Calamity Howler/A.V. Krebs

Sacrificing Childhood to Idolatry of Violence

"It is organized violence on the top which creates individual violence at the bottom." -- Emma Goldman

Obviously lost in the widespread reporting and commentary on the tragedy of the recent high school shooting in Red Lake, Minn., as it was in the carnage at Columbine High School outside of Denver a few years ago, was any recognition of the 19th century's anarchist Emma Goldman's warning about the consequences of the use of unlawful physical force to resolve conflict.

Save for Michael Moore's Oscar-winning 2002 anti-gun documentary, Bowling for Columbine, nary a word has been mentioned about the influence of violence upon a society that has become not only fascinated by, but has come to deify it.

Particularly when it comes to youth we see this idolatry manifest itself today, fueled by graphic international conflicts, movies, television, computer games and, to some degree, music.

A recent study by Seattle researchers showed that preschoolers who watch lots of television are more likely to become bullies later on, thus joining obesity, attention-deficit problems, violence, smoking and sleeping difficulties as social ills in child development.

Further research, published in the April issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, demonstrates that grade-school bullies suffer in the long run: They're more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and be involved in street and dating violence.

"Violence in TV isn't just The Sopranos," Frederick Zimmerman, author of the Seattle study and assistant professor at the University of Washington's School of Public Health said. "Kids' TV often has a particularly bad kind of violence -- the humorous kind," he said.

Added to this mix is the ever-present influence of a corporatist culture willing to use exploited violence and unfettered competitiveness as a means to satisfy its own insatiable greed while a supportive government cheers it on under the guise of a free-market economy.

Thomas Jefferson was right when he observed in his "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge" (1778): "Experience hath shown that even under the best forms [of government] those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny."

It is unfortunate that we now live in a society that for the most part is based on a tyranny of respectability, but in that effort to maintain respectability, it allows such customs as bullying and violence, obviously prevalent in our communities today, to take precedence over sound principles.

Msgr. Paul Hanley Furfey, the noted Catholic sociologist, in his famous book The Respectable Murderers called such a mores-dominated society "paramoral -- an ethically sick society, one in which custom encourages evil in at least some aspects of community life ..." Slavery, the Holocaust and unjust wars, Furfey argues, are some of the more obvious examples of such a "paramoral" society.

We can argue that we have not made peace and non-violence attractive. Perhaps, this is because we ourselves have never really understood what they mean. Our concept of peace has always been framed in terms of the final and stabilized goals of a given conflict.

True peace, as the famed child educator Dr. Maria Montessori reminds us, "suggests the triumph of justice and love among men; it reveals the existence of a better world wherein harmony reigns."

Where can a society such as ours look for leadership in forming a better world? Dr. Montessori, writing in a pamphlet Peace and Education, suggests the child.

"If we wish to set about a sane physical rebuilding of mankind, we must go back to the child. But in the child we must not merely see the son [or daughter], the being in whom our responsibilities are centered; we must consider the child in [themselves] and not in [their] relation to us, which is that of dependence.

"We must turn to the child as to a Messiah, an inspired being, a regenerator of our race and of society. We must succeed in effacing ourselves till we are filled with this idea, then go to the child, as the wise men of the East, loaded with power and with gifts and led by the star of hope."

She goes on to explain that a non-recognition of the independent life of the child (which the adult sees as different from themselves) usually creates a struggle between the strong and the weak which will manifest itself later with disastrous consequences.

The child has a deep love for order and work, and quite often possesses intellectual qualities that go unrecognized.

"It is very evident," she states, "that, subjected to the usual education, the child has had not only to withdraw with himself [or herself], but to dissimulate his [or her] powers, in order to adapt himself [or herself] to the judgment of the adult who lorded it over him [or her]."

Our concept of punishment is perhaps the most immediate manifestation of this attitude of adults.

"The obedience which is expected of the child both in home and in the school -- an obedience admitting neither of reason nor of justice -- prepares [them] to be docile to blind forces.

"The punishment, so frequent in schools, which consists in subjecting the culprit to public reprimand and is almost tantamount to the torture of the pillory, fills the soul with a crazy, unreasoning fear of public opinion, manifestly unjust and false," the noted educator adds.

The perfect and infallible discipline therefore becomes synonymous with slavery for the child.

Children, as teachers and parents can attest, thirst for justice. Often they may seek new and unfamiliar ways of achieving, only to be punished for their "unconventional behavior."

Thus a child begins to learn the first real game that a person must play in a "paramoral" society, a game that will ultimately have no winners and which Dr. Montessori described in words many years ago.

"The virtue worthy above all others of public encouragement and of reward has always been triumphing over one's school fellows in competitions, and the gaining in examinations of the decisive victory allowing one to pass from one year to another of a monotonous existence of perpetual servitude.

"[Children] brought up in this way have been prepared neither to fight and be victorious, not to conquer truth and possess it, nor to love others and join with them in striving for a better life.

"Their education has prepared them rather for an incident, a mere episode of real community life: war. For, in reality, the cause of war does not lie in armaments, but in the [individuals] who make use of them."

A.V. Krebs is director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, PO Box 2201, Everett, WA 98203. He publishes a free email newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner; email; Web site

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