Child exploitation is an evil that has plagued humanity throughout its history. Social awareness of child welfare and consensus on its definition is relatively recent but on the rise. Following this trend, many in Congress work continuously to address this issue, creating new legislative prerogatives for the State to interdict predators and protect children.
How, then, do we reconcile these goals with the case of Mark Foley, a Congressman recently caught engaging in sexually explicit conversations with a minor? Perhaps those who seek to protect us from the nameless, faceless criminals out there have completely misunderstood the problem. The body empowered with enacting nationwide laws, creating criteria for punishing people, and directing the full power of the State contains the very corruption it seeks to root out among us.
It makes one wonder: whom can we trust?
As an anarchist promoting the abolition of this governmental body, it seems reasonable to me that Congress would be as prone to the evils and weaknesses of human experience as any of us. That is precisely the reason they are worthy of ruling neither me nor anybody in this country. We are all fallible, equally capable of deceit and depravity — but also nobility and prudence. We learn whom to trust and whom to avoid not by decrees from on high but by building relationships.
Society is the answer to our problems: the fashioning of markets, communities, networks, and organizations on a voluntary basis, allowing people the freedom to experiment, innovate, band together, and part ways based on their own interests and judgment. We defend our families by allying ourselves with our neighbors, hiring agents among a proven pool of open competitors, and sharing information and advice. Protecting children is best accomplished by the people who understand the stakes: parents and communities.
Of course, bad things happen — whether or not you have the power to pass laws. This brings us to a question anarchists are often asked: how would we prevent x, y, or z from happening without the state? What mechanisms exist to guarantee outcomes acceptable to all? How do we “balance” the sheer volume of competing interests in the world without some empowered and managing body? And in the case of child exploitation: how do we ensure our children’s safety from depraved individuals?
These are all good questions whose answers normal people seek. Unfortunately, they’re rarely asked honestly in politics. Rather, they are posed as rhetorical preludes to some new control placed on society. Instead of looking at the problem as one of complex interpersonal and community dynamics, with a host of causes and possible solutions, we are encouraged to see the problem as a one-dimensional, simple omission: evil originates from a lack of sufficient governance.
The answer from government is always to cripple ourselves for our own good. By making society less complex, less adaptive, and less empowered, we are easier to manage in a top-down fashion and, therefore, more predictable and homogeneous. Through stricter oversight and prohibitions handed down by Congress we can start to rediscover our virtue, at least as Congress defines it.
But the irony is that Congress doesn’t have virtue figured out, either.
The Foley scandal demonstrates the impotence of authority to effect moral management of society. Those who make laws on our behalf are just as flawed as we are. Their officialdom grants them no special insight into human nature. Their power doesn’t convey the ability to discipline society — or themselves. When we ask for leadership from above, a guarantee of safety and order, we surrender our consciences to the unworthy. Government will forever attempt to deliver on unreachable guarantees of safety and moral health by instituting more controls on us.
Indeed, reports indicate that politicians from both parties may have known of the problem and yet did nothing to stop it. Think about it: the most powerful body in the Nation, ignoring a case of exploitation they can address immediately without resorting to political maneuvering or deliberation. Then ask yourself: is any of this about the children?
Think about Foley the next time a law is passed that takes away more of our liberty and freedom “for our own good” or to “protect the children”. He demonstrates the truth of politics: virtue is not a matter of coercive laws and enlightened governance. We must place our faith and trust in ourselves, cooperatively building the solutions we seek rather than hoping they will be forced upon us.