informed decisions, that does not mean they cannot take good decisions given the information they do have.
The conclusion, that if we agree that children lack moral reasoning and decision-making, then they must be controlled for their own good by a monogamous family structure, is a complete derailment. Actually, we already have non-children who fill a similar description, mentally challenged people. Like children, mentally challenged people are more or less advanced in mental development, but we don’t treat them like children and their rights are protected under the law. So the conclusion does not follow at all.
The derailment aspect is roughly similar to the rationalization given after the police murder of Michael Brown, said rationalization being “but he stole a cigar!” The rationalization does not prove anything, but its role, like all other rationalizations, is to suppress doubt, not proving anything.
So why are these rationalizations so convincing? For no other reason than the conclusion being something people want to justify, and the premise being credible. That’s pretty much it.
This pattern appears in all other forms of prejudice, including racism and sexism, whose rationalizations start from observable cultural/physical differences and derail into hierarchical mass coercion. The fact that people have different cultures or different genitals does not entail differences in mental abilities or preferences, and differences in mental abilities or preferences would not justify the hierarchies of gender or race that we know today, or any hierarchy of gender or race. But people assume that the cultural/physical differences do validate the hierarchies because it’s a convenient excuse to keep believing in those hierarchies.
The second premise is that children are dependent on adults for their survival, which again is true. From this we deduce that children are inferior. But many sick or injured people are also dependent on adults to survive, and we don’t consider them inferior for it. We treat them like adults because they are adults (and therefore inherently superior), and do not claim that we can coerce them to live the way we think is best for them. So again the argument does not follow.
Someone might object that a sick adult’s dependence is temporary, unlike children who will remain dependent for a long time. But duration doesn’t have anything to do with it: we don’t treat people with chronic illnesses as inferior to those with broken bones, no matter how dependent either type of person might be at the time.
The end of this rationalization is a derailment similar to the previous one. Even if we assume that children are inferior because they cannot survive by themselves, well, so can’t most people. Why does that imply a need to control anyone’s life? Children are owed the support and affection they need to survive and flourish, but one does not need to control children to provide either of these things. What is needed is understanding, compassion, and expertise, and none of these things are harmonious with owning a human being.
The third premise is just wrong. Studies have shown that children develop critical thinking at a very young age. Furthermore, we know that there are plenty of adults who are far more gullible than your average child. Gullibility is an issue of attitude towards claims, not of age.
But what we have is a situation where children are not only uninformed but where the adults around them often deliberately withdraw information from them (although the Internet fortunately hinders this censorship). Most importantly, we have a situation where children are trapped into belief because their parents control their livelihood and refusing to believe would bring parental disapproval upon them, which is very painful both mentally and, in many cases, physically.
So calling children gullible is offensive because this is an attempt to portray their victimization as natural.
And even if children were somehow born gullible, how would that justify the current system? For most people, their parents weren’t the smartest or most informed people in their lives. If we actually needed parenting because children need to be taught correctly, then only those most qualified to raise children would be parents. This is obviously not the situation we’re in.
These rationalizations share one thing in common: they are perfect alibis for child abuse. Children’s supposed stupidity and gullibility are used to obscure the reality of abuse. Children’s dependency is used to coerce them into accepting abuse. And of course children’s physical disadvantage makes abuse much easier for grown adults. Their role, in all cases, is to say: you shouldn’t be on the side of the child because the child doesn’t deserve credibility or consideration, and children are not worth defending.
Children are not only abused by their caretakers, but they are abused by scam artists who seek to use them to lash out against others. Repressed memory therapy peddled by quack psychologists (about as scientific as “facilitated communication”) and satanic conspiracies pushed by cops and judges are the two main culprits here. Not only does this hurt children and their innocent families, but the quackery, when exposed, also casts profound doubt on actual testimonies from children.
There is a fourth rationalization that I haven’t really discussed so far because it’s so trite and besides the point of this blog, which is the whole Christian belief of “it’s God’s will/God’s plan for humans.” Of course “God’s plan” is highly mutable and changes depending on the values of whoever claims to know it. To some, “God’s plan” does not discriminate based on gender, and for others, “God’s plan” means the systematic exploitation of women’s labor and health.
But there is a secular version of this view, which is merely truncated: while the Christian global hierarchy puts God at the top and the power elite (previously, the monarchy and/or God’s flunkies) just below, the secular version puts the power elite at the top. In both versions, children are amongst the lowest on the hierarchy: the only thing that’s reliably classified lower than children on the totem pole is the natural world, which is seen as property (unlike children, who are treated as owned objects but not classified as such). Instead of “God’s will,” seculars have “evolutionary adaptation,” “the way things have always been,” and “what people deserve.”
The correct reply to such nonsense is that divine will and facts of nature do not confer any ethical obligations, since no external system can in itself generate ethical obligations. Without some prior acceptance of an ethical principle, there is no logical way to go solely from “God wills it” to “we should do it” or from “nature made us this way” to “we should organize like this.” It’s an intellectual dead end.
But ultimately it’s also the sum total of all rationalizations of prejudice. Even if it was scientifically proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that women, POC, children, immigrants, or whatever other exploited group, are inherently inferior in some way, it would not, and could not, change the validity of egalitarianism. If social equality is a valid social value, then it remains so regardless of dogma or science fact; likewise, if it is invalid, then no amount of dogma or science can make it valid. And the same holds true for hierarchical domination.
When you get a childist’s back to the wall, they’ll usually resort to the safeguard of “but children can’t be in control!” Part of that is the fear of power reversal, which I’ve already analyzed. Another part is simple, unalloyed misopedia. But another part, I think, is concern (whether genuine or fake, I would not hazard a guess) that anti-childists think that children should be treated like adults.
The fundamental problem with such an assertion is that we don’t treat all adults the same way: the way we treat our loved ones is different from the way we treat a stranger on the street or a mentally disabled person or a person in a coma. Treating someone “like an adult” only has meaning in contrast to treating someone “like a child.”
Obviously you cannot treat a baby the same way you treat an able adult. As I said, children need caretakers who have a great deal of understanding, compassion, and expertise in what they do. It is understandable to unload a bad mood on a friend, for example, but it’s not good to do the same to a child. It’s understandable (if petty) to not want to support someone who has ego-wounded you, but it’s unconscionable to do the same to a child.
All children everywhere have the fundamental right to grow up and develop in a healthy and free manner, so they may become healthy and free adults. To refuse them this right is the capital crime that underlies most crimes. This is the capital crime that beats down societies into complying with oppression, slavery and genocide.
One probably cannot overestimate the gravity of what breaking this fundamental right does to a society and to this world. All our evil institutions, all our evil constructs, are reproduced primarily through childhood indoctrination and childhood damage. The only way for an evil society (like ours) to maintain itself is through damaging children. That’s the gigantic childist elephant in the room.
People will express concern about children’s safety. Of course children must be kept safe from dangers they may not be aware of, or may not be able to evaluate. But this does not mean one must control children’s lives for their own safety. Pulling a toddler off a busy street does not mean you are in control of their life, any more than if you were saving an adult. Plugging up the electric sockets in areas where toddlers will play does not mean you control their lives, either.
The concept that applies here is informed consent: a person must be informed, made aware, of the risks of an action, and able to evaluate those risks, before we let them take those risks. Some form of this principle applies to areas as diverse as medical procedures, making an investment, and buying a house.
We assume that adults are informed of most every day risks, but we cannot assume all children are. Therefore we are responsible for providing a safe environment and ensuring children’s health until they can take decisions about their environment and health. Like adults, children are generally good at taking decisions on things they are informed about and which impact their own lives, and not so good on things they are not informed about or which are removed from their own lives.
Fundamentally the issue is not one between adults controlling children’s lives or children controlling adults’ lives, but whether outside values should be imposed on the child, and if so, which or whose. The conventional answer, no matter who you ask, is that the parents’ values must be imposed on the child; people on the different sides of the political spectrum merely differ on what the parents’ values should be. From an egalitarian standpoint, this is an unacceptable answer, and anyone who agrees with it is, at best, a very incompetent egalitarian or a self-serving parent.
Let me finish by stating why these rationalizations really suck: they suck because they are constantly used to justify the harm inflicted on actual children every day around the globe, all the way from murder and physical/sexual assault, to labor exploitation, to the humdrum mind-numbing tyranny and psycho-drama of a “good family.”
And I am one of the very few people out there who discuss this phenomenon as a systemic, hierarchical prejudice, not just as a case of “bad apples” or as a need for “education reform.” Standardized exams (and exams in general) or child physical/sexual abuse are problems that should be eradicated, yes, but this alone would not stop childism any more than equal pay or prosecuting rapes would end sexism.