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December 29, 2003

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 December 29, 2003 02:27 AM


Part D about not owing a creator anything is perfect.

Too many times I hear parents say "As long as you live under my roof..." This is an irrelevant statement. Where else can they go? The law doesn't allow teenagers to simply pick up and move out.

I look at parents providing food, shelter, and clothing as something they are SUPPOSED to do as a
matter of personal responsibility.

The parent CHOSE to have sex. The outcome of this sex is they brought a kid into the world, a world that does not allow that kid to seek out alternative means of care. This being the case, the parent owes their kid a roof, food, and clothing and they, realistically, deserve no thanks for that and have no right to hold it over their kids's heads.

If I took an animal out of the wild, forced it to stay with me, and took away its ability to effectively look after its own needs, do I really have the right to expect any kind of gratitude from the animal? Of course not.

Posted by: Brendan Perez at February 20, 2004 06:37 PM