It’s almost as if the NSPCC wants there to be an epidemic of child abuse. Which, in a way, it does. Not because it’s peopled by sadists, but because, as a semi-state-backed organisation established to protect children, its very raison d’être demands that it has some threat to protect children from. It has a vested interested in establishing child abuse as a clear and present danger; it is institutionally determined to ramp up fears of child abuse.
– Tim Black
Tonight four terrified children are going to sleep among hostile strangers, torn away by force from their homes and their families because their parents committed the crime of living differently.
Tonight four children rescued from imprisonment and abusive parenting are able to take their first wondering look at the the wide world that had been denied to them.
Which is true? Search me. In my post of a month ago, “The morality of not teaching your child English”, I asked at what point the right of parents to raise their child according to their values must give way to the right of a child not to be cut off from the world. Language is not an issue in the real life story of the recent raid by the French police on the community variously known as the “Twelve Tribes” or “Tabitha’s Place”, but many of the other elements of my thought experiment, such as a self-isolating group not permitting their children to watch television or use the internet, are – allegedly – in place.
The Times reports:
Christian cult’s ‘racism, violence and child abuse’ leads to ten arrests
Police raided a fundamentalist Christian community that seeks to follow a 1st century lifestyle, arresting ten people and placing four children in care amid allegations of maltreatment.
The raid came following the launch of a criminal inquiry after a former member told prosecutors of the corporal punishment meted out by the Twelve Tribes community in southern France.
The group’s communities in France, Germany, the United States and elsewhere have long faced accusations of racism and of violence. They deny the claims and say they are misunderstood.
Jean-Christophe Muller, the state prosecutor in Pau in the Pyrenees, said 200 gendarmes accompanied by doctors had intervened at the group’s French base, a château in the hamlet of Sus, on Tuesday.
He said officers had been tipped off by the former member, but were stunned to discover a community of about 100 people cut off from the modern world.
“The children have never seen television or the internet and do not know what football is,” he said.
The Times story is quite similar to other reports in the French media. The sect has its own website, which has an English version. The existence of this website suggests that the Times may be wrong to claim that this sect prohibits the internet. Or the prohibition may not be absolute, or it may be applied to ordinary members but lifted for the elite or… any number of possibilities. One does not know which account to trust. No, make that “one does not know which account to distrust more”. Cruel and abusive cults do exist, but so do cruel and abusive governments.
The Twelve Tribes website gives their account of an earlier occasion when some children had been taken away from their parents by the German authorities in this link:
The parents of the children who were taken away permanently by the OLG Nurnberg are appealing the decision to the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. There are a number of constitutional violations in the OLG rulings that must be heard by the honorable court. Here are some of them:
The court in its ruling admits that there is no evidence of abuse in the children. However, they reason that the mere beliefs of the parents are enough to justify taking away permanent custody.
In its reasoning the court takes the position that all spanking is abuse. The Jugendamt handbook says that all spanking is not abuse which supports what Parliament made clear in 2000 that the intent of the law was not to criminalize parents who spank
Ambitious police chiefs love operations like this. In 2008 David Friedman wrote a series of posts about the time when Texas police raided a ranch belonging to a group of fundamentalist Mormons and took large numbers of children into custody. Few of the dramatic initial claims of abuse were substantiated and the vast majority of the children were later returned to their parents, but only after many prevarications by the authorities that seemed motivated by a wish to deflect criticism of their heavy-handedness rather than out of any concern for the children. In “Taking Children from their Parents: The General Issue”, Friedman wrote,
Which raises the general question: Would it be better if governments had no power to remove children from their parents? It is easy to imagine, probably to point out, particular cases where such removal is justified. But in order to defend giving government the power to do something, you must argue not only that it can sometimes do good but that, on net, it can be expected to do more good than harm. Judging by what we have seen in Texas over the past two months, that is a hard argument to make.
This leads to a second question: Are there alternative way of protecting children from abusive parents? One obvious answer is that even if the state cannot take children away from their parents, it can still punish parents for the crime of killing or injuring their children. In my first book, I suggested a different approach: shifting power away from parents not to the state but to the children. Weaken or eliminate the legal rules that make it possible for parents to keep control over children, especially older children, who want to leave. Make it easier for adults who care about the risk of child abuse to offer refuge to runaways.
Here is the current draft of a letter I am considering sending to the head teacher of my son’s school.
I am writing to share some thoughts about the upcoming Wear It Wild day and similar events. There is a good chance that none of this is news to you, but I want to make sure because I do not think that communication to schools from the Worldwide Fund for Nature conveys the whole truth about that organisation.
I am sure that on “Wear it Wild” day the children will have lots of fun at school and learn a lot.
However, while helping animals in need is uncontroversial, the Worldwide Fund for Nature is a political organisation and its ideas and methods are not.
The WWF espouses a particular worldview, philosophy, moral outlook and political agenda. The organisation lobbies governments. As a small example, before the UK general election they published a report entitled “Greening the machinery of government: mainstreaming environmental objectives”, which is currently available from their website under “About WWF” / “News” / “Make the government machine go green“.
This report reads like a party political manifesto. It contains recommendations about the role of the state, the structuring of the economy, the allocation of resources, the redistribution of wealth and the regulation of industry.
All this means that it is reasonable for people to disagree with the objectives and teachings of the WWF.
Wear It Wild is a very clever piece of public relations. Children are encouraged to dress up in return for what a recent text message from the school describes as a “suggested donation”. Since no child wants to be left out, this strategy relies on peer pressure, leaving no real room to opt out.
While I am not suggesting that the school should not participate in such events, I do have some ideas about how they might be treated:
- I hope that the school treats organisations such as the WWF with due criticism and skepticism, in the same way that, while visits to and from industry are educational, National Coca Cola Day would be treated with criticism and skepticism.
- I hope that ideas and information from the WWF are filtered before they reach the children by teachers who are aware of the nature of their origin.
- I hope that primary-school-aged children are not made to worry unduly about how terrible the world is because it is full of evil people who are deliberately destroying nature. I am not intending to exaggerate but rather am predicting how my five-year-old son is likely to interpret simplified explanations of some of the WWF’s communication. For example, without due care, what the WWF calls “habitat destruction” and might be described by others as farmers trying to earn a living and to feed their neighbours, could be described by my son as “baddies hurting tigers”.
- In future communications to parents about similar events, please stress that donations are voluntary and that participation is not dependent upon them.
Please take my ideas and concerns into consideration in this and future dealings with outside organisations.
I recently returned from a family holiday in a rented cottage. A nice thing about staying in such places is poking around in the bookshelves, and having time to read random books. I ended up reading aloud to my son Five On a Secret Trail by Enid Blyton, partly for the nostalgia.
The Internet didn’t exist when I first read Enid Blyton, so I know little about her but vague memories of adventure stories. Obviously I ended up looking her up on Wikipedia, and boy, is that page a hoot.
Blyton’s work became increasingly controversial among literary critics, teachers and parents from the 1950s onwards, because of the alleged unchallenging nature of her writing and the themes of her books
This sounds like fun, and it is.
Many of her books were critically assessed by teachers and librarians, deemed unfit for children to read, and removed from syllabuses and public libraries.
From the 1930s to the 1950s the BBC operated a de facto ban on dramatising Blyton’s books for radio, considering her to be a “second-rater” whose work was without literary merit.
By now I am very much starting to like Enid Blyton. Literary critics and the BBC hate her: this is strong praise in my book.
Michael Rosen, Children’s Laureate from 2007 until 2009, wrote that “I find myself flinching at occasional bursts of snobbery and the assumed level of privilege of the children and families in the books.” The children’s author Anne Fine presented an overview of the concerns about Blyton’s work and responses to them on BBC Radio 4 in November 2008, in which she noted the “drip, drip, drip of disapproval” associated with the books.
Fred Inglis considers Blyton’s books to be technically easy to read, but to also be “emotionally and cognitively easy”. He mentions that the psychologist Michael Woods believed that Blyton was different from many other older authors writing for children in that she seemed untroubled by presenting them with a world that differed from reality. Woods surmised that Blyton “was a child, she thought as a child, and wrote as a child … the basic feeling is essentially pre-adolescent … Enid Blyton has no moral dilemmas … Inevitably Enid Blyton was labelled by rumour a child-hater. If true, such a fact should come as no surprise to us, for as a child herself all other children can be nothing but rivals for her.” Inglis argues though that Blyton was clearly devoted to children and put an enormous amount of energy into her work, with a powerful belief in “representing the crude moral diagrams and garish fantasies of a readership”.
In other words, Blyton writes about children having adventures with goodies and baddies and it’s all jolly good fun, and the protagonists are middle class to boot. Literary critics hate that, and I rather like it. I also like the portrayal of children as independent and capable. In Secret Trail, George goes off camping on her own and her parents are unconcerned. The children suspect they are onto some criminals and they investigate instead of running for help. Someone complains of a broken ankle and Julian does not call an ambulance, he diagnoses it as just a sprain. Jolly good stuff.
Eric Raymond writes of literary criticism being at odds with good science fiction:
Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.
People like this are toxic to SF, because the lit-fic agenda clashes badly with the deep norms of SF. Many honestly think they can fix science fiction by raising its standards of characterization and prose quality, but wind up doing tremendous iatrogenic damage because they don’t realize that fixating on those things (rather than the goals of affirming rational knowability and inducing a sense of conceptual breakthrough) produces not better SF but a bad imitation of literary fiction that is much worse SF.
We do not want character development and moral dilemmas, we want adventure and sense of wonder. I can always spot a good SF read when the Amazon reviews are all complaining about two dimensional characters. Enid Blyton’s critics are unwittingly recommending her in the same way. My son wants to hear about camping in thunderstorms, hidden caves and mysterious ruined cottages.
There are also complaints of sexism and all the other isms. On the subject of the former in fiction, John C Wright (whose Golden Oecumene trilogy I reviewed, and, as I discovered Googling for that link, Brian Micklethwait received email about back in 2004) has interesting things to say.
Yesterday a medical doctor friend told me that these days you have to show ID and sign for laboratory glassware. You may perhaps even be asked why you need it.
When I was a kid, you picked up an Edmunds Scientific or other catalog, used the money you earned mowing lawns and bought your gadgets and glassware by mail order – unless you were lucky enough to live in the same city in which case you went to their outlet and came straight home with it on the same day. No questions were asked. Lab glassware was just part of being a future scientist in a nation of free people.
Why has this changed? The Drug War. It is yet another culturally disastrous bit of police state monitoring enabled by fear mongering about meth labs. Well, to put it simply, I do not care. The people responsible for these sorts of regulation are much more socially damaging in their efforts because they undercut our liberty, our ability to act as free and autonomous citizens. It is my right to buy something ‘because I feel like it’ and to use it for ‘whatever the hell pleases me’ just because I am an American. I need no other reason.
I have no sympathy for the drug warriors. I want them unemployed. As to the people who think up these un-american regulations…
“Hangin’s too good for ’em.”
Due to come into force in August 2016, the Named Person initiative is truly dystopian. Once, it was only abandoned or orphaned children who became charges of the state; now, all Scottish children will effectively be wards of the state under a new, vast system of, in essence, shadow parenting. In an expression of alarming distrust in parents, and utter contempt for the idea of familial sovereignty and privacy, the state in Scotland wants to attach an official to every kid and to keep tabs on said kid’s physical and moral wellbeing.
There’ll be a state spy in every family. In Scotland, Big Brother is not only watching you (it was recently revealed that Scotland has 4,114 public-space CCTV cameras and “camera vans,” which drive through towns filming the allegedly suspect populace); he’s also watching your kids.
– Brendan O’Neill
The Times 11 April 1914 p4
It would appear that the busy-bodies of a hundred years ago have it in for child labour (or “half-time” working, as it was then known). Luckily, there are some willing to defend the practice:
I worked for nearly 20 years in the same factory. Contrary to the opinions expressed by some people, my health never suffered as a result of the half-time system, and I was never at home for more than a few days during the whole of my factory life. Again, I never had any trouble to pass the required “standard” at school, and I certainly cannot remember to have fallen asleep over my lessons, or even to have felt inclined to do so.
Love the scare quotes.
So, why do we have child labour?
To speak generally, the half-time children belong to parents of the unskilled labour class, where every shilling earned makes a difference at the week-end…
Unfortunately, our correspondent then makes a serious error:
In my estimation the half-timers employed in the factories are far better off than the unfortunate children who work in barbers’ shops, hawk newspapers in the streets, run about mornings and evenings on milk rounds, card hooks and eyes or make match-boxes.
Don’t give them ideas!
I had to laugh at this:
In these progressive days parents almost invariably allow their children to sit up until their own bed hour: the children have just what they fancy for supper, not what is most suitable…
Plus ça change…
President of the Adam Smith Institute Madsen Pirie is recruiting them even younger than Brian suggests in his previous post — in a way. He has written children’s books. I recently read Children of the Night.
My older son is only three, but I am keen to fill the house with books that he might like to discover when he feels like it. Whenever I read novels I worry about how the author’s worldview infects the fictitious world he has created. With Madsen Pirie I can relax, confident that his fictional universe will have sensible laws of economics and will not subconsciously implant socialism into my children’s heads.
Not only that, it is a very good adventure story. In genre it is a kind of steampunk — it has an outward appearance of fantasy but is really science fiction, which is the best kind of fantasy because it leads to an internally consistent and believable world. This leads to consistent and believable politics, which are never spelled out in exposition but form the backdrop to the action. And it is nearly all action, as makes sense for a children’s book, but there are many lessons.
On the origins of political power:
Shocking though the violence was, he was used to it. That was the way the world seemed to work. Those on high bullied and terrorised those below them.
On class and ambition:
“I do know this,” Quicksilver thought back, “that a wagoner’s son is destined to become a wagoner, and a nobleman’s son is destined to become a nobleman. But those with special talents can break free of this destiny and achieve things their parents could not dream of. Extraordinary things.”
In fact the protagonists are a poor orphan, a nobleman’s daughter who would rather be a pilot than a nobleman’s daughter, and an engineer dwarf, who all end up friends because of their differences.
On the intersection of economics and politics:
“It’s partly the cost,” Calvin replied. “There aren’t many places where people need to go up a mountain, and it would cost too much to lay miles of track and cable across open country.” He shrugged before adding, “And of course the Church limits the number of dwarf machines allowed into the Realm. They don’t want anything to upset the social order. That’s fine by us. We make the machines, not the decisions.”
“This stuff isn’t for sale anyway. It’s the share we have to pay to their high mightiness.” There was a real bitterness to his voice as he said it. “Who’s that?” inquired Mark, puzzled. “A far-off fat bishop who never set foot out of his abbey, and a far-off lazy lord who never did a day’s work in his life.” “You mean tithes,” said Mark, “a tenth for the church.” “A tenth?” Anderson laughed bitterly. “Round here it’s a sixth. And another sixth in taxes for using the land and sea which some noble calls his own.” Gene uttered a low whistle. “That’s a third gone before you start! Do they take a third of everything?” “Everything.” The word was spat out in bitterness.
On changing the meta-context:
We spread stories and provoke people to see the injustice of their rule, and to resent it.
There is also a problem with a fuel source that is mined by slaves. Many an author might have his characters fight against the slavery, and Madsen does, but he also has them realise the importance of the fuel, the suffering that its increase in cost would cause, and the possibility of a technological solution. This is a world in which technology offers hope and improvement despite its problems, rather than simply causing problems.
And there are murder mysteries, exotic flying machines, chase scenes, narrow escapes and double-crossings aplenty. It is all good, wholesome fun.
Over at the CATO Institute, there is an excellent discussion of a topic that often divides libertarians as much as it does anyone else: children, their safety, and liberty. It looks interesting.
D-MYST was formed by young people in the city who were concerned that they were being targeted by tobacco companies in their favourite films. They launched a campaign called ‘Toxic Movies’, to put the spotlight on the issue, and have gained international publicity for their cause.
D-MYST members say that taking smoking out of youth-rated movies is not about censorship – but is about asking film-makers to think again before they make films which young people can see, which contain smoking.
– the SmokeFree Liverpool “youth group”, D-MYST (Direct Movement by the Youth SmokeFree Team).
Inspiring is it not, the young people spontaneously coming together in their milk bars and discothèques to defend the innocence of their favourite films that they love to watch of a Saturday morning? Perhaps one could even make a film aimed at the “youth market”, as I believe it is called, depicting the kids’ plucky struggle, interspersed by lively songs and numbers from some popular beat combo. It would show how they
damn darn well went out there and got funding from a Quasi Autonomous Non Governmental Organisation called SmokeFree Liverpool who in turn got funding from an NHS Primary Care Trust who in turn got funding from the Department of Health who in turn got funding from the taxpayer.
A nasty, cynical man called Christopher Snowdon wrote a report called Sock Puppets that said “D-MYST is the very model of an astroturf group”, and that the story of it being formed by the youth of Liverpool was “slightly implausible”. Wrong-O. It is very implausible indeed. However it did lead me to the wonderful ABC Minors Song, which goes:
We are the boys and girls well known as
Minors of the ABC
And every Saturday all line up
To see the films we like and shout aloud with glee
We like to laugh and have our sing-song
Such a happy crowd are we
We’re all pals together
We’re Minors of the ABC.
I bet that crazy D-MYST gang would love it as a theme song!
I came across the nine-year-old girl blogging about her school dinners a few weeks ago. Now the local council have banned her from taking photos of her meals because they did not like the attention she generated. I think this amounts to a freedom of speech violation because the school canteen is not private property, it is controlled by the state. The council has annoyed the Internet; The Streisand effect looms over them.