|Children’s Liberation||Source: Children’s Liberation|
Throughout history women have been considered inferior to men and hence subject to their domination. People of colour have been considered inferior to white people and hence subject to their domination. Gay people have been considered ‘perverted’ and ‘unnatural’ and hence subject to punishment. As a result there have arisen the women’s liberation movement, the civil rights movement and the gay liberation movement. These are all positive developments. They have achieved some success and I hope they will achieve much more.
But where is the children’s liberation movement? Throughout history children have been considered inferior to adults and hence subject to their domination. Is this the one form of oppression that will go forever unnamed and unchallenged? Perhaps you think it’s perfectly obvious that children are inferior and that adults ought to control them? If so, remember that misogynists, racists and homophobes have the same confident feeling of superiority over the targets of their bigotry.
Childhood in this world is deeply authoritarian, even fascistic. Children are told where to be, at what time and what to do when they’re there; they’re told when to speak, when to be silent; when to sit, when to stand; what to wear; what to eat; when to sleep; when to piss and shit. Failure to obey results in punishment. Even when they do obey they are reminded of the punishments they would receive if they failed to obey. In this world childhood is built on fear.
Parents, teachers, and adults in general, behave as children’s jailers, rather than as their guardians. An authoritarian childhood, with authoritarian families and schools, trains people for obedience and conformity, resulting in an authoritarian society. This perfectly suits the people in power, whether they are parents, teachers, employers, police officers, judges, or politicians, as they are all desperate to hang on to their power and increase it if possible. We will never have a democratic society until we have a democratic childhood, which means children having an equal voice with adults in the family and in schools.
Adults hate children. I don’t see how we can escape this conclusion, given the way that they treat them. They pretend to love them but what they really love is a fantasy image of children as little angels, submissive to adult commands and desires. This is the paedophilic heart of our society. In practice adults treat children as prisoners or animals or ‘savages’ who need to be civilized, when in fact the adults are the savages who create this violent, divided, unjust world.
In order to love someone there are two crucial requirements: 1) you know who that person really is, and 2) you accept and love the person as they really are. I contend that most parents do not meet these two conditions for their own children. Firstly, they don’t know who their children really are because they are constantly telling their children what to do, managing every aspect of their appearance and behaviour, so their children never get to truly express who they are. Secondly, when their children do express what they are really thinking and feeling, what they really need and desire, they will usually be criticised, told that their behaviour is ‘rude’ or ‘inappropriate’, and told to stop being ‘difficult’ or ‘demanding’.
Children quickly learn to feel ashamed of their natural inclinations and to keep them concealed, to become secretive and evasive, to put on an appearance of conformity in order to please adults. This sickening, degrading conformity continues into adulthood with the desire of workers to please the managers who oppress and exploit them. The model for the employee-employer relationship is precisely that of child and parent; hence employers deceive, control and manipulate their employees, just as parents deceive, control and manipulate their children. Shame and secrecy poison human relations throughout our lives.
In an authoritarian society human relations are built on criticism. Parents, teachers, and other adults, endlessly criticise children, for every aspect of their appearance and behaviour. This teaches children that criticism is the normal basis for every human relationship. So they in turn criticise their family and friends and the other people around them. When they grow up they are likely to have intimate relationships that involve lots of personal criticism, preventing them from knowing who the people around them really are, and leading them to make futile attempts to change people to meet some absurd idea of their perfect companion.
The hatred and criticism spreads out to the social and political spheres, leading to all kinds of bigotry: racism, sexism, homophobia, body prejudice, class prejudice, etc. Children learn at the earliest age that human beings relate to each other primarily by criticising each other, by picking on every aspect of appearance and behaviour to determine whether it is acceptable or unacceptable according to the prevailing social conventions. As children we are largely on the receiving end of criticism. How good it feels to be the one doing the criticising as an adult! How eagerly we look for people to criticise and reasons to criticise them! How ignorant, miserable, and fucked up we all are!
No wonder kids rebel. They are right to do so; it’s always right to rebel against tyranny. Sadly the rebellion of children is usually individual, futile and destructive, rather than collective, purposeful and constructive. This futile rebellion is given such names as ‘tantrums’, ‘the terrible twos’, ‘naughtiness’ and ‘teenage moodiness’. How telling it is that when children refuse to meekly obey adult orders, when they begin to assert their individuality, adults consider it an unequivocally bad thing. As I said, adults hate children. As a result they love to punish them, sometimes violently, always with threats and fear, thereby teaching children the violence and tyranny of the adult world. We pass on our ignorance and brutality to our children and call it ‘discipline’ and ‘morality’.
In a free and fair world adults would celebrate children’s growing individuality and their refusal to simply obey orders. Of course this rebellion creates difficulties for adults, since it thwarts their plans, but a reasonable person adapts to circumstances and seeks compromise, rather than relying on threats and force to impose their will on others, whether they are children or adults. In order to get to this free and fair world we desperately need children’s unions, on the model of trade unions, organised in schools, in order to give children the solidarity and collective bargaining power that unionised workers possess. Such organisations have existed, and do exist, and they need to grow and spread if there is ever to be a better world.
Children are morally superior to adults. Isn’t this obvious? Children are horrified by war, poverty, and homelessness, for instance, and want to know why they’re allowed to continue. Adults, beaten down by school and work and debt and capitalist propaganda, become jaded and cynical, and simply accept these things, and think of themselves as ‘realists’ and ‘pragmatists’. And then adults are put in charge of children to give them moral guidance! The education system instructs children that their goal in life is to get good exam results for themselves, so that they can get a good job for themselves, and purchase lots of consumer products for themselves. Schools crush the original altruism and social criticism of children and foster greed, selfishness and egoism.
No oppressed people were ever given anything by their oppressors until they organised and demanded it. The workers and oppressed peoples of all lands must unite to end their oppression, but so too must children. Without the liberation of children there can be no liberation at all, since we are all grown-up children, carrying around with us the indoctrination, the memories and the wounds of childhood. If we ignore childhood it won’t ignore us, it will control us until the day we die. And so I say, children of all lands unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains!