Monday, December 3, 2007

On Innocence

Daisy stood in a meadow of tall flowers. Her sights settled on a blossom of such tantalizing beauty that for a moment it seemed like a princess with an entourage of loyal subjects in full bloom. She bent down to pick this flower princess from its throne in the garden court. What a stunning gown it had, with alternating petals of pink, deep blue and the purest white she had ever seen. The flower was like the sky on that sunny blue day, swirling with puffs of white clouds.

She felt a sudden tremor in the ground, and figured it must have been the flower court demanding their most precious princess back. In joy she began plucking the petals from this flower princess, counting to herself the rhythm of numbers she was practicing in school. The warm wind tossed her hair like gentle finger. Around her the birds chirped like a Sunday choir.

It was on the count of "eight" that she felt the heat. It was on the count of "nine" that the birds were silenced. She was deafened in an instant by the thunder in the clouds. She was blinded in a second by the light. And her breath drew still through the fire in the blast.
The young ones are impatient, discourteous, reactionary, disruptive, and antagonistic to the variety of life. The older ones are nurturing, charitable, forgiving, mature, and grateful for the opportunities that life presents each morning—the innocent are either faulty or pure. The young ones are optimistic, wide eyed, concerned, willing to learn, gentle to the touch and excited by the chance of new discovery. The older ones are distressed, vulgar, depraved, deceptive, corrupt and disobedient—still, the innocent are considered either wanting or whole.

It becomes immediately clear that simple heuristics such as these can never adequately define or quantify the innocence an individual has at any given time in their life, whether they are child or adult. Any descriptor could just as easily be indicative of a child’s behavior or an adult’s behavior in the appropriate context. A child can just as easily knowingly disobey an authority figure as an adult can knowingly disobey a social law or a standard of morality, for instance.

Yet innocence carries with it a connotation of purity, an expectation that the individual under the stigma can do no wrong simply because they are considered not mature enough in their faculties to interpret the consequences of their activities. This presents a contradiction, for a child or an adult can not be both innocent and be knowingly aware of the consequences of their actions, as discussed above, and yet the innocence stigma is the one most commonly associated with children, regardless of aptitude or relative maturity. This presupposes that children, though biologically immature in relation to adults, possess neonatal or infantile cognitive reasoning and behaviors that are completely differentiated from those of adults, when it can readily be seen that even pre-operational age children are quite independent both in thought and action. So therefore, it is not necessarily the case that every child, regardless of age, is innately innocent.

If this is the case than why is it so common in the organization of our social constructions that children be treated as innocent, god-sent, or as possessing some benign part of human nature that other individuals have lost by some manner of social corruption? Why is it so necessary that so many provisions be made in our civilization for preserving the young, sometimes at the sake of the old, and oftentimes at the sake of the young ones themselves? Why does our society uphold the schemas of ageism at the sake of individual equality? Is it true that the innocence paradigm, in the case of children, is one thing responsible for why the world is so harsh for children to live in to begin with—the world outside the chain link fences? Is a Harsh World penetrating the bastion of security and corrupting children, or are children just born corrupted by the human spirit for which they share a piece.

Innocence is defined in a number of different ways. In the legal sense, a person is considered innocent when they are physically not guilty of a crime, and in most common law countries, are considered innocent via the legal system, which is considered a worthy criterion for determining physical innocence from physical guilt. Innocence also manifests itself as a label for non-combatants; that is, people who are in not involved in a battle. The soldiers in the battle are considered the combatants, and therefore are assumed to not be innocent. These conceptions of innocence are valid and intrinsic, because they can be objectively tested. One is either guilty of committing a crime or they are not, and such can be determined in a court of law. One is either guilty of doing a wrongful action or they are not, and such can be determined by whether or not they committed the fault. One is either a soldier or a non-combatant, and such can be determined by whether one is assigned to a troop, or one is a civilian. Another way innocence is often defined, as mentioned above, is in the form of another sort of intrinsic quality that is not be empirically measurable, but nonetheless is heuristically typified sociologically. It is this fact that makes this form of innocence so confounding.

For some reason, the same dualistic comparison is drawn once again to separate the childish realm of reasoning from the adult. This is the distinction I will focus primarily on, since it defines human beings not based on their position (that is, not by whether they are guilty or not guilty, or a combatant or non-combatant) that can be empirically determined. Rather, it seeks to define whole groups of people simply on their age, their relative amount of virtue or purity, amount of life experiences, life expectancy (the justification for the child’s prioritized status), and regards these people as intrinsic victims irrespective of the content of their life experience. The arbitrariness to this very common schema of human development poses serious questions about the legitimacy of innocence, and by extension, many of the provisions set aside for the explicit preservation of this trait in human life. A more satisfactory justification for these provisions requires exploration.

To quantify a person's relative innocence, cultures and individuals throughout history, from the Catholic Church to John Jacques Rousseau, have often appealed to certain criteria. These criteria seem like common sense but when understood deeper, they present inconsistencies and unintuitive results based on how our society understands child development in the modern era. All the following appeals are common arguments made to support the notion that children are more innately innocent than adults, or that children are the embodiment of innocence itself and adults have no affiliation with it. We will later see that this duality is mistaken, that adults and children are in almost every way similar, that their actions are relative in respect to the size of their inhabitable field, and because of that, they are relatively equal in the amount of innocence they possess.

3 comments:

  1. It seems to me that "innocence" is like an honorary degree at a college. Some people act habitually ethically, in their lives... some are economically caught up in careers and jobs where ethics get sluffed aside. Children do not have those kinds of economic ties. They do subsist on the good graces of their parents - and so their family income comes from somewhere. Children, in the usa, usually make some separation between themselves and their family's ideas and visions, when they're adolescents.

    Now, one has to realize that the reason children are regarded as innocent is that there is a prevalent dualistic worldview people have in the usa, which is quite misguided. Many many people, in their minds, will divide the world up into good people and bad people. This is disingenuous, because people are not like stones, which have qualities which are inherent and always there. People act and think based on how they see the world around them.

    All people should be given that honorary degree in "innocence."

    You say: "A child can just as easily knowingly disobey an authority figure as an adult can knowingly disobey a social law or a standard of morality." It should be the latter standard for both sets of folks. Authoritarian folks would say that children should do as they're told... but that's utterly impractical. Children have to judge each situation on it's own merits, and if they're told something which is not meet for the situation... or not best for their comfort, or well being, they will often pretend not to hear the adult. .. and they will go about their business, regardless. This is a healthy attitude for kids to have. And a wise adult will make certain the child's physical well being is protected, that the sanity of the social environment is maintained, and will look at the child and try to understand the reason for the child's actions - and then kneel down and talk to the child about this, reasoning with her or him.

    Now should children be protected, because they are "innocent?" No... children ought to be protected, because by and large, they are known to lack equanimity. Now, children can learn to treat their peers with respect, discretion and good graces. Parents and caregivers oftentimes neglect this part of their education, however. Children have two faces they show to the world - one to their peers, and one to adults who they perceive care about them.

    Are children's minds not able to deal with big negative topics? Every human being needs to learn to think critically about big topics... some children are more apt to do this, than others. Certainly, small children shouldn't be left in front of a large screen tv to watch whatever they choose, for hours on end. My nephew grew up with the television as his babysitter - it didn't serve him well, at all - he's a rather sullen teenager now. Small television screens are better (5 inches or so), because they are seen as an object, rather than an environment. And therefore, kids learn to think critically about what they're watching.

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  2. I think it's been proven that children focus on smaller televisions less than on larger televisions. This is one circumstance it seems, where not having enough resources (to buy a large television) might actually be a benefit for children. I've also wondered about the comparison between the kids' radio programs of the past, black and white television, and color television, on how "real" a child interprets it. There was a time when children had to hold contradictory thoughts about how "real" their entertainment was...where they had to realize that the black and white figures bared no resemblance to the real world, but still be entertained enough into thinking it might be real. Nowadays, with the pressure to keep things adult-oriented (and therefore more and more "like you're there") kids no longer seem to need to make that leap of faith.

    It's funny how backwards adults seem to be. At one time they'll want to protect their child from seeing the violence and sex that is on television by totally sheltering them from it, but they have no problem sending their kids off to the next CGI spectacle blockbuster (so long as it's G or PG), and totally plunge their children head first into an alternate reality that seems over and above their cognitive capacity to decipher between, it's "entertainment value" and it's "realism." (The recent TMNT, and Transformers...for example). One's got to wonder just how many very very young kids went to see those because of brand recognition, and then came away with a different and less fixed view of the world.

    And they don't call that a "rape of the innocence?"

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  3. Yes... I share your sentiments. I have always even found myself deploring Disney film violence. It teaches the wrong lessons. It seems as if companies like Disney have many artists and writers with their hand in designing the plot... Animators, and children's writers have always thought of working at Disney (and of course, now, Pixar) as something that would be the pinnacle of their careers. I'm glad now that there is good free software out there, like Blender, which allows anyone to make animation which is just as good or better than that done by the Disney company. When individual conscientious artists have the right to follow their own inspiration... we'll have a lot of better children's films. Also, theatres need to get digital projectors, to open the doorway for independent filmmakers.

    Blender can also be used to make 3d video games!

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