"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
Column by Mark Davis.
Exclusive to STR
“Can we all get along?” ~ Rodney King
Finding our way in the world includes seeking companionship and furthering self-interest. There are many forms of companionship ranging from umbilical cords to satellite signals, from blood-related to totally unconnected and intimate to casual. Humans crave both autonomy and brotherhood, to be left alone at times and also to be accepted by others. These feelings often struggle as we seek to balance self-interest and communal-interest. Developing relationships are a basic human trait that ranges from healthy to deadly. A healthy social organization can only exist when individual relationships in that society are healthy.
A healthy relationship most often involves mutual respect that is earned over time with shared experience. A deadly relationship typically evolves from one person seeking to dominate and control others; even for their “own good.” Differing individual value judgements concerning authority directly impact how easy we accept submission to others. It all depends on how we grow up, both individually and collectively. Parenting is how we change the world for better or worse because how we treat our children determines how our society evolves.
The family model works wonderfully for populations limited in number due to intimate relationships (familiarity). The eternal model of social organization for all groups is the family, even for those social institutions, like the state, that seek to replace the family unit by promoting collectivist fantasies, like universal brotherhood. Communities and cultures are extensions of family ties and thus typically support the family unit as a primary organizing unit within them. The state seeks to abolish communities and cultures, as well as the family, because these age-old social institutions compete for the loyalty of people. The state is a jealous god.
Whether operating a farm, business, school, ship, church or any other kind of relationship based on common interests, the family model is often emulated even when no members of the group are related by blood. Social institutions evolve along familiar lines that can make people feel comfortable first with conformity and then submission to agents of inherited social institutions. Obedience and voluntarily working together for mutual benefit are both learned behaviors and diametrically opposed forms of discipline. Learning self-discipline is the healthier alternative for all concerned.
Families are communal in nature and often authoritarian with a command/obey relationship. This structure seems natural at birth when the human child is so vulnerable and helpless. It’s not so hard to imagine that this tiny bundle of responsibility is the property of the two people that created it and is caring for it. Still, some families learned to foster voluntary cooperation by increasing the number of personal decisions made by the child letting them develop self-discipline. The beauty of the family model is its small, tight-knit nature that allows for a wide variety of relationships fostering experimentation. Hopefully, the trend of more families trying peaceful parenting (not resorting to threats of violence to instill obedience) will continue. It is our only hope for a free society to develop because no single event (election, war, famine, protest, festival, etc.) can ever achieve this level of social change.
Children are the responsibility of parents and this relationship often results in the emergence of the “under my roof” doctrine where if a child is to be provided safety, food and shelter by the parent, then the child must obey the commands of the parent. This method of social organization is obviously unquestioned by the child as a baby, but babies grow up. When baby develops sufficient cognitive abilities, becomes self-aware and consciously seeks the liberty to make more personal decisions (sometimes referred to as “rebelling”), parents react in different ways with many today still using violence and threats of violence. This social organization dynamic has been expanded to the larger collective in the form of the state. Agents of the state see citizens as their children and many citizens see agents of the state as their foster parents. The way parents, and agents of the state, react differently to those they assume responsibility for is the heart of the matter.
Learning to foster voluntary cooperation by increasing the number of personal decisions made by the child helps them grow up in a positive environment. Learning manners, how to meet and greet people and how to resolve disputes peacefully are also learned behavior. How we teach our children these intricacies of individual behavior in the interests of social harmony makes a big difference in how that society will function. Most parents still teach children that obedience to parental authority is the most important lesson in life, where caregivers use violence and the threat of violence upon children as their primary method while emphasizing “it’s for their own good.” The alternative is teaching children how to properly decide between what’s right and wrong themselves and how to take responsibility for those decisions and actions; but this requires magnitudes more parental patience and the acceptance of our children failing more often than we’d like. The former (fear-based authority) typically creates lifetime authoritarians while the latter (respect-based authority) creates principled libertarians.
So, do we learn to make personal decisions and accept personal responsibility for those decisions? Or do we allow others to make personal decisions for us, giving us an excuse to accept our lot in life? The best way to teach children proper behavior is to provide an example of good behavior because children watch a parent’s every move and will mimic parental actions; children are truly little mirror images of their parents. Respect-worthy actions build trust in relationships and authority is freely given to those who demonstrate that they are worthy of respect and trust. This is how children learn to build relationships based on respect and trust with the result being peaceful cooperation. The hallmark of relationships based on respect, trust and cooperation is love.
When authority is demanded by parents and based on the use of violence or the threat of violence upon the child, the child is learning subjugation to authority which is to obey those who threaten them with violence. This is how choices in life, potential actions and even dreams to strive for become a function of what others will allow. Children raised in this type of authoritarian environment often come to accept that caregivers may threaten and harm them “for their own good.” The hallmark of relationships built upon threats of violence, subjugation and obedience is fear. How hard people “spank” their children is of secondary importance to the mindset that this form of violence creates because even just the threat of a mild form of violence in order to compel obedience is developing a relationship on fear-based authority.
The Stockholm Syndrome is a well-known common reaction to captivity and threats of violence where victims become conditioned to the point of sympathy and excuse-making for their captors. Battered wives and abused children still love their husbands and parents as they trivialize the violence imposed on them by feigning belief in the good intentions of those we love making violent threats. How many times have you heard “It was a good thing my parents spanked me or I would have never learned [to obey]”? Society will never be able to overcome the acceptance of subjugation to state authority if the basic building block social unit of the family continues this cycle of abuse. The cognitive dissonance this situation creates in so many keeps therapists busy the world over.
Most people naturally equate their status quo bias with "reality"; this can be good and bad. This inherently subjective perspective based on a lifetime of psychological conditioning is difficult to overcome. The level of intellectual curiosity required to question, much less change, core beliefs is apparently lacking in a significant portion of the population. So, the family, community and culture that people grow up in, that is the environmental conditions, typically have a more powerful impact on individual behavior and understanding of the world around us than individual genetic traits, including intellectual curiosity. The non-state social institutions of family, community and culture must, therefore, be nurtured and supported by those who value individual liberty if we wish to abolish the state.
Belief in the state as the mother of all human organizations must be supplanted with a feeling of self-empowerment that leads to taking responsibility for one's own life, choices, effort and understanding. We crave predictability in an uncertain world as uncertainty about the future creates stress. The ability to predict the behavior of those around us helps us to get by in the world; when more people appear to do more crazy things then the confidence we have in our ability to predict the behavior of others causes stress that we seek to relieve. Rebooting the existing system of social organization based on obedience to authority gives us a chance to eliminate the power of authoritarianism as the default system. In short, most people see idealism as fantasy and have too much work to do surviving to think long about such matters. Yet, one day humans can evolve to a sufficient level to overcome the statist cult if we start with analyzing more seriously how we treat our own children.
The journey from being a helpless, crying, bloody mess to a productive, self-aware, functioning adult must naturally start in total submission to all-knowing, all-powerful caregivers. How can we not become attached to those who provide warmth, water, food, a bed and sanitation? Still, there is much variation over how to provide the necessities of life to those we bring into the world. Parents’ emotional attachments can be based on love, affection and peace or on regret, guilt and pain, with most being somewhere in between. Personalities are developed by the time we are two or three years old which will dictate how we will relate to the world. Providence certainly plays a key role in the environmental factors that offer opportunities and obstacles in each individual human journey, but it is the choices we make in response to those opportunities and obstacles that matter most because those are the things we have control over. The maturing process that takes us from infantile total submission through puberty to adult freedom and liberty is an ongoing process, both individually and collectively.
Does self-reflection lead to answers from within or does it lead to guidance from outside sources? Of course, it can be both, but it does not matter if one keeps asking the wrong questions. This is the purpose of collective programming that preys on the human condition which innately must process how to deal with uncertainty. Where we come from is the primary determinant of what we ask and how we answer, internally and publicly, life’s questions upon achieving adulthood. Individualists and collectivists are largely the product of the environments each experienced growing up. Hopefully, exploring this line of thought can shed some light on possible answers to Mr. King’s profound question above. Then, maybe, society can grow up, too.