Just for laughs, let’s pretend. Say we wanted to create, in a relatively peaceful society, a nation of youthful killers - or just millions of aggressive young jerks.
How could we do it?
We’d have to start young. Analyzing infants, we’d realize their desperate need for love and intimacy. We would also note that a baby’s only real job is to study, digest and mimic everything he or she encounters.
Then we’d go to work.
We’d create an economy where in most families, both parents - the men and women with the strongest emotional bonds to children - needed to work outside the home to survive. Soon after birth, babies would be placed with caregivers who’d tend to their basic needs, but who, in most cases, would lack the time and interest to invest the same kind of love and attention as parents.
Working moms and dads would remain on the job for ever-increasing hours. Their “free” time at home would be eaten up by paying bills, cooking, cleaning, helping with homework and finishing work uncompleted at the job. Relaxed time with kids? Rare to nonexistent.
Even so, many children would still receive considerable love and attention, especially at home. To minimize that, we could design, say, an electronic box that beamed seductive, violent images into every dwelling. The box would feature some uplifting programming - comedy, romance, educational shows. But moment by moment, day and night, the box would also provide - in a bright, noisy, kid-friendly progression - fistfights, beatings, rapes and murders.
Now a few troublesome kids would realize such images are fiction. So we’d invent “news shows,” highlighting real-life mayhem from local, national and even international sources. The box could also provide “talk shows” on which real people aired their problems before slapping, kicking and otherwise attacking each other as audiences cheered.
But this might fail to make enough kids violent. So what if we invented strikingly realistic visual “games” for use on the box when it was turned off? Using the games, children could shoot, impale or beat to death lifelike images of people and monsters. Blood could splatter, “victims” could instantly revive, to be killed again and again!
Some pesky parents would, of course, limit their kids’ exposure to the box and the games. To deal with that, we could create public living rooms, complete with rocking chairs and popcorn! Here, kids could share with strangers the thrill of experiencing - on gigantic screens complete with sophisticated sound systems - vivid moving images of stabbings, garrotings, explosions and dismemberments. No one killed would be mourned for more than a minute; every death would be as choreographed as a ballet. Killjoys might try to keep small children from seeing these images, but we’d get around that by making versions of the images available to be seen later on the box.
In certain parts of the country, rural and urban, we could glorify guns, make folks think they can’t live without firearms. Then we could make it relatively easy for anyone, even kids, to get them.
Still not enough? What if we did something with music? Kids love music, as anyone who has watched a baby react to a lullaby can attest. We could somehow attach violent, materialistic or overtly sexualized images to music. We could even persuade certain music-makers to celebrate guns, greed and irresponsible sex in their songs! They, too, could provide images for the box - of threatening-looking men and barely dressed women, all singing about the glories of instant, consequence-free gratification of every urge.
In schools, we could spend hours focusing on reading, science and other necessary stuff while rarely requiring classes in conflict resolution, relationship-building or tolerance. We could stage “sporting events” in which young athletes’ viciousness is accepted, even encouraged.
To be sure kids got the pro-violence message, we - adults - could pretend to abhor brutishness. Kids are natural rebels. So we could bemoan violence ceaselessly in the media, and - this is key - feign astonishment each time a youngster assaulted or killed someone. “How could this happen?” we’d wail after each brutality, as if we had never done a thing to encourage it.
With straight faces, we could present shows on the box about “Children Who Kill,” write shocked editorials, swear to “get to the bottom” of the problem. Then, despite our myriad, obvious efforts to encourage children’s brutality, we wouldn’t change a thing.
So. If a society actually did those crazy things, would kids - not every kid, just way too many of them - behave in frighteningly aggressive ways?
Maybe. But what intelligent, caring culture could be that stupid? Just thinking about the prospect is scary.
Thank God it’s just pretend.
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