Following a news item about a mother in Ohio whose children suffered second degree sunburns at a fair, some folks on a private Libertarian List have been busy theorising about want should happen. Obviously, the children would not want hideous sunburn or skin cancer, and nor would they want the extreme discomfort of baking in the sun. At this point, people leap to the conclusion that the answer is for the parents to impose their will on the children,and not take them to the fair.
Dare I mention the existence of such everyday things as sunscreen, hats, sunshades, tea tents (oh all right then, beer tents), and, for slightly older children, the solving of problems through pleasant conversation? There is absolutely no reason for a child to get fried or miss out on the fair.
Luckily, children don’t have to understand the physiological effects of baking in the sun, any more than I have to understand anything about any number of things that significantly affect my life. Just as I might have a doctor, a dentist, surgeons, tax/investment advisors, and so on to advise me, children have their parents (and others) to advise them.
It is a mistake to assume that there are only two options, one being to say nothing and let the child rot, and the other being for parents to coerce their children. That is a false dichotomy. If you think of it that way – just like statists think that bad things will happen without the government benevolently coercing citizens for their own good or the good of others – it will indeed seem as though force is the best option. But in fact, there is a third option, which people use all the time with friends: reason, persuasion, the creation of new knowledge.
When you fail to persuade your friend of something, you may think that he is stupid and foolish, but you do not leap to the conclusion that it is right to impose your will on him for his own good (or whatever). Even if you could persuade the entire world that your friend is making the biggest mistake of his life, you still would not think that gives you any right whatever to impose your will. You would think that (1) you might possibly be mistaken, and (2) it is his life and his mistake to make, not yours.
If you want to use a different standard for children, you need an argument that isn’t circular. No one has come up with one so far.
I shall be speaking about such matters (title: Unreasonable Parents – why spanking won’t help!) in San José, California, USA, on 28th August. See my web site for details.