« New address for GENERATOR | Main | Exploration: Emancipation »

September 20, 2004

OUTLINE: Youth Are Nobody's Property -- Except Their Own

[NOTE: This document was added to the blog on May 16, 2005]

Oh, I'm so excited! Last night I was struck by inspiration -- which kept me up til 4am -- and I came up with a new outline for the YL writing project, taking a very different approach.

Book Title: Youth Are Nobody's Property -- Except Their Own

Six chapter-length essays:

1. Youth Are Nobody's Property -- Except Their Own
The current YL movement focuses on winning rights identical to those of adults, based on the "all men are created equal" principle. However, property doesn't have rights of its own -- and youth are still essentially property. ...There couldn't be a meaningful Civil Rights movement til decades after the Emancipation Proclamation. In this essay I intend to discuss the various things that are inherently, inalienably owned by youth: their body, name, friendships, movement, time/labor, education, a portion of what's held collectively by society, and access to resources that have been made available for the public good (etc.).

2. Emancipation: Reclaiming Ownership of Oneself
The key to youth freedom is emancipation. In the same meaning of slaves becoming free people, it is the door to youths' freedom. However, the legal notion of "emancipation" for minors that exists now is watered down (what rights does it actually buy you?) and difficult to access (requiring a court decision to terminate parents' property rights). We need to make strengthening the laws around emancipation our movement's core project... In essence YL's goals boil down to just two: (1) let youth assume responsibility as soon as they desire / are ready, (2) let youth escape bad guardians and proxies at will.

3. Adult Supremacism: The Idea That Youth Should Be Adults' Property
With all this talk about treating human beings as property, I need to take a step back and discuss the philosophy of what property is -- and therefore what it means to treat people like it. [This bit should cannibalize some from my "Property and Ownership" essay.] ...That said, let me introduce the concept of "adult supremacism". It has five possible meanings (like any good dictionary definition):

  1. belief that a command/obey relationship should exist between individual adults and young persons [a one-on-one relationship]
  2. belief that adults as a group should exclusively control youth as a group via unilateral rule and adult-managed cultural institutions [a form of government]
  3. belief that youth are a "problem people", whose troubling character/behavior requires intervention on a large scale [media defamation]
  4. belief that youth in itself is a flawed/objectionable state of being [youth hating]
  5. a sense of pride/superiority based on one's own adulthood -- belief that "I'm better than you because I'm an adult" [personal sense of superiority]

4. How Parents Maintain Control of Their Human Property
An examination of the strategies of control. Making youth self-police with "conscience" is the supremacist's ideal. Fear of punishment is more effective than punishment itself. Physical violence is a tool available to all parents, good or bad. Violence is a means to an ends; it is predictable that in a context of adultism, some parents will take this to an extreme -- abuse. Control is no longer just a means to protect and help youth (if it ever was just that); it has become an end unto itself, such that "insubordination" is seen as an offense.

5. "Adulthood" Is Membership in an Organization for Property Owners
Adult supremacism is rooted in a one-on-one command/obey relationship between parent and child. However, we can also look at adult society and see that it has become organized to protect the property rights of the individual parent; it's similar to a home owner's association. Youth are not just private property; they are the collective property of all adults. In this sense, "adulthood" is not biological, but rather an artificial status. ...Let's go further into the "organization" metaphor: there's a line between members and non-members, the line is policed, membership has privileges, the organization has government, some lead and some follow, there may be internal dissent, there's a cultural dress code of sorts, some youth create fake IDs to try to pass as members, etc.

6. Ageless Being: Transcending Childhood, Adulthood, and Old Age
Being "adult" is seen as a virtue, being a "child" as a flaw. This sets the stage for supremacism. But we need not aspire to embody a stereotype that's been attached to a biological state; we can aspire to ageless ideals. ...Rather than dividing the world into adults and youth, we can see the commonality between young children and adults who have various disabilities. Infants are physically alien to adults; we need to project humanity into babies, anthropomorphize them, because it will be far more difficult to begin acting respectfully later. Respect is given -- not won. ...I'll take a look at the specific ways in which youth are dependent on adults: at first biologically, then for social navigation, and economically for a prolonged time). Then, I'll then lead readers through a thought experiment about what it would mean if souls could relocate into different bodies, and its ramifications for the construction of a just society.

...Ooh! Ooh! I'm so stoked! This new book structure represents several significant changes in my thinking:

1) I'm abandoning the "Oppression / Liberation" Framework in favor of a "Property and Ownership" Framework. The P&O frame is my own creation, and I think it's finally developed enough that it can replace Op/Lib. It launches readers into the subject of youth's condition -- whereas with Op/Lib, I always had to go through an abstract discussion of what "oppression" means, then show that youth meet the criteria for inclusion.

2) I'm going for booklets, rather than one all-encompassing book. My previous book outline had 27 proposed chapters, broken into six sections -- and I kept coming up with more. Six chapters is a doable arc. It makes for an approachable book, and it stays on topic. I can already see how each essay in this booklet suggests further booklets on other topics -- but I'm content to deal with them separately.

3) Property is the appropriate starting point for a discussion of YL. When I did a YL workshop at the coast for New Year's 2003/2004, I kind of confused people by focusing on where the age line between adults and youth is, and on the youth-led model of activism. This new theme really gets to the "meat" (or tofu paddy, in my case) of the matter, right off the bat.

4) Property Rights are more intuitive than Civil Rights. I'm replacing a "bill of rights", which has always been a sort of pie-in-the-sky wish list of guarantees, with a list of what you own. When someone takes away something that you own, that's theft. I like how clear-cut that is, and feel it will help clarify the thinking of our movement. Your usual "bill of rights" seems like an odd potpourri; I'm making the underlying theme of all rights explicit: you may not own another human being. That principle is what rights seek to protect.

5) The new emphasis on emancipation opens other new possibilities. Last night's inspiration was an offshoot from something I read in the NYT about creating new competency tests for elderly voters. First it occurred to me that we could possibly win the vote by riding in on the coat-tails of competency test legislation. Then it occurred to me that our big problem is that the number 18 is named in the constitution; so what if rather than trying to subtract this law, we tried to add an amendment that made a provision for emancipated youth?

...As I began looking in my reference books about what legal "emancipation" means, I increasingly came to realize that it actually offers very little additional freedom -- and it's very difficult to access. But it's a powerful word, evoking the emancipation of the slaves, becoming free! Shouldn't we struggle to make emancipation more meaningful? [Though it risks reinforcing the powers of guardians prior to the emancipation...]

...What if we abandoned the terms "Youth Rights" and "Youth Liberation" and went for a "Youth Emancipation" movement instead? It may not flow off the lips -- but it gives youth the right starting point (property rights) for their personal thought journeys -- and it suggests an iconic ritual that youth activists might aspire to (or at least contemplate) in their own lives!

Wow. This is the kind of world-view shifting insight that only comes along every 6 months or two years. I live for this.

Posted by Sven at September 20, 2004 12:00 PM


...What if we abandoned the terms "Youth Rights" and "Youth Liberation" and went for a "Youth Emancipation" movement instead? It may not flow off the lips -- but it gives youth the right starting point (property rights) for their personal thought journeys -- and it suggests an iconic ritual that youth activists might aspire to (or at least contemplate) in their own lives!

Hmm.. National Youth Emancipation Association... NYEA. nYEA! Hmm....

Seriously though, you just posted a huge amount of stuff all at once. I'm overwhelmed. And bad timing too, cause I'm going on vacation. I do intend to read it all, and I'll post my responses over at One and Four. Probably when I get back.

Posted by: KPalicz at May 22, 2005 09:48 PM

Yeah -- I'm kinda overwhelmed myself! Re-reading these outlines and fragments and whatnot, I keep coming across bits that I want to elaborate on...

Thanks for the link! I'll add it to my daily reads. :-)

Posted by: sven Bonnichsen at May 22, 2005 10:03 PM