A friend of mine once said to me “If you could go back in time and kill baby Hitler, would you do it? I mean of course you would do it, right? You could save millions.” Being the good member of the hegemonic norm I (apparently?) am, I said “No! Are you crazy? I would not kill a baby no matter who the baby might become. Because MORALS!” I then tried to trip him up with arguments about how time is fickle and wibly and wobbly and other adjectives and parallels. He eventually conceded to my point that if not Hitler then only some other Hitler by another name might be so unpreventable and vicious (because social conditions exist and make scapegoats and persecutors of anyone, or everyone). But despite my logic, my real issue, my knee jerk reaction, with his hypothetical was you don’t kill babies, they’re the future.
This was a few years ago, I think I was only 19 when I had this conversation; but if there is one thing society seems to be really, really good at teaching society it’s that the most important thing is the future. And for that reason I think Edelman’s essay is extremely valid. Think about it. Appeals to futurity are everywhere and they are disgusting. In my opinion, they are the lowest form of pathos; they are the debate equivalent of hair pulling and below the belt blows. Let’s be real, it is 100% manipulation. As Edelman says “the function of the child as a prop of the secular theology upon which our common reality rests – the secular theology that shapes at once the meaning of our collective narrative and out collective narratives meaning… The child whose pure possibility suffices to spirit away the naked truth of heterosexual sex seeming to impregnate heterosexuality itself with the future of signification by bestowing upon it the cultural burden of signifying the future, figures and identification with an always about-to-be-realized identity” (290) And Politicians and lobbyists are the worst of these. They all do it. And I hate them more and more every time. What did the Republicans want last election? Family Values! They paraded it them in front of our noses: white bread, picket fence, 2 kids, stable fulltime jobs, Anne Romney at home with the kids, and riding her horse on the weekends. Normal, Normal, Normal. Be Normal or be poor and othered and wrong. They went so far as to say that only those people who wanted those things for the future were ‘real’ Americans and worth helping, protecting, serving. But don’t think for a second that the Republicans (a dirty word in some circles) are the only ones appealing to futurity to manipulate their audiences. Obama did it too, and he quoted Martin Luther King Jr. doing it as well. In fact, the futurity appeal is probably the most famous and most quoted part of his speech “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Is it as low a blow when it’s not covering a message of subjugation? Y’all can be that judge. But it’s there, staring us in the face. The unspoken ultimatum to procreate, and to make our children be like us: Ideal, unobtainable, perfected, imaginary versions of us. And that’s why I can’t kill baby Hitler, because my whole life I’ve been told he stands for the possibility of everything I’ve found wonderful about the world. The fact is, me and Hitler, neither of us fit into what those futurity appeals had planned for us. We’re both, to some, a let down, an atrocity, what they were trying to protect the future from. In some minds Hitler and I are the downfall, the destruction of the unobtainable ideal hegemonic future.
I sit here comparing myself to Hitler and I really have to wonder what sort of disillusionment this causes in children and young adults. I remember being young and being told “you can be anything! You can do anything!” and what that really meant was “you can have the American dream, you can finally be the one who gets that.” But of course I’m not a straight lawyer with 2.5 kids and a dog and a house with a fence. I’m a lesbian with a horse and no job. I’m not what my parents wanted me to be when they thought, or didn’t think, about having kids. I’m real, and compared to the vast majority of 23 year olds I know I’m doing really well. I’m happy and healthy with health insurance, trade skills and a degree, working on another one. I’m not some cheap appeal to pathos. And I really have to wonder when people stopped being able to tell the difference from reality and illusion.
Tomorrow hasn’t done a damn thing for me yet.