14th April 2022
Director writes to MP about child-abusive propaganda concerns
Ken Petrie, director of the Diverse Diversity Campaign, has written to his MP about the need for an evidence-based understanding of identity issues around sex and gender and suggesting teaching young children a particular line when they have no means of relating to what they are told might be a form of abuse.
In his letter he acknowledges that people with issues often report an awareness in early life and questions why that should be when it is not something a typical child would be capable of knowing at such an age. He suggests that is itself something requiring investigation. He goes on to raise concerns around Free Speech, availability of information, and Critical Thinking as means of avoiding the populism which blights democracy around the world, with particular reference to Russia. He expresses concern that people with anxieties or distress should not become “political footballs” and highlights the distress to lovers of Critical Thought when subjected to propaganda.
Mr Petrie is not without some experience in this area, having had his own adolescence severely disrupted by anxiety caused by ill-founded information. “Those worries caused me to go badly off the rails in my mid teens, and I doubtlessly did a lot of harm to myself and at least one other child in my own later childhood as a result. I still shudder when I think about it, which is most days. I hate to think what damage could be done to children exposed to unproven opinions at an even earlier age. We have a responsibility to teach children what is known to be true and appropriate for them and not to target them with unfounded theories presented as facts, giving them responsibility they are insufficiently mature and experienced to exercise,” he explained.
I am gravely concerned having read www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-61077514 as it seems to go against everything the ordinary citizen would understand about both childhood experience and development and raises the possibility of serious harm being done to children who are insufficiently able to comprehend or contextualise the information being pushed at them by political activists like these. To me it would seem likely to constitute a form of child abuse.
I know people who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria often testify to "knowing" there was something different about them from an early age and I would have to question why that should be as it is not usual for children of Primary school age or below to have any great consciousness of sex or gender issues beyond regarding the other sex as something alien subject to idle curiosity. I suspect if such young children feel confused or distressed about such matters they are likely to have experienced some form of exposure to adult uncertainties among family or acquaintances to put such anxieties into their minds. For most of us sex gains no real meaning until we reach puberty.
Whilst it would seem obvious children experiencing concerns must have access to appropriate services and must be able to find such services in private without revealing those concerns to others, there is also the risk of over-emphasising issues to children who would otherwise never even think of them and creating rather than alleviating anxieties. In particular, raising such issues in public in a necessarily simplistic form would appear, from the lay person's perspective, to be likely to harm both those needing sensitive private help without embarrassment and other children for whom these matters are simply irrelevant and should not be part of their world view at such an early age. The exact balance to make services accessible without actively advertising them or the issues is obviously a delicate one which needs careful thought. However, I would expect such issues, when they arise, should be handled in strict confidence and never in public.
I am also concerned that I have never seen any evidence to back up any of the claims made in the sex and gender area and, unless I have missed information which is available, research is needed to understand this area of human experience and what it means for different individuals. Given the complexity of human circumstances I think it unlikely there would be a single cause or a single remedy applicable to every individual, and therefore prescribing or proscribing blanket approaches as if everybody is the same is both foolish and potentially damaging. What I would argue is that, just as we would not allow anyone to practice medicine or surgery without proper regulation for public protection, so Society should not permit practitioners or therapists who are not properly qualified and registered and required to practice on the basis of sound evidence-based knowledge and a proper diagnosis. People offering so-called remedies for individuals or groups without such knowledge or motivated by political or other prejudices would clearly do harm.
I suspect that approach is hampered by lack of research at present so no one can be sure what is or is not a proper evidence-based approach. If that is a case, there is an urgent need for research and in the meantime all that can be done is to offer emotional support for those involved and to prohibit unqualified interference, public or private, with people's intimate feelings. People should not be made into political footballs and are entitled to respect. Campaigning of the kind which makes this field toxic to researchers or others wishing to discuss it in a calm, rational manner, is not conducive to understanding.
People who value critical thought feel distressed and oppressed when subjected to propaganda from any direction, especially when we see institutions such as the media, academia, and the law giving in to it rather than standing up for rational values and insisting on proof before acting. I know the Government has in the past expressed concern for this too, and I would encourage it to go further in encouraging academic research, free evaluation of results and protecting people from malicious propaganda aimed at intimidating or vilifying others, including researchers and academics alongside minority groups.
In particular I would like to see campaigners who appear to think they can convince people by insistence and persistence alone without evidence exposed as having nothing to bring to the discussion until they can produce sound evidence to support their position. Mere populism is not enough for a healthy, rational democracy. We have seen once again in Russia where irrational populism and bullying leads. Let's avoid allowing that to gain traction here.
K J Petrie