July 19, 2019 | Reading Time: < 1 minute

A theory I’m working on

My theory is that children are the final frontier of human rights, and I’m thinking this because so many Americans don’t seem to give a good goddamn about what’s happening to children at the border or about the former child victims now seeking justice as Jeffrey Epstein’s adult accusers. The late scholar Elisabeth Young-Bruehl called…

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My theory is that children are the final frontier of human rights, and I’m thinking this because so many Americans don’t seem to give a good goddamn about what’s happening to children at the border or about the former child victims now seeking justice as Jeffrey Epstein’s adult accusers. The late scholar Elisabeth Young-Bruehl called this final frontier “childism.” Help me think through this idea!

And many thanks!

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

11 Comments

  1. Donna Gratehouse on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    We love the idea of children but not the actual ones with needs. And there is a long history of treating the children of poor and/or marginalized parents as fungible commodities, to be snatched from their families with little to no due process and traded to other adults for their purposes. In my support community of adopted adults dealing with our issues (most non-adoptees do not understand or want to) we talk about the “blank slate theory” in adoption/fostering: the idea children are born as empty vessels who can be raised by anyone, even people with no biological or cultural connection to them. Usually this pertains to babies but often is assumed of older children as well, particularly from marginalized ethnicities/communities.

    There’s also the problem of older people (who vote way more regularly) simply envying and resenting young people and voting based on that. And then when most old people are white and young people are increasingly PoC, it adds gasoline to that resentment fire. You can trace when my state Arizona, for example, began gutting public ed and safety net services to low income families to the bone: when it became apparent the trend was to the majority of people under 18 in our state not being white anymore.

    • Arley L on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      I think Donna’s hit the nail on the head: When most older voters consider themselves to be in one tribe (in the U.S. that tribe usually calls itself “white”) and they start to think the young people don’t fall into their tribe (for whatever reason), they’ve shown themselves quick to de-fund education and services for the next generation. It would be interesting to see whether there’s an age component: Do voters approve of things that will help their kids’ generation, but lose interest in helping their grandkids and later generations? I see that happening locally.

      • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

        I also think Donna is a right, and it’s just so painful to believe. Seeing older people turn their backs is *such* a betrayal that it’s hard to even think about.

  2. Cindy on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    I have a few connecting references and thoughts, but I’ve never seen the term “childism” or this framing before. There are a couple parenting movement and educational philosophy approaches that I largely agree with, generally based on non coersion.

    John Holt and unschooling
    https://www.johnholtgws.com/
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taking_Children_Seriously
    http://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/

    Then there is how custody is decided based on a sort of ownership that’s based on genetics more than the relationships. For a person who has not lived with a child ever to be given custody because they are the genetic parent is not treating the child as a person. I thought about these issues reading Recreating motherhood by Barbara Katz Rothman. I think it connects with a paternalistic society. Fathers have rights to child based on genetics when they don’t necessarily have a relationship.

  3. dan tynan on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    It’s not just kids. Certain people (and I’m guessing this accounts for as much as 25 to 30% of the population) don’t give a shit about anybody else. The neural pathways that power empathy are completely absent. Empathy requires the ability to examine two divergent thoughts or emotions at the same time — what you are feeling at that moment, and what someone else may be feeling. These people can’t do that. Their brains aren’t wired for it. That’s also why they don’t understand irony, sarcasm, or satire. They literally literal minded. They see the world as black or white because that’s the only way their neurons know how to fire.

    So no, they don’t give a shit about other people’s kids, save for perhaps making those kids conform to the same habits/beliefs/prejudices as their own (again, for self serving purposes). Nearly all of the horrific behavior of humans can be traced back to this essential flaw.

    (Sermon over. Please hand your contributions to the nice man holding the collections basket. Thank you.)

    • Cindy on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      “So no, they don’t give a shit about other people’s kids,”

      But do they actually care about they’re own kids as the individuals they are, rather then just as extensions of themselves?

      • dan tynan on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

        I would argue that this kind of thinking is very tribal. If they identify with you in some way (family, political beliefs) then it’s essentially an extension of self love, or at least self protection. That’s my theory anyway.

      • Donna Gratehouse on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

        Not when they disown them for being gay or trans, and they do that a lot.

      • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

        Maybe the women of this cohort care about their own kids, but trust me, that’s not always the case either.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

      Agree: 1/3 of America is just terrible.

  4. Greg Castanias on July 30, 2021 at 7:50 am

    I’m active (along with my wife) in the adoption advocacy community, and I’ve got to tell you that children in cages is only somewhat worse than our foster system in this country, which I’ve been saying is “our national shame” for years. And it’s natural that our political system has willed it to be thus, for children have no voice of their own in the political process. Our Supreme Court had declared it a fundamental right to determine whether to have, and how to raise children, but those are rights that inhere in adults. What about a child’s fundamental right to be raised in a permanent family? How about treating the deliberate denial of family life, including the refusal to place children in available adoptive homes, as a human rights violation?

    Foster care aside, children are pawns in politics. We underfund the public schools, by allowing the best public schools to be limited to the wealthiest districts, where property values pay for things like the planetarium and Olympic swimming pool in my high school, or (for the have nots) put children in crumbling schools with undercompensated teachers. Of course they’re the last frontier — they have no votes and no money.

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