‘How Create Prima’
How could we reconstitute the hunter-gatherer group, following 10,000 years of socio-economic ‘progress’? This project certainly does not mean that humanity, in its entirety, has to return to the African savannah (which would become seriously over-crowded), with men forming hunting parties and women searching in groups for nuts and berries. But what this line of argument does mean is that the human infant, at birth, has a hard-wired predisposition to ‘expect’ a significantly committed human community, in addition to his/her biological parents, or other primary care-givers. This is what matters in terms of infant nurturing and it is the absence of this in modern societies which is causing so much human damage. This tight, committed human community of around 150 individuals can be re-created in modern society without having to return to the other conditions of the hunter-gatherer life-style, with all their material and cultural limitations: it is, of course, the close, nurturing and supportive human relations that this type of group living makes possible, which would be the point of reviving it for the benefit of optimal child-rearing.
And how could the modern equivalent of the hunter gatherer group be revived in our advanced societies? It would clearly not be easy: even if a group of people sufficiently motivated to attempt his could be found, there would still be enormous socio-economic pressures working against the success of such a project. Setting up a group-living environment in order to promote optimal child-rearing would obviously be extremely counter-productive if the the group subsequently collapsed within a brief period. So, a key requirement for success in such a project would be to secure the maximum possible guarantee for the continuity of the group. The obvious candidate to guarantee such security and stability is – the state. The very idea of group-living sponsored by the state is doubtless utterly abhorrent to many people, so let me be clear about where I’m coming from.
The historical precedents are not encouraging: Mao Tse Tung’s attempts to abolish the tradition family and collectivise life in China have not survived him. The appalling errors in his approach are clear: firstly, his efforts were underpinned by coercion. I don’t believe that social reform on such a scale can achieve any permanence without the willing consent of those involved. Secondly, the Chinese communes ignored the crucial role of biological parents. (The more extreme of Israeli kibbutzim made the same mistake.) The effort to provide a strong, stable, supportive network around nurturing parents should by no means involve an attempt to dispense with the infant’s essential bonds with its biological parents (or primary care providers)!
A consideration of the ‘bottom-up’ attempts to establish communal living and child-rearing, also indicate a role for the democratic state in such an enterprise. The history, here is similarly dismal. Such voluntary communities tend to follow one of two alternative and equally undesirable trajectories: they are either too weak to withstand internal conflicts, in which case they fail as communities and break apart in fairly short order. Alternatively, one (or more) ‘strong’ leader emerges and the community takes on a cult-like quality, with individuals pressured into conformity with the ‘values’ of the group. These generally further the interests of the group’s leader(s) to the detriment of the other members. A democratic state can act as a guarantor against both of these undesirable outcomes: it can set the rules for conflict resolution, provide negotiators and act as the final arbiter. The state can also formulate and enforce rules to guarantee the rights of individuals, while preserving the integrity of the group.
How, in practical terms, should the state get involved in establishing viable, consensual and democratically self-governing communities of child-rearing parents? In the same way it gets involved in any other major social reform: in other words, at least one of the major political parties would adopt Prima as a policy and campaign for it in a general election. If they won the election, they would then have a democratic mandate to implement such a policy. Both of these developments are, of course, easier to say than to achieve. Persuading a major political party to adopt the policy would require a significant swell of public opinion in it favour of Prima. This, in turn, would require widespread dissemination and promotion of the ideas, which would best be achieved by an organised social movement.
What would inspire people to found such a movement? Answer: the promise of the results which such a reform of child-rearing could achieve; the possible elimination of neurosis, divorce, addiction and crime and the raising of much more harmonious and well-adjusted people, who would be more creative, productive and healthy, both mentally and physically, than the average adult of today. Success for such a policy would clearly require a long-term timeframe: phase one, would be a campaign to get the policy adopted by a major political party. Phase two, winning an election to get a mandate for it. Phase three, setting up the first, volunteer communities. Phase four, the first children of the communities maturing and entering education and eventually employment in the wider society.
Only then would the promise of the policy be redeemed. This redemption would consist of these individuals being demonstrably ‘above-average’ people, in terms of mental and physical health, achievements and social contributions of all kinds. ‘Prima people’ should also demonstrate a freedom from the social, mental and physical afflictions so common in contemporary populations. At that point, when the positive advantages of communal child-rearing were clear to see in living breathing young people, then potential parents wouldn’t need much persuading to participate: as today, where they may be prepared to move house to get their kids into a better quality school, so then they would willingly and enthusiastically enter child-rearing communities in order to secure the benefits for their children.
And how big and extensive would this parental commitment have to be? Ultimately, this should be a question for empirical science to answer, but from the knowledge we have now, a commitment of five and a half years would probably suffice: in other words, both parents would have to commit to communal living from six months prior to the birth of their child until the child entered formal education, at the age of five. To facilitate the logistics of the communities, the policy would require that the parents restrict their reproduction to one child per five-and-a-half-year period. In addition to pragmatism, this would also have the important psychological benefit of preventing the development of sibling rivalry in infancy. On the other hand, the potential loneliness, so often the fate of the ‘only child’ today, would be very effectively countered via close, ‘familial’ relations with 49 other children in the community. This ‘one-at-a-time’ policy would almost certainly limit (for biological reasons) the number of children per couple to two. (Starting in their twenties and finishing in their thirties, ensuring that birth and child rearing occur in the optimal years of the life cycle, both physically and psychologically.) And this two-child limit would make a contribution to managing overall population growth for the benefit of the planet.
Of course, implementing this policy would require a major cultural and ideological shift: away from the contemporary assumption that having as many children as a couple wishes to have is a universal human right. This is closely allied to the idea that children ‘belong’ to their parents, in the same sense in which the parents’ property belongs to them. Implied in this conception is the idea that parents have a unilateral right to decide, not only how many children they have, but also how and under what conditions they are to be raised. For example, it is rarely questioned that parents have a perfect right to indoctrinate their children in whatever religion they happened to have been brought up with. True, in modern times, the law has begun to erode the absolute rights of parents: it is no longer legal to kill, physically or sexually abuse your children or subject them to severe physical neglect. Though, notoriously, all these things continue to happen in modern societies, despite the state’s efforts to detect and prevent them.
In recent times, in an effort to avoid the scandalous failures of child protection, the idea of licensing parenthood has been mooted, based on training of some kind followed by some form of qualifying examination. But this is really just tinkering with the problem: we license people to drive cars – when it comes to taking on the responsibility of nurturing a helpless human infant, maybe we should be a bit more demanding. It’s the Isonuc ideology, that children belong to their parents that blinds us to the inadequacy of this proposed licensing reform – major and effective child-rearing reform will require a direct confrontation with the unquestioned assumption that the isolated nuclear family is the best place to raise children.