One observation of modern society is to note the increasing infantilization of its culture. It almost seems as though everything is designed to be loud, shiny and short lived, as if intending to capture rapidly diminishing attention spans. It is of a narcissistic character: attention-seeking, selfish, demanding, self-centred. Indeed, personified and it would be a child – there’s no demographic more narcissistic than children. But, in fact, in many ways it would be too high and hopeful a compliment to say that our culture is becoming more childish. For one of its main flaws is to undervalue the wisdom of children, at the same time as over emphasising the intelligence of adults.
It is in paradox that we see life smiling back at us, and this, one of the strangest paradoxes is, by lived experience, one of the most reassuring. It is that often the more we look at a thing, the less we see the world, and the more we learn a thing, the less we know the world. Those who study something and practise it every day will see less and less of the significance of other things. In the same way, many of us will be so bonded by daily routine that, unless we make a habit of goading ourselves into gratitude, we’ll see less and less significance of the trees, the birds, and the sky. We become obsessed with trivial things and quickly forget the beauty of consequential things.
However, children are full of awe and wonder for the things that typically induce awe and wonder, and they’re rightly bored by the things that typically induce boredom.
When we are asked to perform certain tasks, we overestimate the significance of those tasks and, by inference, underestimate the significance of others. As if we were carrier pigeons with blinkered vision, we become immersed in detail and therefore our outlook is narrowed by detail. Because with age comes a degree of specialisation. We start to know more and more about less and less, until we know close to everything about nothing. There’s little room for mystery.
But children generally cast their net further and further afield. They know less and less about more and more, until they know close to nothing about everything. The world is full of mystery.
Our imagination is limited by social mores and conventions. When we reach a certain age many of us think we have all the answers and talk at great length about things we know little about. But much of the time these are merely socially reinforcing statements. For we don’t dare speak out of turn, knowing that there are certain opinions of certain things that we must take. We are proverbial gardeners tending to flowers in somebody else’s garden.
Children’s imagination isn’t limited in the same way. They are full of questions and have few answers. They are unshackled from the opinions of others; the pull of social conformity does not exert as strong an influence. And so, their opinions grow naturally, like flowers in a field.
Socialisation is the process by which children turn into adults. It’s the internalisation of behaviour deemed acceptable in society. Naturally, there’s a correlation between societal success and degree of socialisation. The more successful in society tend to be the most socialised and the least successful the least socialised.
The drive to fit in and be popular is at core a game with rewards and punishments. In social groups you generally score better the more you assimilate. Because despite all the cultural clamour for “diversity” smaller social groups always gravitate to uniformity. We mix with people we share commonalities with or share common goals with and we clash with those we don’t. That clash will either be respectful or belligerent.
The adoption of social masks is essentially a compromise between individual and society of what a man or woman should appear to be. We grow so accustomed to wearing masks we wrongly believe it to be our authentic self; when in the design of which others invariably have a greater share. Of course, unlike adults, when children wear masks, they understand that they’re playing; that they are becoming someone else. And indeed, as they grow older, they do become someone else. They compromise. They conform.
Without conformity civilisation is impossible – it’s the glue in social cohesion. Certainly, it’s always been an important quality to help us get through this life; for one thing, there’s often little sympathy for those who go on to act upon their own intuition. Society will soon crush into submission all those with a rebellious streak. Most of the time this is quite unnecessary. Youngsters quickly learn that a happy life involves doing what your fellows do. Going against the crowd risks social alienation; or worse, draws a conspicuous target over one’s head.
As we grow older, we lose what it is to be a child. Indeed, it’s largely through socialisation. Much of that intoxicating blend of awe, excitement, wild abandon, unbridled imagination, freedom from judgement, dies when we reach a certain age. Letting go can be hard.
Adults hankering for their childhood is an incongruity in the sense of a contrast. But perhaps the contrast is deceptive. For we humans have only recently developed the upper lobes of the brain and cannot stand using them all the time. It is necessary, therefore, when opportunity arises, that we let them rest and animate the lower centres. In other words, it is necessary that we take a step back into childhood and play. As for those who play all the time, we do have a word for such people: morons.
The problem, however, as mentioned, and as Shakespeare put it so eloquently, is that the world presents itself as one large stage full of players (actors), and though children can generally distinguish between work and play, adults have become so accustomed to games that they fail to make this basic distinction in their work and private lives. As children innocently play in the garden, full of joy and wonder at the world around them; adult play is tedious, cynical and downright dishonest. There are whole industries that are presented in the aspect of enormous fortresses of lies. The automatic result of economic forces, like all our behaviour, the individual strategizes their ascension through the ranks with no more conscious thought than the digestion of his or her food. It is in such a way that the game of self-preservation is won and lost.
The multi-generational winners of this game that own and run the world wish everything to remain as it is. In fact, their sole motivation is to amass more power. As one of the functions of ownership, these winners control culture and determine taste. They glorify the moron – the man or woman who has emotions and not brains – and thus much of the culture is directed toward the creation of an artificial childhood. By debasing the culture, to put it starkly, their goal is to weaken and degrade those upon whom they prey, like a thief who gets their victim drunk before they rob them.
Children are far easier to control than adults, which is why people are increasingly acting and behaving like children. There’s an entire generation of adults who’ve been socially engineered to be emotionally incontinent wrecks; not wishing to relinquish their grip on their reassuring childhood, presumably because of their sheer terror of adulthood. It can be seen right across the cultural spectrum, from movies, popular music, tv shows. It appears as if popular culture is becoming more and more low brow to meet the needs of an audience frozen in a state of arrested emotional development.
Equally, the cultural advancement of personal truths over objective truths is the cultural equivalent of throwing a cold bucket of water on the burning fire of reality. Like children, many people are increasingly incapable of dealing with their own problems and are being encouraged to seek the solace of comforting illusions, safe spaces and, if all else fails, are redirected to the safe harbour of prescription medication.
Incessant escapism is a survival tactic for people who haven’t learned how to survive. Pain can never be released; real growth can never therefore be attained. People become trapped in self-destructive circles which, in the temporary alleviation of pain, makes them dependent on the very pain that they are trying to alleviate.
These cultural developments are somewhat organic but coexist in a rich ecosystem which is managed and engineered by the class that owns it. The intention behind them is akin to the one behind the emasculation of men. It’s for people to embrace their weaknesses. Power wants us confused, emotional, subordinated and child-like.
Socialisation is the process by which children transition into adulthood but ironically, in many ways, it’s also the process by which adults are regressing back into childhood. I think society would be greatly improved if it really embraced its inner child, rather than be comprised of adults who merely act like children. Because children are always engaging with a world that adults are increasingly escaping. They love their childhood whereas many adults are progressively fearful of adulthood. And as children are free to choose, adults are compelled to imitate. It’s a voice in the valley as opposed to echoes in a cave.
And therein lies the wisdom of children.