Holding fast to a conspiracy theory has been compared to falling down a rabbit hole. Such a rabbit hole is a portal to an alternative universe, in which the realities of our everyday life no longer apply. The earth may be flat, Covid may be a conspiracy put about by the deep state, and elites may lust for children’s blood.
These days, when we talk about a rabbit hole, we usually have in mind a gullible adult person as the one falling into it. But bear in mind that Lewis Carroll, who coined the phrase in the 19th century, imagined it was a child – Alice – falling down the rabbit hole. One built by an actual rabbit. Therein, Alice – true enough – found an alternative universe, but it was one populated by mad hatters, tea parties, and queens intent on chopping off heads.
What of present-day rabbit holes, the ones that lead to a world of contemporary fictions? Can children fall victim to these? Of course they can and, if you have children of your own, or even if you don’t, you should be worried about this possibility. These holes are not built by rabbits. They are built by shady operators to be found on YouTube and other social media. These operators are child abusers. Their abuse is not usually physical or sexual. They are after minds not bodies.
The mind of a young child is a miracle of sorts, a thing to be held in great awe . It is a blank slate. A mind whose view of the world is totally objective, impartial, and unprejudiced. And impressionable. Early childhood is a state none of us (sadly) will ever visit again, because the process of living life consists of laying down a myriad set of predispositions – our own personal prejudices – which are very difficult to avoid or erase. Our slate is no longer blank. It has been written on many times over to the extent you can’t see the slate anymore for the chalk. It’s difficult to write anything new on such a slate.
So, who gets to write on the blank slate of a young child’s mind? The Jesuits have famously said, ‘Give me a child to the age of seven — ‘. In most instances, though, it’s not religious figures that will write first. It’s most likely to be the child’s parents. Are they qualified to do so? That is doubtful. New-born children don’t come with a user manual for parents. They, the parents, are obliged (mostly) to fly blind. But, to borrow Churchill’s words on the subject of democracy as a method of government, parenthood is probably the least worse option for the guidance of young children.
Then, hot on the heels of the parents, will come those scum-of-the earth who would confound the minds of young children for no better reason than that they can. Like buzzards, they are found everywhere they scent opportunity. They have found that social media provide the ideal channels they need for the pernicious grooming of young minds. And those who are bent on such grooming will have made it their business to learn exactly how to talk convincingly to children. It is in their perceived interests to sound very plausible to the young.
What might they talk about? Any pet gripe they might have. Posing as an alternative reality. Nay, as the only reality.
The earth is flat. Vegans are evil. Greenies are evil. Scientists are evil. The government is evil. Don’t allow yourself to be vaccinated. Covid is a fake. Don’t to that or you’ll go blind. Forget your parents and teachers, just believe me. Dire consequences are out there for those who stray from the path I prescribe.
Any rabbit-hole of an idea you can think of, no matter how low or what its odour, is out there seeking to impress itself on blank slates.
Children are endlessly intrigued by YouTube and the like. But, parents be warned. It will most likely achieve nothing if a parent tries to take control or prohibit their child’s use of something as ubiquitous or as tempting as social media. Young children are likely to be more savvy about these things than are their parents and will find a way to carry on their activities clandestinely. Besides, not everything on social media is so poisonous.
So what can be done? I believe the answer is education. From an early age, give children the critical skills to form their own judgment. To evaluate opinions based on where those opinions are coming from. To train the blowtorch of logic on issues they stumble across in their travels.
Too difficult? Of course, its not easy. But the stakes are too high for us just to sit back and do nothing. Be part of the solution.
Look at the success of programs aimed at educating children about sexual predation. Most children these days know what sexual molestation is and have acquired some rudimentary capacity for dealing with potential molesters. The battle is not won yet. But I like to hope it’s on track to win.
Children are learning to have the ultimate say as regards ownership of their bodies. Equally, they should learn that their minds are exclusively theirs to manage.