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December 11, 2002

Adult Supremacism - part 2

IV. Anti-Youth Propaganda
Adult supremacism is a blueprint for one group's control over another -- one that's been implemented. But adult supremacy is not static and unchanging. Adults continue talking about it, interpreting current events through the lens "adults should control youth". This cultural conversation keeps the implementation of adult supremacism a constantly changing and evolving thing.

The role of public commentator is taken up by a number of different groups: news reporters, writers for sit-com TV shows, authors of popular non-fiction / advice books, university-based researchers, politically involved advocacy groups, public officials, etc. The work of creating media content is creative, but certain themes are repeated over and over. In his book "Framing Youth: 10 myths about the Next Generation.", anti-adultism author Mike A. Males identifies some of the most common themes: "today's youth are America's worst generation ever", "teens are violent thugs", "teens need more policing", "teens are druggie wastoids".

Suppose a 16-year-old white male murders his parents. In similar actual cases, national media have picked up the story and covered it for days or weeks on end. It's a terrible crime -- but adult men murdering their wives and girlfriends is common enough that it only receives local attention and usually only on one day. Similarly, when an adult goes on a shooting spree, murdering a number of people, it makes the national news -- but only briefly; it's become a familiar (though terrible) event. When white teenage boys did the same at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, it was the news event of the year; media commentators were still talking about it many months later.

The gist of most commentary went along these lines... "How could this happen? If *any* youth could do this, then there must be something horribly wrong with the state of youth collectively. We adults must make big changes now. Parents must exert more control. Everyone who interacts with youth must be more involved." National magazines ran cover stories about how to spot violent youth. Across the U.S., special suspicion and hostility was aimed at any youth wearing the color black. Underlying all discussion, the real story was "we need to control youth." So, as time passed, new topics got coverage: the brain chemistry of young people (showing how unlike adults youth are) and, as one cover story succinctly put it, "do kids have too much power?" Local TV news crews wanted some way to connect their own communities to the national concern, so they ran stories about vandalism and petty crimes by local youth, all the while shaking their heads, reiterating the implication that youth as a group have gone bad. Legislators, wanting to respond to the (adult) public's concerns, acted where they could -- for instance, by making the requirements for a driver's license stricter, and by cracking down on movie theaters that don't check patrons' age carefully enough!

The societal backlash against youth after the Columbine shootings was probably the worst in 50 years or more. But it was not unique -- it simply replayed on a larger scale something that happens commonly when youth make the news. Anti-youth propaganda makes adult control seem vital and new again each time current events give pundits something to respond to, something to interpret.

Between news events, adult supremacism is recycled in moralistic entertainment. TV dramas and sit-coms habitually reuse the plot line where son / daughter becomes involved in some vice, and is only saved from destruction by lecturing and a stiff punishment from the wise parent. The story may be aimed at youth, adults, or both; notice that it provides a clear role model for parental behavior, not just for youth. In the realm of pure comedy, stand-up comics and newspaper cartoonists (notably Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, creators of "Zits") regularly trot out hackneyed caricatures of youth for derision: the bad student driver, the telephone monopolizer, the faddish teen with green hair and a tongue-piercing, the fast food burger-flipper with acne and a cracking voice, the brooding and sulky teen, the fan of unbearably loud and awful music, and so on.

Youth Liberation activists would like to move society toward a non-adultist future. It's inspiring to imagine a utopian world where young people have equal rights, or to draft a youth bill of rights. However, with so many voices actively justifying adult control -- if not calling for its expansion -- activists can expect opposition at each step. The better part of our energies may go to just resisting new attacks, holding and protecting ground rather than making any new progress.

-- to be continued --

December 11, 2002

Posted by Sven at 11:53 AM

December 09, 2002

COMPASS [a poem]

NOTE: Please adjust the width of your browser window so that the line breaks appear properly.

I. North
Over there, in the North
in Edmonton Alberta
is where I was born.

In a University hospital wing that's since been torn down
where Barb & Charlie live, my mother's sister and her husband.

II. East
Over there, in the East
in Orono Maine
is where I grew up.

Going to Orono High School
living near the University of Maine with my family
in a house that we sold and moved away from.

III. South
Over there, the South
is where my family moved to.

Tucson Arizona:
Where my Mother & Brother went after leaving Maine
my Granny & Grampa after having lived in Wisconsin.
Texas: Where my father moved after Corvallis Oregon,
which is where he went after leaving Maine.

I'll probably visit my family again soon.

IV. West
Over there is the West
Portland Oregon
where I live now.

With Jacque, in a duplex
after having gone to Reed College.

Where I was partners with Argie
Matt & Malia before that
Hilary (in a way), Miwa
Amanda from Maine
Lara, first of all.

V. Above
Up there, Above
the Sky
is where I came from.

Outer space, a Big Bang
matter and energy coalescing into a solar system
the Sun
this planet, the Earth
formed from the dust of galaxies.

VI. Below
Down there, Below
in the ground
is where I will go.

A ball of iron and nickel
with trace elements on the surface rusting,
being bombarded with nuclear rays
forming a thin, inhabitable layer where life could emerge

One day I'll go back to the ground
worms will eat me, my body decompose
I'll become soil once again.

VII. Center
The Center, inside
this is my life.

This flesh which has been passed on generation after generation
as a seed by a species mating with itself
my mother and father creating this being
that I exist now.
These breaths, this blood, this flesh
this is my life
these thoughts and feelings and sensations:


Sven Bonnichsen
December 9, 2002

Posted by Sven at 04:02 PM | Comments (5)

December 02, 2002

Adult Supremacism - part 1

"Adultism" is the oppression of young people by adults. Adultism is pervasive in U.S. society, shaping personal relationships, institutions, and cultural images. The word "adultism" is very general; it encompasses many different situations. So, it is useful to create more specific language. Probably the most important word an anti-adultism activist can add to their vocabulary is "adult supremacism".

ADULT SUPREMACISM is the belief that adults should control youth.

In this essay I'll attempt to give a better understanding of adult supremacism by describing it in some detail.

I. An Ideology
Adult supremacism is an ideology. It is the set of ideas, the belief system, that rationalizes how adults continue to treat youth. Most people don't even give it conscious thought. They agree with adult supremacy by default rather than by choice. Adult supremacism has been built into our institutions and handed down as tradition, so it seems like it's just how the world works, like it's nature. Other individuals are more outspoken about their dislike of youth or belief that parents should be strict disciplinarians. These people are bigots -- but don't make the mistake of thinking that only aberrant individuals are supremacist. The entire society is saturated in adult supremacism; the bigots are just more vocal about their support of the system.

II. Control by Parents
The most basic building block of adult supremacism is the parent-child relationship. It is supposed to be a command/obey dynamic: the parent makes commands, the youth is obligated to obey them. But obedience is not enough. The youth is supposed to show that they're eager to comply and grateful for the supervision. Resentment, rolling eyes, sighing, back-talk, and being slow to obey -- are seen as insubordination, an attack on the parent's right to command.

To empower parents, adult society has granted authority to use violence ("discipline") -- acts that would be considered "assault" if done to another adult. Most parents seldom need to use this power, though. Having established that they *can* inflict pain, intimidation keeps the youth in line. Youth remain trapped under this lingering threat by dependence on the parents for shelter, food, clothing, money, and transport.

Most parents, perhaps, seem kind the majority of the time. Generally, parents don't want to see themselves as tyrants. They want their offspring and other adults to appreciate them as kind protectors. The children of a "good parent" are supposed to obey out of love -- too much resistance by the youth, too much force by the adult, makes the grownup look like a "bad parent". So parents give youth areas of freedom, making life tolerable to the extent that the basic command/obey relationship can fade into the background. The fact remains, though, that when some issue feels important to the parent, they can step back into the role of authority at any time.

The power that parents are given to rule over their offspring is almost unlimited. Most states prohibit violence only if it leaves lasting physical damage -- and even then, some states forgive the act if it was an accident that occurred during discipline. There is a presumption that adults in their wisdom are fair rule-makers -- but youth experience shows that parents often become petty tyrants: judgmental, inventing rules and punishments to suit their mood, stepping in to control young people's lives simply because they can. "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." [John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1887]

III. Control by Government
This idea that "adults should control youth" shapes the government, just as it shapes parent-child relationships. As things stand now, only adults are permitted to run for office in the U.S., and minors are prohibited from voting in elections. It's a situation that echoes the structure of the family: adults get to make the rules, youth are expected to obey them. Someone could argue that there are benefits to this system -- but not that it's the only *possible* system. Rule exclusively by adults is a particular form of government -- like monarchy, oligarchy, matriarchy, etc. By coining a new word to describe rule by adults --"adultarchy" (or "adultocracy") -- we create room to envision something different: a society where all members have a voice, regardless of age.

Modern adultism is a phenomenon linked to the emergence of the nation state. Within the family unit, the line between parent and child can remain intact even as both get older. In previous times, this allowed the grandparents or great grandparents to hold the highest authority in a multi-generational family. Now, however, simple rule by the eldest has been replaced by rule by the mid-range, an artificial class: adults. On a societal level, government has imitated the generational lines of a family (child / parent / grandparent) by establishing legal categories: minor / adult / senior citizen. But unlike in the family, law-makers are *forced* to pick an artificial age-line to distinguish youth from adults. Different laws identify different age lines (e.g. 16, 18, 21, 25), but the preponderance center around 18 -- roughly the age when most youth now leave home. Again, the parent-child relationship is the most basic building block of adult supremacism; government attempts to echo its patterns in law.

Where youth are concerned, the adult government's first role has been to elevate the tradition of parental authority to law. The original and continuing model for parent power has been to view youth as property. In the early part of U.S. history women, children, slaves, and cattle were all seen as the living property of a white, adult, male, head-of-household. Like inanimate possessions, these dependents were seen as extensions of the man, without a legal voice of their own. It was the right of the man to do with them as he liked, and his obligation to be responsible for their actions should they offend another adult male citizen. The man could be punished if his property committed a crime, so he was granted legal authority to use violence as a means of control. Institutions were put in place to return "runaways", as were means for severing connection to a continually unruly ("incorrigible") youth. Most legal vestiges of "persons as property" have been wiped away for women and African Americans -- but for minors, parental responsibility laws, the right to discipline, prohibitions against running away, and laws pertaining to "incorrigible" youth, remain largely intact.

In addition to codifying individual parents' right to control their children, the modern nation state claims for itself the right to control minors as a class. As with parental authority, the powers of the state are essentially unlimited. Of the many youth-related laws currently in effect, examples include:

At times, governmental and parental interests in controlling youth seem at odds. Compulsory schooling and child abuse intervention are probably the most significant instances of state interference with parental control. Parents may become angry because they feel that state agencies are teaching viewpoints that they disagree with, or more basically, just because their human property has been taken away from them. Like parents, the state views youth as property -- but property that is collectively owned by *all* adult citizens. Backing up a step, the state actually views all U.S. citizens as its own property. Anything owned by a possession of the state, must also belong to the state. When (for whatever reason) government takes an interest in a matter that would otherwise be parents' domain, this principle justifies superseding private ownership rights.

It's worth noting that when agents of the state do step in, they tend to replicate the parent-child model. Public schools -- the arm of the government that youth are most personally effected by -- are at least as hierarchical as the family: youth are given no power in decisions about hiring and firing staff and administrators, funding, policy, or curriculum. Teachers are expected to act "in loco parentis" -- in place of the parents... And in more than half of the U.S. states, they share with parents the right to inflict corporal punishment. In child abuse intervention, the ultimate goal is to either reunite the youth with their rehabilitated parents, or to place them with a foster family. Youths' right to simply "divorce" the parents has repeatedly been denied in the courts, even when they were sufficiently articulate and aggrieved to demand it.

To summarize... The government echoes the structure of the family: adults, and only adults, get to make the rules. The breadth of rule-making power that adult government grants itself is almost unlimited. It elevates traditional parental authority to law, giving youth a status much like private property. Yet, when the state does take an interest, parents' rights of private ownership are superseded, with the justification that youth are property ("resources") collectively owned by *all* adult citizens.

-- to be continued --

December 2, 2002

Posted by Sven at 05:53 PM | Comments (1)