Do teenagers count as people?

I don’t usually read News Ltd, so I’m afraid I almost missed this story from last week – I only found it because the Conversation yesterday had a piece on the relevant science. But the politics (or ethics) of it interest me a lot more than the science.

Briefly, the Telegraph reports that the state rail authority in New South Wales is planning to test devices that use a very high-pitched “buzzing noise”, inaudible to those over the age of about 24 (whose hearing has lost the capacity to detect high frequencies), to deter young people loitering in “known trouble spots” – who apparently are presumed to be vandals, graffittists or other troublemakers.

The devices, known as “mosquitoes” (read their sales pitch here), are popular in Britain, where high-tech social control is all the rage. But not everyone is supportive. A committee of the Council of Europe recommended in 2010 that “their use in public places should be banned” as “an illegal solution under the terms of international human rights instruments,” although no further action has been taken.

One is compelled to wonder what the reaction would be if the devices discriminated on the basis, say, of race rather than age. It’s not hard to imagine a device that hooked on to a genetic property peculiar to (or significantly more common in) members of a particular race; just such a thing was central to the plot of a 1941 Robert Heinlein novel, Sixth Column. It may not be scientifically possible now, but surely no-one would bet against it being available in the not very distant future.

I suspect such a device might be rather popular in certain circles, offering the ability to keep away Africans, or Aborigines, or some other disfavored group. But would the rest of us be so complacent?

On the contrary, I think it’s safe to predict that race-based “pest control” would produce a gigantic public outcry. It would be said, rightly, that it amounted to racial discrimination of the worst order. Any businessperson trying to market such a device would be lucky to stay out of jail.

Yet is the “mosquito” any different in principle? In each case a particular group is singled out for special treatment – in effect, collective punishment – based on the alleged propensity of some of its members for misbehavior. The difference is that the “mosquito” taps into our deep-seated ambivalence about whether young people really count as fully-fledged citizens. Everyone else has rights, but young people, it seems, only have privileges that can be withdrawn at any time.

Either the places where the devices will be located are open to the public, in which case young people will be prevented from exercising their legal rights, or they’re not, in which case there’s no rational reason to target just one segment of the population.

Is there any other group of Australians that would be treated with such disdain?

15 thoughts on “Do teenagers count as people?

  1. I imagine “Making loud noise just to annoy people” would be one of the complaints about young people supporters of The Mosquito would make. Loudly and often, to anyone who’ll listen.

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  2. Well, they can’t vote, so they’re not real people. Right? I mean, they can’t buy alcohol or drive a car. They can’t smoke cigarettes. They can’t choose their representatives in Parliament, and they’re already discriminated against on the basis of their age. Why would we stop now?

    The worst of it is that, as the ‘adultia’ or ‘grownupia’ we forget that we were once underage and felt unrepresented and stigmatised for our lack of years. We’ve every one of us been under 18 at some point! More than we can even say about racial prejudices! I mean, I’ve never been an Aborigine or blind or old or any of the countless other things I could be discriminated for, but by golly I was under-18 for a full 18 years!

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  3. “It’s not hard to imagine a device that hooked on to a genetic property peculiar to (or significantly more common in) members of a particular race.”

    We already have such a thing – milk! Whether copious volumes of the white stuff can be practicably deployed at railway stations is another matter.

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  4. There is also the enormous distress that it would cause the very young who have no alternative but to be in these places with their parents. Such devices should not be permitted but any business employing them can forget my custom.

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  5. i don ot know but as a subscriber crap like this which has been covered several times in the media over years should be ignored …is crikey changing its ways ? edward jmes

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  6. Thanks Edward. As to moderation, the system tells me your comment was made at 6.36pm and was approved at 6.41pm, so I don’t think that’s too bad. I’m sorry you didn’t like the story; I thought it was interesting, but you can never please everybody.

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  7. Well thanks for the reply Charles. never the less. It is just silly how government media releases stuff on ways to social engineer crowd control teenagers. Gets a run in an important subscriber only publication like Crikey.com. It is simple minded and repeated rubbish which belongs in fairfax and limited news. Crikey Subscribers like me expect a lot more from Crikey than lazy guff like that. I have been publishing well over fifty paid announcements in our local newspapers on the Central Coast in NSW. Including serious allegations about a local council misleading the NSW State Coroner. I have named names and supplied photos. Yet Crikey uses our paid space to repeat guff like this ‘interesting repeated story’ on line, nationally. While ignoring my often published allegations identifying a local council which is on the public record having misled a state coroner during his inquiry into the wrongful deaths of five people at Piles Creek, Somersby in NSW. Just how genuine is Eric Beecher the new owner of Crikey.com? Edward James 0243419140 one of a few of your remaining Crikey subscribers who use their real names when posting comments for our readers on Crikey strings. and also in my paid announcements in our several local Ducks Crossings Publications newspapers! What are the bought and paid for media frightened of Eric ? The real work and risk has been done! Edward James

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  8. Sorry Edward, you’ll really have to ask him that. It’s got nothing to do with this thread – he doesn’t tell me what to write.

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  9. Well Charles you make a good point. I have asked Eric a few times WTF sort of. Pointing out since he purchased Crikey it has gone “off” from what it was when owned by Stephen Mayne. I have renewed my subscription, but I am not happy that stories about systemic corruption which I run in my local papers, seem to frighten Crikey. Strange really as they are already in the public domain so the default defamation concern is a bit limp. again nothing to do with your story which as I pointed out is so dated.
    cheers Edward James

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