The Infantilization of Other People
An element of our reducing groups into easier to digest figurines, the stereotyping of people in order to process the ridiculous numbers surrounding us, is to almost unconsciously assume some sort of base stupidity on their part for choices they make.
We assume those coal miners who voted in blocks for Donald Trump are simply too dense to understand how they are voting against their interests.
We assume that immigrants flooding the Texas border are simply too dumb to understand that coming into this country without the due process is a crime.
We assume that women whose careers intersect with known sexual predators are just too naive to know that a Harvey Weinstein is a grotesque creep who will likely suggest sexual favors for industry clout.
I mean, if they can’t see the landmines their choices might step on, they must be as innocent as babies, as ignorant as children, right?
These assumptions are at the heart of our frustration with so many people on the Right side of the political fence. This infantilization of the Other is the core of the belief that children who grow up in poverty and oppression are incapable of doing anything but joining a gang and becoming a career criminal with a vastly reduced lifespan.
Let’s be straight — our go-to defense of mass shooters is that they are mentally incapacitated, which is just another way of saying they are too dimwitted to understand the consequences of their choices.
Our personal set of justifications is to see Radical Christianity as somehow different from Radical Islam because only a child would believe that if they suicide bomb themselves there will be virgins in the afterlife but an adult believes in a white Jesus welcoming them in the clouds of heavenly embrace.
Not only do we treat those we disagree with as infants and those we see as the Other (people living in countries which our version of is completely determined by our own popular culture), we also allow ourselves to become subject to this process.
In many workplaces, managers can now electronically monitor their employees, many of whom work in open spaces with little personal privacy. Colleges now routinely monitor the social media accounts of students, guiding their every step, and promoting ‘safe spaces’ on campus which is bit like providing safety helmets for emotional pain.
We’ve witnessed the rise of a “therapy culture,” which, as sociologist Frank Furedi warns, treats adults as vulnerable, weak, and fragile, while implying that their troubles rooted in childhood qualify them for a “permanent suspension of moral sense.” He argues that this absolves grown-ups from adult responsibilities and erodes their trust in their own experiences and insights.
Researchers in Russia and Spain have even identified infantilist trends in language, and French sociologist Jacqueline Barus-Michel observes that we now communicate in “flashes,” rather than via thoughtful discourse — “poorer, binary, similar to computer language, and aiming to shock.”
Others have noted similar trends in popular culture — in the shorter sentences in contemporary novels, in the lack of sophistication in political rhetoric and in sensationalist cable news coverage.
The specter of Big Brother, of an authoritarian government controlling our every waking moment, is predicated on a population of imbeciles. Combine Huxley with Orwell and you have the Donald Trump/Amazon/Apple/Google society we live in today and the reality is that we chose this society. We chose to be infantilized and to reduce the Other People in the world to the level we have aspired to: children who are not able to fathom the harshness of living on this planet together.
The only reprieve from the dystopian hell is that tomorrow, we can choose differently. We can choose to be adults. We can choose common sense and civility. We can choose to talk out our differences rather than demand to speak to the manager/police/Congress/Supreme Court.
We can choose to be adults in a world we’ve created that squeezes us into a tiny child-like boxes we prefer to reserve for Others.