Children: the people we love to hate

                                    Children: the people we love to hate

 I was saddened to hear of the decision in the case of the adolescent girl in BC who was assaulted by her parents on Valentine’s Day 2015. One year’s probation for both mother and father which, upon successful completion, would result in no criminal record. They were also forbidden to use physical coercion on any child in their care. But given this is against the law in any case for those aged 12-17 it hardly seems an appropriate judicial response to their behavior; wanton assault with weapons. Quite aside from being criminal, it appears rather that such an act is also dishonorable, despicable – even unchivalrous especially given the gender of the victim, though this may sound sexist in these our days of false equality – and simply lazy parenting to boot. Laziness is not against the law, mind you, and neither are a surfeit of other actions that would perhaps equally qualify under the adverbial categories I have so listed. But assaulting a child, any child, let alone your own, is at least, illegal. The parents claimed ignorance of this, but as is proverbially cited, such is ‘no excuse’. The parents also claimed Christianity but this is also irrelevant. The law is the law. Well, not quite.

It is difficult to know how to interpret the decision given that a harsher verdict would likely mean foster care for the victim, which is also an unfair outcome. When my wife and I first heard of this case when the parents were publicly sentenced, our first thought was, ‘give her to us, we’ll take her right now!’. We are planning on adopting an older girl, just somebody nobody wants as it is well known that the older the child in the human services system the more difficult it is to find a home for them. This fact must have entered into the decision-making process. In spite of this, however, one wonders if the victim’s interests will be served. She herself is on record saying that she did not want her parents to have a criminal record. Now that is chivalry etc., but perhaps it is misguided as well. So while the action was clearly a violation akin to rape, the reaction, given the legal and child service rationalities and bureaucracies, was ambivalent at best. So I am going to interpret this decision in this way: as a call to arms.

Can the parents now be trusted to actually take care of their daughter? Is there a manner in which trust and love can be built out of this debacle? Will the parents, in a moment of anger, laziness, or yet self-styled ‘righteousness’, offend again? The community at large has no responses for the victim. All of us, most especially her, will have to wait and see. Somehow I am uncomfortable with that.

Now we also all know that none of us asks to be born. Living on as a human being with others equally human is no mean feat, and there are risks at every step along the way. We like to think that we preserve the dignity of our children in the face of the world as it is. I’d rather share the world with them then attempt to control their world. I’d rather help them explore human freedom as it is and can be than coerce them into this or that box of unthought. Loving one another, whatever the relationship, is indeed that aspect of the human condition wherein there is presented to us the gravest risks. We know that the death of the beloved is the event that endangers our own mental stability more than any other, for instance. How ironic that the victim was expressing her own love for her youthful mate when the parents appeared to exhibit another kind of feeling to her, their lust for control; sexual, logistical, ideological. A New York based journalist recently published a book explaining that the furor and anxiety concerning ‘sexting’, so-called, is nothing but a moral panic. The phrase is sociological in origin and the author’s interpretation is quite correct. Of all the thousands of ‘sexts’ sent daily by people of all ages, how many result in blackmail or even humiliation and bullying? There is some small risk, no doubt, for putting yourself out in this manner, so to speak. But the ‘expert’ opinions on the matter constitute a projection based mainly in ressentiment. A moral panic is just something to give people a decoy for their own errant behaviors about which they have bad conscience. And ‘religious’ people are hardly the only ones who do so.

Quick comparison: the judge in Alberta who made misogynist remarks in a recent sexual assault case has been officially rebuked by a peer, and feminist groups have been in on the fracas. Rightly so. But where are the supporters of the adolescent victims? Do they have networks and groups to call upon to defend them in the face of adult criminality and judicial ambivalence? If you can’t trust your own parents – and we know that the vast majority of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of children and teenagers occurs in the home and by family members; perhaps this is rather the great moral scandal of our suburban days, not on-line eroticism etc. – then who are the adults that are trustworthy?

That’s why I am going to say to the adolescents of Canada, those between 12 and 17, that this decision from BC represents a call to arms. This is what it means: you need to use every legal means at your disposal to defend yourselves against any adult who transgresses your space, mentally, physically, emotionally etc. You have a right to do so, even if you can’t rely on the system to always back you up. Fight back, call the police, social services, your friends and neighbours. Use the internet to construct support and action groups. Let your youthful comrades know they’re not alone. Make it as public as possible. The wave of community opinion regularly alters its course. You can, with organization and persistence, alter it in your favor, as apparently the still recent election of the new government in Ottawa has in part presented itself regarding children’s rights. You have to think of yourselves first, and not what the going rate is, or what adults might say about you, or even your own peers. You’re old enough to be learning about what love can be, but the first step in doing so is learning how to love yourselves.

 

Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over two-dozen books on such diverse topics as ethics, education, aesthetics, religion and science. He was a professor for a quarter century in Canada and the United States.

Owellian by Omission?

Orwellian by Omission?

If one by chance read the public service directives regarding what to do in case of a real nuclear attack that were suffered upon the residents of Hawaii and elsewhere and were reported in the media after the false alarm of last week one could be forgiven if one imagined that one had been dropped back into 1958. Either that or someone working in said service has a poor sense of humor. Taking shelter behind concrete, in basements, staying away from windows, getting inside rather than staying outside and the like, all duly and blandly listed as ‘recommended’ just in case the attack is real, will not save you. Save us. The US president is admired by many as a ‘straight talker’. Some straight talk on nuclear warfare might be handy, and as it is so succinct not to pressure even the sound-byte attentiveness all of us exhibit now and then, here it is: urbanites are vaporized no matter what they do or where they are; suburbanites are burned alive by the heat blast no matter what they do or where they are, and rural folks get to die an agonizingly slow death through the combination of radiation poisoning, nuclear winter and disease. If things drag on long enough, they will get to see a single generation of Chernobyl children take the last breaths of the human species. End of story.

Of course the propaganda machine of state media cannot afford to be honest in such matters, for then citizens would actually have to make up their minds regarding the continued presence of such weapons systems. Either we accept them and their implications by stating with all honesty to ourselves that we would rather end the world than adapt our way of life to anyone else’s, or that they should not in fact exist and must be banned for the sake of the human future, whatever its cultural stripes. We would, in other words, have to make a real choice between indefinite human life, which would mean discarding our bigotries and anxieties concerning the other, or that the other is simply too much for us and if we go, everyone must go. No doubt there are many cultures, perhaps almost every other one, that I myself would not wish to live in. Perhaps, since the death of any individual is relatively insignificant when compared with the death of human consciousness as a whole – we are not simply ready to kill ourselves in the present, but for all times, past and future, the Beethoven et al we have known and loved and any possible versions of him or her to come will also die forever and ever – those of us who cannot abide the other, either inside us or that external round the globe, ought to simply kill ourselves before it is too late for the rest of us. That said, the other has to try to be more amenable to us as well; there has to be a modicum of give and take in this our conflicted world, but I think, perhaps naively, that most people who live on our singular and unique planet do not think the way some politicians and a few others do and have no interest in ending the species simply because we could not agree about this or that specific issue. At least I hope this to be the case.

One way to begin such a reality check is for supposedly responsible arms of government to cease the spreading of utter nonsense regarding one of the most serious issues of our age. It is disconcerting that the ‘duck and cover’ domesticity of the 1950s has made an unexpected return to the pages of our news items some half century later but the vague misgivings our grandparents must have felt at the time surely have been made more rational and palpable by now. If not, read the above again and again until you get the message.

 

Salem Revisited

            Salem Revisited:

     Two stories out of Calgary this week deserve comment. The first we shall have to gnash our teeth through, but the second provides some opportunity for levity, though in the end they speak of the same thing.

  1. Misplaced Vigilance:

The worse news first. A young man was convicted and sentenced for having ‘sexually interfered’ with a yet younger woman. The ninety days less one could be served on a part time basis. This fellow has for three years been attempting to get on with his life, and is now a university student. The mother of the victim has supported a petition to ask that this school bar him from attending.  The father of the perpetrator has publicly defended his son in the media, with the sense that this latter has paid for his mistake through the courts and no further action is admissible. Agreed.

Not being a parent, I have only a partial understanding of the emotions involved. But I do know that they can be overwhelming. Case in point: I was enraged when I read of the two parents who were convicted in BC of assaulting their daughter with weapons back in 2015. I was almost as infuriated with the ruling; a suspended sentence, one year’s probation, and some other limitations which under the law were illegal anyway. (You can read a more measured and detailed response to this in another of my posts to come). My desire was to rescue the young woman and, with my wife, provide for her a safe home with decent civilized parents. I wanted her actual parents imprisoned, at best. I, like the Calgary mother, was entirely dissatisfied with the ruling of the courts.

Such disparities remind one of Churchill’s apt, if over-quoted, comment on democracy, it being the ‘worst of all possible systems, except for all the rest.’ In a democracy, we must not only trust that the legal system is just in itself, but that it can as well enact justice. Equally, we must feel free to question it regularly. But though I exercise this last as part of my job as a social philosopher and culture critic, – which is merely a professionalized version of what any citizen of a democracy must do – I do not act on my personal sense of what I imagine should have occurred in the courts. I am not my own justice. Neither is the Calgary mother, nor are any of us. While it is sometimes difficult to digest the proceedings and rulings of the courts, we must trust that they have reviewed the evidence as fully as possible and produced rational decisions based upon it. Indeed, we may seek to alter the law, and that too is a democratic act. But this adjustment, whatever it may consist of, must be effected through the due process of politics and law, and cannot find a home in vigilantism of any kind, petitions or otherwise. Indeed, if we are so strongly offended by this or that aspect of the current justice system, we must seek ourselves political or legal office, and be tempered by all that stands between ordinary citizens and the robes of the courts or of parliament. If we did so, we might well find that the system we imagined we disdained has been constructed in a certain way for good reason.

Certainly any institution can be corrupted, and my reaction to the BC ruling of early 2016 hedged towards imagining that the courts were in collusion with abusive parents, perhaps because many families practice such clandestine abuse and indeed, since ninety-five percent of child abuse happens within the family home, were merely protecting their own, the rest of us, perhaps, by firing a warning shot over the bows of parents who too publicly injure their apparently precious children just to warn the rest of us to be more careful about hiding our domestic iniquities.

However this may be, the principle that we must accept, in a democracy, is that the ruling of the court is the final word regarding this or that case. The Calgary case is no different. It has been three years since the incident; has an appeal been launched? If the victim’s family is offended by the ruling, this must be the first resort. Every one of us, in a democracy, deserves both the give and take of restitutive justice. We must do the time if we do the crime, but no more than this. In this age of fashionable ‘shaming’ and mere accusations which seem to already and always carry all the weight of conviction at their back, we must be all the more vigilant against overcompensating for and second guessing the courts. We deserve a second chance, a chance to get on with our fragile and finite lives. Collectively, we also must trust that the perpetrators in these and thousands of other cases will not re-offend, that they have, to borrow the father’s words, ‘learned their lesson’. We may hold our breath in the case of a murderer or rapist, snort in the direction of an exhibitionist, or gnash our teeth in the face of an abusive parent, but nevertheless we must exhibit both trust and forbearance, no matter the emotional cost. Another bit of the quotable Churchill: ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.’

If we do not trust, we retreat into Salem, MA. Worse still, Dachau. Vigilantiism of any kind is a more or less mild guise of anti-democratic fascism, and must be spoken out against. Though it is the professional duty of people like me to do so, it is actually everyone’s civic and ethical duty to stand against ‘private justices’ of all stripes and creeds. (Such an ethics could well be extended to private and charter schools, clubs, and other exclusionary social contexts, but that topic is for another day).

  1. Wanted: Naked Cops

Ditto for the second story. Another context, apparently not criminal, another petition seeking to redress. This time, a nudist group plans to hold a water-park evening for all ages and genders at a local leisure center. This event has now been cancelled. The objection is that children would have been present, which is in fact par for the course at nudist gatherings, so I’m told. The defender reminds us that nudity is not sexuality, but under the lens of aesthetic discourse, this is in fact not correct. We can instead remind ourselves of Kenneth Clarke’s famous distinction. On the one hand, the nude is at the very least a body that has been transformed into a sensual object, perhaps even sexual. Nakedness, on the other hand, is simply an unclothed body; you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, as a woman once explained to me regarding her vagina. Though I know of no male who has ever quite accepted this potentially home truth, she had a point.

Admittedly, I raised my very much non-puritanical eyebrows when I read of the event being ‘all ages’. Wondering if what the petitioners claimed had any merit, I searched through the net. In no time at all I was directed via dubious links to equally dubious imagery. Given that one can easily find still photographs if not rolling stock of minors, the kind the petitioners were concerned would be taken at this event– indeed, it seems some nudist groups deliberately transform their mere nakedness into a very much objectified nudity by holding beauty pageants for adolescent women; one sees them parading quite happily holding little numbers up as they pass whoever the judges may be, receiving bouquets of flowers and even trophies etc, and one also wonders if this might fit the definition of child pornography, though the young women appear to be quite consenting to all of this rapturous attentiveness and it is likely such events are taking place in nations where the laws are different from our own – we must exercise some caution, I think, in imagining that what occurs at this or that nudist event is only nakedness, unadulterated with any adult dross. This would include, most tellingly, the neuroses we adults harbour regarding our waning sexuality and thus the resentment we project against our youth for so effortlessly parading theirs around. This parade is, by the way, most evident not at nudist events but in local schools and malls where wearing clothing is not optional. In any case, the petitioners taking umbrage and calling for caution might well, as did one of my former intimates, have a point.

Two options present themselves that shy away from Salem or worse: one, hold age-graded nudist events. Children, teens, and adults all separate. One might perhaps have a couple of life-guards on hand for the children so that they don’t go about drowning one another, but that should suffice. The older minors should simply be left alone. Not knowing how teenagers converse, naked or otherwise, I can only imagine dialogues such as:

Boy: ‘Hey there you stunningly beautiful young thing, you, wanna get it on?’

Girl: ‘Absolutely, you studly well-hung colt of my dreams, fire away!’

And so on. Ah, to be Jung again. However this may be, it is clearly adults who spoil the party in these cases. By an extension, one might imagine erotic web-sites for minors only. Educational, one might say, without the leering perversity of adults impinging on the nakedness of youthful freedoms. Indeed, given that the term ‘libertine’ in the 18th century simply meant free thinker – and not what the 19th century came to associate with it – we could do with backing off our neurotic vigilance of young people in all quarters in view of a healthier democracy. It’s Calgary folks, not Calvary. Don’t martyr yourselves. The other option? Let the all ages thing go ahead and have a few of Calgary’s finest in attendance, naked of course.

All nay-saying aside for a moment, it is a sign of health in a democracy that persons feel that they can object publicly to what their fellows are getting up to. We need more of that directed at whatever is taking place behind the closed doors of our suburban society, but we also need to be alert to the manner in which we do it. Private justice is inadmissible. It also tends to be hypocritical and cowardly to boot. Do we see citizens banding together to take on organized crime? Thought not. Those people fire back, unlike nudist groups and tried and convicted university students. But public justice through formal legal processes is a hallmark of a democracy and we are duty bound to support it no matter our personal enmities and prejudice. At risk of redundancy, we can iterate that it is only in a free society that we are both free to subject ourselves to due process and object to it simultaneously. It’s either that or very much not naked cops on every street corner and in every bedroom. The vestments of fascism are hanging in each of our closets. In lieu of burning them, let them hang there undisturbed.

G.V. Loewen is the author of over twenty books in the areas of ethics, education, religion, art, social psychology, science and health. He remains a fan of Mark Twain and Stephen Leacock.

Another Kind of Bodyguard: a note on thinking today

Another Kind of Bodyguard (a note on thinking today)

There are professional bodyguards aplenty. Especially in Vegas and Monte Carlo. There are bawdy-guards too. The rights enshrined in democracies protecting our foibles and fetishes. And there are spirit-guards, even in this day and age. The Pope and the Dalai-Lama come to mind. But the body comes and goes and fantasies surrounding it and its capabilities go with it. The spirit has had a rough ride over the past four centuries; on that score, we don’t really even know what it is we’re guarding anymore.

But there is another kind of guardianship that is more perennial, that of the mind. No less fragile or maligned than its sibling human elements, it is yet more important. The youngest, the most daring, the most human of all, the mind is what truly sets us apart from all other forms of life, so far as we know. There are very few mind-guards, especially in my generation. I’m one of them. One of six. We hail from around the globe. We’re a working team that doesn’t work together. Each of us has his contributions: De Botton has the widest readership and the best networks, Montefiori the best job and institutional career, Harris the most book sales, Chalmers is the best communicator, Marder is off to the best start and perhaps thus has the most potential, and myself, who has written the most. It hasn’t been very long. Gen-X is but an afterthought already. But enough time has passed that we know now that no one else is going to come along and join us. The next generation’s thinkers are nascent but still hidden. We do not know who they are, but their problems will be different than ours. Different, but also perennial, also that is, in the most fundamental manner, the same. The same questions that humanity has always asked of itself and of the cosmos.

To ask those kinds of questions in a systematic way, informed by the history of consciousness, is to be a mind-guard. De Botton, the Swiss-Jewish gent in the history of ideas and popular sociology, Montefiori, the Italian humanist, Chalmers the fiery Aussie epistemologist, Harris the atheist critic of American culture, The Russian-Jewish Marder, the last embodiment of the Frankfurt School, and myself the Canadian phenomenologist and hermeneut. If we were a hockey team, the six of us on the ice at all times, we’d all be point men. Shot-blockers. Back-checkers. Playmakers. We’d be Bob Gainey with goalie pads. Under the radar. There only when you need us.

But who needs a mind-guard? State, Church, University, suburb and countryside alike would sleep more easily if we didn’t exist. Business has no time for us. Science left us behind in the eighteenth-century. Culture is now something that everyone has, thanks to anthropology, its nothing special. But speaking on behalf of the ‘team’, our tiny knot of thinkers and writers, and speaking as one, consciousness – reflective, reasoned, impassioned, and discontent – is the only thing that stands between our species and its imminent demise. Every human being is responsible for our collective future. The social role of the philosopher is merely a guide, a resource, and a role-model. Society doesn’t like us. Perhaps we’re not only a team, but also a gang. The most dangerous persons in the world. Public enemies number one.

Change is difficult. Even the thinker is sometimes fooled into complacency, the world of ideas alone becoming both our mantra and our refuge. Who has the time and energy to question everything? Why not let well enough alone? But it is a life’s work. It’s undertaken on behalf of everyone else. We have a few cousins, in the artist and the fiction writer, but these much more spontaneously radical beings are too easily commodified, bought and sold, and they tend to lack the historical consciousness of even their own discourses. In the history of thought as well as in its dynamite only the thinker is so versed.

And what do we do with that experience? We score little. We defend what appears indefensible to most. We are unaccepting of the going rate. We think humanity can do better. But more than that, we think the species should and must do better. It is neither a question of technique nor technicality. It is the replacement of morals with ethics, knowledge with thought. It is the confrontation with tradition. It is the overcoming of custom and law alike. We are libertines in the original sense; free-thinkers. We’ve been identified in popular culture as ‘modern day warriors’. But we fight the good fight against the good. The moral. The customary. The accepted truth of things is always farthest from the manner in which truth is pursued and explored. We tip our hat to the best of science, where as Sagan used to say, ‘arguments from authority are worthless’, and where ‘the only sacred truth is that there are no sacred truths’. But science alone is not enough. It too is too easily commodified. Its technical accomplishments overshadow its purpose. We do as a society ‘accept its products and reject its methods’.

No, philosophical questioning, culture critique, the examination of one’s conscience, the patient study of social formations without customary bias, these are the exiguous threads of a human consciousness that has raised itself beyond what it has been and now stands, perilously and yet precociously, longing and wondering, on the threshold of the firmament.