March 06, 2004

The Vote

I participate in a list serve for "youth rights leaders". Lately they're talking about the vote. It occurs to me this morning that there's a segue between the vote and school issues that I hadn't thought about before...

For most folks out there, if we talk about lowering the voting age, their gut reaction is to ask for some kind of competency test. To some degree, I think that reaction is inspired by the notion that youth are supposed to be being tested, because that's what they do in school. If we lived in a society without compulsory schooling, then questions about testing competency would be less likely to arise. If we won the vote, I think it would raise questions about what school is actually supposed to accomplish... Do you sense that many people feel school is what gives you the right to vote?

Bonus thought:

Public schools are an arm of the government. They are the aspect of government that most personally impacts (most) youth on a daily basis. It seems to me that before we have a good shot at winning the vote, we'll need to establish something like democracy within the schools. If youth experience democratic participation at this very local level, the notion that they should have the right to participate in national decision-making will logically follow. [Of course, this is a harder fight. With the vote, you need to make one critical change to the U.S. Constitution. With schools, you may have to change thousands of institutions individually.]

Posted by Sven at 10:19 AM | Comments (1)

January 09, 2004

Three Approaches to Introductory Essays

I think previously I've only seen two approaches to YL "introduction" essays: the "bill of rights" format, and what I call the "grocery list" format...

The "bill of rights" approach feels like a manifesto. It says: "these are the major issues that our movement wants to address".

The "grocery list" approach is to catalog all of the instances of adultism that one can think of. The list of possible examples really has no limits -- so what you wind up doing is creating categories of injustices (e.g. government, schools, family, etc.), and then selecting what you think are the most significant problems for further discussion. No one is an expert on all issues, and it takes a fair amount of space to really explore any single one, so this is a particularly difficult kind of essay to write.

Now I think that I've identified a third possible approach to writing an introductory essay: "humanistic ideals". The idea behind this approach is to describe various humanist ideals that people subscribe to, and to then merely suggest that people of conscience should apply them to youth.

The entry that I wrote two days ago, Ideals that motivate YL, could be repurposed for this kind of introductory essay. The five relevant humanist principles that I listed there were:

  1. No human being should be treated as if they are property.
  2. Everyone who will be effected by a decision, should be able to participate in the decision-making process.
  3. All people should be treated identically by the law.
  4. Interpersonally, all people should be treated as unique individuals.
  5. People should get to express their authentic selves.

...I've never seen someone use this approach before, so I'm excited to give it a try. One thing it has going for it, I think, is that it has the potential to appeal to a lot of different people. Unlike most essays, where you're trying to show how a set of phenomena are all related, the principles here can remain disparate -- even conflicting. You only need for the reader to resonate with one of them.

Posted by Sven at 06:13 PM | Comments (1)

January 07, 2004

Ideals that motivate YL

A few entries back, I posted a first draft of the homepage. I proposed five broad topics for the purpose of categorizing my essays. I'm thinking now that I ought to add two new topics onto the end of that list... Thus:

  1. Age
  2. Adultism
  3. Youth Liberation
  4. Adults as Allies
  5. Adultism Compared to Other Oppressions
  6. How People "Act their Age"
  7. Differences within Youth Liberation

Today I've got a new idea that would fall under "Differences within Youth Liberation"...

Ideals that motivate YL

What motivates a particular activist to do YL work?

I imagine that many folk only really care about one issue. That issue might be, for example: access to contraception, censorship in schools, homophobia at school, unschooling, spanking, curfews, police harassment, or the vote. I want to call people like this "issue-based activists".

Everyone who does YL work surely has their own pet issues -- ones that they care most about, personally. For me, that issue is violence against minors. Most of all, I care about reworking the laws around spanking, child abuse, and child protection...

However, I would not say that I am an "issue-based activist". Rather, I am an "idealist". I see an underlying principle that unifies the YL movement's many various struggles. That principle is the idea that "no human being should be treated as if they are property". I see school issues, the vote, access to contraception, etc., all through this lens. Thus, my interest in YL transcends the single issue of violence against minors.

I think that different YL activists are motivated by different ideals. Here are the ones that I've identified thus far:

  1. No human being should be treated as if they are property.
  2. Everyone who will be effected by a decision, should be able to participate in the decision-making process.
  3. All people should be treated identically by the law.
  4. Interpersonally, all people should be treated as unique individuals.
  5. People should get to express their authentic selves.
  6. Minorities have got to look out for their own kind.

In previous writings, I've made a distinction between three varieties of YL: Youth Equality, Youth Power, and Youth Culture. Those are essentially three different ways of approaching political activism. Each one suggests a strategy for creating social change. The varieties of idealism that I'm listing here may be even more basic: they address beliefs that people hold about human beings in general. ...I suppose they tap into one's notions about humanism.

In my opinion, it's OK -- and perhaps even desirable -- for there to be multiple idealisms floating around in the YL movement. Different idealisms motivate people to tackle different issues. There are so many issues to tackle, I think we need people to spread out and deal with what they're passionate about.

[While I'm busy reducing people's world views to single sentences, it occurred to me to do so with Marxism. I think the heart of Marxism could be expressed thus: "Each person should contribute to society according to their ability; each person should take according to their needs." ...I haven't heard of anyone who has tried to apply old-school Marxism toward a YL analysis, but it stands as a logical possibility.]

Posted by Sven at 07:18 PM

January 06, 2004

YL Presentation at New Year's Party

To celebrate the turning of 2003 to 2004, I spent four days at the Oregon coast. A group of my friends has a tradition of renting a house for their New Year's celebration each year. In this, the fourth year running, 22 of us gathered to share company, good food, dancing, and playing games... It was really a lovely time.

This year we tried something new: people were offered 15 minute slots in which to present lectures. Naturally, I decided to present on Youth Liberation.

I'm pleased with how my presentation went. My material came across as overly adversarial; and in retrospect I should have spent the bulk of my time talking about power (rather than age identity). It definitely needs work. ...Nonetheless, at the end of a very heated Q and A session, I felt like I had succeeded in giving articulate and reasonable answers to all questions. And -- miracle of miracles -- by the end, the folks who had started off in opposition were voicing support.

One person in particular opened the Q and A by saying: "I feel very negative towards everything you said. I can't imagine how any parent could support this." After the Q and A was over, she came up to me and talked about how when she heard the details, she realized that what I was proposing was very much in line with what she believed already. She told a story about how her own mother would confront parents when she saw them spanking their children, saying "you have no right to do that!" Another participant found me and talked about how, when she used to work in a battered women's shelter, she would give ad hoc counseling to the kids there. So, in some sense, she's been part of the cause all along, too.

I'm fascinated by how people reframe their life stories -- how they can say: "I guess that I've always been Youth Liberationist."

...I organized my presentation around notes that I wrote on big sheets of butcher paper. Here's a transcription from those posters:


Youth and adults have conflicts of interest, therefore youth cannot depend solely upon adults for protection. They must organize for self-defense.

Adultism = The oppression of youth by adults.

  • Historically, children have been adult property. (e.g. illegal to run away, parental right to phys. discipline, "emancipation")
  • Adultism's essence: "adults should command, youth should obey."
  • This model of A-Y interaction, taken from the family, has been built into our institutions: church, school, government, courts, policing, public spaces...

Youth Liberation = activism led by youth, for youth interests, that challenges adult power.

  • This is a method of working for youth justice. What agenda to apply it to is flexible. (Though much consensus exists.)
  • Adults can and should help -- but limits are placed on participation to prevent adults from taking over the process.


Three Main Models

  • Biology
  • Legal lines **
  • Character

Legal Lines:

  • Multiple lines, but clustered around 18.
  • The logic: child / parent / senior citizen = minor / adult / senior citizen
  • Content-based definition of "child": 1) living in house of parents, and 2) economically dependent upon them.
  • Notice adults 18 - 25 ("tweens") are #2, but not #1, therefore "college kids".


Adulthood as Organization

  • members / non-members
  • membership has privileges
  • governmental structure
  • enforcement of line
  • ID cards
  • informal dress codes
  • leaders / passive members
  • internal conflicts

Childhood as Disability
A) Dependence?

  • physical survival ...3?
  • social navigation ...7?
  • economic dependence ...12?

B) Transcend biases attached to body:

1. What if minds could switch bodies?

  • No artificial age lines
  • Some bodies require caregivers

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

  • Creation does not grant ownership
  • Creating a person obligates you to caregive. They owe you nothing.

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

  • All humans need helpful peers
  • Caregivers have no right to "shape" or "mold"


Adulthood does not look like an organization because everyone is inducted. You would expect a political conversion, denouncing former membership with youth -- but most youth identify with the adult point of view from the very start.

Avoiding the Stigma of Childhood:

  • Deny that you're a child
  • Avoid being with people younger than you
  • Emphasize other identity (e.g. male)
  • Put someone down (e.g. bullying)
  • Fake ID = pass for adult

Adults' Options:

  • Take leader role with adult supremacism
  • Passive benefit from membership
  • Conscientious objector

Flavors of Personal Protest:

  • "Age traitor" = criticize political order
  • "Age bending" = break cultural separatism
  • "Ageless being" = view your life as a continuous whole

Posted by Sven at 12:58 PM

December 29, 2003

Youth as Swing Voters

I read an interesting New York Times editorial today: "In Search of the Swing Voter" by Chuck Todd (Dec 29). Todd suggests that because 9/11 has politicized this generation of young people, they will be a crucial demographic in the 2004 election.

I'm thinking this will be of particular interest to Adam Fletcher of We've discussed previously his view that the point of YL is not YL, but rather Radical Democracy. I like this idea. While I'm not sure that I'm 100% on board yet, I think it's a good message, and it really does encapsulate most of what YL is supposed to be about.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

"The most accurate definition of a swing voter is a person who swings between voting and not voting. No matter how defined, however, swing voters remain the most coveted, and most influential, demographic in American politics. And this year's swing voter could very well be . . . Young People."


"The demographic group that may fit this swing voter profile better than any Nascar fan or soccer parent is people under the age of 25. Many of these people didn't vote in 2000 because they weren't old enough or, worse, were disenchanted with the national political discourse.

Four years later, the average 24-year-old has a far more serious set of concerns. Her seminal political memory is no longer Monica Lewinsky, it is 9/11. Like Pearl Harbor for an earlier generation, 9/11 is the kind of memory that re-emphasizes the need for civic duty — and it's likely that young folks are going to hear this call."

Posted by Sven at 09:58 PM | Comments (3)

Youth and Anatomy

I carry around little notepads with me, so I can capture ideas as they occur to me. I've fallen out of the habit at the moment, but I enjoy going for a 3-5 mile walk each morning -- during which I take copious notes.

Back on July 2nd this year, I had what I thought was an excellent idea for an essay. Lately I've been thinking a lot about doing something with that essay idea. Trouble is, I didn't know where the notepad I needed was. ...Well, tonight I went hunting and eventually found the passage I need.

Today, rather than write something new, I'm just going to share my original notes. Me, I'll be able to find them now -- and perhaps you, gentle reader, will be interested in seeing the idea in its raw form...

Youth and Anatomy

What if minds could swap bodies? How does my perspective change if I have a womb, or black skin, or need a wheelchair? In part, my point of view is different purely due to the consequences of anatomy.

However, my perspective on life in the world and within society will also shift a great deal based on how people treat me. Historical baggage is attached to anatomical differences. You don't get to inhabit your particular body without benefiting / suffering from the particular context you've been born into. If you feel white on the inside, but have black skin, you can't escape being treated (by blacks and whites) differently according to your skin color. (Perhaps subtly.)

My model of justice dictates that history has not been fair with regards to different anatomies. "Equality" is a useful idea, but is hardly clear in its meaning. Certain aspects of anatomy do require special consideration; e.g. wheelchair ramps and curb-cuts are good social design. In trying to build a more just society (out of what we have now) it's important to begin by considering all the anatomical categories of persons that have social / practical significance attached to them: age, sex, race (in all the ways that concept has been interpretted -- blacks, Jews, Native Americans), disability.


A Principle for Evaluating Youth Justice

One strategy for thinking about justice is to "walk a mile in their shoes". As a thought experiment, suppose that any mind could be placed in any body -- that they were interchangable. Presume that minds can switch repeatedly and aren't stuck in one particular body for their entire life.

1) Artificial age lines immediately seem unjust. Why not set the age of majority at 30 instead of 18? No reason. You could argue that on average people under 18 are of lesser quality -- but where's the science to back it up? This is a traditional, not scientific number. How different is 17 from 19 really? ...What about denying National Honor Society, spelling champions, and science fair winners while giving full freedom to adults who are alcoholic, low IQ, abusive, criminal -- without question? Great fuss is made about white men of worth losing opportunities due to affirmative action; this is far more categorical. Is it fair to penalize even one deserving individual? (As John Stuart Mill argued...) [There are exceptions to consider, but the principle stands.]

2) Apply the "interchangable minds" principle now to very young children -- ages one to six. They are not in a unique situation. Physical / mental disability and dependence is a state also experienced by adults with handicaps, and some seniors. Youth require care providers for their needs. Let us try to separate the need for care from the other associations we have with the role of parents.

3) Development. Suppose souls are eternal, or run time in reverse so that rather than discovering themselves, youth are slowly remembering a true self. [An idea that could easily integrate with reincarnation, Buddhism, Christianity...] With this idea that youth are not blank slates, there is less weight on adults shaping and molding youth -- instead they need to emphasize enabling youths' exploration.

There is a double standard regarding human nature: we should assume that a youth, like an adult plopped down into a new world, is extremely curious. Finding people who are warm and helpful, that is how you're likely to become; if they try to coerce through criticism, intimidation, and punishment, you'll fear and resent them, maybe trying to escape suffering by mollifying them, but also perhaps becoming secretive or outright defiant. Parents can teach about how the world works, just as my age peers can teach me things I don't know. But my age peers can't instill me with character; they can only inspire me by example. [The concept of teaching (by family or school) is badly corrupt.]

4) The family unit. "You can choose friends, but not family." Why not? I see good cause for newborns to stay with their mother by default (unlike Plato), but I don't see that a person should be trapped with others simply because of where they were born. I believe in the right to divorce one's birth parents, and to either submit to state-selected caretakers, or form families of choice.

[On the necessity of parents. Emotional support. All people survive better with supportive people around them. Isolation is bad for adult mental health, and for seniors' longevity. ...You don't need two parents. A support person of either sex can be equally good -- and three or four close friends is even better. People who really care for you. They need not necessarily be adults even, so long as they can help you navigate through the practical challenges of survival that you face.]


Justice for Youth - Basic Principles (revised)

I will present 3 thought experiments.

1. What if minds could switch bodies?

A. No artificial age / body lines

B. Some bodies require caretaking

2. What if you could choose to bring a new adult body into being? ...And summon a mind into it. [Pushes aside the bias that we attach to a child body.]

C. They should not be trapped with their caretakers. Creation doesn't grant ownership.

D. Naked and without property... We would owe something to the person we invented, not vice versa. Money, physical care-taking, social navigation.

3. Suppose that upon entering a new body, a person has temporary amnesia. How should they be treated?

E. Everyone requires peers, to not live in isolation. Who those helpful people are doesn't matter.

F. The caretakers don't have a right to shape the person into what they want.

Posted by Sven at 02:27 AM | Comments (1)

December 28, 2003

Objections to calling Adultism an "Oppression"

I'm an advocate of progressive politics. Furthermore, I think that the Youth Liberation movement should invest itself in progressive politics. Toward this end, I think that it is beneficial to describe adultism as an "oppression" -- thus giving common ground with other movements. However, adultism differs from other oppressions in several ways. In this post, I'd like to respond to a few of the objections that might arise if adultism is called an "oppression".

First, however, let me take a momentary aside to explain what I mean by "progressive politics"...

About "Progressive" Politics

"Progressive" is sometimes simply equated with lefty politics.

"Progressive" is sometimes contrasted with "regressive". I think I once heard Howard Zinn (in a lecture I attended) say that progressives want to create a better world by going into the future -- while regressives want to create a better future by returning to the past.

"Progressive" is sometimes used to mean a loose alliance between left-leaning social movements. There is a political philosophy that says oppressions are interconnected, and that the various civil rights / liberation movements should try to help one another.

...The way that I tend to understand this last notion is in terms of "isms": racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, ableism, ageism, etc. Activists who work on one of these problems (in my opinion) should try to acquire at least a basic understanding of each of the other oppressions. I don't advocate dissolving the separate movements in favor of one "big tent" movement -- each issue needs its own experts. However, there are opportunities to help each other... And simply on principle, if you're angry about being oppressed, it seems like you should make a personal effort to avoid oppressing other groups.

Objections to calling Adultism an "Oppression"

Most objections to describing adultism as an oppression are likely to stem from comparing it to racism and sexism -- and from having an overly simplistic understanding of how these two oppressions actually function. My main strategy for creating responses is to make comparisons to other oppressions, showing how adultism is not as unique as it might initially seem.

...I haven't actually heard most of the following objections made -- few people are steeped enough in oppression theory to articulate them -- but I anticipate that these things will be thought at some level, nonetheless. That said, here is what I've brainstormed:

1. The biological state of being young is temporary.

Someone might argue this: "Race is a permanent, 'immutable' characteristic. So is sex. Because being young is a temporary state of being, 'adultism' cannot be considered a true oppression."

Adultism is not the only oppression where we see that a person's body is not unchanging. Ageism, by which I mean the oppression of old people, is a case where members of the oppressor group are transformed by time into members of the oppressed group.

The movement against ableism also touches on this point. I've heard activists talk about how we have many disabilities in childhood, most of us become able-bodied, and then many adults gain further disabilities later in life. These activists call "normal" people "TABs": Temporarily Able-Bodied people.

2. The legal status of being a minor is temporary.

Someone might argue this: "If you're black, or if you're a woman, there's no way to escape your identity. When you're a young person, however, all you have to do is wait long enough, then the limits on your civil rights will go away. All youth are experiencing is a waiting period -- not a true denial of rights."

Part of what makes the legal aspects of adultism oppressive is that minors aren't allowed to transcend strictures by demonstrating merit; the limits on youths' rights are applied across the board. How long should a person be forced to live in such a state? It seems simply callous to me, to say that wrongful treatment doesn't matter, so long as it's temporary.

Furthermore, there is a sense in which we could say that the oppression is permanent. A person is only a minor until they are 18 years old. As a thought experiment, we could imagine that there is a species of people, commingling with the rest of society, who die at age 18. In this imaginary world, could a minor escape their legal status by demonstrating merit? No. ...So, in a sense, the legal oppression is permanent -- when the oppression ends, it's because a person has (in a sense) died to their fellow youth.

3. Age is a continuum.

Someone might argue like this: "Age is a continuum. Unlike with race or sex, you don't have two distinct groups. If there aren't two separate groups, you can't have oppressors and the oppressed. So adultism cannot be an oppression."

While adultism is perhaps the clearest case of there being a continuum between an oppressor group and oppressed group, it is in no way unique. With race, there are people of interracial heritage. With sex, there are people who are born intersexed. With sexual orientation, there is bisexuality. I know less about the discourse around classism these days, but it seems like there's also a strong continuum between rich and poor -- even if there's a wide gap between the richest and the rest of us.

4. All human beings are young at one time.

Someone might argue like this: "Oppression is about a majority treating a minority badly. Because every human being goes through a period of being young, young people can't be considered a minority group. Being young is simply an aspect of being human."

While every human being is young during their lifetime, not all of society is young at the same time. Young people are a minority relative to the adult proportion of society. Social psychologists have demonstrated that prejudice and abusive behavior can be fostered around as insignificant a trait as eye-color. Labeling a portion of humanity "minors" is more than enough to foster an oppression at the societal level -- even if people in the oppressor group were once members of "minors" themselves.

While it seems true that adultism is the most universally experienced oppression, we shouldn't make too much of this, I think. Not all, but most of the population lives to experience the oppression of old people. Women constitute about 51% of the population -- technically they're a majority, and still they've experienced a history of oppression. ...It's the relationship of one's group to power that defines oppression, not the group's size.

5. Youth live in close proximity with adults, dependent upon them.

Someone might argue like this: "Youth and adults live together, intimately. There's no physical distance between youth and adults, as there tends to be between blacks and whites. Consequently, there's no opportunity for prejudice to develop -- adults' perceptions are accurate."

Oppressions are often targeted at "outsiders" in the community. For instance, Africans (and others) were enslaved and brought to the United States. Their "otherness" is a large part of what's made racism possible. Similarly, throughout history Jewish people have been seen as outsiders wherever they've gone (at least until the founding of Israel as a state). Their perceived outsider status has helped enable discrimination, pogroms, and genocide.

Oppressions, however, can also target "insiders" of the community. Women and men live in extreme intimacy with each other, and yet there is a history of oppression. Homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, and intersexed people are all "insiders" in their particular communities -- only to be ostracized or attacked when their true identities are discovered. Living in close company with adults does not mean that youth cannot be oppressed by them.

6. Nearly every youth goes on to become an adult -- an oppressor?

Someone might argue like this: "With racism or sexism, a member of the oppressor group spends their entire life as a white person or a male. They have years to be trained by society to oppress. But adults were once youth themselves. If adultism is really so bad, why do people go on to reproduce what they themselves experienced? It can't have been so bad as to be called "oppression" if everyone does it..."

Why youth go on to become oppressors themselves is perhaps the most significant question for any philosophy of Youth Liberation to answer.

I think that the key to understanding this issue is to know that very few young people actually feel solidarity with young people as a group to begin with. Instead of going through a political conversion at age 18, denouncing their former membership, they spend their entire childhood identifying with the perspective of adults. We feel that we've been wrongly grouped with the other young people, who actually deserve to be treated with disrespect; we see ourselves as special. The strategies that youth employ to dissociate themselves from other young people, trying to shed the negative status of childhood, form the basis for what evolves into full-fledged adult supremacism later on. [This analysis is different from the "cycles of abuse" theory, which (without explanation) simply says that people abused as children go on to abuse others as adults.]

7. Young people are spoiled -- not oppressed!

Someone might argue like this: "Kids are handed everything on a platter. They don't have to work, and adults take care of all their needs. They have it easy. That's not oppression!"

I'm not sure whether or not I should even respond to this notion here. It's not really about whether or not adultism should be counted among the ranks of oppressions. It's more a matter of someone not understanding the nature of oppressions in general....

To say that minors are oppressed is not to say that all minors suffer profoundly. Many, perhaps most, young people find ways to live comfortably under repressive laws, and form workable relationships with adults. This is not to say that the laws and relationships with adults are fair. "Oppression" concerns the relationship between two groups -- there are many ways for individuals to navigate life within that overarching relationship. There are privileged black people and privileged women -- and were even at the height of racism's or sexism's history. In order to see that an oppression -- any oppression -- actually exists, we have to look at beyond how particular individuals feel, at the big picture.

Posted by Sven at 01:22 AM | Comments (1)

December 27, 2003

A New View of Age

The first thing you read as you arrive at (or read my hypothetical book-to-be) should be an abstract -- an overview that tries to summarize all the ideas within in short-form.

However, after that, I think the next piece has to be about age. If I'm going to spend countless pages talking about the relationship between adults and youth, after all, it seems like I ought to start by defining the terms "adult" and "youth"!

The day before yesterday I had a new idea about what I need to talk about under the heading of "age". However, before I get to that, I'm going to summarize the sub-sections of my thought that lead up to it...

Models of Age

I've got an introductory piece that I like to use, that discusses how there are different models for the concept of age. Increasingly, I'm thinking that a good way to present this piece is as a quiz... The interactivity (I imagine) will help draw people in. The main choices on the quiz:

  • age is biology: baby teeth, height, puberty, years since birth, etc.
  • age is personal character: you can act "like an adult" or not; "maturity" is an achievement
  • age is a legal status: if under 18 years of age, then you're a minor

Here are a few additional quiz options I've been giving more weight lately:

  • age is about developmental stages: an adult with a mental handicap can have the mind of a child
  • age is a mindset: you're only as old as you feel; a sixty year old can be "young at heart"
  • age is irrelevant: it is a factor that should be ignored as much as possible

Understanding the Legal Age-Lines

Now, following the "models of age" quiz, I've typically moved into a discussion about how the legal lines are drawn. There are multiple age lines -- but despite variation, there is a recognizable idea underlying them all. They're based on intrafamilial generations: minor / adult / senior citizen = child / parent / grandparent.

There's an additional piece that goes with this: distinction between "kids" and "college kids". In trying to describe what "child" means in contemporary society, I focus on content: children are people who live in the home of their parents, and who are financially dependent upon them. [I address exceptions to this generalization: street youth and emancipated youth.] "College kids", despite living away from their parents, tend to be financially dependent -- which is the essence of why they aren't given the respect that other adults are. [I tend to conclude this bit with a note on how the clincher for being seen as an adult is to become a parent oneself.]

Based on these two main pieces, I point to people who are 18 and under as genuine "youth", and establish the existence of an "in-between" group, 18 - 25 year-olds.

New Ways of Thinking About Age

OK, finally, we're at the new bit that I want to talk about!

For some time I've been playing with a piece that I'm calling "A metaphor: adulthood as organization". The main gist of this section is to draw out the comparison made in the title... Like an organization, adulthood has: members and non-members, a governing structure, policing of the boundary between members and non-members, membership privileges, a dress code, etc.

I've toyed with placing this section before the "Understanding the Legal Age-Lines" piece. Increasingly I see this as the central metaphor of all my work -- so it seemed like the age-lines piece simply embellished upon it. However, now I'm beginning to think that I can deal with legal issues without superimposing the metaphor. I can bring it in afterwards, and thus avoid raising mental hackles with the skeptics just a little longer.

...And so here's today's innovation: what if the "adulthood as organization" piece gets paired with a new bit on "accommodating age differences", and the two get subsumed under a heading called "New Ways of Thinking About Age"?

I think most people will have a hard time wrapping their mind around the "adulthood as organization" concept because they won't be able to get past the biological differences between youth and adults. In the organization metaphor, I treat youth and adults as if they are identical beings. This leads to the false impression that I'm ignoring the differences entirely. Not so!

Rather, in my world-view, I've eliminated age as a factor by replacing it with language from the people with disabilities movement. There are adults who are limited in their physical abilities, or in their mental abilities, who need the assistance of care-givers to live their lives. I've yet to identify a biological aspect of childhood that has no parallel among some subset of adults.

So, rather than argue that youth are more competent than adults give them credit for (a doomed argument, I believe), I want to take the most incompetent child and argue for their essential dignity by linking their human nature to handicapped adults. This leads to a novel vision of society. And, in combination with the "adulthood as organization bit", I think I've created a pretty interesting "new way of thinking about age".

Hm. Since "adulthood as organization" is premised upon ignoring biological differences, I suppose this "accommodating physical / mental differences" bit should come first...

[In the scheme of things, perhaps all I'm just talking about a rhetorical tweak -- but it's the kind of thing that gets me all excited.]

Posted by Sven at 04:19 AM

December 15, 2003

Draft homepage for

[This is a first draft of what the homepage might look like.]

tools for youth liberation activists

This website contains original essays about Adultism and Youth Liberation. Youth activists and adult allies are the intended audience. My hope is to inspire readers to start new direct action groups based on the Youth Liberation model -- and to help existing groups thrive.



1. How to Fight Adultism [read this first]
A short introduction to "adultism" and "youth liberation" activism.

2. Youth or Adult?
Who counts as a "young person"? Who as an "adult"?

3. Adultism - The Oppression of Young People
What is "adultism"? What does it look like? What is its cause?

4. Youth Liberation Movement
Criteria for deciding if a group is an example of Youth Liberation.

5. Adults as Allies
How can adults help the Youth Liberation movement?

6. Relating Adultism to Other Oppressions
How is adultism similar to racism, sexism, classism, etc.?


Short entries. A frequently updated journal about my thoughts on Youth Liberation.

The Generator
Long semi-polished essays. This is where rough drafts first get posted -- including ones that don't make it onto

Posted by Sven at 03:32 AM

Intro to

[Here is some text I've just composed for the homepage.]


This website is about Adultism and Youth Liberation.

"Adultism" is an oppression -- like racism, sexism, or classism (etc.). It is the oppression of young people by adults. The root cause of adultism is the belief that "adults should command, youth should obey". This belief shapes how adults and youth relate in nearly all of our society's institutions: family, school, church, government, policing, criminal justice, child protection...

The norm of total adult control is harmful because it encourages petty tyranny and abuse of power.

"Youth Liberation" is a method of working for the welfare of young people. It is activism led by youth, for youth interests, that challenges adult power. This method stands in contrast with traditional child protection methods, which have depended solely upon the voice of adult advocates.

The movement of people using Youth Liberation theory is diverse. However, some of its distinguishing goals include:

  • winning the right to vote in elections
  • democratizing public schools and promoting school alternatives such as "unschooling"
  • ending the practice of spanking / corporal punishment
  • eliminating laws based upon arbitrary age lines (e.g. curfews, drinking age)
  • challenging defamation of young people in the media

The goal of this website is to support the Youth Liberation movement. My focus here is on providing original content: essays that analyze adultism, and essays that describe how to do effective anti-adultist organizing. The intended audience is youth activists and their adult allies.

My hope is that these essays will inspire readers to start new direct action groups based on the Youth Liberation model -- and help existing groups to thrive.

Sven Bonnichsen

"I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn't much improved my opinion of them."
--Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince)

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
--Lord Acton

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
--Martin Luther King, Jr. (Letter from Birmingham Jail).

Posted by Sven at 12:27 AM