When I moved back to Europe from living in Chicago in 1999, people asked me about America. One observation I made was that husbands were afraid of their wives, wives were afraid of other women and parents were afraid of their children. It seemed very much a land of fear (rather than a land of the free). It is now clear that the first decade of the twenty-first century has magnified the condition of fear many-fold.
To a European, who grew up exploring woods and common land away from adults; at first taking a couple of city buses, then later riding a bicycle five miles to school, the schizophrenia towards American children is extraordinary.
On the one hand they are extolled as paragons of virtue, to be endlessly protected. They are ‘the future’. They are the subject of endless marketing propaganda, both commercially and by government. Policies are given child-centric labels like ‘No Child left behind’.
For example, one of the most serious crimes a motorist can commit is to overtake a big yellow school bus when it has stopped at a bus stop! These vehicles are a site to behold: bright yellow, with big red stop signs that pop up when the bus stops together with lots of flashing red lights. When the school bus is taking on or dropping off passengers, all vehicles, on both sides of the road, have to stop. Extraordinary! Talk about over-protective!
But, and there is a big but, underneath that overprotectiveness is a really serious cultural psychosis, to do with control. Deep down it is as if American society is so afraid of it’s children that it goes to extremes to punish and keep them subservient.
Spearheaded by powerful religious groups, but widespread, is the idea that children must learn self-discipline through pain, early on. Not too early, as Dr James Dobson, one of the most influential religious broadcasters said: “There is no excuse for spanking babies or children younger than fifteen to eighteen months of age.” (Clearly it is okay to spank a baby of twenty months.)
Mind you there are others, like the Pearls, who advocate beating babies as young as six months. To such people, any form of independence or questioning of authority is entirely unacceptable. As the Pearls say:
“Never reward delayed obedience by reversing the sentence. And, unless all else fails, don’t drag him to the place of cleansing. Part of his training is to come submissively. However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.”
This need for total control and obedience is driven by fear and insecurity. Fear is manifest in the way young people are not allowed to drink alcohol until they are twenty-one, and the ruthless aggression showed by ordinary policemen when they are called to an incident. They really do jump all over a non-violent suspect, pin them to the ground, kneel on and handcuff them.
The idea that laws should be interpreted rather than religiously obeyed is not accepted. The USA (and increasingly the UK, to whom much of this now applies) has adopted the wrong mental model for people. We are complex adaptive systems and are innately uncontrollable. We can be appealed to and resonated with, but in the long term we can not be controlled from the outside. When we attempt to assert control over each other, we simply build in trouble – rebellion will happen, somehow.
Perhaps it is time that we recognised how much of a problem religion has become. Not Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist or Hindu religion, but religion itself. The word religion comes from a latin root ‘ligare‘ meaning ‘to bind‘. Although the individuals on whom a religion are based, such as Jesus of Nazareth, might seek to set people free, their religions do not. They are the epitomy of top-down hierarchical control systems.
Christianity is an excellent example. The modern Christian church was founded by a Roman citizen, Saul of Tarsus (later known as Saint Paul), a man dedicated to destroying the works of Jesus. Although never trusted by the other disciples (his values and beliefs were in sharp contrast to those of Jesus), he appeared to change his mind and set about creating a religion structurally modelled on the Roman Empire.
In hierarchical systems, authority comes from above and obedience to that authority is necessary to maintain order. In an increasingly church-dominated society that is why children are subject to such brutally destructive regimes. Fragile, fearful human beings, who feel lost and adrift in the accelerating complexity of modern life, look outside of themselves for salvation. They reach for books written for a different age, in the hope that if they obey their writings they will be okay. ‘God must save me, look at how I beat my children in his name!’
And finally, they find a vent for their anger and frustration by sending those very same, tragically unloved children off to suffer and die in a war, fighting against people who believe in a different book.
Perhaps it is time we listed quoting the bible as a hate crime.