The future is green, and liberating for children

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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.

 

Introduction

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.

Principles

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.

Citizen’s Income

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.

Decentralisation

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.

Conclusion

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.

Notes

[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.

Vulnerable shrinks and vicious conscience

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As an empiricist I long ago took against Freud, who was undoubtedly a profound thinker but one far more interested in the glamorous side of his investigations than in the dour, tough stuff that might have established the soundness or otherwise of his conclusions. Like Freud, the best scientists are capable of dazzlingly adventurous leaps of the imagination and grand theories: physics, after all has a Theory of Everything, which seems pretty ambitious. Unlike Freud, though, science is committed to put interesting ideas to the test. Only in that way will incorrect notions meet with the fate they deserve: rejection.

Since his death, some of Freud’s ideas, such as the “weak or absent father” theory of homosexuality, have been developed into testable hypotheses and found wanting. The great man’s many distinguished detractors have included Nabokov, who famously dismissed the founder of “the talking cure” as “the Viennese quack”. For a sustained, devastating exposure of Freud’s “well-documented conceptual errors, relentless apriorism, disregard for counterexamples, bullying investigative manner, shortcuts of reasoning, rhetorical dodges, and all-around chronic untruthfulness”, in the words of reviewer Francine Prose, we can turn to Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend, edited by Frederick Crews.

Despite such onslaughts, the tenets of psychoanalysis developed by Freud, as elaborated and refined by his disciples, still have their adherents. Dodgy concepts including the tripartite development of infantile sexuality (oral, anal and genital stages) and the Oedipus Complex, which at least had the virtue of acknowledging the vital significance of sexuality from birth onwards, have been quietly sidelined in favour of equally unproven but less controversial ideas: modern analysts tend to talk about developmental traumas in terms of object relations theory, which does not put sex at centre-stage. Just as important as the theory, too, has been the mind-set of those who have been attracted to following in the old charlatan’s wake. I called them disciples, and indeed they have been a church: sexually conservative, orthodox psychoanalysis has been heavily hetero-normative until recent times, just like the major authoritarian, patriarchal, monotheistic religions, seeing homosexuality as a perversion.

And insofar as they have deigned to mention the subject in print, which has been not as much as might be expected, psychoanalysts have excoriated paedophilia in extravagantly florid terms. A relatively recent example of this is On Paedophilia, by Cosimo Schinaia, which I am presently in the middle of. A fascinating picture is emerging, in which the therapists come across as certifiably paranoid, raging against the sadistic persecutions they are made to suffer by their intelligent and devastatingly scornful paedophilic patients! Translated from the original Italian, the book tells us about a working group of psychoanalytically oriented psychiatrists and psychologists in Italy, coordinated by the author, who pool their experiences of working with jailed paedophiles and others referred by the courts. In Italy, perhaps, such work is not left, as it largely is in the Anglophone countries, to the robust, no-nonsense, just-do-as-you’re-told, approach of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

It is easy to satirise these shrinks. They seem to come straight out of a Woody Allen movie, railing against their patients and then – what joy of joys, what schadenfreude! – falling out among themselves in a melodramatic storm in a teacup, a mini-maelstrom of neurotic, self-imposed anguish and anger, torment and trauma!

Yes, it is easy to make fun, and perhaps I will do so again if I review the book properly once I have finished it: there is certainly plenty more to talk about. For the moment, though, I feel it is worth focusing on the surprisingly positive potential of psychoanalysis. For those who can bring themselves to believe in it, as with those who believe in a religion, there are benefits, and they work best for true and sincere believers.

You may be surprised to hear that I have just mentioned one of those benefits: the falling out. Well, not the quarrelling as such, but the fact that Schinaia candidly admitted it had happened. The great thing about this is the honesty: analysts aim to examine their own feelings as well as those of the people they analyse: the dynamics of the psychological relationship between the analyst and the analysand are laid bare. They probe not only “transference” – the theorised redirection of a patient’s feelings for a significant other person, such as their father, to the therapist – but also “countertransference”, which recognises the therapist’s feelings towards a patient, which will never be entirely detached and objective. It is an enquiry which acknowledges that the therapist has unconscious feelings and vulnerabilities, just like the patient; and this acknowledgement binds the two together in their shared humanity. This sure beats the divisive effect of CBT, which separates the therapist as a never-wrong authoritarian from his inferior and always error-prone “client”.

Psychoanalysis can only ever be as good as its individual practitioners, of course. The bullies and fools among them will achieve nothing. This still beats CBT, though, which is positively designed to be administered by bullies and fools. They may not all be stupid but they might as well be. This is because they are required to stick rigidly and mechanically to a manual-based programme and procedures.

The English edition of Schinaia’s book carries a foreword by Donald Campbell, a past president of the British Psychoanalytical Association. Despite his eminence, Campbell’s rabid contribution appears to put him firmly among the bullies and fools. I mention him here, though, because he was an analyst at the Portman Clinic, London, now part of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Both clinics, Portman and Tavistock, have a psychoanalytic orientation and have attracted many big names, ranging from John Bowlby,  the esteemed pioneer of attachment theory, to Valerie Sinason, the lunatic proponent of Satanic abuse. So, in quality terms it’s the ultimate mixed bag! The Portman has long been into forensic work with paedophiles but the numbers are tiny: CBT dominates the game.

One of the leading Tavistock figures in the latter part of the last century was Charles Rycroft, author of A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (1968) and Psychoanalysis and Beyond (1985). His most significant role in life, though, (well to me at least!) was to give a less than enthusiastic review of my book Paedophilia the Radical Case, in the Times Literary Supplement. So far so bad, but he was at least a genuine radical, unafraid to challenge conservative colleagues, and even Bolshie in the most literal sense, having been a member of the Communist Party prior to disillusionment over Stalin. He was also a long-time colleague at the Tavistock of R.D. Laing, such a toweringly rebellious character he was known for his school of “anti-psychiatry”, promoting the view that psychiatric treatments are often more damaging than helpful.

It was a MAP, Ben Capel, author of Notes from Another Country, who alerted me a couple of years ago to the fact that radicalism is still an interesting feature of the Freudian tradition, if very much a minority one. Everyone can access it in published works and for the lucky few who encounter an inspired analyst it may even reach them through good therapy.

One such writer/analyst whose name crops up quite a bit in Notes from Another Country is Adam Phillips. A marvellous essay of his appeared recently in the London Review of Books, called “Against self-criticism”. It is an examination of our internal policeman: conscience. Excitingly, he invites us to revolt against its more unreasonable constraints. We know that in society not all laws are good ones, and so it is in our own heads. Conscience is an internalisation of the moral imperatives we grew up with: it is the morality imposed on us by (usually) our parents’ expectations. Allowing ourselves to be utterly bound by it is to make ourselves a slave to the morality of others when we should be thinking for ourselves.

Phillips approaches conscience as Freud did, through Hamlet. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud used Hamlet as a way of understanding what Phillips calls “the obscene severities of conscience”. Hamlet was illuminating for Freud because “it showed him how conscience worked, and how psychoanalytic interpretation worked, and how psychoanalysis could itself become part of the voice of conscience”. Note, here, this psychoanalyst’s implied criticism of conservative psychoanalysis.

The fateful character flaw of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the eponymous hero of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, is his indecision. Honour requires him to avenge the death (by suspected poisoning) of his father, the rightful king. The old king’s throne has been usurped by Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, who has married Hamlet’s mother. But Hamlet hesitates. Conscience holds him back. Freud concludes that Hamlet has an Oedipal desire for his mother and the subsequent guilt prevents him from murdering Claudius, who has done what he unconsciously wanted to do. The loathing which should drive Hamlet on to revenge, Freud wrote, “is replaced in him by self-reproaches, by scruples of conscience, which remind him that he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish.” Hamlet, in Freud’s view, turns the murderous aggression he feels towards Claudius against himself. Freud uses Hamlet to say that conscience is a form of character assassination, whereby we continually mutilate and deform our own character. As Phillips puts it, “We know almost nothing about ourselves because we judge ourselves before we have a chance to see ourselves.”

Adams says conscience is:

“…moralistic rather than moral. Like a malign parent it harms in the guise of protecting; it exploits in the guise of providing good guidance. In the name of health and safety it creates a life of terror and self-estrangement. There is a great difference between not doing something out of fear of punishment, and not doing something because one believes it is wrong. Guilt isn’t necessarily a good clue as to what one values; it is only a good clue about what (or whom) one fears. Not doing something because one will feel guilty if one does it is not necessarily a good reason not to do it. Morality born of intimidation is immoral. Psychoanalysis was Freud’s attempt to say something new about the police.”

The implication for MAPs brought up to regard sexuality as a furtive thing, a guilty pleasure to which children should not be exposed, is obvious. We (and this definitely includes me personally) all too commonly find conscience an unreasonable burden, an unwanted legacy from our parents. It’s the white elephant in the backroom of our minds: try to ignore it as we may, it never leaves us. What radical psychoanalysis may be able to do, though, is to challenge its validity by showing us precisely why we do not need to have a bad conscience over our refusal to be bullied by the dictates of conscience, provided we have a principled alternative – as many of us do.

Crews, F. (ed.) Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend Viking, 1998

Phillips, A. “Against Self-Criticism”, London Review of Books, Vol. 37 No. 5,  5 March 2015 pages 13-16 http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n05/adam-phillips/against-self-criticism

Rycroft, C. “Sensuality from the start”, Times Literary Supplement, 21 November 1980

Schinaia, C. On Paedophilia, Karnac, 2010

 

MOST PEOPLE ARE IGNORANT

Ed Miliband was leader of the British Labour party until it suffered an unexpectedly heavy defeat in the general election last week, whereupon he fell on his sword. One criticism now being levelled at his leadership is that he was too intellectual, a theorist out of touch with the people. He unrealistically tried to convert the voters to his views rather than embrace theirs.

But what if Ed’s views were right and those of the voters were wrong? Everyone agrees he is a clever man, a deeper thinker than most of his opponents, so there is every chance his analysis was far superior to that of the average voter, whose understanding of economics, for instance, is woefully deficient. If they hear the name Keynes they probably think it’s a reference to the sticks teachers used to beat kids with.

Shouldn’t leadership, in a democracy, be about teaching the electorate rather than just pandering to their ignorance? On issues from climate change to child sexuality, it is vital that the public is somehow compelled to listen and learn occasionally. Otherwise we are doomed.

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