First off, my apologies for missing this week’s Of the Week post. I had a lot on my plate Friday and Saturday, and I was ill all day yesterday. I reckon we’ll skip it this time and get back on schedule next weekend. Anyway . . .
Before I get into the meat of this article, it should be said up front that I support youth rights, favoring the kind of system (or something very near it) expounded upon in Dr. Robert Epstein’s excellent book Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence. Everyone should read this book, seriously. Epstein points out that by treating kids essentially as slaves until they reach the arbitrary age at which we decide they are adults, the effects of raising children this way have been profoundly negative, using examples from other cultures to show how children in the West are particularly disadvantaged by this system. Epstein proposes a system of tests that children can take when and if they so choose, and if they pass the tests, they can opt into age of majority. I think this is an excellent idea. It doesn’t treat youngsters with the one-size-fits-all sledgehammer approach to age of minority/majority and its attendant rights, and that is important in raising children to recognize themselves as individuals rather than just cogs in a machine who only become fully human at age 18 (one might even argue that by then it is too late to reverse the damage of such a system).
This simplistic, black-and-white system is ultimately hypocritical by design, and nowhere is the flaming hypocrisy of it more evident then in cases where kids commit shockingly violent crimes. It seems that society wants to have it both ways: when kids kill, they can be treated as adults by law and locked up for as long as possible, but otherwise they are perfectly innocent little angels who must be protected from themselves and the big bad world every second of the day. Since kids do not transition mentally, physically, morally and so on from pure childish ignorance to perfect adulthood all in one day but rather develop gradually over time, this Magic Age system is astoundingly stupid and just plain lazy, not to mention much too convenient for those who hold power over kids. I think they deserve better than that.
This is the context in which I want to examine the attempted murder of a young girl by her two friends. The victim was stabbed nearly twenty times by the young girls, who claim they intended to sacrifice her to an internet-born fiend called the Slender Man. The perpetrators were Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, both aged 12. You’ll note that the name and face of the victim in this case has not been released, which is typical in cases where a minor has been victimized under law. And yet the names and faces of the perpetrators–also kids–have been plastered all over the internet at this point. There has been a discussion of whether or not these girls fully understood the moral ramifications of their actions, and most people seem to agree that 12-year-olds do know the difference between right and wrong, at least to the extent that they know not to kill their friends. I tend to agree, but then kids do not all develop at the same rate either. What we have to go by in this case are the psychological profiles of the perps, and their motives. Since we don’t yet have the former, we’ll have to focus solely on the latter.
These girls, perhaps out of fear, were attempting to sacrifice another girl to a fictitious monster. Many cultures have a less than sparkling history when it comes to human sacrifices to nonexistent beings, and I’m not entirely convinced this action wasn’t committed in the same spirit. And these are kids, after all, and clearly imaginative ones at that. The evidence suggests both of these girls were obsessed with the Slender Man. So, are these girls immature for their age? Well, far too many people–most of them adults, sadly–believe in a lot of nonsensical supernatural things, and perhaps the only thing stopping them from committing murders in the name of their faith is the law. People don’t give up their mystical ideas easily, and many of them will behave just as irrationally if given half a chance.
It’s easy to point the finger at an internet meme (or a movie, or a video game, or whatever) and say, “There’s the culprit!” Certainly we cannot ignore those factors either, but if you want my opinion–and you must if you’re still reading this article–then the real culprit here is the willingness of far, far too many people in our culture to put their particular brand of spiritual silliness before logic and empirical evidence, which is to say, they value religion over science. Many people will argue that their religion isn’t dangerous–after all, most people don’t commit murders in the name of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and so on, but I suggest that it is only because they fear legal or social reprisals, not because their religion happens to be a peaceful one by design. I grew up in Christianity, hearing the stories of the Bible, so I know better. The evidence for this is overwhelming when you examine historical contexts in which the Church, Temple or Mosque was all-powerful, and even today in societies that are theocratic (I’m looking at you, Islam) you see all kinds of atrocities committed in support of upholding the supremacy of that particular faith. The fact is, the more superstitious the people, the more violent they tend to be, and America is still a pretty violent culture when compared against other Western industrial nations that are much less religious than we are.
Sure, kids are often more susceptible to social pressures than adults, who tend to become set in their ways and resistant to the social pressures of youth culture. In fact, I believe it is because adults fear the power of youth culture that they keep them oppressed. Many argue that it’s for their own good, and to an extent that’s true, but can you imagine any other minority group being oppressed as a whole on that argument alone, or really any such simplistic argument? The evidence that we have become more and more terrified of children can be seen in every aspect of society, from its hypocritical and nonsensical laws that keep them firmly under adult control at all times (we are all born with inalienable rights, but we can’t actually use them until we turn 18–doesn’t that remind you of the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm when they claim, “We are all equal, but some are more equal than others”?–it’s a flat-out contradiction and renders the whole concept of inalienable rights meaningless) to the massive moral panic we’re currently held captive to over child and adolescent sexuality.
And the argument that kids must be protected from themselves could just as easily be extended to, say, women, and in fact once was. Men used to believe that women were too prone to emotion-based actions and thus had to be controlled. Is that not exactly the same argument (or a variant of it) applied to the whole group of 0-18s today? Granted, rights have limitations–of course they do. It would be ridiculous to treat a newborn the same way we treat 16-year-olds or even 12-year-olds, but in legal terms–and very frequently in social terms–that’s precisely what we do.
Unless, of course, they commit a horrific crime. Then all bets are off. Kids are no longer innocent angels but violent predators who knew exactly what they were doing. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways and still have a morally consistent system. Either these girls knew what they were getting into or they didn’t. If they didn’t, then they cannot in good conscience be tried as adults. But if they did know, then why are they still legally designated as minors? Would any kid ever really grow up morally confident in such a system, where they are only treated like adults when they fuck up big time? To me that is a glaring, almost paradoxical flaw in the system. It’s time to reexamine how we treat and view children and adolescents in our culture. And while we’re at it, maybe we should grow up as a society and give up our own absurd mystical crutches too, to show kids that adulthood is actually something worth aspiring to. Mystical fantasies are fine when treated as such, but when you use them to guide not only your own behavior but attempt to force others to abide by your belief system, then why should you expect kids to be able to discern fantasy from reality? Just a thought.