Where is this leading?
To get to the thinking behind the anti-smacking legislation, it’s useful to look back at the last census, in particular three questions. The questions asked if you cooked your own meals, gardened or cared for children. There may be many reasons why the state wants to know this, but what these three occupations have in common is that, done by you, they are untaxed, and probably not done in “an expert and safe” manner. Answering these questions truthfully gives a measure of the last significant freedoms we have that are not yet subject to supervision and regulation. An active progressive government, like ours and all other western administrations, is distinctly uncomfortable with such omissions of control. The state’s intrusion upon citizens isn’t driven by an Orwellian craving for power for its own sake, however, but by a sincere belief that it is acting in a reasoned and compassionate way to benefit a significant majority. The method is to deliver a steady flow of legislative changes that deprive individuals of influence in all but their chosen field of expertise. A beautiful future for humanity is one in which every decison of consequence to any person is made by experts for the benefit of all. Nothing could be more unsurprising after a century of political rivalry between capitalists and socialists than an orthodoxy that owes as much to Adam Smith as to Marx.
Returning to the contemporary issue, Sue Bradford’s aim is to promote better parenting by legislating in favour of better practice according to current expert wisdom. Better yet would be the mandatory care of all children by qualified child-rearers, but one day at a time. There are, however, other considerations that counter Bradford’s single-mided enthusiasm for legislation, as evidenced by the unusually heated public reaction. Bradford’s failure to read the pace at which a captive public will allow itself to be driven may very well make these other issues moot, but let’s regard three of them.
Firstly, most of us were smacked as children. For some unaddressed reason, we are not outraged or shamed by the memory. If anyone were to claim they were, the rest of us would immediately suspect abuse. This is a watershed distinction not lost on the public. Bradford’s labelling of smacking as criminal violence grates because our personal experience won’t admit it into the same company as assault, rape or murder. We cannot believe criminal what we cannot seriously believe to have been a crime against us.
Secondly, the state enforces its very authority on the threat of violence. None of us is under any illusion that we can ignore this bill, if it becomes law, without the resources of the state being brought to bear until we comply. Depending on the manner and extent in which we resist, the state is prepared to financially ruin us, subject us to public humiliation, deprive us of liberty and confine us with people who respect no laws or person. The state will do this even though we act according to our consciences rather than to caprice. How can it be maintained that children can be effectively persuaded to behave without the threat of physical force, but the adult remains correctable only by far harsher violence?
Finally, the progressive vision of the future, that of experts without meaningful lives, logically leads to something nobody can want – namely, that your average joe or jane isn’t entitled to an opinion of any influence. Opinion will become yet another realm for a class of experts. We got a whiff of this from Helen Clark a few days ago when she stated that she was weary of seeing New Zealand’s name in the bottom half of child abuse statistics. The context was the smacking bill and the fact that Labour MPs had no vote of conscience. A public overwhelmingly against this bill was to be ignored in favour of a PM confident of her own judgement. What need we of representative democracy then?
Oddly though, I am hopeful that this vision of everyone as expert in some small way and helpless in all others will soon run its course. Legislation that intrudes into people’s lives, depriving them of exercising judgement for themselves, can only lead to more problems than solutions finding their way back to the legislator’s desk. Increasing regulation, ageing populations,dropping birth rates and high expectations of living standards are already placing enormous pressure on labour. Getting anything done by anyone, let alone an expert, will get harder. Services will deteriorate. Regulations will be ignored, and prosecutors will be overloaded. The growing numbers of people taking up simpler lives of gardening, cooking and raising their children themselves is already evident in the explosion of life-style blocks and home-steading. Global warming and public concern for the environment is forcing, throughout the world, a re-evaluation of what makes living worthwhile. The obvious conclusion is, to me anyway, that life without the power to make one’s own life decisions is no life at all. A dysfunctional society brought about by the Bradfords of the world who would direct our lives for us may well be more effective in freeing us than the ballot box.