Friday, March 6, 2009

A History of Fences- Child Protectionism

As all manner of nightmare brewed in the dreamland of the adult popular consciousness, we failed to wake up and see objectively the harm that we posed to children in our trance. We invented institutions in society such as Protectionism that created beasts out of simple statements and then set out to save all children from the supposed evil they suggested was necessarily out on the prowl, lurking in the dark, hiding, waiting to pounce at any minute!

We felt powerless before the growing threat and were desperate to do anything to protect ourselves from having to fear any longer. Institutions were set in place to take care of that for us. Now we leash our children, drug them, lock them in, supervise their every move, restrict them from certain areas, set curfews to keep them in, build up fences around the play grounds three stories tall, and all manner of desperate acts to keep us from having to worry. The subtly here is that we know none of these actions truly keep them safe, and so we continually retreat back to our nightmares to dream up new ways to confine, control, suppress, and keep our young hidden from the light of day and subjected only to our darkness under the covers.

When children disobeyed us, retaliated, hit back with a vengeance, we turned them into a threat. Now it was possible that our children were not even safe from themselves, and only one wrong move could set one off on a shooting spree, cutting themselves and developing all manner of adult psychopathology in the process. We leveled blame for the threat at the audacity of our freedoms and set out to further criminalize, suppress, marginalize, censor, and dehumanize—not only against society but against our own children—to protect them from themselves. When they fought back, we fed them behavior altering medication, sent them to reeducation camps, arrested and incarcerated them in the adult justice system, censored their artwork and writings, enforced stricter codes on apparel and expression, developed technologies to track their movements, lowered curfews, latch-keyed, and gave them less useful playthings to distract themselves with until even those were considered a threat to children. Then we fought among ourselves about whether our own institutions originally set up for their protection were harmful to them, and used them as political weapons to advance adult agendas. When they fought back, we feared our children were threats to our children.

Making the matters worse, those so-called leopards were still out on the prowl, and were often able to utilize these institutions set up to keep them out, as well as utilize the children who formed their small resistance against it. Whenever you hear of how a child agreed to meet up with an online predator, as the media trumps up the incident to spread concerns of such a “growing threat,” rarely is the question asked why the child would agree to do such a thing that does not concern pinning the blame to yet another so-called social ill. It seems that as we build our fences three stories tall to keep the so-called evil from coming in, there’s nothing stopping a child from squeezing out the bend in the bottom. Thus, the institution of childhood remains intact just as the individual children within it remain free for the picking.

The reality is that fences built around children exist to keep the sanity of paranoid adults more than they do for the benefit of children. If we built a fence around a child, we can calm our trembling hearts that the child is safe from all external hazards, and then effectively divest our responsibility for the child to the devices. These fences replaced the human “protective circles” that used to shield the children in the midst of a threat out prowling. As paranoia increased the possibility that a threat could happen at any time, we entrusted the fences with providing that protection at all times for us, thereby killing our need to worry whether the children are safe so long as they are contained within it. From within the artificial circle, children are actually no safer, and perhaps even more jeopardized in the lack of caretaker regard. They are preyed on by whatever can manipulate the circumstances within the protective circle for its own ends, often producing economic gains for itself and still remain public approved—it is a “fence” after all.

The truth about our artificial fences is that they are merely an illusion. There are none that can be built high enough to protect all children from all harms all the time. It is about time the western world wakes up from the nightmare scenario and retreats back to that age of reason when we only concerned ourselves with actual harms on actual individual children, rather than assumed harms on phantoms. It’s about time we cease building these metaphorical fences as surrogate “protective circles” to stand in place for us. Human beings are capable of doing what a three-story fence can not—exercise responsibility for individual children and empower them to protect and feel responsible for themselves.

It’s about time we wake up and accept the fact that children get hurt, people get hurt, and focus our efforts on working with those individual youth rather than on building our three-story fences, child protection industries, and medical industrial complexes. Whether or not we can wake up and reverse our irrational behavior will be determined by how economically, politically, and personally convenient it will be to stop using fear tactics as a means to inspire movements in popular consciousness. Whether or not that will happen is a question of whether human nature can be persuaded.

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