Socialism Begins at Home
The other day, I was talking to a young woman who’d run away from home when she was 16.
“Why did you run away?” I asked her.
“Because I wanted to be free,” she answered. And after a moment added:
“Everyone wants to be free.”
Do they? I wonder.
Like this woman, I ran away from home when I was 16 — because I wanted to be free. 29 years later, at the age of 45, I think I am very close to achieving my objective. And one of the conclusions I’ve reached over that time is that the whole question of freedom, the entire issues of freedom is as much psychological as it is intellectual, economic, or political.
“Everyone wants to be free?” I disagree; I think only a minority of people really want to be free.
When we talk about freedom, the majority of people talk about free markets. Economics, in other words. Or, like Milton Friedman, we talk about the freedom to choose in all parts of our lives; extending the concept to social freedom. Or like Ayn Rand, about what freedom means philosophically and politically. All this talk about freedom is intellectual in nature. And as an intellectual issue, the evidence is clear and indisputable. Freedom works. Freedom puts more bread on the table, brings greater opportunities for intellectual growth and personal happiness than any other kind of social organization. There can be no dispute about this . . . with the collapse of communism, the dispute is now about how much freedom should there be.
Then, why aren’t people free? And more importantly, why aren’t people the world over demanding to be free?
We can find the answer, I believe, in psychology; not in economics or philosophy.
Let me just digress for a moment and explain that I came to this conclusion as a result of my own experiences in my personal pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
As a teenager I was fascinated by America, by the bill of rights and what that implied philosophically. Then I came across the works of Ayn Rand and devoured them and I was irretrievably lost to the cause of freedom. Through Rand I discovered the work of Ludwig von Mises and the “Austrian” school of economics . . . I failed my final year of economics at university by arguing the cause of freedom in the wrong place: on the exam paper, a mistake I did not repeat the following year. In my 20s, I was one of the co-founders of an Australian political party — the Australian equivalent of the American Libertarian Party. That was, of course, a disillusioning experience because the overwhelming majority of people were not interested in our message.
I moved my business from Australia to Hong Kong in 1976, in part because of the attraction of Hong Kong as one of the freest places on the face of the earth…though I could also give a talk entitled Hong Kong and the Myth of Laissez-Faire.
Over the past four years, following my divorce, I’ve been involved in psychotherapy, first as a client and subsequently — taking advantage of the fact that there are no licensing requirements in Hong Kong — as a psychotherapist or counsellor. It’s this experience that has led me to be in a position to say that I am, only now, within striking distance of my own goal of freedom; and it’s this experience I wish to draw upon to extend the issue of what freedom means into the personal or emotional sphere; to pinpoint why socialism begins at home.
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Security is a human need. And there are basically two places you can find that security: inside, or outside. A person who looks for security outside him or herself is dependent; a person who finds that security and certainty inside is independent. The independent person is self-confident, self-reliant, and exceedingly comfortable just living inside his or her own skin.
Many of us had formed our intellectual beliefs about the world by the time we were teenagers. But we became dependent or independent, psychologically, about the time we were five years old, if not before. And usually we were psychologically dependent….Yes, someone can be a libertarian intellectually, a believer in capitalism and freedom, but remain dependent psychologically. For example, many people came to believe in the ideas of freedom from Ayn Rand, but viewed her, psychologically, as a guru.
An adult who is psychologically dependent will seek security in gurus, in drugs, in religion, in a partner, in a Fuhrer…in government. Politically, that person will demand to be looked after by somebody — anybody — and will tend to choose political beliefs of a socialist nature. A child of libertarian parents, who is dependent psychologically, may choose a philosophy of socialism as a teenager in an act of rebellion against his or her parents.
As parents, we all want out children to grow to be happy, healthy and successful. As libertarian parents, we want them to believe that freedom, socially, is a virtue … but do we want them to be free?
If we want them to adopt our intellectual values, we can give them books to read; send them to schools where they’ll be taught those values; take them to North Korea to show them the difference. All that may convince them … intellectually.
If we want them to be truly free — psychologically independent — we have to begin at birth.
We have to begin by treating them as people — as distinct, individual human beings — from the very day they are born. With respect…we respect their needs. Years ago, I heard American psychiatrist Peter Breggin tell a story about his 6-week old son. My son can communicate, said Breggin, but he can only say one word: “No.” Or more generally, “I’m in some kind of discomfort” – though not, of course, being able to communicate exactly what kind of discomfort. It’s our job as parents to listen to what he is saying, to understand him. And if you listen to a six-week old baby, you’ll find there are different cries for I’m hungry, and Hey you, my nappy needs changing, and Please turn me over I’m fed up with lying on my back looking at the ceiling. Breggin wrote a wonderful book, The Psychology of Freedom, which I highly recommend to you if you want to pursue the subject.
Some very interesting research is being done into the structure of the brain. You know that everybody has different fingerprints, except for identical twins. Well, scientists are discovering that everybody’s brains are structured differently. And if we could take brain-prints instead of fingerprints, everybody’s brain-print would be different, totally individual, including those of identical twins. We are learning that the structure of the brain is not pre-determined in the sense that this location X is the place where this function Y is performed. In different people function Y will be performed in different parts of the brain. It can depend, for example, on how the brain grew, on what area of the brain was available when a particular need appeared.
There’s a wonderful book called Bionomics by Michael Rothschild — and you may think I’m digressing here, but I assure you I’m not. Economics is rightly called the dismal science — much of it is so boring. Or, as Ayn Rand puts it, the banner of the free market is not one that draws people to man the barricades. In my opinion, Bionomics could do for economics what Marilyn Monroe did for Playboy magazine…it makes economics not just interesting but fascinating. Rothschild shows, by analogy from biology, that capitalism is right, not that capitalism is morally correct, but that capitalism is simply the natural, evolutionary order of things because that’s how we, as human beings are.
To me this, combined with the latest research on the structure of the brain implies that everybody is different biologically … that individualism is biologically ordained as the natural political — and philosophical — order.
So when should we start treating our children as individuals? Obviously, at birth — at which time their brain is the most highly developed part of their bodies.
Any mother can tell you that her children were different people from the very day they were born; behaved in different ways. Often they’ll put it in a disrespectful way, you know…Sammy was less trouble that Jane, or more trouble. But they’ll notice the difference. And for those of you who aren’t parents, consider this: you could have a dozen babies over here, scrabbling around on the floor; and their mothers are over here, talking no doubt. Suddenly, one of the babies cries. Instantly, twelve mothers will come to attention, to full alert. After just a moment, 11 of them relax … it’s not my baby. A baby’s cry — like an adult’s voice — is individual.
Let’s examine the family unit — the collective that’s so beloved of conservatives — psychologically and politically. What, for example, is most children’s first lesson in social organization?
When little Johnny has his friends around to play, what is he told to do? Share your toys! Be a good boy, be a good girl, share your property with whatever snotty-nosed kid walks into our house today!
What principle of social organization is little Johnny learning? The parent, of course, wants the child to be nice to these other children; or possibly appear well-behaved to her friends, the parents of these other children. But why shouldn’t every child have the same right you do, to choose who to be nice to? And I should point out that being nice is entirely different from the issue of whose property are the toys.
Property rights, individual rights, are the legal and moral foundation of the free society. If you believe in freedom, what would you rather teach in your home: capitalism? Or socialism? And as we’ll see, the important issue in relation to children is not what you say — it’s what you do.
My other pet peeve is the magic word, please. You know why your children don’t say please? Because you don’t say please to them. Or you might, but do you really mean it? Is “I won’t” an acceptable answer? Because if it’s not, you’re not really saying “please” at all. You’re giving an order — another, very common example of form versus substance; or appearance versus reality. And the child will model the real meaning of the word. Which is another reason she won’t say “please” to you — every child is exceedingly familiar with the unpleasant consequences of ordering her parents around.
What would property rights in the home mean? In the time I have, I’d like to give you just one illustration.
Leon Louw — who founded the Free Market Foundation in South Africa — told me this story about his daughter Katy, who at the time was just three years old. One day she came up to him with a picture book and said: “Daddy, is this my book?” Leon answered, “Yes, of course it’s your book.” “Then can I tear it up?”
Leon and his wife Frances — author of Super Parents Super Children — apply property rights as the basis of their social organization within the family. Leon also loves books: to destroy a book, to him, is a form of sacrilege. So his daughter had him, right? Children are very perceptive, and very honest. Have you ever wondered why, as adults, we’ve lost these talents we all had when we were very young?
Consider what property rights mean: if you own something, then you have the right to do with it anything you like. Anything at all, including to trash it, to destroy it. If you’re serious about teaching your children something, then you have to follow through with all the implications. To do anything less is to teach them to value either hypocrisy, or the opposite of what you wish them to learn.
So how did Leon answer? He launched into a long lecture about the value of books, about the knowledge, the wisdom, the joy to be found in the printed word. And if you attended the talk he gave here a few years ago, you’ll remember that Leon can captivate your attention almost indefinitely. His daughter listened attentively and when he had finished said: “Daddy, is this my book?” Leon answered, “Yes.” “Then can I tear it up?”
Leon talked again at length about the value of books and why they should be preserved. Notice that he did not use force. His daughter listened, and when he had finished repeated: “Daddy, is this my book?” Leon answered, “Yes.” “Then can I tear it up?”
Leon had run out of words … all he could say was: “Yes.” And much to his anguish, she proceeded to tear up the book one page at a time … right in front of him!
Afterwards, they both had a great time gluing the book back together again.
Leon acted with integrity and congruency — ultimately, the characteristics of a good parent — of a good person. Integrity and congruency mean there is no difference between words and actions. What would Katy have learnt if her father had said: “Yes, it’s your book but no you cannot tear it up”? Adults will merely note the hypocrisy … if they’re not blinded to it altogether; children will model the real meaning, the behavior, and ignore the words. As adults, we have to be reminded that actions speak louder than words. Children are aware from the beginning of the two languages we all speak — the language of words, and the language of the body, of actions.
Let me give you just one example of how children model — or copy — their parents’ behaviors at the very deepest level. This is from a report on the 1990 annual meeting of the American Psychological Association:
By 3 months of age, [Tiffany] Fields says, infants of depressed mothers developed their own brand of ‘depressed’ behavior, characterized by their lack of smiling and a tendency to turn the head away from the mother and adults. [REMEMBER: 3 MONTHS OLD] These babies become more upset when they look at their mother’s unresponsive face than when they see her leave the room.
I can relate to that myself. For most of my life, I suffered from mild depression. A few years ago, I was looking at my elder daughter and suddenly realized her mode of behavior was exactly identical to mine. My mother was often depressed as was her mother. I’d inherited her depression and passed it onto my daughter. You know behaviors of this kind have been passed from parent to child for thousands of generations. It’s only now, with the development of psychotherapy, that it’s possible for us to break the molds that were cast thousands of generations ago.
I’d now like to turn to the political organization of the family. Let’s face it, it’s a totalitarian dictatorship. There’s no other way to describe it, is there? But it’s actually worse than that.
How does a 5-year old view his or her parents? As god. Mother and Father are omnipotent, omnipresent, all-knowing, all-powerful. Whether they’re benevolent, kindly and loving gods; whether they rule by fear or even terror — or perhaps even worse switch unpredictable between the two modes, kindly and loving one minute, full or anger and rage the next, which means of course the child lives in state of constant insecurity, never knowing how Mother and Father is going to react the next moment … to a five year old they’re still gods. And whatever god says and does is true, is it not?
I’d like to read you an extract from Honoring the Self by Nathaniel Branden which illustrates this issue better that I can.
I recall discussing this issue one day with the distinguished family therapist Virginia Satir, who gave an exquisite and appalling illustration of the kind of craziness with which so many of us grow up. Imagine, she said, a scene among a child and mother and father. Seeing a look of unhappiness on mother’s face, the child says, “What’s the matter, Mummy? You look sad.” Mother answers, her voice tight and constricted, “Nothing’s the matter. I’m fine.” The father says angrily: “Don’t upset your mother.” The child looks back and forth between mother and father, utterly bewildered and unable to understand the rebuke. He begins to weep. The mother cries to father: “Now look what you’ve done.”
Let us look at this scene more closely. The child correctly perceives that something is bothering mother and responds appropriately. Mother acts by invalidating the child’s [correct] perception of reality. Perhaps she does so out of the desire to ‘protect’ him, perhaps because she herself does not know how to handle her unhappiness. If she had said, ‘Yes, I’m feeling a little sad right now, thank you for noticing,’ she would have validated the child’s perception. By acknowledging her own unhappiness simply and openly, she would have reinforced the child’s compassion and taught him something profoundly important concerning a healthy attitude toward pain. Father, perhaps to ‘protect’ mother, perhaps out of guilt because mother’s sadness concerns him, rebukes the child, adding to the incomprehensibility of the situation. If Mother is not sad, why would a simple inquiry be upsetting? And why should it be upsetting in any event? The child, feeling hurt and helpless, begins to cry. Now mother screams at father, implying that she does not approve of what he has done in rebuking the child. Contradictions compounded, incongruities within incongruities. How is the child to make sense out of the situation?
The child may run outside, frantically looking for something to do or someone to play with, seeking to erase all memory of the incident as quickly as possible, repressing feelings and perceptions. And if the child flees into unconsciousness to escape the terrifying sense of being trapped in a nightmare, do we blame his well-meaning parents for behaving in ways that encourage him to feel that sight is dangerous and that there is safety in blindness?
An ordinary story, without villains. No one is likely to imagine that the parents are motivated by destructive intentions. But in choosing to deny simple reality, they give the child the impression that he exists in an incomprehensible world where perception is untrustworthy and thought is futile.
And I should add, to make sense out of this nightmare most children will suppress their own perceptions, deny the validity of their own senses, and learn to mistrust their own minds. Who are they to argue with god? And so they replace their perceptions of reality with the perceptions of their parents, living in a state of perpetual insecurity as they try to second-guess mother’s and father’s terrifyingly unpredictable moods. And when they grow up, they continue to seek some other, external authority whose perceptions of reality can replace those of their parents … a guru, a government, a leader. They’ve been turned from the self-assertive, sometimes terrifyingly honest state that is natural to every child into … a follower.
I could talk all day about these issues — much better, much faster to experience my point, especially if you’ve been agreeing with me, but saying to yourself this doesn’t apply to me. You see, these issues happened so long ago that they’re buried deep in our subconscious mind. They’re still giving us trouble, but we can’t see that consciously.
So I invite you to close your eyes, and just breathe deeply, in and out for a moment … relax … and now I’d like to ask you to see your parents in front of you. See them here now. Now, how do you normally address your parents? Mum, Dad, Mummy, Daddy, Mother, Father, in whatever language you use … but your parents have names, first names. I’d like you to imagine yourself addressing your parents by their first names, “Hullo…” and put in your mother’s first name, “Hullo…” with your father’s first name.
How does that feel? How different, perhaps strange, does it feel to address your parents by name rather than title?
You see, when we say Mum and Dad, we’re not addressing a person, we’re addressing a relationship. And for the child within us, we’re talking to god — and nobody’s on first name terms with god.
I did this exercise once with a 65-year-old man whose parents were both long dead. He stuttered for about five minutes, totally unable to utter either of his parents’ first names to the memory-image in his own mind. That’s how deep these issues can run.
I’d just like to continue this experiment a little further. Just go back to seeing your parents in front of you. Now, I’d like you to imagine that you’re telling them you’re really successful in your career … very successful, very happy in your work. What is the reaction on their faces? Approval? Disapproval? Indifference?
Now, imagine that you’re telling them that you’re really happily in love, wonderfully in love with the most beautiful person in the world. How do they react now? Approval? Disapproval? Indifference?
According to American psychologist Nathaniel Branden, from whom I learnt this exercise, on average 65% of people have one parent disapprove of their being successful; while an incredible 85% have one parent disapprove of their being deeply in love; and half of all people — 50% — have both parents disapprove of their being truly in love.
Do you think these attitudes of your parents that you hold within you do not affect your behavior now? What kind of messages might you be giving your children…subconsciously?
Leon Louw told me another story about another of his daughters — one of his own favorites. Then aged around 6, she was playing in their living room with a group of her friends. All the girls agreed that they would stay that night at Julie’s house — Julie being one of the girls there — and suddenly one of the girls started crying.
“What’s wrong?” the other girls asked.
Tearfully she said: “I’ll have to ask my mummy if I can stay and she’ll say no.”
Leon’s daughter responded: “I don’t have to ask my mummy because I’m the boss of myself.”
“I’m the boss of myself” … doesn’t that really sum up the entire issue of freedom, psychologically?
If you want your children to be free, how can you teach them to be the boss of themselves? It’s your behavior that you need to change. At the fundamental level, you must renounce entirely the use of force; and resign as god.
There are three ways of raising kids. The authoritarian model, in which parents dictate what happens. Otherwise known as the win/lose method — the parents win, the children lose. In this kind of family, the children’s personalities are repressed. Second is the permissive model: the parents lose, the children win. You know, the parents say no, but a minute later they say oh, okay. In this kind of family the children have the power, and it’s too much for them to bear.
The third model — the win/win or democratic model — is the one you’d learn in Dr. Thomas Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training, and elsewhere. Parents and children agree on what needs to be done and by whom, through a process of negotiation in an atmosphere of mutual respect. And as you should realize, someone who voluntarily agrees to do something is far more likely to do it than someone who is ordered to. And in this atmosphere, a child’s personality, her inner self, really blooms.
Looking at this issue from a completely different perspective, a research study in Australia confirms the benefits of this approach. Children of single-parent families were compared with normal children — with two parents living together. Children with only one parent were found to be more self-reliant and independent than children brought up in “normal” families. Why? Because children with only one parent were much more involved in decision-making within the family, and had more responsibility.
And a person who is self-reliant is far more likely to find security within.
To summarize, there are two kinds of authority:
- the authority of force or power … the authority which repels
- and the authority of wisdom and knowledge … the authority which attracts.
I’m sure there’s somebody in your life who treats you with total acceptance. For me it was my grandmother, long dead, who never judged me, never lectured me, who just accepted me as I was. As a teenager, she was my favorite person. Just remember now someone in your life who treated you in that way. Notice how you feel about him or her. If this person is one of your parents, you are very lucky. Most likely, it’s a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or a friend of the family, or a teacher perhaps. Just take a moment to experience how you feel towards this person.
Now, visualize someone who used force, or the threat of force, to discipline you as a child. Or who, like one of my grandfathers, hardly notices your existence. How do you feel about this person?
And now ask yourself … which of those people would you like to be in your children’s eyes. And consider how you, now, as an adult, relate to those two different people. One of those ways may be how your children view you when they are adults.
On my desk I have pictures of my two daughters. There’s one picture of my younger daughter, Natasha, when she was three. In that picture she is happy, really happy. She — well — glows is the only way to describe it.
One of my counseling clients always looks at this picture of Natasha, probably wishing her own childhood had been as happy, as joyful, as problem-free, as exuberant as Natasha appears in that photo. One day she said to me, “Mark, don’t destroy her dreams.”
I hope I won’t. And I just want to tell you a little story to illustrate a different way of treating your children. Especially their dreams. One day we were in a taxi, Natasha and I. And we passed one of those cement mixer trucks. And she said, “I want to drive a cement truck. That’s what I want to do.”
Now, how would most parents react to a statement like that from their four-year old daughter? Or son for that matter. I can think of a few. Like: “Girls don’t do that sort of thing.” Or: “No daughter of mine is going to be a truck driver.” Or: “There’ll be no truck drivers in my family.” Or you might talk about how much money lawyers earn compared to truck drivers.
All I said to her at that moment was: “Yes, they’re really big trucks aren’t they.”
At bedtime that day I told her a story, a story in which she drove a big cement mixer truck. And you know, never again has she said anything about wanting to drive a cement truck — or any other kind of truck. By accepting her dream — or probably spur of the moment fantasy — I validated it for her. By telling her the story, I probably made it come true; as true as she really wanted it to be. But she has learnt something far more important … that she is free to dream, and free to express those dreams … and only by dreaming can you make your dreams come true.
We all have our dreams for our children. But are our dreams their dreams? Don’t try and force your children to be who you’d like them to be. You can’t anyway; all you will achieve is to stunt their own growth. Much better to take the attitude of curiosity — who are you? — and to be there to help them become whoever they can be. And to take our rewards, as parents, simply in the joy in their becoming, in nurturing them and watching them grow and blossom.
Is that important, in the real world? Crucially so. Let me quote from a man who was very successful in his time. Claude Hopkins was the highest-paid man in advertising in the early years of twentieth century. His salary was in excess of $100,000 a year. In today’s money that’s around 5 to 10 million dollars. US dollars. Per year. In his book, My Life in Advertising, first published in 1927, he wrote the following:
Every great move I have made in my life has been ridiculed or opposed by my friends. The greatest winnings I have made, in happiness, in money, in content, have been accomplished amidst almost universal scorn.
But I have reasoned this way: The average man is not successful. We meet few who attain their goal, few who are really happy or content. Then why should we let the majority rule in matters affecting our lives?
Success has come to me in sufficient measure, happiness in abundance, and absolute content. Not one of those blessings would have come to me — not one! — had I followed the advice of my friends.”
I’d just like to repeat that last sentence: “Not one of those blessings would have come to me had I followed the advice of my friends.”
Freedom is man’s natural state; and every child is born free. If a visitor from another planet were to contrast the insatiable curiosity of a two-year-old; the child’s boundless joy and excitement in simply being alive; the exuberance that a one-year-old displays in every simple act of learning, in learning to stand up, in taking his first step; the incredible talent that enables a two-year-old to learn to speak perfectly with no instructors, no tuition, no teachers, no school, a talent which, with very few exceptions, is never to be exhibited again in that child’s lifetime … if our alien visitor were to compare these features of every child with the resignation, the sadness and the pain, the self-doubt, the acquiescence written on the face of almost every adult you pass walking along the street, this being from another planet might rationally conclude that he’s observing two completely different and totally unrelated species.
What has happened to our desire to be free? Why do we accept willingly, voluntarily, the abominable restrictions on our freedom that all governments place upon us? We stand meekly in line, grovelling even as we present our passports to some bureaucratic non-entity who, for that moment, has life and death power over our freedom to travel. Does anyone ever feel angry about this restriction on our right to travel freely? We fill out our tax returns with a sense of fear and foreboding — and meekly hand over some thirty to fifty percent of our annual toil — and the overwhelming majority of us are eager to cooperate with our oppressors. In democracies, most of us vote for higher taxes hoping, of course, some other fella will pay — but knowing at the same time that it’s our wallets that will hurt.
Why people rise up in anger at the inhuman contempt displayed by our rulers?
We’ve been well-trained. We learnt, literally, on our fathers’ and mothers’ knees never to show our anger — it was, again literally, hazardous to our health. We learnt the danger of questioning authority. We learnt how to hide and repress our true selves, our real desires, knowing the ridicule, the humiliation we would experience if we ever made them known.
We learnt to obey.
We learnt never to be self-assertive, to never express our own needs and wants. Some of us have forgotten that we ever had needs and wants of our own. We learnt to be … invisible. And we learnt these lessons so well that today, as adult human beings, we are still good little girls and boys … and we now let any person who claims authority over us, any upstart, any bureaucratic mediocrity, to order us around … and we cooperate, we acquiesce, we make it easy for them to rule, we never challenge that right they assume to rule over us. We’ve forgotten that we have the right, by simple fact of birth, to exist; and to be free.
I’d like to leave you with one last thought. If we don’t recognize and respect the natural freedom of our children; of our own flesh and blood; of the people on this earth who are closest to us; who we care about and love more than any others; is it really any surprise that we withhold freedom from our fellowman?