FLC210, Should the State Decide What Clothes Children Are Allowed to Wear? 6th June 2011, by Sean Gabb

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Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 210
6th June 2011 

Should the State Decide What Clothes Children Are Allowed to Wear?
by Sean Gabb

In the past few days, I have made six appearances in the British media. Each one has been to argue against a proposal by the British Government to make an Act of Parliament to control the alleged sexualisation of children. This will involve trying to regulate the type of clothes worn by children, and trying to stop them from watching possibly indecent music videos. I have not been able to upload all the recordings of these media appearances. But you can – or will soon be able to – find them here.

The argument I have been putting is fairly simple, and I have not deviated from it in my various appearances. I argue as follows:

1. It is reasonable to assume that anyone who uses the "protecting the kiddies" argument is really interested in controlling adults. Indeed, one of the organisations most active in pushing for controls is Media Watch UK, which used to be called the National Viewers and Listeners Association, and which, led by Mary Whitehouse, spent most of the 1960s, 70, and 80s arguing for censorship of the media.

2. Ratings on music videos will have no effect, as many of these things are now downloaded from the Internet. As for controls on clothing, children will wear what they want to wear, and it will be hard in practice to do anything about it.

3. How children dress and behave is a matter for their parents to control, not the authorities. Doubtless, there are some rotten parents about. But any law of the kind proposed will not be used against a small minority, but against parents in general. It will be one more weapon in the armoury of social control that has already reduced parents to the status of regulated childminders.

4. Authoritarian conservatives deceive themselves when they think the authorities are fundamentally on their side. The moment you ask for a control to be imposed, you put your trust in people you have never seen, who are not accountable to you, who probably do not share your own values, and who will, sooner or later, use the control you have demanded in ways that you find surprising or shocking. The attempted control of clothing, for example, will certainly be made an excuse for the police to drag little girls out of family picnics to photograph the clothes they are wearing, or to measure their heels to see if they are a quarter of an inch too long. Anyone who dismisses this as an absurd claim has not been reading the newspapers. That is how the authorities behave. Even when it is not an abuse in itself, any law will be abused by them.

As said, I have been six times on the radio in three days, and I expect to be called several times yet to repeat my case.

Now, rather than develop the points made above, I will try to explain what is actually happening. The idea that millions of parents, disgusted by what they see on the television or in the clothing shops, have called out spontaneously and in unison for something to be done is too absurd to discuss. The truth is that there is a continuing dialogue between authoritarian pressure groups and Home Office officials. There are jobs and there is power and status to be had from the sort of controls now proposed. There are these things, or there is simply the joy of telling everyone else how to live. The people at large have no say in the matter. The politicians who go through the motions of arguing for the laws that emerge from these closed discussions are members of two or three parties which are themselves projections of the State. The media people who are supposed to hold the politicians to account simply read out the Home Office and pressure group news releases. They never question the false dichotomy set up in these releases. For example, I have repeatedly been set into a spectrum of opinion that ranges between support for a new Act of Parliament and belief that it is a fine thing to dress your daughters like tarts and let them watch morally corrupt music videos. There is no room for the alternative claim that this is a matter for parents to decide, not the authorities. Short of mass-demonstrations, there is nothing that ordinary people can do except hope that the new law, as it finally emerges, will not be as demented as appears to be promised.

Ian B, who writes on the Libertarian Alliance Blog, has described this process as a secular equivalent of how things are done in most Islamic states. There is the ulema, or general body of religious scholars. These state what ought to be done, and give their reasons. There is then the mutaween, or religious police, who enforce whatever controls are imposed. Our ulema are the authoritarian pressure groups and various moral entrepreneurs. Our mutaween are the normal police and the army of social workers and other bureaucrats. We may be at “war” with radical Islam. But, allowing for differences of nomenclature and clothing, our own system of government is not so very different.

Most people who complain about what is happening have no idea of how to stop it. They usually whine about “political correctness gone mad,” or call on the authorities to learn some common sense. Neither approach touches the root of the problem. What is being done is not some accidental madness, but is part of an overall agenda of social control. The abuses we read about in the newspapers are the intended outcomes. As for common sense, this is not a debate, in which positions can be advanced and rejected in the abstract. I have said there are jobs involved in this agenda of social control. There are tens of thousands of people whose only justification for employment or funding at our expense is the part they play in controlling us. The only answer to the endless advance of moral authoritarianism is to sack every one of these people. In short, we need to demand the following:

1. That all the Home Office and other ministry officials who are now employed to do business with the authoritarian pressure groups should be sacked;

2. That none of our money should be given to any pressure group of whatever kind, and that, where they are registered, these fake charitiesshould be deregistered and made subject to the same oppressive taxation as the rest of us;

3. That all the social workers and other staff employed to control our lives should be sacked.

There is much else that could be done. But this would be the beginning of a solution to the problem of an increasingly despotic and over-extended British State.

I could boast that the Libertarian Alliance has so far been the only organisation to take a stand in the media against the proposed law. But we are a tiny organisation, with minuscule funding. It really is a sign of how bad things are that the only opposition so far made depends on whether I can find the time from all else that I do to go on against an immense and polished campaign for despotism. Where are the other allegedly conservative and libertarian policy institutes in this debate? The answer, I suppose, is that they are too busy arguing, on behalf of their sponsors, for the cracks between the paving stones to be “privatised” and made into an income stream for some corporate interest.

Oh, what a country!

Comments

I would say that trying to

I would say that trying to regulate the way our kiddies wear their clothes is not bad at all since it is one way of trying to introduce them to reality. I don't know if this has some impact to my anthropology essays project.

Sexualisation of children

Mary Whitehouse may have been a hate object for the Guardianists, but she was against 1960s permissiveness, and there has been a huge increase in crime since the 1960s, so she must have been at least partly right. As for freedom of speech, I agree with John Stuart Mill. Free speech is important because it enables you to discover and understand the truth. It is not obvious how freedom to incite violence or sexual abuse enables you to do that.

Is it really "authoritarian" to be against sexual abuse of children? I suppose it depends on whether you believe in freedom from crime or freedom for criminals.

The proposed law will be aimed at manufacturers and retailers of children's clothes, not parents. As for police dragging children out of picnics, I'll believe it when I see it.

Comment by James Baker

Sexualisation

June 8, 2011 in National Politics

Sexualisaiton of children has been one of the hot topics this week. Unless you have been avoiding the media you will be aware of the report by Mr Bailey on the commercialisation and sexualisation of children. The report calls for government intervention in a range of areas from outside advertising to clothing. The underlying assumptions is essentially that parents need help from government to protect their children from the harm caused from exposure to sexual imagery and commercial interests. What the report doesn’t really touch on is the concept that this is being driven not by some malign outside force, but rather the parents that choose what to buy their children. Companies of course advertise and persuade parents to buy certain products, but parents are free-thinking individuals with the power to exercise free choice. If problems exist, are parents not also to blame? Sean Gabb has written a very interesting article putting across the other side of the debate.

What Sean points out is that restrictions are also impositions of a particular morality. This moral authoritarianism often has unintended consequences, as those who enforce the rules that are drawn up do so in ways go way beyond what was intended.

“The moment you ask for a control to be imposed, you put your trust in people you have never seen, who are not accountable to you, who probably do not share your own values, and who will, sooner or later, use the control you have demanded in ways that you find surprising or shocking. The attempted control of clothing, for example, will certainly be made an excuse for the police to drag little girls out of family picnics to photograph the clothes they are wearing, or to measure their heels to see if they are a quarter of an inch too long.”

Examples of this creeping authoritarianism are all too frequent, from photographers getting hassled by the police for taking pictures in public places, to city centre enforcement officers trying to restrict political leafleting as part of litter controls. Whatever the intentions of the Bailey report, it has a the danger of encouraging a raft of legislation that grants power to officials to control and regulate the morality of our society. Much of this legislation is likely to result in some rather unpleasant consequences. If parents want to prevent sexualisation then they can stop buying the products, films and clothes that encourage it.

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