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On Parental Consent
and the competence of minors.
One of the benefits of growing up when I did is understanding the inherent differences between the culture and the counterculture. It helps having grown up in what was generally referred to as a ‘subculture’. That would be that thing that goes under the amorphous umbrella of ‘black culture’. I put black culture in quotes because most people in America think of black culture as whatever it does that the Negro Race has done to survive the hell of America exclusive of every other cultural sensibility.
Yet there is a cultural phrase called “yes, and”. Yes, and it is also true that black culture is American culture is black is African and all that. Recall that I am not a believer in mutually exclusive communities and ‘kinds’ of people, but I see them more as temporary tribal affiliations and sorts of people. The understanding being that one day you are sorted one way and when you find yourself out of sorts, you make efforts to sort yourself out. You change your surrounding. You think outside of the box. You give yourself space to breathe. You engage with another sort of humanity and you find yourself remade, but still your self.
What if we didn’t believe we had the ability or permission to do that? Frightening isn’t it? Well, this is the problem of authoritarian regimes as we all understand. But it is also something we have experienced in our youth. I mean, as children.
A child must inherently trust his parents to do right by them. He opens his mouth to eat whatever they place in front of his face. A parent must inherently trust her emotions to do right for her child. She must be guided by and have faith in her instincts in ways she has never done in any other context. She is fully engaged. These bonds are the core of our humanity. We fail at our species’ peril. Is there anything quite as emotionally ripped as the parent shaped hole in the soul of an orphan? Is there anything quite as devastating as the mother who mourns the death of her first born? Such traumas mark us deeply, for life.
When you outlive your child, something breaks. One feels that the natural order of things is upside-down. Somehow it must be compensated. When your parents die or abandon you, there is born in you the most dreadful self-pity, a feeling of isolation that can never be compensated.
These days I am brought to mind of these kinds of desperation as I characterize the worst that life has to offer. Not just the idea and concept of them, but the feeling of them. What they make us compelled to do. What are the human feelings that generate our derangement? How do we become wrong? Why do we heedlessly follow these paths through the murky puddles in our eyes when we know our vision is blurry? How can we stand to be ourselves even when we defy what we know to be good in ourselves? It happens, often enough, when we are backhanded by the unfair world, when we are defied by the all-powerful universe, when we are awestruck by the fact that despite our crushing grief and sorrow, God is silent. Justice is mute, innocence is destroyed, mercy is forgotten and it’s just another day.
I am writing concurrently about what can go wrong with AGI, and as I’ve said before, I don’t think much can go wrong. There’s not so much that needs to go wrong in the world for people to see their own world ending. There is not an infinite amount of energy to do some incalculable and irreparable damage. When they built The Bomb they wrongly calculated that it could ignite all of the oxygen in the atmosphere. I grew up in dread fear of nuclear winter, for a time. It doesn’t take a nuclear holocaust to activate a Malthusian. They’re already here. They’re already wearing the breadboards telling us that the end is near.
What has this to do with parental consent?
I’ll tell you what. I’m putting a stake in the ground that there are very very few things we human beings should know with such certainty as our love and care for our own offspring. And as I’ve said before, doing right by children can be and may very well be the Secular Northstar. Our ability to care for others as they do for their own children extends our capacity for sympathy, and even harmony.
But there’s something we know that swims right up close to parenthood. It is guardianship. Because we know that shit happens, that cows, dogs and people die, that sometimes we have to make allowances. We have to step back in the absence of a competent, fair, active and responsible government, universe and God. We have to punt that responsibility to the interim and secondary. Sometimes to the jury-rigged but necessary. Sometimes to the slapdash but convenient. Sometimes to the corrupted but available. We give it over to them to protect and serve. Sometimes they do.
There’s this thing called the Principal-Agent Problem. It basically tells us that whenever we punt from our own individual competent, fair, active and responsible oversight to that of a proxy or institutional bureaucracy, it is likely that our best and clearest instructions - like a game of telephone - become unrecognizable and perverse. In the distance between our lips to God’s ears is a whirlwind of dissonance. I know that it is an article of most every faith that prayers are heard, but we still eye our children like hawks. We still hold their hands when crossing the street. We still tell them to pick their friends wisely. We still double check. Triple check. We still love them completely, heart and soul. We despair of ever giving up, we meaning all of us from whom they physically issue. It’s a human thing. It’s a mammal thing. It’s an evolutionary necessity. It’s how we survive. We trust our own instincts to protect and serve our children with our very lives. And when we fail, our world goes upside-down.
The Proxy of care for ourselves and our posterity is one to skeptically distrust. We should give it the least amount of leeway possible. We should remind ourselves that it is a poor substitute for the ideal of self-care. Even those of us who know we have poor judgement still try to get outside of the box and sort ourselves out. Even those of us who resort to mind-breaking drugs and death defying stunts still crave the license to do it for ourselves and not have that freedom taken away.
So we are parents to ourselves. We aim to protect and serve ourselves. We claim sovereignty over ourselves.
If you want to get into a fight, tell a mother she doesn’t know jack about her own children. If you want to demonize a political opponent and their constituency, spread word that they destroy families and put children in boxes. Solitary confinement, after all, is our sanctioned torture.
The False Idol
I am not a ‘child of the 60s’. My own parents had nothing to do with the counterculture. We weren’t instructed in the vicissitudes of free love or mind expanding substances. My parents didn’t spend time thumbing their noses at middle class people struggling to make ends meet. In fact, they had five of us children. Everywhere we went “Are you all together?” was commonly asked. We grew up in a house we kept spic and span, with Brillo pads, cleanser and elbow grease. My parents were social workers, meaning they spent their days helping other people keep their families healthy under the worst of conditions. Can you smell that coming off of me? It’s called bias.
My bias is for the Peasant, for the yeoman farmer, for the man who keeps his own counsel, for the family that says ‘family first’. My standard of beauty is for the loving gaze of a mother to her suckling child. My standard of courage is for the man who takes the bullet for that mother and child. My standard of evil is for the destroyer of families and the disregard for the sanctity of that bond - for the eye that aims the bullet.
So why don’t I get political? Because, Dorothy, you have all of that within you. My skepticism is for the dysfunction of the Proxy, for the second-hand and second-rate guardianship. I cannot, for the life of me, continence the default of family. So let me be at least this clear. I would prefer the son who murders his father to protect his mother to the police officer who provides the deadly intervention. The son is more directly responsible than the agency. Let the statement hang and let it hang me. I long for the rule of law and I despise the rule of men. Precisely because of that, the corruption of law is the systemic corruption of order and the destruction of all of the weak of mankind. I do not know why we abide those politics we know fails to correct the corruption we know in law. I have elaborate explanations I’d rather not indulge. Why is the Wizard a failure? That’s not the point Dorothy. Get your ass home. Mind your family, and your little dog too.
What makes Frank Baum’s tale eternal is that Toto is her metaphorical child. It is a story we could not bear to watch if Dorothy were dragging an actual infant over the rainbow in search of anything.
And Now, Judgement
A good guardian is good enough and better than nothing, but does not fill the parent sized hole in the orphan’s soul. So those who are weak and dependent on the Proxy may never be made whole. That is where my eye is today. So I draw attention to the following indictments. I apologize ahead of time if I make you cry by doing so, because there are those among us who would advance the law to kick parents to the curb in defiance of the will of children.
Again, I apologize for exposing you to the shit in the universe, knowing there is no infinitely pliable shield. But we know parents would try to build one, but they can be excluded from the very activity of being that parent. For what?
I have been asking my favorite AIs to assist in my research about the legal history and jurisprudence of the concept of In loco parentis. I readily admit that I’m barely competent. I didn’t have any experience with the sort of education suffered by the plaintiffs in Dixon v Alabama. But I’m also not particularly certain that 18 year olds are competent in a host of adulting skills one might have expected in these days of airhead media, panoptic censorship, grade inflation, wage stagnation and populist politics.
I’m pretty sure I’m not a grumpy old Boomer because nothing compares to TikTok or the multitude of gay friendly children’s books. OK. That’s enough. I don’t have anything good to say at the moment, but I’m encouraged that I think I have identified the philosophical demon in the midst of this all. It’s Gnosis. Thanks James Lindsay. More on that to come.