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October 03, 2005

The "Youth Power" Framework (part 1)


1. The primary problem is parental tyranny and its inevitable result, violence against minors.

There are several varieties of YL thought. All branches of YL are concerned with these three areas: (1) unfair laws & rules, (2) use of force against youth, (3) disrespect. However, each of the branches assigns different weight to these areas, and describes the relationship between them differently.

Youth Power does not necessarily prioritize which area is more important than another to work on, since issues tend force themselves upon activists -- however, it does view certain issues as more central to what causes adultism. Youth Power understands centrality and describes relationships thus:

primary problem:
parents being tyrannical, teachers being so in loco parentis

secondary problem:
nearly absolute parental control elevated into law, so that all adults have control over all youth

tertiary problem:
this order of adult power over youth is bolstered by pro-adult, anti-youth propaganda

[To contrast: "Youth Equality" (a.k.a. "Youth Rights) views unfair laws as primary, and tends to view disrespectful beliefs ("stereotypes" and "prejudice") as a secondary concern -- often positing these beliefs as the original cause of laws that discriminate. Parental tyranny tends to be ignored, except in terms of where it overlaps with the legal rights that a full adult citizen would enjoy.]

["Youth Culture" tends to posit disrespect of youth as the primary problem, largely ignoring both law and family as issues -- except with regards to how they constrain youth from being themselves. (School, however, does play a fairly large role in "Youth Culture" thought.)]

2. The family is the fundamental institution of adult oppression.

Stated differently, Youth Power views the family as the fundamental institution of adult oppression. Parents' power over their children is the model upon which all other institutions dealing with youth are based. The family is a hierarchy, wherein adults claim the right to command youth, and youth are expected to obey.

3. The all-adult government elevates the order of power within the family to a societal level.

The current government, because it explicitly excludes youth from political participation (running for office and voting) is appropriately termed an "adultarchy". The system of government we have elevates the familiar order of adults-over-youth to a societal level. At the familial level youth are essentially the property of their parents; at the societal level, youth are a resource owned collectively by all adult citizens. Adult society claims the power to limit youth freedoms in ways similar to the family (e.g. curfews, driving privileges...). The power of adults as a collective may override the rights of individual parents.

4. Negative beliefs about and caricatures of youth are propaganda that supports the order of power.

Negative beliefs about youth serve to rationalize adult's dehumanizing power over youth, in the face of youth's humanity. Anti-youth beliefs are transmitted in many forms, including: commiseration between adults, derision of youth culture, slanted news items, punditry asserting that the current generation is a sort of "problem people", scientific research that demonstrates youths' supposed irrationality (etc.), and public campaigns urging adults to take a stronger hand in supervising kids.

The fact that such propaganda has been going on for so long means that there's a feedback loop, so that adults exert control because of their beliefs. However, Youth Power differs from Youth Equality because it sees this propaganda as serving a motive of control, rather than being an original cause. Youth Power is critical of Youth Equality for not explaining where negative beliefs come from, rather explaining them as free-floating "stereotypes" arising from over-generalization.


5. Adultism is motivated by self-benefit: the desire to be in control.

Human beings are innately self-interested. It is natural to try to make the world around you suit your preferences. However, in dealing with other people, forcing them to do what you want is usually unethical. Self-interest is transcended when one is conscientious about the boundaries between oneself and others -- only enforcing one's will when one a matter when within one's rights, striving for consensual arrangements otherwise.

When another person is under someone's control, if there isn't a strong motive to be conscientious (or push back from the person being commanded), there is a gravitational pull to use power in ways that are not in the other person's "best interest" but simply suit the authority's preference, mood, or whim.

As infants, youth require focused care-giving to survive. As youth become able to care for themselves, they still require material and economic support. This is an inconvenient and sometimes burdensome situation for parents. It is convenient and desirable on selfish level to have absolute command over youth.

6. The essence of control is to treat youth as if they are human property.

"Power" and "control" are fairly abstract words. A more understandable term is "command/obey relationship": adults feel entitled to command youth, youth are expected to obey. When a person is expected to obey, but has not entered into this relationship voluntarily, and has no way of opting out of the relationship at will, then they essentially become the property of the person commanding them.

Historically, women, youth, and slaves (think not only of Africans abducted to America, but also slavery as it existed in Roman times) have suffered this status similarly -- and only during the past three centuries has the rightness of people-as-property begun to lose its veneer of naturalness. Youth Liberation joins in the project of erasing the last vestiges of people-as-property from the world.

7. Parental tyranny inevitably produces situations of violence against minors. This is the epitome of adultism's harm to youth.

Not all parents use violence against minors; however, intentionally inflicting physical pain is a tool of control legally available to all parents. Violence is a means to an ends: a means to compel youth to obey. Given the legal mandates for parents to control their children, and the culture sets up adult maintaining youth obedience as an end in itself, it is inevitable that some parents will use the tool of violence. Furthermore, it is inevitable that a minority of parents will not only cause suffering -- they will cause physical damage or death. Child abuse is not abnormal; it is a product of status quo attitudes. Legally "child abuse" is not prohibited; it is merely regulated.

These are the stakes for Youth Liberation: life and death. Violence against minors is adultism taken to its logical conclusion. It is the epitome of adult power over youth. It symbolizes what youth activists are fighting for, and is a tangible test for whether our proposed policies are on the right track: do our proposals help youth defend themselves against violence?

8. Right treatment of youth is founded upon their consent (and their freedom to not consent).

The antithesis of coercion is consent. Whatever a youth consents to -- fully understanding the bargain, without fear, and consent given explicitly -- is ethical. Consent is an ideal; most interactions fall somewhere along a continuum of consent and coercion, being neither extreme fully. The younger a child is, the more difficult it is to negotiate a consensual arrangement. Consent is an ideal to aspire to; failure is not always a terrible wrong -- but without aspiring to create a consent-based relationship, terrible wrongs are likely to occur.

Consent-based relationships represent an ideal for interpersonal relationships not just for youth, but for all people.

[To contrast: Youth Equality bases its understanding of "right treatment" upon the notion of identical treatment. Justice, according to this framework, is a matter of non-discrimination, of treating all people the same. This leads to several difficulties: (1) Are we to ignore the biological differences between people and different levels of need for care-giving? (2) Who is the standard person upon whom rights should be based? (3) What if the benchmark for how all people should be treated is low? [It's no good to be treated the same if everyone is treated badly.] (4) Attempting to be "age blind" blinds one to the ways in which youth and adults are treated differently. (5) It is impossible to not make generalizations about people, and some assumptions turn out to be well-founded -- trying to deal with everyone purely as an individual ignores this intelligence.]

[To be fair, the Youth Power principle of consent is also problematic. For instance, what is a parent to do if they are out in public with a young child who is doing damage to a merchant's merchandise? Consensual interaction becomes difficult or impossible if the youth is for some reason unable to engage in rational discussion... I expect that there are work-arounds for situations such as this, that arrive at some sort of ethical solution, one that minimizes coercion.]


9. Youth should have the power necessary for self-protection, without mediation.

Youth must have the power to protect themselves from suffering, without having to call upon an adult to represent them. [Note the "no, go, yell, tell" and "stranger danger" programs.] This is not an ideal world; adults do not necessarily believe a young person's complaint, or believes considers just, or simply ignores the problem. Youth should be given the ability to use physical self-defense in the moment, trained in how to do emergency planning, and be given many options for how to escape situations of suffering. [I am thinking here most of abusive parents, but a bad school situation, or oppressive laws also fall into this domain.]

[Self-protection does not preclude there also being adult-run advocacy groups. It's just that youth should not be compelled to be utterly dependent upon the protection of others.]

10. The most important freedom for Youth Liberation to win is the ability for youth to escape situations of suffering, at will.

There are "positive" and "negative" freedoms. A positive freedom is the legal right to do something: to vote, to drive a car, to hold a job. A negative freedom is a guarantee that one will not experience something: hunger, child abuse, discrimination. [Laws cannot actually guarantee negative freedoms -- they can only set up service programs (e.g. free school lunch) or punishments if a perpetrator is apprehended.] The freedom that Youth Power is most interested in is termed "exit freedom" -- the ability to leave situations of suffering at will. It is a power that it can be bolstered by appropriate laws and service programs, but which is ultimately invested in youth themselves.

Examples of things that would support youth escaping a violent home: a knowledge of physical self-defense; hostels, shelters, or safe-houses to immediately escape to; no city-level curfew in the way of traveling; inexpensive or free public transportation; laws that deal with violence against minors as assault rather than "discipline"; eradication of laws against running away; easier ability to self-emancipate ("divorce one's parents"); independent access to welfare; guaranteed scholarships for school based on having left one's parents; access to free healthcare (in cases of injury); youth control over the decision to stay with or leave their parents; partnerships between child protection agencies and schools, so youth are familiar with their options; legal aid funds for youth who allege violence.


Posted by Sven at October 3, 2005 12:00 PM


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