Lensman’s recent guest blog Towards the aetiology of paedophobia explored some fundamental aspects of society and where modern living has gone badly wrong, in terms both of its sustainability and its desirability, not least for children. A very lively and far-reaching debate ensued. Here, now, is his promised follow-up, which sets out how things could be better in future if we are bold enough to embark on a radically environmentalist, or Deep Green, course.
In part one of this essay, I made the claim that capitalism is inherently paedophobic. The predominance of the nuclear family combined with the community’s merely vestigial role in their lives results in children being isolated in relationships which, because of the incest taboo, can only thrive if those children are considered as asexual and “innocent”.
The emergence of a form of capitalism focused disproportionately on satisfying fabricated wants rather than needs has created further tensions. Consumerism requires children to be educated into the consumer mind-set (note that people need no persuading of their needs – hunger, thirst, cold, fear, loneliness etc. serve that function) and this has created a variety of phenomena which contribute to the perception by many parents that their children are being “taken away” or “sexualised” against their (the parents) will, and that society offers children a “toxic childhood”. This conflict between the “consumer child” and the “innocent child” generates considerable anxiety which, arguably, is most easily directed towards the symbolic figure of the paedophile.
That economic factors cause paedophobia may not be immediately apparent as their effects are manifested through social and cultural phenomena. We naturally discern visible agents before we do deep causes: a rat in a medical-research lab will (one may imagine) blame the individual who administers the tests for its suffering, but the wider causes of its suffering are invisible to it: the pharmaceuticals industry, the disease the scientists are trying to cure, and the conditions giving rise to the disease.
A social system that would open up the nuclear family, reintroduce children into the community, and eliminate consumerism is one that would favour a reduction of intergenerational apartheid, the acceptance of child sexuality and, consequently (but inadvertently), a reduction in paedophobia. Such a society would be one based on green principles and policies.
Undoubtedly the most pressing priority for a green society is to address the impending environmental disaster resulting from an economic system that is at war with the planet, the biosphere and, ultimately, human life, and which serves corporations and multinationals to the detriment of all else.
Averting disaster will require an economy that stops chasing economic growth, instead finding prosperity through sustainable alternatives. This will be a low-energy economy, based on conservation and renewable resources. A redistribution of wealth is required, towards greater equality. Instead of encouraging people to possess lots of things they do not need, the emphasis would be on personal growth and respect for the gentler, nurturing side of human nature.
Two policies that find strong support among green thinkers have particular implications for child sexuality and paedophilia: the Citizen’s Income, and Decentralisation.
The Citizen’s Income (CI) is a means of creating a prosperous, growth-free economy and subverting unexamined thinking on income, security, creativity and quality of life. The CI combines the communal solidarity of socialism and the free enterprise of capitalism.
Every citizen receives a regular, unconditional, tax-free sum, which is calculated to cover the necessities of life (food, fuel, heating, clothing, accommodation). Everyone receives it whether they work or not, or need it or not. To discourage large families, there would be a tapering amount for each child after the first.
The CI would replace existing benefits and be easy to administer. It would cost about the same as the current UK benefits system[i] and would be financed through taxation, including anti-pollution and luxury taxes.
At a stroke, the CI would redistribute wealth in favour of the poor[ii], ending poverty and poverty-related crime. It would eliminate the welfare trap associated with means-tested benefits, which would be abolished. It would provide a universal financial safety net, so that people could be enterprising without fear of suffering total ruin. The job market would be more flexible as there would be no need for a minimum wage.
CI would tend to weaken consumerism by destigmatising low-consumption life-styles; it would put stagnant wealth back into circulation, thereby reducing the social significance of conspicuous consumption; a sense of security would no longer be bound up in the rat race.
Work would no longer just mean paid employment but would include the activities of carers, students, researchers, artists, inventors and volunteers working for charities and the community. The worth of an activity would not depend on the amount of profit it generates but on its social value.
The CI would make job-sharing attractive, encouraging more people to work but for fewer hours. Those who are happy to live a basic low-consumption life can choose not to work. Such a choice would not be stigmatised as it is now.
A green economy would be “time-rich”. Owning more would no longer be a satisfactory answer to the question of how we live and what we live for. Leisure, education, creativity and community work would be of equal value to paid work.
In a green society decision-making would, as far as possible, remain at the individual and local level and be less bureaucratic. A green society would also aim at the greatest self-sufficiency of communities in energy, food, water and other resources and products. There would however be a democratic national administration whose remit would be the administration of supra-communal concerns (e.g. security, infrastructure, Citizen’s Income, taxation, etc.).
Communities would aim at self-reliance in food through labour-intensive sustainable agriculture, which would need a work force four or five times bigger than for industrial agriculture. Much of this labour would be voluntarily supplied by the community when needed, especially at crucial times in the calendar, such as harvest time. People would also keep gardens and allotments. Children would participate in these activities (an interesting example is the School Harvest Camps during WWII).
Effects of Green Policy
The nuclear family is the result of capitalism’s need for a very mobile workforce. In a green economy parents will no longer have to chase work, and families will become deeply implanted in their geographic community. A network of households, including those of aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends and neighbours will take over many, or most, of the functions now fulfilled by the nuclear family. Indeed there will be little distinction between “family” and “community”. Biological parents will play less of a part in their children’s lives as their children gain independence younger and form bonds outside the nuclear family.
It used to be thought that a woman’s place is in the home. Nowadays, the home is the child’s place. Capitalism has drastically reduced the presence of children in the community, and widened the gap separating the world of children and of adults. A green economy would mitigate or eliminate these factors.
The nuclear family has miniaturised and privatised resources that used to be communally shared. Televisions, cars, washing machines, gardens, sound systems and private book collections are all miniaturised, privatised versions of (respectively) cinemas, buses and trains, launderettes, parks, concerts and libraries. The price of such goods would now reflect their true cost, factoring in the damage their production and distribution causes.
The reduced availability of these luxuries in a green society is hard for minds shaped by consumerism to contemplate. However, this loss has to be balanced against the improvements in quality of life and the environment they would entail. Home- and screen-based living has seen increased isolation and psychological problems, and caused an epidemic of childhood obesity in the West. In a green future, children will return to living active out-of-doors lives, rich in real-life experiences and interactions. They will develop independence at much earlier age than is the norm nowadays.
Children (and adults) will be less vulnerable to consumerism, which thrives on insecurity, isolation, status anxiety, and dissatisfaction. Advertising, as the link between mass production and mass consumption, will be curbed through taxation. Deep involvement in the community will teach children that happiness comes not from what one owns but from relationships, and engagement with the community and nature.
Polluting technologies and industries will be taxed. Cars will be more expensive to buy and run. Moreover, in a green economy work will mostly be in the community. Public transport will replace most private motor vehicles and be either free or so cheap as to make running a car seem perverse. Shops and other resources will be local-scale and situated at the heart of the communities they serve – again reducing the need for cars.
Suburban gardens will be increasingly put to use for food production. However, this reclamation of streets and public spaces from cars, and the re-wilding of the countryside (as a result of the demise of industrial farming, out of town shopping malls, etc.) will provide children with places to play, learn, explore and be away from adults.
In such a time-rich society education should no longer be the exclusive prerogative of the young and will be available to people of all ages. Schools will become multi-generational. Their purpose will be less that of producing workers and consumers than one of nurturing creativity, developing skills, promoting citizenship, and strengthening the community through fostering links between diverse groups of people. Grown-ups and seven-year-olds will pursue their studies and interests in adjacent classrooms; shared learning and creativity between generations will be seen as normal.
Decentralisation and a return to sustainable technologies will make much work more labour-intensive. The increased flexibility of the job market, children’s greater freedom, the legitimation of informal and casual work and reduced competition for jobs will result in the idea of “work” broadening out to include many of the activities open to children, bringing them into the job market. This will contribute to the dissolution of the distinction between “child” and “adult” (a signifier of “adulthood” being participation in the world of work).
Jobs such as light horticultural work, paper-rounds, shop work, car washing, serving in a café, stable work, and certain domestic jobs will become more and more the prerogative of enterprising children. Children will no longer be entirely economically dependent on their parents.
Undoubtedly much of what I have outlined above will, at first, seem utopian: one of late capitalism’s triumphs has been to make us assume that it represents the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution, thus disabling our capacity to imagine better worlds, or that altruism could drive a society.
But my hypothesis is not entirely speculative: in the first part of this essay I mentioned the Growing-up Sexually archive and the observations of various anthropologists and explorers, all of which describe highly communal societies which were tolerant, or approving, of child-sexuality and child-adult intimacy.
Closer to home are the alternative communes, often inspired by ideals of free love, which flourished in the 1960s, where the community played a greater role in its children’s lives than the family. It is no coincidence that these communes now make the headlines mainly through accusations of “child abuse”. Behind these headlines we can maybe perceive how these communes were more accepting of child sexuality and surrounded it with less anxiety and taboo, thus often leading to guilt-free intimacy between its children and adults.
Can paedophobia somehow disappear whilst everything else about contemporary capitalism remains unchanged? Undoubtedly not. To believe so is like believing that by grafting gills into one’s cheeks one can breathe underwater. The paradigm shift required for the acceptance of paedophilia is too radical for this to happen without society and people’s consciousness changing first.
That children and adults can licitly share and express feelings of love and desire for one another should not, of course, be the criterion by which we evaluate a society’s desirability: its ecological sustainability and the quality of life it offers all its citizens are what matter. However, the most humane societies have always been those that treated their children with the most respect. For all but the super-rich such a society is the best hope for the present as well as for future.
Moreover, if climate science is correct it is almost certain that mankind will eventually adopt such policies. Whether mankind adopts them in time is another question.
[i] “Analysing figures from the 2012-13 financial year, the cost of such a scheme is projected at around £276bn per year – just £1bn more than the annual welfare budget that year – making the implementation of a Citizen’s Income close to revenue and cost neutral.”
[ii] Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in The Spirit Level, have shown that unequal societies have a higher degree of sickness, crime and family dysfunction. Where there is little shared experience, the cohesion of society is gravely weakened. Physical and mental health are undermined and relationships are placed under strain if people have insufficient money to maintain modest security and partake in the activities which enable us to have a common lived experience.