Harambe isn’t Your Excuse for Adult Supremacy

On May 28th a tragic incident happened at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden where a 3 year old boy managed to get into an enclosure with a gorilla named Harambe. Although the boy wasn’t seriously injured the zoo keepers felt it necessary to shoot and kill Harambe for the safety of the child.

Some claim that Harambe was protecting the child while others point to Harambe’s weight class (450 lbs) and the strength of a gorilla being too much of a danger. Animal rights proponents wonder if tranquilizers couldn’t have been used or whether the parent should take the lion’s share of the blame.

The mother in question, according to eyewitnesses, was also with other children and looking after them when her son got into the enclosure that was supposed to keep them separated from the gorilla. The child had previously expressed interest in seeing Harambe but the mother dutifully told him that he should stay away. But in only a minute or less every parent’s worst fear occurred.

This raised a question for some commentators: What if her child had been leashed?

Such comments were prevalent enough that CNN hosted an article by Peggy Drexler entitled Should Parents Leash Their Toddlers? that answers in the negative.

Drexler writes, “Young children are, to varying degrees, unpredictable, impulsive, thoughtless. They don’t learn to resist all of these behaviors in the name of safety for themselves and others without parents’ careful, consistent and verbal input. It is work. It’s not supposed to be easy. A leash? That’s easy. It’s a Band-Aid, not a parenting tool.”

In addition, the idea that toddlers are incapable of self-management to such an extent that they need to be treated like the property of their parents is not only an aesthetically displeasing one but an immoral one too. Parents are more akin to guardians than “owners” of children despite how some parents like to think or act otherwise.

Auburn University professor Roderick Long explains it this way, “[G]uardianship is a bundle of one right (the right to make decisions about what happens to the child) and one responsibility (the duty to care for the child’s welfare). These come as a unit because it is only when the decisions we make are those that the impaired person would consent to if unimpaired (as far as we can determine) that we are justified in acting as an agent and substituting our judgment for his.”

Youths have rights and basic dignity that should be respected like anyone else but given many of the mainstream practices in today’s society you wouldn’t think many people agree. Corporal punishment, leashing, verbal abuse, religious indoctrination, exile for LGBTQA+ kids, compulsory education backed by threat of state violence, are all part of the onslaught against youth.

To be sure, some of these things like corporeal punishment and leashing have been steadily decreasing and seen as less socially acceptable. But how many times have we seen an adult use manipulative tactics to get their way? For example, sometimes adults tell children they will leave without them if they don’t listen.

But of course, the adult never actually leaves and we all know they won’t. Abandonment threats are precisely the sort of behavior we would call out in a relationship between two adults. Why does it suddenly become okay when it’s directed at children?

The classic rebuttal to these concerns is, “Well you’ve never had kids so you can’t possibly know!” which is the domain of abusers. “You don’t know the circumstances so you can’t ever judge me or my practices!” is a great way to avoid discussing the issue of adult supremacy.

Parents and adults should still give guidance to children, particularly when they’re toddlers. But such guidance doesn’t need to come in the form of abuse that can scar the child for years. And especially in a society already so dominated by adult-set agendas, values and organizations.

The state is the embodiment of adult supremacy through its compulsory education, juvenile detention centers and supposedly “family orientated” state agencies.

Thus challenging adult supremacy means challenging the state in fundamental ways as well.

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