by David McElroy
Over the weekend, a woman in California killed her two children in a motel room and then wrecked her car in an attempt to kill herself. She then tried to choke herself, but she was rescued. On the way to a hospital, she told police where to find her dead children. We don’t know much about her other than that she lives in Arizona and was driving a car with Georgia license plates.
Stories such as this are gut-wrenching for most of us, because it’s one of our most basic instincts to protect children and save them from harm. We tend to assume this is just a snap decision by someone who’s mentally ill. But other stories are even more horrific — and long term.
When Jonathan Adleta’s girlfriend, Sarah, got pregnant, he wouldn’t agree to marry her until she agreed that he could engage in “daddy-daughter sex” with the girl after she was born. They married and Adleta abused the child. His wife was expected to engaged in sex with a son when they had one in the future. The pair are on trial now after their crimes were discovered. (That’s their mugshots above.)
Parents fail in horrific ways all the time, some of which are criminal acts, but most of which are legal, but still damaging to children. For those of us who reject the legitimacy of the state, this brings up an uncomfortable and difficult question. If we reject the state, who is to protect children? Who is to step in when monsters such as the Adletas hurt their children? And who is to make decisions when parents are making crazy decisions that damage their kids?
I started thinking about this last week when a friend shared an article from a medical journal about a 3-year-old girl with serious health problems because her parents refused to feed her the kind of food she needed. The parents “diagnosed” the girl with multiple allergies and chemical sensitivities. They restricted her diet to chickpea milk, bison meat and salicylate-free vegetables — resulting in a serious vitamin A deficiency.
The parents of this child tried to prevent doctors from giving the girl what she needed and continued to claim she had chemical sensitivities which they couldn’t prove. Against the parents’ wishes, doctors treated the child and then released her to a state child protection agency. Since it’s a medical journal and not a newspaper or court record, we don’t know who the parents are or what happened to the child.
It’s easy for any of us to say that we would try to stop a mother from killing her children if we could. Likewise, it’s easy for us to say that we would stop a father from sexually abusing his daughter if we knew about it. But what would any of us do about parents who claim — without medical foundation — that their daughter has allergies and sensitivities? Wouldn’t most of us simply say the parents have the right to make that decision, unaware of the damage they were doing to her?
Those of us who oppose the state have a serious problem here — and I don’t know the answer. I don’t want to live in a world where stupid or uncaring parents destroy children, but I also don’t want to live in a world where government agencies hold all the power to dictate things to parents.
I can’t claim to have a good position about how to handle such things. As a human being, though, I know I’m not willing to sit idly by and just accept parents doing this to children. I just don’t know the right intellectual framework for justifying the actions that need to be taken to save the children. It’s a conundrum to me.
What are we to say that children are, philosophically? Many people act as though they’re the property of parents. (And I think that was the literal position of society for many years in the past.) I don’t think any of us would say that parents own children today, but what rights do children have? Do they have no rights of their own until they reach some magic age that the state arbitrarily chooses?
Out-and-out socialists seem to take the position that we all belong to the state, so they don’t have a philosophical problem. Progressives tend to believe in government to make decisions for the best interests of children, so they don’t have any problem allowing the state to step in and take children away or make decisions for them. Even conservatives generally believe that protecting children is a core function of government, so it’s acceptable for coercive government to step in, although many of them would argue about when that point is reached. Many libertarians (of the “minarchist” type) would take the same position — that this is a legitimate function of government.
So that leaves those of us who oppose the state without a logical solution. Do we leave abusive parents alone to terrorize and possibly kill their children? Do we trust private community vigilante groups to decide on an ad hoc basis when parents aren’t taking care of their children and assume they’re going to step in with force if necessary to protect kids?
I don’t like those alternatives. They don’t seem realistic or fair to children or parents. But what do we do?
Let’s be honest and say that the state isn’t going away in the next few years, so we’re unlikely to face the issue immediately. But if the state does collapse — as I think it inevitably will — are we going to have an intellectual and practical framework within which children can be protected? Or will it be a terrible time for children in some families to be alive?
The state does a horrible job of protecting many children. The system we have is horribly imperfect. The law is messy and is applied unequally. And much abuse is never reported. So what we have is lousy. My concern is making sure we don’t end up with something that’s even worse.
I don’t have an answer to this. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years and it has me stumped. I’m not sure what rights to say that children have and when to say that they have the right to be independent if they want to be. I’m not sure how to hold parents accountable. It’s all a mess of issues that make me very uncomfortable — but they’re issues that must have answers.
If you oppose the state as I do, what’s your solution? How are we to solve this in a post-statist world?