Slant, Richmond, VA, June 11-25, 2004:
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Travis Charbeneau 3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221 email@example.com Phone: 804 358 0417 www.travischarbeneau.com
Childhood and the Prohibitionist Urge Travis Charbeneau slug "childpro" 853 words
PULL QUOTE: "The sanctity of a childhood that didn't even exist for the first four million years of human experience abruptly demands a G-rating for a hopelessly 'XXX' cosmos."
In the hope of reducing risks for a few, how far should we go in eliminating options for all? A few bicyclists suffer head injuries, therefore all must wear helmets. A few drinkers become alcoholics, therefore alcohol is universally prohibited. A few kids fashion bedsheet capes and jump off roofs, therefore all kids are forbidden Superman comics. The trip from sensible to absurd, already brief for the prohibitionist mindset, today gets a rocket assist thanks to belated boomer concerns about "the children." The Children, in their wisdom, invariably derive entertainment from activities adults find disgusting, from mud pies to masturbation. Nor are adults content to express their opinion and let it go at that, the farthest any considerate person would go respecting a peer. Instead, we use our considerable powers over children to prohibit the merely disgusting as dangerous -- even when we thrived on the very same stuff in our own youth. So -- children who read comic books will grow hair on the palms of their hands, etc. The fact that such things rarely or never happen doesn't quiet the noisy fearful, and, of course, noisy fear is the best kind for the purposes of the prohibition-minded, never content merely tyrannizing children. Prohibitionists know, apparently from their own example, that adults are just oversized children perpetually in need of external direction, compulsion where indicated; mandatory minimums where necessary. After all, what is vile and degrading for children can't truly be _good_ for adults. Even the bald may grow hair on their palms. Armed with their ostensible concern for children, prohibitionists are equipped to curtail everyone's prerogatives. For example, media sex is forever under scrutiny and complaint for corrupting children, to the extent that censorship affecting everyone is never a very distant threat. Negative studies of media sex (are there any "pro-sex" studies?) and oodles of negative anecdotes "prove" that sex corrupts little minds. Since sex can hardly be _good_ for big minds, why not ban this entire spectrum of depravity? As technology advances, practical restraints fall away. What's happening between your sheets? Big Brother will soon have the appropriate gizmo for enforcing his sodomy laws. With luck, of course, constitutional safeguards may intervene to save us from ourselves, but never completely. And never for long. To get to that happy remove, the line of faulty reasoning underlying the prohibitionist mentality itself needs to be broken, starting with the child welfare rationale leveraging its arguments. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, children somehow flourished as mere juveniles in an unapologetically adult world. The notion of a childhood sheltered from the realities of adult experience only arose in the 19th century with the removal of the father from the home, the domestication of women and the spread of universal primary education. Parents were happy if they could shield children from having to get their own food and shelter until, maybe age six, the kids finally joined the workforce. Subsequent to its invention, however, childhood's duration has increased well past 18 years. More importantly, it's liabilities have grown to phenomenal extremes well beyond material provision and protection from physical harm, making increasing demands on the culture at large to become physically and intellectually "childproof." The sanctity of a childhood that didn't even exist for the first four million years of human experience abruptly demands a G-rating for a hopelessly "XXX" cosmos. Civilization is perplexed, and rightly so. "Teenagers" were invented in the 1950s, and what hasn't the "sanctity of adolescence" been capable of demanding in its turn? What might "Twenty-Somethings" require for a truly high self-esteem young-adulthood? Again, wouldn't it be safer to reduce everyone's cultural intake to a nice, bland (but certainly Judeo-Christian) pap? The assumption seems to be that, as liberty has increased, so has immorality. The Romans butchered 10,000 gladiators in a single show for entertainment. Shakespeare's audiences enjoyed nailing a badger to a post and wagering on who could kill it using only his head. We had human slavery in America less than 150 years ago, and women couldn't vote here until 1920. To argue that morality has _declined_ based on the prevalence of bad movies or pot smoking is outlandish. The Founders were right to place faith in the First Amendment specifically and liberty in general, and we would be as much wrong to gainsay them, whatever the noisy fearful say. Western civilization is now struggling to maintain two separate and unequal worlds, one for adults, one for kids. This is a fool's errand at any time, but particularly zany in an Information Age where kids are more media literate than their parents. The urge to censorship and prohibition is forever with us. Selling it as pro-child is merely further proof of its perversity, sheltered children making the most vulnerable targets. We don't live in two worlds, and neither, despite much nostalgia and wishful thinking, do children. To make the most of the world we're in, history suggests that, since you can't hide from the worst in human nature, you must _learn_ to distinguish its best, taking the rough but real road to a wisdom that doesn't come with a childproof cap.