Slant, Richmond, VA, June 11-25, 2004:


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         Travis Charbeneau  3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221
            travischarbeneau@gmail.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.