From baby boomers to baby bombers: “What’s Left?” March 2010, MRR #322

What an incredibly fucked up, crazed and hysterical country we live in.

I’m not referring here to the latest, unsuccessful attempt by a young Nigerian man to blow up himself and an American airplane just as it landed in the US on Christmas. He was a kid, really, who zealously tried to follow an extreme Islamic religious sect the dictates of which he barely understood. He’s now being called the crotch bomber, underpants terrorist, and the like.

Mykel Board, eat your heart out.

The panic-stricken aftermath of this failed incident certainly reveals the eagerness with which Americans are willing to throw away their personal freedom and privacy for the Big Brother security state they ordinarily eschew with such vehemence. So long as they’re safe. A few more such failures, with the attendant public frenzy, and the Constitution will have been effectively suspended. That’s not my subject this column, however.

What caught my attention was an under reported story from November, 2009, that Santa Claus had finally been exposed as a child molester.

Well, not Santa himself. One of the volunteers who answered letters addressed to Santa at the “North Pole” turned out to be a registered sex offender. At first, the US Postal Service decided to cancel the whole “Dear Santa” operation. Then, the USPS reversed itself and resumed the program, with increased security to screen out the perverts.

This is a nation of goddamned idiots.

I’m not talking here about those rabid fundamentalist Christians who sanctify the embryo in the womb as human life, yet who insist that “to spare the rod is to hate the child.” These wingnuts demand that mommy and daddy be permitted, no, encouraged to beat their kids for the slightest infraction.

Instead, I’m talking about the normal members of society who put warning notices on music, videos, films, websites and just about everything else, yet who insist that teens and preteens be tried as adults for their crimes and who have no problem seeing kids on death row. I mean, if children are these incredible innocents who must be assiduously protected from an evil world, then why hold them responsible when that world succeeds in ultimately corrupting them?

It makes no sense.

Adults go to incredible lengths to control children, under the guise of watching over them. They institute dress codes in school so that kids are not allowed to see clothing with dubious messages, let alone gang attire. They use schools and cops to monitor and prosecute kids for what they say over their phones or post on the internet. They’ve even resorted to microchipping their own progeny, in order to track them, as an excuse to keep them safe. These same adults bewail the fact that, ultimately, technological progress thwarts them at every turn. Or, at least, it runs one step ahead of their efforts to keep the kids in line. Given that youngsters frequently know far more about everything software related, is it any wonder that they can run circles around their parents with respect to “parental controls” on their computers? Sexting and beatdowns are regular features of modern adolescent communication, all powered by iPhone 3G technology. And, you want to bet that somebody, somewhere is working out a clever hack to circumvent those pesky RFID chips, even as you read this?

Don’t get me wrong. I could spend column after column eviscerating fundamentalist yahoos, as when Lawrence O’Donnell ripped Patrick Buchanan, and his fellow über Catholic morons, a new asshole for supporting the Pope’s condemnation of abortion, while conveniently ignoring the Catholic Church’s equally strong denunciation of the death penalty. And I could spend endless column inches condemning the absurdity of the mainstream imbeciles who legislate that sex offenders can’t live anywhere near schools, parks and churches, and who then wonder why there are so many pedophiles living on the streets in major urban areas. The lunacy of my fellow citizens is endless, and endlessly amusing, yet this is about the kids.

It’s all about the kids.

Gregory Bateson took on one of the most famous behaviorists of his day, B.F. Skinner, for raising his kid in his notorious Skinner Box. Skinner’s premise was simple. Raise a child in a box so that you can control all the kid’s environmental inputs. Control those inputs and you control the final output, the nature and character, the thinking and action of the human being that emerges from that box. Bateson argued that this was impossible. The human brain, and by extension the human mind, is a black box. You can control the information that goes into that black box—the brain. But you cannot control what the brain does with that information, nor can you determine what emerges from that brain, that mind, that black box, that Skinner Box, in the end.

Bateson illustrated this by kicking a dog. A hypothetical dog. Kick that canine, and the dog follows a trajectory determined by Newtonian physics. But once the dog lands, its behavior is no longer predictable. The dog might run away, tail between its legs. It might turn back, and bite. It might skulk just out of reach, waiting for the opportunity to either attack or ask forgiveness. The argument from die-hard Skinnerians—that if we only knew all the factors and information that went into making the dog what it is we could accurately predict what the dog will do to any given stimulus—simply doesn’t hold water. You can’t know what goes on in the dog’s brain, how it processes the fact it was kicked, nor how it acts upon what it thinks about being kicked. You might be able to control all the information that goes into the dog’s brain, but you can’t control what meaning the dog makes of that information, or what it does based on that meaning.

Frank Zappa scared the bejesus out of the parents of the baby boomers when, in the June 28, 1968 issue of Life Magazine dedicated to “The New Rock,” he wrote: “If the right kind of beat makes you tap your foot, what kind of beat makes you curl your fist and strike?” Before we ascribe to Zappa prescience in predicting the evolution of punk rock out of hippie rock per this quote, understand that he had absolutely no truck with the idea that music of any sort could make people do anything. He, among many others, fought Tipper Gore and her ilk tooth-and-nail, unsuccessfully attempting to stop “concerned parents” from slapping warning stickers on all sorts of music “to protect the children.” Now, the whole world has a warning sticker. When a string of murders associated with the horrorcore music scene hit the news, Mars, a Bay Area performer in that musical genre, repeated the popular horrorcore line: “Charles Manson was a Beatles fan.”

So, not only is technology outpacing parental control, even if adults could reliably use technology to effectively shackle their children, that wouldn’t guarantee control over what the kids think, or how they behave. After all, wasn’t that the point behind the 1950s mantra of prosperity and progress for the parents of the baby boomers. Think of the suburbs as the Eisenhower Era’s attempt at a Skinner Box, and then ask yourself how that turned out.

Returning to the Christmas bomber in conclusion, let’s now link Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab with this column’s main topic. TSA’s response to his failed terrorist attack has been to deploy full body scanning technology that reveals virtually naked images of those individuals being scanned. But, of course, TSA has insisted that these scanners won’t be used on children, out of fear that this might violate child pornography laws. So, what’s al-Qaeda’s next logical step? To strap explosives to babies going on airplanes in order to commit terrorist acts.

From baby boomers to baby bombers in one fell swoop.

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