I have previously said that there are three principles which, combined, create a conspiracy of silence around child abuse:
1. The inviolability of the home (“a man’s home is his castle”/”they have a right to privacy”).
2. The agreed-upon ownership of the rights of children (“we can’t intervene in family decisions”/”it’s their child, they can do whatever they want”). Note that I say agreed-upon to specify that it is a fiction: the concept of a human being owning oneself, or another, is logical nonsense.
3. The perceived necessity of the modern family structure (“there’s no possible way to change the system”/”the family structure is natural”/”the family hierarchy is ordained by God”).
Do these three principles trump the fact that we are still faced with widespread (albeit no longer officially tolerated) child abuse within Western families?
The inviolability principle is only supported by one ethical concept that I know of, and that’s the right to privacy. But the right to privacy cannot possibly trump a child’s bodily integrity, so that’s a non-starter. Since we otherwise have no privacy objections about stopping violent crimes against adults, the only possible reason why anyone would disagree would be because they consider children’s lives less important than adult lives.
The agreed-upon ownership of children is, from an egalitarian standpoint, easily refuted: children are human beings and, like all human beings, they deserve to be free. Of course parents claim they don’t own their children at all, but it’s hard to see any significant difference between owning someone and controlling every single aspect of their lives, including their property and their labor; the dispute is mainly one of semantics (note that I am not arguing that children are agreed-upon slaves: “property” and “ownership” are different things).
The perceived necessity of the family structure is perhaps the most persuasive of all three principles. When people sincerely believe that there’s no possible alternative to the current system, they will be ready to support any abuse or violence done in its name. After all, what other choice do we have?
Religion is perhaps the strongest shield behind which child abusers can hide. The misopedic nature of the three major religions (Chrisitanity, Islam, Judaism) is well known and we usually permit people to maim and abuse children openly if it’s done in the name of a religion, although the sexual scandals in Catholicism have eventually been pushed into the public limelight.
Our idea of a monogamous, self-contained family system is most definitely not a natural necessity: most primate species, including our closest relatives the chimpanzees and the Bonobos, do not live in this fashion. Furthermore, human societies have exhibited a wide variety of child rearing regimes, from the modern kibbutzim, to the concept of extended families, to the social raising of children in modern hunter-gatherer societies.
If none of these principles hold water, then the conspiracy of silence we’ve erected around child abuse is absolutely pointless. We let children suffer for no good reason apart from the monstrous ego of parents, who are unaccountable tyrants.
If Absolute Sovereignty be not necessary in a State, how comes it to be so in a Family? or if in a Family why not in a State; since no Reason can be alledg’d for the one that will not hold more strongly for the other?
When discussing these issues, one is often asked, because of the perceived necessity of the family structure, “but what’s the alternative?” Denying the truth of profound suffering because you can’t imagine a viable solution immediately is a neat thought-stopping trap, but it’s just a trap. The truth is the truth regardless of your ability to imagine how to act upon that truth. Pointing out a current injustice does not confer a burden of proof to provide alternatives to the current unjust system.
But here we must make a distinction between the family structure and childism. Childism comes in many forms and expresses itself in many institutions, of which the family structure is only one. Although childism cannot be eliminated without also changing the family structure, eliminating the family structure would not end childism.
There is no alternative to childism apart from ending the prejudice, affirming that children are full human beings, and implementing this position in public policy.
As for the family structure, that’s a different story. I’ve already named a few existing alternatives which, although not widespread, are known to be superior to the current monogamous agreed-upon ownership system. As I’ve discussed before, there are three core issues that need to be addressed in connection to families and childism:
1. Some children are randomly born in “good” families and others in “bad” families, resulting in some getting abused and others not.
2. The economic concept of poverty imposed on children.
3. The indoctrination of children on a massive scale.
Issues 1 and 2 exist because one or two parents (by virtue of having sex and giving birth) are given ownership of the child, meaning that the child shares in the parents’ social status and depends on their mental state (whether benevolent or hostile). Issue 3 exists because it is in the interest of parents to ensure that their children are “successful.” This “success” justifies various forms of indoctrination:
* The child must appear “normal.”
* The child must be ready to compete against their peers, either as students or as workers.
* The child must be “intelligent” and competent.
These are not needs of the child, they are parental needs. And in order to fulfill those needs, parents will do whatever they can: pay for expensive private education, threaten or punish the child when they fail to live up to grade expectations, coerce or browbeat their child to enroll in various sports or activities, enforce gender, religious, and cultural norms, and threaten or punish the child for failing to follow those norms.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this indoctrination is that not only does it not work, but it hurts children far beyond the initial coercion, threat or punishment, and in some cases wounds their ego so much that they become less able to deal with the world, having therefore the opposite effect of what was (foolishly and callously) intended.
Actually, studies have shown that people who have more competitive personalities are less likely to “succeed,” not just in business but across the board. There is also no correlation between stamping one’s individuality out and being “successful.” There is a correlation between “intelligence” as defined by our schooling system (domestication system) and “success,” but only insofar as our society is set up to equate “intelligence” with “ability to be successful” (i.e. get a professional job and make more money).
But more important than “success” is personal happiness: the sole measure of whether any form of parenting is helpful, if we are to talk at parenting at all, should be whether it helps form happy, healthy adults who are relatively mentally undamaged from their upbringing. By that standard, all these forms of indoctrination are complete, abject failures. Why? Because they are based on disrespecting the child’s values and desires, and molding children to adapt to parts of society they have little or no reason to support.
Before we answer the question “what is the alternative to our current system, parenting/pedagogy within a modern family structure?”, we must first establish some fundamental principles giving the parameters of what we should consider justified and unjustified:
* There is no a priori reason for a child to have only one or two parents. Having sex and giving birth do not, and cannot, logically grant an ownership claim on another human being.
* There is no logical justification for the bizarre concept of “poor children,” even in a capitalist system.
* Parents are usually the least qualified people to raise “their” children. If we do not allow unqualified people to provide child care for money, then we should not allow unqualified people to provide child care just because they don’t get paid for it.
* Children have a right to develop independently, to the highest standard of health, and to happiness in the present, not just in the future. No one may sacrifice a child’s present in the name of eir future.
Based on these principles, we can come to some conclusions. First, that we must not make a child’s well-being depend on the economic status of one or two individuals based on the accident of birth. Second, and perhaps most obviously, the people in charge of raising children must have some qualifications to do so. Third, all rules regarding child-raising must have one objective only, and that is the well-being and freedom of the child according to the child’s own values and desires.
Any system which breaks any of these conclusions is unjustified. So, given that, what would a non-childist child-raising system be like? It’s hard to say, because there’s so little incentive right now for people to look at alternatives in child-raising, even in leftist circles. People are too concerned with “compassionate parenting” (an oxymoron in itself) to think about going beyond parenting.
However, I do think that democratic schools like Summerhill School give us a first sketch of an alternative system. We know that it works but we have no idea how far a system like this could go: as long as States keep their stranglehold over “education,” there will be no place for further experimentation.