Welcome to Hell

September 1, 2018

The poor are often criticised for their inadequate parenting skills, and blamed for society’s problems, but they don’t usually raise children to become capitalist exploiters or warmongers. Some tiny fraction of kids who grow up in poverty might become drug dealers, thieves, rapists or murderers, and cause misery for a few dozen people, including their victims, their victims’ families, their neighbours and their own families. But there are plenty of kids raised by the middle and upper classes who become business executives, bankers or corporate lawyers, and do far greater harm. In these positions they carry out the economic exploitation of millions of workers, which creates the poverty and despair that causes the crimes of the poor. Other middle and upper class kids grow up to become politicians who cut taxes for the rich, cut public services for the poor, export arms to violent regimes, and launch wars against countries with oil and other desirable resources.

In the capitalist system the working class does the physical work that keeps society functioning, the work that builds, maintains, and operates society, while the bosses give orders and control the money. The bosses decide who gets what, and they decide to pay themselves the most, unsurprisingly. The bosses get rich while the workers remain poor. This is legalised theft. The wealth of society belongs to all those who create it, not simply those who give orders and control the flow of money. When a poor person robs someone it’s called crime, when a rich person robs someone it’s called business. If you’re poor and you kill one person in a moment of madness you’ll be labelled evil scum and locked up for life; if you’re rich and you give orders that kill thousands in a war you’ll be considered a strong leader.

Both the rich and the poor are miserable, damaged human beings, and this should lead us to question the way that society is organised, and especially the way that children are treated, since that’s where the problems begin that persist through life. Most parents, both rich and poor, abuse their children and leave them traumatised for life, whether they realise it or not. With the rich the abuse typically involves excessive expectations (‘You’d better not disappoint us, child’) and the promotion of selfishness, with the poor it’s more likely to involve the lowering of expectations (‘Don’t expect too much from life, kid’) and lack of interest in the world. Add to this all the usual criticism, threats, intimidation, neglect, isolation, ridicule, humiliation, and so on, that most children endure at the hands of their parents, and most people face a lifetime of doubt, fear and anger as a consequence. They may do their best to suppress these difficult emotions, but they will find expression one way or another.

The way people typically deal with their childhood trauma is by acting it out in some form. For example, those who have critical, demanding parents are more likely to become critical and demanding themselves; those who experience violence as children are more likely to become violent themselves. Both the rich and the poor traumatise their kids but the rich are able to give their kids opportunities to act out their trauma through socially permissible forms of violence and exploitation, and be financially rewarded for it, while the poor generally have to choose between being exploited and being criminal.

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The Destruction of Innocence

September 1, 2018

Child abuse is much more common than is usually thought. Most parents engage in some forms of abusive behaviour, and this can leave children traumatised for life. The main form of abuse is psychological, although there are often elements of physical or sexual abuse. Most parents subject their children to some of the following things: shouting, criticism, insults, threats, intimidation, ridicule, humiliation, isolation, neglect, disregard and disrespect. Small, vulnerable, desperately needy little people are treated as though they were criminals deserving punishment, simply because they have powerful needs and because they fail to immediately and perfectly meet their parents’ expectations, and this is considered to be an acceptable way of parenting. Add to this the physical attacks that the majority of the world’s children are still subjected to and it’s no wonder that they are traumatised for life and that we have a world full of anger, unhappiness and conflict.

Of course most parents also give their children some care and attention, but this is often dependent on children pleasing their parents by doing what their parents want. At any moment children can be criticised by their parents for how they look, how they speak, how they move, how they dress, for the questions they ask, for the thoughts and feelings they express. At any moment their need for love, attention or play can be firmly denied by parents who might criticise them for being too demanding and for lacking ‘discipline’ and ‘self-control’. Most children learn to be wary in their interactions with their parents; they learn to hide what they really think and feel and to say and do things that are likely to please their parents. This plants the seeds for a lifetime of shame, self-doubt, resentment, dissatisfaction and difficulty in relating to others.

The natural and overwhelming needs that children experience – the needs for love, attention, support, encouragement, social engagement, physical and intellectual stimulation – are absolutely essential to their healthy development. Human beings are complex creatures and they have complex needs, particularly in the earliest years of life in which their minds and bodies are developing and their personalities are being formed. If these needs are not adequately met then they suffer physically and psychologically, although the suffering may be well hidden by children who learn to put on an appearance of cheerful obedience and conformity, since they know that their real needs and feelings are not acceptable to the adults around them.

Children don’t choose to be needy, anymore than they choose to be born or to be human beings. Their needs are an essential and inescapable part of what they are, and yet children are often treated as though they are malicious and manipulative and making unreasonable demands deliberately to annoy their parents. In contrast, when parents deliberately manipulate their children with threats of punishment or promises of reward, or by offering or withdrawing affection, this is considered perfectly acceptable. Parents expect children to be respectful, polite and helpful at all times but they reserve for themselves the right to be harshly critical and to withdraw affection and support in an instant if they disapprove of their child’s behaviour.

We live in a culture that hates children and makes no secret of the fact, although it would vigorously deny it if challenged. Consider the sort of words and phrases that are often used with reference to children: tantrums, terrible twos, greedy, naughty, moody, wilful, lazy, undisciplined. It’s common to see children described as difficult and demanding and to see parenting described as the hardest job in the world. All sympathy is directed at the ‘poor’ parents but none at the poor children. Children are told to ‘grow up’ and stop being ‘childish’; in other words, it’s not acceptable for them to be what they are: children. To accuse an adult of being ‘childish’ or being a ‘baby’ is an insult. This is very revealing. As a society we don’t like childish or babyish behaviour, because we don’t actually like children or babies.

People certainly like the idea of children, of having vulnerable little people that they can control and manipulate, who can be relied on to give love and attention to their parents, who can give purpose to their parents’ lives, and perhaps live out their parents unrealised hopes and dreams. But people really don’t like the reality of distinct, independent little human beings who have huge, legitimate needs and have their own ideas and resist their parents’ control. Children are considered to be either angels or monsters: angels when they do what adults want, monsters when they follow their own inclinations. The real monsters are the parents who haven’t faced and healed their own childhood trauma and instead take out their lingering anger and frustration on their innocent, defenceless children.

Deprivation

August 31, 2018

This is a story based on my childhood. It’s not what happened to me but what I saw happening to others around me.

Imagine that you’re born into the poorest section of society. The area you grow up in has high levels of crime, unemployment, substance abuse and mental health problems. The houses are poor quality and falling apart. The streets are full of rubbish. The police regularly patrol the area. Loud music, angry voices and police sirens are the constant background noise. The schools in the area are over-crowded, with stressed teachers and lots of children with behaviour problems. There’s a sense of failure and disappointment hanging over the whole place. No one really expects anything good to happen. No one is looking for a way out, just for someone to blame.

Imagine that your parents have little or no education and they work in low-paid, low-status jobs, when they’re not unemployed. They drink, they smoke, and they’re often angry. There are no books in the house and there’s very little conversation; there’s mostly shouting between your parents and your siblings. There’s also fighting between you and your siblings, and sometimes your parents hit you. You spend most of your time outside with other children of various ages, maybe kicking a ball around, maybe drinking or smoking, maybe writing on walls or smashing windows to relieve your anger and boredom. Kids hang around on the streets in gangs and sometimes fights break out. You have to learn to defend yourself, and project an air of menace and aggression, in order to survive.

You’re sent to school where you’re expected to sit quietly, to listen, to read and write, and to speak only when you’re spoken to. You have no experience of these things from your home life so you feel confused, bored and frustrated. You talk to the other children when you’re supposed to be quiet; you call out whatever’s going through your mind; you get out of your seat and walk around the classroom picking things up and moving things about; maybe you throw things; sometimes you hit the other children if they say something you don’t like. The teachers quickly become angry with you. You’re told that you’re a ‘trouble causer’, that you’re ‘undisciplined’ and that you’re going to have a horrible life – a life like your parents and most of the other people in the place where you live – if you don’t start behaving and doing as you’re told.

You’re unable to do what is required of you at school because all your socialisation at home, all your training in being human, completely contradicts what school expects of you. You’re then criticised for being the way you are, over which you have no control, and blamed for not being able to do things that you couldn’t possibly know how to do, given your background. No one takes any responsibility for what has been done to you; all the responsibility is placed on you, as if you chose to be born into a particular family, in a particular time and place, and chose to be surrounded by poverty, anger and frustration from the moment you were born.

Your parents shake their heads in disgust; your teachers shake their heads in disgust. They can’t understand what’s wrong with you, why you won’t just do as you’re told and work hard. After all, they only want the best for you. Or so they say. What they really want is to put all the blame on you so that they don’t have to take responsibility themselves. You hate them, and you’re right to do so, but you also believe what they say, because you have no other perspective on things. And so you go through life full of anger and resentment, convinced that all your failures – at school, at work, eventually as a parent yourself – are your own fault for being a bad person, but also feeling that something’s very wrong with the world.

You’re right that something’s wrong with the world, but you don’t know where to look. You think maybe it’s because there are too many immigrants in the country. The television and the newspapers seem to agree, as they talk a lot about the problems of immigration. Or maybe it’s because women and children don’t know their place anymore, or because there are too many gay people. You’ve heard your parents and other people complaining about these groups since you were a child. You know someone is to blame. Someone has to pay for your disappointment. Maybe one day a political leader will come along and tell you that you were right all along, that it is the immigrants who cause all society’s problems, and then you’ll be ready to fight back.

But you’re just making things worse for yourself and everyone around you. You spend your life blaming other vulnerable people for your problems and the real culprits escape all responsibility. The people who have really caused your problems – your parents, your teachers, your managers at work, the wider society that keeps you poor and exploited – somehow manage to avoid taking the blame. And that’s how the people in power want things to be. The rich people who run the country want you to blame other poor people for your problems so that you don’t blame them.

If you grow up in a deprived area, with parents who don’t have a clue what they’re doing, and you’re sent to a bad school, and then you’re forced to do low-paid, low-status jobs, it’s not an accident. The people in power want things this way. There is a limited amount of wealth in the world, and the rich can only have more if the poor have less. The poor do the physical work that creates the wealth of society, but it doesn’t do them much good, because the rich people control the wealth and take the largest cut for themselves. The only way to fight this injustice is through the unity of the working class, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or any other personal characteristics. Only together do we have the strength to fight back against the capitalist elite who oppress and exploit us.

The Gods of the Nursery

July 1, 2018

Various cultures have produced father-gods and mother-goddesses. The Greeks had Zeus and Demeter, the Norsemen had Odin and Frigg, and the Christians have Jehovah and the Virgin Mary. Religious leaders are referred to as ‘father’ and ‘mother’ in the Christian tradition. Many countries have founding fathers and countries themselves are considered to be fatherlands and motherlands. People find father figures and mother substitutes among teachers, employers and political leaders, to whom they give the same obedience and emotional attachment that they gave to their parents. Human beings hold parents in great esteem, even religious awe. God Himself has told us to honour our mother and father, if the Hebrew Bible is to be believed, although we might suspect that it was a human father who took down God’s dictation.

During an angry exchange in parliament a recent British prime minister said that his mother would tell the leader of the opposition to ‘put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem’. It’s interesting that in a stressful moment the leader of a rich, powerful, nuclear-armed state recalled his mother’s petty, conformist advice. The previous prime minister on assuming office quoted his old school motto, ‘I will try my utmost’, as the guiding principle for his time in power, which had any self-respecting person reaching for a sick bag. These examples suggest that parents, and other childhood authority figures, are firmly lodged in the human mind.

I’ve often heard people utter sentences that begin with the phrase ‘my mother always said that…’ or ‘my father taught me that…’ or words to that effect. I’ve also heard people say that their parents gave them their values and their direction in life; that they wouldn’t want to disappoint their parents; that they want to make their parents proud; that they owe everything to their parents; that their parents are their heroes, and so on. All this is said with great emotion, and God help anyone who dares to contradict it. The idea that we might be living our own lives, not our parents’ lives, and that the goal of life is to realise our own potential, not please other people, doesn’t seem to enter most people’s minds. Even people who are critical of their parents still tend to worry about what their parents think of them and desire their approval. And people who rebel against their parents define themselves in opposition to their parents, and so remain tied to them. Human beings are utterly fixated on parents and parent substitutes.

The idea of a parent, or any other adult, being ‘disappointed’ with a child is utterly monstrous, because it assumes that children exist to please adults. They absolutely do not. Children exist to live their own lives, to develop their own values, and to realise their own potential in their own way. Children are distinct individuals, not the property of their parents or of wider society. No human being owns another human being. No human being has the right to dictate to anyone else how they should live. But most parents subject their children to a kind of emotional slavery by withdrawing support and affection if their children fail to obey them and conform to their wishes. This is child abuse, pure and simple, as it creates anxiety and frustration and denies children the right to live their own lives.

When we are young children we are utterly dependent on the care and protection of our parents. We take their power and wisdom to be limitless and they in turn encourage our deference and obedience. These experiences are burned deep into our souls; so deep that we aren’t even aware of them unless we reflect on the matter. The voices of our parents, and other childhood authorities, live inside our heads for the rest of our lives, telling us how we should think, feel and behave, and whether we’re doing right or wrong. Our own thoughts and feelings are often drowned out by this primitive chatter. Conformity to social convention and obedience to the desires of authority figures become the ruling principles of our lives, to the detriment of human freedom, creativity, and individuality. The mistakes of the past are repeated, over and over again, because children are denied the chance to do things differently.

The parent-child relationship is the pattern for all hierarchical relationships, most notably the teacher-pupil relationship and the manager-worker relationship. This pattern of domination and submission is laid down firmly in childhood and shapes the whole of society. Some children grow up to be authority figures and get to play at being parents; others must continue to play the role of children throughout their lives. Most people alternate between these roles as they go through adult life, sometimes dominating others, sometimes being dominated, in the family, school, the workplace, and even in so-called ‘intimate’ relationships. The idea of an equal relationship built on mutual respect doesn’t enter most people’s minds, or if it does they have no idea how to achieve it, since they have no experience of it. In times of stress most people either revert to being meek and apologetic like intimidated children, or they become angry and judgemental like their parents, depending on whether they feel themselves to be in a weak or a strong position.

It doesn’t have to be this way of course. Imagine a world in which parents allowed children to express themselves freely and to satisfy their own needs instead of satisfying their parents’ needs. Imagine that parents allowed children to develop their own individuality rather than manipulating and controlling them. Imagine that parents encouraged independence of thought and action rather than imposing their own ideas on their children. In such a world children would grow up with a strong sense of self, they would know how to treat themselves and others with the genuine respect that comes from an equal relationship, they wouldn’t be prepared for manipulation, and they would treat authority figures with the contempt they so richly deserve.

Discipline and Punishment

June 9, 2018

The supposed necessity of disciplining children tells us something important about human nature. Adults need to use discipline to make children obey them because children are naturally individualistic and self-directed, or ‘wilful’ and ‘disobedient’ in grown-up speak. Young children don’t simply await instructions from adults, and they don’t immediately do what adults want. They have an inner sense of purpose from the beginning of life; they have a strong desire to express themselves and to shape their environment rather than merely be shaped by it. Children are naturally curious and energetic. As soon as they become aware of some physical capacity – reaching, crawling, climbing, etc. – they want to explore that capacity. As soon as they encounter objects in the world they want to investigate them and see how they respond to manipulation.

Adults really don’t like this. They are forever telling children ‘No!’ and ‘Stop it!’ and ‘That’s naughty!’ and threatening them with punishment, whether that’s shouting, smacking, withdrawal of affection, denial of pleasures, limitations on movement, isolation from their family and friends, or some other ingenious way of inducing shame and fear. In other words, children doing what they naturally do, because of the inquisitive and explorative creatures they are, is considered ‘naughty’. This makes no more sense than telling a bird that it’s naughty for flying or a fish that it’s naughty for swimming. And then people are surprised when children becoming angry, upset or ‘moody’, to use a hideous word loved by adults.

Consider the extraordinary moral indignation that adults feel when children disobey them. ‘How dare you, a mere child, disobey me, an almighty adult! How dare you be an independent life form and hinder my purposes for even a moment!’ Perhaps if adults all had happy, fulfilling lives, if they all treated each other with kindness and respect, and the world was a place full of happiness, peace, love and sharing, then they might have some reason to consider themselves morally superior. But this is clearly not the case, and adults use the supposed necessity of discipline as an excuse for taking out their anger, frustration and disappointment on innocent children. Where does this anger come from? From their own miserable childhoods, of course.

It’s a striking achievement of so-called ‘child raising’, of parenting and schooling, that it can gradually destroy children’s natural energy and curiosity and make them bored and apathetic by the time they are teenagers. Children’s natural inclinations are repeatedly and cruelly thwarted by adults from the earliest age, until many of them see little point in making an effort. It’s not as if adults can claim that children’s behaviour comes as a shock to them. We all know that children are hugely energetic and demanding. If you’re not prepared for this, if you’re not hugely patient and tolerant, if you care more about your orderly life, your neat little home, your career development, and what the neighbours think, there’s a simple solution – don’t have kids, because you don’t deserve to have guardianship of a new and developing human being.

You may think that you’ll soon knock your kids into shape, that you’ll mould them to your desires, that you’ll impress your values and preferences on them, that you’ll teach them obedience and discipline. Well, you might do on the surface, but underneath they’ll be seething with frustration and resentment, and that frustration and resentment will seek expression somewhere. Maybe they’ll hit their siblings or other kids at school. Maybe they’ll steal or take drugs to spite you. Maybe they’ll have a relationship in which they emotionally, physically or sexually abuse their partner. Maybe they’ll get a job in management and treat their subordinates like shit. Maybe they’ll have kids of their own and bully them just the way that they were bullied. Or maybe they’ll let other people treat them like shit all their lives because that’s all they’ve ever known. Maybe they’ll cut themselves or starve themselves or hang themselves to escape their shame and fear.

The fundamental point is this: human beings are meant to be free and self-directed, not disciplined and obedient, and this is obvious from the way we naturally behave as children, until we are terrorised into changing our behaviour. All the social structures of the world – the family, school, work, the state – are organised on a hierarchical, authoritarian basis that contradicts and perverts human nature. Hence all the human misery, all the conflict, poverty, injustice, bigotry, environmental destruction, and so on, that blights the world. All this can be traced back to the mistreatment of children. Miserable human beings produce a miserable world; their misery begins in childhood, and that is where we must bring it to an end, if we are to have any hope of a decent future.

Dictatorship for Beginners

June 2, 2018

Schools, prisons and army barracks are essentially the same institution. In each case there is the same alleged moral purpose, the supposed disciplining, training or reforming of the inmates. In each case there is compulsory attendance, unquestionable authority, uniforms, invasive scrutiny, endless petty rules, self-righteous anger on the part of the authorities when they are disobeyed, harsh criticism and punishment without hope of appeal, simmering violence, and the pecking order among the inmates. Schools are the most important of these three institutions, as they create the conditions in which army barracks and prisons become possible, by training some children for obedience and causing others to rebel against the system.

Schools are dictatorships in miniature, and this is considered perfectly normal and acceptable the world over. Children don’t get to vote for their teachers or to vote on school policy. They are forced to attend school whether they want to or not. They are told what to do every minute of every day throughout their long years of incarceration. They have no right to appeal against this situation. If they fail to obey they can expect punishment. Even when they do obey they can be punished on the mere suspicion of teachers; they can also receive collective punishment due to the disobedience of other children. Threats and intimidation are standard means of control in schools.

This situation creates anger, fear, frustration and resentment among children. The fear is a deliberate product of the system, as fearful children are easier to control than self-confident children. Creating such unpleasant emotional states in children is a form of psychological abuse, and this abuse is the responsibility of all the adults who support and operate the education system, not just teachers but parents and wider society as well. Sometimes this abuse leads children to rebel against their teachers, other times they turn on each other in order to find some outlet for their painful emotions. Children are then considered to be ‘naturally’ aggressive and undisciplined, as if their emotions had no relation to the environment in which they occur, and this is used to justify even more of the adult oppression that created the problem in the first place.

In schools large numbers of children of similar age are crammed into a small area and subjected to oppressive control by adults during lessons. This control is periodically relaxed at break and lunch, and on the way to and from school. During these times it’s inevitable that some children will subject other children to verbal abuse and physical attacks, as they release the anger and frustration that has built up during the day, and which they are afraid to direct at adults. The adults who support and operate the education system know that this happens, they do little or nothing to prevent it, so they are utterly complicit in this abuse and violence. Adults may congratulate themselves on abolishing corporal punishment in schools, but they continue to create the environment in which violence occurs outside their direct supervision.

It’s no wonder that bullying occurs among groups of children as they are taught by their parents and teachers that anger, criticism, threats, intimidation, even violence, are acceptable ways of interacting with other human beings, as this is how adults often interact with children. Adults are happy to take out their anger and frustration on children, and tell themselves smugly that the children deserve it and that it’s ‘for their own good’, but they are furious if children follow their example. This is one of the key hypocrisies of so-called ‘child rearing’, an example of the old commandment beloved by all authority figures: ‘Do as I say, not as I do’.

Children are right to rebel against the tyranny they endure at the hands of adults, and their spontaneous rebellion demonstrates that they possess both self-respect and a sense of fairness, however shaky and fragile these qualities may be. These qualities display the true nature of children, and indicate what they might be if they weren’t corrupted by adults. If there’s disorder in schools it’s not because children are ‘difficult’ or ‘immature’ it’s because they’re desperately trying to hang on to their individuality in the face of the adult tyranny that wishes to bend them to its will.

Sadly children lack knowledge and organisation, so their rebellion is usually misdirected, futile and destructive, and simply brings down greater punishment, as it always does in a dictatorship. By the time they leave school most children have lost the fight; they are psychologically broken and conformist, and ready for a lifetime of exploitation in the capitalist workplace. If society is ever to be liberated it must involve the liberation of children, not by adults imposing a new and supposedly better form of education on them, but by allowing them as far as possible to determine the course of their own lives. To reform society without reforming childhood is futile, as by the time we reach adulthood the damage has already been done.

Violence for Beginners

May 31, 2018

Violence was a compulsory part of the curriculum at the high school I attended. To give one example, the boys were required to play full-contact rugby. It was played in the dark depths of winter on a muddy pitch at the side of the school. The weather was as cold and pitiless as the teachers’ eyes. The boys were expected to ‘get stuck in’, which meant throwing themselves into tackles, regardless of potential injury. As a result of this boys got cuts, bruises and teeth knocked out. The ability to give and receive pain was considered to be a good sign of their developing masculinity. Boys who didn’t show sufficient effort and enthusiasm were considered by the other boys to be ‘fucking gay bastards’. These rugby lessons involved the unquestioning obedience, organised violence and indifference to pain that is admired in every army and dictatorship around the world.

At the end of these so-called ‘physical education’ lessons the boys were required to strip naked in front of the teachers and go into communal showers. The teachers would insist that the boys must shower in front of them so that they could be sure that they were clean. Fully clothed, sexually mature adults would scrutinise naked children in order to ensure their obedience. If a child were considered to have come out of the shower too quickly they would be ordered back in. The water was often freezing cold, producing cries of dismay from the children, but this was simply part of the game for the teachers; they clearly enjoyed the power and the spectacle. This whole process was painful, degrading and humiliating. In this way physical and sexual abuse were made routine parts of school discipline and the ‘education’ of children.

The Nazis never shocked or surprised me. The kind of people who can send children into the showers to cause them pain and humiliation in a time of peace and prosperity are the same kind of people who can send children into the showers to be gassed in a time of war and dictatorship. Scratch the surface of any authority figure and there’s a black uniform with a swastika underneath. The brutal treatment of children ensures that there will always be a supply of these loathsome individuals, as people who are treated brutally in childhood tend to become brutal themselves.

In Defence of the Child

April 20, 2018

I’d like to say a few words in defence of the child, inspired by Alice Miller’s The Drama of Being a Child. It seems to me that most people don’t know what really happens in childhood, even though we’ve all lived through it as children and many of us have also been parents. We tend to repress bad experiences, exaggerate good ones, and idealise our parents and our own parenting. The truth is unpleasant and we don’t want to face it. Most of us were abused as children and left traumatised by the experience, which we tend to repeat with our own children if we have them. The personal and social consequences are devastating, as can be seen from the state of the world around us.

Most parents are woefully inadequate. Even the seemingly good parents often turn out on closer examination to be neglectful and abusive. I’m thinking primarily of emotional abuse, although there may be elements of physical and sexual abuse. Examples of emotional abuse include: personal criticism, threats, intimidation, humiliation, ridicule, isolation, neglect, secrecy, emotional distance, withdrawal of affection, denial of opportunities, denial of pleasures, disregard for the child’s preferences, disrespect for the child’s individuality, excessive expectations, making love conditional on achievement, blaming the child for problems in the parent’s life, threats of abandonment, harsh and arbitrary punishments, refusing to hear the child’s side of the story, refusing to ever accept responsibility or apologise, frequently reminding the child of innocent mistakes, dismissing cries for help and understanding, and so on. Who can honestly say that none of these things sound familiar from their own childhood?

Most parents engage in behaviours of this sort, which they learned from their own parents, and which they repeat with very little awareness of what they are doing. As far as most people are concerned these things largely constitute correct parenting. Abusive behaviour is justified by calling it ‘firm discipline’ and saying that it’s ‘for the child’s own good’. Anyone who doesn’t do these things is likely to be considered ‘soft’ or to be ‘spoiling’ their children.

The occasional occurrence of these behaviours is probably unavoidable, as no one has limitless love and patience, but when these things become a repeating pattern, as they so often do, they are child abuse, as can be seen from the long-term negative consequences. Children are left traumatised by these behaviours, which is to say that they have long-term emotional disturbances as a result, although the disturbances may be hidden behind an appearance of social conformity and outward success. Conformity is itself a form of disturbance, a denial of who we really are because we fear rejection, since our parents rejected us when we failed to conform to their wishes.

Most children are profoundly wounded by the behaviours of their parents. They feel weak, powerless, ashamed, guilty, unloved and unlovable, due to the cruel and domineering treatment that they endure. But they can’t express this since they desperately need their parents love and support in life, however inadequate that love and support may be. They have nowhere else to turn. Most of us were in this situation once. As we grow up we know unconsciously that our parents have neglected and abused us, but it’s too painful to accept consciously, so we transfer our feelings towards our parents on to others. We often feel angry with the people around us but also want their approval, because secretly that’s how we feel about our parents. We desperately want to be loved but we have lots of conflict in our relationships for reasons that we can never quite understand. No matter how much money and how many possessions we have we’re never really happy. Material success is no substitute for the parental love that was rationed or denied in childhood.

Two key consequences of child abuse are depression and anxiety. Alice Miller argues that depression involves a lack of emotion. This may sound surprising. Don’t depressed people have too much emotion, too much sadness? No, what they had was a childhood environment that prevented them naturally expressing their emotions, which they were required to deny and repress in order to please their parents, leaving them feeling sad and empty inside. As adults trying to recover from depression it’s essential that we express the emotions that we repressed in childhood and allow ourselves the tears and anger that we need in order to heal.

Anxiety also involves a lack of emotion, according to Miller. As children we’re prevented from following our natural inclinations by our parents who require us to conform to their needs rather than to our own. Because our natural inclinations are unacceptable to our parents we come to doubt and question every feeling that arises spontaneously within us. This makes us indecisive and anxious. We lose touch with our sense of self and become uncertain what we really want from life or how we should react in any given situation. We find ourselves wondering what our parents would want rather than trusting our own feelings.

Even when we become consciously aware of these problems they don’t just disappear. The unconscious takes a long time to catch up; it’s effectively our younger self, the wounded child that we once were and in many ways still are, and we have to love and nurture our younger self in the way that our parents never did, or did only sporadically. And most of all we have to let ourselves feel whatever we need to feel for as long as we need to feel it. We begin to heal when we stop seeing everyone else as stand-ins for our parents. Then we can stop repeating the patterns of feeling and behaviour that we learned in childhood and which cause us so many problems in our life and relationships, and indeed in society at large.

The answer to the repression of emotion is the recovery and expression of that emotion. Freely expressing ourselves is about re-connecting with the healthy children we once were or could have been. So much of human society is anti-child, concerned with such dreary materialistic values as obedience, conformity, hard work and ‘productivity’. Society acts to crush the spirit of the child, all the natural joy, energy, playfulness, affection, spontaneity and creativity that children possess. The result is an angry, miserable world full of conflict and seemingly unsolvable problems. If children were simply allowed to be themselves they wouldn’t carry so much anger into adulthood and they would have the creativity to solve the dire problems that we face as a species. We urgently need to speak up in defence of the children we once were and the children who are alive today, because only then can the cycle of abuse and trauma be ended and humanity be freed from its self-imposed shackles.

The Tyranny of Adults

April 2, 2018

Children in America have recently organised and protested in support of gun control. Children in Britain, in the 60s and 70s, organised and protested against corporal punishment in schools. Apparently adults need children to tell them that shooting people and beating people are not good things to do. This is hardly surprising. Look at the world that adults have made, a world racked by war, poverty, famine, disease, bigotry, injustice, inequality, and environmental destruction. This is the world that adults bring children into and then they claim the right to ‘educate’ children, to tell them what they should think and feel, how they should behave, and what values they should live by.

And what values do adults prize above all? Obedience and conformity. Children are expected to do as they are told and be just like everyone else. To give a personal example, I remember being forced to wear a school uniform when I was 9 years old, and how ‘smart’ the adults considered it to be, and how important they said it was to not be ‘scruffy’. I kept my mouth shut through fear of punishment, but inside I felt utter contempt for these people. They seemed to think that children are little dolls to be dressed up as they please, not human beings with feelings and preferences of their own.

It wasn’t a fancy school that I went to. Even working class scum like me are expected to wear school uniforms in Britain, as it’s good training for mindless obedience in adulthood. Business executives expect the workers they exploit to subordinate their individuality to a corporate dress code, and working class soldiers are expected to look ‘smart’ before the ruling elite send them to get maimed or killed in some foreign land. Schools were created not for the benefit of children but for industry and war.

It was obvious to me as a 9 year old child that a person’s moral worth is determined by the principles they live by and how they treat others, not by how they look or dress, or by how obedient they are or how well they conform to social norms. Indeed, the refusal to follow an instruction you disagree with is a sign of moral courage. But this was beyond the moral understanding of the teachers who ran the violent, oppressive school I attended and who cared more about ‘correct’ attire than they did about the safety and happiness of children.

I knew then that all human beings, whether adults or children, should have the right to express themselves in their own way and to make all decisions about their own lives that they are capable of making, obviously including what clothes to wear. But adults could not comprehend these basic moral facts. They desired obedience and conformity, not freedom and individuality. Aged 9 I had more morality in my little finger than all the adults I knew put together, and yet the adults claimed the right to dominate my life.

Children are constantly subject to the tyranny of adults. At home and at school children are told where to be, at what time, and what to do when they are there. They are told what to wear, when to speak, when to be silent, when to sit, when to stand. They are told when to eat, when to go to the toilet, when to go to bed. Lack of enthusiasm for these commands results in criticism; lack of obedience results in punishment. Threats and intimidation are used as means of control. And then adults wonder why children become rebellious or apathetic. Adults like to describe children as ‘difficult’ or ‘lazy’, when they don’t immediately do exactly what adults want them to do, when in fact the children are sick of their mistreatment and have lost faith in the adult world – quite rightly.

In this world children are largely denied self-expression and self-determination. They are not allowed to decide how they look or speak or what they do with their time. If a child even looks unhappy they are likely to be told to ‘take that look off your face’. The utterly invasive and minute control of children by adults is taken for granted as being the natural order of things, when in fact it’s a historically recent product of hierarchical, authoritarian societies. Adults quite happily discuss how children should look and speak and behave and what they should do with their time without thinking for a moment of asking what children actually want or how they really feel about the way they are treated.

Children learn from an early age that they must avoid saying what they really think and feel; they know that adults want cheerful obedience not criticism. And so this dreadful world keeps rolling along, with misery passed from generation to generation, and the same mistakes being made over and over again. Children are never given a chance to do things differently; their moral potential is systematically crushed from an early age by parents and teachers.

Children are the victims of the last great unnamed prejudice. How often do you hear anyone mention or discuss ‘adultism’, the prejudice of adults against children? I suspect never. But how often do you hear adults expressing this prejudice? I suspect regularly. It’s common to hear people discussing, in everyday life and in the media, how difficult and demanding children are, and how hard life is for parents and teachers. The thought that life may be much harder for the children subjected to adult tyranny never crosses anyone’s mind. If white people publicly said that black people are difficult and demanding, or men said that women are difficult to control, or straight people discussed how to change the behaviour of gay people, any decent person would be shocked. But it’s perfectly fine to talk in this bigoted way about children.

Underlying adultism are two key beliefs: first, that children are naturally wild and need to be tamed by adults; second, that children are the property of adults to be used as they see fit. Both these beliefs are utterly false and do terrible damage. Regarding the first belief, children are born capable of both creative and destructive behaviours. If they become destructive it’s because they are born into a brutal world that denies them self-expression and self-determination. Human beings have a natural desire for freedom. This freedom can justifiably be curtailed in order to protect the lives and freedom of others, but not to control every aspect of a person’s life in the way that children are controlled. When children are tyrannised they quite rightly rebel, and since they have learned cruelty and violence from adults this rebellion is often destructive.

With regard to the second belief, children are not property: they are unique and distinct individuals with personalities that are developing from the earliest moments of life. Their personalities develop by the interaction of innate characteristics and the social environment in which they find themselves. If the social environment is highly restrictive this frustrates the child’s natural inclinations and leads to open rebellion or to apathy and resentment. Either way the child’s life is made miserable and all the problems of society are carried over into the next generation.

Children are not blank slates to be written on or clay to be moulded. If this were the case there would be no childhood rebellion and no need for harsh discipline, as children would simply accept instructions without question. The resistance of children – whether obvious or more subtle – is a clear sign of their individuality and the wrong that is done to them by the tyranny of adults.

The tyranny is made worse by the fact that children are morally superior to adults. Young children feel uncomfortable in the presence of cruelty or unfairness, whether they or others are the victims. They are naturally distressed when they see someone crying and want to comfort them. They are naturally upset when someone starts shouting and want it to end. When they hear another child being shouted at by an adult they feel anxious themselves. Adults are fully aware of this fact and use it to deliberately frighten children by ‘making an example’ of some of them.

I’ve already mentioned children’s opposition to gun violence and corporal punishment, but their concerns reach far beyond these problems to a wider social criticism. When children first find out that some people are hungry or homeless they are likely to be concerned about the unfairness and wonder why we can’t simply share our food and housing more fairly. Children are usually shocked by war and want to know why people can’t discuss their differences rather than killing each other. When children raise these concerns they are likely to be dismissed by adults as ‘naïve’ and told that the issues are too complicated for them to understand. But there’s nothing complicated about violence and injustice: children have plenty of experience of these things in their own lives. And there’s nothing complicated about compassion and fairness: children are born with a natural inclination toward these things.

All the natural impulses towards fairness and compassion that children possess are gradually crushed and perverted by the tyranny of adults. Parents and teachers tell children to ‘mind their own business’ when other children are distressed or being treated unfairly. They tell children to think only of themselves, of their own performance at school, of their grades and exams, and their own future careers and earning potential. Children are told to stop ‘making a fuss’ when they cry or protest. And then adults wring their hands when children become rebellious or violent and wonder how on earth it could have happened and why the world remains the violent, unjust place that it is. Instead of blaming the young for society’s problems the adults should look in the mirror if they want to identify the culprits.

Intellectual Graffiti

March 9, 2018

I love graffiti, and I don’t just mean the pretty, artistic stuff. I especially love the really rough, nasty scrawls that cover some urban environments. I love graffiti because it is, in its purest form, the cry of the oppressed and powerless, the voice of the unheard. Typically it’s produced by people who have been born into poverty, denied a decent education, denied employment opportunities, abused and neglected, and generally treated like scum. These people are told that they are nothing, that their lives are worthless, and that they have no right to complain. When they produce graffiti they are saying, ‘I exist. I am not nothing. I too am human. I too have thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams. Do not ignore me. Do not tell me that I am scum.’ Or to put it more succinctly they are saying ‘Fuck you!’ to a brutal society.

Under capitalism graffiti is a crime, but it’s fine for companies to plaster advertisements for their products all over the urban environment, whether people want them there or not. It’s fine for companies to try to convince people that their lives are inadequate – that they look and smell wrong, that their cars, homes, electronic gadgets, holiday destinations, and so on, are out of date and contemptible – and that this inadequacy can only be addressed by buying the appropriate products. It’s fine for capitalists to manipulate and degrade us but it’s wrong for oppressed people to express themselves in the only way left to them. Advertising is the voice of the oppressors; graffiti is the voice of the oppressed. There’s more honesty and humanity in one unintelligible scrawl on a block of concrete than there is in a million advertisements.

This writing of mine is simply another form of graffiti. Call it intellectual graffiti, if you like, scrawled on the great electronic wall of the internet. I too have been told, from an early age, that I’m worthless, that I’m scum, but I too wish to say that I exist, that I am not nothing. And I too choose the power and safety of anonymity, because periodically I have to beg capitalists to exploit me in return for a pittance to live on. If those capitalists did a quick search and found what I’ve written they may be less likely to see me as a suitable candidate for exploitation. So instead I put on a tie and a smile, and bow my head with humility, and tell them how much I’d love to be exploited by them, all the while screaming inside.