Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Saving Children: The Stateless Society and the 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 response to incentives that characterizes the human soul.

In my recent articles on the stateless society, I have explained how I believe that society can operate in the absence of a centralized government. One question that has repeatedly arisen during the excellent responses to my articles has been this:

In the absence of a centralized state-run police force and law/court system, how can child abuse be prevented, or at least minimized?

My examples of Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs) have answered most people’s questions regarding how a stateless society encourages positive, moral and honest behavior among adults. I have also tackled the problems of violent crime, to the satisfaction of many.

However, when discussing ethical issues, is essential to deal with what is perhaps the greatest evil within human society: the abuse of children by their parents or primary caregivers. If we can picture a society as existing without a government, can we picture how that society would more beneficially deal with children? For surely 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 this essay, I will attempt to deal with the methodologies and processes by which a stateless society will improve the living conditions of children. I will not talk here about the positive and beneficial effects of private run schools, since I have dealt with that topic at length in my podcast -- rather, I will deal with the positive interventions that a stateless society can bring to bear on the direct relations between children and their parents.

In any post-tribal society, family life generally becomes rather 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 differentiation in authority with a lack of accountability for those in power tends to increase abuses of power. 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 fact that few parents face any legal or direct financial consequences for their abuse, tends to prolong and exacerbate child abuse.

Because of 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 children will always 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 society with a government, 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 the interests and security of children than existing societies, let’s 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 violent, unstable and dangerous environments for children, where younger children in particular are easy prey for bullies.

  • The rise of taxation has directly contributed to the new requirement for both mothers and fathers to go to work. This has left children vulnerable to abuse by outside caregivers -- and often leads to an excess of unsupervised time alone 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. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence point to the constant disasters that continue to befall children supposedly being ‘protected’ by state agencies.

  • If a child that is badly raised becomes a criminal, parents are not directly liable for the social, medical, legal or property costs incurred by their child.

  • If, through their bad parenting, parents end up alienating their children, they face a far fewer financial problems in their old age, due to state-run social security schemes.

It is clear, then, that the existing system has room for improvement.

How, then, can a stateless society better protect children than a society with a government? Well, first of all, in a stateless society, disputes between people are mediated by Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs), which are private agencies dedicated to preventing conflicts, and resolving them when necessary. (For more on DROs, please see my archives). 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, it seems highly likely that DROs would hold the parents responsible. To take a true disaster scenario, if your child accidentally 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 dangerous 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 insurance rates for children that were less at risk. An insurance company would prefer that your child be active -- or they would face the health problems which would naturally results from inactivity - but not that your child be aggressive, especially towards other children. Children who learned positive negotiation skills -- or lease didn’t hit, throw, punch or push other children -- would be cheaper to insure. This fact is the foundation of the benefits that a stateless society brings to bear on the safety of children. Parents who raise aggressive children will 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, self-mutilation, excessive piercing 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 these kinds of activities, since they scarcely profit from self-destructive behavior.

If you are unfamiliar with the general theories around a stateless society, you will doubtless now be thinking that bad parents would scarcely appeal to a DRO system, since it would be very expensive to insure their children. That 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 to educate children who were covered by DRO protections, because ‘unprotected’ children would be more risky to have in the school. Thus, in order to get your children educated, you have to have a DRO contract that protects them. Thus it will be almost impossible to avoid the significant costs imposed upon you if you are a bad parent. (Of course, bad parents may choose to operate “off the grid” and bypass the DRO system completely, but that is equally true of the current society, and so cannot be considered a significant objection to a stateless society. For more information on this, please have a look at my article “Caging the Beasts”.)

When you apply for medical insurance in the United States, you are subjected to a battery of tests all aimed at determining your general level of overall health, and so your future medical costs. Similarly, life insurance costs usually depend on generally-accepted health indicators like smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Also, generally, the earlier that you buy insurance, the cheaper it is over the long run.

Thus we can imagine that a variety of DROs will approach new parents with a number of different insurance offers all designed to protect the children, both from their own actions, and from the actions of other children.

All these DROs will be eager to offer the lowest possible rates for the parents. How can they achieve that? Well, when a young man applies for his first car insurance, the insurance company usually takes into account any kind of driving training that he has taken. Similarly, DROs will be more likely to offer lower rates to parents who take specific training on how to best raise children to be peaceful and safe members of society. DROs will also work very hard to determine exactly which parenting practices are most likely to produce such peaceful and safe 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 low coverage if parents update their parenting skills periodically (but probably for only the first child!).

There are other significant indicators that parenting is becoming problematic. For instance, substance abuse such as alcoholism or drug addiction virtually guarantees that the children will either be abused, or turn out badly. Thus a DRO will offer far lower rates to parents who have either never shown these tendencies, or if they have, are willing to subject themselves to random testing to prove that they are still clean. (Please note that these tests are in no way intrusive in nature -- parents can always refuse to take such tests, and simply pay for the increased risk involved to the DRO.)

And what about the children? Well, since prevention is by far the better part of cure, their insurance costs will remain the lowest if problems can be identified before they manifest themselves in antisocial behavior. With the young in particular, early intervention is the key. How can DROs best keep the costs low for these children? Well, intermittent psychological testing would be a good start (and remember, we are generally talking about only the first children of ‘at-risk’ families). Naturally, no parents would ever be required to submit their children for testing -- they would just pay for the increased costs if they did not.

This combination of research, financial incentives and constant updating creates two partners in the raising of children -- parents who wish to keep their insurance costs as low as possible, and DROs who wish to prevent problems rather than pay for their remediation.

Parents who were poorly raised themselves 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. A stateless society that relied on a private system of cross-insurance would inherently contain a large number of parties with direct and significant financial interests in the well-being of children. Parents currently reluctant to “lift the blinds” on their parenting and familial circumstances would be presented with strong and positive financial motivations for doing so. Parents who refused any kind of DRO coverage for the children -- or who refused reasonable interventions designed to help them improve their parenting -- might face other negative repercussions from the DRO system, which have been discussed at length in my other articles. 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.

There is an old fable that goes something like this: the Sun and the Wind are having a 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 skeptical. 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. And so the Wind goes down and tears around this man, attempting to pry in his cloak off his back. Naturally, the man simply clutches his cloak even 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 takes 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 private agencies create and maintain circumstances which benefit virtue and punish vice. This is an apt description of the free market -- and is also a description of the manner in which a stateless society will continually work to improve safety and happiness of children.

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