I got involved in a vigorous debate over a few drinks this week on associated topics of parenting and population. As is frequently the case the conversations started with the personal then became political. We were sharing anecdotes of some of the rudeness one finds in society. From the lack of respect for teachers shown by some students to the shitty behaviour some parents model for their children. We are all aware of the existance of pockets of intergenerational welfare dependence and (associated with that) the perpetuation of forms of conduct that are at best barely socialised and at worst borderline criminal. In such a discussion it is natural then to seek solutions...
From time-to-time conservatives will declare that there has been a massive loss of manners in society. The former Prime Minister Howard catered to this sentiment with calls for a renewal in manners (never mind that many pronouncements of his ministers were wildly offensive to many in our society). I wonder how much of a delcine there truly has been however. It is something we cannot quantify so anecodatal evidence must be resorted to.
One useful way of 'sampling' society I think is to take public transport. One witnesses many shades of behaviour and frequently what I observe contradicts received wisdom. Schoolkids en masse
can be rather obnoxious but I have also frequently noticed teenages very politely thanking busdrivers. At the same time I have seen more than a few elderly commuters behaving in very offensive ways and acting as if age gives them licence to do so. It all depends on the specific person of course.
Another thing I am tempted to note is that some of the best behaviour seems to come from those of recent migrant backgrounds while some of the worst comes from those who in the US they call 'white trash'. There may be something in this in that migrants tend to adhere more to norms of traditional family values. I think many of these values are problematic in a permissive society but
am all for instilling in members of society conduct which demonstrates a respect for others. Ironically conservatives may get what they want by fostering more multiculturalism!
But back to the 'white trash' or what we here fondly call 'bogans'. This demographic is associated with (and I am overgeneralising) intergenerational welfare dependence and tends to concentrate in particular areas. It makes life particularly difficult for those involved in the caring professions in those areas. Or just for anyone who runs into them on the street. It produces teenage parties that end in massive police operations. With this kind of thing in mind some of my friends proposed the concept of 'parenting licences'. I can understand the sentiment behind this. I have come across this same proposal in past conversations with other friends. And then as now I have to object.
I object on philosophical grounds. Having children is a human right - see Artile 16 (1) of The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights
. To have this right transferred to some government body to then decide who is entitled to have children is offensive to this philosophy of natural rights. It is also dangerous - what government experts or vested interests get to decide what constitutes proper parenting or proper parents? I would object to this form of interference even if those interfering agreed entirely with my vision of how one should behave.
This is all I need to say but I also object on practical grounds. How the heck would something like parenting licences ever be enforced? And what happens to those who defy the new law or indeed to those who are a product of that defiance? If backyard abortions are a problem then imagine backyard births. There are
ways in which it could be enforced like artificial sterilisation. But we come now to my final objection...
And with it we return from the political to the personal: Sometimes ones political perspectives are shaped by those one hates as much as by those one loves and I hate fascists
and it is fascist regimes that have utilised sterilisation as a part of eugenics programs. The association of this alone is sufficient for me to respond strongly to the suggestion of parenting licences. That is my own historical perspective and it may help others understand why I may stand apart on this one so firmly.
But we still have a problem. Some parents are negligent. Some parents model some very nasty behaviours. Some children take such behaviours into adulthood and so it persists. I think my take on this is similar to my take on the issue of the stupid citizenship test. Rather than test someone to see if they are fit to be a citizen we should provide them with services and guidance to allow them to become worthy of citizenship. We should assume that an adult can manage themselves and children and only intervene if it is apparent that they are neglecting the responsibility they have freely taken on. My preference is for an array of government and societal responses that work together to promote the behaviour society expects. This is moreorless what we have now anyway. Improvements can always be made. Yet there will always be problems that persist despite the best of intentions. But for me a complex response is better than a drastic and simplistic solution like that of the parenting licence.And Another Thing
We also discussed population control which is another issue deserving its own space that I may come back to at sometime...