Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The world children have to grow up in

written for the Hermes Project by Hatto Fischer
Athens 14.8.2006


Unfortunately we live a world which we allow to be destroyed in the name of economic development and ever more so because of wars at global scale. Such wars are waged since 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of a ‘global war against terrorism’ and as of late in the Middle East even under the premise of the ‘Right to defend oneself’ to let Israel attack Lebanon and vice versa the Hezbollah to launch rockets into Israel. In between or elsewhere there is Dafur and other conflict areas in Africa. All these wars bring enormous destruction upon others, more so upon innocent bystanders and in particular children. These wars are horrific because they do not merely destroy factories, houses, bridges but also by institutionalizing ‘war’ as a permanent feature in this world, they destroy prospects of peace and eliminate nonviolent ways to resolve conflicts.

The world we live in

What makes it worse is that these wars include in their strategies and tactics the destruction of cultural heritage especially if identified as source of other identities than the defining power of war wishes to impose. That has many ramifications. There is the case of world heritage sites such as the ancient city of Babylon which is used by American troops as military camp. It is hard to imagine tanks grinding over this archaeological site but it happened. Then the looting of the museum of Baghdad once Iraq collapsed after the invasion on March 2003 was allowed to happen. Insofar much greater interest was devoted to securing the oil ministry than to preserving cultural artifacts of one of the oldest civilizations indicates what has a higher priority.

The frightening prospect is that the destruction of cultural heritage risks limiting if not eliminating altogether any common sense of humanity. Access to such common identity in realization all human beings are equal is furthermore restricted once cultural heritage is defined only by national interests as if the sole legacy of these and no other people. Despite having just left the Cold War behind us with the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989, the world risks being polarized again. It goes hand in hand with the production of new ‘enemy pictures’ and as disputes about Danish cartoons show, it evokes the creation of ever more hostile images of the other. But once cultural identities cannot challenge each other and intercultural dialog does not take place, then everything not confirming to own wishes or something else is transmitted outside any context of mutual understanding in a provoking manner from the other side, then everything shall be interpreted not as a 'challenge' but as a threat. Such perception will serve to legitimize ever more radical measures as arming oneself even if that risks provoking yet another round of war.

It is frightening to see that even the Geneva Convention can be interpreted in such a way that it allows the justification of bombardments of civilians and their installations, houses, hospitals, bridges etc. if said to serve a double i.e. besides the civilian a military purpose. Especially children suffer under such onslaughts since they are most defenseless – a vast contradiction to those claiming ‘Right to defend’. It should never be forgotten that lashing out by starting yet another war means first of all killing and maiming innocent by-standers, in particular children.

All along in this false ‘global war against terrorism’ the justifications given mean but one thing: still further rationalization of war. Like any good salesman the pitch is given that war is the only alternative to inhumane actions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Such justifications ignore the impact to be seen by forces of destruction becoming still more lethal e.g. cluster bombs.

There prevails the general inability to say simply ‘no’ to any killing of innocent people; in Iraq the number killed since the start of the invasion has reached by now more than 50 000 civilians and daily still more bombs go off in a most arbitrary way. On the American side with more than 3 000 killed, the number of wounded, most of them to the head and this most severely, amounts to over 25 000. But such staggering numbers fail to impress. Why?

There needs to be recognized that US defense secretary Rumsfeld issued immediately after 9/11 the doctrine of ‘permanent war’. It has left the world without breathing space either before, after or in-between wars. By reversing the old slogan of Trotzky about the ‘permanent revolution’ it exemplifies that human reason has been replaced by a devient kind of rationalization. Incredible is that Rumsfeld thinks that by waging war it is something the world owes to the children and future generations. (1)

As if the world can be made safer by ever newer kinds of war, it is a sample of ideology or ‘public diplomacy’ (the new term for propaganda) resting on fallacy. Although obviously false since no war can make the world safer, children are forced to grow up in a world in which adults seem to have lost any sense of truth. More so people no longer seem to wish an end to war. In that sense war has become a permanent feature and realists are quick to point out when were there ever times without any war going on? Any peace prospect is deemed to be highly unrealistic. When children look up to the adults and listen what they have to say on this topic, they appear to have resigned completely to the condition of permanent war. Whatever they say, it is just an excuse why they do anything about it.

If that is the case and nothing else forthcoming, then no one will know how to uphold cultural heritage: ‘memories of humanity’. Although it is the precondition for children having a future in the world, the world seems to have slipped into an ‘eternal present’ marked by the absence of memories. Orwell has described already this condition in his novel 1984. Yet childhood memories of what stories were told when they grew up and heard what the adults said, are crucial. They show how people have come together, love stories perhaps the best example. Lewis Mumford in ‘the history of the city’ describes this as the cultural function of heritage: the city. (2)

Cultural heritage can be known especially through ‘oral history’: the way stories are passed on from grandfather to grandchildren in the knowledge that these children will live longer as long as they have a future. Unfortunately not only the art of telling stories is being lost today but also that children have even less of a positive future ahead of them than the generations before them. They are inheriting a world badly damaged by all developments and wars. It is noticeable from climate change affecting the ice caps to one war following the previous one while in-between ‘street fear’ raises doubts about people being able and willing to live together.

Most fear is due to the politics of development which intervenes and alters living conditions beyond recognition. It tends to misuse cultural heritage for its own purposes. One motive is to make still more money but at the cost of any authenticity. Forgotten in this rush to adopt all sorts of development models as prescribed by marketing strategies is that cultural heritage must be promoted and preserved in a way that allows the community retain its identity over time. The community at local level can do so only by staying consistent and thereby ensures cultural authenticity when letting the human narrative take its path.

Common memories of humanity can only be retained and passed on if stories told are convincing because truthful. Cultural heritage can be used to retrace history but it should not be abused by power to legitimize itself and thereby distort the perception of the present. It is all a matter of how ‘continuity of identity’ enables people and their children to adapt to changes in view of global challenges.

A few observations about children in such a world

Children, youth, adolescents, teenagers etc. are all in need of special Rights, in particular the Right for love and respect (3). Children are often more mature than adults because they are open. They have not yet a culture by which they could filter influences affecting their development and therefore they face often difficult, sometimes impossible choices. Of interest is that in a world with all shortcomings any child takes on all responsibilities regardless whether it can shoulder these tasks or not. Children tend to be more responsible to others than to themselves. That has consequences for the child's own development and needs to be balanced out over time.
All the more the need to understand how children can learn through cultural heritage those stories told about how people faced in the past challenges and were able to solve questions of survival. At the same time there is always a difference between past and present. That difference is made apparent by what awaits children in near future. They face this future as an 'unknown' although it is already determined in many ways. Above all that is indicated by what relationship between past and present can and is allowed to set the premises for further development.
Children do know once grown up they have to resolve as adults many of same problems but under different conditions .e.g. earning a living to feed the family. Of interest is what tension prevails in society at any given time due to this difference between immediate practical questions such as what work to take up in order to earn a living and larger questions such as why war and social poverty. Out of that tension between these two different levels attitudes towards politics and life in general are shaped.
In the absence of a general theory about social emancipation, little or no cultural orientation linked to values of democracy seems to prevail in local society, especially when confronted by all kinds of challenges, including ‘global ones’. Mentalities are shaped accordingly but especially in terms of the existence of such value transformed into a 'need', namely that everyone abides to law and respects the others on the basis of equal Rights to everyone.
Children observe daily all kinds of violation of that basic value premise both in their own families but also in society at large. How they will respond and shape their moral concepts accordingly, this is not given. There are cases when children would see their parents for the first time as human beings not perfect once they find out that either mother or father has not been faithful despite the marriage vow and the meaning of family as a stable institution, while other children would after such revelation deny both the moral law of faithfulness and the parents. (4) It seems to depend on differences in philosophies with Idealism prone to reinforce such disappointments which seem to legitimize absolute denial of a reality if not conforming to the prescribed ideal. Once children and more so adolescents are disappointed, they are prone to nihilistic attitudes especially if they do not get any response to their critical ideas but are left in a void. (5)

In absence of a cultural consensus about the need for childhood

If the observations of children in today’s world amount to something, then the response of children to the absence of ‘lawfulness’ means societies risk exposing them to arbitrariness. They are then prone to develop more ‘irrational’ than ‘rational attitudes’, the former implying staying for too long in a situation even if it has negative consequences. This can take the child to the point of self destruction and even suicide.
Lawfulness has to do with the existence of things in real terms but also how things are taken care of; on the contrary, the television world suggests unlimited powers and virtually everything at one’s disposal since things exist on the basis of being able to demand own Rights. Between these two different versions of the world there is no bridge, no mediation possible. It leaves children confounded by the Right to existence in one’s own Rights being obscured by this arbitrariness as if everything and nothing can exist. There is hardly any story being told that would make sense to children and the youth when it comes to dealing with the world and its people.
Of interest is that in the way things are taken care of or not (neglect of historical buildings but one such indication), society’s relationship to cultural heritage reflects to what extent there does exist a cultural consensus about the value of things and laws to which all prescribe as a way to move forward in order to make possible a life for all. The creation of such cultural consensus as value premise is the most important dimension of cultural heritage. Here basic concepts such as needs of people can conjoin in what guides children to understand and appreciate a certain development. Even more important are what experiences they make so that they can verify the assumptions they have about the world.
This process of validation is no longer possible once the cultural consensus no longer exists that childhood is needed as a way to reconcile this difference between experiencing the world anew while at the same time it is an old world in which many generations have lived throughout various civilizations. In the absence of such a consensus that a childhood is needed, the perception of what is possible within such a world changes for the worse. Like a regression to times before the free standing statue, a perception of the world without having gone through a childhood worth remembering would not have the depth and appreciation of what has become known already before and out of which many new things can follow if retold anew. That is exactly the crucial point to be made about the narratives of the world. Their very absence indicates that fewer experience childhood as a way to start rediscovering these stories about how a cultural consensus was created in the past and what they did on the basis of such value agreements in terms of how they treated each other, the things they used for working and living, as much as how they came to terms with events happening at the time. (6)
Once a world goes astray due to war and economic crisis resulting in hunger and families without a father, the pressure mounts on children to become an adult as soon as possible. That includes child soldiers or child prostitutes but equally all those new talents making news at an early age. While adults burden children with all sorts of unresolved problems and their own limitations, they do not see what this speeded up maturation process means to children: loss of a childhood.
If childhood as such is to have value for the future, it has to be remembered positively or as Freud would say ‘free of conflicts’. Children need to experience to the full their childhood years. Here they learn their basic orientation of life and begin to discover the world.
Loss of childhood means to be without real identity. The lack of identification with something positive can be attributed to lack of a memory base and that from an early age onwards. Just as cultural heritage of mankind is of great importance to society, so childhood memories for those growing up in such a world are needed. Both need to be brought together as the child grows up. This involves both formal and informal education, attending school as much as visiting museums, since learning about life means hearing all the stories from those who have gone through experiences out of which can be learned, provided there is also a willingness to learn out of failures. For only then will they as adults have a broader perspective on life and more so an international understanding of the conditions of peace because they learned already as children what collaborative work with others means.
Unfortunately there can be observed a tendency to lower the age as to when a child can be considered to be an adult. (7) Overtly it is argued that young people come to terms with the digital culture i.e. computers at a much earlier age than previous generations. Also it is argued that children are exposed already at early age to the full adult world. Everybody watches regardless of age the same movies and are lured by similar advertisements, media gags and other forms of entertainment that it does not make even sense to speak about a distinctive child or youth culture. The modern media with emphasis upon a certain type of entertainment tends to focus on the young as if the only dynamic force of society. That they are equally most vulnerable and susceptible to the lure to make quick money without need to work is not said as the overall problem of unemployment questions the need for extensive studies and more difficult learning and qualification paths. Working for the sake of humanity is considered to be a stupid thing to do.
Yet there is a downside to lowering the age as to when a child can be considered to be an adult. Often such demands by adults reflect a wish to escape criminal charges in case of sexual abuse. By transforming it into a consensual act because no longer committed with a minor these adults want to avoid being accused of child abuse. Unfortunately, not even the Catholic Church has yet made it explicit that any sex abuse will damage the child for the rest of his or her life as it will affect all later relationships adversely. It can be best described as driving the child to the extreme point of perversion of any truth and thereby come to deny what Sigmund Freud had identified as prerequisite for a healthy life: a happy sexual life.
The lowering of age has at the surface of things created an enormous media interest in ever more sensational news. Here some examples as to the consequences highlighted recently by the media:

Still, there is an international consensus that until the age of 18 any child deserves not only full protection but also needs undisturbed time and space in order to grow up. Yet if nature as natural heritage is being destroyed, where can children play in the mud and roam through forests as if Indians? And if the urban environment is devoid of any cultural heritage, especially the case in those newly constructed suburban settings where every house looks the same and no where any unique story, how can children begin to discover still traces of history? Where can they still listen to stories told by their grandparents and parents so that they can start thinking in other terms than the premeditated ones by the societies they grow up in? (8)
But aside from children getting attention by the media at an ever earlier age and vice versa everything being done to prepare children for a highly competitive world from the earliest possible age on, there are some other, still more disturbing observations to be made:

Once destruction and brutality prevail due to the absence of not only social justice in both family and school, but also kindness and recognition of others as human being ruled out almost systematically in streets and by social institutions, then a negative ideology will prevail to justify both radical actions and unwillingness to look for other than violent remedies. Mostly such disposition is suited especially for Right Wing Extremism and embodies a kind of metaphysics of politics making it nearly impossible to reason with such youth. Such state of affairs can be described as outcome of confused minds with no where to go; while trying to overcompensate own deficits there lures something promising greatness if doing something radical e.g. all those men who went to war in Troy due to the promise their names shall be remembered by history. To such methods of deception can be added luring young teenagers with rock music to simplify the first contacts with the real stuff. It all begins with discarding claims of truth based on compassion for others and making everything depend upon what leading figures say in terms of an all powerful concept e.g. superiority of one’s own group. From there to outright racialism it is not far. It becomes even the task of museums to counter such tendencies. (11)
The loss of human reality and therefore the giving up of individual conscience as much as the negation of practical judgment means denial of human possibilities to have a decent life is linked to a denial of understanding politics in ‘rational terms’. Once politics becomes ‘irrational’, then reality is misconceived out of anger at the world. Everything is deemed to be humiliating. It fills the person with rage, especially if it does not add to the own fiction of strength needed in order to cover up some obvious weaknesses. More so, if done in denial of vulnerability as key human characteristic, then the need to appear hard and tough, resolute and determined by the will alone is due to such negative experiences as being over exploited at work and still rendered helpless, while without any sound human relationship and therefore warmth as part of the self understanding as a human being. If such negative state of affairs continue to prevail over a long time, it can easily be used by certain ideologies to let everything hindering any positive solution as object of hatred and therefore given free to be destroyed. All this marks the punitive character of those involved in self destruction and victimization of others at one and the same time.  
Reinforcement of irrational attitudes can be linked to the absence of any cultural heritage. Once claims of the present not only as time concept are made but as a generation in charge of things no longer wishes to be reminded about the past nor feels any sense of responsibility as outcome of that past, then the absence of such truth elements capable of contradicting bad generalizations would make possible upholding ideological claims even if absurd. As if a failure of the mind, it seems nothing convinces anymore but the irrational bent to things.
If people are to know something as being valid, then cultural heritage has to be valorized by all. Only then can it be a source of such value consensus that allows cultural mediation between past, present and future.
Once cultural heritage is reduced to ‘national’, it can be misused to tell only the national narrative and to legitimize how resources are used currently to maintain power. That includes claim to land on the basis of belonging to the royal family. Linked to that are the usual traps set if false claims about what role certain lineages play in that national narrative are upheld as a fiction. Once more powerful than any workable reality based on the equality of every individual, social injustice is perpetuated over time. For it leads to granting and accepting more Rights to acquisition and ownership of resources and property by heritage lineage than what is deemed necessary by democratic rule. The latter can only work if there are no privileged few gaining more power than the majority of people. As reform showed in Ancient Greece the power of the powerful has to be broken in time to make possible a balance of power made possible between all citizens. One obvious conclusion to be drawn out of such observation is to study still further how false claims to power are based on arguments misusing cultural heritage for the sole purpose to uphold such a claim. That is the political aspect behind use of cultural heritage which has many concerned on how especially in a Europe seeking integration can accommodate the various national narratives without binding identity seeking processes to such historical clout.
Here the freedom of interpretations of cultural heritage is needed from national claims before linkage to humanity can become an articulated identity based on common cultural heritage accessible to all. The realization of a common European identity will depend on a critical reconstructions of the past so that cultural heritage does not to serve ideologies but keeps alive ‘wonder’ (as main philosophical category of experience) about man’s life on earth. Always partial answers given to these open questions should not be taken as standing for the whole truth of humanity. It all depends on not only how stories are told. Freedom of interpretation means the ability to question any form of determination in terms of identity and outcomes of history. For this reason Ernst Bloch added the ‘heritage of these times’ as the outcome of how this present time is lived while realizing what tension there exists to both the past and the future. At any time in history, the present being lived is something not yet fully know as of yet but it has the potential to become something and like any art work its full value will only be realized in future. (12)
In that sense, cultural heritage as interpreted by museums and stories is an integral part of an ongoing historical introspection. In cultural terms it is a part of ongoing reflections by mankind with regards to its ‘memories of the future’. The two aspects make up a common practice linking informal and formal learning processes about how the institutional set-up of society serves the purpose of ensuring a continuity of life of not only the individual, but of society and its institutions. This means cultural heritage is something to be perceived as learning from how societies used to organize themselves in the past and out of which something of ‘vital interest’ can be learned for an ongoing present about the shape the destiny for the future. By the same token, it means learning process as receptivity of past experiences cannot be reduced to mere necessity since vital needs go beyond such limited sets of categories and invoke other interests with very different sets of categories due to an ‘elan vital’ being a constituting element of a present very much alive and interested in what took place in the recent as much as in the ancient past. (13)
If understanding cultural heritage presupposes the working through of memories of the past as passed on by many stories in order to become, then such a conscious effort to come to terms with the history of man has nothing to do with cults based on legends e.g. the Nazis using Teutonic monuments to revitalize the Germanic mythology as a kind of mystic identity bondage. (14)
Without the freedom to experience oneself as human being, people will loose in social orientation and desire for lack of recognition only what the rich and powerful enjoy already, namely social status and the privileges which go with it. Rather than sharing with others, they will be driven by envy and bitterness since they know under normal circumstance they will never be able to attain that same status. Hence their common base will be resentment and a fear to be weak if not in coalition with the stronger ones and protected by a strong state. That leaves them without any cultural heritage basis.
Children growing up in such a milieu without any positive models except some elusive hero figure who stands up to these conditions of injustice and social inequality will not see and go beyond such cult figures. How then differences between imagined and real solutions will play out, here the study by Horkheimer and Adorno about the makings of the ‘authoritarian personality’ can guide further reflections on this subject matter. (15)
Depending what linkage between childhood memories and cultural heritage can be made, it will determine greatly the path taken by these and other children as they become adolescents and still later adults having to come to terms with such a world they seek to leave behind but more often cannot escape. There are not only the poverty cycles but also the rich who will perpetuate themselves often in a negative sense e.g. the Bush family and the illegal practices of sons who have a rich father to cover up their tracks until they know themselves how to stay a step ahead whenever they break the law.
In reality, fear of authority (law) will be matched by servitude and suppressed hate, if not devious ways to circumvent both people and law to serve own ends. Children who grow up in such families unable to articulate alternatives to such a strict order based on discipline and faithfulness to the leader will tend to copy that in their own more extreme fashion. (16)

It is a vain effort to stay in their belief more sincere and true to the cause than their parents. Often children want to continue there where the parents have given up or left things undone. Oddly enough what is passed on and adopted to suit newer conditions, such as reading and other working skills, is a part of cultural heritage as well. If not corrected over time, it seems certain flaws and mistakes are perpetuated. How then undo the knots and avoid foregone conclusions. The problem is that this struggle against all kinds of determinisms is also a fight against limitations both real and set by society e.g. like your father you will become an alcoholic. Dostoevsky examined his own inclination towards a ‘gambler’ while others think in terms of their parents as unresolved conflicts because of having them never addressed openly and in a way so that both sides can come to terms with what is demanded not only of each individually but of the special father-son or mother-daughter relationship (or vice versa as the gender specifics can be altered).
Yet if more neglect than over protection leaves children exposed to reality before they have developed a culture to deal with all these challenges, they act out a hope- and helplessness that sends them crashing into all kinds of barriers. This is because they are without resistance. By giving in even though with more self confidence and some positive alternatives they would have stood their ground, these inner defeats and failures, socially speaking, they will look at themselves negatively. At the same time it exposes these children to massive generalized sweeps of identity claims under some common cause e.g. from doing something for society to becoming a soldier in Viet Nam (J.F. Kennedy, Johnson, R. Nixon). Mostly they end up joining a cause to make the state become still stronger, even if it means going to war. They want something which gives them meaning in a world known otherwise to be devoid of all meanings. They succumb then all too easily if not to highly manipulative slogan used by Bush who claims through the ‘war against terrorism’ to make ‘our great nation still stronger and safer’, then to the very opposite as was once the slogan ‘destroy what destroys you’ of those taking up arms against the state e.g. from Baader-Meinhof group emerging out of the failure of the ’68 protest movement to those joining the insurgency in Iraq and elsewhere deemed as world wide terrorism.
By being disorientated and disgusted from an early age with their immediate surroundings, they are dangerously ready to revolt more often negatively than positively. As repeatedly cases of children wishing to break out of the narrow confines of their families testify, they end up joining causes promising a different life when in fact they end up like the German writer Guenter Grass with the SS at the age of seventeen. Often they do it without realizing really in what mess both morally and physically speaking they will end up in. This is to say the critical level of children being over demanded involves many facets. As a matter of fact adults and the real world complicate things still further just when children are about to make crucial decisions and begin to transform themselves into adults.
At that crucial point in time children growing up face the biggest challenge of it all, namely whether or not to join the adult world under its conditions or decide not to conform but go instead against it. The philosopher Juergen Habermas would say all ‘either/or’ alternatives are wrong ones but then to make things worse adults demand of the children not to go against the world they have constructed but to join them in a what has become a way of life. (17) Little is said that this requires acceptance of small and sometimes even bigger lies. The closer this gets to real power and decision making processes which do matter, adults demand of the children that they join in on a general ‘conspiracy against truth’ before being accepted by the adults as fellow adults, that is mature enough to be capable of making own decisions but only such which do not direct their efforts away from the existing world but more towards upholding such an order e.g. by serving as soldier in the army to protect the country. Of interest is that the term ‘maturity’ takes on another meaning as a result of such conspiracy. For it will include the ability to go against the inner most conscience and inclinations to stick to the truth no matter the consequences rather than accept any compromise as many children have seen already in their parents as to what this leads to, namely resignation and disenchantment in life.

Conspiracy against the truth as entry point into adult life

‘Conspiracy against the truth’ is therefore a real problem but it seems in terms of cultural heritage except for studies about ‘civil courage’ not much else exists in terms of museums which contrary to glorifying war would show war resisters and the need to question power whenever about to make ill fated decisions.
Instead of gaining orientation out of cultural heritage when the time comes for the youth to enter adulthood, it seems that they have first to assure the world of the adults that they no longer pose any threat to them. It will mean they will not challenge the adults in what they are already doing in this world e.g. working for a weapon producing company. If the youth growing up fails to protest and to question unethical principles of work, more and more they too will feel the loss of reality and end up just like their parents giving up the demand of any truth. Interestingly enough in Germany maturity is defined as resigning in reason based on the political insight there is no point to rebelling against such structures allowing even shipment of arms to Israel at the height of yet another, the Sixth Middle East War. The same goes for Israel’s request to have cluster bombs by which they can strike back at Hezbollah rocket launchers but which can maim civilians due to its deadly side impact according to Human Rights Watch. (18)
As the example of Sparta in Ancient Greece exemplifies, the youth prior to being admitted into the circle of the elderly had to do something from which they would never recover. The youth of Sparta had to live for three days amongst the ‘helots’ and then after killing one of them get out before the other slaves found out. After having killed a slave they could never challenge the militant and aggressive attitude of the adults. Now they had done something terrible and therefore could no longer speak out against violations of human law. Upon entry into the circles of the elderly they had become already a part of this conspiracy against truth which alone would allow questioning the initiation rite or any other of the brutal practices in the state of Sparta.
Of interest is that Socrates was committed by the Polis for having corrupted the minds of young people, but then while awaiting his own trial outside the Polis, he did manage to convince a young man not to accuse his father in front of the Polis for having murdered another man because just a slave and therefore treated differently by law of the Polis. Why did Socrates want to convince the youth to uphold this dual law or a law with two different measures?
It seems the ‘conspiracy against truth’ is practiced in almost all societies especially when linked to war as way to defend itself. For example, memorial services with war veterans praise the heroes but ensure at the same time that the real memory about the cruelty and injustices of war are blended out. By claiming to do something great for the nation, it means that soldiers who do the actual killing in war and more so the commanders issuing the orders can never be questioned. That would be something unpatriotic. And even more so everyone can claim just to have followed orders.
More and more human truths no longer count, but legacies are spun and therefore the stories told but fabrications or even worse lies since none of these actions can be justified. It should not be overlooked that those doing things against humanity fear most of not being only found out but in being challenged by those still innocent: the children. They are still free in their conscience as long as they have not committed a ‘crime against humanity’.
There is an example of conspiracy of silence at work in the recent story of a boy missing in Veria, Greece. The boy has not been found since gone missing in June 2006. Alone that one picture with children looking on from behind a school window while the police comb the area can tell something of the frightening aspect not to be captured by Michael Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’.

School children looking on. Source: Kathimerini

Originally five boys confessed to have killed this boy: a gifted immigrant child who had come from Russia and was near the top of his class. Since the news broke due to protest by the mother (she had missed already her boy for several days), and the police arrived, no real progress has been made in the investigation. The search and questioning by the police, psychologists and prosecutor of the children and the adults connected to them the closest, has continued. Yet it seems that a silence by all adults or of the whole community has been stone walling against all inquiries. In addition, the five boys have withdrawn their earlier confession while a mother is still missing her child. 7 months later the newspaper Kathimerini, reports on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 under the headline :'Alex's parents plead for help', "that the mother and stepfather of the missing 11-year old Alex Meshivili who disappeared in Veria, northern Greece, have pleaded with the one of the five youngsters accused of killing the schoolboy to tell authorities the truth about what has happened." The disappearance is still not resolved despite numerous efforts to find out what happened.
The problem of violence can be linked to children forced to grow up in a world without truth and social justice no longer the principle of good practice. Arbitrary power and lack of freedom leads to mistaking identification of judgment with punishment and victims no longer able to question the motives of those who did it. The latter seem to have always the power to define who is the guilty one or more so if identified as a threat justify the going to extremes, including killing. The frightening thing is the tendency towards lynch justice by modern states especially in their use of the method of political assassination. There is no justice just punishment or more severe the death penalty executed immediately once a person has been identified by power as the guilty one e.g. Israel identifying Hamas militant leaders as having organized suicide bombers. It leaves out the usual civil right of ‘not being guilty’ until proven otherwise and this to be done in court where witness are heard and judges contribute to making this into fair trial. But in this in-between war and enacting upon the fear of terrorism the accuser e.g. the state of Israel has no longer such burden of proof in the ‘global war against terrorism’.
As communities go astray in materialistic cultures of consumption and ‘street fear’ making public places unsafe, it becomes also evident that ever busy parents have no real time for children. If children do not end up sitting in front of television or just play video games, then they go astray due to education not offering real orientation. Much time is wasted or rather consumed with importance given to the car as symbol of economic success despite this vehicle in its massive use destroying still more the environment. How to get out of the contradictions of such a world? Children ask but hardly get any answer.
The worst cases of children suffering in this world are the ones who are if not killed or maimed, then exploited from an early age on. If not through sex tourism and child trafficking then by being forced to do all kinds of child labors as the case with the camel jockeys in the Arabic world.

Twenty-two child camel jockeys who returned from the United Arab Emirates

Coming to terms with horrific images

“The state of affairs on the planet is becoming more and more fearful. Hypocrisy is making me shake my head back and forth all the time. Disagreeing with why and how murder can continue, and now with the report that should have come out at the beginning of the war in Iraq, that soldiers were killing and torturing civilians, a repetition of images seen during the My Lai massacre cannot leave me, with media images of coloured blankets draping the civilians on the floor, killed by u.s. marines in Iraq. My head shakes in disbelief. Blix is asking for a ban on nuclear weapons, that the U.S. will not follow the lead to. Mass protests must follow this. I doubt an art show can change things, but a seed of how many artists are making political works on current affairs, does speak for the larger population.”

Eleftheria Lialios, Video Artist at
Chicago Art Institute, 2006

Since 9/11 and until the 6th War in the Middle East in July 12th until August 14th 2006, images of children having either been killed or as part of those seeking shelter are flashed across the screens as yet another breaking news report says after the bomb went off so many were killed, left homeless or are unaccounted for. In an article written by Warren Hoge, the New York Times brings simultaneously two images: to the right a boy seeking refuge in a bomb shelter in Israel due to the threat posed by the Hezbollah shooting rockets into Israel while his counterpart, and to the left a boy around the same age sleeps in Beirut overnight outside, in a car, for fear of more bombs from Israeli war planes. (19)
What these images going around the world in less than a flash of a second convey, no one is quite certain. But once the images of those planes crashing into the Twin Towers of New York are shown over and again, and then in the next frame of pictures people are to seen as they run screaming down the streets to escape the collapse of the towers, this setting has its own paradigm. Used to justify a certain set of policy by leaving out the sequences of events leading up to that incidence they are cut-out from reality. As such the stories of the people in the streets have any impact upon them. Only during the first few hours of breaking news some disorder makes possible that some authentic stories sicker through e.g. how much rent a month the man charged to those who were in Florida to attend the flying school. But soon official versions take a hold and things are told only in conjunction with one and the same set of images as if they have a story of their own to tell. Jean Baudrillard says such images are ‘loaded up with so much energy’ that they befall the minds by taking ‘hostage the event itself’. (20) They do not let anyone to think of anything else but of this incidence. If the ‘media is the message’, so are more precisely the images selected to tell but one side of the story.
The film about 9/11 by Oliver Stone is said to be authentic as it was produced with two survivors on location to give advice. But then it serves the propaganda purpose of not only keeping the memories fresh but equally the wounds open. And as long as raw materials are shown in such a way, it is a part of how the media operates as part of the political business to deceive the public. This can be seen immediately when the wife of one man who had died in the Tower said her husband did not live the life he did in order to die and become a ‘victim’ which would justify the going to war.
All the imagines used to spread news, and thereby overpowering quite easily the imagination, prevent any empathy from being developed since the declaration of being a victim lets everyone forget to make any critical analysis. It allows just vindication or an act of revenge. The reaction in the Islamic world to the cartoons of a Danish newspaper shows how easily mass hysteria can be incited especially if accompanied by a punitive language. The public space is then over dominated by these images making sure no practical discourse can take place and thereby no contradiction can ever be named, never mind be worked through to establish at public level a sense of consistency with both basic human values and goals like the just society. This means imagines replace rational measures needed for further mediation between the expected and the possible to be realized. By over expectancy being followed by disappointment because the images prove to be greater than reality, it leaves people with the feeling of not being able to do undertake anything to improve the situation. After all if the threat is so absolute then it is suggested let the experts handle all security issues. What was before solely the police patrolling the streets all empty at night for fear of a robbery is now in the cyber space a similar disenfranchisement. Only now that what goes on in reality is delegated to unknown spaces as the terrorist to be hunted down has no concrete face or a state in which he is at home.
It is sufficient to say that most of these images distort reality or makes it increasingly harder for children to judge the difference between reality and fiction. The latter as image or sound bite, further made to appear as authentic by having reporters ‘embedded’ with the troops moving towards Baghdad, pushes fiction as contrast to reality aside and establishes as ‘virtual reality’ itself. It does so in an unknown way. Evident is that these images reside in the sub-consciousness of the viewer without knowing what will be the long term impact. One suggestion is that it contributes to a ‘shallowness of culture’ with things and events being judged with a split attitude: on the surface disgust is expressed when seeing many children are killed in a war, but underneath the surface other factors play a role e.g. fascination and an odd attraction to seeing how killing especially of innocent ones can be that easy. That is made plausible by many action films produced by Hollywood since a star like Dick Walker can kick the bad guys to the ground, twist even their heads around till they snap at the neck, and then walk away, smiling, if only to embrace a second later his sweetheart. This rapid transition from violence to paradise is hardly what people manage in real life. The soldiers returning from war find it hard to reintegrate themselves in society, if they ever make it as shown by Vietnam veterans.
The world of images has another aspect to it. Their ‘virtual reality’ is presented in such a convincing way as if it is possible to sit in the living room and still be a witness of a war going on in far away places like Afghanistan or Iraq. The images as part of a war unraveling in front of your eyes become more than mere pictures of the war a pseudo participatory element. There is the subtle form of conspiracy against any truth: by looking on and not doing anything about the war, it becomes a tacit acceptance of war. It leaves children grasping for breath. They will go to bed deeply perturbed and unable to do such ‘dream work’ (S. Freud) which would allow them to put behind these images and still look forward to running the next day through the streets since happy to be alive. The images rob them above all of any feeling of innocence.
The transition in children can be observed on hand of a simple reaction. When still very young response to first signs of violence on the television screen will be fear. They will break out in tears. Unable to distinguish between film and reality they take it to mean something terrible is happening. That is especially the case if a child dies in the film or even worse if a corpse of a child is shown by the camera covering the latest bomb attack on Beirut. At that age the children will run out or want the television to be turned off. Parents will console the child. But often they will keep the film running. After all this is the reality to which the child should get accustomed to. Maybe they will try to convince but with rather helpless arguments that it is only something on television, something not existing here in the living room nor out in the streets. And more and more the initial reaction to stop all violence will make way to sitting for hours in front of television and who knows what the child sees in both films and advertisements without having any tools so that it could decode these images.
The simple imitation of ‘bang, bang, you’re dead’ played in the backyard as part of a Cowboy-Indian chase will no longer do. Those images are more real because they are powerful. What is to be grasped is their manipulative side based on being able to neutralize as much reactions as to steer everything in a certain direction e.g. ‘go bomb them’. At school or in college students in America can then speak about Iraq as if a part of their own territory in need of bringing brought under control. Over identification is the rule rather than the exception. That repeats what any child can say that once grown up he will become a great fighter and safe the nation. Nothing more is natural to a child then to take on tasks meant to safeguard something it loves in an unknown way. It can be connected to making the own mother feel happy because secure. Intuitively children engage themselves in such projections always as heroes. Often they become fire fighters always rushing to the scene to extinguish the flames. In reality they may suffer under sexual fantasies according to S. Freud, but in their own reality they fight with more than just shadows. They feel the fear of their parents but cannot come to terms with it since the adults do not talk about these things.
The natural extension of such para-military thinking in the case of American students talking like generals eager to serve the country is to leave out completely the fact that entry into Iraq is an occupation of another country. The images have contributed towards making these cultural and political differences disappear since everything can be replaced by global images that appear everywhere to be the same but happen to differ in terms of what is happening at the very same moment on the ground. (21) 
Once the validation of the virtual world goes so far that any reality can be blended out, people and especially children end up being absorbed by this world of mere images. It has become more real to them than reality. In face of such a development several questions need to be asked:

  1. Can such simulation of reality be countered by measures working with the child’s imagination?
  2. What are the indications that society and in particular families know how to revoke the powerful influences of images by ensuring a reprise is possible due to such sanctuaries that quietness and silence are not unsettling and met with violence out of fear to be all alone?
  3. Are schools and other places of formal and informal learning such as museums capable to give children the tools to decipher these images?

Decoding these images and yet learning to move through the world without being distracted by them is nowadays nearly impossible. Even in open streets there are beside billboards, street signs, advertisements many more such ‘urban screens’ that scream out virtually still other images. As a matter of fact the entire phenomenon of ‘urban screens’ is a higher level of artistic endeavor to counter the influence of the media language while at the same time they promote as part of a virtual excursion through the city the digital culture. (22)
Given the one sided dependency upon the images of virtual reality, it is not going to be easy to come to terms with ‘human reality’ as lived daily by millions of people. There are many, too many deeply disturbed children growing up. They are all unsure. What they can imagine will be limited by all these imposing and prevailing images. Indicative is the heavy inclination to cartoon like distortions or outer space monsters only to be translated by Steven Spielberg in a nearly human creature learning to enter human language by uttering as first sound ‘autsch’. Pain experienced when a finger is pricked reminds that certain sounds are deeply ingrained in the psyche and therefore a key to entering the mind. This is how stories are told by writers working for Hollywood and it works almost all the time. Such touches are indifferent to location i.e. whether it happens out there or in here. The consequence is that no one is sure anymore of time and location while space becomes a floating fiction. Children with their imagination can more easily run in and out of these floating imaged spaces and still overcome the doubts of adults having become already passive i.e. without resistance to such a world dominated by images. Take the red can of coca-cola and it is known what is ingrained over time. Such irremovable icon has replaced the view of the church tower in the villages of the past. Consequently these and further experiences add to the growing unease of all people as to what this world is coming to.
It certainly means children witnessing such a world will be traumatized and no one can predict how they will deal with these inner wounds once themselves adults. There is reason to think that again ideologies can be used to make revenge the only law valid in a world knowing apparently no justice and which has no way to safeguard innocent lives, in particular that of children. Sad in this is that one source of ‘revenge’ is an unlived life. This is the case of children when having been emerged in mere images without experiencing really their childhood as a discovery of the real world. In the end they are the ones posing a huge problem since lost children.

Part II: The world children have to grow up in II


1. On Friday, November 2, 2001, there appeared an article in the Herald Tribune under the rubric Editorials / Opinion with the title “Start Preparing Now for Nasty Surprises Ahead”. Written by Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. secretary of defense in the President Bush junior administration, it explains why after 11th of September a new military planning is needed. Rumsfeld concludes the article, that “yes, we must win the war on terrorism, but as we do so, we must also prepare for the next war.”
2. Lewis Mumford, The City in History (1991) London: Penguin, p. 638 – 646
3. Janusz Korczak, the famous doctor for children, later protecting orphans with whom he ended up in concentration camp. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janusz_Korczak
4. Jean Piaget has made a study about such reactions when comparing Swiss with German children and the latter more inclined to deny their parents than to uphold the moral law as something higher while seeing their parents in a more realistic way. Responses of disappointment once found out that the world is not perfect can be modified by cultural heritage showing a world which was never perfect but man made and therefore to be judged accordingly.
5. This was a main theme in Robert Musil’s novel “The Man without Attributes” especially when the main character of the novel speaks with the youth sitting on staircases and showing these strains of Nihilism in their thoughts about the world they were facing. Crucial is that many youths have doubts in their ideas if they do not have anyone respond to them. It is worse, says Robert Musil, than any criticism if they do not get any response. That means in terms of public space and debate what thoughts are shown is vital to giving reason to such doubts so that they can be worked on rather than turn against the child or youth to squash them with self doubt.
6. Stories can be told through also paintings. Duerer portrayed war as the ‘apocalyptical rider’ who like death travels from village to village in the Middle Ages and who would strike down with his sickle everything that stood in his way.
7. When working as advisor for the Greens to the Committee on Culture of the European Parliament in 1999 – 2000, there was such a discussion about lowering of the age when politicians reviewed a report on ‘Child Sex Tourism’.
8. Thomas Bernhard, the Austrian writer recalls that only thanks to his grandfather did he learn something about National Socialism and Fascism, resistance and silence in Austria since no one else of the Salzburg society would talk about that openly with him when still a child.
9. SOSAD (Save Our Sons and Daughters) as part of the Huntington Woods Peace, Citizenship & Education Project in Detroit has been guided by James & Grace Lee Boggs. See the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership: www.boggscenter.org
10. Entry into the diary of one of the Columbine High School suicide killers reads as follows: “It is cool to hate. I have the goal to destroy as much as possible, and I must not be side tracked by my feelings of sympathy, mercy or any of that.” Cited by H.D.S. Greenway, “Once again, Britain looks at reasons why”, International Herald Tribune, August 12 – 13, 2006, p. 7
11. As indication how vital is the role of museums in addressing such an issue can be taken by a call for papers by the Journal on ‘Museums & Social Issues’. They state following topics are of interest for Vol. 2 (1) 2006: “What Is Race?”, and declare that the intention is to assist museums in considering enduring concerns, thoughtful perspectives or creative initiatives by publishing articles dealing with topics like:
- What constitutes race? If the concept of race is a social construction, how should museums portray it?
- What role have or should museums play in a national dialogue about race?
- How can or how do museums engage diverse communities around controversial issues such as racial violence, racial inferiority, white supremacy, etc.
- What is the role of race in collecting? How do museums whose collections focus around a historic community make their collections relevant to a changing community?
- Do particular museums primarily attract particular races in their audiences and staff? 12. See Ernst Bloch, Heritage of Our Times (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
13. The City of Volos is here a good example by exemplifying in Greece not only testimonies of the Ancient Past, but by bringing out the industrial heritage through the creation of a specific museum dedicated to that time period focuses on a recent past usually not associated by tourists when they come to visit Greece. For further information about the museum of industrial heritage at Tsalapatas, the former brick factory, see www.i-politismos.gr
14. Especially the rise of Hitler and National Socialism in Germany shows to what extent loss of cultural heritage can lead to.
15. T. W. Adorno, et al., The Authoritarian Personality, (1950) New York: Harper & Brothers.
16. See David Mantell, Family and Aggression (1972) F.a.M., Fischer Publishing House.
17. Juergen Habermas. ( 2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved August 14, 2006, from Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: http://concise.britannica.com/ebc/article-9366386/Jürgen-Habermas
18. David Cloud, “Israel asks US for more cluster bombs” in Sydney Morning Herald, August 12, 2006 http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/israel-asks-us-for-more-cluster-weapons/2006/08/11/1154803102480.html
19. Warren Hoge, US Shift kicked off Frantic Diplomacy at U.N., New York Times, August 14, 2006 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/14/world/middleeast/14reconstruct.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&ref=washington
20. Jean Baudrillard (2002a), The Spirit of Terrorism: And Requiem for the Twin Towers. London: Verso.

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