"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything--and one's last is to come to terms with everything." ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Teach Your Children Well, Part I
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
Introduction and Disclaimer
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. ~ Frederick Douglass
In previous essays, I have put forth the idea that in today's society, most people have had at least a portion of their rational faculty damaged by the coercive institutions that are in place, and that repairing this damage is difficult, as it is often not even acknowledged to exist. I have also alluded to the strategy of changing society for the better by placing information into the next generation’s hands that can help them stay on track and avoid having to later deprogram the indoctrination in which they will be immersed.
I have generally held that government is the root of all the various institutionalized coercive institutions in society, and so while attacking this ideology by pointing out its logical inconsistencies and its unethical basis is a fine start, those ideas can perhaps only firmly take hold if (a) all the other non-government-related logical inconsistencies commonly taught to children go out the window with them; and (b) all the other non-government-related domination institutions (any hierarchical organization that uses force and/or deception to dominate members who are on lower rungs) often imposed upon children are also discredited.
If you criticize the government for logical inconsistencies while being logically inconsistent in other areas, and if you criticize the government for using coercive force and deception while allowing other similar domination institutions to stand uncriticized, then these government criticisms may not be taken seriously by the child, and rightfully so.
Government is actually a subset of the annoyingly persistent "external authority" meme, and that—underneath it all—is the real root that needs striking. A child may become exposed to multiple sources of “external authority” and may quite reasonably consider all of them to be of the same archetype, and so an attack on government alone while allowing exceptions for the other logically-parallel institutions may not make too much sense.
And that’s a problem, because children quite naturally begin life as relentlessly logical beings, seeking answers to absolutely everything. Why? Why? Why? And if you try to slip one past them, you will get That doesn't make sense!
This is a feature, not a bug. But this natural tendency can be crushed through constant exposure to logical inconsistency and forced, non-thinking compliance to “authorities” of various stripes. This is in fact the status quo in today’s society.
Preventing this “external authority” root from taking hold in children is tricky business. After all, parents are themselves external authorities that have been "imposed" on the child, and if this state of affairs is perfectly natural and just, then why wouldn't all other forms of external authority be likewise natural and just? It is easy to see how authority can be a confusing concept and how children—and ultimately, adults—can be taken advantage of by those who claim to wield it. So how—and more importantly, why—should a child differentiate between a supposed legitimate parental authority and all the others?
But first the disclaimer part: This is not meant to be a lecture, just my own thoughts and observations, and I invite feedback because I know full well that I’m just winging it here. I am simply trying to think through and work out on the fly all the stuff that wasn't covered in the manual while I raise my own daughter. I understand that folks get riled up quickly when someone gives unsolicited suggestions concerning their “personal life and beliefs,” AKA government, religion, and family, and while many believe the latter two have nothing to do with the first, I believe that family and religion are often (no, not always) facilitators in the acceptance of government “authority.”
I would like to take a moment here to differentiate between the types of authority that apply to this subject, as the differences are vitally important.
Authority: The word itself without any adjectives denotes legitimate, innate, individual, internal authority that can be shared through voluntary delegation but never surrendered.
Parental Authority: The only form of legitimate external authority, justified by the necessities involved in helping a developing human being evolve into a fully-functioning, self-supporting individual. Notice this is a temporary authority, as once the child becomes an adult, she no longer has any ethical obligation to obey parental commands.
Authoritarian Authority: Assumed external authority that purports to legitimize the initiation of force against an individual is an illegitimate authoritarian authority. If I don’t use the adjective “authoritarian” when I refer to these thugs, I will place “authority” in quotes to show that it is an illegitimate claim.
Cult Authority: Religions depend upon mysticism, fear, and guilt to gain control of a person’s will through a process akin to brainwashing. This process works best when begun at an early age, before a child is able to clearly discern reality from fantasy (think Santa Claus). Especially when backed by parents, superstitions can be planted deep within a person during her impressionable childhood years and may be quite difficult to extract later on. Authoritarian authorities borrow many cult authority strategies in their quest to gain control over the minds of the people and to move the force into the background.
Command and obey is the core structure of any domination institution, whether it is authoritarian backed by force or cult backed by deception or any combination thereof.
The problem we are dealing with here is that naïve people grant authority to authoritarian and cult authorities because they truly believe those “authorities” to be legitimate. “Teach your children well” is a strategy designed to eliminate this dangerous naïveté and to remove the illegitimate power these domination institutions currently hold.
Running The Gauntlet
After children are born and begin the process of growing up, they quite naturally see their parents as authority figures. Especially when children are very young, they absolutely need someone to help them, protect them, guide them, and make many decisions for them.
The idea is that as they mature, children gradually take on responsibilities for themselves until they reach adulthood. From that point on, there is no reason to believe they need any type of parental authority in their lives in order to thrive and survive—they become independent human beings.
Parents necessarily delegate their natural and temporary authority to many other grownups along the way. Very often the child cannot discern any substantial difference between parental and non-parental authority, and many of those non-parental authorities will later make a lifelong, permanent claim that the child may assume is natural and justified even as she becomes an adult.
Let's take a look at some of these non-parental authorities that very often get thrown into the mix.
If parents teach religious beliefs to a child, she may be taught that there is an all-seeing, all-knowing, invisible “authority” that is not only in charge of her, but of her parents as well. She will observe the parents treating this supernatural “authority's” spokespeople with great deference and reverence in church, and so it only makes sense that these human beings must also be vested with powers of great authority. The warm feelings of community and belonging that may be associated with the church experience are tied to fear, guilt, and superstition. Questioning faith through the use of the rational faculty is strongly discouraged, and nonconformity comes at the social cost of losing those comforting religious-community connections.
This emotional-blackmail strategy provides leverage for the cult authority, and technically is not coercive, but is actually more influential than brute force. The human social animal is highly influenced by peer pressure, and the combination of superstition indoctrination on a young person coupled with the threat of losing personal connections can be quite sufficient to persuade that person to buy into the system. By all accounts, it has a high degree of success in lasting an entire lifetime.
No wonder authoritarian authorities borrow this strategy of getting the oppressed to agree to buy into their own oppression, and no wonder that the first four letters of “culture” are what they are. Moving on….
Now it's off to school and the child sees her teachers as another collection of authority figures. And while the first few years may tend to expose the child to teachers who are more caring and nurturing, echoing the ways of loving parents, gradually this gives way to teachers who more often than not become command-and-obey boundary enforcers who express the kinder and gentler features to a much lesser extent.
And over the years the teachers continue to pile on “authority” after “authority” in their lessons. Police officers are there to protect us and to enforce the law and must be obeyed. The powers of the government are defined by the “authority” of the Constitution. And the Constitution's “authority” grants “authority” to the elected officials who “serve” the citizens. These “authorities” create the “laws” and collect the necessary taxes and make the important decisions that keep society in order. They are to be revered and obeyed, as are the “authoritative” abstractions they create and stand for, AKA "The Laws of the Land."
In school, the governmental “authorities” are painted with a loving and caring brush, and when the child does come into contact with any of them, they all put on their best Sunday faces for the kiddies.
So now even if the child learns to take responsibility for all her actions and is mature enough to take care of herself away from her parents and their now-evaporated authority, will she be able to become an independent human being if she believes in all these mommy and daddy facsimilies and their supposedly legitimate and quite permanent authority?
I think not.
Part II to follow