Director of the Utopia Festival for Science Fiction and Future Story-telling. As the Promethean Consultancy, program curator, PMO, artistic consultant and producer, writer and speaker on topics of technology and society, science fiction and the future.
Save the Children!
“Save the Children”! cried out thousands of women at intersections and street corners across the U.S. during the Spring and Summer months of 2020. In August of 2020, what became a movement – the women, the call, the signs and t-shirts – started appearing at President Trump’s election rallies.
In March and April of 2020 we all had much more free time on our hands and most of us found ourselves spending most of it online, in front of a myriad of screens our home is equipped with. This dramatic increase brought with it greater attention to social media. One of the most common topics of discussion on social media in the US at the time became worry and care for children. Facebook Groups and (mostly female) communities on other social media platforms, usually dealing with nutrition and dieting, health supplements, fitness, yoga, and the like, became increasingly concerned with the fate of American children. #savethechildren started trending on Twitter.
Naturally, we take care of children, but… How did this happen? Why now, more than ever? What is so threatening the well-being of children? From what do we need to save the children of America (and the whole world)? And what made Facebook block the use of the hashtag #savethechildren?
To get to the bottom of this bizarre story we’ll have to go back in time to 1919. Following WWI, Europe was in ruin. The war followed by the Spanish influenza (now made famous again) was a one-two punch to European society and economy. One of the most severe problems was hunger, and the immediate victims, as always, were children. The collapsing economy brought with it reports of famine among the children of Hungary, Austria and Germany, reports that were too unbearable for two British humanitarian activists – Eglantyne Jebb and her sister, Dorothy Buxton.
Dorothy and Eglantyne, daughters to a wealthy British family, took upon themselves the task of alleviating the effects of the economic and health catastrophe from the children of Europe, saving the unfortunate little ones from starvation. Thus, “Save the Children.” In May 1919 the “Save the Children” Fund was set up at a packed public meeting in London’s Royal Albert Hall, with the aim of raising emergency aid funds to help children suffering from malnutrition in post-war Europe.
The sisters continued their sacred work for the children of the world up to the day they died, including drafting the “Declaration of the Rights of the Child” (Geneva, 1923), formulated by Eglantyne herself and adopted by the League of Nations and later, the United Nations. The fund continues its work for children in areas stricken by disaster and war all over the world to this day; it fights exploitation and abuse and works for the rights of children everywhere (1).
With intentions so pure and proper, why would Facebook temporarily block the use of the hashtag #savethechildren, identified with the fund and its activity?
To understand what Facebook has against the well-established fund, or against children in general (spoiler alert: nothing), one has to swim in the deep waters of conspiracy theories, deep dive into the mega-theory, now well-known under the moniker of QAnon.
According to the believers of this malicious conspiracy theory, there’s a secret cabal of demonic creatures that walk among us, creatures who impersonate ordinary humans, while running world governments, society and culture, both from the top, and behind the scenes, directing processes and events for their own personal and evil benefit. Some say they are aliens (lizard people – from the Alpha-Draconis star system, obviously) or possibly creatures from the depths of the Earth (which is hollow/flat). Some will outright say these are demons, following Satan. The saner people among the believers will argue that these are all sophisticated and inspiring metaphors used among their surrounding circle of believers, but in practice these are simply particularly abominable human beings.
What is clear to all believers is that this small group – whether there are humans, reptilians or energy vampires – is unimaginably rich, controls all positions of power in the world – politics, finance, religion, media, science, culture – and perpetuates with its immense power a false perception that the masses (all of us) cannot help but believe. If the story resonates with conspiracy theories you may well know about the Freemasons, the Illuminati or just plain old Protocols-of-Zion Jews, then don’t be surprised, these are of course incorporated in the twists and turns of many conspiratorial belief, including being at the heart of this one.
Some “truths” of the QAnon cannon that are important you should know (these are independent beliefs, believing in one concept does not necessitate believing in all of them): the Earth is flat; humans have never landed on the Moon and all space projects are astronomical lies; Obama is Hitler’s grandson; No plane crashed on 9/11; most recently, the 1/6 US Capitol insurrection was an “inside job”, done by Antifa activists posing as Trump activists and/or, it actually never really took place, it’s all “fake”, what we see on the news are paid actors performing on a Hollywood set.
What else is clear as daylight to all QAnon believers? What’s the most heinous act? That alleged Satanic elite group, they kidnaps children and exploits them, sexually (2). From this misguided and preposterous belief the road to “Save the Children” signs at Trump rallies is extremely short.
The conspirators believe in various fictitious tales about CoVid19. In April 2020 a field hospital was opened in Central Park, NYC, for the treatment of CoVid19 patients. The reasoning, funding and organization were contested, but there was no question – it helped people, treated patients. For QAnon acolytes it was obvious the entire operation was a cover story for the smuggling of innocent children into the evil mechanisms of the pedophile lizard people.
From whom should we save the children then? Not from the horrors of war, not from hunger, disease or extreme poverty (3), nor from sexual assault, that studies suggest occurs in places we identify as most safe (4). We must and will save children from pedophile aliens who wish to drink their blood for eternal youth.
How do you contend with pure evil? Few went out to the street corners, town squares, interstate intersections, doing the bare minimum and protest (by the way, the movement being predominantly female (5)). But as we all know, the main and best way to fight pure evil is rage, holy rage, preferably online – on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They liked, commented and they shared, shared and shared (the QAnon feminine faith movement has been dubbed “Pastel QAnon“).
And so it happened that the well-intentioned, century-old fund, working for children’s rights and fights abuse, maltreatment, exploitation and trafficking of children all over the world, was forced to distance itself from a social campaign that bears its name in vain. The hashtag “Save the Children” had become, at least for a while, digital taboo.
The past few decades mark a gradual but crucial awakening regarding sexual assault in general, of children in particular. We realize, more and more, the extent and manner in which these horrors are present in society, recognize the social institutions and organizations in which it exists and where it was, possibly still is, being all too often plastered, concealed, not to say sadly, preserved.
We’ve learnt that rape doesn’t occur in dark allyways, perpetrated by shadowy attackers. Rape usually occurs in intimate, close situations, surroundings understood to be most safe, benign, homely. At home, with family.
Worst of all is sexual abuse of children, of the helpless. Over the past few decades we’ve learnt, it’s been exposed, that child sexual assault is much more common than assumed and occurs in the places supposed to be the safest for children: churches, little league sports teams, schools and kindergartens (and in Israel, the children’s home of the Kibbutz). Safest of all and therefore worst of all is also most prominent – most sexual child assaults take place at home and within the family.
The disillusionment is inevitable but also necessary, as the crisis breaks people apart. The recognition that school, church, soccer practice or little league and of course, home itself, are not the safe place we believed them to be but a potential crime scene, is a horrific understanding that’s not easily digestible, for some. The difficulty is clear, understandable, undeniable, but the intensity of the pain involved correlates to the magnitude of denial and the social-cultural-psychological monster created.
The parish priest, the baseball coach and of course – neighbors, uncles, relatives and our most cherished and intimate loved ones – they are not the ones to hurt our children. Not possible. Inconceivable. Impossible. We won’t allow it. Not Way. The solution – a world-wide conspiracy of powerful monsters.
We alienate, as individuals and as a society, threats and fears. As we alienate, we also sometimes demonize. The Science fiction and horror genres often engage with imagery of the terrifying other, the peculiar stranger, but a deeper terror, a more disturbing otherness, lies in the alienation from the familiar, the ordinary, the well-trod – the unheimlich.
The Uncanny Familiar – Das Unheimlich
In 1919, as the Jebb sisters were working relentlessly in Great Britain to “Save the Children” of Europe from starvation, Freud published his article Das Unheimliche (translated as “The Uncanny” to English).
Dana Tor elaborates on the article, whose connections to literature, science fiction and horror works are plentiful (Freud analyzes the works of E.T.A Hoffman, and in particular his story “The Sandman”. Hoffman was one of the most significant proto-science fiction creators of the late 18th century).
Freud made the Uncanny famous in his 1919 essay by that name, Das Unheimliche, exploring the eeriness of dolls and waxworks, but for a century it remained a professional term used in a few very specific disciplines: psychology, sociology, literature and cinema, robotics and animation. It seldom made it into idle conversation, you didn’t hear it in small-talk or around the family dinner table.
Nowadays – everyone, everywhere, whether knowingly or not, is talking about it. We’ve all experienced in the flesh the unsettling feeling of the strangely familiar, the unheimlich. The Uncanny is all around us – in our haunted homes, beaming from our screens, in the streets – emptied out, now strangely revitalized, our cities, muted and mutated. It’s in the fabric of everyday life, in the sudden strangeness of daily routines. A fear not triggered by alienation, not external… A fear coming from inside the house!
None of us are strangers to the disruption of daily life: urban space, family or home. Israelis are well acquainted with sudden recruitment for military reserve duty or with the immediate need to seek shelter from missiles and terror attacks, and we’re not alone with any of this; Wars, terror attacks, nuclear accidents, oil spills and natural disasters afflict every region, strain economies, scar cities, injure homes and families.
Nonetheless, we’re still far from a complete understanding of the exceptionality of the CoVid19 event in history, being both on a global scale, but also extremely intimate.
At a particular moment in 2020, billions of people all over the world experienced a complete upheaval of their lives and routines as they were asked, sometimes required, to quarantine in their homes, to shelter in place. This, surprisingly, did not coincide with reports from the frontlines, at least not as we were used to them – Hospital Wing C isn’t exactly The Somme, Iwo Jima or NYC on 9/11. There were no reports from the engineering teams at the nuclear accident or from the rescue efforts at the Tsunami-hit coastal region.
The shock itself includes a disruption of perspectives. We receive periodic reports from the Ministry of Education about the opening and closing of kindergartens and schools; heated debates on the news about visits to mom and dad, grandma and grandpa and how to celebrate Passover Seder, Thanksgiving or Christmas; And there’s also the many smaller personal dilemmas: do I hug the friend who went through a painful breakup, or the one who just found out has cancer An alienation from the familiar, an intimate, uncanny strangeness that can only be defined as unheimlich, took over.
We all went through, are still going through, a difficult and strange process of alienation, from what we know, perceive, identify, as normal, common, regular, as ourselves.
We were not drafted for military reserve duty, did not need to flee our own homes (on the contrary), we were not refugees nor were we in the trenches. Our trenches were the city streets and boulevards, our battlefield was on Zoom. A lull in the fight was a step from the bedroom to the kitchen, a return from the frontline – a drive from home to work.
We also had no idea if and which of these disruptions are temporary or permanent and if and which of these life changes are good or bad, which makes them even harder to address, to process, to understand how we feel about them.
Changes we did not know if they would be temporary or permanent (not to mention the complete confusion in scales of time and space – discussed in the previous Utopia issue about Inhuman Scales and the Hyperobject), are these good or bad changes (and to whom?) And therefore – how do we even refer to them?
All of this, along with the political shocks, social, economic and health distress, have generated in many increased anxieties, anxieties that have brought the uncanny to our mental doorstep and to the front and center of the psychological, social, and cultural stage. Das Unheimlich is among us, it has always been, and will always be. But, might the Uncanny be the new dominant fear in the soon to be “new normal” time? not fear of an unknown other, but fear of an unknowable self?
All roads lead to Das Unheimlich
“True Voyage is Return” – Ursula K Le Guin, The Dispossessed
Two processes led me in my thoughts to Das Unheimlich – the terrible realities that pushed so many people, desperate for meaning, to the Cartoon-ish conspiracy theory – QAnon; alongside my own daily CoVid19 anxieties and those of my immediate loved ones. The two processes met in one place – home.
The past year has given us a special one-time only focus, whether we wanted to or not, on our homes, and the very concept of home: figurative and physical; the private, family and social home; The technology, architecture and design of home; the psychological, economic, political home. Home provides shelter and comfort, all the while concealing secrets and pain. In the US this focus has led quite a few frightened individuals into the arms of a cult-like conspiracy theory, but this extreme scenario represents normal anxieties and fears that inhabit all of us.
The feeling of strangeness, the uncanny alienation from the familiar, understanding that true evil isn’t necessarily external but might be within us, inhabit us – part of our childhood memories, our own personality, the building blocks of the home we live in – I see all of these as important insights of our times. Threat, discomfort and even evil are all part of us, of who we are.
Hope is our mission at Utopia! We can only hope that CoVid19 will reduce our acts of alienation and demonization (6), precisely in light of the ongoing and powerful experience of the Unheimlich we are all experiencing together and especially with the understanding that the virus and pandemic can not be outed, alienated, from the human body or from human society. On the contrary, fighting CoVid19 requires communal and geopolitical collaboration, alongside social solidarity, more than ever (while on the contrary the populists might use the moniker “China Virus”).
I truly hope and aspire for a future where we no longer imagine complete and utter evils that must be eradicated, we stop producing monsters – be they pedophile lizards, energy vampires, orcs in service of the dark lord, radical Islamic terrorists or Chinese virologists – and deal with discomfort, anxiety, fear and possibly even evil, which is not on another planet, but exists with us everywhere, even in the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom. At home. We might be better off not calling it evil, at all.
Acknowledging these homely, domestic, fears, anxieties and horrors, is a worthy task. We’ll never proclaim victory, never speak under a banner claiming “Mission Accomplished”.
but like the journey towards Utopia itself, the one that’s always on the horizon, it’s a commendable mission. The journey to Utopia teaches us how to be better people.
Author Ursula K. Le Guin wrote that “True voyage is return” (The Dispossessed, 1974). The journey to the Unheimlich, makes us better people, or at the very least, less anxious, which isn’t so bad as well.
Footnotes and Other Stray Thoughts
2 // This made-up story is particularly monstrous, as it claims to far more than “mere” sexual exploitation. While the pedophile elite do indeed find sexual gratification from sadistic acts towards children, coercion and rape, it’s not “normal” pleasure but ceremonial pleasure, aiming to bring the children to situations of extreme fear and terror. These emotions, when felt, have the kids excrete large amounts of Adrenochrome to their bloodstream. Drinking blood saturated with Adrenochrome gives vitality to the monsters, some say eternal youth. If you identify some linkage to old Anti-Semitic tropes, you’re not alone..
Adrenochrome is a real chemical substance, a natural bodily secretion. In the fifties and sixties of the 20th century it was theorized as a possible treatment for Schizophrenia. It appears in A Clockwork Orange (Anthnoy Burgess, 1962) as a substance to spike milk with, used in the Moloko bar Alex and his gang frequent; but this instance of Adrenochrome most probably originates with Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), though most probably from the film adaptation by Terry Gilliam (1998). Thompson writes:
“There’s only one source for this stuff… the adrenaline glands from a living human body. It’s no good if you get it out of a corpse”
3 // According to UNICEF, while in recent years there have been significant steps made towards economic development and with it, exiting poverty, there are still about a billion children suffering from extreme poverty, poverty known as ‘multidimensional’ (not meeting basic requirements of nutrition or clean water). The CoVid19 pandemic has diminished hundreds of millions worldwide into poverty, among them 150 million children. As of April 2021, some 356 million children live in extreme poverty.
4 // According to the publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States (CDC), 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys will experience sexual abuse during childhood, 91% of sexual assaults will be committed by a person known to the child or family. info here:
5 // The movement to save children – from the alien pedophiles – is largely female. There is ongoing documentation of the phenomenon, for example here at Vox:
6 // How did Eglantyne and Dorothy get to know the awful distress of children in Germany and the former lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire?
During WWI they were fearful of the demonization of the German people in British media, it was clear those visions and perceptions will make it all the more difficult to achieve peace, once the fighting drew to an end.
Dorothy received a special permit to regularly import ~100 foreign newspapers, a quarter of which were from declared enemy countries. She, along with her sister Eglantyne and a team of volunteers, translated many articles weekly, which were published under “Notes From the Foreign Press”, a section in Weekly Cambridge Magazine. While the British press published malicious cartoons and politicians demonized the bitter enemy, the Jebb Sisters sought to voice further opinions, present the public debate, present the complexity of society in war, and in particular give voice to those calling against the war on the other side, thus resisting British propaganda and as much as they were able to do, humanize the enemy.