Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sweden's Socialist Republic of Children

In his Introduction to Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card made an observation that’s stuck with me:
Ender’s Game asserts the personhood of children, and those who are used to thinking of children in another way—especially those whose whole career is based on that—are going to find Ender’s Game a very unpleasant place to live. Children are a perpetual, self-renewing underclass, helpless to escape from the decisions of adults until they become adults themselves. And Ender’s Game, seen in that context, might even be a sort of revolutionary tract.
It’s one of the interesting aspects of that book that it’s written exactly from the perspective of a child, and treats their feelings and judgements as seriously as anyone else’s. This is one of the reasons the book is so popular among kids; though unfortunately it seems to generate the same sort of ubermench mentality people frequently pick up from Ayn Rand or Nietzche.

At any rate, I was interested by a recent Marginal Revolution post on the adoption of children by gay couples in Sweden. In some sense, if you were to take the revolutionary implications of Ender’s Game seriously, you would treat the private nature of the family as the source of generational exploitation and seek to handle child-rearing in a more public manner. Sweden, arguably does this; while gay marriage has long been acceptable there, adoption of children by gays is much less so. The argument is that the Swedes treat childrearing as a very public thing, while they care less about marriage. One commenter there adds:
This is absolutely true. The Swedish attitude toward the raising of children is absolutely centered on the welfare of the child; the rights of the parents play a very small role. Corporal punishment has been illegal for more than 40 years now, and for Swedes it is a reviled practice (people basically see corporal punishment as domestic abuse). The law also close to universal support (there's eight parties in the Swedish parliament, ranging from far left to the christian right to the blatantly xenophobic, and not a single one wants to repeal it). The viewpoint expressed in that quote is basically accurate: consenting adults can do whatever they want and it's nobody's business, but the public has a very large interest in the welfare of children.
Another person adds:
There also is a specific “ombudsman” for children, whose main duty is to promote the rights and interests of children.
It’s interesting to imagine this treatment as resulting from a certain Marxist response to the perceived systematic oppression of a given underclass of children. It would be interesting to imagine a future in which many more people see things this way, and perceive our current behavior just as flawed as we perceive the moral flaws of, say, the American South circa 1840. Alternately, this is another reason why though Swedish children frequently live in households with unmarried parents, they end up receiving excellent childcare. That sort of public support and social norms are difficult to translate to unmarried parenthood in other parts of the world.

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