On Choice, Punishment, and the Color of Lipstick
"Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive."
--C. S. Lewis
The year was 1995, and it looked as if the United States was about to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, along with just about every other country on Earth. Hillary Rodham Clinton was championing the cause of children's rights, to the chagrin of Republicans. Then came theoconservative howls about "parents' rights" and "family values" and the traditional family order of Western civilization. Teen-agers were accused of being wayward, and the Millennial children who were now becoming teens were argued to need a firm hand to "guide" them. Bill Clinton drummed up support for curfews on the streets and uniforms in public schools. School rules became stricter, and schools began targeting ethnic minorities, neurodivergent (ADHD, bipolar, Asperger's, Tourette's, OCD, and so-called ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) and conduct disorder) students, and goths. Columbine led to a scapegoating of video games, goth culture, and youth in general, and that deadly school shooting by the oft-bullied Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold taught adult authority figures the wrong lesson: kids need strict rules, kids currently have too much freedom, kids who are "different" are dangerous and are to be viewed with suspicion at every corner. Algorithms were developed to identify the high-schoolers most at risk for shooting up their schools. Schools started enforcing zero tolerance against sharp objects in students' pockets, requiring clear backpacks, conducting warrantless locker searches, and even banning sunglasses, all in the name of "protecting" students . . . or at least protecting the majority.
In November of 1996, USA Weekend did a survey for teens across America to fill
out, dealing with teen rights. When the results came in, the newspaper spun the results of the "Teens and
Freedom" poll to announce: "An exclusive national survey shows a surprising number of teens want some limits in their lives." Inside, the survey results page showed the questions asked in the poll; on 17 out of 25 questions asking teens to choose between freedom and restrictions, more teens took the pro-freedom position than the anti-freedom position (for instance, 83% opposed school uniforms, 70% opposed Internet restrictions, 64% opposed V-chips, 56% opposed schools banning body piercing). And yet the three statistics announced on the cover were than 30% supported Internet restrictions (a
minority, but they seemed to be emphasizing the fact that it was more teens than people would
expect), 50% were in favor of curfews, and 75% said schools should ban clothes with "gang
symbols". Of the six subheadlines on the first two pages, five send a "teens support rules" message: "Teen-agers acknowledge they need and want rules -- even if their freedom is curtailed"; "Teens are
most willing to sacrifice freedoms in matters of safety and health"; "Rules at school designed to protect
students also receive strong approval"; "Some censorship is all right"; and "Teens show a conservative streak". In the first two pages of the article on the survey's findings, a photo on the left showed
two teens, both from Kansas, described by their anti-freedom views: a boy who believed students
should have to stand for the national anthem and a girl who supported banning tattoos on teens. Even with the unscientifically self-selecting sample, the winning side for each of the questions was usually the side in favor of youth rights. However, these were downplayed as much as possible by the indomitable spin of the journalism. And on page 26, Tipper Gore had a roundtable discussion about rights from seven
teens, one teen from each of seven panethnicities selected; despite the diversity in ethnicity, there was little diversity in views, as most of the seven spoke up strongly for curfews, school uniforms, piercing restrictions and criminalization of teen drinking. At the end of the roundtable, Ms. Gore gushed preachily: "It seems like there's a resounding affirmation that rules in general are pretty good things. We do learn to live by them . . . They're a guidepost for parents and families to go by." The Convention on the Rights of the Child never did get passed.
All the spin journalism of the "Look, teens are good little authoritarians!" industry couldn't change the fact that most of these restrictions left the majority of teens from the early part of the Millennial Generation feeling psychically hurt. And they often did quite tangible damage to undeserving teen-age victims, such as the high school boy named Matt who said "Only four days left", meaning only four days until his sixteenth birthday, and ended up getting reported by a classmate who misinterpreted it as meaning only four days until he shot up the school. Other students stood up for Matt, but in the end he got expelled and the court upheld his expulsion on the grounds that his "Only four days left" sentence had "scared" people. Public school students watched their peers get expelled for starting websites -- from their home computers -- that criticized their schools. Millennial teens were also frequently the victims of "youth profiling" by cops.
And then came September 11, 2001. Baby Boomers (born 1943-1957), Jonesers (born 1958-1963), and Xers (born 1964-1978) started calling for racial profiling of Arab-Americans, being required to carry a national ID card on one's person, and often even restrictions on the freedom to speak out against the war or George W. Bush, all in the name of the new buzzword of "homeland security". Fox News famously announced that "Americans prefer security to liberty, 2-to-1". But Millennial high school and college students? The same ones who USA Weekend reassured us supported curtailment of freedom if it was in the name of protecting them? In a Harris Interactive Poll of American teens taken a mere week after September 11, 2001, only 3% said they would give up the right to speak their feelings about the government if it prevented something like this from happening again. 32% would give up the right to own a gun later in life, only 3% would give up freedom of religion, only 14% would agree to having their phone calls spied on by the government, and 78% would not pay higher taxes even if would prevent another 9/11. True to a generation that often snickered that the real motive of the war was oil, only 43% of boys and 19% of girls supported a war in Afghanistan if innocent civilians would be killed . . . very different from the answers the adults of 2001 gave to the same question. A post-9/11 poll of Americans 18+ (mostly Xers, Jonesers, and Boomers) showed 60% of respondents saying they would support going to war with Afghanistan even if there were "thousands of civilian casualties"! Young Millennials' attitudes after 9/11 were hardly surprising: teens opposed authoritarian measures and a U.S.-centric doctrine of killing the "Other" because it was their generation who knew firsthand the sting of having liberty curtailed and paternalistic punishments meted for the cause of "safety" and "protection".
Paternalism, the belief that the freedom to choose needs to be restricted and consensual actions punished if said restriction is "for people's safety", or "protects people from their own stupidity", or "is for your own good", is often used to justify curfews, drug laws, seatbelt laws, laws against gambling, and the 21 drinking age in the United States. It's used to deny everyday choices like what hairstyle to get, or highly important and personal choices like whether to undergo a medical operation, to teens, as well as many psychiatric patients and people diagnosed with mental retardation or sometimes other developmental disabilities. But paternalism is not a morally just philosophy: it assumes that an authority figure's or the Establishment's idea of what is best for someone is necessarily the right one, assumes that said authority figure's or the Establishment's idea trumps a child's, teen's, senile person's, mentally ill person's, intellectually disabled person's, or sometimes even woman's or ethnic minority's own wishes and quest for happiness, leaves the victim of paternalism with permanent consequences s/he may not be able to accept (even if the vulnerable group to which s/he belongs is a group of temporary membership, such as children or teens), and even dishes out punitive treatments for actions that are not morally wrong.
In the West today, paternalism is levied mostly against minors, but also for people judged on an individual basis to be mentally incompetent to make decisions on their own behalf, be it for mental retardation, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, psychosis, schizoaffective disorder, or whatever diagnosis. In the past, though, it was also levied against enslaved ethnic groups (such as African-Americans in the United States) and women. Scientific racism, from Christoph Meiners to Hans F. K. Günther, was often used to argue that the White race was of superior intelligence to the Black, Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander, Amerindian, and often even South Asian, East Asian, Persian, Afghan, Turkish, and Semitic races. Despite all the Simon Legrees who were out there, many antebellum Americans, especially Southerners, argued that African-Americans needed "benevolent" White people to take care of them. In 1851, Samuel A. Cartwright, a physician who practiced in Mississippi and Louisiana, posited a mental disorder called drapetomania. He identified drapetomania as a mental illness whereby Black slaves would run away from their masters, attempting to become free. Cartwright wrote that this was the result of masters who "made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals" -- that too many African-Americans did not know their place. African-American slaves were often even taught lies by their masters that they were stupid, and frequently came to believe these lies themselves. Back in the time of U.S. colonialism in the Philippines, Westerners often argued that Filipinos were essentially too dumb to govern themselves, and needed some good White Americans to annex their land and look out for their best interests.
Women, too, were once the victims of paternalism. Sir William Blackstone famously wrote about the subjection of married women under the Anglo-Saxon law of his time that "In marriage husband and wife are one person, and that person is the husband". The female sex was actually seriously believed to "have delicate brains" as well as delicate bodies (which is why girls once did not go to school). American women at the national level could not vote until 1920, and married women were regularly beaten by their husbands without being able to do anything about it. A 2019 article in The Atlantic gives an enlightening illumination into the kind of junk science that was used in its own time against women's suffrage: "According to the mainstream science of the time, 'Women simply had inferior brains, which made them unsuited to the rigors of voting,' says Cheryl Jorgensen-Earp, a professor at the University of Lynchburg who studies rhetoric in science and the British women's-suffrage movement. 'Anti-suffrage cartoons poked fun at women's reasoning ability . . . which showed the interior of a woman's head filled only with letters, puppies, hats, chocolates, and the faces of admiring young men.'" It was also argued that the mental fatigue from making cerebrally taxing electoral decisions could jeopardize a woman's ability to be a good baby-making machine. Note that William P. Sedgwick, an outspoken opponent of women's suffrage who claimed voting would be bad for women's brains, was a reputable professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The parents who raised Elizabeth Cady Stanton and such feminists were often believers in the mental capabilities of girls, ahead of the dominant thought of their time, who believed that girls and women had brains every bit as good as those of boys and men, and their daughters did indeed live up to their expectations of intelligence and independence.
Even today, women in many Islamic theocracies are treated paternalistically. Married women's husbands make most decisions for them in these countries, and in some countries, if a married man gets arrested for drunk driving, his wife is thrown into prison along with him! This practice is no more excusable than ancient societies that murdered slaves when their masters died, so the master could have many slaves to serve him in the afterlife. In 1996, Syed Ghiasuddin, the education minister in the newly established Taliban, stated that a woman is like "a rose -- you water it and keep it at home for yourself to look at and smell . . . It is not supposed to be taken out of the house to be smelled".
In the United States, paternalism against African-Americans and women is now seen as veritably antediluvian. And yet, discrimination against youth persists. Americans under 18 are forbidden from voting in a general presidential election (although 17-year-olds may vote in the primaries in some states if they'll be 18 on the day of the general election). Americans under 21, even 17-to-20-year-old soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who are mature enough to serve their country, are forbidden to purchase (and in many states, even consume) a wine or a beer. State laws require everyone under 16, 17, or 18 to attend school, if only a public school (and if so, it better be in their own geographically delineated school district), where they have their freedom of speech, freedom of dress, and freedom to go to the bathroom restricted at the whims of teachers and administrators. Teens under the age of medical consent in their state (which varies from 15 in Oregon to 19 in Alabama) are denied the right to make critical and personal medical decisions. Teens are even arrested by cops for leaving home after their parents told them they're grounded, and those parents have the power to dictate their minor children's clothing, hairstyles, and religion, subject them to conversion therapy, disallow their sons to have a boyfriend or their daughters to have a girlfriend, and forbid their transboys to live as boys or their transgirls to live as girls.
A plethora of excuses as to why this ageism is acceptable whereas racist and sexist discrimination and paternalism are unacceptable are whipped up by defenders of the anti-youth status quo. Some argue that age is different from race or sex because being a minor is temporary whereas being Black or female is not, an argument I'll get into more below. Others use slippery-slope arguments like "Would you let a 4-year-old drink?" (which I will also get into), which have the usual problems of the slippery-slope fallacy (the fact that a 4-year-old shouldn't have alcohol is not a prima facie case for why we can't let 19-year-olds drink), and also fail to address the fact that some things that are currently age-restricted (like freedom of religion or the right to dye one's hair) shouldn't be restricted by age at all. And then there's this facepalm-worthy attempt at an argument at the Wikipedia essay Ageism: "Criticism of racism/sexism analogies highlight existing legal treatment of minors. The legal system withholds rights and roles from minors, but differentiates the discrimination of race or sex." Basically, the Wikipedia essay argues that it's acceptable to discriminate against minors because ageism is legally endorsed, but unacceptable to discriminate against ethnic minorities or women because discrimination on the basis of race or (in most cases -- consider the draft and toplessness laws) sex is no longer legally permitted in the United States. Yet if we were living in the year 1800, both racial and gender discrimination would be legal, and strongly enforced by both state and federal governments in the U.S. Is Wikipedia's essay then claiming that discriminating against a Black man or a woman would be morally acceptable if we were living in that time? This is the naturalistic fallacy if I ever heard it!
From the degrees to which mainstream Americans will go to defend discrimination against adolescents, one would expect that the youth rights opponents would have put forth a moon-hanging demonstration that people under a certain age are immature, irresponsible, not worthy of rights, etc. But all they have been able to come up with are vague statements that "they're just not mature enough", anecdotal examples of teen-age immaturity, circular and etiam in libris appeals to other ageist laws, deceptively manipulated statistics about how raising the drinking age has "saved lives", and junk science about adolescent brains.
Starting in the 1990's, it became fashionable for neurologists to argue that teens had "underdeveloped" brains, and that this was to blame for all the terrible, horrible things teens do. However, in a 2007 Scientific American article titled "The Myth of the Teen Brain", psychologist Robert Epstein debunks this "cerebral determinism". As Epstein points out, the studies that examine adolescent brains, teen-age pathologies, and teen angst do not distinguish cause from effect. Teen-age ills are caused by the restrictions on youth and segregation of teens from adults that got started in the early twentieth century. Teens in preindustrial societies do not show high rates of crime, and spend most of their time with adults. They do not feel teen angst. When Western-style schooling and television are brought to these societies, the adolescent members of these now Westernized societies begin to exhibit delinquency and teen angst. The Inuit living on Victoria Island, Canada had no problem with juvenile delinquency until their community was Westernized in the eighties, and by 1988 they had established their first permanent police department now that the worms had escaped from the can. Epstein also points out that brain imaging studies show only a correlation between age and brain anatomy, not a causal relationship. A 2017 study from Penn State University showed that in Taiwan, crime was at its highest among people in their late twenties and early thirties, not those in their teens and early twenties as in the United States. This all suggests that teen-age pathologies are sociogenic, rather than part of a natural timetable of human development. While the orthodoxy in the 1970's was that the brain reached its adult state at 18, and in the 1990's the line changed to "The brain isn't fully developed until 25", research in the 2010's now reveals that a person's brain in fact continues to develop and change for her/his whole life.
Nightvid Cole, analyzing a study that compared the abilities of 11-to-13-year-olds, 14-to-15-year-olds, 16-to-17-year-olds and 18-to-24-year-olds to pass the MacArthur Judgment Evaluation (an evaluation used by courts in determining whether a defendant is fit to stand trial), points out that "the population mean for the 11-13 year olds is less than one standard deviation below the adult mean in all three areas" (understanding, reasoning, and appreciation). And in a 2010 academic study titled "American Sixteen- and Seventeen-Year-Olds Are Ready to Vote", Daniel Hart and Robert Atkins found that 16- and 17-year-olds are "generally indistinguishable in their capacities to function as citizens and to vote responsibly from the youngest adults (18-year-olds) who are entitled to vote".
And the stereotype that adolescents are impulsive? Well, in 2012 came a new study conducted at Weill Cornell Medical College that turns the tables. Subjects (divided into teen groups and adult groups) played a game. A dot moved across the screen, and the subjects had to guess which direction the dot would move. If their predictions were correct, they earned points. The teens took, on the average, longer than adults before they made their prediction. Teens were looking for patterns and analyzing, it turned out, while the adults wanted to choose quickly -- just the opposite of the stereotype that teens are impulsive!
And, most surprising of all: a 2009 study by Dr. Gregory S. Berns showed that teens who participated in such risk-taking acts as drinking, toking, sniffing glue, staying out late, rollerblading, overeating, leaving school, and having unprotected sex had more adult-like white matter in their brains than their straight-arrow peers.
Opponents of one form of youth rights will often make etiam in libris appeals to other ageist laws ("A 16-year-old is deemed too immature to vote/sign a contract/drink/buy a lotto ticket, so how can s/he be mature enough to decide what should be done with her/his body?"), without even considering the possibility that it is the conceit that a 16-year-old is too immature for the other things, rather than the conceit that a 16-year-old is mature enough to have bodily autonomy, that is in error. Indeed, today's teens are less pathological and smarter than previous generations, and are handling freedom well in the parts of the world in which they already have it. Studies about teens' brains being flawed have been revealed to themselves be flawed. But just suppose your average 15-year-old or 17-year-old weren't quite so bright, morally endowed, and capable of using judgment. Then would it be acceptable to deny her/him the right to smoke weed, stay out late, live away from her/his parents, or choose what is done to her/his own body?
To answer this question, I will pose to my readership this dilemma. Suppose a purportedly scientific study showed that 90% of women who wear red lipstick pass an arbitrary neuroscientific test of intellectual maturity, 70% of women who wear tan lipstick pass it, and only 40% of women who wear pink lipstick pass it. Should women who wear pink lipstick be denied the right to drink, smoke, gamble, choose what clothes (besides lipstick) to wear, sign a contract, leave a will, or (if married) move away from or divorce their husbands? A social liberal would say no, since just because a majority of pink-lipsticked women are that way, that doesn't mean those who are capable of good decisions should be discriminated against on a sweeping basis. A social conservative would say yes, since the government needs to make decisions that are in these women's best interest, decisions they are too incompetent to make, and if the law made an exception for the compos-mentis pink-lipstickers, it would have to make an exception for everyone (i.e. the non-compos-mentis pink-lipstickers). I say no, since these are personal decisions that these women wanted to make, even if the results aren't judged to be in their material best interest; it's not an unethical decision, assuming that those who drink or toke don't drive under the influence, that those who gamble don't break into their husbands' bank accounts to finance their habit, etc.
Since this moral philosophy -- that the freedom to choose is more important than the capacity to make a "good" decision -- needs a name, I shall refer to my moral philosophy hereinafter as bixochromatism, or "the philosophy discussed in the essay 'On Choice, Punishment, and the Color of Lipstick'". The root bix- comes from Bixa orellana, the scientific name of the plant sometimes known as the lipsticktree, and its family Bixaceae. Bixa is best known in English as the achiote or achiotl. In the Western world, achiotes are best known for providing the flavoring annatto, but indigenous Latin Americans have traditionally used it as a lipstick, hence the alternative common name lipsticktree. Chrom(at)- is the Greek root for color, appearing in such words as "chromatic", "chromatology", "chromosome" ("colored body") and "chromatid" (referring to their strong staining tendency in the lab), "monochrome", "Photochrom", and "Kodachrome". -Ism, of course, is a suffix for all sorts of belief systems, from Hinduism to socialism to fascism to transcendentalism. So, "lipstick color belief system".
If a teen wants to get her navel pierced, even knowing the risk of infection, it's a decision she should be allowed to make (assuming, of course, that she pays for it with her own money, rather than leeching off her parents' income), not because it's a well-thought out decision, but because it's her decision. (Concerns about her parents having to pay for treatment if the navel gets infected will be obviated once youth rights is instituted and the age of emancipation is reduced.) And if the navel does get infected, then who's to say that the infection was not worth the payoff of being happy about the hip way a piercing looks? What's appalling is that many youth rights opponents will say the teen shouldn't have gotten pierced after they watched the navel get infected, even when the teen declared upon the infection that the trip to the piercing clinic was "worth it".
Another problem with exclaiming "It's for their own good!" is that claiming something is for a kid's own good does not necessarily make it so. If a father who feeds his child rat poison so "the kid'll learn not to talk back to his elders" insists that the poisoning is "for the child's own good", does that necessarily mean the child will not be harmed by the action of the father, just because the father says so, and has authority over the child -- or even that the father's action was morally justified? Sincerely believing something is in a minor's or mentally disabled person's or pink-lipstick-wearing woman's or whoever's best interest does not mean the belief cannot be wrong, nor that the authority figure should be allowed to go ahead with it -- there's an old saying, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions".
Also, what is in a person's best interest physically is not always the same as what is in a person's best interest emotionally. If I were blinded in one eye in an accident as a kid and had the eye surgically removed against my wishes, physically I would avoid going blind in the other eye, but emotionally I would be unable to accept myself, engage in self-loathing for having a glass eye, and live the rest of my life in resentment. If the doctor respected my wishes, however, physically I would eventually go blind in the good eye from sympathetic ophthalmia, but emotionally I would calmly accept myself, knowing I still had both my eyeballs in their sockets. Who's to say that the physical good is more important than the emotional good and therefore a child or teen shouldn't be able to make a medical decision for her/himself?
Then there's the issue of punishing a person. Punishment is not meant to be a concept taken lightly, carried out without a thought. Punishing people hurts them emotionally. People feel guilty when punished, and sometimes being grounded can lead to boredom, having a privilege taken away can lead to sadness, corporal punishment can create physical pain, and punishments of public ridicule can be embarrassing. There is also research showing that when a child is spanked, that leads to the child coming to fear her or his parents throughout life and view them as big, bad authority figures whom they cannot trust, nor confide in with their problems.
Then there are the future prospects of a person who has been punished. When an employer learns that a job applicant has been arrested, she is less likely to hire him, even if the records indicate that the charges were dropped. Colleges look at a student's permanent record, eyeing suspensions. And once someone has been required to register as a sex offender, her or his life is turned inside-out. Someone who was arrested for streaking at the age of 13 will be unable to create a Facebook account due to being on the sex offender registry.
Then there's the way people who have been punished are viewed by society. I doubt anyone reading this will question my assertion that there is a social stigma attached to being arrested, not to mention being convicted. Many people will always feel a little less comfortable with being around someone after that person has spent some time in jail.
When is punishment justified? When should an action be criminalized? Actions (such as staying out late) that are not morally wrong should not be criminalized. An action is morally wrong if and only if it:
(a) Violates the consent and wishes that another person is free to have, including the destruction of their property, except as punishment for an immoral action that the person being punished has actually committed: murder, rape, child molestation, mugging, armed robbery, burglary, joyriding, arson, assault, adultery, lying about your HIV status to your prospective sex partner, libel, locking people up in concentration camps, medical procedures conducted against the patient's consent, denying medical treatment to a patient who wants and can afford it, arresting people for drinking from the wrong color fountain, hauling teens off to gulag schools; or, through inaction, allowing another person to be harmed against her/his consent: the baby-sitter looking on passively as a stranger kidnaps her client on an outing. Note that "person" here includes all sapient species, including intelligent extraterrestrials once they've made their presence here on Earth. Note also that this includes undeserved assaults that will destroy a person's reputation (hence the inclusion of libel, or of publicly arresting a person for dubious reasons in order to destroy her/his reputation, or of posting revenge porn on the Internet).
(b) Creates a significant risk that another person or people will be harmed against their consent: drunk driving, speeding, playing with firecrackers, target practice in public.
(c) Violates standards of honesty: lying, academic dishonesty, adultery again, counterfeit, white-collar crime, all sorts of government conspiracies and collusions, Dr. Andrew Wakefield's falsified studies on the MMR vaccine and autism, conducting junk science attempting to prove global warming false in order to help out your buddies in the oil industry.
(d) Harms the planet and/or ecology: littering, lake pollution, air pollution, the killing of endangered species, razing the rain-forests, Big Oil giving money to politicians to influence their votes to further climate change and ultimately destroy humanity.
What are some things that aren't morally wrong, and shouldn't be illegal? Smoking marijuana. Drinking alcohol. Vaping. Taking LSD or psilocybin. Gambling. Prostitution (without a pimp). Couples living together before marriage. Keeping your hat on indoors. Growing your hair long. Growing a beard. Growing dreadlocks. Wearing sunglasses indoors. Wearing flip-flops to the office. Using the F-word. Getting a nose ring. Males getting their ears pierced. Staying out late. Men marrying other men and women marrying other women. Consensual gay sex. Consensual oral sex. Viewing or selling porn. Sex between a 16-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl who love each other very much. Singing loudly in a grocery store. Women driving (it's illegal in Saudi Arabia). Women going out in public without their heads covered. Going to the beach topless. Going naked in public. Masturbating in public. Driving without a seatbelt on. Riding a motorcycle without a helmet. A patient with bodily integrative identity order going to her psychologist to get a limb amputated in accordance with her wishes. Eating too many doughnuts. Rapping your fast food order.
The four criteria for judging the rectitude or wrongness of a behavior that I have listed above should cover all cases, but often social conservatives will attempt to appeal to other concepts, such as "order", or "decency", or "tradition", or "being normal", that have no bearing on whether something is right or wrong, or will try to ban something by appealing to the dogma of a religion that is hundreds of years old, or perhaps the more recent invention of fervent fundamentalists but arbitrary dogma nonetheless. Looking at preëxisting laws, or at social norms, or at old classroom or workplace rules will only lead people down false paths and obscure clarity of thinking about what is moral and what is immoral.
People should also avoid argumentum ad baculum, the logical fallacy of stating something is morally wrong not because of the natural consequences thereof, but because of the artificial consequences thereof, i.e. punishments. Saying "Smoking pot is morally wrong because you could go to jail" is fallacious; even if a pot-smoker got caught and did spend some time in jail, the punishment would have no bearing on whether this personal choice was immoral or "irresponsible".
Since punishment is so stigmatizing and everything, is a person is to be punished, it had better be deserved. Punishment had better be for an action that was actually wrong -- be it a teacher punishing little Ava for hitting little Madison because Ava was jealous of the far cooler doll Madison had, or a government punishing a dictator who had theretofore carried on and gotten away with conducting a genocide against a people in his own nation. And it had better be for something a person actually did. No more putting ethnic minorities falsely convicted of killing cops -- from Leonard Peltier to Troy Davis -- on death row.
Note that this does not mean the death penalty is always wrong. The relevant question here is whether someone truly deserves the fate of death. The life of a 50-year-old man who kidnaps a 7-year-old girl, rapes her (mutilating her vulva in the process), then slashes her throat and heart to murder her, before tossing her corpse into a ravine where (he hopes) it won't be found, does not have the same value as the life of the innocent 7-year-old girl he murdered.
Many people say violating a minor's wishes and freedoms is acceptable because it's "for their own good". But if something is a personal choice that doesn't harm a second party without her/his consent, it's not morally wrong, and therefore should not be illegal.
Even though being against the law does not make something illegal, humans who make laws should endeavour to criminalize only immoral actions (those that harm others against their consent, create the risk of doing so, violate principles of honesty, and/or harm the environment), and avoid creating consensual, or victimless, crimes, because it is by and large understood that morally acceptable things are supposed to be legal and criminalized actions are supposedly morally wrong, and because law enforcement will enforce whatever the current laws of a jurisdiction are. If a town has a curfew, for instance, even if it's only for Japanese-Americans or adolescents or women wearing pink lipstick (and especially if it's thus discriminatory), police will be required to arrest people for staying out late, which action (curfew-breaking) is not morally wrong, and that will result in people being arrested and punished for such an innocuous action. That very situation -- people being arrested and punished for such an innocuous action -- would be morally repugnant.
At this point, a social conservative might say, "But the purpose of laws isn't to encode and enforce right and wrong, it's to protect people!" This is not true. People, at least in Western societies, are indoctrinated from a young age that laws are about right and wrong. Think back to when you were 5 years old and watching a police show with your parents, viewing the cops in their squad car chasing the criminals like LAPD chasing OJ through California. They said, "There go the bad guys!" Did your parents tell you, "They're doing that to protect people"? Hell, no!
Being socialized to think of breaking the law as wrong and criminal actions as immoral actions, of criminals as "the bad guys", people grow up to interpret the legality or illegality of an action as at least a commentary by lawmakers about the morality of it, if not an authoritative, final word from above on its morality. And so adults who make laws will have this concept of "acceptable things should be legal, unacceptable things should be illegal" running through the front of their minds as they legislate. As the California Bar Journal writes in its booklet Kids and the Law: "Criminal law and crimes represent those acts, behaviors or attitudes that society believes are wrong and wishes to discourage". As the perfect example: why are sodomy laws on the books in so many places? No one is protected by being prevented from having consensual anal sex with another person, much less by being arrested for a breach of that law. Gay sex (and often even heterosexual anal sex) are illegal where they are illegal because the dominant religion or culture of the lawmakers believes -- albeit falsely -- that it is morally wrong -- against the word of God, or whatever.
To call that which is good good . . . is good.
To call that which is bad bad . . . is also fine.
To call that which is bad good . . . is bad.
But to call that which is good or neutral bad . . . is also bad.
Paternalists like to say that curfew laws or marijuana laws are "protecting people from their own stupidity", that people need to be prevented from making "stupid decisions". Frankly, the very concept of condemning a choice at stupid does not compute with me. People should be punished for, and if possible prevented from, making unethical choices, such as poisoning their neighbor's baby, but they should never be punished just because their judgment in a decision that affects themselves was not up to a judgmental person's liking. I believe there are no "stupid" choices to speak of, only unethical ones. So Steve chose to become a psilocybin user. Say Steve uses responsibly, he's never attacked anyone while on a trip, but now he spends a lot of time in his room not contributing to society, and has had psilocybin mushrooms confiscated from his dorm room from the police a couple of times. I'm not going to excoriate Steve's choice to get into 'shrooming, and frankly, neither should you. Whether a lady with pink lipstick is choosing to spend her money on the lottery, or a woman with red lipstick is choosing to spend her money on the lottery. or a dame with pink lipstick is choosing to spend her money on nutritious vegetables for her new health diet, we should not anecdotal examples of these choices either or arguments for or in arguments against granting her and people like her the freedom to choose, because the freedom to make one's own choices is more important than making a wise choice -- or, more accurately, what the subjective priorities of a human onlooker to this woman's purchases would inform his is a wise choice.
Ageists often use the argument that being a minor is only temporary, so unlike racism or gender discrimination, ageist laws are acceptable. There are many flaws with this argument. There is the fact that one can point out interesting differences between situations, but said differences are not necessarily relevant to whether such something is right or wrong (I have a whole blog entry on the "temporariness" argument in which I explain this point with the knife murder analogy). Then there is the fact that, with race and ethnicity as the Platonic prototype of a reason to be discriminated against and racism the Platonic prototype of discrimination, every other demographic variable is unique in its own way. Yes, age and ageism are unique because a person's age changes over time. But gender and sexism are also unique because the gender an individual is assigned at birth will be the same across all countries and cultures (whereas the same person might be seen as Mulatto or Mestizo or Black in Cuba, but as Hispanic in America; different countries have different legal ages for things; and what is seen as ADD in the context on one culture is "normal" in the context of another). Religion and religious discrimination are unique because people choose their own religion (but don't choose their gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, or, unless they deliberately stab their eyes out, disability.) Sexual orientation and homophobia are unique because homosexuality and bisexuality revolve around certain behaviors that many people believe are morally wrong, being about what someone does rather than just about what someone is. Disability and ableism are unique because a person's disability often renders her/him by definition unable to do something such as driving (and the term "bona fide discrimination" is in use for discriminating against disabled people in cases like these). And then there is the fact that the transience of temporary pain or damage has never excused hurting people. As someone on the forum for National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) once wrote about people you argue that discrimination against teens is acceptable because minority is temporary: "Someone should give them a hard punch in the face. After all, it will only hurt for a little while". As Martin Luther King famously stated in 1963 in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, "Justice too long delayed is justice denied".
Then there is the fact that your world does not become a clean slate again once you reach the legal age to do something nor even when you reach full adulthood; rather, the discrimination from the past carries on. A butterfly that flaps its wings when you are 13 will still have the ripple effect going when you are 40. For example, if 15-year-old Rachel's parents restrict her from taking the courses that competitive colleges like by refusing to sign her course selection form until it is whittled down to the dumbed-down classes that satisfy their anti-intellectualism, Rachel will have a very hard time getting into the colleges she wants by the time she's applying for colleges her senior year. As an adult, her opportunities will be limited against her will because of the choices her parents made for her against her will as a teen-ager.
In 2016, a 16-year-old boy named Gary Ruot was diagnosed with Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), an ocular disease that causes rapid degeneration and ultimately leads to blindness. The only hope for Ruot was a treatment called gene therapy, for which GenSight Biologics was running a trial for the treatment of LHON. However, the FDA had only approved the gene therapy LHON trial for patients over 18. By the time Ruot would turn 18, it would be too late, and he would be blind. Ruot's relative, Avery Wilson, posted a petition on Change.org, demanding the FDA lower the age for this trial to 16. Less than three months later, the FDA did the right thing and lowered the age for the trial, and Gary Ruot was saved. But what if the FDA had not reduced the age to 16? By the time Ruot was 18, he would be blind, and it would be too late for the gene therapy to save him. He could turn 21, 25, 30, 50, 75, and 100, and he would still be blind. The damage would be done.
The emotional enscarment that comes from being hurt by age-discriminatory laws will also last for the rest of one's life. If someone goes through a gulag school where he is subject to waterboarding, electroshock therapy, straitjacketing, and sensory deprivation, he may eventually be out of it as an adult, but by then the damage will be done. He will suffer the trauma for the rest of his life. Survivors of conversion therapy may be past conversion therapy, but by now they're 8.9 times as likely as their peers to consider suicide. I'm 39 as of this writing, and I still think back weekly to run-ins with authoritarian teachers that happened during my school years, causing me to yell, bite myself, punch my skull, and punch my abdomen as if slicing open a watermelon.
People who have been arrested under status laws may feel the effects of the arrest for the rest of their lives. Many employers would not hire a 30-year-old if they dug in his records and found he had been arrested for underage drinking at age 19. In California, where Proposition 21 eliminated the automatic sealment of one's juvenile record upon reaching 18, a conviction for breaking a city's curfew law at age 15 could put off potential employers. And the social stigma will attach to the arrested ex-minor from many people who know, firsthand or secondhand, about the arrest.
The choices adults make for minors may even last beyond their terrene life and carry beyond the grave. For example, a recently deceased 17-year-old may have his organs harvested for donation against his consent. Or imagine that Blebdahism is the one true religion, that God is a Blebdahist and believes anyone who betrays Blebdahism is sentenced to Hell. But one young person who believes in Blebdahism deep down in his heart may have parents who are Sporgalists. In the United States, the parents may, by law, force their child to practice Sporgalism even though it is wrong, which would thereby condemn not only the parents, but also their child, to Hell for refusing to practice the rituals of Blebdahism. Since no one knows God's exact sentiments, one could not promise children that God would understand if they betrayed their religion only because they were forced; it could very well be that God thinks conforming to parental force is no excuse for not following Blebdahism, even for part of one's life, and still refuses to let those youth into Heaven, regardless. Of course, it may very well be that God understands people who betray their religion because of coercion by authority, that several religious paths lead to "heaven", or even that Heaven does not really exist . . . but what if those aren't the case? Or suppose, arguendo, that God does let people into Heaven who practiced Sporgalism as minors but converted to Blebdahism as adults, but not people who were still practicing Sporgalism when they died. What if the child of Sporgalist parents who wants to practice Blebdahism gets hit by a truck at age 15? She'll never get another chance at practicing Blebdahism, and will be stuck spending an eternity in Hell. And the Blebdahist child of Sporgalist parents will probably be buried, in accordance with her parents' wishes, in a Sporgalist cemetery, where her body will lie forever . . . and ever . . . and ever.
As a sort of extension of the above point, everyone only has a finite time to live -- at least until human life extension technology is invented, and we don't know how soon that will be. If the first 18 years of a 90-year life are spent in chains, that's one whole fifth of your life -- lost forever. Say a girl named Danielle wants to wear dreadlocks starting at the time she begins high school in September of 2016, at the age of 14 years and 6 months, but her school clamps down and forbids her to wear dreadlocks because they are against the dress code. Danielle graduates in June of 2020 at the age of 18 years and 3 months. She is then free to wear dreadlocks, until she dies the day after her eightieth birthday. She got 61 years and 9 months to wear her dreadlocks, but if her high school hadn't disallowed them it would have been 65 years and 6 months of her life. God is not going to magically add 3 years and 9 months to her life, allowing her to live to 83.75, to make up for the years she could have spent dreadlocked but was wrongly denied the right to.
Then there are slippery-slope-type concerns when one switches from talking about adolescents to talking about children, or in particular small children. "OK," they say, "I can see a 20-year-old or a 16-year-old drinking responsibly, but now are you going to let parents put vodka in their baby's bottle?"
It is not just a difference of degree, nor a difference of statistical turnover. It is indeed true that it is easy to find 20-year-olds who are capable of drinking responsibly, whereas a 2- or 4-year-old is almost never developed enough intellectually to even begin to understand all about responsible vs. irresponsible drinking. Some youth rights opponents may also need reminding that the idea that a majority of 21-year-olds are mature enough to drink responsibly while the majority of 20-year-olds are not is merely a legal fiction that probably has nothing to do with reality. In fact, most legal ages are arbitrary and are often based off of other ages. The voting age of 21 that was traditional in Western democracies, for example, was taken from the traditional age of majority in Europe, which in turn came from a boy's timetable of being apprenticed into knighthood. It did not actually reflect whether your average 20-year-old vs. your average 21-year-old was wise enough to vote. And when the U.S. finally lowered the age to 18 with the Twenty-sixth Amendment, it was lowered not because people suddenly started noticing remarkable maturity in 18-to-20-year-olds, but because 18-year-old male Boomers were being drafted into Vietnam while unjustly being legally incapable of voting to end the war (the draft age originally having been lowered to 18 because Franklin D. Roosevelt needed more soldiery during World War II).
No, it is not just a difference of degree; there are very real physical differences between 20-year-olds and small children. Most 20-year-olds, save for some with such conditions as dwarfism, can drink a modest amount of beer or wine without being poisoned or killed. This even applies to 12-year-olds; look on a medication bottle in your medicine cabinet and you'll see that the "adult dose" applies to anyone 12 and up. A 3-year-old who consumes the same amount of alcohol, however, will almost certainly end up in an ER and might not make it. Another relevant fact to point out is that college students who drink drink of their own volition, whereas a 3-year-old is likely to toy with an unattended beer bottle at a backyard party, not comprehending that it is alcoholic, or even to be fed alcohol directly by an abusive adult. Parents should not be allowed to put vodka, nor even a light beer, in their baby's bottles.
The legal consequences of a 20-year-old drinking and a 4-year-old drinking are a difference of substance, not a difference of degree. If a 20-year-old drinks beer at a party in any of the fifty states of the U.S. in 2019, the 20-year-old will be arrested, arraigned, and tried. Even if middle-aged men and women who provided or bought alcohol for the 20-year-old are caught and arrested too, the 20-year-old himself will still be legally responsible for his crime of underage drinking. If the 20-year-old is convicted, he may have to face prison, hefty fines, community service, or all of the above, even though drinking was a choice he had the God-given right to make. He will have trouble finding a job because of his MIP, and his reputation will be smashed as a result of getting arrested. If an adult gives alcohol to a 4-year-old, however, the adult will be punished, while the 4-year-old child will not because the child has the defense of infancy. While the adult's arrest for furnishing alcohol to a minor (and possibly child abuse) will tarnish her image, no one will begrudge the child who was fed alcohol several years down the road. The 4-year-old child will be seen as an innocent victim, whereas the young-adult 20-year-old (at least in the United States) will be seen as a criminal.
No doubt, some of you are now saying, "But teen-agers who use alcohol might drive drunk because they don't have the good judgment to know better, and then they'll be hurting other people in drunk driving accidents!" Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) likes to tout the claim that raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 has "saved lives", and argue that the statistics prove it, insinuating that 20-year-olds are too immature to drink responsibly. Closer analyses of the statistics, though, make the case against MADD's claim.
The early research that led to the adoption of the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act (FUDAA) examined only the states that lowered the age of their own accord before the 21 drinking age went federal, and came too early to examine the states that were coerced to raise their ages under FUDAA. A 1987 study by Peter Asch and David Levy concluded that by the time all but two states had raised their drinking ages to 21, drunk driving fatalities among 18-to-20-year-olds fell, but those among 21-to-24-year-olds actually rose. They conclude that inexperience with drinking regardless of age is the culprit for driving while intoxicated, not being under the magical age of 21.
Furthermore, traffic fatality rates rose from 1913 (the earliest year statistics were recorded) until 1969, after which point they began dropping. They even dropped in the early seventies, as states were lowering their drinking ages from 21 to 19 or 18! MADD mentions that after FUDAA passed in 1984, driving fatalities decreased, but this is a canard, as they had already been dropping for years.
Other factors than FUDAA had a probable effect on drunk driving fatalities in the eighties: for instance, New York became the first state to make seatbelt use mandatory in 1984 and other states followed; legal BAC's went down that same decade; and Candy Lightner's foundation of MADD in 1980 helped frame drunk driving as a real evil in the public's mind; before that, drunk driving was viewed by society as a minor offense that could be laughed off. Dan Fogelberg's song "Same Auld Lang Syne", released that same year, sings, "We bought a six-pack at the liquor store/And we drank it in her car". When George W. Bush was arrested for drunk driving in 1976, he paid only a $150 fine and had his license suspended for a mere 30 days.
And finally, let's consider some ethical logic: The 21 proponents' reasoning is that teens who would have driven drunk at 16 or 18 if the drinking age were 16 would docilely obey the law and avoid drinking alcohol if the legal drinking age were set at 21 instead. Drunk driving is a horrible, truly criminal act, and would be immoral even if it weren't illegal. People who would drive drunk if the driving age were 16 or 18 would be breaking the law by drunk driving; the law against drunk driving wouldn't stop them from doing so. They are headstrong law-breakers. Are we, then, to believe that if possession of alcohol before one's twenty-first birthday is made a crime, these same people who broke even a (just) law against drunk driving will without question obey the (unjust) 21 law, and stay away from alcohol, because "it's the law"? In fact, the average age at which Americans started drinking decreased from 16.6 in 1984 (the year of FUDAA) to 16.2 in 2002, showing just how dubious MADD's assumption "higher drinking age -> teens obeying higher drinking age -> less teen drinking -> fewer accidents caused by young and immature drivers" is.
For those who want to learn more about FUDAA and the drinking age in America, I recommend Pete Lorenzo's excellent blog http://21debunked.blogspot.com/, wherein he examines the flaws of the 21 proponents and roundly destroys the myths behind America's criminalization of teen-age alcohol possession.
At the essay "Reasons to Challenge the Drinking Age" at the website of the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA), the reason that is the most compelling to me, out of all of the ten reasons given, is Reason #1: "The punishments for underage drinking cause widespread harm." As the essay states, "For every life the drinking age is supposed to save, it disrupts or ruins a hundred others". It points out that in addition to penalties like fines and jail time for underage drinkers, college students who drink in their dorms before their twenty-first birthdays may lose financial aid or even be suspended or expelled; that bar and restaurant owners can lose their liquor licenses and employees who serve under21s can end up fired; that parents can be arrested for hosting keggers for their under-21 children and their under-21 friends, or even lose custody of their children; and that teens who did not drink alcohol can be arrested under the absurd concept of "constructive possession".
The United States ought to adopt a system of age-regulating alcohol like that of the United Kingdom. In England and Wales, the mere possession and consumption of alcohol by older children and adolescents is not legally prohibited nor criminally penalized. At 16, an Englishman, Welshman, or Scot may legally consume wine, beer, or alcoholic cider on premises with a meal, and at 18, the U.K. allows people to purchase alcohol in bars. It is illegal for an older person to give a child under 5 any form of alcoholic beverage, even if it is a parent giving a toddler a beer at home. Giving an older child or a teen alcohol, however, is not criminalized, nor will the kid receive an MIP for drinking at a family gathering, nor even have her or his drink confiscated. The British system strikes a balance between protecting the physical health and safety of children from abusive encroachments by adults on one hand, and allowing adolescents to make decisions for themselves without having their life derailed by an external punishment on the other hand.
Aside from being actively punished for personal choices, bixochromatism holds that it is also wrong to prevent a person from making a choice that affects something as personal and immediate as her or his own body. A newborn is too young to express objection to getting a tongue-tie cut or a pyloric stent done, but if someone is mentally alert and developed enough to object, then it is very unethical for a doctor or dentist to disregard her or his patient's wishes, be it because the patient is a minor, or because she is schizophrenic, or because he has an intellectual disability, or because she wears pink lipstick, or because she is a woman living in a sexist theocracy, or whyever.
Parents will often tell their teen-age children, "You don't want to . . .": "You don't want to apply to a vocational school." "You don't want to go sky-diving/bungee-jumping." "You don't want to spend your money on that expensive skateboard." Even "You don't want to get emancipated". There are plenty of teens for whom, had they a dollar for every time an adult told them what they do and don't want, would rival Donald Trump in wealth. I heard this plenty of times growing up. "They're trying to tell me how to feel", as Taylor Swift sings in her song "Love Story". You are the best judge of what you want and do not want, what would make you happy and unhappy. Furthermore, when a parent tries to tell a teen not just want to do, but how to feel, the teen starts questioning whether her or his parents understand her or him at all, to the point where she or he may stop confiding in her or his parents to help her or him with a problem.
The point made earlier about how the things done to a person while young stay with her/him or her/his whole life (so therefore the "being a minor is temporary" argument is flawed) apply here. Suppose the doctor wanted to remove a child's tonsils, but she said no because she was uncomfortable with the thought of permanently losing a body part. The child could turn 13, 16, 18, 21, 25, 30 . . . even 110, but the tonsils could never be stuffed back in her mouth after she reached the age of medical consent (in fact, they would probably have been incinerated long ago). Or suppose a 15-year-old boy living in a state where the age of medical consent is 18 has parents who want to take him to get a circumcision, and he says no. Judging by their "Being a minor is only temporary!" argument, ageists seem to believe the boy's foreskin will magically regenerate on his eighteenth birthday.
"But!", you object, "Informed consent generally requires the person or her/his proxy to understand the treatment and its ramifications!" The thing is, the concept of informed consent is a sham. To understand why informed consent is a sham, consider the following scenario: A man named Joe has just had an accident that blinded him in his left eye. Joe is 45 years old, but he has an IQ of 65 and his caretakers are calling him a "retard" and say he shouldn't be able to make his own decisions. Joe does not understand how sympathetic ophthalmia works, but he nixes the thought of an evisceration and enucleation because "I don't wanna be some freak with a glass eye!" Sometimes people have a simple yet overriding reason for the choices they make. If such a decision really is so overriding, whether the patient gave a subtle and complex consideration to all the issues is not really material.
"So", you say, "Without a standard of informed consent, doctors will trick patients into allowing all sorts of horrific surgeries without having to explain all the consequences, drawbacks, and potential risks!" That would indeed be a bad thing, but the problem is that the concept of informed consent conflates "explained consent" with "understanding consent". Requiring explained consent is a good thing; requiring understanding consent allows societies to create legal fictions whereby whole groups of people are assumed to be categorically unable to consent to or against medical treatment, whether on the basis of age, or of intelligence, or of neurotype, or even possibly gender or ethnicity. Thus we must divorce the "explained" component of informed consent from the "understanding" component. The current Western medical standard of informed consent should be replaced with the simpler but better standard of explained consent.
Short of changing the standard to explained consent, the reason why the patient opted for or against a specified treatment should be taken into consideration in deciding whether to grant medical autonomy to a minor, senile person, or person with intellectual disability, especially if the reason is so overriding, as with the scenario of Joe mentioned above. Medical autonomy is especially important in two cases: (1) when the patient opposes a proposed treatment that will alter the bodily integrative identity of a person (such as an amputation, filling, root canal, extraction, tonsillectomy, splenectomy, evisceration and enucleation, mastectomy, circumcision, castration, or surgeries on intersex children); and (2) when the patient favors a potentially life-saving treatment. It is unspeakably wrong for the child of Jehovah's Witness parents who be denied a life-saving operation that her parents are trying to keep her from getting because of their religious beliefs, beliefs that their daughter does not share; or for a teen to be denied a vaccine he so desires because his parents refuse to let him get vaccinated. Imagine if he dies of pertussis before his eighteenth birthday because he came in contact with Bordetella pertussis at the age of 16 or 17 and his anti-vaxxer parents' wishes were given precedence over his own! One wonders if such parents would even mourn their son.
Why are adults in the United States, and the rest of the so-called free world (and every country should be a free country), accorded the legal right to make their own medical decisions? It is not because it is assumed that they can make good decisions. It is because, as Sir Isaiah Berlin put it, "those who have ever valued liberty for its own sake believed that to be free to choose, and not to be chosen for, is an inalienable ingredient in what makes human beings human".
As the Internet poster Critropolitan wrote in a response to the blog entry "Ageism is an LGBT Issue" at LGBTQ Nation: "Appealing to adult's [sic] superior rationality and experience is no way out of this dilemma. Putting to aside [sic] the fact that what is 'rational' and what experience relevantly informs competent choices is an inherently subjective matter judged by fallible human beings - the entire point of the liberty society extends to adults is a liberty to make their own choices *even when* the government, experts, the majority, and other 'rational' adults see their choices as irrational, unsound and unwise. For example, the right to refuse medical treatment would be no right at all if it could not be exercised when to do so would be 'irrational' - since physicians only recommend medical treatment when it is presumed to be the rational course of action. The conclusion is that when it comes to adults, that except where prohibited by the law for the safety of others, for an adult to make a bad choice is a less invasive, less offensive possibility than the prospect of overriding their choice paternalistically and taking away their freedom. To say the opposite is true of children is not to say that children are simply more apt to make bad choices - since the desire to override anyone's choice, whether child or adult, only arises when they make an allegedly bad choice. It is instead to say that children's freedom matters less. And this, is at the heart of all forms of dehumanization, whether directed at minorities, women, low caste members, lgbt people, immigrants, disabled people, or children." What an eloquent way to explain the concepts of bixochromatism!
If a patient who has a cavity does not want his tooth filled, and even shies away from the thought of an SDF treatment, s/he is going against the advice of a dentist who no doubt favors a filling. The dentist is almost certainly an expert who would not advise the patient to get his cavity filled were it not the "good" or "wise" choice, but the patient probably has his own reasons for refusing the filling, be it because he doesn't like the pain of drills, or because he has a reaction of dread to being numb even temporarily, or because it's against his religion, or because he's had a dream of a filling-free mouth ever since he was little and views fillings as an "imperfection", akin to getting a traffic ticket, that would be unacceptable to him. None of those reasons may hold up to the scrutiny of Western science and a mechanical concept of material best interest, and many, perhaps even the majority of, Westerners, would see refusing a filling as an objectively bad decision. So why doesn't the U.S. institute laws requiring a 40-year-old of average intelligence to get a filling (or at least an SDF or silver nitrate treatment) if that's what the doctor ordered? What's that, you say? "Because that would be a violation of constitutional liberty"? Exactly.
God and nature do not care about the artificial laws and legal fictions created by human societies; they fly over them as the crow flies. Such laws and legal fictions are transient. If a person overdoses on alcohol, God and nature do not care if she was 21 in a place with a drinking age of 21, 20 in a place with a drinking age of 21, 20 in a place with a drinking age of 18, or 21 in a place with a drinking age of 18. States may pass a law that anyone under 18 needs parental permission to get vaccinated, but if a 17-year-old who did not get vaccinated because his parents wouldn't let him contracts a virus, nature will not necessarily spare his life out of respect for concepts like parental rights and the imagined good judgment that comes with age; he may very well die. The nation of Feministan may decree that women are wonderful beings, entitled to all the same rights as men, while the nation of Chauvinistan may grant women fewer rights than the Taliban, but a spousal rape will be just as traumatizing and a clitoridectomy just as possibly deadly in Chauvinistan as in Feministan. Nature will not consider the limited freedom the woman had to escape female genital mutilation in Chauvinistan and thereby lessen the damage sustained. If a 16-year-old living in a country where the age of criminal responsibility is 18 commits a murder, God does not care that his country legally infantilizes him; God will hold him morally accountable for his crime. And if a White man living in 1859 Alabama turns in a fugitive slave because "it's the law", God will not care that the Fugitive Slave Act requires such unethical behavior, nor that the law in Alabama at the time does not see a Black slave as a full human being; the slave-catcher will still face eternal hellfire in the afterlife, and God would still see the Black slave as perfectly human. There have been a billion unjust laws throughout the history of humanity, and God has cried a quadrillion tears thereabout; our goal, then, should be to align the laws of Man with objective morality, with the morality of bixochromatism.
These points are all very good and well, you say, but what about choices made by children who are so young and innocent that they want to jump and run and climb everywhere yet cannot understand danger -- even though they almost certainly will when they grow older? What do you do if you have a child -- say, a 5-year-old -- who is too young to know that running into the street is dangerous? Surely, you don't want your children to go untaught and die experimenting before they reach an age when they know better. You will likely be tempted to spank your children to rub it into them. Instead, tell your child matter-of-factly about the dangers of running blindly into the street, of crossing the street at their height without holding an adult's hand, and tell them that they could get hit. Don't be afraid to be graphic describing scenarios of child death to scare them into safe behavior. You may even want to show them footage of a child running into a street, getting hit by a car or truck, and later dying. But do not spank or slap your child. What your child did was not morally wrong, just unsafe, and therefore does not warrant a spanking, which is punishment. Would you call for an adult who ran blindly into the street, knowing the risks, to get arrested for it? Would you even accept the idea of punishing a developmentally disabled 40-year-old who ran into the street without looking, not knowing it was dangerous? The answer, I'm guessing, is almost certainly no. Plus, there is plenty of research showing that children who get spanked grow up with educational delays, psychological issues, and violent behavior.
Strict parents often rationalize their strictness by referencing laws that hold them morally responsible for taking care of their children, civilly responsible for the things their child breaks, and even, in many states, criminally responsible for truancy or other crimes committed by their child. They will say, "I pay the utility bills for the house and the medical bills for my child" (sometimes even using the dehumanizing analogy that if their dog gets treated at the veterinarian's, the vet will bill the human adult rather than billing their dog), and make strict rules so their child does not break the law thereby incurring punishments upon the parent or parents. But laws punishing parents for the crimes of their children violate American principles of personal responsibility and the sacred tenet that Person A not be punished for the actions of Person B. Almost every American agrees that if Alice steals money from her employer, but Bob, who had no involvement in the theft of anyone's money, goes to jail for it instead, it is an outrage. Yet when innocent parents go to jail because their minor child assaulted someone, people just write it off as the law of the land. Such laws need to change, and by acquiescing to these laws without speaking out against them, parents are only being part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
Indeed, the culture of helicopter parenting over the past few decades has created a system that makes it increasingly hard for parents to give their children the freedom, autonomy, and free time to play that the latter deserve. Because children and even 17-year-olds are believed by society to lack "maturity", current laws abrogate the right to make most decisions, even simple decisions like what clothes kids may wear, to the parents, hold parents responsible for keeping their kids safe, and even punish parents for their minor children's misdeeds. Because of this, parents then say, "I'm responsible for my child until s/he is an adult", and become very circumspect about whom they allow their kid to see and where they allow their kid to go. They micromanage what courses their kid takes at school and how their kid spends her or his time. This helicopter parenting then creates permanently banjaxed kids who never learn to fly because their wings were clipped in childhood. Panics about child molesters and kids getting their knees cut and infected while cycling have blighted the childhoods of the Millennial Generation (born 1979-2004) and the Fifth World Generation (born 2005-today), and by the time 1990-born kids left off for college, or even graduated college, the train of practicing how to be a responsible adult had left the station. Now parents can be legally prosecuted in many states for so much as letting their 6-year-old play unattended in the backyard, or letting their 11-year-old walk to elementary school with a 10-year-old friend and no adults accompanying. And elementary and junior high schools have cut down on free play and recess, often cutting recess entirely out of the curriculum. Luckily, the light at the end of the tunnel of decades of helicopter parenting is coming, though: in 2018, Utah legalized what Lenore Skenazy calls free-range parenting.
So what do parents who are concerned they will get into trouble for letting their minor children do what makes them happy do? The answer is simple: actively crusade for youth rights. Protest in the streets, along with your children, for the age of majority and age of emancipation to be lowered -- and for a lower voting age, so teens can protect their rights. Rail against systemic injustices that punish parents for the crimes of their minor children. Vote the YR-friendly way on any measures or propositions on your state's ballot, or, if you are on a city council, on council proposals. Argue for youth rights when you hear relatives or friends treating or speaking to youth in an ageist way. Defend your child against school faculty who want to violate your child's rights, be that violation by making him take his hat off in class, by sending her to the principal for correcting her teacher on a factual point, by failing him for the semester because said teacher dislikes him, by slut-shaming her, or by denying him his medicine. Boycott businesses that have "No more than two high school students allowed at one time without an adult" policies. Start petitions on sites such as Change.org for a lower voting age and drinking age, and against your child's school's dress code. And call people out on the ridiculous, paranoid, Niemöllerian, bigoted claim that people speaking up for youth rights must be pedophiles.
So what are the fundamental truths and principles behind bixochromatism? Let us review:
1. People should allowed to make personal decisions, as long as they are not unethical.
2. A person should be allowed to make a decision not because it's a wise decision, but because it's her/his decision.
3. Since personal decisions that don't harm others are not morally wrong, discrimination against a group's right to make free choices is wrong -- whether a demographic group typically has good judgment is irrelevant.
4. Claiming something is "for their own good" does not necessarily make it so.
5. What is in a person's best interest physically is not always the same as what is in her/his best interest emotionally.
6. Consequences of punishment have some heady consequences of their own, so are not to be taken lightly.
7. People should not be punished for things that are not morally wrong.
8. Things are wrong if and only if they (a) violate the consent and wishes that another person is free to have, including the destruction of their property, except as deserved punishment, or through failure to succor allow another person to get so violated; or make an unjust assault on their reputation; (b) create a significant risk that another person or people will be harmed against their consent; (c) violate standards of honesty; or (d) harm the planet and/or ecology.
9. Laws should endeavour to encode ethics and morals, and actions that are not morally wrong should not be criminalized.
10. There are no "stupid" decisions, only unethical ones.
11. People should not be denied bodily autonomy, even if an individual or the law assumes that the person, on an individual or sweeping demographic basis, is incapable of making a wise medical decision.
12. An individual knows her- or himself best and is the best judge or her or his own wishes.
13. The free world allows people to make their own choices not because it trusts that those choices will be wise, proactive, responsible, and well-thought-out, but because freedom for its own sake is so valuable (and every country should be a free country).
14. God and nature do not care about nor stop for the artificial laws and legal fictions created by human societies.
15. We should endeavour to align the laws of Man with objective morality.
16. Humans should act to change discriminatory laws.
It is time, then, that humans stop speaking of "what's good for" people, or "for their own good", and what's in someone's "best interest", and start speaking of "what makes people happy", and "respecting people's wishes", and whether someone's "rights are being violated", or what goes with or against someone's "consent". This, bixochromatism, will be the philosophy of the future -- setting humans, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, or neurotype, free of the impositions of others and allowing them the pursuit of happiness, each in her or his own way.
© 2019, James Landau