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December 22, 2004

Exploration: Worldview of the Youth power Movement

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

From W 09.29.04:

"The point of this essay is that it is not an essay; it is an "exploration". I don't have any outline going into this, and it's not meant to end up as something that other people will read. This is where I'll sort through my thoughts. It's like note-taking -- but in sentences and paragraphs, rather than in fragments. The idea is to just keep going forward, and not become recursive, trying to edit what I still haven't even thought through. I think I can trust that by writing "explorations" such as this one, outlines will naturally emerge -- if it turns out that I even have adequate material for an essay. [Discovering that I really don't have adequate material for an essay would be valuable in itself!]"

1. Youth Liberation in General

Before I get into talking about the Youth Power movement, there are some introductory comments to be made.

Youth Liberation is a subvariety of the Children's Rights movement. Its most important feature is the inclusion of youth activists and youths' own opinions in its work. Other branches of the Children's Rights movement are engaged in work that is putatively for the benefit of young people, but is entirely adult led, and often lacking any significant input from youth themselves. Youth Liberation is at its most basic level, Children's Rights work that is actually inclusive of youth -- that in some sense derives from the opinions and perspectives of youth themselves.

There are differences of philosophy within Youth Liberation itself.

One key issue on which YL groups vary is the inclusion of adults. Some YL groups take a radical "by youth, for youth" approach that excludes adult participation entirely. Other groups have youth and adults working on an equal footing, and others still have adults doing all of the actual work, but guided by input from a youth constituency.

A second key issue on which YL groups vary is how they envision the political goals of the movement. I argue elsewhere that there are three main branches within Youth Liberation: Youth Equality (AKA Youth Rights), Youth Power, and Youth Culture. Youth Equality focuses upon winning civil rights for youth identical to those of adults. Youth Power focuses on creating safe ways to exit harmful situations and on getting youth authority to participate in decision-making processes that affect them. Youth Culture focuses on defending youths' natural ways of being, and on creating alternative spaces where youth can be themselves.

[My own allegiance is to the philosophy of Youth Power -- but I see value in all three paths, and hope to help foster greater understanding between them.]

"Youth Liberation" is not a universally accepted umbrella term; the term "Youth Rights" has some popularity. I choose to use the term "Youth Liberation" in part because of its historical value. The organization Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor was very influential in this movement during the early seventies. This group, in addition to the seminal work of adult authors John Holt (Escape from Childhood) and Richard Farson (Birthrights), is a common point of departure for the various branches of YL.

While there is no single political agenda that all YL activists have agreed upon, Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor, Holt, and Farson all put forth their own Bill of Rights -style documents, and these documents each show a great deal of overlap. The most distinguishing feature of a consensus YL agenda is the belief that youth should be allowed to vote in elections. Support of this point alone is probably enough to brand a person or group as a supporter of YL. Belief that youth should be allowed a great deal more self-determination over their lives is also at the core of all YL philosophies.

From a strict semantic point of view the term "Youth Liberation" implies a particular framework of beliefs that was in vogue during the late 1960s and early 70s. "Liberation" is contrasted with "oppression", which implies the presence of two groups: one that actively oppresses, and one that is oppressed. This framework persists in a variety of social justice / social change movements that talk about "oppressions" or "isms" such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, ageism, etc. The word "liberation", however is dated, and has become somewhat passé.

...While it is valuable to discuss how an oppression/liberation framework differs from a civil rights/equality framework, I choose to ignore the implications of the word "liberation" in YL here, for the sake of having a useful umbrella term for this movement's various branches. I see no point in attempting to delegitimize the work of activist groups solely because of differing terminology -- e.g. by denouncing a group because it is not "liberating" or alternatively because its focus is not on "rights". The interests of our sub-movements are too similar; in this context we should work to understand each others peculiarities, or at least tolerate them.

That said, neither should we shy away from discussing the fact that there are philosophical differences between YL groups -- at least not amongst ourselves. Groups that are separatist and groups that are integrated -- Youth Equality, Youth Power, and Youth Culture groups -- we can only gain from a sincere, yet tolerant, intellectual exchange.

2. Worldview of the Youth Power Movement

[Note that I am using the word "movement" here loosely. I am not certain what critical masse of activist goings on would constitute a historical movement -- but I am fairly certain that we have not achieved it yet. There are small outcroppings of activists at work that share a common philosophy. Given the physical distances that separate them, and the lack of a recognizable hub of interaction (e.g. an annual conference), I am reticent to call these people a "subculture". So, I use the word "movement" instead, but with this acknowledgement that it is still not quite the right term.]

[I suppose I should also say up front that the following "worldview" is not based on consensus. I am constructing it myself. One might criticize me for projecting my own beliefs onto a population that exists only in my own imagination. While I can't deny that there would be something to this criticism, I also don't think that that's the whole story.

The framework that I am articulating here is distilled from the political philosophies of other social change movements (particularly Feminism and Marxism). In a sense, I am translating those philosophies for use by YL activists. My sense is that this philosophy is a logical possibility simply waiting to exist. I sense that there are others who intuit its existence, and operate on its principles -- it just hasn't been articulated yet. It is as if there's a pantheon of social groups (blacks, women, gays/lesbians, poor, and disabled people) who have all employed a _____-power strategy; but there's a gap there in the line, waiting to be filled, where youth should be standing.]

The Youth Power movement is not defined purely by the goals that it wishes to achieve, nor by the methods that it advocates using to accomplish them. The movement is also defined by it's worldview: how it understands the initial situation that it is attempting to change. This worldview is not limited to merely the relationship between youth and adults -- it also includes beliefs about human nature, the nature of justice, and how social change occurs in general.

(A) Youth as Property

The Youth Power movement recognizes that human beings have selfish motives. This is not to say that people's only motive is self-interest. Acting out of interest for the common good, or altruistically for the welfare of another, or in obedience to authority, or unthinkingly out of habit -- all these motives undeniably exist. However, in addition there is also this thread of self-interest: that people will often, if not most of the time, do that which will in some way benefit them personally.

One thing that profoundly serves self-interest is to be in a command-obey relationship as the person who gives orders. When a person feels that they have the right to tell another person what to do, they get to have things the way that they want them. Getting to have your way is pleasant! On a basic, human level, it is desirable to get to spend your time how you want, go where you want, when you want -- and to not have to do work that's unappealing, to not be forced to cater to other people's needs and schedules when you'd rather be doing something else.

Parents are in an ideal position for having a command-obey relationship with their children. In terms of property rights, a person is generally seen as having natural ownership over a thing that they create (e.g. a piece of art). Having biologically generated a new human being from the material of their own bodies, there is a strong instinct for parents to view their offspring as property.

A person essentially has a command-obey relationship with their inanimate property. It belongs to them, and they get to do with it what they want -- using it, altering it, destroying it, giving it to others, or preventing others from interacting with it. Parents, as human beings who have created something, intuitively believe that they have these same rights over their offspring.

The command-obey relationship is the essence of slavery. During the past two centuries, slavery has become seen as morally unacceptable. However, most people's understanding of slavery is very limited -- it is typically identified with the experience of Africans who were brought to the USA to do labor in Southern plantations. [It is also perhaps identified by some with enslavement by the Egyptians, as described in the Bible.] If we strip away the inflammatory word "slavery", then we begin to see that there is a continuum of slave-like states, which includes imprisonment, shanghaiing, indentured servitude, and the obedience demanded of wives previously in the USA and still in some nations.

Youth Power is part of a continuing effort to end the practice of treating people as property. This is how Youth Power sees itself participating in a greater historical context, contributing to the larger goal of human rights and dignity.

(B) Self-Determination

The right of self-ownership is seen as self-evident. A person is nobody's property but their own. The rights that Youth Power seeks to protect are essentially property rights -- and the most fundamental property is one's body. As with any other property they own, a person should naturally have the right to use their body, alter it, destroy it, give it to others, or prevent others from interacting with it. Taken together, control over these aspects of one's person constitutes "self-determination", which is one of the goals of all Youth Liberation branches.

[Basing personal, civil, and human rights on ownership of the body, of course becomes more complicated when you start having to deal with shared space. Once you put people together in a room or open space, their boundaries begin overlapping. This is a more difficult area of theory, but still workable, I believe.]

When a youth's -- or any other person's -- right to do what they want with their own body (so long as it is not infringing upon others) is violated, that violation is unethical. Laws or other forms of rules that deprive youth of such freedom are inherently illegitimate. There is no ethical obligation that should compel a youth to abide by an invalid law or rule, regardless of what authority figure has created it. When an authority -- even one who comes by their power via legitimate means -- makes bad rules, a youth is free to ignore those rules.

Young people's situation is similar to that of a people in a nation that has been invaded and conquered. The conquering people claims the right to make rules as they see fit; the conquered people do not necessarily recognize the conquerors' right to make rules. In this sense, adults cannot "give" youth rights or freedom. Youth are free at present. For instance, at any moment, a young person in a high school class could decide to stand up and walk out of the building. The difficulty with freedom in this context is that the adult authorities in this youth's life are likely to impose consequences. Thus, youth freedom is not a matter of passing ten or twenty or a hundred laws; it is a matter of adults getting out of the way of young people who want to exercise the freedoms that are theirs to begin with. [Denying youth access to opportunities that should be open to them can be seen in a similar way.]

(C) The Organization of Adults

Because the US Constitution excludes youth from direct participation in government -- specifically prohibiting being a president, senator, representative, or voting in elections -- it is accurate to say that the US political system is an "adultarchy", that is, government by adults. A government that is explicitly by adults, is implicitly for the interests of adults.

From an age perspective, the government was installed by parents; it is run by them, and its laws reflect their collective will. For the most part, the laws of the adultarchy simply attempt to legitimate parents private ownership of their children-as-property. [E.g. by articulating the right to use physical pain for "discipline", and by prohibiting youth from running away.]

However, there is also a transcendence of private ownership, wherein all children are seen to be the collective property of all adults. Minors' status as citizens in the nation thus echoes the command-obey relationship of the home, but on a public level: as voters, all adults get to tell all youth what to do; as youth have curfews at home, so too they have curfews at the city-level.

This collective ownership of youth sometimes creates what looks like a conflict between parents and the government, e.g. when Child Welfare services remove a child from his or her parents. However, the situation is not per se that the government is siding with the child -- after all, the child may have little or no voice in the decision to be removed. Rather, adults as a collective are interested in regulating the behavior of their constituent members. The principle that youth are owned property is maintained.

Adulthood is essentially a membership based organization. Members receive privileges; there is a dividing line between members and non-members; the prohibitions placed upon non-members are literally policed and enforced; identification cards are distributed; there's even something of an informal dress code. The dividing line between adults and youth varies somewhat between different laws; however, most laws revolve around the age of 18 -- which I believe is intended to echo the line between parents and children, when minors have historically left home and moved toward becoming parents themselves. Adulthood is an unusual institution, but I do not think that inconsistency in the dividing line(s) between members and non-members alters modern adulthood's fundamentally organizational nature.

Another fairly unique aspect of adulthood as an organization is that non-members are ultimately, universally inducted -- without having to make a choice, without having to formally embrace doctrine. ...If the transition from childhood to adulthood were like a traditional political conversion, one would expect a requirement that one renounce one's previous affiliation. However, childhood is so effectively stigmatized, that most people spend their entire youth attempting to dissociate themselves from young people as a group. Most youth are so eager to join the adultarchy, that there's no solidarity with other young people to betray.

This constant struggle for status -- not associating with people younger than you, doing "adult" things like smoking or drinking, putting other youth down for being "childish", emphasizing other prestige-giving identities (like maleness), bullying other kids, simply denying that one is "a child", and refusing to look back at the past -- these strategies make organizing youth for activist efforts a more difficult task.

(D) Adults' Conflict of Interests re Child Protection

Youth must not depend on the organization of adults to police itself.

On the level of the family, parents' "right" to control their children-as-property is nearly absolute. Adult government has placed some obligations upon its members: to provide food and shelter at a level that does not constitute "neglect", to provide education. Parents are charged with controlling their children by whatever means necessary -- so long as they don't cause physical injury.

At the societal level, however, adults' power is absolute. There is no limit on what freedoms adult law makers may abridge (e.g. night and daytime curfews), or what requirements they may make of youth's labor (e.g. up to twelve years of compulsory schooling). Without the formal power of voting or being able to elect youth legislators, youths' only recourse against such laws is to appeal to law makers' consciences and hope for the best -- or to willfully flout the laws they make.

The saying "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" (Lord Acton) has relevance. Contemporary sensibilities want to trust that all except aberrational parents have their children's best interests at heart, and govern their private spheres fairly, because they know what's best for their kids. While it's probably true that most family situations are tolerable, parents aren't necessarily the best judge of what's fair and right in dealing with youth. Parents have a vested interest in getting things the way that they want them, in maintaining the command-obey relationship. Making commands or rules selfishly may not break bones -- but neither should the commonness of petty, casual tyranny be condoned.

The worst abuse of youth is an outgrowth of normal parenting values. Contrary to the notion that there are good parents and bad parents, I assert that there is a continuum between how most parents govern their children -- guiding, supervising, controlling -- and how the worst do. Parents are, by law, mandated to control their children; inflicting physical pain is a legal method for doing so. Even among "normal" parents, violence is a means to an ends: obtaining obedience. Furthermore, parental authority is seen as an end in itself; insubordination or lack of respect is a punishable offense. In this relationship, it's not surprising that some parents would use violence to the point of injury. Nor is it surprising that youth would resist such treatment -- and that this resistance, clinging to ones dignity, might spurn further, escalating abuse.

From a youth perspective, the adult government does not prohibit violence -- it regulates it. The Child Welfare system is widely understood to be understaffed for handling the amount of child abuse cases it receives -- and it is undercut by the legality of actions that would be considered assault when done to an adult. The legislature, being staffed largely by parents with a self-interest in maintaining their own command-obey relationships at home (as well as that of their constituencies) are not going to be quick to prohibit violence against minors. ...Yet, this is the system that youth are asked to entrust themselves to. If you are a young person being abused, you are supposed to tell a "good" adult, who will help you get into the system, wherein you still will not be your own property -- but rather now the property of the state. If you suffer from not being permitted to control your own life, violence merely being one tool of that agenda, what about entering the Child Welfare system sounds appealing?

[Still, this is not to say that the Child Welfare system should not exist! It helps ameliorate a bad situation, even if hamstrung -- and is of particular service to the very young, and to infants. However, it should be reformed to deal with some of youths' concerns, and augmented with youth-led initiatives.]

Violence is not the only issue that Youth Power is concerned with -- but it epitomizes the degree to which adult control can harm youth. It lays naked the core dynamic (maintaining the command-obey relationship between youth and adults) that manifests in the public sphere, and in so many laws.

(E) Need for Activism

For the most part, the interests of children and parents are viewed as one and the same. As one author put it, the child is the "dependent half of a two-person unit". The notion is that parents will take care of children, and so parents must be given the resources to do so. However, this erases youths' separateness, confusing their needs with those of "the family". [Coverture is, of course, founded on a parent owning their child as property.]

With no separate existence in the eyes of society, youth have no basis for complaining about their treatment. In order to criticize the command-obey relationship, youth must first be seen to exist! Each party within the family is separate, and has its own interests. The interests of the parents is in maintaining the convenience and pleasure of a command-obey relationship. If adults are expected to at the same time think of the best interests of their children, then they have a conflict of interests.

Rather than depend solely upon adults, youth must become their own advocates. Youth are poorly educated about how to defend themselves against mistreatment (it's not in adult's interest to do so!). For the most part, they simply aren't told how to access a system that will redress their complaints. This puts them in the position of having to wait to be "discovered" by an outside adult, who will escort them into the Child Protection system. If they youth are told anything about how to protect themselves, they're generally directed to tell their story to another adult. But this doesn't account for other adults seeing the offending parent as being in the right, or not taking the youth seriously! [What's missing in this entire system is any point at which a youth can command an adult, demand that their complaints be aired in a public setting.]

On a personal level, youth have every right to self-defense. They are justified in hitting back, running away, or temporarily safe-housing each other as a means of escape.

However, youth should not have to live with these options alone. Youth should work to create improved means of exiting harmful situations. They should have the right to voluntarily "divorce" their parents, to voluntarily seek foster parents; they should have greater ability to emancipate themselves, and to access the welfare system, as well as special scholarships for higher learning; there should be more places to stay overnight, including hostels, recreation halls, and shelters -- and freedom to travel in public at any time of the day or night, ideally with access to public transit.

While adults may at some point see the worthiness of these changes to public policy, youth should not stake their lives on that eventuality. Together youth are stronger than alone; they have the ability to press for change via youth-led activism. Youth speaking out for themselves will simultaneously be more easily dismissed than adult advocates -- and also more compelling, because their complaints are being made directly. Youth may try to compel adult legislators through reason and friendly discussion -- or they may adopt a more confrontational, adversarial pose, essentially trying to make it too uncomfortable for adults not to change. Because adults have violated youth's self-ownership, both approaches are equally valid -- there is no trusting relationship that should be honored. [To what extent the violation of youths' rights justifies violating the boundaries of adults, e.g. via destruction of their property, is a matter for debate.]

Ultimately, youth should not remain outsiders to the system. If change happens, it will happen because youth demand it. But youth should not have to make their demands from the side wings -- they should be seated at the negotiation table to make their demands heard directly. Youth, minimally, should have a voice in all decision-making processes that affect them. This means, in the context of schools, participating in hiring, firing, funding, and curriculum decisions -- and at the level of government, being allowed to vote in city, county, state, and federal elections, as well as being allowed to at least run in all elections for public office.

(F) The Method of Activism

Youth, as a people, have a particular point of view. Not every youth is qualified to speak for youth as a group -- but every youth is qualified to tell the truth of their experience. Youth who have studied the history of youth liberation and/or spoken widely with other youth, hearing their stories directly, are qualified to speak about the interests of youth as a whole.

Adults who study the position of youth in history and voices of the YL movement are qualified to be allies, and even to talk somewhat about the YL movement. An adult speaking on behalf of youth, however, -- no matter how educated -- is not the same as a youth speaking out for themselves. A youth who speaks out is in the actual process of controlling their representation, which in itself is a defeat of the command-obey relationship. An adult who speaks on behalf of youth takes up listening space that could have been filled by an actual youth, and has the potential to replace youths' wishes with their own, not even realizing that their image of youth is flawed.

Because Youth Power is concerned with establishing youths' ability to control their own lives, it has an strong interest in how "ally" adults interact with youth within YL projects. There is a constant danger that adults will take over YL projects, overriding the will of the youth until the youth involved have no control over the work. An adult may strive to be an ally -- but it is for youth to say whether or not they are successful.

There is an etiquette for adults who work with Youth Power groups, which has to do with limiting (but not eliminating) participation and minimizing the amount of control one has. Conversationally, allies need to beware of taking over youth in discussion: talking longer than the youth, interrupting youth, directing their comments only to other adults in the room, and ignoring youth opinions. Power-wise, allies may participate in discussions -- but they should abstain from voting; if they are on a board of directors, youth should make up half or more of that body. Money-wise, adults should avoid (where possible) taking on paid positions, reserving pay for actual youth. Process-wise, adults should make themselves open to criticism, building in time for youth to talk about "stings" after each discussion, without adult response. Living by these rules of etiquette is humbling, frustrating when one's opinions don't win, and sometimes hurtful when one is confronted about oppressive behavior -- but the code also provides a sense of pride in one's ethics, and gives youth ample reason to trust your support.

Because youth is a time-limited identity, there is a constant turn-over in YL organizations -- or effectively a take-over by adults, when old leadership grows up but doesn't get out of the way. Adults, tweens (18-25), and minors each have somewhat different roles to play in a YL organization. Adults' role is to support the leadership of the youth, provide material resources, carry over knowledge to the next generation of activists, do research, and speak up for youth in situations where youth are prohibited from speaking or specifically ask the adult to speak. Tweens are often able to access college and university resources, they should stop voting in group decisions, and speak on panels only with explicit caveats that they are no longer youth. Minors, 18 and under, should be the actual voice of the movement.

3. Things I Forgot to Say Above

I forgot to talk about how a law is just a piece of paper. ...How a law does not actually protect your rights -- unless adults actually fear breaking it. A civil rights law is your access to a legal system. It's strength is in enforcement -- that armed police will arrest a person may plausibly use weapons, that prison might be involved, things that make paying a fine the lesser punishment. However, in order to get enforcement, you have to prove your case -- something that is not easy, because the standards for evidence tend to be high. What's more, a law that in your support doesn't do any good if you either don't know that you have a right, or know how to navigate the system that will enforce it for you. ...It's nice to have laws in place, and they say something about what a society values -- but true power is in the hands of individuals, not the law books. ...A person can hit, or run, or share food; these things are what's "real".

I could also see talking about the notion of "oppression", how that creates a common language that we can talk to other movements with -- but I think that may be superfluous here, now that I have a strong analysis of the command-obey relationship.

I sort of feel like I should have talked more about point of view, conflicts of interest, an adversarial relationship in politics, and escape freedom. I could possibly have talked about how social change happens: because it's demanded -- but that there's no revolution, rather, a permanent state of negotiations between social groups. Given what most people think "radical" means, that might be important. I want points-of-view to be represented at the table by the people who actually experience them -- not for some kind of violent overthrow to occur. ...I might also need to say something that explicitly contrasts my "etiquette" with a simple "don't trust anyone over thirty" sentiment.

I'm not sure if the final section about "method of activism" even needs to be there. Maybe that's my own gig, but doesn't relate to what is essential to Youth Power.

I'm also uncomfortable with how much I focused on the issue of violence, somewhat unintentionally. ...I kind of feel like I got into rehashing my whole philosophy again, without relating back to the key terms "world view" and "power" often enough.

I might add something about how opposition to youths' self-possession is very active, meaning that we must be concerned primarily with resistance -- forward progress is likely to be infrequent.

Posted by Sven at 12:00 PM

December 20, 2004

Exploration: Ageless Being - A Thought Experiment

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

From W 09.29.04:

"The point of this essay is that it is not an essay; it is an "exploration". I don't have any outline going into this, and it's not meant to end up as something that other people will read. This is where I'll sort through my thoughts. It's like note-taking -- but in sentences and paragraphs, rather than in fragments. The idea is to just keep going forward, and not become recursive, trying to edit what I still haven't even thought through. I think I can trust that by writing "explorations" such as this one, outlines will naturally emerge -- if it turns out that I even have adequate material for an essay. [Discovering that I really don't have adequate material for an essay would be valuable in itself!]"

I had this idea sometime last year (2003), probably around March. I remember outlining it verbally to Carl Caputo at the Chez Machin creperie. I walked through it briefly when I gave my presentation on Youth Liberation at the New Year's Eve (2003/2004) party at the coast. I put the outline for that presentation online on my "Notepad" site. I've printed out a portion of that outline, and am using it as notes, to remind me what I wanted to talk about here.

1. Youth as Disability

One of the things that makes Youth Liberation a tough sell to people is the way in which I deal with youth as if they are just people. In my writings, I talk about youth as if they are essentially adults' equals -- or as if they are adults themselves. Often, this seems to rub people the wrong way because they think that I am ignoring the ways in which young people are different from adult people.

Personally, I don't think that I've ignored the differences between youth and adults. It's true that I don't talk very much about them -- but I have, in fact, developed a way of thinking about differences. It seems like my adult audiences often think about youth only in terms of their differences. Perhaps I am just counterbalancing their extreme with an extreme of my own.

Generally speaking, my approach to the differences of youth has been to compare them with the disabilities that some adults have. Among adults, there are differences in abilities: illiteracy, physical handicaps, "developmental disabilities" ("mental retardation"). Many adults, due to disability, illness, or infirmity need some sort of care -- they require the assistance of a caregiver. Youth, too, need caregivers. During the past few decades, society has made strides toward accommodating differences in ability [especially via the Americans with Disabilities Act]. Accommodating the physical and mental differences of youth also requires making changes to the physical environment.

For the most part, I see little reason why the physical and mental differences that constitute youth should not be approached in the same way that other disabilities are. It seems patently wrong to me that parents, as caregivers, should have such enormous power to control their offspring -- authoritarianism and use of violence (spanking) being condoned. As with caregiving for people with disabilities, the ideal that we should be striving for should be empowering the young person's self-determination to the greatest extent possible. [I realize that this view of how people with disabilities are treated is idealized and ahistorical.]

However, parents are not seen as being merely caregivers for persons who inherently own themselves. They see themselves as the owners of the beings that they have physically produced. I draw a hard line: a woman owns the fetus that resides within her body, parasitically subsisting off of her; but neither mother nor father own the independent (though needy) child once it has emerged into the outside world. Once a person is in the outside world, they are their own property -- caregivers can and should assist, but the child fundamentally does not "belong" to them.

Perhaps this seems callous toward the parent-child bond. It need not be so. I am a great supporter of protecting loving relationships. The principle of a child's self-possession poses no threat to the bond -- unless the parent is abusive, and the child voices a desire to separate from them.

[There may be an additional objection: that youth are far more common than adults with disabilities. Whereas "differently-abled" adults are in some sense "exceptional", the disabilities of youth are the rule. My response to this is that, first, adults with disabilities are more common than you think [partial deafness or blindness often go unnoticed by the casual observer] -- and, second, that the total disability of the newborn is relatively brief, which should perhaps lower our estimation of what percentage of the population is in this state. ...It is a mistake to reduce all minors, ages 0 - 18, to the state of a newborn. We must learn to see all the ways in which children, even young children are capable, rather than seeing them only for their lacks.]

2. But children look different!

While my audience may be able to wrap their minds around the analogy between children and adults who are in some way "below average" physically or mentally, my sense is that there will still be a sticking point: children look different!

While intellectually you might be able to make a comparison between youth and adults, when confronted with the physicality of a person who is less than 3 feet tall, the mind goes back to its old habit of seeing youth purely in terms of their difference. In order to counter this visceral sense of differentness, I've designed a thought experiment, which takes place in three parts:

I. What if minds could switch bodies?
II. What if you could construct a body and summon a mind into it?
III. What if, upon entering a body, you had amnesia?

3. What if minds could switch bodies?

Suppose that the minds that inhabit physical bodies could switch at will. On a lark, you could pop over and inhabit my body, and I would spend a while living inside of yours. A man could spend time living in a woman's body; a woman could spend time inside a man's body. A person who normally has white skin could spend time in a body with black skin -- and a person with black skin could live as a white. A person confined to a wheelchair and unable to coordinate their muscles could transfer their self into the body of an athlete, and an athlete could spend time inside a disabled body. An adult or old person could switch into the body of a newborn, a child, or a teenager -- and vice versa.

In such a world, where people could mix and match bodies at will, you wouldn't know what kind of a "soul" existed behind a person's eyes until you spoke with them, got to know them a little. [To an extent, it would be like communicating anonymously with people on the internet, where you can only evaluate the identity of a speaker based what they write.]

...How different would male, female, black, white, able-bodied, disabled, adult, old, and young souls actually sound? There would likely be tell-tale signs in terms of language-usage: complex or simple vocabularies, dialect, slang, etc. These signs would be clues as to what life experience a soul was most familiar with -- but if you could minimize "give aways", what then? Are adults so academic, political, scientific, or philosophical that they would always be obvious? Isn't the majority of conversation banal, and simple -- wouldn't most youth and adults be indistinguishable? Furthermore, how often would it be the youth that seemed wise in their perspective on the life -- perhaps seeming to have more piercing insight because they come to the world anew?

4. Caregivers in a body-switching society

Regardless of the diversity or homogeneity of minds, important differences between physical bodies would remain. Some bodies would have testicles and be able to create sperm; others would have ovaries and wombs, creating eggs and having the capacity to carry a fetus to term. Bodies would come in different colors: black, brown, red, yellow, pink, albino. Bodies would come in different heights, standing from between two and (occasionally) seven feet tall. Bodies would come in different shapes: thin or fat, curvy or sleek, wrinkly or smooth, hairy or sheer -- each uniquely proportioned in the gait, slope of shoulders, and face. Some bodies would have super-honed eyesight or sense of taste -- others would be blind or deaf, or nearly so. Some bodies would be frail, some confined to a bed or wheel chair, some unable to lift their own head, some athletic.

In a society where minds could switch bodies, one would expect that some bodies would be more desired than others. Yet, if we presume that the number of existing minds matched the number of existing bodies, and that turns were taken in this fleet of bodies with some impartiality, then we there would still be a need for caregivers.

Caregivers would tend to people either because of limitations in the physical body or limitations of the mind inhabiting it.

A) Physical limitations
In the case of physical limitations, the most profound assistance would be required for infant bodies, bodies infirm with old age, bodies with disease or structural damage that impairs movement or voluntary control of movement, and bodies that with impaired senses (e.g. hearing, sight). Caregivers in many situations would have to assist with dressing, feeding, and transporting these individuals. Where speech was impaired, assistance translating the individual's thoughts for others would likely be required.

B) Mental limitations
Mental limitations come in several varieties: language usage (learning to speak, or learning to speak English as a second language), not knowing how to navigate a society's institutions (how to acquire and use food, clothing, transportation, money, etc.), social / emotional communication (appropriateness to a given subculture's norms). In some cases a person would be permanently stuck at their particular level of neurological development, in which case the caregiver might be required to act as a sort of translator, negotiating interactions between the individual and the greater culture. In other cases, the individual would be in a process of learning how to navigate through society under their own power, in which case the caregiver would be more of a guide.

In some instances, lack of understanding might lead a person to self-endangerment, similar to stepping out into the way of an oncoming care without looking. In this situation, there's nothing objectionable about a caregiver interceding to prevent the immediate, unintentional injury. However, situations where the person is knowingly choosing a path that may cause harm to themselves, is another matter. If, for instance, a person chooses to smoke (knowing its dangers), they ought be allowed to do so. A caregiver, like any caring friend, might choose to intervene -- but it would have to be as an equal, without the force of any authority other than their own ability to be convincing.

In addition to physical and mental limitations, there is a third limitation that would exist -- even in a body-switching society -- that must be addressed: financial limitation.

C) Financial limitations
When a mind transfers into a new body, it does not necessarily come attached with a full wallet! Finding a job in order to earn money might be difficult, either due to a lack of jobs in general, a lack of the jobs that one is specifically trained for, a physical or mental inability to do most jobs, or a pressing need to deal with other activities (learning, dealing with a personal trauma, caregiving for another person, etc.). People with altruistic motives might assist in one of two ways: setting up agencies that deal with the homeless and penniless en masse, or adopting individual persons for charity.

...In adopting and individual, the caregiver would be a sort of "patron", providing either cash or tangible goods (food, clothes, shelter). What financial limitations would be placed on this relationship? Would the receiver be able to demand anything they desired? Would giving be at the whim of the patron? Would any sort of minimum requirements be placed on the patron in order to prevent neglect? Might some sort of contract be spelled out, to prevent abuse by either party? [This arrangement might be take the place of inheritance...]

At a societal level, I would think that there would be a greater understanding of the need for some socialized services. Unemployment and retirement wages, homeless shelters and hostels, public transportation, public schools, public libraries -- with a greater ability to change circumstance, I would think that people would more generally see the value of a social safety net, how that which is done to benefit and protect all, uplifts all.

[To recap the implications of this thought experiment for YL politics... I think that parents, as caregivers, are required to fulfill three distinct functions:

A) Caring for physical survival at an early age
B) Orienting youth to society, and helping them navigate its institutions
C) Providing for financial needs ]

5. Laws in a body-switching society

[Note: If minds could switch bodies instantaneously at will, it might be impossible to create laws. Our legal system is founded on identity: that a mind and a body wholisticly remain the same person over time. For the purposes of argument, here, let's presume that authorities could identify certain souls as known, unique individuals -- but that they still could not ascertain anything else about the nature of that soul, other than that which they could test for in the present.]

If minds could switch bodies, it seems to me that laws establishing artificial age lines would be particularly offensive. This does not mean that regulating society would be simple! Consider the following examples:

A) Skills required for communal safety
Issues of skill would be the easiest issue to deal with. For instance, so long as a body was able to physically drive a car, and the mind in it knew how to operate the vehicle, they ought not be prohibited from doing so. Or, if a person was physically able to open the exit door on an airplane, they should be allowed to sit in the exit row.

B) Minimal intelligence required for communal decision-making
The right to vote in elections similarly would not be constrained by the age of a body. The electorate might choose to prohibit persons who are too "stupid" from voting -- but how would you do that? By making people take the SAT vote? By imposing at least a literacy test? During the Jim Crow period, literacy tests were once used to prevent blacks from voting -- that requirement has been struck down. Consider also, the diversity of beliefs among "intelligent adults" at present -- regarding religion, supernatural beings, what makes a good political leader, etc. Within a society that has any pretenses at being a democracy, who would we have stand as arbiter of truth? If we could not distinguish between people based upon their physical bodies, the problem of "adequate intelligence" would surely become only more difficult.

C) Regulating the impact of vice
If minds could switch bodies, to what extent would society attempt to control vices -- smoking, drinking, pornography? Would we decide that these influences were deleterious to society as a whole, and thus limit access for all? Would we use a "controlled substances" approach, allowing anyone access -- so long as they went through a training on the dangers, or perhaps got a sort of "prescription" from a doctor or similar authority figure? Would all people be given full license to do with their bodies as they please?

D) Assessing responsibility for someone's criminal actions
How would criminal offenses be prosecuted? Would all people be subject to the same penalties for the same offenses? Would there be a test for mental competency, imposing less severe penalties on persons who could not understand the consequences of their actions (due to inexperience, mental impairment, or insanity)? Would there be a means for erasing one's prior criminal record -- perhaps via an adequate period of good behavior? ...If there were a competency test, how would it be designed in order to prevent people from faking incompetence? Would there be circumstances under which competence was simply assumed -- or times when incompetence was not an allowed defense? Ought some crimes be unexpungable?

E) Identifying and empowering persons vulnerable to exploitation
How -- if at all -- would government attempt to protect vulnerable individuals from sexual or labor exploitation? It seems that in an ageless society, all persons would necessarily be given the right to make a criminal complaint against another person. How would government attempt to make people aware of their rights? How would it establish a system that was friendly to people who had been victimized? How would we understand "vulnerability?" Would all physical violence be understood simply as "assault" -- would we expand our understanding of "harassment" to further encompass intimidation on the part of caregivers? Would we have a broader or narrower notion of who's likely to be traumatized by assault? In which relationships would we continue to see a power imbalance -- the employer/employee relationship perhaps? How would we distinguish persons who are vulnerable from those who are self-willed and resilient?

6. What if you could construct a body and summon a mind into it?

I suppose an assumption of this thought experiment has been that there is a constant number of bodies and minds -- that the minds are essentially eternal. If so, this assumption makes it more difficult to talk about youth issues. Perhaps, on the other hand, I haven't made that assumption -- rather, I've simply bracketed the issue of inventing new persons. Maybe what I've done is assume that from this moment forward, everyone has the power to switch bodies. If so, what I'm describing is, poetically, a sort of revolution in human existence -- or an evolution, whereby souls are suddenly make the leap (all together and at once) to being unglued from their containers, their vessels.

...Now, I want to make the move to discussing the invention of new soul vessels, after the great moment of transcendence.

Now, suppose that people in this body-switching society have the ability to construct new physical vessels. If you want, they might grow them in vats, or piece them together like Frankenstein's monster. I want to keep in place the notion that this body could be any body -- it need not be an infant's body. However, in this hypothetical society, people do not have the power to invent new souls. The best that they can do is to summon a soul into the shell -- randomly selected from the population of souls that currently exist.

In fact, imagine yourself as one of these souls, who has been torn from your previous existence, plopped down into a new container, unexpectedly looking up into the eyes of the people who brought you here without asking.

The first thing that seems obvious to me, is that the power of creation does not grant ownership. Simply because these persons transferred your soul from one place to another (involuntarily, no less), that does not grant them the rights of slave owners. A self-aware being can enter into contracts that bear similarities to slavehood -- but persons, I believe, are fundamentally unownable. Claims that one owns another are inherently invalid.

The second thing that seems clear to me is that "creating" a person in the way I've described obligates the "creator" to caregiving. Having torn a soul away from wherever they were before, and now placed them into an alien situation, the person who brought them here bears responsibility for their well-being. They must provide for physical survival, orientation to and navigation within the local culture, and financial support that gives the translocated individual some sort of independence.

The person who has been transplanted, on the other hand, owes nothing. They did not ask to be brought here, to seemingly now come into existence. Their situation has been forced upon them; it is not some sort of favor, and are not obligated to view it as such. They need not be grateful or obedient in payment for coming into existence.

The person who summoned the soul into this body is not God. They did not actually create the soul that has come to reside in the physical vessel. If they had been able to create a soul, in the sense of meticulously programming its nature like some sort of robot, then perhaps they might be able to demand obedience and servitude. However, they did not; the newly arrived soul is independent and must be treated with the respect that is accorded an honored stranger.

...Even though providing for the newly arrived person may be a burden, it is the responsibility of the bringer to do so because it was their choice that created the situation. The newly arrived may choose to assist the bringer, doing labor, obeying their will -- perhaps because they see that they will themselves benefit from doing so, or perhaps out of a sense of compassion and respect for the bringer -- but they may equally decide not to provide such labor.

[The other scenario that might obligate a newly arrived person to their bringer is if the entire situation is the will of an omnipotent God. If there is a God who exists, dictating that bringers bring, and then that the people who are brought serve them -- then one should perhaps feel compelled to be obedient... However, it remains within one's menu of choices to rebel against God, and take whatever consequences follow.

The trouble with positing a "will of God" arrangement here, is that we do not have proof-positive that God wills subservience. The more plausible explanation is that it is simply in the self-interest of the bringers to say that there is a God. Because a command-obey relationship is so much in the favor of the bringer, documents that purport to relate the will of God should be viewed with suspicion. Without a strongly convincing manifestation of the supernatural, documents that demand obedience should be presumed to be human-made hoaxes.]

7. What if, upon entering a body, you had amnesia?

What if, in the body-switching society, whenever you entered a new-to-you body, you lost all your memories? I suppose, previously I should have stressed more vigorously that one maintains all of the memories from existing in previous bodies...

Still, if we assume natal amnesia, this changes the whole scenario somewhat. It seems to imply that souls may be immortal -- which raises the question of who created them in the first place. God?

...Perhaps what we need here is to clarify that the amnesia is temporary, that the soul does not so much learn, as go through a process of remembering itself. Now that I think about it, I think that I've read that exact theory somewhere before. Perhaps in Plato? Or maybe in Saint Augustine? --That notion that we do not so much learn the world as remember it again.

Where I wanted to go with this, is to say something about how all human beings need helpful peers. Each of us at some point in our lives needs caregivers to assist with our physical survival, or social navigation, and our economic independence. Who these caregivers are, however, need not be presumed. Caregivers could be the "bringers", or siblings, or unrelated acquaintances -- age, sex, race, all irrelevant. We need to be cared for.

We also benefit from relationships that we can count on -- that are stable, and will last for years to come. We need attention; infants "fail to thrive" when left alone, and adult prisoners tend to go insane when kept in solitary confinement. We need this companionship beyond just being assisted -- we need to have relationships.

A diversity of relationships with different ages, sexes, races, classes, and ability-levels is valuable. However, I disagree with those who put too much emphasis on role models. People who say that a single mother is inadequate because there needs to be a male role model -- or that a gay male couple can't parent because they provide no female influence -- to them I say "balderdash!" In many countries, children are raised primarily by siblings. This is not wrong. Loving attention is adequate, regardless of the source. ...Furthermore, I don't think that human beings should be trained into their roles as "men" or "women" or what not. We should be human beings first of all -- "manhood" or "femininity" be damned.

I also wanted to make the point here that if a soul already exists before it is brought into the body, then caregivers should not feel entitled to "shape" or "mold" the newly arrived. If people are inherently going to become who they were meant to be, then caregivers should assist -- but attempt to not get in the way of a person's self-determination.

As I look at it now, I'm not so sure that I can easily make this point. It seems like the idea that children are merely adult souls who have forgotten who they are is a larger stretch than when I was merely separating body and mind. It's easy enough to separate the physical and mental -- but when I start talking about remembering the future as if it's a past that simply has yet to unfold -- then I'm tinkering with the fourth dimension, suggesting that there is some sort of transtemporal "essence" to a person that is more than their existence in the present.

It's an interesting notion to explore elsewhere: what if I ran time backwards, and looked at the future as if it were simply the past unfolding. It's a separate topic entirely -- but another interesting mental exercise in terms of different ways to look at children.

Posted by Sven at 12:00 PM

December 08, 2004

Exploration: Outline for a Youth History of Adult Power

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

From W 09.29.04:

"The point of this essay is that it is not an essay; it is an "exploration". I don't have any outline going into this, and it's not meant to end up as something that other people will read. This is where I'll sort through my thoughts. It's like note-taking -- but in sentences and paragraphs, rather than in fragments. The idea is to just keep going forward, and not become recursive, trying to edit what I still haven't even thought through. I think I can trust that by writing "explorations" such as this one, outlines will naturally emerge -- if it turns out that I even have adequate material for an essay. [Discovering that I really don't have adequate material for an essay would be valuable in itself!]"

1. My Slant on the History of Adult Power

OK, so I'm reading this book called "From Father's Property to Children's Rights", a history of child custody. It's given me an idea about how to begin writing a history of adult power... Perhaps only a brief history.

Part of this project is inspired by beginning to find discrete moments in history with dates attached to them. It's occurred to me that I might begin assembling some historical time lines. These time lines might be used to *suggest* a history -- I may not be able to tell the full story, but by pointing to important events, I can suggest a story. In making my historical painting, I might be impressionistic, might do a sort of collage.

Another part of this project is inspired by books such as "The Invention of Heterosexuality" and the magazine "Race Traitor". These publications, rather than looking at the oppressed group, take the oppressor's identity to task. This has been a bias in my work all along. Rather than focusing overly on youth identity, or how adults perceive youth (i.e. via stereotypes and prejudice), I'm interested in how adults perceive themselves. I think that the modern notion of "adulthood" is probably a recent invention -- I think that it is possible to discuss "the invention of adulthood".

[In fact, that might make a good essay title. Whereas the essay title "Adulthood is Artificial" says some of what I want to convey, "The Invention of Adulthood" would historicize my idea, portray it as an event rather than an abstract.]

2. The Heart of the History: Parental Responsibilities

The thing that makes me think I might have the germ of an actual history project is that I think I've found a central theme that I could use to unify a larger narrative. The author of this book I'm reading itemizes the responsibilities of parents during the colonial era. I think that's my beginning point.

...Actually, though, rights and responsibilities always come as a pair. Furthermore, while the author has done a good job of identifying core rights and responsibilities, she hasn't necessarily listed them as succinctly as I would like. Some may be separated from the main list, and I'll have to collect them. Here's what I've ascertained so far:



I want my main focus to be on history within the United States. I forget where, but I know that somewhere I've read a similar list of contemporary responsibilities that the law places upon parents. Perhaps in one of my books on teen legal rights? Perhaps in the Oregon Revised Statues, under "custody"? My thought is that the heart of this book / essay would be comparing the laws in Colonial America to the laws of today.

If I recall correctly, there are only four or five core responsibilities of parents listed in the contemporary discussion of legal custody. There are perhaps quite a few laws that devolve from those few, laws in support of the basic principles. I'm excited to think that there are fundamental principles of custody that are well documented in legal code. By comparing Colonial times and contemporary times, I should be able to show how similar these two periods are, how adult ownership of youth remains -- without having to discuss dozens of specific laws.

The focus on parental responsibilities is in keeping with my perspective that governmental laws are, in essence, the familial relationship projected onto society as a whole. I can see right now, looking at the list of responsibilities, that several are ostensibly responsibilities to the child -- but at least "to control the child" is a responsibility to society / the community. In this book I'm reading, I've found precursors of the conflict of interests between governmental ownership of its citizens, and parental property rights over their children. This will be interesting later on.

3. Expanding the Scope: England and Rome

After Colonial and contemporary custody issues, I expect that I'll want to go back a bit farther into history. At this point I know I'm going to want to visit at least two additional periods: 2nd millennium England, and ancient Rome.

Law in Colonial America derives largely from English Common Law: unwritten law whose binding force comes from "immemorial usage" (Webster, unabridged, 2nd ed., 1940). Fortunately for me, common law was written down and codified by someone named Blackstone. [That's an area I need to further research.]

Preliminary research in this Webster's [that I found in the PSU library] turned up some interesting facts that I hadn't known before. "Age of majority" -- the age at which all rights of adulthood are attained, was actually composed of three subsidiary issues: (1) the age of consent, (2) the age of discretion, and (3) military age. Each of these ages has a different number associated with it -- and some of them have different numbers depending on if you're a boy or a girl.

Whereas Common Law is based on unwritten tradition, apparently Civil Law derives from ancient Rome. ...It is interesting to note here that the introduction to my history of adulthood may actually need to be a brief overview of the history of written law itself! [Note: the third major category of law that I've encountered is Canon Law, which is the law of the church. I am uncertain how this relates to other laws.]

...The most interesting thing I've discovered so far is that in Roman society, the patriarch of the house was allowed to deal with his children however he chose -- even to the point of killing them. The author of "From Father's Property to Children's Rights" tries to paint the lives of children in Colonial times in a positive light, contrasting their situation with the absolute power of fathers in Rome. Personally, I'm offended. I concur that by Colonial times some progress was made toward restraining parental usage of power -- but even then, and even today, we are not many steps removed from absolute parental power.

...I will need to tell the story of progress -- but the march toward treating youth as people rather than property is far from over!

4. The History of Adult Power: Specific Areas

If I were to create an outline at this point, it might look something like this:

  1. The history of written law - a brief overview
  2. The legal responsibility of guardians in America - from colonial times to present
  3. The origins of youth as property - from Ancient Rome to England's industrial revolution
  4. The evolution child issues being distributed among institutions

...I'm not sure that 2 and 3 are necessarily separate topics. Both deal with the rights and responsibilities of guardians. I want to start by making the point that little has changed between Colonial and contemporary times. Then, I want to make the point that while progress has been made from the absolutist power of Rome, the journey toward personhood is still not complete -- which might require contrasting the distant past with an imaginary future. That might throw me off topic, since it would require describing things that don't exist -- I wouldn't be simply reporting anymore.

This fourth point in the outline is where this project could really explode into something book-length. See, I think that one could use the legal responsibilities of guardians as a leaping off point for discussing a variety of social institutions. If I'm right that governmental laws are outgrowths of intrafamilial dynamics, then societal institutions should have their analogs in the laws that structure the family.

Here's what I've come up with, in terms of making that analogy:



Issues that don't fit within the analogy:

The historical time-lines that I want to provide for each of these topics may be pretty short -- just a subsection (with ten paragraphs or less) within a larger essay. In a following section, I'll have to record notes on what I know about each topic at this point.

5. A Thesis to Prove: Numerical age lines mimic lines between child / parent / grandparent

As I look at this list right now, what I see is that before talking about the rights of guardians at this level of detail, I will probably want to backtrack and discuss the dividing line between adults and minors. A brief history of artificial age lines would have to discuss the "age of majority" and its three components, which I've mentioned above.

...However, it would also have to deal perhaps with emancipation, or with premarital sex. What is the transition from being a youth to being a full-fledged adult? Is it marriage? Does a young man who's married ever get treated as a youth in Colonial America? Perhaps if he's under age? Or does marriage make one a full-fledged adult, regardless of age (back then)? A history of artificial age lines is not merely a recounting of numbers that have appeared in law -- my premise is that age lines mimic the lines between children, parents, and grandparents -- I have to look for how those practical distinctions inform the numbers.

6. A Thesis to Prove: Numerical adulthood is recent, overthrowing the power of the old, rule of the oldest

Another story that I need to be looking for is that contemporary adult supremacism is a recent invention. In earlier times, we had gerontocracy (rule by the oldest) -- but when senior citizens were overthrown, we arrived at the modern notion of adulthood and adultism. I am wondering if the existence of an "age of majority" in English Common Law will contradict this thesis.

If I go all the way back to Roman law and discover numerical age lines that separate children and adults there, then it starts to seem like the adult-ruling-class has always existed. I won't be able to say that modern adulthood is a "recent" invention. However, it may be that Roman law, with its focus on patriarchs, didn't use birthdays to any great extent -- in which case I'll have a better case for pure gerontocracy.

My case for the overthrow of the old may be stronger. I know that "senior citizens were removed from the work pool by the New Deal. The contradictory evidence that I'll have to be searching for as I read is any evidence of seniors being removed from power, based strictly on their birthday, not loss of ability.

7. A Summary of "Theses to Prove" - Concerning Age Lines

I've just gone back and added the heading "A Thesis to Prove" to the preceding two sections. ...I'm not sure whether I'm dealing with one or two theses in "Numerical adulthood is recent, overthrowing the power of the old, rule of the oldest. There are two interpretations.

Option 1: I might be saying that from a pure continuum of age, where older is more powerful, the modern numerical adulthood arose, overthrowing youth and the elderly simultaneously.

Option 2: Two separate theses... First, that the power of the elderly has been toppled, resulting in modern adultism -- as opposed to gerontocracy. Second, that at some previous time, birthdays were not taken into account in separating the adults from the children -- only practical distinctions such as procreating, ability to labor, etc.

...Suppose that a legal distinction between children and adults has existed longer than a legal distinction between adults and the elderly. What would that say? Is the advent of modern adultism marked by the fall of the old, rather than the birth of numerically measured adulthood?

Can I still say that there is a period of pure gerontocracy if there is a dividing line between youth and adults? Among the 21 - death population, was "older is better" actually in effect? It seems I have another thesis to prove: that an "older is better" principle was ever in effect.

Thus, to summarize, it now looks like I've come up with four theses that I'll have to prove using the historical record:

  1. Previously birthdays were not taken into account in separating adults from children -- only practical distinctions.
  2. Numerical legal age lines mimic lines between child / parent / grandparent.
  3. Gerontocracy, "rule of the old" and "older is better", existed previously.
  4. The power of the elderly was toppled, resulting in modern adultism -- rule by adults, not just the oldest.

8. The Government's Role in Regulating Ownership of Children Has Expanded

I'm reviewing this section from above:


...I'm considering positing a thesis thus: "former parental responsibilities are now filled by government-run institutions." What I want to get at is that "the role of the government in managing the lives of youth has expanded." Or, perhaps what I'm trying to get at is that "the Government's role in regulating ownership of children has expanded."

[I'm very excited about this phrase, "regulating ownership of children" -- it seems accurate, and it harkens back to that Catherine MacKinnon line I've been adapting for some time "from women's point of view, rape is not prohibited -- it is regulated." --Or was it from "Rape - a first sourcebook for women" (title?)? Anyway -- I like how this phrase ties into the thread about treating youth as property, and sets the government up to have conflicts with parental rights -- but not necessarily because there is authentic concern for youth as people. I'm not willing to attribute "in their best interest" as the government's simple motive!]

...The more I look at this "responsibilities" section, the more I'm feeling that the correlation between my topics and the responsibilities is too forced. The topics are good, and I can link back to the custodial responsibilities list -- but I can't do something like having a chapter associated with each responsibility.

There are several areas in which the government's involvement has expanded. The most notable is (1) schooling. Whether or not public schools actually teach "vocational" information or not is debatable -- but much responsibility for literacy has devolved to them. At this point, I don't know very much about why public schools were instituted in the U.S. -- but that's a topic that shouldn't be too difficult to research.

The responsibility "to control the child" is also an area that the State has gotten more involved in -- this maps on to the topic of (2) juvenile delinquency. Again, I know little about the topic at this point -- but I have at least one book on the subject in my possession. [I do know, I should say, a little about how it used to be the parent's responsibility to punish -- and by "coverture", they were punishable for their ward's actions.]

The last area I want to mention, in which the government has taken on greater responsibility, is (3) intervention. On this topic, I'm discovering very interesting things in the book I'm reading. Apparently even before there was a federal government, town fathers were given power by their village charters to intervene on behalf of abused children. Now, what the standard for abuse was, that's another topic entirely. But I find it very interesting to see the prototype of state intervention preceding child welfare as we now understand it.

So, it seems that I've got three areas of history that fall under the heading of "expanding government responsibility":

  1. Intervention in cases of abuse
  2. Punishment for juvenile delinquency
  3. Public schooling

I suppose in each of these cases, the story will be a bit more complex than simply the "government responsibility increasing while parental responsibility decreases". Intervention is a state power that has increased, while parental power has decreased. By punishing youth for their crimes, rather than parents, it seems that parental responsibility has diminished -- which is a benefit to the parent. Public schooling could be seen as a benefit -- but at the same time, it was seen when instituted as a theft of parental property (the youth labor force)... In that sense, schooling is an increase of governmental power, and simultaneous decrease in parental responsibility -- both a loss and a benefit to the parents.

...Throughout this discussion, I've been holding "labor relations" aside. Prohibiting child labor, rather than being about an interference of the state in parenting, is about protecting the adult workforce from the threat of cheap youth labor. As I understand it, the abolition of child labor in the U.S. was part of the New Deal -- it was all about protecting adult jobs, not protecting youth. In a sense then, youth are almost incidental to this particular governmental action.

Maybe the heading I'm looking for is "ways in which the evolution of adult government has modified parenting".

9. Powers Granted to Parents

If my starting point is "the history of written law", I'm beginning to see three distinct areas of inquiry:

A. The history of artificial age lines
B. The history of governmental involvement in parenting
C. The history of parental power

[I wonder if "power" divides both into "rights" and "responsibilities" -- otherwise worded as "entitlements" and "obligations". One seldom thinks about the responsibilities attendant upon power -- but I suppose that authority is founded upon the notion that a person is fulfilling a role of some sort.]

The history of parental power is perhaps the most important thread for me to follow here -- and remember, I'm trying to tie it to a history of written law. The relevant parental rights and responsibilities from my previous discussion are:

"Obedience" has it's own history. We can trace it back to the bible. Following a religious track, we can trace belief that children should obey their parents down to the present in contemporary religious tracts such as those put out by "Focus on the Family". "Obedience" might be a fundamentally religious topic -- although I would hasten to say that the desire to control is rooted in selfish convenience, not in an intellectual belief. Religion and science are both just means of rationalizing desires in this context. I could point to "conduct disorder" in the DSM-IV as a relevant scientific admonition to obey.

"To control the child" is really an admonition from society to the parent. It is a contract between the government and the parent, regarding who will deal with discipline. Things have shifted somewhat in the favor of the parent -- for the most part coverture has been abolished, and parents are not punished for their children's crimes. Yet, "control the child" remains in place (if I'm not mistaken) as one of the primary three or four responsibilities placed upon guardians. ...This is where I can appeal back to Rome, talking about absolutist power and the right to kill. [If my focus is on adult identity rather than on youth, then this is a better place to begin than obedience: "I made it, I can destroy it".]

In terms of topic order, this is perhaps more appropriate:

  1. the right and responsibility to control one's offspring
  2. expectation that the child will be obedient
  3. the right to use discipline to obtain obedience
  4. the right to sell children as slaves, or "bond" them out

Do each of these topics have enough detail to merit an independent time line? I see that #1 begins with Roman absolute power, power to damage and destroy -- but rather than ending with youths' personhood, stops at control with some limits. #2 is the story of rationalizing ownership via religion and science. #3 is the history of what means have been used to obtain compliance. #4 is about the transition from youth being sellable property to non-transferable property. ...#2 is going to take me into the realm of Canon Law, and then into regulations within a profession (American Psychological Association). #2 and #3 both might touch on laws regarding runaway youth.

It may be that I simply need to accumulate more historical data before I can really begin dividing my discussion into sections. ...The test of whether or not these sections are independent will be whether or not I can assemble actual time-lines with dates. The need for a traditional research project, where I write down my discrete facts on note cards, is becoming apparent.

Maybe #4 should come second in the sequence, because it talks about what you can do with your property -- and how the "lessened slave" state came into existence. As the author I'm reading aptly points out, youth are not slaves -- but the fact that several varieties of subjection have been created still bears discussion.

10. Conclusion

Maybe one of the key ideas that I'm trying to cover is that of the "rights and responsibilities" that exist in law today, the responsibilities are relatively recent -- and by no means outweigh the rights. The germ of adult power is absolute power (Rome); the core metaphor is youth as property -- actual slavery, that over time was subdivided into a hierarchy of different forms of subjection.

The government was in some ways invented to govern who gets to be an owner of people -- and regulates how property owners treat their possessions. It was erected by the property owners themselves, but as it has grown more complex, it has modified parenting practices by establishing institutions that lessen the burden on adults: protecting their jobs, punishing youth separately from parents, relieving the burden of instructing youth. However, there has been a tension -- not between the rights of children and of parents -- rather, between the selfish motives of parents, and the nosiness of other parents who want to regulate parents in general.

Because youth (in a numerically-governed system) are still in a property-like status, because one of parent's core legal rights/responsibilities is "to control", and because the government's function is essentially the regulation of property ownership -- youth cannot depend upon adults to elevate them to personhood. Youth should be grateful to the adults who go out of their way to work for youth welfare -- but legitimate children's rights must be initiated by youth themselves. The opposite of being property is having actual power; it is in the exercise of power to improve their own welfare that youth most embody what children's rights are actually for: self-defense and self-determination.

Posted by Sven at 12:00 PM