Monday, March 2, 2009

Liberty for kids

On Saturday 28th February, I attended the Convention on Modern Liberty, the basic premise of which seemed to be, By what means shall we attain more and greater liberty? I was one of the youngest attendees; most seemed to be over 30. And despite the fact that all of us were there to discuss and uphold the inalienable human right of individual autonomy, one implicit point of view seemed to prevail absolutely: children were not included.

Wherever children were mentioned, it was in the context of schooling. "Schools ought to instil in our children a respect for our traditions of Liberty in Britain". "Schools ought universally to send children to the Taking Liberties exhibition currently on at the British Library". "If schools would engage children on the subject of their own rights and liberties, I think children would be more interested and attendance would go right up".

I argued and fought against these wicked views at every turn. "Consider the irony", I recall saying, "of the child that does not wish to be at the Taking Liberties exhibition that day, being coerced around this exhibition telling him how free he is!" A roar of self-deprecating laughter; little to no self-criticism as a result.

Or else, "I think that if I were a schoolchild, and I were told to take pride in my own inalienable autonomy, my attendance would drop to nothing all but immdiately." This didn't even earn self-conscious laughter, but merely snorts of bitter amusement, at how obviously true my statement was, and how obviously unallowable to them.

As for the suggestion that children ought to be taught to take pride in our tradition of British Liberty: "If Liberty is, as you said earlier, the absence of an arbitrary and dictatorial power - do schools and parents not impose the most arbitrary and tyrannical of rule? How can you sincerely expect children to take any pride at all in liberty, when they alone of all British citizens are denied the meanest and least of its fruit?"

No satisfactory answer. A repetition that all that was suggested was that schools ought to teach British history more properly; a sentiment with which I concur, if schools are still inevitable, but my point was never met.

Other than myself, the only other person of the eight hundred or so to attend the conference to ever once speak out in favor of human liberty, rather than merely adult liberty, was the blogger Cory Doctorow. During the evening plenary, he announced (I paraphrase):

"If you want to keep your children safe from paedophiles, teach them not to submit to authority. If you want them to keep all their information safe, teach them how to use encryption tools. Don't restrict them, because that won't help them learn anything."

Thank you, Cory.