License to Raise and Rule

To drive a small scooter, one must have a driver’s license.

But to raise children or rule a country, one need have nothing!

Seen from the vantage point of a future observer living in the twenty-fifth century, our contemporary twenty-first century society will be considered primitive, not because we still have wars and kill one another for a piece of land or as a show of power, not because we destroy our environment, not because we are on the treadmill of the incessant insatiable pursuit of more material goods, but mainly because we allow people to raise children, and rulers to govern us, without having a license to do so!

Proof of competence, ability, and expert knowledge are required for most jobs. To practice medicine, law, architecture, even to work as a plumber or a woodworker, people train for years and need to prove their competence, or earn diplomas. But to become a parent or to rule a nation, qualifications are not necessary. Of course, this has been happening since the beginning of history. Society has tacitly accepted that the biological ability to procreate is sufficient enough reason to allow people to become parents, and that the ability to rise to the top of the political hierarchy is sufficient proof of competence to allow one to govern cities and people, nations and countries. So here we are, 200,000 years since the appearance of Homo sapiens, and 5,000 years since the beginning of recorded history, having  millions of parents unfit to do the job of raising kids, and thousands of rulers who are unfit to rule, ruling over societies and people!

Yet these two jobs are the most important professions in human society. Raising a child is synonymous with creating a human being, since Man is not born but is made through upbringing, while governing is the highest, most important job upon which human civilization is built and through which it evolves.

But what are the reasons for this state of affairs in the world?

Concerning the raising of children, societies have historically accepted that giving birth is synonymous with the right to raise that offspring, because they have assumed that just as we have rights over our biological body, we also have rights over the body that comes out of it. However, this is both a false premise as well as a false understanding of what the case is: For it is biology, or rather Nature, that produces human beings, not a man and a woman. As Kahlil Gibran says, “Your children are not your children… They come through you but not from you.” Strictly speaking, unlike human creations, the biological “creation/birth” of a human being is not the outcome of any real effort or work on the part of parents, so it is irrational to credit them with either ownership or absolute control over their offspring. The act of sexual copulation cannot seriously be considered anything more than the biological pleasure-seeking function of human bodies, which without any further effort from the side of the lovers, and with Nature running its natural course, leads to procreation. Man comes to assume the role of maker or architect of things that belong to Nature’s domain and over which Nature truly reigns. The assumed right to have absolute control over our children, and in a sense “own their lives,” ought not to be a given. Control over children and the right to raise them ought to be granted only to those who have shown that they can actually do the job. Parenthood ought not to be a natural right, but a given one. Just as with every other ability, skill, or profession, the right to practice parenthood ought to be earned.

Now concerning our rulers: How does it come about that we allow so many incompetent politicians to rule us? The answer is to be found at the very beginning of political discourse. One of the phrases we often hear, which goes unnoticed because it is considered the most natural thing, is “Mr. Jones is entering politics.” Mr. Jones has not been involved in politics throughout his life, he may have never managed people nor worked on solving complex problems, he may know nothing of history or how the government, political life, and institutions work, he may have not read a single book in the past ten years, but, because suddenly he feels like it, he opens some imaginary door and majestically “enters politics.” Just like that! He may be a lawyer, or an economics teacher, or a plumber, yet he need only make a step into nothingness – or should we say, the emptiness of politics – and “enter.” Can you imagine this happening in any other profession in life? Can you imagine your plumber declaring that he will “enter medicine,” and that from tomorrow he will start examining patients at home? Or an economics teacher “entering NASA” on Monday to join the mission to Mars on Tuesday? The foundations on which political discourse is based contains the most incredible assumption we all somehow hold to be true: that anybody, at anytime, anywhere, and in whatever manner, may simply decide to enter politics, and lo! next year he is your mayor or prime minister or president.

But there still remains something else to be addressed: What about those who have been in politics all their lives, the “professional politicians”? Why, as a rule, are they also unfit to rule? The explanation for this is a bit less obvious, although quite simple, and it is surprising that (as far as I know) it has not yet been explored: The skills necessary to climb the political ladder are different from the skills necessary once you reach the top. We may liken this to climbing to the top of a rough mountain to take photographs of the surrounding landscape. The skills necessary to climb the mountain are different from the skills required to operate the camera. Most politicians, most people who end up ruling over human affairs, have honed the skills and acquired the abilities to climb to the top of the mountain, but once there, they know not how to use the camera, while a significant number are so  irresponsible that they may be likened to the photographer who discovers, once on top of the mountain, that he has forgotten to bring his camera altogether! The skills of mountain climbing and photography are distinct. Similarly, the skills to climb up the political ladder – to be a good orator, master at intrigue and self-promotion, manipulative, and more – are different from the qualities a wise ruler must have – good overall education, vision, integrity, organizational skills, decisiveness, and more. Yet through some sort of silent universal consent, we assume that reaching the top of a political party or winning an election automatically gives someone not just the right, but the ability to govern. History and present-day political discourse however, prove that this assumption is not only wrong, but dangerous. A very good number of ruthless conquerors, dictators, and political manipulators throughout history have shown that gaining power is not synonymous with wise governorship. Even the seemingly fair and advanced processes of modern parliamentary democracies have demonstrated that those who win elections are skilled at demagoguery and gaining popularity, rather than at the governing for which they were elected. Although Socrates admonished the young and soon-to-be demagogue Alcibiades in Plato’s dialogue (of the same name) for wanting to rule over the Athenians without being equipped to do so – “equipped in the same way as a skilled cobbler is able to create shoes” – 2,500 years later, we are yet to learn the lesson that gaining power is different from wisely exerting it. The good rulers are so rare a species that the word “politician” has developed a somewhat negative connotation: It signifies the opposite of a person with the ability to govern and rule. Just as an eighteen-year-old couple (who only a few years ago were kids!) has neither the knowledge nor the maturity to raise their newborn baby, so too is the modern-day politician involved in obtaining the skills to acquire popularity and power at the expense of the qualifications necessary to rule once gaining power. Human society is led from cradle to grave by many incompetent, if not unfit, parents and rulers, who have assumed without any license the most important functions in human society!

Until the nineteenth century, society may have been excused for allowing such a state of affairs to have persisted. But ever since Freud and Jung and all the other great researchers who have delineated the field of psychology and led us to the discovery and realization of how important a role parenting plays in the development of mentally and psychologically healthy adults, it has become inexcusable for us today to allow people with no qualifications whatsoever to raise – and therefore, create – humans. And in a complex society with the most sophisticated universities and educational systems, it is shocking that we still allow some of the most uneducated, unequipped, untrained, unskilled, incapable people to rule over millions of others, among whom there are thousands who would have been better equipped for the job had they been chosen with the same methods and scrutiny that we demand for all other professions.

With my mind’s eye, I can foresee the “Parenting Schools” of the future, with courses lasting a few years, complete with theoretical and practical exams. Nobody will be allowed to become parents without having the special license to raise children. Similarly, nobody would be allowed to enter politics before a certain age and without the proper education, extensive training, certain exams, and licenses in a number of important fields, similar to those medical doctors are beholden to.

Some may retort that the skills required to raise a child or to rule over people are so extensive that no syllabuses, courses, or training could ever cover everything necessary for life at large, nor prepare anybody for these two jobs – that the totality of life cannot be contained in a syllabus. But this is incorrect. For the totality of any subject of knowledge cannot and is never restricted to a syllabus. No doctor knows the entire field of medicine, and no architect or engineer on his own can build the monumental Burj Khalifa in Dubai – the tallest building in the world. However, all require a minimum of education and skills before they are allowed to practice their professions. The correct concept of minimum requirement lies at the core of our whole educational system, from elementary schools to universities and technical/professional schools. Just as one is not considered literate unless one can read and write, and just as one is not considered educated unless one can add and subtract numbers and know a modicum of history and geography, biology and art, in the same way, every parent and every ruler must satisfy the minimum requirements that our future society will establish to be able to raise and rule.

But why should we wait for the future for such an ideal to become reality? The time has come to face these uncomfortable truths and start doing something about them. Let us start today with this: create a very small and simple syllabus and exam protocol, to be offered in the first “Parenting Schools” and the first “Schools for Rulers.” The aim of these schools would be to ensure that future parents and rulers respectively will satisfy the minimum requirements for their future roles, which would not be to do good, nor to be competent, but primarily that they will do no harm! Let us create, for the first time in human history, the two most important licenses currently absent from human societies: the License to Raise and the License to Rule.

© 2024 Nicos Hadjicostis