© 2002-2006
the matthew show


Recently a news story appeared on my television. It was about a woman who was suing her son's school for negligence in a case of bullying.

As with most of these cases, the school had been responding for many months to her complaints with the standard "boys will be boys" routine. It was only after a school bus videotape revealed the savage assaults the boy was subjected to every day that anyone at the school bothered to do anything. The school claimed that it had no idea the children were
capable of such brutality.

I saw another story that night. 200 children were up on a stage singing about peace, love, and understanding. The adult organizers extolled the virtues of not just these children, but the nature of childhood, in all of its innocence and acceptance of others.

"If the kids can do it, why can't we?" quoth one man, arm draped around his unsmiling son, whose idea this songfest obviously wasn't.

Anyone see what I'm driving at here?

It would seem that adulthood and Alzheimer's are in fact one and the same. For in reality, there are few adults who can match the cruelty of children.

Go to an elementary school playground on the first day of school and see how quickly the pecking order is established. See how interested in peace, love, and understanding the children are. Sure, many of them have been taught manners at home, but those can go out the window pretty fast when popularity is at stake.

Lord of the Flies is no joke. It exists, and only stays under control in the presence of adults.

In opposition to popular belief, adulthood is not the corruption of childhood innocence. It is the recovery from and control of childhood instincts.

The school in the bullying case claims that children aren't normally capable of extreme violence. But good parenting and adult influence are actually the only thing keeping children FROM exercising extreme violence. Many studies show that it is LACK of adult influence that creates
bullies. Violence, then, is the default setting.

So where does this concept of childhood innocence come from? Well, I ask you this: How many times have you seen a baby in an angel costume? Many parents fear the end of infancy, and wish nothing more than to extend it. Infants are seen as the ultimate innocents, because they are incapable of any action, good or evil.

But as any parent knows (and even those of us who have no progeny), with mobility comes misbehavior. Parenting is the act of shaping childhood behavior so that the child will become an adult who is functional in society. If it were merely providing food & shelter, we would be monkeys. Who are mean bastards, by the way.

One possible place to take this argument is to determine that Christianity is correct: All have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God. But that path of reasoning starts with the concept of original sin, wherein individuals are held accountable for the actions of their forebears. Bunk, say I.

Civilization and forms of civilized behavior came about well before the advent of Christianity, or for that matter, Judaism or the Egyptian god system. Though there is no way to conclusively prove this, I personally believe that the concept of God was not the force that shaped early
civilized behavior.

It was necessity.

The necessity for neighbors to hunt animals together and increase food yield. The necessity of trade for sustenance and durable goods. It simply made sense. If anything, religion was a destabilizing factor, creating "Us & Them" wars of which I've already spoken.

Why then, you ask, has human civilization been so rife with cruelty and violence? Don't we all see the need for civilized behavior to ensure our survival?

This question is best addressed if we look at civilization in the context of evolution.

When the ancestors of primates developed prehensile limbs, it was an evolutionary mutation, an adaptation that made them more likely to survive. It would be another several thousand years before another mutation would occur, creating homo sapiens and our large brain capacity.
This was also an adaptation to ensure survival.

But since the rise of homo sapiens in its present form approximately 400,000 years ago, there have not been any significant mutations to our species.

Or have there?

Perhaps for humans, physical adaptation was no longer necessary. We were winning the food chain war, and were thriving. The only threat left was each other. What would the logical mutation be?

Now, this is where it gets tricky. Because unlike previous mutations, this one is directly under our control. Who knows what spark started it, but for the past 400,000 years, we have been mutating ourselves. And on an evolutionary scale, 400,000 years is a very short time.

But observe: We are surviving. We are flourishing. In most parts of the world, we have created complex social systems & regulations to ensure that the evolution from brutality to civilization continues.

However, this mutation is very young. For every Gandhi, there is a Saddam Hussein. For every Jimmy Carter, there is a George W. Bush (sorry, had to do it).

And yet, we're making progress. As recently as the 19th century, war covered the Earth in such volume as to make genocide relatively commonplace. But now you can count the number of full-fledged wars around the globe on two, perhaps three hands. We are learning.

But because this is a man-made mutation, we must pay attention. Every action observed by others is a lesson. Every action you yourself witness shapes your behavior towards others in a thousand tiny ways.

So when we see brutality in the schoolyard, we must realize that it is WE who are teaching boys to be boys, either through action or inaction. The assumption of any form of cruelty as acceptable is an evolutionary step backwards.

Consequently, we must rid ourselves of the notion of childhood innocence. From mobility & speech onward, every human being has the capability for the most ruthless violence and the most compassionate wisdom, and it is we in every part of society that make that difference.

All of this may be a convoluted way of saying that in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. You go, John.


Memetics on Principia Cybernetica Web
Journal of Memetics

The End


Mo' Thoughts