The kids are all right
Saipan — In his awesome book, "The End is Near and It’s Going to be Awesome," Kevin D. Williamson reminds us that most governments “do not have their roots in the careful deliberations of an extraordinary group of Enlightenment philosophers and heroic men of action.”
No. “The roots of most government more closely resemble organized crime syndicates.”
Government, Williamson quotes George Washington, “is not reason. It is not eloquence. Government is force.”
Government alone, says Max Weber, has a monopoly on legitimate physical coercion. Government can tell us what to do, when to do it and even how to do it, because it can imprison us (or worse) if we don’t.
But what about democratic government, you ask? Government whose officials are freely elected by the people? Its officials may talk about liberty and freedom and the consent of the governed, but that government is still buttressed with force — the military, the police, the corrections department, the justice system. A democratic citizen still has to follow the law even if it’s moronic (and many laws are) — or else.
And most of us don’t mind. Some of us, in fact, admire “strong” — i.e., authoritarian — governments like Singapore’s or China’s. They get things done, we say.
Many of us also believe that most people are awful and selfish and inept, but maybe they could be considerate and noble and capable if we elect them into office. So many of us believe that government — which has failed, and continues to fail, in so many things that it is supposed to do — can solve persistent, never-ending societal problems, many of which are the handiwork of the same government.
Why do we believe in such things? Because we know that government is force. We think it can coerce us to do the right thing. Government can ban the “bad stuff” like, for example, Christianity, whose adherents were fed to the lions by Rome’s imperial government. Or rock n’ roll and other decadent capitalist commodities such as a pair of Levi’s or a Chuck Norris movie in the USSR and its Eastern European vassal states (a.k.a. Socialist Paradise).
In August 2021, the “strong and dynamic” (that is, repressive and murderous) government of the People’s Republic of China banned anyone under the age of 18 from playing online between Monday and Thursday.
I know a lot of parents here in the CNMI and elsewhere who support a “crackdown” on videogames. It’s for the good of our kids, they say.
But as Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, China’s edict is just “the latest in the centuries of efforts by parents and governments to control the lucrative market for children’s minds.” Zweig says history shows that “telling people they can’t have something has made them want it all the more.” Just ask Adam and Eve.
“In every generation,” Zweig says, “children have craved whatever entertainment their parents decried and restricted the most. Then they’ve grown up, become parents themselves — and promptly curtailed their own children’s favorite diversions, often enlisting governments to enact new restrictions.”
Such criticisms and crackdowns have tended to fizzle, fail or backfire, Zweig adds.
In the Victorian era, Britain condemned the printed weekly serials called “penny dreadfuls.” These were sensational stories about crime, adventure and the supernatural. “Contemporary moralists called them ‘foul and filthy trash’ and ‘penny packets of poison’ that would turn lower-class children into violent criminals, threatening Britain’s social order,” Zweig says. “As critics fulminated and London’s Society for the Suppression of Vice sent the police to raid publishers, sales of penny dreadfuls went from a few thousand a week to hundreds of thousands.”
In the 1950s in the U.S., Zweig adds, “comic books came under the same kind of fire” with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee conducting hearings on whether comic books were contributing to juvenile delinquency. Few people remember those hearings or that they even occurred. But comic books and/or graphic novels are still widely popular.
In the mid-1980s, Zweig says the Parents Music Resource Center or PRMC — one of whose members was Tipper Gore, then-wife of future Vice President Al Gore — blamed popular music for a surge in rape and other violence. Of course, a U.S. Senate committee conducted a hearing.
Government had to do something, and the music industry was eventually bullied into adding warning labels on records with “offensive” lyrics. The result? “Rap and hip-hop, one of the genres targeted by the PMRC, went on to become America’s best-selling music,” Zweig notes. “In 1989, on his track ‘Freedom of Speech,’ the rapper Ice-T ridiculed the warning labels: ‘The sticker on the record is what makes ’em sell gold. The more you try to suppress us, the larger we get.’ ”
Have you listened to the lyrics of many of today’s popular songs? Good job government.
Zweig says in the U.S. in 1993-1994, violent videogames were the focus of yet another U.S. Senate investigation. To appease government scolds, Zweig says the videogame industry “came up with its own rating board, which labels games and apps on their suitability for children and other users. The result? Videogames became more violent — and popular — than ever. Today, the trade group Entertainment Software Association estimates that 76 percent of U.S. children and 67 percent of adults play videogames. Many say they couldn’t have survived Covid quarantine without them.”
As for China, its government has been restricting videogame usage for at least 20 years now, an Asian gaming industry researcher tells Zweig. “Yet the number of gamers in China rose from 120 million in 2010 to 727 million last year. Players of all ages have sidestepped China’s previous restrictions on videogames by using such dodges as private computer networks, logging on with fake identification or getting another person to sign in for them.”
“In the struggle between an authoritarian government and a few hundred million children,” Zweig says, “sooner or later the kids are going to win.”
The roots of most government may resemble organized crime syndicates, but government, generally speaking, is inefficient compared to organized crime syndicates. Ask yourself. Who’s “winning” the government war on drugs?
Zaldy Dandan is editor of the NMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety. His fourth book, If He Isn’t Insane Then He Should Be: Stories & Poems from Saipan, will be available on amazon.com this month. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org