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Paley v. Meanies

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I liked this episode. The first two Acts had some very good fiction; the Sedaris piece was very funny and the Sher story was surprisingly powerful. However, I found the the issues that came up in Act 3 to be the most arresting.

What I found so striking was the degree to which kids as young as 5 have already incorporated a huge deal of what seems to be ideological knowledge. In addition, I was startled by the kinds of normative statements kindergartners (and elementary schoolers) are willing to make.

These kids expressed skepticism about other-interested action, questioning its value and potential. Interestingly this is neither a natural statement that any little kid would make, nor is it an enlightened fragment of knowledge earned after 50,000 years of empirical toil. Rather that doubt is an ideological position that, in one related form or another, is at the basis of the Western self-interested system. And, remarkably, it’s a position that can be internalized and naturalized in as little as 5 years.

I was also fascinated that at that young age kids create and inhabit power relations, and then manipulate those structures for their own benefit or the detriment of others. The forms these relations and structures take is probably related to the internalized ideology discussed above.

The specific case that Paley talks about—the one with the rule that you can’t say “you can’t play”—shows how the little tot elites maneuver within the power structures they build and gives insight to the logic they employ. The girl in the privileged position of having a playmate dismisses the distress of the girl in the disadvantaged position of having no playmate with the conceit that the elite girl would be just fine if she had to play by herself. The elite imagines that she would be alright in the deprived position, either because she views herself as better than the other girl in some way or because she underestimates the hardships of the deprived position. Likely it is both. Essentially then the unhappiness of the disadvantaged girl is presented as due not to the systemic problems of the playmate arrangement, but rather as being linked solely to the poor girl’s individual faults. In most kindergartens this lesson is learned by the kids on both sides of the power differential and comes in handy later in life when one needs to rationalize their unemployment and the other, their bonus.

 

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