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NHS Babygrows and Using Children in Propaganda*

July 4, 2014

There’s currently an adorable picture doing the rounds on twitter of a baby wearing a ‘Born in the NHS’ babygrow. A friend tweeted it to me and thought that my son would suit one. She also pointed out a reply that criticised using children ‘in this way’, as propaganda for any and all causes.

I thought about this overnight (my son is five months old, so I get a good amount of overnight thinking time!) and the following are a few thoughts that occurred to me. It goes slightly off topic though, so bear with me.

A baby can’t consent to themselves being used as propaganda so I can understand people being wary of this. In fact, I was thinking, maybe we shouldn’t use children for political aims. But then babies can’t consent to anything, so we make decisions for them. Which then got me thinking about all the decisions we make for them and all the things we use babies for.

We decide what they wear, what they eat, where they go and what and who they see. We use them for comfort, for love, to give ourselves purpose, to fit in, to try to ensure company and support in old age. We use children to show off our tastes, often our wealth, and the choices we make for them often reflect our political views and aims.

Which, put like that, sounds quite bad**.


But then, I thought, isn’t much of this in some way necessary? It’s impossible not to advertise much of what you think through your children – we mark ourselves out as belonging to our tribes by how we use clothes, what accent we have etc. and these are inevitably shared also through our children (unless you have a permanently naked child who never speaks, which would also definitely show the world something about you…)

We also have to raise them with some views. A child learns much of what they think of the world from their parents, it really can’t be any different. Ideally this should include how to think critically and how to come to their own conclusions about the world but we inevitably pass on something of ours views to our children.

Given the inevitability of showing the world our views through our children, and passing those views on to them too, is using them overtly as propaganda a bad thing? You already indirectly advertise your views through them, is it very different? I would argue that at least propaganda is a deliberate choice that you then may have to defend to them.

So, as we already use children to propagate our views, I think that we should probably focus on the content of those views. Which is a whole different blog post.


You could also take a utilitarian approach to this subject. To make a better future for your children, or indeed the world, you need to change peoples minds, or behaviour. This often calls for a bit of propaganda, so you may be able to justify use of a non-consenting baby in order to better the world. I think the difference between a philosopher and politician is that a philosopher wants to find the correct, or at least a good, argument, whereas a politician wants to also make sure he wins the argument! Which is where the children come in. Most people feel warmly towards babies (evolution for the win!) so juxtaposing them with your cause can make people feel warmly towards your message.

Which brings us back round to the ‘Born in the NHS’ babygrow. The NHS is a Good Thing. It saves and improves lives based on need, not means. It is one of the most important and beneficial institutions we have. If you have any doubt on this, please read my post from last year Why the NHS is ruddy marvellous (and why we need to protect it).

Associating the NHS with babies reminds us of all the good it does and gives us a warm feeling about it. It reminds people like me of the important role the NHS had in one of the most significant events of our lives. Which contrasts with all the negative press the NHS has been getting recently. The NHS needs some propaganda right now. And remember, just because it’s propaganda doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Oh, and my son is called Nye. As in Bevan, the founder of the NHS.

How’s that for propaganda eh?


*I use propaganda in the older sense of presenting information to further a cause. The word now seems to come with the idea that propaganda is always untrue.

**Even before all that kicks in though, having a child is already a pretty selfish act. There are benefits to the world of having children, but as we already have huge overpopulation that (assuming you want everyone to have enough natural resources) these are few. When we bring a baby into the world we can’t know how their life will go. And I really don’t think that causing someone to exist can be doing them a favour – if they hadn’t have existed, they wouldn’t have minded!

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