PROTECTION OF THE HELPLESS
All moralists interested in improving society must answer the most essential questions about human motivation, and show how their proposed solutions will create a rational framework of incentives, punishments and rewards that further moral goals generally accepted as good. The 20th century clearly showed that there is no possibility for ideology to invent or create an “ideal man” – and that all such attempts generally create a hell on earth. Utopian thinkers must work with man as he is, and recognize the inevitability of self-interest and the positive responses to incentives that characterize the human soul.
In the previous chapters on the stateless society, I have shown how society can operate in the absence of a centralized government. One question that repeatedly arises in response to these possibilities has been the following:
In the absence of a centralized State-run police force and law/court system, how can child abuse be prevented, or at least minimized?
When discussing ethical issues, it is essential to deal with what is arguably the greatest evil within human society: the abuse of children by their parents or primary caregivers. If we can create a society that treats children better than they are currently treated, we have created a goal or a destination worthy of the considerable efforts it will take to achieve it.
In any post-tribal society, family life generally becomes very opaque. Great evils can be committed within the family home, in isolation from the general view of society, and children by their very nature can do almost nothing to protect themselves. Excepting grave or obvious physical injuries, governmental agencies rarely get involved – and even when such agencies do get involved, it is far from clear that their involvement results in a better situation for the victimized child.
As we know from totalitarian regimes, any situation which combines an extreme disparity in authority with a lack of accountability for those in power tends to increase abuse. This does not mean that all parents are abusive, of course, but it does mean that in situations where abusive tendencies do exist, the power differential between parents and children, combined with the reality that few parents face any legal or direct financial consequences for their abuse, tends to prolong and exacerbate child maltreatment.
Due to this situation, it is hard to say that the existing system works to maximize the protection and security of children. While there is no perfect utopia wherein all children will be loved, nurtured and protected, any society which contains strong positive incentives for good parenting is a vast improvement over the current situation. Since children are by far the most vulnerable members of society, if a stateless society can protect them better than a statist society, it is perhaps the greatest moral benefit that anarchism can bring to bear on the human condition.
Before discussing how a stateless society can far better protect children, let us first look at how existing societies create problems for children.
• The existence of the welfare state has directly contributed to the rise of single-parent families. Abuse is generally more prevalent in single-parent families.
• The war on drugs has created extremely unstable, volatile and violent social circumstances.
• Government-run housing projects have gathered together unstable single mothers and unstable drug dealers (in fact, housing projects are sometimes called “girlfriend farms” for such men) – thus exposing children to highly dysfunctional role models.
• Public school education often creates unstable and dangerous environments for children, where younger children in particular are easy prey for bullies.
• The rise of taxation has reduced take-home income to the point where, for many families, both parents need to work. This has left children vulnerable to abuse by outside caregivers and often leads to an excess of unsupervised time for children in their early teens.
• Government-run social agencies are no better at protecting children than any other State agencies are at protecting the environment, helping the poor, healing the sick, or any of the other self-appointed “missions” that bureaucrats devise for themselves.
• If a badly-raised child becomes a criminal, parents are not directly liable for the resulting social, medical, legal or property costs.
• If, through their bad parenting, parents end up alienating their children, they face far fewer financial problems in their old age, due to State-run social security benefits.
It is clear, then, that the existing system has room for improvement, let us say. How, then, does a stateless society better encourage good parenting?
First of all, in a stateless society, disputes between people are mediated by DROs. Is there any way that DROs can profitably intervene in a situation where there are deteriorating relationships between parent and child, or where the child is being directly harmed?
One of the primary reasons for the existence of DROs is to protect citizens against unacceptable levels of risk. In a free society, if a child goes off the rails and begins hurting other people or damaging their property, DROs will hold the parents responsible. To take a true disaster scenario, if your child paralyzes another child, you as a parent will be on the hook for a lifetime of medical bills, rehabilitation and equipment. Given that childhood – even in the absence of malice – is a physically risky time, few parents would accept the risk of having no protection for any potential injuries their child might commit or experience.
Like any insurance company, DROs would lower rates for children who were less at risk. An insurance company would prefer that your child be active – or they would face the health problems which naturally arise from inactivity – but not that your child be aggressive, especially towards other children. Children who learned positive negotiation skills – or at least did not hit, throw, punch or push other children – would be cheaper to insure. Parents who raised aggressive children would be charged far more in insurance than those who raise more peaceful offspring.
Some forms of child abuse do not generally result in destructive tendencies towards others, but rather towards the self. Anorexia nervosa, self-mutilation, excessive piercings and hyper-dangerous activities are all signs that a child has experienced specific forms of abuse – usually sexual in nature.
Given that DROs also provide health insurance, it seems likely that DROs would do as much as possible to prevent and detect these kinds of activities, since they scarcely profit from self-destructive behavior.
At this point, you may be thinking that bad parents would scarcely stay in a DRO system, since it would be very expensive to insure their children. This is a natural response, but incorrect.
For instance, most parents prefer to have their children educated – even parents who abuse their children. Most schools would doubtless prefer DRO coverage for their students, because
“unprotected” children would be more risky to have around. Thus, in order to get their children educated, parents have to have a DRO contract that protects them. If you are a bad parent, it will be almost impossible to avoid the significant costs imposed upon you.
Furthermore, I would prefer that my DRO refuse to insure parents without also insuring their children, because I care deeply about the health and well-being of children.
I am sure that I am not alone in this desire.
Currently, when you apply for medical insurance in the United States, you are subjected to a battery of tests aimed at determining your general level of health, and so your future medical risks.
Similarly, life insurance costs usually depend on health indicators such as smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Also, the earlier that you buy insurance, the lower your initial payments are.
Thus, we can imagine that a variety of DROs will approach new parents with a number of different insurance offers, all designed to protect their children.
These DROs will be eager to offer the lowest possible rates for the parents. How can they achieve that? When a young man applies for his first car insurance, the insurance company usually takes into account any driving courses that he has taken. Similarly, DROs will offer lower rates to parents who take specific training on how to best raise children to be peaceful, safe and healthy members of society. DROs will also work hard to determine exactly which parenting practices are most likely to produce such happy children.
Children need very specific guidelines and parenting skills at different stages in their development.
Given that parents are likely to want to keep insurance coverage on their children until they turn 18 – and that DROs are very interested in preventing problems over the long run – it also seems likely that DROs will continue to provide lower-cost coverage if parents update their parenting skills periodically.
There are other significant indicators that parenting is becoming problematic. For instance, parental substance abuse virtually guarantees that the children will be abused or neglected. DROs will offer far lower rates to parents who have either never shown these tendencies, or if they have, are willing to subject themselves to rehabilitation and random testing to prove that they are still clean. Remember that these tests are in no way intrusive in nature – parents can always refuse to take such tests, and simply accept the consequences.
What about the children? Since prevention is by far the better part of cure, their insurance costs will remain the lowest if potential problems can be identified before they manifest themselves in costly antisocial behavior. With the young in particular, early intervention is the key. How can DROs best keep the costs low for these children? Intermittent psychological and behavioural assessments would be a good start, as would proactive parenting classes. Naturally, no parents would ever be required to submit their children for assessment – they would just pay for the increased costs if they did not.
If a child displayed truly problematic behavior, DROs would threaten to drop family coverage entirely unless the parents accepted intervention.
This combination of research, financial incentives and constant updating creates three partners in the raising of children – parents who wish to keep their children happy and their insurance costs as low as possible, DROs who wish to prevent problems rather than pay for their remediation, and experts who constantly research and communicate best practices in parenting.
Parents who were themselves poorly raised often do not understand the best way to raise their own children. Lacking access to objective information and best practices, they often repeat the same mistakes that were inflicted upon them. Parents currently reluctant to “lift the blinds” on their parenting and familial circumstances would be presented with strong and positive financial incentives to do so. Parents who refused any kind of DRO coverage for their children – or who refused reasonable interventions to help them improve their parenting – would face negative repercussions from the DRO system, which have been discussed at length above. Thus it seems highly likely that a stateless society would create a wide variety of social interests all focused on improving the parenting of children, and ensuring the children were raised to be as peaceful, happy and productive as possible.
A PARENTING FABLE
There is an old fable that goes something like this: the Sun and the Wind are having an argument as to which one of them is stronger. The Wind boasts that he is able to uproot trees, tear the roofs off houses and throw down power lines. The Sun looks sceptical. Below them, as they argue, a man is walking along a country road. “Ah”, says the Wind, “I bet I can tear the cloak right off this man’s back!” “Go ahead,” smiles the Sun. The Wind goes down and tears around this man, attempting to pry his cloak off his back. Naturally, the man simply clutches his cloak tighter, and the Wind can find no purchase. Finally, exhausted, the Wind withdraws. “Let me show you how it’s done,” says the Sun. Bursting into full brilliance, the Sun generates enormous heat, and the man begins to sweat.
After ten minutes or so, the man sighs, wipes his brow – and slowly shrugs off his cloak.
This parable contains a powerful message about the difference between a stateless society, and society ruled by centralized government. The government always tries to force people to do things, which only increases their resistance and secrecy with regard to State power. Human society, though, only advances when a multiplicity of competing voluntary agencies create and maintain circumstances which truly benefit virtue and punish vice. This is an apt description of the free market – and it is also a description of the manner in which a stateless society will continually work to improve the safety and happiness of children.