Two Types of Freedom

Two Types of Freedom: Academic and Civil

            Often confused, mainly due to the coincidence of youth matriculating from an unfree state to the relative freedom of new adulthood, academic freedom and civil liberty appear to blend into one another because the young person, in their daily rounds and as a newly freed and fully human being under the law, now steps onto campus and now steps off. This motion, normative, expected, and quotidian, gives the impression of being seamless and consistent. But all experienced adults understand that social context, when consorting with human freedom in general, is of the utmost. Every organization has its intake and internal rules. If one does not wish to conform to them, one should not join in the first place. Yet it is understandable as well, with some little perspective of years, that anyone who has been essentially unfree for the first seventeen years of their life would mistake a sudden and seemingly complete opening up of the space of general freedom in their nascent social being as the all in all. Following directly from this, the ability to speak one’s mind, no matter the issue or context at hand also appears to be a new reality and that by definition.

            The actual reality is, however, that the institutional unfreedom of childhood and youth is simply loosened, not loosed. Freedom can only be had within society, as Berger notes, even though for human beings, this also means that the social order has itself, and within it, also by a more adept self-definition, the seeds of its own revolution. In short, all enduring social change comes from within. The young person, who is abruptly an outsider on two fronts – one, and gladly so, forever graduated from the unfreedom of chattel-like status in and around eighteen years of age; and two, suddenly and not by choice, someone who is looking at the adult world from the outside in, and this for a few more years perhaps – has difficulty grasping that the simplest entrance into this second world, and the one that each of us spends the rest of his life inside, is to learn the new rules of conduct and how they both open themselves onto basic freedoms whilst limiting others. The political fashions of the day serve mostly as an exercise in self-expression which is at best annoying and irrelevant and at worst a satire or parody of authentic freedom. These early experiments in a generalized freedom inevitably come up against certain limits imposed by the adult organizations, such as universities and governments, corporations and benevolent societies. Their push and pull constitutes a rite of passage for youth-into-adulthood and should not be given much credit otherwise.

            But let us, before continuing, first define the two major types of freedom which are at stake and which, because of their close contiguity in the societal life course as well as the coursing of social life, become easily conflated at first glance.

            1. Academic Freedom: this is a technical and professional denotation only relevant to conduct on campus and in the scholarly discourses as published and expressed in other vocational or guild-like settings, such as conferences or virtual pedagogic spaces etc. It adheres only when a student or a faculty member seeks to make a discursive statement about whatever it is in which they have an intellectual interest. A ‘discourse’ is simply the conversation, historical and theoretical, that surrounds a topic, a subject or object, a question, or an idea. Anthropology has a specific discourse, feminism another, economics a third, and so on. That they run into one another, sometimes in a salutary and sometimes in a conflicting manner, is nothing to shy away from, but is rather that which gives continued life to the conversation of humankind and its sense of what our collective brain-trust is capable. Thus, the ‘conflict of interpretations’ to borrow from Ricoeur, is the life-blood of thought itself. Academic freedom means that within each discourse, a student or professional is free to state their case as best they can, mustering this or that line of argument and evidence as the case may allow, and this is all that it means.

            2. Civil Freedom: this is a much more general phrase connoting the interplay between the law, mores, custom, tradition, and the individual agency which we, in North America, so dearly prize. It frames the ‘open space of the public’, wherein the Agora-like conversation of the day, of the hour, of the moment, as well as that perennial, may take place unadulterated by the ulterior motives of specific institutions. It may seem that it is in this space where everyone becomes her own Socratic presence, but it is well to remember that just because any single institution or organization cannot, or should not be allowed to, adjudicate the content and rhetoric of this shared space, this in turn means that the entire set of oft-competing institutional suasions is very much present. It is by the check and balance of social institutions and their confrontation with personal sensibilities and individuated agency that civil freedom exists. In a word, our general social freedom is framed by the actual work of all of the aspects of society to which we belong; it is not, repeat, not the same thing as an idealized human freedom. Its very name should caution us to this regard: it is a freedom which is civil and must remain so.

            Understood as discrete, it should simply be a matter of committing to memory and thence to practice, for young people, the difference between the two. More than this, one can now recognize that neither academic nor civil freedom approaches the abstraction of freedom ‘itself’ or in general. The former is solely about discourse and ideas, the latter about playing a cultural game which has within it the always-already of social change within its loosened harness. To overstate one’s case within the Offentlichkeit is to betray its collective trust. To claim that one is solely within the truth of things in a world of competing truth-claims, is to sabotage its historical force. This is what university students, for one instance, are currently engaged in, no matter what ‘side’ they have chosen to demonstrate for or against. What is lost in these mise-en-scene is the very freedom they imagine they are expressing.

            This is so not due to topic or ‘issue’ – in the same way, academic freedom may be gutted by a zealotry which is in itself value-neutral; it can adhere to any discursive topic and at any time, pending wider influences – but rather to the manner of enacting one’s claims about such. There are, proverbially, multiple sides to every ‘story’, and even within our own biographies, we can never be utterly certain of our own intents, and with failing memories over time, even our own actions once committed. The worlding of the world is also not entirely known to us in the moment. It often takes a while for things to ‘play out’, to see the effects of our actions in the present. For the young person, all action seems to account for itself in the now, but anyone with a little life experience knows that this is hardly ever the case. This ‘now’ is an artefact of a consumer anti-culture which seeks to compel us to satisfy immediate need and greed, and is thus an interloper with regard to the political conversation which must be present to animate any culture, no matter how sophisticated or simple it may be. But for the newly adult person, schooled only in the now of consumption, trained only to react to a stimulus, market or otherwise, and to never either prevent or at the least consider, freedom takes on the mantle only of a commodity, however ‘priceless’ it is said to be. Generationally, it is certainly necessary that young people test the limits of their respective social bonds, for this is an important way in which we older adults may gain a larger perspective and thus join our younger peers in initiating this or that change. At the same time, what is authentic to generational interplay must at some point upshift itself into a true ‘confrontation with the tradition’, something each of us, no matter how aged and experienced, remain a part of until we finally part ways with human life itself.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, social theory, religion, aesthetics and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

On the Ubiquity of Child Pornography

On the Ubiquity of Child Pornography (a Christmas Day gift for a ‘naughty’ society)

            In the burlesque of passion, ‘naughty’ is nice. In the grotesque of desire, ‘naughty’ is simply nasty. If pornography is more deeply and precisely defined as the narrowing of one’s humanity through objectification, suppression and the sabotage of agency, child pornography appears ubiquitous in our society. Its sexual aspect is but one instance of the confluence of these three forces, and in no way should an ethical understanding of pornography be limited to an examination of what is in fact a mere skewed symptom. For sexuality in itself is an essential part of the human experience, and from a very early age, as Freud and many others have correctly demonstrated. By reducing our inhumanity as directed upon others to what is indeed an authenticity of being only compounds the evil, which is itself in turn sourced in ressentiment. It is inevitable that an adult will feel a compulsion to absorb the wider childhood of which he was himself robbed when a child; whether this theft is repeated against his own children or those utterly unknown to him. This repetition of a criminal act may be witnessed in a myriad of examples hailing from a variety of sectors in today’s society, and specifically in its institutional cultures, wherein objectification, suppression and the denial of human agency and will occurs together and in a calculated manner.

            Private schools emblazon public transit with rows of smiling uniformed girls, well-behaved and no doubt well-disciplined and yet apparently so happy to be forced into the same clothing and the same personality as their desk-bound neighbors who, before being crammed into such places by parents eager to both dispense with their care and ensure that their wealth stay in strictly monitored courtship circles, were complete strangers to them. No matter, as all will shortly become the same thing, and this thinghood is of the utmost: not a person, but a set of objectified roles; dutiful child, chaste daughter, model student, submissive spouse et al. That the ‘schoolgirl’ is an altogether perennially popular staple of the porn industry tells all: it has borrowed from the stilted life of the child the sexualized thinghood already utterly present within its pleats and tights. Just as art mimics the very highest of and in life itself, so does porn mimic the very lowest.

            Such schools spend much space on their respective websites outlining with a salacious delicacy their uniforms, including ‘modesty shorts’ for girls. At once this official apparel, from which there may be no deviation whatsoever pending punishment – much anticipated by the adults involved, and the very reason why uniform codes are so picayune in the first place – suppresses any hint of natural sexuality by objectifying youthful charm in a lockstep repetition, not unlike ballet or team sports, two other parental favorites, in which youth appear as part nymph part storm-trooper. Such schools rely on supportive and presumably equally neo-fascist families for ‘discipline’, also reiterative, and in even more authoritarian circles, often still of the physical variety. And yet the malingering presence of corporal punishment in some political regions is completely consistent with other aspects of the suppression and objectification of the child, for it is nothing other than surrogate sex.

            The child and the youth become the institutional playthings of adults, chaste yet charming chattel, objects and not persons. Their human rights are denied them, their own nascent wills crushed, their narrowed paths set before them and predefined as the same road to ressentiment. In this dynamic, the relations of an alienated subsistence are reproduced. The child will become the avid consumer, the beleaguered producer, entertained by a sullen mean-spiritedness. They will watch television ads wherein even a teenager’s first kiss is denied by mocking parents, and these latter will chuckle to themselves and glance over with menace at their own adolescent children. We’re not selling you a vehicle, but rather a warning. Those who script such ad campaigns are pornographers, the companies which contract them porn merchants. Buy their products and support child pornography, but that is what you desire above all else. For the truncated adulthood of our mass culture only moves us when we can enact violence, either symbolic or physical or both, upon others. Children are the safest mark, for other adults will generally fight back or have friends who will fight for them. But the uniformed disciplined loveless child is the perfect daughter, the perfect son. And to have one or the other makes you the perfect parent.

            We can also rely upon far more than the schools and the laws to support our perfection. All that is sold to children fosters within them an auto-pornography. Shop anywhere, and though you may be of any age group, you are forced to listen to the voices of insipidly ten-year-old sounding pop stars who, in highly sexualized whispers or ululations, sing of youthful desire alone. This the basest most perverse version of any possible Reich, for at least the Nazis had good taste in music. In all else regarding our children, we mirror many of their own desires. The Orwellian character of general child pornography is certainly also indisputable. The children’s athletic apparel designed to provide a source of endless voyeurism for audiences; the television ratings for the competitions that reveal much or most of young women always the most popular attractions. Those few with acrobatic skills and perfect hebephilic figures have graduated from the sexual school uniform to that of theatrical sporting performances, in the process having also been unsurprisingly regressed from a mere pupil to a circus animal.

            Children are mocked in entertainment scripts intended for adults, while youths are often violently suppressed and yet objectified, seen as a threat to society but at the same time as being the original source of desire, resented mightily and yet relentlessly pursued, just as we orient ourselves to our own lost youth. And it matters not whether the scriptwriters are simply good old Nazi or fashionable Feminazi; compare ‘Bosch’ with ‘Scott and Bailey’, for instance. In both, teens are berated, threatened with violence, cast as the source of social problems or the bane of parental existences. And these are but two of the more egregious offerings out of hundreds and in all genres. And by contrast, scripts directed at youth themselves are in their vast majority pure fantasy, stating to young people that in order for them to have an agency at all, they must dwell alone in the worldcraft of our adult imagination, formulaic and utterly reactionary as it is. The creators of such fantasies are child pornographers, the young actors sex industry starlets, and the parents who approve of their viewing do so with the low cunning of a holocaust architect. Objectification, suppression, denial of agency: the trinity for the mass murder of all that children authentically embody.

            Children who play with one another unencumbered by social role device, who create their own worldcraft bereft of the constant and ubiquitous harping of corporate CGI campaigns, and youths who love one another far outside of parental control and oversight, and who explore their shared world wide-eyed with one another far beyond the panting grunt of the molester’s narrow gaze, these are the experiences authentic to the young human being and which we, as those older and supposedly so much wiser, need to nurture in every child. One stares round in vain for such contexts wherein this utmost task is even attempted, let alone accomplished. And if the apparently enchanted premodernity hung its collective hat upon revelation, we today, disenchanted and modern are compelled to consider revolution as the advent of human freedom. But in murdering our young, we avoid the confrontation with our own culture’s self-imposed slavery. We prefer pornography to authenticity, child porn to mature intimacy. In that, we impale ourselves. But to suffer this same fate upon a child is to move from simple ethical error to evil, as patent and as vacant as are our own embittered hearts.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 58 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor if the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.