Saturday, 28 April 2012

Anarchism and Parenting

Anarchists generally believe that the use of force to coerce others is unnecessary at best and evil at worst. If they deal with the obvious rejoinder - what about murder/bad people/war - at all, they argue that the solution is to change the culture: to create a world where violence is a last resort instead of a constant way of life. To this, I'd respond by asking about parenting.

What about raising children? Here it seems like a degree of coercion is necessary, and even morally praiseworthy. While it's probably true that the less coercion, the better, I agree with Louis CK that you can't always explain everything (relevant part starts at 6:20):

So here's my question: how do you create a culture where coercion is considered unacceptable when you're using coercion as an integral part of raising children? And if coercion is necessary for such a basic part of life, does the anarchist's rejection of coercion make sense at all?


  1. As the parent of two daughters I can say that coercive methods don't work any better in a small household than they do in politics. I personally reject the idea that its my job to mold these people into something, although I have a responsibility to protect, clothe and feed them and so on.

    The analogy fails on another level, though. The relation between parent and child is rather unique. Although sociopathic exceptions abound, the bond between the two is on a completely different order than that between the state and its citizens, or any other coercive social institution (such as the church).

    And speaking of the church, it's no coincidence that it exploits the familial relation as a cover for its own coerciveness. But it's always been a stretch.

    And finally, though coercive parenting is certainly the norm the consequences keep the mental health profession in business, in my opinion.

  2. So, what, if an anarchist sends their kid to bed without supper they instantly crumble into dust? Get thrown out of the Anarchist Paradise and have to survive in the wilderness?

    Less flippantly, I think it ought to be possible to define a coherent anarchist philosophy where child-raising is a (limited) exception to a "no coercion" rule. We have standards today about what constitutes acceptable treatment of one's children; if a culture has guidelines on how far you can go in coercing your kids, that ought to be sufficient. There's plenty of precedent on treating children differently than adults; I really don't think it would lead to a house-of-cards-falling-down result.

  3. I must echo Abonilox. I have two boys, both in the double digits, but not yet adults. Coercion doesn't work, though the ungods know I've succumbed to the temptation in the past.

    Equally, though, leaving it all to chance is an invitation to fucking up your children. The world sucks, in large part and small, and even future anarchs should be prepared.

    So, you offer, feed, clothe, heal, instruct, criticize, mock, tease, play, cajole and love to whatever extent your temperament allows - and never give into the vanity of believing you are most important of all in determining how their futures unfold.

    That isn't authority. It's age and experience. Authority is an assertion. Age and experience, not. I am more experienced and older than my sons, but that only becomes despotism, tyranny and authority if I impose it upon them.

  4. Jack Crow, Abonilox: are you saying that you don't ever have a battle of wills with your children? Or, if you do, that it's always resolved with a discussion and agreement on both sides? I guess I don't understand how you can get by without occasionally 'imposing' your superior experience upon them.

    Joseph, I think you're probably right, but that response opens up another question. In a situation where one adult stands in a relation to another that's similar to the parent/child relation, is coercion justified? Yes? But then we've ceded important ground, since states always claim that their citizens - through lack of information, usually - occupy the status of children, politically speaking.

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  6. Sure, we have contests of wills. But, my possession of a larger range of experience does not necessarily translate to domination. That written, there are contexts: we play cards, board games, wrestle, run long distance together, within the voluntarily agreed to rules of games and sport. These result in winners and losers, but that doesn't require any one person to be an imposing authority.

    Anecdotally, my grandmother has almost sixty years more experience than me. I honor and cherish her. She's never once dominated me, or even tried.