Category Archives: Children/Youth

Saving the Planet One Child at a Time: Children, School Strikes and Global Climate Action

Children’s crusades do not necessarily end well.  During the years of armed missions to the Holy Land, when Jerusalem meant something to the sacredly inclined in Europe, children were encouraged to take to the rough and dangerous road as it wound its way towards Palestine.  In 1212, a boy of 12 is said to have begun preaching at Saint-Denis in France.  God had supposedly taken some time to communicate a pressing wish: Christian children were to head to the Holy Land and liberate it from the Infidel.  How they would do so was not clear.

They subsequently starved, suffered deprivation, were killed and enslaved on route to their destination.  The modern student movement against climate change stresses another Jerusalem, that there will be nothing to salvage if nothing is done now.  We are all, in short, for the chop if climate change is not arrested.  As an Oakland high-schooler by the name of Bruke told Wired, “My GPA isn’t going to matter if I’m dead.”  And much else besides.

To such movements can also be added other acts of striking in peaceful protest. Tens of thousands of US students did so in 2018 swathed in the grief and despair of gun shootings, the most immediate being the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.  The National School Walkout of March 14 and the March for Our Lives ten days later had a biting clarity of purpose: students and staff were entitled to feel secure in the teaching and learning environment.  The movement was characterised by much eloquence wreathed in anger and tears, not least of all Emma Gonzalez, who chided those political representatives “who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been ever done to prevent this”.

Criticism of such movements emphasises helplessness and delusion; they are children and so are vulnerable, idiotic and irrelevant.  They are to be taught and have nothing to teach the adult world.  Leave it to the big boys and girls to stuff up matters.  The critics, often estranged from the very political processes they have been complicit in corrupting, see embryos in need of a constructive voice, expressed constructively without inconvenience, not coherent agents keen to affect change.  There is, as Kari Marie Norgaard observed in 2012, a lag between the accumulating evidence of doom on the one hand, and the absence of public urgency, even interest, in response.  “Although not inherently unproblematic,” surmised Norgaard, “local efforts may provide a key for breaking through climate avoidance from the ground up.”

The global climate change strike movement by children, blown and swept along by the efforts of Swedish student Greta Thunberg, has suggested the possible short-circuiting of this dilemma: to combat the global by being stridently engaged in the local.  (Such statements can become feeble mantras but do operate to galvanise interest.)

For Thunberg, the issue of change is unavoidable.  In her COP24 Climate Change Conference speech in December, the plucky youth did not believe that begging world leaders “to care for our future” would make much of a difference.  “They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again.”  What mattered was letting “them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.”

Protests were registered on March 15 across 2,052 venues in 123 countries.  There were 50 in Australia; and protests in every state in the United States.  Often forgotten in these movements is the role played by children themselves in the organisational side of things, often clear, fathomable and inherently coherent.  In the United States were such figures as 12-year-old Haven Coleman of Denver, Colorado, Alexandria Villasenor of New York City, and 16-year-old Israr Hirsi of Minnesota.

Squirrel scholars suggest that these actions represented a “transformation” at play.  Associate lecturer Blanche Verlie claimed that her research revealed how “young people’s sense of self, identity, and existence is being fundamentally altered by climate change.”  It can be tempting to read too much into matters, to see flowers grow in fields initially thought barren.  But there is little doubting climate change as a catalyst of active and noisy encouragement amongst youth, one akin to the anti-war movements of the Vietnam War period.

There has been much finger wagging against the children from, for instance, politicians who just cannot understand how a striking student could ever get employment.  How dare they take time off learning in a classroom while taking to the classroom of the streets?  The spokesman for UK Prime Minister Theresa May, for instance, argued that such protests increased “teachers’ workloads” and wasted lesson time.  Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, in contrast, signalled his preference for the marchers and strikers: “Climate change is the greatest threat that we all face but it is the school kids of today whose futures are most on the line.”

In Australia, New South Wales Education Minister Rob Stokes preferred to brandish the rod of punitive action: both students and teachers would be punished for participating in the March 15 rally.  By all means, find your “voice”, suggested the threatening minister, but avoid doing so during school hours.  For such scolding types, climate change and injustice have strict timetables and schedules, to be dealt with in good, extra-curricular time.

Australian Resources Minister Matt Canavan’s views on the youth climate action movement are childishly simple and representative, suggesting that Thunberg is correct in her harsh assessment.  Recorded in November last year, the minister sees education as an instrumental affair.  “The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue.  Because that’s what your future life will look like […] not actually taking charge of your life and getting a real job.”  Forget the environment’s durability; drill it, excavate it, mine it, drain it and burn it to a cinder.  Australia, and the world, do not need environmentally conscious citizens, merely automata consuming and feeding the commodity markets.  For the likes of Canavan, it is too late.  For the children, the battle to change the beastly status quo is urgent, pressing and inevitable.

Inspired and Inspiring, Young People will Change the World

We are living amongst the largest generation of young people in history; young people who are better educated, better informed and more widely connected than ever before. Around 42% of the world’s population is under 25 years of age, 25% are under 15 – that’s 1.8 billion. The largest group is in South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the median age is only 19, compared to 38 in America, and an ageing 45 in Germany, Italy and other parts of Europe.

This huge army of young people is cause for great optimism; they are more politically and socially engaged and certainly more environmentally aware than previous generations, are less conditioned by ideologies, and despite the widespread notion that anyone under 35 is self-obsessed and uncaring, in many cases they are the ones leading the global charge for change. They abhor dishonesty, don’t trust politicians and rightly believe that unity and tolerance of others are essential to right relationships and social harmony.

Many feel frustrated at the state of the world they have been born into, are angry with inept politicians and unaccountable international institutions, and enraged at the environmental vandalism that is taking place throughout the world. Anger and disillusionment has led to committed engagement among large numbers of young people throughout the world; they swell the ranks of the global protest movement forming the vanguard at demonstrations for action on climate change, demanding social justice and freedom, rational changes in US gun law and an end to austerity and economic injustice.

They formed the driving force behind what were arguably the two most significant social/political movements in recent years: the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, and whereas in the past young people have been less engaged than older generations in voting and party activism, this too is changing – in Britain, for example, the Labour party, with an overall membership of 504,000 – the largest in Europe, has over 100,000 members under 25, and they are extremely active.

As well as demonstrating, working on environmental campaigns and human rights issues the impulse to contribute to the local community is strong, and many act upon it: a survey made by the Royal Society of Arts in Britain found that a staggering “84 percent of young people want to help others,” and that “68 percent of young people have participated in volunteering or other forms of social action.” These statistics reflect the high level of social responsibility that exists in countries throughout the world amongst this generation. The study also revealed that whilst there is a strong desire to bring about large scale change, working locally to support someone in need – befriending, or helping an elderly person with their shopping, for example – is recognized to be of enormous value.

It is a generation brought up with social media and, according to The Millennial Impact Project, they use it alongside traditional forms of participation.  Millennial’s “interest in the greater good is driving their cause engagement today, and their activism (or whatever you want to call it) is increasing.”

Inspired and Inspiring

Appalled by the level of inaction and the scale of the crisis, large numbers of young people have committed themselves to the environmental cause. One of the most inspirational forms of climate change activism is the Schools Strike for the Climate initiated by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg. Following a record-breaking summer, in August 2018 Greta began a solo protest for climate change outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Every Friday since, instead of going to school she sits outside her country’s parliament: she has vowed to “continue to do so until [world] leaders come into line with the Paris agreement [on climate change].”

Apathy is often disguised by arguments of individual inadequacy in the face of the scale of the problems confronting humanity. Well, a loud answer to such feeble excuses is Greta Thunberg’s one-girl protest; following her example hundreds of thousands of school children around the world have staged their own School Strike for the Climate. Although all teaching bodies should support the actions, some don’t, and whilst disappointing, their view is largely irrelevant; what matters is that teachers, along with politicians, big business and the general public pays attention to what these young people are saying: keep fossil fuels in the ground, invest in renewables, live environmentally conscientious lives; it is our future you are destroying, act now before it’s too late.

The man-made environmental crisis is the result of a certain way of life, an approach to living that places enormous value on material wealth, on image, pleasure and success. It is, we are told, a ‘dog eat dog’ world in which only the ‘strong’ survive. This fear inducing view has polluted life, fueling social division and widespread mental health conditions, particularly amongst under 25 year olds. In November 2017 the World Youth Parliament met in Beijing to discuss, ‘Interpersonal Relationships: Keys for a new Civilization’.

In their conference report they call for the creation of a kinder, friendlier society. They extol forgiveness, which they describe as the “most sublime and integral form of love” and make clear their view that the current “competitive culture (which places our goals against the goals of others) and the wrong use of technology” is detrimental to human well being. And they should know: as a result of the ‘competitive culture’ and the pressure to ‘achieve’ – in education, in a career and socially – unprecedented numbers of young people are suffering from anxiety and stress, panic attacks and depression, leading some to self-harm and suicide.

Despite being conditioned into competition by an outdated education system, which is designed to train compliant workers, not free-thinking creative individuals, young people instinctively recognize that cooperation, not competition is an integral part of human nature, and that working collectively for the common good is the best way of dealing with the many challenges facing humanity. It is, in fact, the only way we will overcome the various crises confronting us; unity is the way forward and young people know this.

The future belongs to the 3 billion or so under 25 year olds of the world, many of whom are inspired and inspiring. If we are to collectively overcome the challenges facing humanity we need to listen to what young people have to say, to draw on their energy and dynamism; they are in tune with the times, are overflowing with creativity and are a powerful voice for change.

In Hebron, Israel removes the Last Restraint on its Settlers’ Reign of Terror

You might imagine that a report by a multinational observer force documenting a 20-year reign of terror by Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers against Palestinians, in a city under occupation, would provoke condemnation from European and US politicians.

But you would be wrong. The leaking in December of the report on conditions in the city of Hebron, home to 200,000 Palestinians, barely caused a ripple.

About 40,000 separate cases of abuse had been quietly recorded since 1997 by dozens of monitors from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey. Some incidents constituted war crimes.

Exposure of the confidential report has now provided the pretext for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expel the international observers. He shuttered their mission in Hebron this month, in apparent violation of Israel’s obligations under the 25-year-old Oslo peace accords.

Israel hopes once again to draw a veil over its violent colonisation of the heart of the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city. The process of clearing tens of thousands of inhabitants from central Hebron is already well advanced.

Any chance of rousing the international community into even minimal protest was stamped out by the US last week. It blocked a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council expressing “regret” at Israel’s decision, and on Friday added that ending the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was an “internal matter” for Israel.

The TIPH was established in 1997 after a diplomatic protocol split the city into two zones, controlled separately by Israel and a Palestinian Authority created by the Oslo accords.

The “temporary” in its name was a reference to the expected five-year duration of the Oslo process. The need for TIPH, most assumed, would vanish when Israel ended the occupation and a Palestinian state was built in its place.

While Oslo put the PA formally in charge of densely populated regions of the occupied territories, Israel was effectively given a free hand in Hebron to entrench its belligerent hold on Palestinian life.

Several hundred extremist Jewish settlers have gradually expanded their illegal enclave in the city centre, backed by more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Many Palestinian residents have been forced out while the rest are all but imprisoned in their homes.

TIPH faced an impossible task from the outset: to “maintain normal life” for Hebron’s Palestinians in the face of Israel’s structural violence.

Until the report was leaked, its documentation of Israel’s takeover of Hebron and the settlers’ violent attacks had remained private, shared only among the states participating in the task force.

However, the presence of observers did curb the settlers’ worst excesses, helping Palestinian children get to school unharmed and allowing their parents to venture out to work and shop. That assistance is now at an end.

Hebron has been a magnet for extremist settlers because it includes a site revered in Judaism: the reputed burial plot of Abraham, father to the three main monotheistic religions.

But to the settlers’ disgruntlement, Hebron became central to Muslim worship centuries ago, with the Ibrahimi mosque established at the site.

Israel’s policy has been gradually to prise away the Palestinians’ hold on the mosque, as well the urban space around it. Half of the building has been restricted to Jewish prayer, but in practice the entire site is under Israeli military control.

As the TIPH report notes, Palestinian Muslims must now pass through several checkpoints to reach the mosque and are subjected to invasive body searches. The muezzin’s call to prayer is regularly silenced to avoid disturbing Jews.

Faced with these pressures, according to TIPH, the number of Palestinians praying there has dropped by half over the past 15 years.

In Hebron, as at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a Muslim holy site is treated solely as an obstacle – one that must be removed so that Israel can assert exclusive sovereignty over all of the Palestinians’ former homeland.

A forerunner of TIPH was set up in 1994, shortly after Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli army doctor, entered the Ibrahimi mosque and shot more than 150 Muslims at prayer, killing 29. Israeli soldiers aided Goldstein, inadvertently or otherwise, by barring the worshippers’ escape while they were being sprayed with bullets.

The massacre should have provided the opportunity for Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister of the time, to banish Hebron’s settlers and ensure the Oslo process remained on track. Instead he put the Palestinian population under prolonged curfew.

That curfew never really ended. It became the basis of an apartheid policy that has endlessly indulged Jewish settlers as they harass and abuse their Palestinian neighbours.

Israel’s hope is that most will get the message and leave.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power for a decade, more settlers are moving in, driving out Palestinians. Today Hebron’s old market, once the commercial hub of the southern West Bank, is a ghost town, and Palestinians are too terrified to enter large sections of their own city.

TIPH’s report concluded that, far from guaranteeing “normal life”, Israel had made Hebron more divided and dangerous for Palestinians than ever before.

In 2016 another army medic, Elor Azaria, used his rifle to shoot in the head a prone and badly wounded Palestinian youth. Unlike Goldstein’s massacre, the incident was caught on video.

Israelis barely cared until Azaria was arrested. Then large sections of the public, joined by politicians, rallied to his cause, hailing him a hero.

Despite doing very little publicly, TIPH’s presence in Hebron had served as some kind of restraint on the settlers and soldiers. Now the fear is that there will be more Azarias.

Palestinians rightly suspect that the expulsion of the observer force is the latest move in efforts by Israel and the US to weaken mechanisms for protecting Palestinian human rights.

Mr Netanyahu has incited against local and international human rights organisations constantly, accusing them of being foreign agents and making it ever harder for them to operate effectively.

And last year US President Donald Trump cut all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency, which plays a vital role in caring for Palestinians and upholding their right to return to their former lands.

Not only are the institutions Palestinians rely on for support being dismembered but so now are the organisations that record the crimes Israel has been committing.

That, Israel hopes, will ensure that an international observer post which has long had no teeth will soon will soon lose its sight too as Israel begins a process of annexing the most prized areas of the West Bank – with Hebron top of the list.

• A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi

While State Leaders Make War, Spanish Children March for Peace

Jacaranda schoolchildren marching for world peace

Benalmádena, Spain — Seven hundred and seventy primary and elementary school children, aged three to 12, walked and skipped three kilometers to the main square (Plaza de España) here in this town located in Spain’s Andalusia province, and back to their municipal school, Jacaranda.

On this 30th march for international peace in commemoration of the day that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated (January 30, 1948), the children sang “No to War”, “Yes to Peace”, “Save the Children,” “Friendship Yes, Violence No”. (The event was postponed a week due to a storm.)

They were accompanied by their 29 classroom teachers and about 100 parents and grandparents.

For a week each January, these students study peace, solidarity and friendship values, and how to protect Mother Earth from man-made pollution. The day dedicated to “Save the Children” includes students asking their parents for donations of funds and clothing for poor children. Since 2011-2, they have raised some 7500 Euros ($8500). A committee of teachers and parents decides where to send the donations, sometimes in Spain and sometimes abroad.

The students also make designs for banners and T-shirts. A committee of students and teachers decides what designs are used. The municipal marine sports and water firms donated 3000 Euros to manufacture 1000 T-shirts that the students and teachers wear.

I have participated in hundreds of peace activities but never one where the prime activists are young children. I asked some children and parents what marching for peace means to them.

Ten-year-old Julia made the T-shirt design for last year. “I love peace” is centered on the blue shirt, and “We must all work to create peace” is the co-slogan. All words are in Spanish and English.

Julia tells me, “We can’t get peace in the world without everyone together, building for it. I just thought about that when I drew.”

This year’s T-shirt is pink. A dove is flying leading three children wearing shirts with a peace sign, a heart and a smile, and the words: peace, respect, solidarity, equality, happiness, friendship and love.

Along the march, I meet up with Carmen, Jonathan, Tillie and Dario ages 11-12. Their collective voice speaks gleefully: “Togetherness is beautiful. Racism and machoism are wrong.”

Lise, 4, feels that marching is “fun”. Her teacher adds, “Teaching peace can be fun. Teaching war is not.”

One mother tells me, “We are so grateful for this school, because it focuses on developing a consciousness of peace and friendship, of love, really. We do not make wars; it is the politicians. War for oil. This,” says the parent, opening her arms as to embrace the hundreds of children assembled before the march began, “this is life.” Her husband adds, “Not forming Hitlers and Francos, and those of today’s times.”

A Polish couple moved from their country to Benalmádena, in part to get away from warring conflicts. Carolina and Robert tell me as they march, “We must help create a future, and this school is one way of doing it. Wars are for politicians and the rich. Here the children are stimulated with peaceful thoughts.”

Thirty-year old Carmen walks beside her husband and her father as they follow their two children and grandchildren. “I bring my children to this school because of the values they teach,” Carmen says. “The academic part is OK but the best is the morality that is taught, and done so without authoritarian finger pointing. The teachers let our well-nourished children know that other children in the world die of hunger, others barely live with little nutrition; many live with fear and in violent danger. They are helping our children become conscientious adults. This is humanitarian, this is caring, and one day our children may make a real difference for peace.”

One of those kids, 9-year old Karin, tells me, “We are happy to have our parents help other children no matter where they are.”

At the Plaza de España, the children sing and dance to cheerful songs, waving their arms and stepping in tune. I ask a local policewoman what she thinks of the children’s peace march in the context that her government is killing people in the Middle East. “It is not ‘my’ government. It is the world government making wars. We need more love and peace.”

Three children read manifestos for peace that 6th graders had written in Spanish and English:

Peace needs education with values, behavior and attitudes that allow personal and social harmonia, refusing all types of violence.

Many wars could be avoided through dialogue, reaching pacific agreements that could benefit us all. When it comes down to it, we are all equal human beings, born of a father and mother: tall and short, blond and brown, with round or extended eyes, with different colors of skin.

It is not enough to talk about peace. We must believe in and work for peace. The children and adults of Jacaranda are ‘peaceniks’. Each year we join hands and march through the streets of our beautiful town, traveling a common path of solidarity and joy, offering our grain of sand for peace in the world.

A second statement, read in English by a 12 year-old girl, states:

If you look up the word peace in the dictionary, it speaks about tranquility and non-violence…a synonym might even be a truce. I think Peace is far more than a truce… If we are to achieve peace, we have to make a difference.

Peace is the feeling that everybody wants to enjoy in the world. How do I feel it? When everyone around me in my family, my circle of friends and my neighborhood is happy, eager to love, to accept and relate…then I feel at peace…Peace starts with me, and begins with a smile.

The day’s peace activity ends by freeing doves from a cage, and with tears on many adults’ cheeks.

Jacaranda school’s education

While the school is state funded, it has its own values, not necessarily those of the Spanish state, which wars against several countries in the US-led so-called “coalition of the willing against terrorism”. Nevertheless, the town’s mayors and other members of the town council are always present at the square where students sing and read their manifestos for peace.

Spain’s King Felipe VI recently made a trip to Iraq. He is the first Spanish monarch to visit Iraq in 40 years. He went to encourage his occupying troops in the “cradle of civilization” devastated by the invasion since 2003. The current Iraqi government wants the “coalition of the willing” to leave its war-torn country. Spain has fought beside the US in its wars since 1992 against Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. It warred against Afghanistan from 2002 to 2015 where 102 of its soldiers died.

Before the peace march, I discussed with the school’s principal, Juan Luis Castro, and head teacher, Camino Albillos, how it can be that the state wars against people (who have not attacked and do not threaten Spain) while this public school rejects wars and teaches peace.

Camino explained:

Our 1978 constitution sets down principles of working for peace, and gives public school administrators and teachers the freedom to teach, and to help develop alongside with parents their own religious and moral values.

Here’s my translation of that part of the Spanish constitution’s preamble:

The Spanish Nation, wishing to establish justice, freedom and security and promote the well-being of those who make up the nation, in use of their sovereignty, proclaim the will to…Collaborate in the strengthening of peaceful relations and effective cooperation among all the peoples of the Earth.

The constitution’s Article 27. states:

1. “Everyone has the right to education. Freedom of teaching is recognized. 2. Education shall aim at the full development of the human personality in respect of democratic principles of coexistence and fundamental rights and freedoms. 3. The public authorities guarantee the right that assists parents so that their children receive the religious and moral training that is in accordance with their own convictions. 7. Teachers, parents and, where appropriate, students can intervene in the control and management of all centers supported by the Administration with public funds, under the terms established by law.”

Camino told me:

We teachers learn to teach through our students. We don’t have a particular doctrine but we view all humans in a holistic manner, such as did Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori. Today, it is called emotional intelligence, or creative intelligence. Most teachers want peace. We hope our children will grow to be critical thinkers, not sheep but full humans who question, who are active in finding solutions to problems we have, and to protect the earth. We are an ecological school.

The founders of the school named it after the blue-flowered tree. They placed emphasis on teaching values of peace and solidarity, and using teaching methods formulated by Steiner and Montessori. The founders chose the peace march to mark the day Gandhi was murdered. The UN International Day of Peace (September 21), and the International Day of Non-Violence (October 2) also honor peace efforts and the life of Gandhi.

Principal Luis Castro told me:

Our laws allow our teaching methods and values. Many other schools in Spain practice these ideals and forms as well, though there is no network. The state decides on general curricula. We have the liberty to respect universal values: violence is no solution to conflicts. We do not enter into the particular foreign policies of the various political parties and governments, but we do not justify what they do when using violence and warfare. We say humans must reflect and discuss, empathize with one another, respect humanity and the planet.

Jacaranda morality seems to work for the many thousands of children who have attended the school through its 30 history. “We do not have bullying here, nothing that has required implementing the protocols required for such bad treatment of one another,” concluded Camino. “We have learned from the terrible years of fascism and Franco,” added Juan Luis.

Photos by Jette Salling

“No Love on the Streets”: Knife Crime in Britain

I started carrying a knife aged 12…when I’ve got this [samurai sword] with me I feel safe, scare tactics init – the bigger [the knife] the better…No one breaks the cycle round here – the cycle never breaks.

A teenager in Liverpool made these statements to the BBC. ‘The cycle’ is an ugly pattern of petty disputes, escalation, violence and revenge, a brutal cycle that is destroying the lives of thousands of young people in Britain.

There is something fundamentally wrong with a society when children feel they have to carry deadly weapons in order to protect themselves.

In the year ending March 2018, according to Government figures, there were 40,100 “offences involving a knife or sharp object” in England and Wales, including 285 deaths – a record number. London has seen the highest levels of knife crime in the country; there were 14,700 attacks and half of all homicides by knife took place in the capital.

Such shocking statistics highlight the crisis, suggest patterns and correlations, but reveal little of the root causes; generalizations are riddled with errors and all too often strategies focus on the effects rather than the impelling causes, which pertain to the psychological environment and the collective atmosphere within which people are living, as well as circumstantial conditions.

Trivial disputes, fatal consequences

Victims and perpetrators of knife crime are overwhelmingly young men under 25, many are children, some as young as 12; they come from disadvantaged, poor backgrounds, with few opportunities and little support; absent Fathers are common and drugs are a factor, selling and using. It is a social issue relating more to class than race, although in London the victims are overwhelmingly black, further muddying the waters for those looking for answers within the sea of statistics.

What makes anyone, let alone a child, carry a knife? What leads him to use it and how can it be stopped?

Fear seems a major factor, fear of being attacked and the need, or perceived need for protection; the danger is if you’re carrying a weapon and you’re confronted, there is a temptation to use it. Awez Khan, 17, the Birmingham representative of the youth parliament, part of the British Youth Council, told The Guardian: “I know a lot of people who carry knives. A lot of it is paranoia and fear for their life…they don’t know when they might die and they have to defend themselves. It’s a kill-or-be-killed situation.” In the past knife crime was often a gang-related issue, but while this persists to a degree, police estimate that now “75% of those caught have no connection to gangs.”

Some attacks are unprovoked random acts of violence, which occasionally lead to death or life changing injuries, lives destroyed, families shattered. In other cases, perhaps the highest percentage, petty arguments escalate and quickly become violent feuds, with neither individual backing down for fear of being seen to be weak, and, whereas in days gone by the result might have been a fist fight, now it can lead to a stabbing. Within this category, “social media plays the biggest part”; insults are posted, taunting, denigrating friends, girlfriends or family members; images of weapons, filmed footage of violence, sometimes as it happens, is shared with friends of the victim; cyber bullying that spills over onto the streets within minutes, leading in some cases to loss of life. “A febrile online atmosphere was among factors responsible for rising knife crime, states Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick in The Times newspaper …“social media sites are driving children to commit violence and murders, within minutes…trivial disputes between young people were escalating into murder and stabbings at unprecedented rates.”

According to the Met Commissioner, many children carrying knives had been excluded from school, and “are people who have suffered some kind of adverse experience of a significant sort when they are young, and/or have limited or problematic family lives and parenting – all things that can lead to other negative outcomes, not just serious violence.” The lack of a positive male role model was a consistent factor; many young men, she said, were simply “looking to be loved”.

The risk of a custodial sentence (average four years) is not a deterrent; the majority don’t get caught and as 15 year old Dontae, from south-east London related to the BBC, “people are not scared of jail, [they] would rather risk it than actually get hurt by the weapon itself.” The police are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility and it’s rare that someone will share information relating to an attack with the police: they don’t trust the authorities, don’t want to be seen as a snitch and have no faith in the judicial system. Justice is seen as payback: “My justice is revenge,” a balaclava wearing teenager in south-east London told Channel 4 documentary, On a KnifesEdge. Anger, hate, retribution is the pattern of the streets, and underlying this madness is fear and mistrust.

Stop and Search tactics are used by the Police to take knives off the streets; figures suggest this approach can be effective, but most weapons go undetected and there are not enough police on the streets. Under the government’s austerity program, which is a cruel ideological attack on the poor, police budgets have been cut by 20% since 2010, resulting in the loss of around 21,000 officers. Adult and child social care has also been dramatically reduced, benefits have been effected and according to the Department of Education spending on youth services, clubs, community centers after-school facilities etc. has been slashed by a third since 2016. Such savage cuts inevitably have the biggest impact on the most disadvantaged families: it is not by chance that increases in knife crime have coincided with the reduction in services.

‘When there is fear there is no love’

Violence of all kinds is a social problem a ‘public health’ issue, not simply a criminal activity; it demands early intervention, identifying children who are potentially at risk of falling into crime and providing them with the support they need to ensure they don’t go down a destructive path, and a unified ‘joined-up’ approach with all services cooperating.

This entails sensitive understanding of a person’s life, his/her home environment, mental health, community and education as well as drug/alcohol use/dependency. “We are all committed to the notion that prevention is better than enforcement,” says Commissioner Dick, “which is, after all, the public health approach.” For such an approach to succeed though, it needs investment, not reductions, in social services, education, housing and health care.

A holistic methodology is essential if knife crime in Britain, like violent crime everywhere, is to be reduced and stopped, but if we are to create lasting harmony within society, nationally and globally, underlying causes and the interconnected nature of life need to be better understood.

Violence is the external expression of internal conflict; the key therefore to establishing peace within our world lies in identifying and removing the factors that feed discord – the psychological/sociological conditioning, false values and divisive ideologies.

Harmony within society rests upon there being a degree of inner contentment within those that make up any given community; ‘peace of mind’, according to the Dalai Lama “comes from warm heartedness, this reduces ill-feeling towards others, and reduces distrust.” ‘Warm heartedness’ is a feeling of affection towards others; like cooperation and tolerance, it is a natural part of our shared humanity and spontaneously arises when we move away from self-centered thinking and concern ourselves with the needs of others. When you “help others you get happiness, inner strength and purpose of life.”

Within the construct of contemporary society there are a variety of elements that work against our innate inclinations for the good, and serve to aggravate adverse tendencies like discontent, greed and fear. There is tremendous social injustice: wealth and income inequality, as well as inequality of opportunity, access to culture and influence. Comparison and competition have infiltrated all areas of society and are major negative factors; as His Holiness says, “society based on competition and material satisfaction cultivates fear, and when there is fear there is no love,” and without love the door is open to all that corrupts and poisons a human being. Perhaps unsurprisingly, love is the key to peace of mind and harmonious living; not sentimental or romantic love, but love as that most vibrant force for good, love expressed as sharing, as tolerance, as cooperation, as friendship; “friendship is essential, with friendship comes trust” and where there is trust community can be built, fear dispelled and peace made manifest.

“Instagram Helped Kill My Daughter”: Censorship Tendencies in Social Media

It is all a rather sorry tale.  Molly Russell, another teenager gorged on social media content, sharing and darkly revelling, took her own life in 2017 supposedly after viewing what the BBC described as “disturbing content about suicide on social media.”  Causation is presumed, and the platform hosting the content is saddled with blame.

Molly’s father was not so much seeking answers as attributing culpability.  Instagram, claimed Ian Russell, “helped kill my daughter”.  He was also spoiling to challenge other platforms: “Pininterest has a huge amount to answer for.”  These platforms do, but not in quite the same way suggested by the aggrieved father.

The political classes were also quick to jump the gun.  Here was a chance to score a few moral points as a distraction from the messiness of Brexit negotiations.  UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock was in combative mood on the Andrew Marr show: “If we think they need to do things they are refusing to do, then we can and we must legislate.”  Material dealing with self-harm and suicide would have to be purged.  As has become popular in this instance, the purging element would have to come from technology platforms themselves, helped along by the kindly legislators.

Any time the censor steps in as defender of morality, safety and whatever tawdry assertions of social control, citizens should be alarmed.  Such attitudes are precisely the sorts of things that empty libraries and lead to the burning of books, even if they host the nasty and the unfortunate.  Content deemed undesirable must be removed; offensive content must be expunged to make us safe.  The alarming thing here is that compelling the tech behemoths to undertake such a task has the effect of granting them even more powers of social control than before. Don’t they exert enough control as it is?

While social media giants can be accused, on a certain level, of faux humanitarianism and their own variant of sublimated sociopathic control (surveillance capitalism is alive and well), they are merely being hectored for the logical consequence of sharing information and content. This is set to become more concentrated, with Facebook, as Zak Doffman writes, planning to integrate Instagram and WhatsApp further to enable users “across all three platforms to share messages and information more easily”.  Given Facebook’s insatiable quest for advertising revenue, Instagram is being tasked with being the dominant force behind it.

The onus on production and exchange is on customers: the customers supply the material, and spectacle.  They are the users and the exploited.  This, in turn, enables the social media tech groups to monetise data, trading it, exploiting it and tanking privacy measures in the process.  The social media junkie is a modern, unreflective drone.

In doing so, an illusion of independent thinking is created, where debates can supposedly be had, and ideas formed.  The grand peripatetic walk can be pursued.  Often, the opposite takes place: groups assemble along lines of similar thought; material of like vein is bounced around under the impression it advances discussion when it merely provides filling for a cork-lined room or chamber of near-identical thinking.  All of this is assisted by the algorithmic functions performed by the social media entities, all in the name of making the “experience” you have a richer one.  Far be it in their interest to make sure you juggle two contradictory ideas at the same time.

Instagram’s own “Community Guidelines” have the aim of fostering and protecting “this amazing community” of users.  It suggests that photos and videos that are shared should only be done by those with a right to do so.  Featured photos and videos should be directed towards “a diverse audience”.  A reminder that the tech giant is already keen on promoting a degree of control is evident in restrictions on nudity – a point that landed the platform in some hot water last year.  “This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks.”  That’s many an art period banished from viewing and discussion.

The suicide fraternity is evidently wide enough to garner interest, even if the cult of self-harm takes much ethical punishment from the safety lobby.  Material is still shared.  Self-harm advisories are distributed through the appropriate channels.

Instagram’s response to this is to try to nudge such individuals towards content and groups that might just as equally sport reassuring materials to discourage suicide and self-harm.  Facebook, through its recently appointed Vice-President of Global Affairs, Sir Nick Clegg, was even happy to point out that the company had prevented suicides: “Over the last year, 3,500 people who were displaying behaviour liable to lead to the taking of their own lives on Facebook were saved by early responders being pointed to those and people and intervening at the right time.”

This is all to the good, but such views fail in not understanding that social media is not used or engaged in to change ideas so much as create communities who only worship a select few.  The tyranny of the algorithm is a hard one to dislodge.

In engaging such content, we are dealing with narcotised dragoons of users, the unquestioning creating content for the unchallenged. That might prove to be the greatest social crime of all, the paradox of nipping curiosity rather than nurturing it, but instead of dealing with the complexities of information from this perspective, governments are going to make technology companies the chief censors.  It might well be argued that enough of that is already taking place as it is, this being the age of deplatforming.  Whether it be a government or a social media giant, the same shoddy principle is the same: others know better than you do, and you should be protected from yourself.

Give Children the Vote, Strengthen Democracy

In December 2018 David Runciman, Head of Politics at Cambridge University, made the radical proposal that children as young as six should be allowed to vote in elections to deal with the age bias in contemporary democracies. Allowing children to vote he said, would give a ‘jolt of energy’ to democracy. While the thought of six year olds voting sounds extreme and will no doubt be broadly dismissed, there is a strong democratic argument for lowering the eligible age from 18, which is the standard voting age in most countries, and allowing children to vote.

In response to Professor Runciman’s suggestion The Guardian newspaper asked a group of children “aged 6-12 what [political] policies would get their vote.” Their intelligent, straightforward answers are inspiring and in accord with the views of many of us. Freed from ideology and party politics these children see the issues clearly and speak in an unencumbered way, direct from the heart.

Thomas Atkinson is 10 and lives in Belfast. “The other day I saw someone sitting on the pavement. He looked about 20. Why is that happening? He needs a job and a home – and there are so many jobs that need doing. Like, for example, the environmental problems. There is plastic on the beaches all around Bangor. We need people to clear that.”

Petra Pekarik is 11 and lives in London. She is a Hungarian citizen – “it doesn’t make sense to me that Britain is putting up barriers. I feel the opposite should be happening, and we should be taking barriers away.” She says that in school they talk a lot about fairness, but in society “there are some people who are so special, and other people who don’t even have a home. Sometimes I see people living on the street and I think, why are they there? It’s important because we are all the same: these people aren’t different, they’re people. We are all people.”

And Tom Ashworth, who is 9 and lives in Ambleside: “Climate change is the big issue politicians need to work on…. We can’t just let this happen and do nothing – it’s got to be stopped. We have to stop doing the things that cause climate change. It’s really important right now…. We need to stop wasting food and everything else we’re wasting.”

The only six-year-old spoken to, Wilfie Tudor-Wills from London, said that, “there should be more houses in London. There are a lot of people in this city and they need places to live…. there should be less pollution, because it’s bad for your lungs.” And, given the chance to speak to the UK Prime Minister, Teresa May, he would “tell her to get more people to have electric cars because they’re better for the world. And also I’d like there to be more parks.”

The other children who were questioned gave answers that are just as insightful, but the views of these children, like all children their age go largely unheard. Children under 18 are commonly, and as these children’s comments demonstrate, mistakenly, thought to lack the understanding to participate in current affairs and as a result are denied the most basic democratic right, that of voting in an election; be it local or national. But at 18, everything changes; it is apparently the age when adulthood begins and with it full citizenship. Previously it was 21.

The arguments for excluding children from voting echo those trotted out in the past to ban other groups – women and people of color e.g. They are usually based on the idea that children are intellectually incapable of understanding the issues, are politically apathetic, and that, lacking a mind of their own, they will simply vote for the same candidate/party as their parents. This facile point was used to justify denying women the vote, only in that particular statement of prejudice, it was husbands not parents who it was said would determine the woman’s choice, because, like children, women cannot, or could not, think for themselves! Even if a child does vote in the same way as their parents, as indeed many over 18s do, it does not invalidate the ‘one person one vote’ system and is not a reason to deny him or her the opportunity to participate.

In countries or cities where 16 year-olds have been allowed to vote these justifications of exclusion have proven to be hollow.. Multiple studies show the younger first-time voters are, the greater their participation: The Washington Post related the example of Takoma Park, the first city in America to lower the voting age to 16 (in 2013), where “16 – 17 year olds voted at twice the rate of the voting population.” In the 2016 Scottish Independence referendum 16 year olds were given the vote; they were actively involved in debates and 75% of those eligible to vote actually did so, 20% higher than 18 – 24 year olds. Support for early enfranchisement among the population at large also increased after the referendum – from around a third to 60%. The voting age in Scotland has since been lowered to 16 for all elections.

Whether 16 year olds, or anyone else for that matter, who are given the right to vote actually do so or not, however, should not be regarded as a reason to grant or withhold that right. In most general elections in the UK for example, an average of only 65% of those on the electoral register actually vote, and this is broadly the case in other western democracies.

Young people overwhelmingly support progressive liberal parties; they reject nationalism, embrace people from other countries and are often in the forefront of the environmental movement and calls for social justice. I suggest it is this knowledge that motivates conservative leaning groups of all kinds to resist lowering the voting age.

If representative democracy is to become truly reflective the maximum level of participation by the largest number and broadest range of people needs to be facilitated and encouraged, and this not just in the political sphere, but in all areas of contemporary life. In countries where the voting age has been kept at 18, a huge percentage of the population has no voice of their own; in Britain, which has an ageing population, that’s approximately 17 million young people. This is wholly un-democratic and needs to change.

The concerns and views of young people must be heard, acknowledged and acted upon and they should be granted that most rudimentary of democratic rights – the right to vote. The discussion should be focused on what level to lower the voting age to, not whether it should be reduced. The suggestion by Prof David Runciman that children as young as six should be allowed to vote does indeed seem extreme, particularly in a single step, the age most widely proposed is 16; a process of incremental changes, which can be reviewed, may be most fruitful and children themselves should be engaged in the debate.

Democracy is participation: not only should children be allowed to vote in elections of all kinds, they should have an active role in the management of schools and colleges and the composition of the educational curriculum. Facilitating such participation would not only encourage broader social responsibility amongst young people, it would enrich and strengthen democracy itself.

All Ways of Family Building are NOT Equal and do Not Protect Child’s Rights

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

— Nelson Mandela, Launch of the Nelson Mandela Children Fund, Mahlamba Ndlopfu Pretoria South Africa, May 8, 1995

Is having a baby that results from a loving relationship the same as having a baby being created via a business transaction?

Are a husband and wife with two kids a house and a dog, a single career woman who decides to be inseminated because time is running out for her to be a mother, a family who decides to foster one or more special needs children, and a gay couple who have a child via surrogacy all equal?  Do all of these ways of family building put the needs of the child(ren) before the desires of the adults and are primarily in the child’s best interest? Are all equally accessible to people of all income levels? Is financial means, which allows for multiple options in both controlling reproduction and family building, a good litmus test for parenthood?  Most importantly, do all “family building” options protect the rights of children?

Surrogate

Andy Cohen is the executive producer and host of the Bravo nightly series Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, Bravo’s late night, interactive talk show, and hosts a two-hour live show with co-host John Hill twice a week. He is executive producer of the Real Housewives franchise, host of the television dating show, Love Connection, and a New York Times best-selling author.

When Cohen, fifty, single, and worth an estimated $15 million dollars, recently publicly announced that he was about to become the father of a child being born to a surrogate, the announcement was met with cheers of joy and accolades in the Hollywood community and the public.

Why?  Why is his renting of woman’s body, buying the reproductive services, cheered?  Why does anyone celebrate hiring a woman to act as a human incubator?  Utilizing the services of prostitutes, even where legal, is not publicly announced, cheered, or celebrated.  If one can afford it and enjoys it, why do we not share their pleasure in paying to have a brief intimate relationship and be happy for them?  Why does society condemn one and applaud the other? Yes, it is the impending fatherhood that is being celebrated, but does becoming a father make it so very different and justify the means? Where is the concern of those cheering him on for a child brought into the world to be raised by a man old enough to be his or her grandfather? Does his wealth make that OK, too?

Why has having a baby by any means become socially acceptable and a source of pride and joy? Please stop and think about this before having a knee jerk reaction. Andy Cohen is not adopting a child languishing in an orphanage in order to fulfill his desire to be a single dad. He is creating a human being from purchased gametes and having it gestated in a rented womb. The child will be motherless and live out his or her life knowing only half of its genetic medical history.  Why celebrate that? Because it is his choice?

Why celebrate choice when creating a human being who has no choice in the matter? Think about that.  Are children just “accessories” as has been suggested to describe celebrity adoptions?

There was a long time in our social history when having a child while single was a shame. Social workers and religious leaders deemed that children needed a mother and a father.  One experiencing such a socially unacceptable event as being pregnant outside of marriage was scorned, hidden away, and expected to hand the baby over to married strangers rather than subject the child to being raised as an illegitimate bastard.  Those were backward times and it is good that in America we no longer chastise single moms or their offspring.  It’s also good that gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women are, for the most part, no longer subjected to hiding their truth.

But is there such a thing as going too far in our acceptance of differences when it comes to children and family creation?  Is an “everything goes” attitude that allows men, women, single or coupled, of any age to decide from a menu of options which way to create or obtain a child that suits them, good for the children?

Should society prioritize the “rights” of adults longing to be parents over those of children?  Is having a child – by any means – a “right” at all? In fact, despite the pain of infertility and the very real longing to parent, there is no right to have a child. Gay or straight, black, brown, or white, married or single, there is no right to a child via any means. No right to adopt and no right to pay for and use anonymous reproductive technologies. No one “owes” anyone a child and no one is more “deserving” of another’s child by virtue of having more material advantages.

Surrogates

Let me state unequivocally that it matters not one iota to me what Andy Cohen’s sexual preferences are. While I have concerns for the child a single 50-year-old man plans to raise, I would be equally opposed to the use of surrogacy if he were a married man of 50, or a woman of 30. I come at this issue as a human rights activist all of my adult life. I have been part of or supported sit-ins for civil rights, anti-war marches, gay pride parades, Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and immigration reform that recognizes a path to citizenship and provides a safe haven for refuges.

From that position of concern for social justice and equality, I focus first and foremost on the rights of those humans who are THE most vulnerable among us.  More than women, more than people of color, and more than members of the LGBT community – all of whom experience discrimination and special circumstances which make them vulnerable – the most vulnerable humans of all are children. Children of all races and genders from birth until adulthood have zero agency, power, or control of their own. They are helplessly at the behest of adults to care for them and provide for their safety. It is thus that society provides safety nets for children because of their intrinsically vulnerable state. We set age limits on their right to drive and consume alcohol and consent to sexual activity, all to protect them from harm.  Does not society need to likewise cautiously weigh the best interest of children being created to meet the desires of adults eager to “have” one?

Laws do, in fact, limit the ways in which people can obtain children. It’s a crime to steal or kidnap the child of another. Even if a child were found wandering the streets alone, one cannot simply snatch it up and claim ownership or parenthood. Nor is it legal to buy a baby from an expectant mom or mother no matter how overwhelmed or incompetent, neglectful, abusive, or indifferent to her child she may be (though both surrogacy and adoption laws – in many jurisdictions – allow payment of “expenses,” a practice which is far too lax and often only semantically differs from baby buying).

Society also steps in when married couples with children divorce and custody of their children is disputed. When such cases can become contentious to the point where family court judges must rule, every state in America uses the same criterion:  the best interest of the children comes before those of any of the adults who may have selfish or other motivation that is not deemed best for their child(ren).  Indeed, social services, a.k.a. child protective services, can step in and remove children from any parent(s) deemed unfit. (In fact, they are guilty without any trial or ability to prove their innocence.) This is another example of limitations set on an assumed “right” to parent.

Adopters are (theoretically, at least) vetted in an effort to screen out potential abusers who might use that means to acquire victims. But surrogacy by-passes all such home studies allowing only the ability to pay as the sole criterion. There are no gatekeepers to protect the children.  No courts. No social workers involved in a decision like that of Andy Cohen to become a father by paying someone to risk their life being his handmaid.

Handmaids

Adeline A. Allen found that:

Gestational surrogacy, a contractual arrangement between commissioning parents and the woman who carries the baby in pregnancy (the birth mother), is big business. . . Although it is a deep-seated human desire to have a genetic child, the absence of whom can be deeply disappointing and painful, surrogacy contracts inherently dehumanize the birth mother and child.

Klein, R (2017) says that:

Pared down to cold hard facts, surrogacy is the commissioning/buying/renting of a woman into whose womb an embryo is inserted and who thus becomes a ‘breeder’ for a third party.

These concerns are in part why surrogacy – paid or unpaid – is banned or restricted in many countries. France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Bulgaria prohibit all forms of surrogacy; while in the UK, Ireland, Denmark, and Belgium, surrogacy is allowed only when the surrogate mother is unpaid, or only paid for reasonable expenses. Such restrictions are to protect women from being exploited by allowing their bodies to be “rented” and to stop what is akin to ordering and purchasing a baby. Bioethicists and feminists argue that it’s unethical to build businesses that rely on women’s reproductive capacities as breeders. Such bioethicists believe that “selling pregnancy as a service is untenable because it puts a price on human body parts and life. Commercial surrogacy, they note, results in the devaluation of women and children and the eventual degradation of society.”

Stop Surrogacy Now, an organization opposing surrogacy goes further stating:

Surrogacy often depends on the exploitation of poorer women as brood mares. In many cases, it is the poor who have to sell and the rich who can afford to buy. These unequal transactions result in consent that is under informed if not uninformed, low payment, coercion, poor health care, and severe risks to the short- and long-term health of women who carry surrogate pregnancies.

New Beginnings Surrogacy Services LLC , a surrogacy business that matches paying clients with women willing to be paid to provide them with a child, recognizes that:

Pregnancy and child-bearing are emotionally fraught topics. When the process takes place between two individuals privately, much is at stake. Add another individual to the mix as a surrogate carrier, the situation is exponentially complicated. Because of these tangled issues the United States is quickly becoming one of very few countries allowing surrogate pregnancies.

Wombs are not simply interchangeable. Vivette Glover, MA, PhD, DSc, (2011), for instance, discovered that:

The importance of development during the fetal period is well established with regards to the association between the baby’s growth in the womb, and later vulnerability to physical disorders such as cardiovascular disease and other aspects of metabolic syndrome. It is now becoming clear that environmental effects on fetal development are important with respect to emotional, behavioural and cognitive outcomes too. Animal studies have shown that stress during pregnancy can have long lasting effects on the neurodevelopment of the offspring.

The effects of maternal stress during pregnancy have long been extensively studied and recognized. Commercial surrogates are carefully screened to accept that the child they are carrying is not theirs. Surrogates and expectant mothers matched in private adoption are counselled to not think of the baby they are carrying as theirs, creating a huge stress on the physiology of pregnancy, especially for the neonate who has not signed nor consented to any contract and does not understand but suffers from the withdrawal of emotional attachment.

This dichotomy between the physiological hormonal reaction to the pregnancy for mother and fetus and the mother’s attempt to do what she has been told to do create a major and stressful conflict. Body and mind are in battle creating many stressful hormones.

Infant brain

The one-sided legal contract that binds surrogates to conditions such as having to abort under certain circumstances, does not take into account that both the host mother and newborn suffer separation trauma. The pregnant woman’s body produces hormones that create bonding and milk that will go unused.  The fetus becomes accustomed to the sounds, smells, heartbeat, and rhythm of the womb in which he grows and then experiences separation trauma.

The lifelong harm of newborn separation trauma is well documented.

It takes about 45 minutes for an infant separated from her mother to go into shock. [Primal Wound rage at the separation]. After rage comes despair then shock. This helplessness turns to hopelessness and a belief that the world is not safe. One cannot trust. Defenses against any future reoccurrence of these traumas [possible abandonment] are being put into place, many of which are almost impossible to eradicate from the psychological/neurological system.1

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, notes an awareness of “the profound impact of maternal separation on the infant” and adds that: “We knew that this was stressful, but the current study suggests that this is major physiologic stressor for the infant.”2

Dr. Sunderland (2015) explains that if separated, the infant has no language to ask why, express loss-abandonment, and goes on to explain that adolescents and teens who experience early relational (pre-language) separation are “way overrepresented” in counseling.

Catherine M. Lynch PhD, JD notes:

Minutes after birth, a baby can pick out his or her mother’s face – which he has never seen – from a gallery of photos… Their cries of pain are authentic. Babies react to the voices of their mother immediately after birth in a way they do not to the nurses present. Babies turn their heads and wriggle toward the mother’s breast following the scent of their mother’s milk. The baby has in no way, emotionally nor psychologically, separated from this mother: to the baby the mother is still “part of the Self, that core-being or essence of oneself which makes one feel whole.

Lynch also reports:

We assert that in the short term after birth, the loss of the birthing mother is suffered as a trauma: that babies are not psychologically nor emotionally separate from the mother, nor are they ready to separate physically from their mother. We testify that this premature maternal separation trauma’ is experienced as a profound loss of self as the baby instinctively sees their mother after labour, to see the nipple and suckle but instead experiences the mother, that part of the baby’s sense of itself as vanished, and felt as a kind of death.

We testify that this foundational profound experience of loss has long-term effects: in fact, life-long effects because the loss has occurred before long-term conscious memory has formed to help process the experience.

In addition, surrogacy, such as that employed by Andy Cohen, involves more than “just” purchasing the services of a “carrier” woman’s womb for nine months. It involves purchasing eggs. Both of these transactions pay people to risk their health and their lives in order to produce children with unknown genetic medical history, thus risking the lives of the children who have no say in any of it. Some amount of harm can be reduced by allowing the child to have a relationship with or at least know his or her surrogate mother. Allowing surrogacy ignores this documented damage.

Children born as a result of any anonymous third-party reproductive technology such as purchased egg or sperm are intentionally created orphans without any way to find their biological kin. Even if DNA can help them unravel their health risks, they are at risk for committing unknowing incest, especially when an infertility clinic services thousands of clients in the same geographic area. After all, one might easily feel an attraction to someone with similar traits or features.

Should a humane society put the rights of helpless youngsters first and foremost before those of any adults? Will we look back on this time in our nation’s history with the same disdain we now view the ostracization of single mothers and members of the LGBT community? Where do children’s rights fall in relation to the rights of all these others?

The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) provides more rights for children than our U.S. Constitution but the US is the only nation not to have ratified the UNCRC and neither document addresses a right not to be contracted for or created via the sale of their genetic material or the rental of the womb they are gestated in nor a right to know their progenitors and their genetic medical history.

Will we continue down this path and invent artificial wombs, further denying neonates’ needs and creating human commodities?  Are we totally obsessed with capitalism, consumerism, and entitlement of those who can afford to buy whatever they want that we are willing to ignore the harm?  Or will we reverse this path and put the rights of children first and truly become a great and humane nation instead of a nation that caters to those who can afford to buy whatever they want –  even a human child?

  1. Nancy Verrier, Coming Home to Self
  2. Infant separation trauma has neurological effects documented by Allan Schore.

The Plight of Children in a Neoliberal World

The New York Times wrote Christmas Day that an 8-year old Guatemalan boy died in US Border Control custody. The circumstances are not clear, or are simply not reported. A month earlier, a 7-year old girl, also from Guatemala, died also in US Border Control custody. Here too, the circumstances are not revealed. How many more children, not mentioned by any media, or any statistics have already perished, trying to make their way to a better future?  A better future, because their real and beloved future in their own countries has been miserably destroyed by the US empire’s imposed corporate abuse and fascist-like dictatorships. But who cares? They are just children of illegal immigrants; children separated from their parents to dissuade parents to migrate to the US of A.  Welcome to paradise of hell!

Currently a large portion of the US Government is shut down, due to a budget dispute between President Trump and the ultra-right wing of the Republican Party breathing down his neck and the Democrats. At stake are US$5 billion for a Border Wall Trump requests as part of the general budget, and the Democrats refuse to sign-off on it. The Border Wall would have countless nefarious and more serious killer effects. More kids in border custody, some dehydrated, some simply exhausted from the long journey, some sick, all separated from their parents, maybe for good, and neglected by US Authorities, and most of them just simply left to their plight which, in many cases, may be death.

Welcome to the Land of the Free, the land of exemplary democracy!

Are Trump and his handlers murderers? Yes, they are. There is absolutely no doubt. Not just for the abject, inhuman abuse of migrants and migrant children, but for killing children and adults in the ever-increasing number of wars and conflicts around the globe, waged and initiated by the US, NATO, and the European puppets’ armies. He,Trump, could stop them at once. He may risk his life, but somebody who aspires to such high office must take risks. Besides, his life may be at stake for many more reasons. Enemies abound. A life is just a life, highly precious, though, to be saved by all means, but killing wantonly millions of children – the future of civilization – what is that if not a crime of the very, very highest degree, a crime of unfathomable dimensions, a crime that should be punishable by – well, let’s just call it by a war crimes court à la Nuremberg.

If someone would tell Trump that he is a murderer, would he grasp it? Would his conscience kick in and make him realize what he
is doing, he the all-powerful, who could stop it all? Or would he simply call his secret service to arrest you and put you behind bars for insulting him, albeit, telling him the truth?  We may never know. I have asked a similar question about Obama. How can they sleep at night? Do they take a pill that eradicates their conscience, their human brain power?  I truly wonder. It’s been known forever that power intoxicates. But to that extent? No repenting, not even after the four- or eight-year’s tour of duty?  No. Rather collect astronomical talking fees, cash-in on the power of indiscriminate killing.

Trump’s predecessors for hundred-plus years back belong to the same clan of criminals. Their crimes have become the new normal. The west watches over their killings on TV with media reports that banalize war and war death as normal, because war is war where it belongs to. And it’s so profitable. It’s the industry of killing – killing babies and their mothers, adolescents, starving them to death, destroying their systems of minimal hygiene – Yemen – a case in point; Syria is in the same league, Afghanistan, Iraq — the list is endless. Hundreds of thousands of children were killed and are still being killed in the world’s longest war, seventeen years and counting in Afghanistan. Nobody seems to care. Afghanistan, one of the resource richest countries on earth, has no future; not as long as it is dominated by greedy, murderous western powers, ahead of all – the corporate and military US of A.

Killing is the name of the game. And mind you, this killing spree is driven by a blood-thirsty elite of bankers, pharma-kings, weapon industrialists, GMO-agri-businesses, hydrocarbon kingpins – a dark deep-state elite that feeds on the idea that the world is over-populated and must be reduced by factors of thousands, so that this small elite may survive much longer on the ever-diminishing resources of Mother Earth.

This is no joke. Infamous top war criminal, Henry Kissinger, propagated this idea already in the 1960s as a prominent member of the Rockefeller clan, called “Bilderberg Society”. The Bilderbergers’ objective Numero Uno is just that – reducing the world population by any means. War is one of them. And who to target best?  Children, of course. They are the gene-bearers of future generations. If gone, there are no off-springs, nobody to lead the world into a better future, a future of peace – yes, a future of peace, because these children have known war and would most likely opt for a different set of life values.

And imagine the suffering of these children until they eventually succumb to death?  Many without parents, without shelter, food, health care, let alone minimal education, being exposed to the abuses of humanity – unpaid hard labor, rape, diseases. The west not just watches on, but helps their plight along by supplying weapons, bullets, bombs to those who do the killing.

The western public takes it as, well, the new normal. We can’t imagine a world without war, a world in peace. That’s the extent to which we have been indoctrinated. And as we live in comfort what is easier to believe than what we are told by the presstitute? No worries, our leaders (sic) do the right thing; we are safe. And just in case there is any doubt, the governments concerned ‘launch’ a ‘false flag’ terror attack, justifying more severe crack-downs on the population to, indeed, keep them safe by militarization of society, all the while continuing killing children with their mothers and relatives, children alone, children on the move as refugees, children as slaves, children uncounted by any statistics.

Trump, yes, he is a murderer. And the Border Wall is a murder weapon. Assassins are also Trump’s predecessors, not least Obama, who knowingly killed thousands of children through his extra-judiciary drone attacks – and let’s stress this – of which he boasted to personally approve each and every one of these drone killings. Clinton killed Haitians by the thousands, many of them children, through his forced “free” trade agreements, giving US corporations access to child labor, miserably paid child labor, which was and is nothing more than legalized enslavement, often leading to impoverishment, famine, disease and death.

When will justice be done? Or, are we talking about justice ‘after death’? Are we talking about a collective Karma that will eventually pull our entire civilization down the drain into an inescapable abyss, giving room to a new beginning?

• First published at New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

In Defense of the Human Individual

While it is very late in the life cycle of homo sapiens, with extinction now due to consign us to Earth’s fossil record I would like to make a belated pitch for the importance of the human individual and why nurturing each individual’s uniqueness is so important even if it is now probably too late.

‘Why are you writing about this?’ you might ask, adding that many people accept that each one of us is unique, important and deserves the opportunities and support necessary to live a fulfilling life according to our own culture and choices. It is just the sexists, racists, bigots (religious and otherwise), upper class, governments, corporations, members of the global elite, and some other categories of people, as well as many organizations, particularly those that are violent, that do not.

Well, I wish that this were true, but I am troubled by the overwhelming evidence that suggests it is not. In fact, from my own observations and investigations, I see virtually no evidence that anyone really works to actively nurture the uniqueness of individual human beings. The whole purpose of socialization is to terrorize the child into surrendering their unique individuality so that they become like everyone else.

Of course, you might counter my claim by noting that socialization is necessary to make the child fit into their society but once they have done so, they can make certain choices of their own. This particularly applies once the individual is an adolescent or an adult when, for example, they can choose their own school subjects (from the range offered), their work (from the employment options available), decide for whom they will vote to govern them (from a narrow selection of individuals and political parties) if they live in a ‘democracy’ and, if they work hard enough at socially-approved employment and thereby accumulate enough wealth while living in a relatively wealthy industrial society, they can also choose the foods, clothing, housing, entertainment and travel options they will consume.

Needless to say, to children we do not even offer this parody of ‘freedom’ whether they live in an impoverished country where many of these opportunities are not available or even if they live in a wealthy industrialized one. Under the unending threat of violence (usually labeled ‘punishment’ to obscure from ourselves that we are using violence) by parents, teachers, religious figures and adults generally, children are coerced into doing what we believe is in their ‘best interests’ as we define them. We do not listen to children so that they can tell us what they need in order to travel their own unique life journey.

You might argue that children do not have this capacity to tell us what they need. But this is not my experience and I wonder if it is really yours. Most parents are ready to complain about the enormous effort (that is, violence) it takes ‘to train a child to do as they are told’; that is, to obey the orders of all adults in all contexts.

But because each adult, when they were a child, was terrorized into unconsciously accepting the importance of obedience, only the rarest individual ever reaches a point in life where they are able to consciously reflect on their own childhood and ask fundamental questions about it. Questions such as these: ‘Why do I believe that obedience is so important? And is it?’, ‘Is terrorizing a child into obedience really the best way to raise a child?’ and ‘What would happen if I listened to a child and let them guide me on the support they need to become their own unique Self?’

Tragically, it is that most hallowed of institutions – school – which I call ‘prison for children’ where much of the damage is done. Designed to terrorize children into obedience and conformity on the basis that ‘one size fits all’, school destroys the physical, sensory, intellectual and emotional capacities of children churning out individuals with near-zero capacity to feel anything profound, think creatively and behave powerfully with integrity.

That is, we take the uniquely gifted baby at the moment of birth and turn them into an individual who has multiple lifetime disabilities, physically, sensorily, intellectually and emotionally.

Of course, this suits governments and those corporations who want vast quantities of cheap labor to work as soldiers, in a factory or at one of the other dangerous and/or meaningless jobs that qualify as ‘employment’ in the modern economy. But before you conclude that it is only working class employment that is in this category, only the rarest of professionals, in any industry, has the capacity to feel deeply, think genuinely creatively (as distinct from within the narrow parameters of their profession) and to act powerfully with integrity. In short, those who work 8-5, five days (or more) a week, doing what others trained them to do at University or elsewhere, are simply being better rewarded for surrendering their soul as a child.

But, unfortunately, it is not school that does the most damage. All children within the childhood home experience extensive ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence, and many experience ‘visible’ violence as well.

The inevitable outcome of this violence is that the child suppresses their awareness of the feelings that would have guided them to behave most functionally in each and every circumstance of their life (including about whether or not to attend school). Moreover, a consequence of suppressing their awareness of these feelings is that the child is left with an (unconscious) legacy of fear, self hatred and powerlessness, precisely because they have been terrorized into suppressing their own Self-will and obeying the will of another.

But because these feelings of fear, self hatred and powerlessness are very unpleasant to feel, and the child has never been given the opportunity and support to focus on feeling them, the child will unconsciously learn to project their fear, self hatred and powerlessness as fear of, hatred for and a desire to exercise control over individuals within ‘legitimized victim groups’. For brief explanations of these phenomena in particular contexts see, for example, ‘Islamophobia: Why are So Many People So Frightened?’, ‘Why are all those Racists so Terrified?‘, ‘Understanding Self-Hatred in World Affairs‘ and ‘Why Are Most Human Beings So Powerless?’

So by the time the child is forced to attend school – no free choices about this, you may have noted, with homeschooling (to an externally-imposed syllabus) only marginally less violent – they have already been terrorized into submission, doing what they have learned is least terrifying and, hopefully, also gains them approval by adults.

Thus, virtually all children are utterly powerless to perceive the world clearly, analyze it, make intelligent and moral choices about how to respond, and to then behave powerfully in doing so. And a decade, more or less, of school makes sure that only the rarest of individuals survives to achieve some version of their evolutionary potential, which required a nurturing, not terrifying, social environment.

In short, this person is not an individual with an unshakable sense of their own self-worth who, as a result, inherently values the worth of all others. They are simply a person who has been terrorized into conformity with a set of localized norms by the significant adults in their life.

At its worst, the outcome is an adult who is so devoid of a Self that they identify with other similarly and equally damaged individuals and then violently attack people in ‘legitimized victim groups’. This individual might be a prominent political leader who wages war against other national groups that are ‘different’; it might be a corporate executive who exploits people in other parts of the world who are ‘different’; or it might be an ‘ordinary’ person who hurls abuse at someone in their neighborhood who is ‘different’.

But the most common outcome is those who are simply too scared and powerless to respond meaningfully to the violence in our world and particularly the extinction-threatening assault on Earth’s biosphere.

And so, at this point in human history, it is extraordinarily difficult to get the typical human being to focus their attention on reality (including military, economic and ecological reality), astutely observe the phenomena presented, analyze the evidence in relation to it, devise (or seek out) a thoughtful strategy to resolve any problem or conflict that has arisen without resorting to violence, and to then behave appropriately, powerfully and with integrity in response.

Hence, instead of nurturing emotionally and intellectually resourceful and resilient individuals who are engaged with the world and capable of identifying and grappling powerfully with problems and conflicts early so that they do not spiral out of control, we are now faced with a last-ditch fight to avert our own extinction with most people still living in the delusion that we have an ‘end of century’ time frame. How intelligent is that?

So can we get out of this mess?

I don’t know and, frankly, I doubt it. But if you want to be part of the effort to try, consider making ‘My Promise to Children‘, which particularly requires the capacity to listen deeply to children so that we start to nurture each child to become the extraordinarily powerful individual that is built into their genetic potential.

And we don’t have to settle for just improving how we relate to children. We can improve our own functionality and access our conscience and courage too. How? See ‘Putting Feelings First‘.

If you are following the evidence in relation to the imminent extinction of human beings – see articles above – rather than the garbage published in the corporate media, and want to respond powerfully, consider joining those participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth‘.

You might also like to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘ and/or participate in a strategically-focused nonviolent campaign on a crucial issue related to conserving the biosphere.

So how important is the human individual? In the context of life on Earth at the current time, I simply respond with ‘What is more important?’

We can do nothing about our fate if we do not value, above all else, the human individual and their potential. Including our own. This potential is difficult to nurture; it is easily destroyed.

But, as Mohandas K. Gandhi once observed in one of his many memorable lines: ‘The individual is the one supreme consideration.’

And remember, if the challenge to honour the human individual and to act powerfully yourself (as vital parts of our strategy to avert human extinction) sounds daunting, Gandhi also noted that: ‘Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.’

In essence, the foundation of any strategy for human survival must be the powerful individual. It is this individual who will mobilize some of those around them simply by making their own life-enhancing behavioural choices consciously and courageously.