Monday, 11 May 2015

Children’s Crusade. 29.04.15

I’ve been tripping out for the last couple of weeks about “lies-to-children”– those “simplified explanations of technical or complex subjects as a teaching method for children and laypeople” (thank you, Wiki). It all started because Facebook juxtaposed two apparently unrelated yet similar subjects, a child undergoing chemotherapy wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume and an argument about whether Hitler was elected.

Both are lies to children. You won’t become a Ninja Turtle by taking your chemo. Hitler wasn’t “elected” as Chancellor, though his rise to power was legal. Yet both are useful in making a complicated idea simple; they can help people deal with an unpleasant situation or approach a sticky subject. Neither prevents further learning. Neither is intended as a deception. 

Both are useful as learning tools. A tiny child can’t possibly understand the complexity of chemotherapy, because his background in biology and chemistry is probably somewhat limited; he just needs to be able to understand that the bad chemicals will make him better. An adult who knows nothing about the Weimar Republic and has learned about the Nazis solely from television or from a single chapter in their history textbooks may lack the interest and motivation to read several screenshots on the subject unless they’ve first been made curious about it.

There is another key element that the Turtles and Hitler lies-to-children have in common: neither is likely to result in unintended fallouts. The child taking chemotherapy will not be able to go off to live in the sewers, befriending rats. He will not be able to administer chemo to other children to turn them into more turtles. You might have a struggle trying to get him to eat anything but pizza for a while, but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s worth it. The same applies to the Hitler lie: the people believing it can’t really do anything wrong with it. At most, they may end up getting involved into discussions where they’ll be proved wrong, denting their tender feelings. Hopefully, it will encourage them to Wiki their way into a better understanding of the subject.

I think that’s where our society fucks up: we forget that lies-to-children are only innocuous when you give them to people with a limited latitude; people who not only cannot understand anything more complicated at present, but who also have little to no chance of going off and acting upon that ”information” beyond a very narrow scope. 

Enter some of my biggest bugbears: statements about violence containing words like “always” and “all”. Violence is a large and nasty beast. Most people will, thankfully, only ever know a little bit about a small portion of it. Learning about violence second- or third-hand is useful, provided your sources are good, but it’s no substitute for experience. Violence is also something that our society increasingly abhors – and we forget how rare this attitude is, geographically and historically.

So we campaign vociferously against violence, which is great. The problem is that the vast majority of the campaigns are based on lies to children. “Rape is all about power and control.” “All we need to stop rape is <insert current buzzword>.” “Domestic violence is all about power and control.” 

Let’s take domestic violence as an example. I’m not going to dispute for a second that a lot of it IS about power and control. But there’s also the portion that is caused by other issues: brain damage, strokes, dementia, mental illness, substance abuse, developmental disorders, hypoglycemic crises, hallucinations, autism, and, last but by no means least, belonging to a (sub)culture where slapping people about is considered a perfectly valid form of communication. These cases also happen. They’re out there for everyone to see – but they are not mentioned in the current doctrine on the subject.

If you’re so inclined, you can try and make the Power&Control explanation fit every given situation: “The guy off his face on PCP was trying to control his surroundings by using force to gain power.” Problem is, you get top marks for sticking to the dogma, but your solution won’t help the problem. You can sit down any amount of violent dementia sufferers and teach them the Duluth Model[*], and it won’t stop them from hitting those around them. You’ll come up with the wrong (yet doctrinally correct) answer to that particular situation.

We’re reducing huge, complicated fields into soundbites, which is bad. We’re turning those soundbites into the Only Truth, which is worse. Instead of educating advocates, far too often we’re indoctrinating them; we’re giving them a tragically narrow point of view on the subject and teaching them that all contrasting points of view are anathema. And then we’re sending them forth to act upon the lies-to-children we’ve fed them, sending them forth on a Children’s Crusade, and expecting that to somehow make the world a better place. 


shugyosha said...

You verbed Wiki? You verbed Wiki...

You verbed wiki!

I think I'm in love...


shugyosha said...

This is oldish, originally written in Jan 2010, but you made me think of it.

Take care