Open Thread – Libertarian Response To Klingon Upbringing

Way back in 2006 (and prior to that at my old site), I raised a question of how a libertarian society deals with children. It’s well summarized from this comment:

If a parent believes in spanking, we don’t take the child away from the parents. If the parents are beating their children abusively, we do. There is a point at which the parent is a danger to the successful development of a child, and the child should not have to pay for the parent’s sins.

To a statist, there’s nothing inconsistent here. The state knows best, and when they believe you are over the line, they take your child. But to a libertarian, who doesn’t believe the state knows best, this is inconsistent.

Kids are pre-adults, and human beings with natural rights. It cannot be true that parents “own” their children, as slavery is incompatible with natural rights. But kids not being capable of fully exercising individual natural rights, it is parents who appoint themselves as “guardian” or “caretaker” of that child until he/she is old enough to take control of his/her own life. But where’s the line between stern and abusive parenting, and where’s the line between creative and unique upbringing and damaging your child by starting their lives under a fictional language only spoken on a TV show and amongst its most rabid fans:

Is this taking the whole Star Trek thing a teensie weensie bit too far? d’Armond Speers spoke only Klingon to his child for the first three years of its life.

Klingon? Not Spanish, French, Mandarin? Not some gutteral genuflecting concoction from the deepest recesses of Borneo? Klingon? You heard it right. (And if you don’t know about the Klingon Empire, look it up.)

“I was interested in the question of whether my son, going through his first language acquisition process, would acquire it like any human language,” Speers told the Minnesota Daily. “He was definitely starting to learn it.”

This case is made even more difficult in that this guy is not some guy living in his parents’ basement watching Star Trek all day, he has a doctorate in computational linguistics.

So two questions here:

1) At what point is it morally acceptable for a libertarian to interfere with a parent in the protection of a child?
2) Where does speaking to your kids in only Klingon until age 3 fall into that spectrum?

Hat Tip: Popehat

  • Joshua Holmes

    I’ve read about the case before. The child reached the age of 3 and asked why he and Dad had a special way of talking. The Dad ceased. There’s no indication that the child was not also learning English.

    I’m not sure where the line of abuse is, but I don’t think “bilingualism in a conlang” quite reaches it.

  • VRB

    As a parent your self, I don’t think it that difficult to know when one has crossed the line, no matter what your political philosophy. Even those who abuse children are in denial, they know.

    In most instances there is not enough care or interest taken for children who are being abused. Too many children wind up dead. Where I live the state doesn’t have the resources to worry about a child learning Klingon as a first language, it can’t cover the needs of children who are being severely beaten, sexual abused, prostituted or being starved,

    There are mistakes parents make or a child is born into dysfunctional environment, which would not be considered abusive, but might severely impact the child’s life. I would consider question 2 to fall in this category.

  • Joe Haynes

    No different than when I was teaching my kids sign language before bedtime. Now all my oldest speaks is XBox and Halo 3. Who knew?

  • tmana

    From what I got from the article, it sounds like the parent was using his child as an experimental subject to learn more about language acquisition. As such he was a fully-informed guardian.

    In this case the child was reared bilingually but with a definite split: Dad spoke Klingon, Mom spoke English. This actually provides a bit more compartmentalization than a polyglot environment in which all parties speak all common languages to, and around, the child. (The youngest son of some family friends was raised in this sort of environment. He was slow to start speaking, but once he did, he was able to speak English, French, and Arabic — and compartmentalize them correctly, to the correct audience.)

  • Carol

    I have a distinct advantage in that I know d’Armond Speers, his wife, and his son quite well. As it happens, d’Armond is also certified in sign language through a two-year post-graduate program at Northeastern in Boston. That’s on top of his degree in psychology and Master’s and doctorate in linguistics.

    I assure you all, the boy and the family are well-adjusted, well-traveled, well-read, and creative. The wife is a nurse with an M.A. from the top-notch school of Nursing at Emery. d’Armond plays the violin. The son’s poetry appears in his school year book. Each of them does volunteer work for their community. They are a great, suburban family.