For a long time now I have been of the opinion that if you can’t explain why you are doing something to a reasonably intelligent five-year old then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. For this reason, I no longer watch Secret Eaters on channel 4, after my small daughter was unable to sleep one night while it was on and asked me what it was about. “well, these people are fat, but they don’t know why they are fat” I had to explain, “so somebody hides and then makes films of them eating lots of cake and then shows it to them.” My little girl’s obvious disdain for the stupidity of the concept put me off the programme for good.
So, last Thursday, as we dropped her little brother off at playgroup and then skipped of enthusiastically to vote, her questions about what we were doing made me think very carefully. We are going to choose who gets to be the boss, I said. Or we are choosing who gets to speak to the people who are the bosses, so we should choose the people who care about the same things that we do, and put a cross next to their names. I could do that, says small daughter, proud of her pencil skills. Yes you could, but you are not allowed, I explain. This one is not quite so exciting, I go on, because we are choosing people to go and speak to the boss people in Europe, but in autumn there will be a really exciting one where we get to choose if we want to become our Own Separate Country. I don’t think we should do that, says small intense child, because its good to share, she says, and I feel guilty. Yes, you are right, I say, but the problem is that the Boss Men in England are Not Very Good at Sharing, so if we have our own Scotland we can choose bosses who are good at sharing, so that everything can be more fair.
So, am I indoctrinating my small charge with my propaganda? Was there a non-political way to answer her questions? I don’t think there was. She has to make do with the framework that I give her. In the same way when she asks “why don’t we have a car?” there is not a non-charged answer. We don’t have enough money, because mummy doesn’t have a job, and its Bad For The World. And all of this is ok, because we are happy, and we have everything we need, and our way of life is the consequence of my decisions. What if they weren’t? How would you answer your children’s questions if you were struggling in life through no choice of your own?
Would you tell them you didn’t have a job because all the foreigners had taken all the work? Would you tell them the Boss Men didn’t listen so there was no point in choosing anyone to speak to them? Would you tell them that we don’t have enough ourselves, so the most important thing is to choose Boss Men who won’t let more people come and ask if they can share? Once again, answering their questions turns to pushing an ideology pretty quickly.
There used to be a rumour, I am not sure how true it is, that one of the tabloid newspapers had a sign in their offices saying “remember, they are five”. This was to refer to the target reading age of the paper, five years old. But it feels like more than that sometimes doesn’t it? If people are oppressed by poverty, lack of education and a media that treats them as small children, the current political situation is depressing but it certainly isn’t surprising.