Our Father, Who Art in City Hall...

Exclusive to STR

In discussions of law, I have started to notice more and more the use of the word "paternalism." I'm probably having a case of selective attention--once I noticed it once, I started noticing it everywhere. State paternalism turns people's brains into mush and, appropriately enough, turns them into little children who need to be told what is good and what is bad by the state. If you're treated like a child long enough, you'll eventually act like a child, especially when your status and your work are at stake.

Sure, government acts paternalistically. But it seems to me that merely using the word makes anti-state arguments seem rather trivial. Since I am more of a student of atheism and philosophy, I tend to think of it like the problem of evil. Theologians treat the problem of evil as a trivial kind of objection, as if we atheists are asking for strawberry ice cream to appear in our hands when we get hungry (yes, I have heard someone describe it in these terms). They completely ignore the mind-boggling amount of suffering that exists in the world. Forget about flesh-eating viruses, hurricanes and tsunamis, starvation, genocides and malaria (which thanks to national and international bans still kills millions every year) -- obviously the only evil that we should be concerned about is the lack of self-transporting ice cream. Now imagine me rolling my eyes so violently that they threaten to bounce away.

In the same way, it seems easy to trivialize anti-state thought in the same way. By using the word "paternalism," the market anarchist appears to be similar to a teenager rebelling against his parents--a petulant assertion of independence based on feeling. We're really rebelling against stop signs, curfews, seatbelts, and laws that tell us what size of tank our toilets can have. Forget about war, the FDA, taxation, central bank control, inflation, the Drug War, the pitiful state of the justice system, or that sort of thing, the one that actually matters. You can't possibly be serious. Just have an ice cream. Right?

Honestly, I really don't think that anyone intelligent can possibly see politicians as parental figures, unless they had a very bad childhood.

But childhood, I think, is exactly the problem. We don't pay nearly as much attention to the moral indoctrination that takes place during childhood than we should. Because there (and I am not pretending this is an original idea, mind you, just uncommon) is the root of collectivism. Think about it. For 16, 18, 20 years, the individual is subjected to a system of organization wherein his parents, by virtue of having f*cked often enough to give birth to him, assume control over his life, place themselves as ultimate authority, and take the right to mold this child after themselves. And he remains entrapped in this process, as everyone bombards him with the belief that family is the most important part of one's identity, that the bonds of family are more important than his own selfish desires, and deciding to sever relations with these people, with whom he usually has little kinship or even affinity, brings him tremendous guilt.

And no, before you get started, I did not have a terrible childhood. In fact, by all accounts it was probably better than the great majority of people. But I'm talking about the incentives of the system here. What we have is a system where exploitation is the rule, a system where arbitrary, abusive authority rules ostensibly for the higher good of the individual, a system where property is shared and controlled.

Why should we be surprised, therefore, if the individual reproduces these "paternalistic" patterns in politics, religion and philosophy? Why should we be surprised if this exploitation marks him for life? Stefan Molyneux has a great analogy about this. He imagines a zoologist examining the behavior of monkeys in zoos. The zoologist tries to concoct various explanations as to why the monkeys do not leave a very small area. He postulates that the monkeys have a strong tribal instinct, that they are sedentary, that new places scare them, and so on. All this time, he fails to notice that the monkeys simply don't move around because they are in cages! The same applies to any investigation of human behavior which does not take into account the heavy burden of parenting and the state--a fool's errand.

In moral development, parenting, religion and politics all transmit morality through two mediums: the use of narratives to instill fear, and pre-cognitive conditioning (rote order-based reward-punishment system). Parents use narratives to imprint images of what happens to "bad children." The religious use narratives to imprint images of what happens to "sinners." The state uses narratives to justify the necessity of its own existence and imprint images of what happens to "criminal elements"--the smoker, the heavy drinker and the drug user especially. As for irrational orders, parents have their own authority, the religious have doctrines and commandments, and the state has its monopolistic system of law.

And if the process destroys enough of a man's moral sense, you get a Peter Singer or an Eric Pianka--a person so morally twisted that you wonder where they come from and what the hell happened to them (I predict, by the way, that Pianka will become as much of an inspiration to the anti-man factions as Singer is currently).

"Paternalism," therefore, should more properly be called the abandonment of personal responsibility (not as catchy, I know), or perhaps immaturity. But as a good side to this, most people's natural moral sense and desire for coherency always remain in the background. Fundamentalist Christians de-convert often--and perhaps more easily than liberal Christians, because they accumulate the most cognitive dissonance.

What kind of society would emerge if parenting was abolished? I am tempted to answer "a wonderful utopia," but that remains wholly dependent on the way children are raised. Every time I talk about a parenting-less society, people get visions of "Brave New World" in their heads. That makes about as much sense as imagining every anarchy to be like "Mad Max." Obviously any workable system would have to preserve the values of the individual.

Statism should not be seen as our main enemy. Statism should rather be seen as merely one expression of the underlying problem of the generalized indoctrination of anti-individualism brought about by the overarching reach of democratic governments, monotheistic religions and utilitarian morality. How's that for striking the root?

Your rating: None
Francois Tremblay's picture
Columns on STR: 12

Francois Tremblay blogs at Check Your Premises, is co-host of the Hellbound Alleee Show and has self-published a book called The Handbook of Atheistic Apologetics.