This is a kindergarten they turn us into children and then tell us we must learn to fend for ourselves they diminish us and accuse us of lacking self-esteem they steal our dignity while offering admonitions of our failure to confront reality.
[Michael Moorcock, Mother London]
Adults gave girls a pile of nonsense supported by childlike logic, while at the same time they make our “lord and masters” swallow little balls of science until they choke. For both of us, a ridiculous education.
[Louise Michel, quoted by Anne Boyer]
Man hat uns nicht gefragt / als wir noch kein Gesicht / ob wir leben wollten / oder lieber nicht
(Nobody asked us / when we had no face yet / if we wanted to live / or would rather not)
[Friedrich Holländer, Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte, sung by Marlene Dietrich]
1. A plague on both your playpens
Down with childhood and adulthood: one anathema entails the other, as Shulamith Firestone explained patiently in her famous tract, although her title stops before the ‘and’.
The mother who wants to kill her child for what she has had to sacrifice for it (a common desire) learns to love that same child only when she understands that it is as helpless, as oppressed as she is, and by the same oppressor: then her hate is directed outwards, and ‘motherlove’ is born.1
But why did Firestone fail to spell out from the start that kiddiehood’s demise would take grown-upness with it? Perhaps she thought her essay – or even her book! – might be read all the way to the end. For the sake of those who missed it the first times, then, let us repeat here: repudiation of childhood is not a matter of extending adulthood’s reputed privileges to children (or vice-versa). Each term presupposes and reproduces the other. Both live off the theatre of their pseudo-opposition.
This much T.W. “Teddie” Adorno understood, without being troubled quite enough to speak up for age-traitor conspiracy in real life, or for the bad mothers, non-mothers, negative male role models and incorrigible children behind it. (The latter category, of course, encompasses the first three along with their biological and spiritual offspring.) The ‘unreality’ of children’s ‘games’, Adorno wrote, ‘gives notice that life is not yet real’.
The little trucks travel nowhere and the tiny barrels on them are empty, yet they remain true to their destiny by not performing, not participating in a process of abstraction that levels down that destiny, but instead abide as allegories of what they are specifically for…2
‘Allegories’ that offer no more comfort to a child feverish to flee minority than to a young adult in the first flush of ‘work-readiness’ or a 60-year-old dole claimant ordered to upskill. But recognition of this even-handed lack of promise – neither growing up nor working hard will do you any good – is what binds wise children and childish old waste(wo)men together: the shared impulse to refuse both ‘maturity’ (or liability) and infancy (captivity) wherever one condition or the other encroaches.3
Wolverine, the journal of Childish Psychology, remade the point quite bluntly in 1997:
Children want immediate safe passage out of childhood, only not at the price you paid for it. The pale ‘majority’ you’ve slowly come to terms with is something no-one would imagine before it had already engulfed them.
The ‘death of childhood’ bewailed by reactionaries (embittered sentimentalists intent on making sure none escape the ordeal they once went through) is no more than the growing tendency for children to refuse separation of childhood from the rest of life, attempting to appropriate immediately the freedom they attribute to their elders. The fact that the plenitude laid claim to doesn’t yet exist for anyone amounts less to a naïve element in their insurrection than to a rigorous critique of adult life as it’s endured.4
Adorno’s passage about the little trucks invites plenty of sceptical questions. Was ‘logistics sector’ really a popular children’s game in the 1940s? More urgently, isn’t he really talking about a certain class of children who owned (or at least were owned by owners of) shiny store-bought toys that they had time and space to play with? Answer: YES, but the problems arising may not be the expected ones. The little toylord with the trucks may not resemble kids outside his class, but his character embodies what ‘childhood’ is supposed to mean as soon as it gets set up as an abstraction.
The Bio-Power Digest [2002-4, anonymous and deleted] named abstract childhood ‘the idea of a qualitative difference between children and adults that underpins ‘inner child’ fantasies and Toughlove, and is neatly encapsulated in the NSPCC motto that ‘children are not small adults’. A child ‘possesses (or rather is possessed by) childhood for the sublimely tautological reason that the subjectivity ascribed to her is determined more by the single shared attribute of being a child than by the ensemble of particular differences between herself and other children’. The short-lived iatrophobic newsletter should have shouted louder, though, about the class specificity of abstract childhood (including racial and sexual subdivisions at their normal worst). Wherever words like Childhood, Relationships or Families are meant in general, a muddle of middle-class kinship rituals is raised to the level of a universal anthropological norm. Where certain classes’ social habits are misfitted to the template, the special case is clearly marked as such. ‘Socially excluded children’, ‘ethnic minority fathers’ or ‘white working-class families’ may be designated problems, but their problems are not those of timeless Childhood or Adulthood, Innocence, Inheritance or Coming-of-Age.
One happy result of this norm-building exercise is that pathological deviation from the norms
(children inappropriately flinching from ‘play’; full-grown wo/manly puerility) runs wild. When a universal schedule of Age-Appropriate Behaviour is drawn from the latter-decade lifestyle dilemmas of one class, what the pharma lobby calls a ‘non-compliance crisis’ is hardly a surprising result.5
Less happily, a norm that’s forever flouted but never overthrown calls down prodigies of punishment. Interlocking bureaux of Corrections, Personal Development professionals. The impossibility of trying to universalise Childhood and Adulthood as imagined by Barnardo’s, Mumsnet or the Million Man Marches in no way discourages efforts purportedly to that end. On the contrary, by virtue of its ever receding horizon, the dream becomes a sinecure for boot camp charities, parental responsibility coaches and school discipline start-ups. (And why should the backers’ reasoning have anything to do with the purported ends? Technologists of Innocence might not seem to yield much as such, but for as long as business lobbies cry out for more ‘employable’ ex-children, someone will probably pay for a supply of chastened, hyper-competitive young supplicants, the more so the earlier their ‘attitude’ and ‘social skills’ were trampled into them.)
Avowedly or not, the prevailing abstraction of Childhood casts it as a shortfall of subjectivity, a normal, slowly healing defect that for the time being makes one child more like others than unlike them, slightly less than a sovereign individual or a unique sheaf of case notes. (Sentimental cynics who set up childhood as prelapsarian bliss follow the same rule: longed-for minority as lack of the knowledge that cursed you with particular personhood.) So that when some children prove scandalously unchildlike – ungovernable, ‘greedy’, ‘over-sexualized’, etc. – the problem is not precocious adulthood (which might imply the right to refuse treatment), but a defective defect: redoubled proof of childhood or sub-subjectivity, all the more reason for multi-agency intervention.
‘Unchildlike’ is not a word social managers actually use; nor do they need to, thanks to a colourful lexicon of ‘risk factors’: conduct disorder, early onset of sexual activity, physical unfitness, poor communication skills, alcohol and substance misuse, disengagement from school… Too many to list here, and all are unchildlike in that they scramble the sequence of human development according to the class that counts as fully human. But more so than any of the risk factor euphemisms, the word that comes closest to ‘unchildlike’ is childish. It may be applied most often to older bodies’ economic, social or clinical noncompliance, but it’s also a standard slur in the chastisement of children and teenagers. ‘Childish’ is at once the opposite of ‘childlike’ (enchanted by everything, materially and spiritually replete, i.e. unlike any child who ever lived) and of ‘mature‘, (responsible, emotionally literate, hardworking). Childish behaviour is unbecoming and age-inappropriate whatever the age. But play or playfulness is never childish, being the complement of work, likewise most virtuous when ‘hard’. One tell-tale sign of childishness – again, regardless of the age of the accused – is a set of mannerisms closer to a class (guess which) stereotype than a recognized generational style. Teenage mothers and feckless welfare grandads sharing the same bad habits in the same housing estates, even the same flats! Promiscuous mixing of ages with NO subcultural turnover at all! A living insult not just to the Taxpayer but to the whole Generation XYZ theory of Bildung.
By this point at least two things should be clear. First, the abstract nouns Childhood and Adulthood entail one another. You can’t call into question queasy innocence without also being willing to pull down hard-earned experience and dignity, and vice-versa. Second, the Childhood-Adulthood complex is wholly class-ridden. The template for properly childlike (sub-individual) childhood and properly individual (responsible) adulthood sets up the lifestyle issues of a certain class as existential. Social life that smears the template or slips off it altogether becomes behaviour, and as such an invitation to intervene. Despite commentators’ howls to the contrary, this is not so much a crisis in search of a solution as a long-term, carefully cultivated pretext for the discipline and subdivision of present and potential labour. There’s a clue in the way the opposition ‘Childhood-vs-Adulthood’ – the cherished intellectual digestif of the Existential Class – can be dissolved on the whim of administrators actually dealing with the risk-factor demographic. Or to put it almost crudely enough, social management of working-class adults looks remarkably like that of middle-class children.
The discovery and tutelage of childish personality defects among adults of the risk-factor class (or non-proprietors) is more than a Blairite authoritarian reflex or a Nudge-happy psychomanagement fad. With minor shifts in rhetoric and emphasis, it runs right through the supply-side counter-revolution of the last four decades, the global programme of ‘incentives’ (positive and negative stimuli, punishments and rewards) put in place to ‘educate the public’ or make workers fit for the work expected of them. This drive to ‘dissolve the People and elect a new one’, to remould labour to the caprices of accumulation, is now known in supranational policy terms as promoting Competitiveness.6 Some of the fragments that follow here will give glimpses of it at work in Health Care doctrine, Human Resources theology and the marriage of policing and welfare brokered by the last few British governments. But the broader context shouldn’t be forgotten, lest criticism of the particular policies be scaled down to the weak charge of ‘infantilisation’. ‘Right-wing libertarians’ and others who use that word should be applauded for cursing social management and mandatory Help when a ‘communitarian’-led ‘left’ could not have cared less. But ‘infantilisation’ in the sense they mean is a crime against abstract Adulthood. This latter virtue sails on unchallenged along with its corollaries: proprietorship, liability and ultimately Childhood.7
2. We have to run away
The idea of childhood was bound up with the idea of dependence: the words ‘sons’, ‘varlets’, and ‘boys’ were also words in the vocabulary of feudal subordination. One could leave childhood only by leaving the state of dependence, or at least the lower degrees of dependence. That is why the words associated with childhood would endure to indicate in a familiar style, in the spoken language, men of humble rank whose submission to others remained absolute: lackeys, for instance, journeymen and soldiers. …. A master will say to his men when setting them to work: ‘Come along, children, get to work’. A captain will say to his soldiers: ‘Courage, children, stand fast’. Front-line troops, those most exposed to danger, were called ‘the lost children’.8
The fort-da game of Freud’s patient Little Ernst, who made a thing disappear (away, fort!) then hauled it back again (there, da!), shows first and last the need to control what happens to you.
The illusion of being able to do so will not last long.
No matter how old, the dependent and liable (children, mothers, claimants, wage workers…) learn in due course that if they ever get any control, no matter how little, they had better disguise it or run.
A Lexington, Kentucky child later known as Richard Hell got the point, in a panic after using ‘wood scraps as levers’ to push over a ‘huge iron barrel of water’.
Tomorrow morning, they would realise it had been us who’d knocked over the barrel. Kids our age shouldn’t be strong enough to turn over something as heavy as that. I explained this to Roy Baker who was a few months younger than me. ‘They’re going to think we’re superhumanly strong. They’ll want to put us in the circus. Think of how that will be, when we come out into the ring under the big top, the crowd waiting, and then we can’t lift up the barbells! There is only one thing to do. We have to run away.’9
More often the authorities were faster and unruly children were run – to borstals, jail, army, workhouse, cheap work/wifepool for colonies…good business for Children’s Charities – Barnardos – spiriting…
The ‘Barnardo’s Act’ of 1891 legalised ‘spiriting’ (practised since 1620): poor children removed by private emigration societies from workhouses, industrial schools, reformatories, to British colonies.10
A doll: a spirit you control. The child a witch, a magician, dissolves wish into effect.
The doll – impotent voodoo of woman, servant, child.
Buy a dollhouse, step up to the debt, pay upfront for the hedge, fail twice and face the consequences. Cruelty to children. Cruelty to adults. May I set my own pain chart, a scale of 1 to 10?
No, you won’t understand, though you’ll soon fit those trousers.
BUT – BUT –
I want to have everything, I want to be everyone!
– AND FURTHERMORE –
What I want, I want now!
But – but –
only too fast does the penny now drop: you can’t set yourself free by ‘growing up’, all you get is an add-on to dependency, spelled l-i-a-b-i-l-i-t-y.
Free money! Yes, if you can play it right, learn the tricks from others who fall out of bounds, the childish who don’t fit the scales. But once caught out it’s not just you but the family (at risk/problem/hard-to-reach et wretched cetera tatatata), your neighbourhood improved, upgraded along with (not) you.
Dear parent, you’re liable for this pliable child, accountable for unknown unknowns, its defects testify to your neglect. The NSPCC (Notional System Punishing Critics of Childhood? Numbskull Sect for Perpetual inCarceration in Childhood? – make up your own!) is ready to help.
Parents who neglect their children often struggle with chronic problems like [sic] poverty… [i.e. not poverty but some nameless similar thing?] We believe early intervention can help parents change their behaviour… Behavioural Therapy to cure poverty! [<>. See also pamphlets, billboards and full-page broadsheet ads.]
Whether ‘educational neglect’ can be sorted the same way may soon be tested at an Academy near you.11 Lessons in Life Skills and Mental Health are about to embellish the British school curriculum, with learners locked in to age 18 unless a boss or trainer takes over the loco parentis.
There is no way out of the Child Protection Register other than ceasing to be a ‘child’.
Social managers in the UK are almost forthright about the class connotation of endless childhood. NEETS – or young people Not in Education, Employment or Training (not including Gap Year pioneers or endowment-funded artists) – are a headline policy problem and a chance for private pressgangs to take ‘payment by results’ for tutelage. Pertemps People Development Group promises ‘candidates’ or outsize infants ‘wake-up calls to help young people develop a routine’.
If you are of the female sex you may wish to try having children: not yet accredited as education, but not a ticket out of training either. Single mother (or still more suspicious, father)! Dependent with dependent, a child with a child!
J.B. de La Salle (1720) states that the children of the poor are particularly ill-mannered because ‘they do just as they please, their parents paying no attention to them, even treating them in an idolatrous manner: what the children want, they want too’. [Cited by Ariès, see note 8.]
What might happen if parents, children and teachers wanted the same thing (and no, it’s most certainly not ‘free school’ status) was glimpsed in the Croxteth Comprehensive School occupation on a working-class housing estate in Liverpool in 1982-83. (The struggle over the school started earlier, late in 1980). The school and its youth club were the only ‘amenities’ on the housing estate at that time! A day before the school was scheduled to close, it was occupied and then run for the next school year by parents, children and volunteer teachers. Teaching methods were changed, caning was abolished, uniforms were not required and pupils set up a school council, voting that the teachers should be paid. The community had a hard time keeping the occupation going: lack of funds and dirty tricks played by the council didn’t help. Councillor Richard Kemp told people to give up and see reason: ‘what is needed’, he burst out, is more parental responsibility’. Croxteth Comprehensive was allowed by the Militant Labour council of 1983 to survive, more or less: on hardly any funds, with teachers taking half-pay. It was closed down in 2010, ostensibly for ‘poor academic standards’.12
And now a word from a parental education channel.
‘How do you respond to a child who wants everything? We offer a few tips on managing your child’s expectations [lack of emphasis subtracted], and helping them [sic, again: HOW MANY children? Or perhaps for these purposes they’re interchangeable?] to understand the value of saving and earning – with the added bonus that they might learn a bit about responsibility and setting achievable goals.’13
‘Financial education’ in schools and in mandatory courses for claimants starts on an intimate scale and stays there. Not Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went, but personal homilies on Managing your [sic!] money, sponsored by those who called the ‘money’ into being with a keystroke. Just one abstract principle is enough for the classroom and the class comprising it.14 A moral rather than an economic algorithm, and as such happily teachable by means of homely anecdote. According to the law of justified scarcity, the lesson-learners should not have what they want, because if they deserved it they would already have it. And if they need anything then what they get is debt. Debt = liability (adulthood), a commitment to a payment plan set out for them (childhood).
Commitment to an imposed programme and taking up and managing debt are part of the British government’s Universal Credit welfare reform, which is, among other things that it isn’t, essentially a training scheme, not in particular techniques but in penitence. The same thing done to horses is called ‘breaking’.
Out of work claimants must accept a claimant commitment. If a claimant refuses to accept their claimant commitment, they will not be entitled to Universal Credit. If the claimant doesn’t do what he or she has committed to do, they will experience tougher penalties than at present, such as their benefit being reduced or withdrawn for up to three years. [If a civil servant confuses singular and plural personal pronouns, s/he will be promoted. And with good reason: the ability to mistake systemic phenomena for large-scale outbreaks of personal misbehaviour is what is known as a Core Competency.] The details of these penalties are currently being defined.15
Payments made monthly instead of weekly will ‘encourage claimants to take personal responsibility for their finances and to budget on a monthly basis…The government is exploring access to financial products for those on low incomes…’
The following thinking is applied as readily to benefit recipients (including those in work) as to children:
‘Q: At what age should children’s wishes be taken into account?
A: Most guidance relating to services for children (such as safeguarding and health care) stresses the importance of listening to the wishes of the child. However, the authorities have a duty to act in the best interests of the child, which may mean contradicting their wishes.’16
‘…a duty…. which may mean contradicting their wishes’. NSPCC never tires of telling children Your body belongs to you and never stops arguing the contrary.
My sister has been trying to rent a flat for six months now. The estate agents check her pay slips and their repeated refusal to let a flat to her is based on their assumption that she cannot live off the money left to her after paying the rent. My sister is 30 years old and on a secure full time wage.
– EXPLORING ACCESS –
Young victims may need intensive multi-agency support to mitigate the long-term damage…
– DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU’RE CERTAIN! – 17
We need to be punishing – and I mean punishing quite severely – bad parenting… you got cases of children engaging in criminality who are below the age of criminal responsibility. Lock up their parents! Put the children into care and have them make sure the children are properly brought up and educated in care.
[Simon Heffer, a newspaper columnist]
There are more young people in prison in England & Wales than anywhere else in Western Europe (the number trebled between 1991 & 2006).18
A duty…to contradict their wishes –
– This year a California court rejected ‘do not resuscitate’ writs filed by State prison hunger strikers in solitary confinement. The court approved violent force to prolong life, on the grounds that a prisoner’s decision not to live under those conditions might be ‘gang-related’, i.e. collective.
– Between 2006 and 2010, sterilisation was forced on at least 148 female prisoners in state prisons between 2006 and 2010. (One more episode in the history of sterilisation forced on institutionalised women.)19
– Whole families of teenage ‘rioters’ were evicted by municipal landlords in the collective reprisals of autumn-winter after the summer riots of 2011 in the UK.
What matters most to a child’s life chances is not the wealth of their upbringing but the warmth of their parenting. [David Cameron]
Fire burn dem! [Capleton]
‘Becoming angry is not an effective way of disciplining your child. If you feel yourself becoming angry try some simple techniques like taking several deep breaths, counting to 10, or leaving the room. If you feel that you cannot control your anger then get help. Talk to someone about your problem or ask your doctor about anger management classes. See our leaflet: “Keeping your cool” for more information.’20
…then her hate is directed outwards, and ‘motherlove’ is born.
3. Work hard, play harder
Search online for prison teaching jobs and you’ll find a long list of ‘tutor’/’outreach’ opportunities like the following:
Children’s Play Worker
Company Serco Group Plc
Salary £18000 per annum + FTE – Including London Weighting
Of course, learning to play with Serco will put children in the right frame of mind. Should that not have done the trick it can wait till primary school.
To make sure prospective teachers don’t fail ‘aptitude, personality and resilience’ assessments, candidates will be picked straight from the military: ‘Troops to Teachers’.21
We are already working to bring military ethos into our education system to help raise standards and tackle issues such as behaviour. This includes: Expansion of the school-based cadets to create around 100 more units by 2015. Delivering the Troops to Teachers programme, which aims to increase the number of Service Leavers making the transition to teaching. Promoting alternative provision with a military ethos […] Past experience from both the military and education sector has demonstrated how these core values help pupils to reach their academic potential and become well-rounded and accomplished adults fully prepared for life beyond school.[…] [We are] exploring how academies and Free Schools can use their freedoms to foster a military ethos and raise standards.
[…] This year the Government is investing a total of £3.2million to grant fund four organisations: Challenger Troop CIC, Commando Joes’, Knowsley Skills Academy and SkillForce. These organisations will harness the valuable experience of our armed forces to deliver military ethos programmes that aim to prevent exclusions, support post-16 transitions and engage with young people in alternative provision or who are NEET (not in education, employment or training).22
Perhaps this will also solve the problem of what to do with all the unemployed soldiers coming home; another work opportunity offered them is the “Heroes to Inspire” scheme (Prospects/Yorkshire), in which they can deliver ‘motivational sessions’ to NEETS.
Philippe Ariès describes how games played across classes in the European ‘Middle Ages’ came to be vilified (especially the more physical games), only to be recuperated as part of education when they could not successfully be suppressed. The next step to military training was a small one: at ‘the close of the eighteenth century, games found another justification, this time patriotic: they prepared a man for war. This was the time when the training of a soldier became what was virtually a scientific technique, the time too which saw the birth of modern nationalism. A link was established between the educational games of the Jesuits, the gymnastics of the doctors, the training of the soldier and the demands of patriotism.’23
‘Personal, social and health education’ (PSHE: note the place assigned to the ‘social’ in the school system) ties up loose strands and trains pupils in the necessary survival skills when working on zero-hours contracts: ‘Pupils learn to be enterprising. They develop the ability to handle uncertainty, respond positively to change, and create and implement new ideas and ways of doing things. They learn how to make and act on reasonable risk/reward assessments and develop a ‘can-do’ attitude and the drive to make ideas happen.’24
I feel as though I’m in a support group being run by my own rapist… [A commissioner of compulsory support groups in the TV show The Thick of It]
Surprisingly or not, the logic underpinning this course of study recurs, minus overt coercion, in the ultra-high end bracket. The ‘Business Life’ page in the Financial Times recently covered the ‘play date training’ sector that thrives in Upper East Side Manhattan and similar inverse ghettoes.25 For $350 an hour, children learn how to play to the standards set by elite kindergartens charging $40,000 a year. Larval-stage Life Coaching matters because the Educational Records Bureau, controlling entry to the pre-school Ivy League, tests for ‘academic ability and social and emotional IQ’. Parents are also interviewed (one girl lost a place because she produced a drawing of her mother smoking a cigarette). Among other ‘deficits’ the examiners watch for is anything associated with the ‘autistic spectrum’, i.e. children who fail to make eye contact. After the training camp play date the ‘tutors write a report ‘alerting parents to problem areas and suggest[ing] exercises to practise at home’. (Freud would only analyse the upper and middle classes, and with good reason: no one else would willingly eat up (‘introject’) the humiliating commands of Competitiveness and pay for the privilege.)
Now widen the scope slightly and consider the boom in child-tracking software packaged as playthings (FT ‘Business Life’ again). ‘Parental surveillance technologies…began with spy cameras hidden in teddy bears’, but soon moved on to the Filip ‘smartwatch’ (‘worn by children…tells parents where they are and allows voice calls’ BUT ‘has less functionality than a smartphone, which is the point of the device’) and the ClassDojo platform (‘allows teachers to email frequent reports to parents on the child’s behaviour’). ‘Infantilisation’? Yes, but not just for infants. Catching on even faster is the self-inflicted form for adult idiots: motivational self-tagging systems (for the time being watches/bracelets/shackles, but soon ingestible, impossible to throw away) that upload to the owner’s (anti)social network her calorie count, blood pressure, sleep pattern, jog-steps staggered etc. No, the connection to non-custodial sentencing is not lost on anyone in the industry, only (momentarily, decisively) on a few Early Adopters.
Next the Business Life correspondent made it into the main news section with a scoop on a new kind of work-inducing Play: ‘a pre-work [Straight-Edge] rave intended to energise bankers and software engineers’, run in Shoreditch by a company called Morning Glory. And at around the same time the London Evening Standard ran a feature called ‘Teen Power’, on school-age coders bringing ludic intuition to UK Government Digital Service and the Sony Soundbed Advisory Group. A ‘career motorway’ indeed, but a fragile construction. A spokesman for something called Digital Shoreditch delighted in the prodigies’ ‘passion and balls…untainted by too much education’ (Sony pays them in raffle tickets for ‘iPad Minis and Amazon vouchers’), but warned that they ‘need careful nurturing’. Which, it so happens, neatly sums up current Human Resources thinking about workers in general, or People, to use the technical term.
The pastoral/parental/family doctor mode of managing labour is not a trend but an ascendancy. Take a look at the online edition of HR Magazine or the regular reports of consultancy Towers Watson.26 27 A common misconception about Human Resources is that the ‘resources’ part makes it somehow ‘impersonal’, whereas it’s really the first stage in the personalisation of personnel on a scale never seen before. In the last few decades of the 20th century, ‘HR’ superseded Industrial Relations, itself a sort of corporatist euphemism for what pre-New Deal capitalists admitted more readily was bilateral struggle or even war. But Industrial Relations at least acknowledged a contest between two interests, in which the goal of the management side was to reduce the opposing collective body to a bunch of discrete persons competing against each other. Managers had to go on using those terms for as long as workers could partially resist their own reduction; the shift from IR to HR tracked the breakdown of that resistance. ‘Human Resources’ gets rid of the two-sided, conflictual element altogether. A ‘resource’ is no kind of subject, only substance: susceptible to nurturing, husbandry or just plain use, but not about to talk back to its steward. And these particular resources are ‘human’: deeper than ‘mere’ material interest and ripe for personal guidance. Hence the kind of programmes that pullulate once HR is in place as a self-explanatory norm: People Operations (Google), Investors In People (UK government and private sector partners), People Care (Cadbury, Ansaldo and sundry think-tankers), Personal Development (ubiquitous).228What kind of people need nurturing, care and development? Who deserves the best Incentives? Whose portfolio of symptoms disqualifies them from decision on the treatment? Yes, children among other patients. Bare Life in all its self-endangering diversity.
So, ‘infantilisation’? Again, only if that’s understood to coincide with Peak Adulthood: matriculation as a ‘free economic agent’, personally liable for the earthquakes that follow.29 Take it verbatim from an off-the-shelf Investors In People compliance package: Hurray! I’m responsible for my own personal development!
4. Structured hug
The abusive relationship between victim and perpetrator involves an imbalance of power which limits the victim’s options. It is a form of abuse which is often misunderstood by victims and outsiders as consensual…no child under the age of 18 can ever consent to being abused or exploited.30
Setting aside the account of sexual assault as a matter of ‘options’ like a mobile phone menu, this is a literally true statement from Barnardos, the Victorian ‘spiriter’ of children (see above) and present-day exploiter of mandatory workfare placements.31
But still a remarkable theory. Among other things, it suggests that:
– ‘Victims’ aged over 18 may consent to ‘abuse and exploitation’. (The preamble to the passage makes it quite clear that ‘abuse’ and ‘exploitation’ are meant in a strictly sexual sense. So 16-year olds under UK law spend a couple of years able to consent to sexual use but not to its notional opposite.)32
– Before that age, ‘victims and outsiders’ might mistake consent for…consent. But not all outsiders are so foolish: some are expert enough to decide against the wishes of the ‘victim’ on the difference between abuse and legitimate use.
An account of ‘abuse and exploitation’ fixated on individuals’ sexual crimes against childhood writes off the monstrosities wrought in the name of firm-but-fair use.33 What principle of consent applies to the Secure Training Centres run in a liminal zone between Britain’s public-private Care and Criminal Justice systems, where 29 teenagers were ‘troubled’ into suicide over the last 18 years? According to the director of Serco’s Hassockfield STC, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood hung himself after receiving a ‘structured hug’. Medway STC (G4S) sends an average of one ‘trainee’ to hospital a week in the name of Good Order And Discipline, or in the professional jargon GOAD.34 Less dramatically but played out everywhere all the time, there is no ‘option’ to withhold consent to an economic set-up (both senses) requiring, say, a 16-year-old to raise younger siblings while working or submitting to the Work Programme; still less is there any agency declaring on her behalf that her entrapment is abusive or non-consensual.
So who exactly is ‘sexualizing children’ when the word ‘exploitation’ is restricted to a sexual sense? But then if sexual exploitation were reconnected to the non-sexual kind and ‘abuse’ properly reunited with ‘use’, Hardworking Family life would have to plead guilty to all of the above.
In 2010 the British government and parent lobbyists joined forces to commission Letting Children Be Children, a report on the ‘increased commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood’, recommending ways to create ‘the right sort of environment that allows our nation’s children to be children’.35 Let, allow: freedom to obey the (unwritten) Laws, permission for children to act out the childhood wished on them by the responsible Nation of Adults.
Further on in the report: ‘For children to be children, parents need to be parents’. To be a parent in the literal sense is not enough, otherwise the verbless participle parenting need never have been misinvented. Parents must resemble the parents they ‘need to be’ so that children will also resemble themselves. Educate the childish adults to keep their children childlike.
And so on to Playdate Appraisal, Workhousing Ladder, Duty of Self-Care, Secure Leisure Centre.
Fort! Da! Fort! Da! Fort!
But the first word the child uttered was: nein!
1.] Shulamith Firestone, ‘Down with childhood’, in The Dialectic of Sex, William Morrow, New York, NY, 1973. No page references will be given in the footnotes that follow, because we don’t own every book we ever read. If you must have page numbers, ask someone with a biometric entry card for an academic library.
2.] Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, tr. EFN Jephcott, (fragment 146: ‘Toy Shop’/’Kaufmannsladen’), Verso, London, 1974.
3.] For many reasons, see: Angela Carter, Wise Children, Vintage, London, 1992.
4.] Wolverine, the Journal of Childish Psychology, <http://wolverine.c8.com/clock.html>. Includes shameful but telling mistranscription of the Adorno passage. Shame is pride.
‘One class’: a stereotype of actual ‘behaviour’ even within that class, but a faithful recreation of the way its spokes(wo)men talk to themselves.
‘Non-compliance’: literally, disobedient self-administration (or non-administration) of prescription drugs. But in choosing the word ‘compliance’, the treatment lobby poignantly discloses a deeper anxiety: which party is really the patient, which the agent? See also: Wealth of Negations, Terms and Conditions. Entry in ‘Welfare Edition’ and full (web-only) dictionary: Compliance. <http://www.wealthofnegations.org/>.
7.] What the complaint of ‘infantilisation’ also misses – but the fragments to follow will show – is that risk-factor-class adults are nowhere more ‘infantilised’ than when being trained, nudged and ordered to assume ‘adult’ responsibility, eg. for a child. The heaviest machinery of tutelage outside the mental health and criminal justice systems is reserved for ‘at-risk’ parents.
8.] Philippe Ariès, Centuries of Childhood, tr. Robert Baldick, Jonathan Cape, London, 1962.
9.] Richard Hell, I Dreamed I was a Very Clean Tramp, Harper Collins, New York, 2013.
11.] ‘Educational neglect’ is one of four categories of neglect; the others are physical, emotional and medical (the latter apparently not physical). See: <http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/resourcesforprofessionals/neglect/introduction_wda90252.html#types>
14.] JK Galbraith, Money, Whence it Came, Where it Went, Houghton Miffin, Boston, 1975.
17.] <http://www.nspcc.org.uk/news-and-views/our-campaigns/current-campaigns/dont-wait/dont-wait-campaign_wda88525.html> The information leaflet on NSPCC grassing-up campaign ‘Don’t wait until you’re certain’ states in the small print that the records of phone calls by worried or vengeful neighbours are kept for 15 years – even where the police charity did not consider action necessary.
18.] Statistic and Heffer quote above taken from Owen Jones, Chavs, Verso, London, 2012.
25.] What’s a ‘play date’? We didn’t know either. Anyone else still reeling from the latter-decade acceptance of ‘date’ – as in a job interview for sex – will be glad to learn from the Urban Dictionary that a play date is ‘a scheduled appointment for children to get together and play’. As to whether scheduled, appointed ‘play’ is possible semantically, let alone socially, write your answer on the back of a postcard and throw it away.
29.] In the earthquakes to come, I very much hope / I shall keep my cigar alight, embittered or no (Bertolt Brecht, ‘Of Poor B.B.’, tr. Michael Hamburger, Poems, 1913-1956, ed. John Willett, Ralph Manheim (various translators), Methuen, London/New York, 1976.)
32.] The restriction of abuse/exploitation to a ‘sexual’ connotation also declares rape to be ‘sexual’ for the person undergoing it. No doubt that’s not what the hapless maxim-drafters think they mean, but it’s consistent with the indifference to the undergoer throughout a legal/therapeutic procedure that, in its punitive and/or rehabilitative zeal, can’t help but be fixated on the inflicter (the ‘-phile’ or ‘-phobe’: see next footnote).
35.] <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/letting-children-be-children-report-of-an-independent-review-of-the-commercialisation-and-sexualisation-of-childhood> ‘Our nation’s children’: weary gasp of astonishment added.
Editor’s note: A (longer) version of this text appeared first with different illustrations on the Mute Magazine site on November 21, 2013 . The illustrations were created specifically for the print edition of datacide seventeen by lesekill.
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