We’re all born knowing the truth, but by the time you’re four or five years old, they’ve beaten it out of you.
– Attributed to Bob Dylan
I think I’d be a bit more charitable than Mr. Dylan; I’d say that we’ve only had the truth partly beaten out of us by the age of five. I think truth endures in us, at least to a significant extent, up till puberty, after which it is beaten into submission over the next decade or so.
The Crazy Years
We all have experience with the tumultuous years that begin with puberty: First we are slapped with a rush of hormones. That triggers a reproductive imperative. That’s crazy-making enough, but then we find ourselves inside of a rigid, status-based system… a system that massively influences all of our potential mates.
That’s a recipe for the corruption of thought, and it does corrupt our thoughts.
Orson Welles was an unusually clear-thinking and experienced child… far more experienced than average. He spent his days (he was what we’d now call home schooled) reading the works of Shakespeare and all the existing Greek tragedies, repetitively.
As a man, Orson was once interviewed about his young days. The interviewer asked what he had thought of teenagers. Orson replied, “I thought they were absolutely insane.”
I think all of us can understand why.
Getting to the Truth
So, if we want to get a glimpse of human nature before it’s stressed and shaped during the crazy years, we should really go to pre-teens.
Granted, kids are not the pure saints they are sometimes imagined to be… and it is true that these kids are already sexualized and trained in status these days… but there remains, in most of them, some residue of honest thinking. They have not yet been dragged all the way into the conformist way of mind.
And I have a clean way of testing this idea: Go to pre-teens, in a neutral setting, and ask them a very simple question:
Shouldn’t you be allowed to do anything you want, as long as you don’t hurt anyone?
My guess is that the results would show a large majority agreeing with the statement, and the younger the respondent, the higher the percentage.
A Challenge to You
I’d like to propose we actually run such an experiment. I’ll be pleased to coordinate and publish the data.
In order to ensure that the results are meaningful, I recommend the following:
- Make sure you have a neutral setting. Don’t talk to the child about liberty, obedience, or anything along those lines before asking the question. Make sure that you are feeling neutral too. You should want to know the child’s opinion, sincerely.
- Since children have notoriously short attention spans, ask the question only after you have calmed them and centered their attention. I suggest something like this:
Can I ask you a question? I want to know what you think about this.
- If the child answers more than a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ write down precisely what they say. Then, if necessary, write down your interpretation of what the child said and why you interpreted their meaning that way.
- After you write down the answer, feel free to continue the discussion with the child if fitting, but not if there are other study participants in the area. Keep them neutral.
As I say, I’ll be pleased to tabulate and publish the results if one or more of our readers want to run the experiment.
I think the results might be very interesting… and quite possibly very useful.