October 05, 2005
The "Youth Power" Framework (part 2)
III. POWER AT THE GROUP LEVEL [continued]
11. Self-protection requires youth to band together, to work for their collective well-being.
Sometimes a young person's suffering is not simply the result of an individual adult, acting as a private citizen. Sometimes suffering is the result of how an institutional system is constructed. A law or rule is inherently unfair -- or it encourages adults to act in ways that are unfair or abusive -- or it prevents youth from engaging in a decision-making process that could change the situation.
12. Adult authorities cannot be trusted to maintain fair and just institutions on their own.
Adult leaders working in institutions such federal / state / county / city governments or the agencies thereof (e.g. police bureau, liquor commission, school boards) -- are lobbied by many interest groups. Elected and appointed officials themselves tend to be members of such interest groups, who have risen to power. Society will always have many segments to it, and will always remain diverse. Adult leaders -- serving both their constituencies and their own biases -- are likely to favor adult interests over youths' self-professed interests when youth-related issues come up. That is, if the adults are even aware of what youths' self-professed interests are.
It is in the self-interest of adults -- as individuals, and as a collective -- to exclude youth from decision making processes. Without youth participation, adults can make whatever laws / rules they feel are useful -- even if they seem outrageously unjust to youth. Being in control is a desirable position to be in. Adults' interest in control is in direct conflict with youths' interest in controlling their own lives.
13. Adult government must be kept in check by direct participation and activism initiated by watchdog groups.
Because adults cannot be expected to know how youth feel without consulting them, and because it is within adults self-interest to exclude youth from power, and because excluding youth from power leads to adults abusing power (perhaps merely out of convenience, or due to a mood) -- youth must play an active role in keeping adults in check.
Pragmatically, this means that youth must maintain activist organizations which both watchdog adult authorities for misbehavior, and train members of the youth community in how to do activism which will bring about change.
Adults have no motive to change on their own. Youth must confront adult authorities and demand it. The only way to win new freedom -- or even to just preserve the freedom that exists now -- is to fight for it.
14. Self-protection requires direct participation (not merely representation) in all decision-making processes that effect the life of an individual youth or the youth community.
This is a general principle: if youth are to be able to protect themselves against suffering and injustice, then they must be formally involved in all decision-making processes that effect their lives.
At the group-level, this means decision-making processes about things such as the minimum wage, taxes, requirements for drivers' licenses, etc., youth should be able to formally register their opinions with equal weight to adults. If that means a vote, then youth need the right to vote. If decision-making is done by a small committee, then youth must be members of that committee (e.g. a school board). If decision-making is done by representatives, then youth must be allowed to run for office, and to participate in electing their representatives. [Youth will not necessarily win elections, nor will their segment of the voting population necessarily ever be able to defeat adult voters.]
This does not mean that youth and adults should be equals in all matters. Especially within the family, there many decisions in which adults should have no say at all. Where a young person has a will for how they want to use their own body, a concerned and friendly adult might voice an opinion -- but they should have no right to veto power. Examples: when a young person chooses to have sex, get an abortion, get a tattoo, objects to being hit, travels at night, wants to spends time with whom they choose. [Respecting the will of toddlers is a more complicated matter -- but the principle stands.]
15. The potential for injustice cannot be eliminated.
Because self-interest is innate, the potential for adult leaders to seize unjust control over youth is permanent. We might be very lucky, and in one generation educate all members of society about adultism, convincing all that youth and adults should live together in a more egalitarian fashion. Even if this were the case, though, some one or more adults in a future generation could reinvent the notion of adult superiority and take action upon it.
Because the threat is permanent, youth activists must remain eternally vigilant against injustice, and continue to train the youth who follow them in how to fight back. Justice means that youth will always be at the negotiating table -- not that there is nothing left to negotiate, and youth can stop having to engage.
16. Most oppression comes in the guise of "protection".
The adult population circulates a great deal of anti-youth propaganda. Parents commiserate about their kids, adults make derisive comments about youth culture, the adult media runs news stories that imply contemporary youth are a problem generation, and the government (and non-governmental agencies) run campaigns urging adults to take control. Even so, much adult oppression is done with the intent of "helping", "guiding", and "protecting" children.
Adults must be judged not on their words alone, but upon whether or not young people's own wills are being heeded, and if youth are being granted more or less control.
17. Adult allies pose a threat of cooptation.
Even adults who explicitly support the Youth Liberation political agenda pose a threat. Growing up in this society, messages that adults should be in control seep into would-be allies minds; they are over-eager to voice their own opinions; perhaps they were youth activists themselves, and haven't transitioned into their new role as adult allies. The result is that the actual youth participants in a group feel stepped-upon, not listened to, and lose control of their organization.
This does not necessarily mean that adults must not participate in YL groups -- but there is a case to be made for limiting participation. For instance: speaking in discussions but not voting, and not speaking in public in place of actual youth members. It is scary and awkward to confront an adult when they have said or done something that stings; adults should not presume that they have not offended simply because they haven't heard a complaint. Adults in YL groups should go out of their way to encourage youth to criticize them; it's a good idea to leave a time at the end of each meeting when youth are invited to talk about any interaction that "stung".
18. It is important that actual youth be the voice of, and in control of, YL organizations.
If the main purpose of YL is that youth should have control over their own lives, then they should also have control in the organizations dedicated to winning that freedom.
Youth activists have an authenticity that supporters of youth rights should put at the forefront of the cause. Youth know about the problems they experience first-hand, rather than abstractly; they have insight into the details and emotional impact of life as a young person that others won't think of, or simply don't feel as profoundly. Youth are motivated because they are being directly impacted; outsiders are less likely to care as passionately about youth issues, if the going gets rough. Youth activists also lack the conflict of interests that adults -- because they benefit from being in control -- have.
Youth are also likely to be heard differently than adult speakers. Youth opinions may be discounted as "naive" -- but it is unusual to hear youth speak out as a group, which will seize adults' attention. Youth talking demanding control of their own lives makes it believable that youth can control their own lives -- whereas this is a point of debate when adults discuss the matter amongst themselves. The ideal world that we seek to create is one in which adults listen to youth; it's good to introduce adults to this experience in a very practical way.
19. There is more to being a YL advocate than just being a youth.
Being a good advocate requires more than just being a youth -- but also more than just good ideas.
Being an adult doesn't mean that someone is a bad ally -- simply that they aren't cut out to be the formal leader of a YL group, or be the main spokesperson for the group. Adult allies must be conscientious about not taking over youth-led groups -- but this does not mean that they are bad people, or the same as Youth Liberation's opponents. Still, good ideas alone are not enough.
Neither is just being young enough to make one a good YL advocate. Many youth -- happy to just wait out youth and then assume adult supremacist power -- are actually against Youth Lib. Being young does not automatically "enlighten" a person and guarantee their support for the cause.
Being an ideal spokesperson for young people requires both the vantage point on society conferred by living in a young body, and also a youth-centered politics -- one that grows out of having personal relationships with others in the youth community, and having a historical perspective that that comes from studying the history of youths' position within society.
V. THE NATURE OF YOUTH
20. Youth are persons.
Young people -- by which I mean anyone who is legally a "minor" -- have personhood and humanity that is equal to that of adults.
Youth should be treated with the dignity and respect due to persons. People -- all people -- should be treated as well as possible (given constraints such as time, energy, resources, threat) at all times.
...Often they are not. Youth are one of several groups that are treated as inferior persons, less-than-persons -- sometimes even as sub-human -- by much of the U.S. population, much of the time.
Youth Liberation seeks to promote treating youth like persons.
21. Treating someone "like a person" means conscientiously respecting their right to control their own body.
The key words that Youth Power uses to describe a person's humanity are: boundaries, will, consent. Youth are no less adults' equals in personhood if they are seen as lacking in any of these qualities. Youths' humanity is inalienable. We use these words to help describe how to treat youth well.
Youth have innate boundaries. They are the sole owners of their own bodies. They have a human right to control the immediate physical space around their body. They are entitled to own property, which is to be treated as if it were an extension of their body. That is, the youth has the right to control whether these things are touched, moved, remain in place, modified, or destroyed. They have a right to refuse to exert their body or mind's energies.
Youth have a will. That is, an emotional or intellectual opinion about what they want with regards to control of their body. Where a youth's own body is concerned -- so long as they aren't violating another person's control of their own body -- the young person's will should be supreme, no other person having veto power. There is room for ethical intervention in cases where a youth has no discernable will, and another seeks to do care-giving. There is also room for ethical intervention where a youth has discernable will, but due to ignorance of an immediate and probable physically harmful consequence (e.g. stepping in front of a car), their action must be interrupted immediately. There is not an exception for overriding the youth's will when physical harm will not be immediate (e.g. drug use); but there is room for stating one's opinions. A second person may conscientiously choose to force a youth to do something against the young person's will, for the sake of serving their own needs or convenience; doing so may not cause harm, but it is ethically undesirable. The person who aspires to being ethical will conscientiously seek to create means to avoiding such situations.
Youth have a right to give or withhold consent. Ideally, consent is an explicit verbal "yes", given enthusiastically, without fear or confusion. This is an ideal to aspire to; agreements are seldom so clear-cut. In virtually all situations, that which is consensual is also ethical. Whether or not something is consensual is the prime test for whether it is ethical.
Boundaries, will, and consent belong (somewhat obviously) not only to youth, but to all persons. The rights described here are those that should be enjoyed by all humanity.
22. It is unethical to treat any person as if they are human property.
That which is consensual is ethical. Doing something to a person -- or compelling them to do something -- against their will, without their consent, is unethical. The epitome of a non-consensual relationship is to treat someone as if they are property. Historically (in the U.S.) enslaved Africans, women, children have all experienced a similar level of subjugation, being treated as if they were the property to be owned.
The essence of this relationship is that one person commands and the other is expected to obey. If the "owned" person does not obey, the "owner" may inflict physical pain to compel obedience. The "owned" person is legally prevented from voluntarily leaving the relationship. [Whether or not an "owner" may at will transfer possession of the "owned" to another is perhaps a distinguishing mark of full slave status, but not, I think, essential to the persons-as-property metaphor.]
[Note to self: Here I am describing a relationship in which the oppressed are of use to the oppressor, e.g. as labor of some sort. But what about situation where the oppressed is seen as an obstacle to the oppressor? This would be the case for groups such as the Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, and Jews -- natives in the way of colonization, or perpetual outsiders. Oppression has two extremes: enslavement, and genocide. On the genocide side of things, I seem to be leaving questions about minimum care out. What about issues of neglect? An oppressed population can be suppressed with poverty, starvation, lack of funding -- as well as by violence.]
[This section sounds too similar to point #6 -- "The essence of control is to treat youth as if they are human property" -- and should probably be excised.]
23. Youth and adults are not identical.
Anatomically, biologically, mentally, and psychologically, there are important differences between children and adults. Of course, youth and adults are only artificially separate groups -- there is a continuum of age, "youth" metamorphosing into "adults".
At the extreme, you have babies, who are unable to understand language, find food or feed it to themselves, find clothes or dress themselves, walk, procure transportation, navigate to stores or buy things, procure or use money. They are profoundly ignorant and in need of assistance.
Youth as a group are not to be defined by this extreme, however. With amazing speed, these skills -- and countless more -- are acquired, and youth become capable of intelligently moving through the world. It is also worth noting that youth are not alone in their initial disabilities. For every disability that young people begin with, there is a significant number of adults who face the same challenge. There are adults who are illiterate, or who don't know how to speak English -- and there are adults with more significant disabilities, who are unable to feed or clothe themselves without assistance.
Rather than simply advocating that youth be treated identically to the average adult [which is what the Youth Equality movement does], Youth Power seeks to transform how we view the entire human population. Among the population as a whole, there is a diversity of ability. We must strive to make society increasingly accessible to people who do not have the abilities of the "average" adult citizen.
24. Youth require care-giving. This does not justify granting adults absolute power.
Youth Power finds common cause with the People with Disabilities movement. Both movements seek respectful rather than demeaning treatment. Both seek to maximize people's ability to live an independent life, following their own will. Both value the importance of good care-givers -- and believe that care-givers must at all times strive to assist the will of the ward, not impose their own.
Youth Power views parents primarily as care-givers. For having given a child existence, they are obligated to provide the necessities for continued survival; youth owe no obligation of obedience in exchange for this basic care. There is a presumption that birth parents will be the child's primary care-givers; we do not advocate automatically making children wards of the state. However, neither does Youth Power believe that obstacles should stand in the way of the youth leaving their birth family. A youth should be able to sever themselves from their family at will; severing the relationship of housing / care and severing the obligation of economic support should be two separate steps. Youth Power promotes alternatives to living with the birth family, such as creating youth communal housing, increased ability for youth to choose their own foster family, and increased access to welfare funds.
[This next bit is probably, again, off topic.]
In ancient Rome, fathers had (at least in legal theory) the power of life or death over their offspring. Offspring had no independent legal existence, being subsumed under the power of the head-of-household. They were expected to fulfill an obligation of obedience for having been brought into existence, and could be sold into slavery...
In England during most of the second millennium, a parent was no longer allowed to sell their child into slavery (although forced labor wasn't necessarily better), or murder them. A new legal obligation upon the parent to provide for their children came into being (to relieve the state of the burden). The obligation that youth give obedience and labor in exchange for existence remained...
In the U.S. during the first part of the 20th century, there was a major shift in adult-youth relations: youth labor was largely prohibited, and the prohibition was bolstered by compulsory schooling, which helped to remove youth from their parents' control. Youth were no longer obligated to give labor in exchange for material support -- but the obligation of obedience (and parents right to discipline) remain.
Youth Power challenges this fundamental notion that because a parent gave you existence, you owe them obedience. Rather, we believe that for forcing youth into existence, parents incur an obligation to support the person they have created -- and youth are not obligated to make "payment" to them of any sort.
25. Babies and fetuses fall outside of Youth Liberation's purview.
Youth are no less persons if they are unable to communicate. However, since Youth Liberation is primarily concerned with amplifying youth's ability to have their will (in matters of their body) win out, in practical terms our interests begin with verbal speech, when a youth is able to articulate will themselves. [Youth Liberation, then, has at least some interest in teaching infants sign language, as a means to making contact via articulate communication even earlier.]
With regards to fetuses, if one chooses to view them as persons, then there is a conflict between two segments of youth: fetuses and young women who would choose not to have the fetuses inside of them. In this situation, the rights of the girl win out, because no person -- adult or fetus has a right to inhabit her body without her consent.
The situation is likened to rape: a man has no right to be inside of a woman's body if she does not want him there. If there is a way to stop a rape mid-progress without killing the man, then that is the ethically preferred option. However, the man's life is forfeit if he refuses to leave. Rape, as we understand it, encompasses not only assault by strangers, but also rape that occurs on dates or within marriage. Sexual intercourse that began consensually may become rape if a man refuses to leave the woman's body. By the same reasoning, then, it may be ethically preferable for a woman rid herself of an unwanted child in a way that is non-lethal -- but the fetus' life is forfeit when it does not leave her body when she wills it. And, just as consensual sex may become rape, whether or not the woman consented to the sex that led to the pregnancy is irrelevant to the issue of whether or not fetus has a right to continue inhabiting the woman.
[Youth Equality is more likely to avoid the issue of abortion (because it's controversial) or be pro-life (viewing fetuses as the youngest of youth); it has less of an emphasis rights originating with ownership of one's own body.]
VI. THE NATURE OF ADULTHOOD
26. The line between adults and youth is artificial.
There are main ways of defining "adulthood": as (1) a biological phase, (2) a set of characteristic qualities and behaviors, or (3) a legal status.
Youth Power tends to focus on adulthood as a legal status, which is inherently artificial.
Youth Power tends to view the characteristic qualities and behaviors that distinguish adults and youth also as artificial. We posit the existence of "adult culture", which is not inherently superior to "youth culture".
Adult culture sets its ideal for behavior as "maturity", a word that perhaps means all positive traits: wisdom, responsibility, seriousness, emotional stability, competence, intelligence, etc... Adults collectively blur the distinction between "maturity" as an inevitable biological state and "maturity" as a personal achievement: thus, if you don't have one, at least you have the other. Youth get the short end of the stick with this arrangement. The opposite of maturity, "immaturity", is equated with nearly everything negative: foolishness, irresponsibility, silliness, emotional instability, incompetence, stupidity, etc. Youth are stigmatized for being immature of character -- but even if they are "mature" in this way, they are still by definition immature biologically. Biological youth then, is smeared by association. There is no way to escape the stigma of simply being young. [The Youth Culture branch of YL focuses on reclaiming youthful qualities as valuable: e.g. playful, emotionally engaged, curious...]
In addition to "maturity" as an ideal to aspire to, adult culture divides the world into "adult" stuff and "kid's stuff". There's adult music, adult movies, adult books, adult clothing, adult hairstyles, adult food, adult art, and so on. Adults are enticed to embrace their own culture, and to avoid / speak badly of youth culture. Just as it should not be said that Japanese cultural expressions are superior to Mexican cultural expressions (or some other such ridiculous example), it should not be said that authentic products of youth culture (e.g. youth music, fashions) are inferior to those of adults. They merely have a different aesthetic. [To what extent youth are able to have an independent culture that has not been marketed to them by adults is another matter.]
With regards to biological age, there are firm markers such as puberty, losing one's "baby teeth", growing taller, etc. However, there's a great deal of interpretation that can be done about what these things mean. Much of the behavior markers of youth that others would attribute to hormones and brain development, Youth Power would attribute to cultural or existential differences. ["Existential" here referring to things such as what it means to have had less time to explore the world.]
[Note: The bits about culture go on to long. It's also interesting that I skipped the usual bit about how definitions of adulthood have varied during different time periods, and in different places. I skipped issues of a drawing a numerical age line entirely... Very interesting. The "Adulthood is a membership organization" approach may make that bit obsolete now. It's not necessary; it's sufficient just to say that there is an organization that does set age lines and polices them.]
[It might have been useful in this section to say something about how youth don't naturally have qualities different than those of adults, that youth are able to display all those qualities that constitute "maturity" when it is what is they feel inclined to do...]
[TO BE CONTINUED]
Posted by Sven at October 5, 2005 12:00 PM