With very little effort but consciously and voluntarily, I’ve managed to avoid acquiring either wealth or children. However, I’ve paid attention to those factors in other lives.
This morning when I sat down to the read the paper, I noticed that more than half of the stories were about either wealth or children or some relationship between the two. Most of the stories were bad news: autism rates and premature birth numbers rising, wealth acquired the short-cut way, either at the point of a gun or through some kind of swindle. Newspapers don’t usually dally long over good news.
I don’t quite know how to classify the story about Roman Polanski: is it about children or wealth? The child in question was not his. It’s kind of a mystery where her parents were. Wealth has on the one hand allowed him to escape immediate punishment but on the other hand has not been able to keep him from being banished but on the other hand (I love three handed arguments, which tend to break up polarization, I hope.) have not prevented him from making lots of money which probably gave him access to a lot more of other people’s children (a little older, I hope). There is such a gap between the event and the court date that in the meantime standards for sexual ethics have shifted drastically, or more accurately they have shattered, idealisms of various sorts being pitted against overwhelming realities. Outrage gathers in defense of Polanski’s victim while the world simply looks away from widespread human trafficking of children. Of course, most of the children you can buy are not blonde.
Much of our morality when it comes to sex is the goal of our children inheriting our wealth. Much of our practice when it comes to children is to use wealth to secure them an advantage. This was true when the first white traders came to the high prairie and gave their half-white children the resources to get ahead of the indigenous people whose world was diminishing and it is true today in the “highest” circles where Prince Charles looked for a healthy commoner to give him vigorous sons. But the terms of the relationship have changed.
In law, if a woman cannot give a man a male inheritor, she throws the basis of peaceful transfer of wealth and power into chaos, leading to competition and overthrow. On those grounds she can be divorced or annulled, or as England knows, simply beheaded. If a husband will not perform the act that will give a woman a male breadwinner to support her in old age, he can be legally divorced. These laws have encouraged a certain amount of legerdemain to provide an heir, who sometimes looks rather like the milkman. Or prompt representations of obligation to support a child conceived outside of wedlock. (LOCK!)
So the first monkeywrench in the old arrangement is that nowadays the inseminator and the ovum producer can be identified scientifically through DNA. The locus of the transaction may not be a bed but a petri dish. The motivation for a man to keep a woman locked up in order to guarantee he is the only one with access to her reproductive machinery is in question.
The second monkeywrench is the nature of the more recent sexually transmitted diseases (like AIDS) which are not obvious until it is too late. This has put an unnatural premium on sex with children, too young to reproduce but presumably too inexperienced to have caught an inconvenient virus for which there is no cure. On the other hand, HIV is a powerful consumer of wealth and if the government or NGO’s cannot provide the prevention, the cure research, or the palliative treatment, the motivation for creating wealth through criminal sexual transactions (including trafficking) is much higher.
And the third monkeywrench is the globalization of the planet, the loss of boundaries which once kept people local, and awareness of the huge wealth disparities on the planet, which so increase rage and frustration as to fuel wars in which sexual assault is used as a weapon. Resulting in unwanted children.
In spite of my total rejection of censorship, which interferes with rational inquiry into these social problems, I cannot help deploring the constant use of sex and wealth to hype media popularity. It is the very complexity and intensity of the problem that both triggers the tendency to hide, cover up, deny, at the same time as to tease with half-knowledge and scandal. We have all noticed the connection between the supposedly virtuous with their secret transgressions.
The question is how to address both children who are destitute and children who are neglected investments in tomorrow. Neither is getting the kind of nurturing, attention and focus that will build a better world for us all. Yesterday’s advice no longer applies. One of the chief characteristics of both kinds of children is their loathing of hypocrisy and their ability to spot it in adults. Sadly, most of our beliefs about families and institutions like schools are simply hypocrisy. I hardly dare mention the relevance of drugs, whether those meant to keep child-whores at work or those meant to keep disruptive kids under control.
Too many families are meant to be signals for acquiring wealth: “Trust me!” Too many schools are wealth-accruing strategies for teachers and administrators. Too many religious institutions have crossed over into politics that guide wealth and supposed virtue into dubious hands. Too many governments are confused about their obligations and assets.
Many of the stories in today’s newspaper are about damage to children caused by prematurity, autism, baby-selling, and other universal social ills. Eight soldiers killed in Afghanistan, no one knows how many killed by tsunamis: the sorrow and political consequences, like funds needed for recovery, are beyond anyone’s capacity to estimate.
Yet millions of children die early, carry irreparable damage through life, or never get enough support to thrive and learn. We note that, but don’t do much about it. We’re too busy obsessing about the proper punishment for Roman Polanski, just as earlier we were split between punishment and apologies for Michael Jackson. And more recently obsessed with the captor of Elizabeth Bright. It’s so much easier to understand, or at least think we understand, a story about someone that it is to digest numbers that in fact might be telling us more about both wealth and children.