Are children innocents or are they leaders?
Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development?
The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, Fla. They’ve now been trotted out by advocates of gun control as newfound authorities on the evils of the Second Amendment. Seemingly every major media outlet has featured commentary from children ranging from 14 to 17 years old who attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On Wednesday evening, CNN plans a full primetime special with the victims’ classmates, parents, and community members, titled “Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action.”
What, pray tell, did these students do to earn their claim to expertise? They were present during a mass shooting, and they have the right point of view, according to the Left. There’s a reason that producers at CNN are eager to put junior Cameron Kasky in front of the cameras: He says things like “You’re either with us or against us.” It seems a stretch to think that if Kasky were instead advocating for more armed school security, CNN would be breaking into its primetime lineup to air his views.
The anti-gun views of these students define their capacity, according to the Left. That’s why Harvard Law professor Lawrence Tribe suggested this week, on the back of the youth push for gun control, that the voting age be lowered to 16 years old. Tribe ridiculously suggested, “Teens between 14 and 18 have far better BS detectors, on average, than ‘adults’ 18 and older . . . #Children’sCrusade?”
The same holds true when it comes to matters of sex and sexuality. The Left consistently pushes more sexual autonomy for youngsters: They proclaim that laws restricting minors’ access to abortion are unconstitutional, that children have the capacity to declare themselves prepared for gender transitioning, and that parents who disagree should be shoved aside. This week, a judge in Ohio ruled that custody of a 17-year-old girl suffering from gender dysphoria should be handed over to her grandparents rather than her parents, because her parents opposed doctors’ advice that she get hormone treatment and undergo surgery. Such logic is likely to be utilized more rather than less in the future.
But the same people on the left who declare that children are fully capable decision-makers suddenly balk when it comes to gun ownership. Now, leftist lawmakers state that the legal age for gun purchases should be raised to 21. They proclaim that “children” are disadvantaged if they are removed from their parents’ health-insurance plans before turning 26. They suggest that the criminal-justice system should treat young adults with greater leeway than it treats more mature adults, because brain development doesn’t truly complete until 25.
So, which is it? Are children assets to be protected, or are they just adults in tiny people’s bodies? Are they sexual beings, or are they innocents? Are they rational actors, or are they still emotionally developing?
The answer seems to be relatively simple: Children and teenagers are not fully rational actors. They’re not capable of exercising supreme responsibilities. And we shouldn’t be treating innocence as a political asset used to push the agenda of more sophisticated players.
Humoring children so far as we can bear it — up to and including in policy considerations — is a horrible style of parenting, let alone governing.
But the Left won’t stand for such line-drawing. That’s because for the Left, status as a rational actor, let alone as an expert, isn’t actually the chief qualification for political gravitas: It’s emotion. And children are as capable of emotional response as anyone else. So we should give children full leeway to express their emotions in any way they deem fit, and it should be our job to humor them so far as we can bear it — up to and including in policy considerations.
That’s a horrible style of parenting, let alone governing.
This discussion of young people’s political involvement leaves out one crucial element: the responsibility of older people to help inculcate expertise and reason in young people. The whole reason that young people are generally less capable of strong decision-making is that the emotional centers of the brain are overdeveloped in comparison with the rational centers of the brain. And it requires training to fully utilize what psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls System 2 — the analyzing portion of the brain. It’s the job of those who think most rationally to teach those whose rationality is still developing. Leaving individual decision-making, let alone general policy, to young people — those who respond most strongly to System 1, the intuitive, emotional brain areas — may be smart politics. After all, we all respond intuitively to slogans and emotional appeals. But it makes for rotten policy.
But perhaps that’s the point. If we can turn children into our decision-makers, we can infantilize our politics down to simplistic statements like “you’re either with us or against us” on preventing school shootings. And that infantalization certainly helps come election time.