I took my son to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Saturday. I recall seeing the first one in London when I was young. It was 1977 and Simon Scott (the boy who lived next door to me when I was a ‘southerner’ – we used to call him Simon Snot) had invited a few of us to the cinema for his birthday. I was hooked immediately, but the thought of this gleaming white army of Stormtroopers, bred to carry out every order (no matter how heinous) unnerved me a little. Times move on and in The Force Awakens we learn that the ‘new style’ Stormtroopers go through some kind of programming to turn them into these efficient killing machines. Sometimes, however, the programming ‘doesn’t take’.
While sitting in my seat, Ethan making as much noise as he possibly could with nothing more than a bag of Haribo, my mind momentarily leaped into my mental DeLorean, engaged the flux capacitor and took a quick trip back to the release of the Sutton Trust report ‘A Winning Personality’. Could we really ‘programme’ children to be more efficient, more agreeable and higher achieving? More than that, could we programme them to be better citizens, unquestioning and less rebellious?
Just think, we could take the most desirable character traits and, through education, implant them into school children. It doesn’t matter that psychologists can’t really agree on whether there are 3, 5 or even 16 personality dimensions just as long as we have the ones that society deems most useful. If the programming doesn’t take first time then we can just send them back for reprogramming.
Creating the perfect child would be easy.
We need them to be resilient and gritty (because we’re all agreed on what that means, right?); we want them to be honest and kind (OK, I know that lying is an important part of the developmental process but lets pretend we don’t know that); we also need them to be good citizens and never question government policy or the mainstream media (that will prevent them from becoming radicalised); oh, and we need them to read the Daily Mail so that they can get a fair and honest view of what’s important in the world. It might also be useful if we convince them that there’s a terrorist under every bed (or in the wardrobe – either will do) oh, and the fear of veils – easily done with a bit of classical conditioning (it’s worked pretty well for the PM).
Finally, the ability to sit through an entire film without talking and without making annoying noises with packets of sweets.
What if these traits aren’t suited to certain roles in society?
OK, so we might have to re-programme some with less desirable traits: Surgeons and CEO’s score highly on tests used to identify psychopaths so we might have to allow some of the children to torture small furry animals (we’ll leave that to the biology teachers). But what about other occupations? We still need manual labourers and they might require slightly different traits.
Oh, this is getting complicated.
It might be easier all round if we do away with natural human reproduction, we can then just grow the children in vats and programme them in batches. They can be raised in special units because parents don’t know how to raise kids anyway!
Perhaps we could even do away with names (because kids have silly names these days) and just use the Greek alphabet.