Growing Up

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.

Your rating: None Average: 8 (1 vote)
Mark Davis's picture
Columns on STR: 65

Mark Davis is a husband, father and real estate analyst/investor enjoying the freedoms we still have in Longwood, Florida.


Samarami's picture

The human family is the only legitimate governing unit. Each presumed "jurisdiction" is a coercive interloper -- nothing more (enforced with firearms). The human newborn is unique among all other living beings in that s/he arrives totally and 100% dependent upon adult caregivers -- hopefully loving Moms and Dads -- together, in a loving and dedicated relationship. S/he arrives on the scene lacking those phenomena we like to call "instincts" observed in the animal kingdom. Everything must be learned -- again, hopefully, from loving Moms and Dads (and, all too soon, from siblings, playmates, government educators, "society" [a mindless abstraction], etc etc).

Parents must protect newborns from exposure, unsanitary situations, hunger, and ever-present dangers such as falling and touching or imbibing dangerous items. As you mention, good parents will soon recognize the need to allow more and more "freedoms" as time develops -- until that ultimate and alarming first adventure with keys to the car and going out into the cold, cruel, and dangerous world on their own. How many of us, having issued that 11PM curfew, anxiously waited up, nervously listening for the car coming down the lane prior to the deadline -- that son or daughter "made it" through that first escapade without calamity.

We knew the trip hazards they had yet to learn -- the hard way, for some.

I'm grateful I chanced upon Barry Goldwater, Karl Hess, Harry Browne and Robert Ringer (for starters) before most of my 7 kids had cut their eye teeth. I was able, accidentally, I think in many cases, to teach them to think and act as individuals. Harry taught me (and, through me, them) that each of us can experience freedom in an unfree world.

Nice to see you back aboard, Mark. Sam

Mark Davis's picture

Thank you, Sam. Your comments are always insightful.

Samarami's picture

I meant to add one more thought to Mark's nice essay and my comment. And this is stuff I've posted many times previously: the family (the only legitimate governing unit) will one day come all the way around. The children, now adults, will become responsible for care of elderly and perhaps senile and dying parents.

I do not know how all this is going to work out once monopoly and egregious "government" finally capsizes in its own swill and anarchy results. Because there will be various levels of parenting skills and interest, as well as adult children who will have no desire to be responsible for demented parents (or disabled children of their own). I can't put my finger on Mr. Davies' article where he outlines "crime" (by agents of state) as opposed to "krime" -- but I'm sure the later will not go away in the total absence of central political authority. There will still be irresponsibility and encroachments by nogoodnicks. These issues will be dealt with in the marketplace.

You might say I have "faith" in the marketplace. Sam

Brian Mast's picture

I like your article Mark. I think that parents should be considered as guardians, rather than owners, of their children. Perhaps there would be less child abuse if people didn't think of their children as being owned by them. I have some further thoughts to add to yours.
I am one formerly abused child who does not love my mother at all. I will not attend her funeral when she passes away either. It is far better for me to not attend it than to attend it and to blurt out "That is a lie: She was not a good, loving wife and mother!" at the speaker saying those nearly obligative customary final words. Customs such as this and automatic forgiveness would not exist in a just society.
Saying all of the deceased were "good and loving" during funerals cheapens the meaning of those words and dishonors the ones who actually were "good and loving" people.
I fully support forgiving people who are honestly repentant and who have made reparations to people who have been wronged. Forgiving the unrepentant cheapens all of the work and effort that was made by the repentant people wishing to restore their honor. Many people who call themselves Christian including my mother feel free to act like the devil because, in the end, they will have to be forgiven once they say the magic phrase: 'please forgive me'.
I will probably just see my relatives from out of state afterwards. Most of them are religious Amish and Mennonite people. Some will undoubtedly ask why I didn't attend it. I will tell them the summarized version of what I said in my second paragraph. They knew that she was abusive. Until that time; I will continue living my life as if she doesn't exist.

Samarami's picture

Having a total distaste for the funeral phenomenon, I've donated my rangy old cadaver to the local med school anatomical dept with specific instruction: no liturgy, no "memorial service", no urn full of ashes, no obit, no crap. "...If you wanta say nice bull-crap about me, say it now -- when I can hear it! If you wanta get me flowers, get 'em now -- while I can smell 'em!..."

In having one of those animated discussions at a family gathering some time back, one of my sons, always the jokester, announced: "Hey guys! Let's have Dad's funeral next week!"


Paul's picture

Mark, while I generally agree with your article, I must at least question parts of it.

First, every parent is an amateur. By the time they (think they) have parenting figured out, they are done being parents.

Second, every child is an individual. They react differently to different forms of correction.

Just to give an example, Stefan Molyneux takes a similar approach. He has even gone to the extent of telling on his forum, how he handles his girl, and showing videos of it. His method of avoiding spanking and other physical methods, while still stopping his girl from anti-social actions, is to hover constantly over her and to distract her from her actions when she goes wrong. In what way is this supposed to train her in independence from the state, which seeks to do the same thing to all of us?

Some kids can take a whack now and then without turning into basket cases, and may even prefer it to long periods of verbal "discussion" (which is hardly a case of two equals coming to terms). So many who preach against spanking think that the alternative of psychological manipulation is without any drawbacks, for some reason.

I say, the default should be the methods you discuss. An alternative, if that doesn't work, is just letting the child experience the consequences of poor choices. When that isn't practical either, try something else. Timeouts aren't such a bad idea, while they work.

Personally, I think a multiple methods work, and which ones do that, depend on the mental state of the child more than anything, and also on the demeanor of the parent when delivering the correction. What I see happening that disturbs me, is *too much* correction, no matter what method is used. Let 'em know what things are wrong, but then let 'em experience the consequences (within reason).

One other thing that I find less convincing from the anti-spanking contingent, are the words they indulge in to describe their opponents in this debate (not you, just generally). It leaves me the distinct impression they are more concerned with delivering a good whack than they are with the welfare of children.

OK, one other thing. It's a rare parent who does more damage to their children through inadequate parenting, than the state does to children in government schools.

Mark Davis's picture

Paul, I apologize for not seeing this sooner. Parenting is certainly not easy, and instilling obedience using threats is a phenomenal time saver; and busy young parents must learn on the fly. Thus, I do see the monumental task of overcoming most, if not all, existing human cultural norms for parenting. But we seem to be heading in the right direction and I believe that society may soon be able to formally grasp the need for this fundamental change.

The best way to teach good behavior is to demonstrate it by providing examples of how to face up to life, make good choices and take responsibility for that life and those choices. Making obedience the focus of childhood learning leads to what we have. Making responsibility the focus of childhood learning leads to what I believe is something better. This process will take some time, no doubt; but I hope for sooner rather than later.