James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, May 22, 2009

More on the rights of the child

My post on Daniel Hauser sparked some criticism among Facebook friends, and I said I will elaborate further on children's rights.

A day or two later, we found nightmarish evidence of what can happen when a country disregards the rights of children. Obviously, no decent person wants anything like that here, whether or not it's run by a church. But then, what direction should we go in the treatment of children?

First, I hope it is clear that I understand that children do not think like adults, and often don't have enough information to make good judgments. Anyone with any sense understands that, including Murray Rothbard, whom I cited.

I think one mistake I made in citing Rothbard's chapter on children by itself, outside the context of the larger book, is it neglected the larger context. Rothbard defines what rights are and what they are not, then applies his theory to certain situations. At first it seems extreme, but then one sees that freedom creates its own checks and balances.

I believe the explications found there are sound, and that freedom (non-aggression) should be the default assumption in all circumstances. Scenarios like pandemics, natural disaster, and invasion which threaten the survival of the community/country may require drastic measures, just as some wars may be justified. But one who goes about searching for a theory to justify war is in fact looking for an excuse to go to war, and one who goes about creating a theory of when violating rights is justified is just looking for an excuse to violate rights.

Here's an example, in another context, on how freedom creates its own checks and balances: the lawsuit defamation against a CSI producer would not be permitted in Rothbard's society because no one can "own" their own reputation (that is, they can not control the opinions of others). If someone spreads lies about me, no harm has been done to my person and property; at the same time, I am free to make counter-claims. I could defame those who defame me.

But, it could be objected, defamation is still wrong and ought to be punished. In practice, however, this position is discriminatory. A defamed poor person probably couldn't afford the legal counsel to bring a lawsuit. A celebrity who denies claims made in a gossip rag will be constantly asked, "So why don't you sue them?" There may be very good reasons not to sue, such as to protect one's privacy, yet failure to bring a defamation gives default credibility to the gossips and accusers, which is egregious.

In the absence of defamation law, however, every claim one person makes about another would more likely be instantly unbelievable unless actual evidence is presented.

Likewise, in Rothbard's society paying someone to keep a secret - i.e., blackmail - would also be permitted. The fact that it's not permitted today means individuals have an incentive to spill the beans about other people's dirty laundry, hardly conducive to polite, civil discourse. If you photograph Michael Phelps smoking a joint, you could approach him first and name your price to keep the secret. I think everyone, including the larger society, would have been better off if that occurred.

That's just an illustration of how freedom, not government laws, creates a system of checks and balances.

Now regarding obligations owed to children: child abandonment would be less likely if there was a free market for the custodial rights of children. In our present age, it is very cruel to manipulate a scared pregnant young girl to agree to an adoption, when we know many will instantly regret it at the time of birth and have a wound in their soul for the rest of their lives. It makes far more sense to pressure no one into adoption, but allow mothers, once they realize they can't handle or don't want the responsibility, to either give away or sell their custodial rights. This will likely lead to fewer dumpster babies and fewer abortions.

Regarding the rights of children. We should note that a child who runs away and changes his mind after twenty minutes will be in no more or less danger of encountering molesters in Rothbard's society than he is now. Moreover, an immature child who leaves in protest of his parent's discipline would actually have to try to persuade somebody else to take him in. But the fact that it's an option will create incentives in parents to provide stronger bonds of affection, communication, and trust. Families will be bound by love, not by law, and will be stronger.

But what about children, on their own or with their parents, who seem determined to do things contrary to their own self-interest? Unless they pose a threat to others, such as carry a contagious disease, it's hard to see what can be done. Many a child star has come to ruin, but that doesn't mean we can prohibit child stardom. Many religious beliefs are psychologically destructive and provide toxic environments for their children, but that doesn't mean we can censor, regulate, or prohibit religion. Some children do not have a "normal childhood" because they were pushed by their parents to develop some talent, whereas others are permanently scarred because they were forced into a "normal childhood" that didn't suit them.

And just as some smoke all their lives and never get sick, so it is that some are healed through their belief in spiritual and alternative medical practices. Everyone is different, and people will be injured or killed by mistakes - but they do anyway even in our highly-regulated society. I believe we will have a more stable, orderly, and prosperous society if they were allowed the right to be different.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate the default position of freedom - err on the side of freedom, unless there is an overwhelming reason to limit it.