So I’ve been thinking about how to bring more focus to some of the great work going on at The Future We Deserve. I am happy to have figured it out.
Welcome to The Future We Deserve Blogathon! Simply take a look at the submissions page, pick an article you like, and run it on your blog. Remember it’s all CC licensed already! You could post the whole thing, or you can find a link to the article at the main Collaboratory page and blog a response. Post a tweet with the tag #theFWD so we can follow you.
I particularly want to encourage authors to post pieces from other authors and discuss how they reacted to those pieces. I’ll go first.
I propose a future without childhood. No, no, no, don’t get me wrong; not a future without children – I hope children continue to happen, generally speaking. But I wonder if the idea of childhood might not be one of the methods by which we learn to experience denial, if it might not be inflicting a subtle and persistent violence upon us?
What exactly is childhood, anyway? How can it be defined? Is it biological – a specific period within the early stages of physical development? Mental – a period during which personal faculties are formed and developed? Moral – a state of innocence and grace? Political – a state of powerlessness and exemption from responsibility? Economic – a parasitic state of dependency? Historic – constructed in the last few centuries in parallel to western imperialism? Cultural – a shared system of learned behaviour?
Each of these aspects of the term will inspire a full spectrum of views; the literature on childhood is vast, and there are many thriving professions devoted to the study, the cultivation and the servicing of childhood. There are deeply entrenched investments in childhood as an unassailable operating concept (brightly coloured plastic tubes of yoghurt, anyone?) and for that reason alone we should question it further.
How is childhood connected to denial? I would argue the following points: that the idea of childhood reinforces an expectation that innocence and protection from harm can be secured, even guaranteed. It instills a sense of separation and difference from others, the adults, to whom society grants agency and legitimacy. It creates the illusion that power and responsibility are something that can be picked up and handled at a certain age, when one is ready for them, rather than something inherent to the social experience.
Many of the ongoing debates around children’s issues in our culture arise because the lives and experiences of real children flout these parameters constantly.
Childhood also only exists with its complementary state, adulthood. This is the state in which we surrender innocence, assume legitimacy, and wield power. Of course, the real experiences of adults flout these parameters constantly as well.
The concepts of childhood and adulthood embody the idea of progress. A state of childhood suggests that there will, eventually, be a state of adulthood. The future is inherent in the idea of childhood. The children are our future!
But does it really work that way? A couple years ago I helped to run a conference about nature kindergartens. This was one small event in an ongoing movement to promote nature as “key to children’s lives and learning.”1 The conference was organised by myself and other adults in an enclosed, flourescent-lit office, our eyes glazing over from hours at a computer screen. We all accepted the irony of this with resigned duty and wistful suggestions to hold our planning discussions outside in a nearby park. This kind of irony is central to the disconnection that the idea of childhood allows us to practice. The implicit message of childhood is: live it up while you can, enjoy your freedom, these are a temporary respite from the grim slavery of the responsibilities you will eventually shoulder. Surrender joy all ye who enter adulthood.
A future without childhood may therefore also be a future without adulthood. And what would there be instead? Perhaps simply personhood. What sort of cultural paradigm could we devise around every person counting as a legitimate part of society, irrespective of age? Could this be a paradigm in which every person counts as a legitimate part of society, irrespective of their biological, mental, moral, political, or economic state? We could even look further into personhood, as is already being done in the areas of animal rights, the study of consciousness, evolutionary biology and in many other fields of inquiry. Our philosophical ponderings may take us into what we mean by work and play, freedom and responsibility, and what we mean by human nature: are we an integrated participant in the natural universe or are we special, more special than trees or microbes or air molecules?
“Your children are not special…. There is no future. There’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist. You’re our future. The children are our future! There’s no such thing….”2
A future without childhood might be a future in which everyone and no one is special, it might be a future without the future, a future of the here and now and of the everybody in it together.
1 Children in Scotland magazine, Issue 84, June 2008
For me, Julia’s piece made me think in a totally different way about the future. I’m very focused on how technology changes the future. I follow and model how we adopt better technologies, or how existing technologies begin to drive social change. So it was really thought provoking for me to read and think about a future in which one of our deepest social roles fades out, leaving a more egalitarian society, with no technological drift involved.
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