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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 freechild.org. 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 youthlib.com (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:

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

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 | Comments (0)

December 15, 2003

Draft homepage for youthlib.com

[This is a first draft of what the youthlib.com 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.

About youthlib.com


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 youthlib.com.

Posted by Sven at 03:32 AM | Comments (0)

Intro to youthlib.com

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

About youthlib.com:

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:

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 | Comments (0)

December 12, 2003

First meeting with Adam & Tonia

Tomorrow, for the first time, I'm meeting face-to-face with Adam Fletcher of freechild.org and Tonia Valadez of the new Youth Centered Youth Development Institute. Below is a list of questions that I brainstormed, trying to figure out what we should ask about each other. ...I have an idea percolating, that this list might form the basis for a "Survey of YL Leaders" at some future date.

Personal History:
How did you get involved in YL work?
Talk about the intent of your current projects.
What are your long-term goals?
How do you see your commitment to YL evolving in the future?
Other issues that you're involved with?
Partners, life situation?
Day job?

What groups do you know of in the Northwest region?
What individuals do you know personally who are invested in YL work?
What is the state of the movement as you see it?
Who do you see as the big players right now?

Skill Sets and Goals:
What are your pet issues, the things that really make you passionate?
What are your activist strengths?
What are your activist weaknesses?
Is there anything you need help to accomplish?
What crazy ideas for new projects do you have?

Posted by Sven at 12:37 AM | Comments (2)

December 10, 2003

New address for Notepad

Notepad's new address is:


If you've got this page bookmarked, please change the address now.

Thanks to gl. and mph, who are helping me integrate Notepad and Generator with my new site-to-be, youthlib.com.

[For history's sake, the old address for this site was "http://generator.puddingbowl.org/notepad/".]

Posted by Sven at 10:41 PM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2003

10 minutes on "Why should I care about YL?"

I'm awfully interested in writing process. Here's an experiment where I've set a timer, and will now write for 10 minutes.

My friend gl. has suggested that I need to put together some introductory documents about YL. Ideally, perhaps a "read me first" document, like you find when you open up new software. I haven't conceptualized just how to do that yet.

...However, I do have three bits that seem like they might go toward the front, were I to be creating a longer work:

  1. Reasons why people want to avoid thinking about youth rights issues
  2. Common objections to YL
  3. Why progressives should care about YL

Items two and three on that list have already been written -- I just need to dig them out. I think what gl. really had in mind, though, would be titled "Why should I care about YL?" That's more general than what I have for item three, I realize now that I think about it.

So, brainstorming: "Why should I care about YL?"

  1. Because YL attempts to address the root causes of child abuse
  2. Because if you care about the civil rights of other groups, you should care about youth rights
  3. The oppression that youth suffer shapes the people that they'll be as adults
  4. In some ways, adultism is a model for how other oppressions function

[Out of time!]

Posted by Sven at 07:13 PM | Comments (1)

Ocean Robbins quote

My friend gl. passed along this neat quote from youth activist Ocean Robbins, founder of YES! (Youth for Environmental Sanity):

"Sometimes older folks tell me: 'I was idealistic and thought I could change the world once, too, but then I grew up.' I'm trying to help us change our definition of growing up, so that it ceases to mean giving up on our ideals, and comes to mean learning how to live our dreams, every day, on the Earth. I want to awaken the passion and creativity of youth, combine it with the wisdom, experience and insight of elders, and transform our world."

Posted by Sven at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)