It’s about Freedom
Democracy was meant to free us from the power and influence we have over one another. First, democracy would let us consent to that influence, and second, it would let us shape the influence with rules each person would personally help make. But there was a mistake in the way our democracies were designed. We ignored the power and influence families have over children, and the way it can limit their freedom and their ability to make the rules they live under. That mistake has prevented our democracies from working the way they should have. The Fair Start modelbegins to correct that mistake.
To figure out where democracy went wrong and how to fix it, we have to trace its origins. The democratic system was born of a revolution against dictatorships and other systems of rule where individuals were powerless. Instead of a single person having control, people adopted the natural alternative: groups of people voluntarily coming together as equals and mutually agreeing on rules by which to live. These groups would have been surrounded by the natural world where no state existed, but through which each person could cross to join any other group, start a new group, or simply be alone. Freedom lay at the border of each group, at the nexus between self-determining social cooperation and solitude.
Each group honored a set of fundamental human rights, core values that informed all their other rules and laws. Each person in the group:
- was an equal alongside every other person
- had a say in the group’s rules
- could leave the group freely
These values trumped all other rules and kept the system working. They gave people autonomy and a reason to trust one another. Every person could orient her own life around the objective values behind these rules rather than the influence of other people. This was the basis of democracy as an ideal and as a justification for social organization. It always started with people’s collective choice to value one another enough to voluntarily come together, as a group of equals, to make their own rules. It connected the group as an “us”, and it’s the reason the United States Constitution begins with the words “We the People….”
As an ideal, democracy was a noble goal. But in practice, problems arose. Differences in individuals’ circumstances from birth meant that people were not born equal and ultimately didn’t have enough in common to trust one another. Individuals and groups fought for dominance. Eventually, out of fear, they began letting leaders set and enforce rules, often by force. They raised armies to keep other groups away, meaning that they needed more children (who could bolster the groups’ numbers) to become productive and powerful. Eventually people stopped making their own rules and traded freedom for wealth and the perception of security. People began to confuse the idea of freedom with doing whatever one wished, even when it was clear that people’s choices were being shaped by others through influences like family history, culture, and commerce.
Ultimately, each person’s role in decision-making for the group dwindled. Multiple groups became giant, crowded nations of people with little connection to one another and with too many people to truly cooperate as a group. Each person was forced to follow the rules, even though they had little say in them. People were trapped in nations and could not leave to form new groups because there was nowhere to go. These nations took up all the land. There were simply too many people, and without enough in common, to trust one another. This is how the world is today: too crowded and disconnected for people to either truly cooperate or safely leave society.
What went wrong? Democracy’s intrinsic values were noble, but people made a mistake when they tried to implement it: they considered only the people alive at that time. But new groups constantly form from within families as children are born and raised. Democracy cannot happen instantly; it happens over time based on the choices parents make and how their children are raised.
To become a democratic “we,” a group must share core values. The conditions in which we are born and raised determine how we interact with people and whether we have enough in common with one another to make democracy work. Groups must choose collectively to come together, and they must think ahead to ensure that their children are all born free and equal. Democracy, therefore, must be intergenerational.
In short, democracy “went wrong” because people failed to recognize the importance of including future generations in their planning. Groups never truly became an “us” where people deliberately included and valued one another. True democracy, where the collective people held all the power, would work only if they chose to work with one another, but that didn’t happen. Instead, people pursued their own interests against those around them. They looked for security and belonging through relationships, through family, by amassing wealth, and by imitating others. Children were not born free and equal; they were vulnerable, unschooled in empathy and limited by the conditions of their birth. Instead of changing those conditions, families replicated the political culture of coercion, greed, inequality, and power-seeking that came before democracy. People just became tyrants over each other through dangerously subtle means, like exclusion from each other’s groups..
Democracy failed from the inside out. Along the way, reformers tried to fix it through after-the-fact approaches like education, but it was too late: children were being born and raised without the empathy needed to truly support democracy. Each child should have become more of a citizen-leader than a consumer, worker, taxpayer, and soldier, but that didn’t happen. The constitutional rules and values upon which democracy was based didn’t account for future generations; they didn’t include plans to deliberately fold children into the existing groups.
What would have prevented this failure? What would the ideal constitutional rules — rules that would sustain a democracy for the long term — look like?
- They would apply universally, meaning that groups would not have to exploit future generations just to grow and compete against one another.
- They would be an agreement among parents, their community, and future generations to choose to come together. Each child would be treated as a future leader, someone others would one day work with to create rules.
These rules would have made the groups feel like a voluntary “we,” the first and necessary condition to anything else the groups might then do.
Alongside those rules, the freedom to have children would have been balanced against the rights of those future children, such as:
- The right to a minimum level of well-being
- The right to opportunities equal to those of others in their generation or a fair start in life
- The right to choose to come together with others in small groups where authority is decentralized, members are agreeable, and each person has a say over the rules to live by
- The right to a stateless natural world outside the group, where they could go if they chose to leave the group
If everyone valued these rights equally, they would have enough in common to truly trust one another as they came together.
Can we fix the mistake of failing to plan ahead to incorporate new generations into the group, look into the future, and find a way to build real democracies by building up the people that actually comprise them? At Having Kids, we think we can.
We do it through something called the Having Kids model, a public model for parenting designed to replace today’s failing parenting models with one that fixes the mistake. It redefines parenting as a public agreement with future generations and asks people to look for an objective value — one we can all see — in the act of having kids. To find that value, we look at how people live their lives and how most people simply want their lives to improve and to continue. With these shared values, we bring people together and create space for cooperation. We transform the idea of having kids into the act of working with others to create the best possible conditions for the next generation.
To achieve this goal, the model asks parents to have fewer children (enough to continue life) and to invest more in each child. Simply put, it calls for smaller families to work together to invest more in each child. For example, one family can use part of the resources they would have spent having a third child to instead create a collegiate scholarship trust for use by another family planning for their first or second child.
The Fair Start modelmaximizes five core freedoms and the values that underlie them. The model:
- Protects the freedom to have children.
- Improves children’s minimum levels of wellbeing.
- Improves children’s equality of opportunity.
- Restores nature or the nonhuman world by focusing on replacement or sub-replacement level fertility.
- Builds real democracy.
The model effectively promotes these five fundamental and universal freedoms and values through the one behavior – having kids – that determines them. The model moves us, physically, towards the ideal of democracy by beginning to treat each child as someone each member of the relevant community should, one day, be able to work with to create a set of rules to live by.
The model also presents an opportunity to change the future. If the average person alive today adopts something like the Having Kids model, there will be roughly six billion people on earth in 2100, slightly fewer than there are today. Those people will have had a better start in life and will live in smaller, more sustainable, and more connected communities with a healthier environment and less of a gap between rich and poor. In those communities, each person will have more of a voice in their governments and their lives.
If the average person alive today does not adopt the model and has between two and three children, or more, there will be roughly twelve billion people, or more, on earth by 2100, almost twice the number today. Without the model, those people will have had a worse start in life, and will live in massive and less connected communities with a degraded environment and more of a gap between rich and poor. In those communities, each person will have less of a voice in their governments and their lives.
The Fair Start modelis the first one based on universal human rights. It unifies conflicting theories (positive vs. negative) of human rights. It’s a model agreement comparable to the 20th century “New Deal” political reforms, but represents a new “new deal” that corrects a fundamental mistake in democracy. The model also takes advantage of the existing trend of parents having fewer children and investing more in each child. It brings together the efforts of established child welfare, animal welfare, environmental, and human rights organizations around the world and makes them even more effective through this harmonization.
Although the philosophy behind the model and the five freedoms is complex, the model itself is simple. It’s easy to promote through Having Kids’ grassroots, justice, and corporate programs, the latter two of which work to remove barriers to grassroots reforms. For example, our grassroots program implements the model by helping parents create scholarship trusts for the first or second child of a different family, and by asserting future generations’ right to the five freedoms. Our corporate program helps for-profit companies restructure parental benefits packages around the model, and not-for-profit organizations, like those advocating for child welfare and environmental protection, adopt the model publicly. Our justice program advocates state legislation that progressively cuts child tax credits in favor of family planning, head-start, and wilderness restoration programs. It advocates for international human rights reforms that promote the five freedoms, like model constitutional amendments that gradually decentralize governmental and other institutional authority into smaller, more democratic communities where members take responsibility for the action of the collective.
The Fair Start model(symbolized as a dynamic infinity sign , with each of the points representing one of the five freedoms) slowly changes the way we think about having and raising children, from seeing it as something that is private to something that is public, and from a thing we do apart or isolated from the community around us to something that collectively and over time creates the community around us. Most importantly, the Fair Start modelis designed to fix the intergenerational mistake, to create the “we” our social cooperation is premised upon, and to integrate democracy with the personal development of the people who constitute and implement it. Democracies are only as good as the people in them, and people start becoming who they are the day they are born.