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Photo by Chitto Cancio / Unsplash

The evidence is in: Social media kills children.

Well, it at least seriously wounds them. Or at least many of them.

And no matter what, there ain't no adult with an ounce of sense who claims it's good for them.

You know who else thinks it's not good for them? The children themselves. Surveys show that youth consistently say they'd be fine with getting banned from social media . . . as long as everyone similarly situated to them is banned too.

It's FOMO.

But worse. It's MO.

If today's kids aren't on social media, they will miss out. They won't know what's happening in their social circles.

High school hallways used to be fun and loud. You picked up a cacophony of data just by switching classes. You'd see a boy and girl "talking." You'd snicker about the stoner trying not to look stoned. You'd hear gossip. You'd hear about a party. You'd hear about people gathering at McDonald's after school.

Not now.

The hallways are quiet. The kids are staring into their phones. If they don't keep staring, they'll miss out.

It's fear.

But worse. It's fact.

And even worse: It's Moloch.

Ginsberg's Moloch

James Franco played Allen Ginsberg in the 2010 movie, "Howl."

It's about the obscenity trial surrounding Ginbserg's famous poem Howl, which he published in 1956. It's the most famous poem of the Beat Generation.

Part II of the poem deals with Moloch. Here's an excerpt (but feel free to skip):

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

In 2014, Scott Alexander published an online manifesto of sorts, based on Ginsberg's poem. It's called "Meditations on Moloch."

He says Ginsberg's "Moloch" answers the question that plagues every person and every society, especially modern ones: If everyone hates the current system, who perpetuates it? Why is it rational to act in a manner that is ultimately irrational . . . and everyone knows it and does it anyway?

The answer: Moloch.

Why would a fishing community exhaust the local fish supply, thereby assuring their mutual starvation? Moloch.

Why would an industrialist drive human labor to inhumane conditions even though he knows it's cruel? Moloch.

Why would countries spend ridiculous amounts of their GDP on weapons of destruction? Moloch.

Alexander gives 14 such examples. The point is the same in every one of them: No one person can buck the system--one fisher can't moderate his catch, one industrialist can't spend more on overhead to improve labor conditions, one country can't unilaterally disarm.

If a person bucks the system, the system bucks him.


Moloch is Stronger Than Ever

Modern life is Molochian life.

Modern life is highly Carthaginian. It's obsessed with economic advancement. It values productivity and efficiency and the wealth such things bring.

"[T]he god who got things done bore the name of Moloch." GKC, The Everlasting Man

Moloch has always eaten children. That's one reason the Romans hated the Carthaginians, who sacrificed their children for commercial gain. Many thinkers believe it explains why God allowed the wholesale slaughter of populations during the Israelite conquest of Canaan.

Moloch is coming for our children again. This time, he's using the smartphone.

We need groups like the Israelites and Romans to put him back in his cage again.

Moloch, by its nature, can only be defeated by a group effort like the ones led by Joshua and Scipio.

No one parent can tell their kid, "You can't have a smartphone." That would socially ostracize the kid at a time of life when he needs to socialize. It'd be bogue . . . arguably cruel and developmentally-challenging.

We need to develop new social norms that frown on the smartphones. We at least need a plurality of parents to ban together and stop it among their children.

In the meantime, local school boards can take the lead simply by banning phones during the school day. They can use yonder bags: kids lock their phones in the bags when they arrive; the bags get unlocked when they leave.

A few high schools have started using them, and they're proving popular with the kids.

The hallways are getting loud again. Kids are talking.

There's still FOMO, of course. It can't be avoided. High school is a furnace of social pressures, but at least in those high schools with yonder bags, we don't have Moloch stoking the flames during the school day.