Listen now | How we must transform the frame of children's activism.
What is very true for me (and has been for a long time) is that we live in a system that marginalizes and/or traumatizes children in many different ways. Children grow up to become adults that create and perpetuate power-based systems because it's less painful than doing the inner work to heal from our own trauma. The tendency to use other people through coercive systems to manage our own pain is a powerful driver of human energy.
If I understand your book, the reason social justice movement has taken on a life of it's own and become heavy-handed in it's approach is that the social justice movement has not yet embraced children's justice. Activists still operate on a "might makes right" mindset which is what so many of us grew up with. It explains why systemic xxxx issues persist while at the same time explaining why circumcision is still practiced. It's a bit mind-bending but is making more sense as time goes on.
It feels so good to be understanding something that goes far beyond any left-right paradigm.
Children's Lives Matter.
I finished reading Children’s Justice about a month after it dropped. The book was very compelling, giving me awareness of, and language to articulate, some ideas that I didn’t have before, and I found essentially nothing in it that seemed untrue. However, I am still mulling over these ideas in my head and have ambivalence about some aspects that I am still trying to properly understand. I would say that I just don’t have enough real experience yet to have a good idea of what “most people” believe on these different types of rhetoric (theory vs human rights as an example), and “power” seems sometimes pretty hard to quantify. You can point to systems of power and clearly articulate how real they are, and who the victims of these systems are (almost always they are complicit in the system to some degree), and in what ways they are victimized, and that the fragile complicit are enabling the injustice. However, when there are many complex systems interacting with each other, it’s challenging to connect with other people’s experiences. Which of course goes to the framework of intersectionality from a theory perspective, or principles of compassion or spirituality from a humanistic perspective.
You can see clearly that many people who engage in critical theory for more mainstream issues of justice or equity use very aggressive language and tend to step on many millions of toes in doing so. Which is naturally their right and seems to be pragmatic, and the consequences of triggering fragile people are predictable and unavoidable. And they have absolutely accomplished a massive deal whilst doing this. Many of these groups have largely achieved their goals of institutionalizing their language, practices and values into systems of power. The issue I have is that I’m still not necessarily convinced it’s primarily their rhetoric or conduct that has afforded them this success. I recognize that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, because activism consists primarily of language and conduct. But when people see the dishonesty and hypocrisy and lack of compassion often exhibited by adherents of theory, they are turned off, as I was for a very long time. Because of the stereotypical “woke'' unlikeable archetype, for a very long time I was unable to objectively examine their rhetoric. Because when I did, no amount of truth to their language would shake the feeling of distrust. That they weren’t being fully honest, and that they certainly bore little compassion for me. So in a somewhat childish way, I thought, “Why should I care, when I’m suffering too?” Somewhat on the same topic, in our movement, the option of restoration or the “promise” of Foregen or regenerative medicine seems to be a significant motivator for many men who would otherwise rather live in denial and indifference, or feel “attacked” by men that might characterize them as victims of sexual assault, or owners of mutilated bodies. It gives them a reason to care because now it materially benefits them to engage in this emotional distress and confrontation. Most people, particularly in our culture, live their lives in a material way and not a self-aware way, so material and practical motivation is very helpful.
I have been mulling over the idea of human rights rhetoric vs critical theory, and how they are seemingly incompatible. In the recent coverage of the abortion issue, it seems more of the argumentation in favor of women’s choice is being made from a human rights framework. Perhaps, you might say that is the reason that they seem to be losing ground on this issue? That their language no longer holds enough power? My awareness and scope are quite limited, so I’m just putting this out there as food for thought, and if someone wants to explain whether I’m right or wrong please do.
It is a sure thing that we need to be completely unapologetic to these abusers. All of the tip-toeing bullshit and kowtowing that intactivists partake in is a complete waste of time, and a form of self-abuse. As you’ve said, you cannot control their language, and certainly not their behavior this way. Being totally true to yourself and fully honest to the people around you is an imperative for healing from this trauma, and helping other people to heal from it as well. It’s also obvious that the abusers are themselves traumatized. It just doesn’t seem possible to take a blade to a child’s body if you are not severely messed up. So honesty is the key to everything and for everyone. If you continue to feed their delusions or fragility through lying or omitting truth, their suffering will grow and their compassion for you continues to deteriorate. Whether people realize it or not, the thing they fear and hate above all else is dishonesty and obfuscation. When people engage in lies or concealment, everyone around them can pick up on it emotionally. It plants a seed of unease in their mind, or waters those seeds which are already there. It rings loud in their head as a distraction and confusion at all times. When people understand and are beholden to truth, then they can do real work on fixing their problems. And those whose manifested fragility prompts them to resist the truth, are essentially forced to take actions and make statements that eventually enable activists to make real moves. That’s just a theory anyway.
These things may seem obvious but in my opinion they bear repeating until the end of time. Because there are countless instances in which people do not live their lives in this manner.
It is a tenuous rope to walk, however, when speaking to people at large that are involved in, complicit with, or otherwise victims of systems of abuse. Because if someone is made fragile by their suffering, they are by definition not strong enough yet to fully connect to that aspect of their lived experience and take control of it. In practice, as you say, this is presented in all other social justice issues. So in a way, I think that the language of theory (or perhaps, it’s more the conduct of the people that tend to espouse it, I don’t know) is somewhat lacking in compassion. This is a very abstract idea in my mind but I think it’s real. The opponents of critical theorists for popular social justice issues are consistently convinced that critical theorists and social justice activists have a genuine hatred for them. And if there is a case where an activist (of any movement) wears his own fragility, suffering, and distrust on his sleeve, and occasionally engages in lying to further his cause, how can we expect a compassionate response from people who are similarly fragile?
I’m not suggesting that we omit truth or curtail our language to appease fragile abusers or those who comply with abuse, but conduct is important. You can’t touch people who distrust and hate you out of the gates. How does one embody compassion while still being real and standing up for himself, and resisting abusers? There is a certain emotional quality that others can feel in you that I believe is much more important than theory vs. human rights, apologetics vs aggression, etc. And yet it also seems that compassion and loving speech is not the principle means by which most social justice movements that came after the Civil Rights movement have found a degree of success. But when our society grows more volatile and divided, violent, and less happy by the day, has anyone really found success in their movements?
When I feel deep hatred and distrust of my abusers, to the point of seething anger and irrational and angry judgements, dehumanization, etc, I already know that I can’t allow that to seep into my activism. Grappling with one’s own pain seems to be the truest challenge that activists and our movement in general have. I truly do not have any understanding as to how someone could hurt a child like this. No intellectual response or emotional apology from a present or former abuser has given me any understanding or empathy whatsoever. Knowing that they are also a creature full of suffering doesn’t really seem to help my framing. Their lived experience feels so fundamentally different from mine that I oscillate between feeling insane and schizophrenic, and being rather certain that it’s the rest of my society that is collectively insane. It is the peak of dissociation and confusion.
Do continue to put out more ideas to help me give form to my own muddled experiences. Everything you’ve been producing since Children’s Justice has been worthwhile to read/hear. I have the intention to re-read the book and other work you’ve produced; the problem right now is that I don’t have enough experience or understanding to articulate my ambivalence and doubts about exactly what presentation and language is “ideal''. Practically speaking, we all have to take action regardless of what we believe or feel in regards to theory and rhetoric, regardless of our suffering and uncertainties.