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Virtual Adulthood By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 05, 2000

THE MOVIE THE MATRIX depicts a future in which a ruling computer fills human heads with a shared illusion, an artificial virtual reality, that makes the ruined world in which they live appear intact, prosperous, and normal. But while people's brains are fed false images and sensations, the computer is feeding on them. This successful film, which has two sequels in the works, evinces a haunting plausibility. Look closely at our society and you, too, can glimpse some of the seams in our fabricated "seamless" social reality. Here are a few thoughts to ponder.

A new Illinois law took effect January 1 that expands the definition of "child pornography." We all agree that kiddie porn is toxic sludge for the mind and social fabric. The most obvious reason we believe this is that to produce this junk pornographers have traditionally photographed terrible things being done to real, live children.

But the new Illinois law goes further. It extends felony punishment of up to fifteen years in prison to those who make or market child pornography using no children at all—but who simulate children by using "computer-generated images."

The Federal Child Pornography Prevention Act also reached beyond children, prohibiting sexually explicit depictions that "appear to be" minors or "convey the impression" that children are being portrayed. Thus if an adult woman dresses and comports herself as if she were a child in a sexual film, this could violate the federal law. On December 17, 1999, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco held that these "phrases … are vague and overbroad and thus do not meet the requirements of the First Amendment."

If a federal appeals court can uphold sexual materials that use consenting adults pretending to be children, it seems likely that another court will soon strike down Illinois' ban on using computer-conjured images that pretend to be children.

The alternative is to outlaw whatever images stimulate perverse thoughts in the minds of consumers. But if Orwellian "thought crimes" become our standard, then why stop at picture books or videotapes? We will also have to outlaw novels and heaven only knows what else if the crime is in the eye and mind of the beholder. (For the record, I not only oppose pornography, I, as one comic used to joke, don't even own a pornograph.)

Those genuinely serious about stopping sexual exploitation of children and adults alike should take decisive steps. At a personal level, you could pledge never to vote for Vice President Al Gore, who believes Bill Clinton's alleged rape of Juanita Broaddrick was at worst a "mistake" to be overlooked because of all the "good" Clinton has done through liberal social policies.

At a social level, you could demand a halt to the federal government's new technological stripping or sexually examining men, women, and children. This is now being done with a gadget called the BodySearch machine installed in New York and at five other American city airports. The U.S. Customs Service, Ben Fenton reports in the January 3 London Telegraph, "has refused to say where and how the machines are being used, but confirmed that it was planned to install them at all international airports in America by next June. The machines are expected to scan only passengers selected by Customs officers for special attention."

Like Superman's X-ray vision, the BodySearch machine produces imperfect images of the body naked beneath your clothes—pictures in which "genitals and breasts are clearly distinguishable." And who will attract "special attention" to have their genitals spied upon, probably without their knowledge? Will shapely women become the prime suspects in the eye of some lusty agents? Will gay Customs agents cope with job boredom by using BodySearch to "size up" male travelers? Or will young children and their genitals become the pigeons of choice for chickenhawks with roving eyes, secret monitoring equipment, and government badges?

We're not talking about simulated pornography on videotape here. We're talking about using a government surveillance device, justified as a means to detect drugs and weapons and contraband, and that machine's potential to strip off the clothing and the privacy from unsuspecting men, women, and children. This could become pornography in real time, and you and your children could become its sexually exploited victims. Just as many of us when traveling put our film into lead bags to shield against excess X-rays, soon we might all need to accept the health hazard of wearing lead-lined underwear whenever we fly. (Hey, it thwarted Superman!) Or will some presidential candidate demand that these BodySearch machines be banned, thereby exposing government Peeping Tomism as an issue?

Childhood, as we know it, was invented only a few centuries ago during the Renaissance. Prior to that, societies had rituals, such as Bar Mitzvah or Confirmation or, in Egypt, male circumcision at age thirteen to confirm a person into full status within the community. But generally a young person was viewed merely as a small adult, capable of being married or holding a job at age nine.

We are now undergoing another redefinition of "adulthood," and this may affect a host of issues such as child pornography.

At a purely biological level we are becoming sexually mature at younger ages. As New York Times health journalist Jane Brody recently reported, white girls are now beginning breast development between ages seven and eight, a full year earlier than they used to. African-American girls now begin breast development between ages six and eight, two years younger than was once the norm. Menstruation, and with it the potential to become pregnant, typically follows breast development by two years. It too now commences one to two years sooner than used to be the case.

Scientists have various speculations as to why this is happening. We are getting fatter younger, and fatty tissue produces the sex hormone estrogen. Some insecticides, plastics, and other human-made substances biodegrade into estrogen-like chemicals and may be "feminizing" the balance of Mother Nature. Electric lights in northern latitudes may simulate the longer days of living in the tropics, where girls have always reached puberty younger than they do nearer the North Pole. (This premature maturation seen in American girls is not being exhibited by American boys.)

Of most interest to me is a recent scientific study showing that girls raised in homes without a father tend to reach puberty sooner. Sexist sociobiologists might speculate that this is nature's way of bringing them under the protection of a man faster, thereby enhancing their prospects for survival.

But while we are becoming sexually mature at younger ages, we seem to be maturing more slowly mentally and culturally. Marrying in one's teens was the norm a century ago. Today marriage is typically postponed, especially in the college-attending segment of society, until mid- or late-twenties. In many cases marriage is not undertaken at all, or is taken lightly and easily discarded. More than half of marriages in America now dissolve. More than 70 percent of inner-city children, and fully 30 percent of all American children, are now born to single-parent families. By one estimate, only about one of four children will be born and raised into adulthood within a family headed by the same two parents.

Because of the welfare state and the values it engenders, government has now assumed the role of spouse and breadwinner in millions of homes. Government provides the housing, food stamps, welfare check, daycare, healthcare, and schools that function as baby sitters.

Our society is being infantilized not only through the routinization and acceptance of "babies having babies," but also through a system of womb-to-tomb safety-net security that allows people never to grow up. Boys need not take responsibility for the babies they father. (Their only role and status is as sperm donors, anyway, in a society where government has taken over all relevant male roles.) Girls need only remain barefoot and pregnant to maintain the steady stream of government checks to which they are addicted. Nobody needs to take responsibility for anything, nor blame, nor moral judgment for their behavior or eagerness to pick the pockets of those who work hard.

And women, perceiving that the males around them are irresponsible and impotent in the face of high taxes and government power, tend to vote for whatever candidate is most likely to make the welfare state a secure provider of benefits. A president whose mind and morals are those of a promiscuous adolescent, like Bill Clinton, wins enthusiastic support from women who judge as Al Gore does—not by personal but only by "social" (i.e., big government) standards. Today we expect our citizens, and even the leaders who stand every day as moral exemplars to our children, to be children wearing grown-up clothes. By this measure Clinton and Gore do not disappoint.

So the real question about child pornography is this: how, in today's society, do we distinguish a child from an adult? We used to set arbitrary ages for this, 16 or 18 or 21, knowing that some girls were mature beyond their years while some boys remained Peter Pans forever.

In our Matrix world we accept "virtual adulthood," confusing sexual maturity as a surrogate for social maturity, accepting feelings and need as a substitute for thinking and achievement.

For a small segment of society, perpetual childhood brings advantages. One thing distinguishing humans from animals is that we retain playfulness, the infant and juvenile mental plasticity state of learning, throughout life. Domestication in dogs seems to lock them into permanent juvenile characteristics such as barking that in the wild disappear with adulthood.

But can society as a whole function well if more and more of us remain hippies lifelong, never taking on adult responsibilities or work? The Democratic Party has built its power by infantilizing a large portion of society and making those people into government dependants and addicts. Government as the opiate of the masses will no longer be able to satisfy their cravings and must then openly enslave them. At some point, as fewer and fewer remaining adults must pay more and more taxes to support more and more lifelong children, society will unravel. The Matrix and all the delusions on which it depends will come crashing down. Or will it?

Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.

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