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LIBERTY BEGINS AT HOME

LIBERTY BEGINS AT HOME

By: L. Neil Smith

Parenthood, when it finally came to my wife Cathy and me, rather
late in our lives, was something that we'd wished for and sought after
for nearly a decade. I wanted a daughter; I had _always_ wanted a
daughter. But, second only to bringing a whole and healthy child into
the world, our highest priority was that she be as free as possible,
to quote Thomas Jefferson, of "every from of tyranny over the mind of
man".

    I had always believed (and still do) that rights are a product of
being human, that our humanity arises from a quality that is unique to
our species, not just simple awareness -- any baby duck or laboratory
rat possesses that to one degree or another -- but awareness of that
awareness.

    I've heard that earthworms, and even politicians, are aware.

    I'd also often observed -- to the fury of those with a particular
axe to grind -- that the true essence of our humanity, an awareness of
our awareness, doesn't arrive until sometime well _after_ we are born,
approximately between the ages of one and three. In some respects I
didn't care for this observation any more than anybody else did, but,
committed to a scientific epistemology as I was (and remain), I had no
choice but to follow the evidence, which also showed that different
individuals develop, mentally as well as physically, at different
rates.

    While she was pregnant, Cathy and I had made a habit of talking to
our baby when we could, through a cardboard tube set against Cathy's
abdomen, and of playing music in a similar manner. If you think this
is silly, you're free to stop reading. As a student of psychology
(that had been my major) I was aware that our baby's brain was already
developing rapidly, and that "enrichment" -- filling the child's
environment with as many stimuli as possible -- made it develop
faster. If it worked for a six month old, why not a _minus_ six month
old?

    Our obvious goal was to get our baby as fully human as quickly as
possible.

    Then came the most important single element of all. I've often
thought of writing a million dollar bestselling book on child-rearing,
but it would only consist of one sentence: "Don't treat 'em like a
watermelon."

    Perhaps a word of explanation is in order.

    I was the first one ever to see the face of my daughter Rylla
(rhymes with "vanilla"). I had long since planned, from the first
instant I laid eyes on her, and so had her mother, never to break off
contact until I had received a reaction, an acknowledgement, of some
kind. Every moment of that sort became a kind of ceremony of mutual
recognition, of what Nathaniel Branden had once called "psychological
visibility". It is what (he said) your dog wants from you. It is what
you want from your cat (good luck). It is what we all want from one
another.

    Psychologists will tell you that the very first thing babies learn
to recognize is a human face. Awareness of others brings focus to our
awareness of self, which ultimately leads to awareness of awareness of
self.

    And here's the thing about the watermelon. It often appeared to
us, that other couples, especially the guys, hauled their offspring
around, under one arm, balanced on one hip, like so much produce,
seldom glancing down at them, let alone interacting with them. Their
kids were just a burden that had to be put up with when it couldn't be
avoided.

    Cathy and I happily took Rylla everywhere with us. People who ran
our favorite restaurants were always delighted to see her coming,
because they knew they never had to clean up after her. She heard or
saw everything we did, and it was a wonderful thing to watch her see
and hear. We talked with her -- interacted, exactly as if she were a
real live human being -- about everything that was happening around
us.

    From what little I've seen or know about autism, it appears that
an autistic individual's awareness of self is minimal, that he has no
awareness of that awareness, and that his awareness of other people --
as something besides moving articles of furniture -- is completely
non-existent.

    The subject is endlessly fascinating, but I have digressed.

    We never spoke "baby-talk" to our daughter. (Much of that, by the
way, is in third person, undermining the effects discussed above.) She
started talking a bit late, but that's pretty normal for bright kids.
She learned to read and write almost immediately (or so it seemed).
She was entirely home-schooled, and we made certain that with minor
exceptions, like watching us vote, she never set foot in a public
school.

    Cathy and I never censored anything Rylla saw or heard. How could
we, in a brave new world where we had to explain Monica's blue dress
to a curious six year old? For better or worse, the whole world was
her schoolroom. Her receptivity to everything that was going on around
her was phenomenal. Her eyes and ears were everywhere at once. At the
age of eight, she was reading at a college level -- and filling one
stenographer's notebook after another with journal entries -- with an
adult understanding of the world, including all of its flaws and
flavors.

    Rylla was informed at an early age -- and reinformed as often as
seemed called for -- that she was the owner of her own life. When most
people were training their insensate offspring like puppies, to pee
and poop in the right place, we had a conscious partner in the
enterprise.

    With a world full of otherwise sensible seeming people around us,
mostly younger parents who solemnly claimed to be libertarians,
themselves, blathering about what movies they allowed their kids to
see, how many hours of television they let them watch, and what kind
of books -- if any -- they permitted them to read, we were reminded
almost every day that you can't childproof the world. The best that
you can hope for is to worldproof your child. And so, at an age when
most little girls were reading Judy Bloom, Rylla was reading Oscar
Wilde.

    At last there came that inevitable day when the principle of self
ownership had sunk in bone deep, and in an argument about something I
can no longer remember, my daughter -- I think she was ten -- informed
me that she owned her own life. I knew that I could no longer order,
but since she wasn't quite through being a child, I wasn't quite
through being a parent. However I was now obliged to persuade, exactly
as I was with any other fully autonomous human being -- my wife, for
example.

    Happily, she listens.

    Most of the time.

    My daughter is now twenty-one. She is a college student, a singer,
an actor (and a stage hand), the author of several book-length works,
an entity that brightens any room she enters. Although she has made
choices here and there that I wouldn't have, that's the entire point
of self-ownership, isn't it? She is as rigorous, well-informed, and
deeply principled as any libertarian I've ever known, although no
consideration on Earth could ever induce her, say, to vote for Ron
Paul.

    He is no libertarian, in her view, and his essentially religious
position on reproductive rights threatens her right to own her own
life.

    Obi-wan (or somebody) has taught her well.
 

 
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