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Apparently Attacking TCS Is Fun

foo commented on this post:

[Elliot] said:

An important part of getting what one wants is changing what one wants to better desires, including more relisable (sic) ones

How could you knowingly tell the difference between changing what you want to better desires, and coercing yourself toward them?

Rational thought? You may think that's a non-answer, but what would you say if I asked you, "How can you knowingly tell the difference between disagreeing with me because you hate me and disagreeing with me because I'm wrong?"

How could you tell the difference between changing what you want to better desires and having been coerced?

Well a good start is checking whether you feel distressed. Or if you feel conflicted. And consider why you changed your view. Again, it's just a matter of rational thought.

You say give advice. Advice is good. Then you say "children SHOULD BE free to disagree."

Does this "should" mean what it normally means? "Should" is coercive, in normal English language.

It means that's the way the world should be. You could swap in "ought to" if you like. It's just a statement about morality -- if children are free to disagree this is a morally good state, and if children are not that is a morally bad state.

1 archaic a : will have to : MUST b : will be able to : CAN 2 a -- used to express a command or exhortation b -- used in laws, regulations, or directives to express what is mandatory

That's coercive? Next you'll be telling me my inability to walk through doors is coercive. And gravity too. And all competitive sports. Just because you can't do anything at all doesn't mean you ought to be coerced; it's irrational to want impossible desires. And it's immoral to desire to do things you should not do. If you want it anyway and end up coerced that was your own wrongdoing at fault, not shoulds in general.

So, you intend to force children to follow their own advice?

No, I was just not going to discourage or punish disagreement.

Or merely have them consider that your advice isn't good? How can they tell the difference, as children, between following your advice to make you happy and following your advice because they want to?

I dunno; how can you tell? (the difference between following my advice to make me happy, or because you want to)

How can they tell the difference between following your advice because it makes them feel safer and doing so because they want to?

How do those even contradict? Someone might want to feel safe.

How can they tell the difference between not following your advice because they should be able not to and being free to not accept your advice?

You're worried people will go against my advice for the sole purpose of exercising their freedom? Why would anyone do that if he was never under my thumb in the first place?

How come coercion is bad for knowledge growth, as a statement, but parents are obligated! to not abandon/help their children?

Erm, the existence of obligations is not coercive. Next you'll be telling me not to make plans to meet someone somewhere. That's an obligation after all.

Aren't you coercing them help/not to abandon their children?

I'm pointing out they should want that, and if they don't they are immoral.

Why is this okay for adults, but not for kids? Is coercion only painful to children?

No, for all people.

Or is it simply that children didn't have a choice about being brought into the world, so it's unfair to force them to do things, but the adult DID have a choice, and in doing so, put themselves into indentured servitude to the child?

Well, yes, bringing a child into this world does give a parent some responsibility. If a potential parent will not want to help his child, he should not have a child.

Common preferences are not always possible. If you are in love with me, so much so that you want to marry me, and I cannot stand you, and never want to see you again, then there is no common preference here for future action.

If I love you so much why don't I want to be accommodating to you?

You can say "but someone will change their mind because they will want to have a "better" desire" but when people are in love, many times they cannot imagine that falling out of love is a better desire. there is no solution to this. No consensus can be reached. Recognizing that sometimes, no consensus can be reached is necessary. Obviously in extreme cases like rape there is no consensus that will be reached, either. Some situations have no solution. To think otherwise is to be utopian.

Common preferences are not possible when I insist on making unreasonable demands of others. As long as I do that, I won't find any. But what if I stopped?

No common preference is reached in a rape because one of the parties is intentionally malicious. That is not the situation when parenting.


Elliot Temple on February 16, 2004

Comments (16)

No, attacking TCS is not fun. Making TCS stand up and be robust to attack IS fun.



I actually agree with TCS, but I find that the arguments used are pretty poor; they are not robust.



You may disagree that argument is a way to improve TCS's rhetoric. Okay, maybe. But if TCS is going to be rational, it's got to start by admitting the difficulty even humans have from separating out their own rational desires and their nonrational desires.



To your points:

Rational thought as a way to tell the difference between changing my desires and coercing them isn't going to work.



You can use rational thought to tell yourself that your desires Aren't workable, Aren't rational, aren't achievable, aren't helpful. This will NOT change your desires. You think it will? Then study more neuroscience, because this is incorrect.



You can then use rational thought to FORCE yourself to behave IN LINE with your rational thought, until some time later at which point the rational thought-married-with-action wins out, but it doesn't win out at the beginning.



For most people, it doesn't even win out then. The world of addiction demonstrates that lots of people can't just rationally think out what they should do and then do it.



This isn't the same with my arguments being poor. For example, someone may choose action because they don't like the pain they are feeling anymore. On a small scale, say, exercise pain. They don't want to continue to run because it hurts. Is it rational to stop running if running hurts? What if your goal is to be healthier, and in the long run, running produces the better goal in the end? The rationality changes with the scope of the goal. What if the way you make yourself run is by telling yourself that you're stupid and fat (even if you are not) and that you're a bad person going to hell if you don't run? What if this is the Only Way to make yourself run? For a great number of people, they *can't* tell that this kind of thought isn't rational.



Back to your original point, getting what one wants involves changing one's desires. Well, what if what you want is to be a doctor, but this is hard and painful for a variety of reasons. Is deciding not to be a doctor a rational decision, where you rationally changed your goals, or did you change the goal because you were weeping at night, afraid that you'd make a fool of yourself the next day on your exam, even though in fact, you'd have aced it? were you simply running away? Can you tell? It isn't obvious.



You say you should check whether you feel distressed. That sounds reasonable, but can't you feel distressed even if you weren't coerced? Aren't some things just hard and painful? And for children, i don't think children can tell. Perhaps the child is distressed from playing baseball because the child is teased by teammates. Perhaps the child is distressed playing baseball because the teacher demands better performance. Perhaps the child is distressed playing baseball because the child wants to be the best. Can the child tell the difference? Should the child quit baseball for these reasons? What if that would distress the child too?



You mention feeling conflicted and then rational thought. But rational thought while incredibly helpful, cannot tell you where your conflicts come from, if you don't already know. it can make up numerous possibilities, but how can you tell which are true?



The statement child should be free to disagree as a moral statement is not the same thing as the gravity. It might be irrational to want impossible things--but how can you tell what's impossible? Sure, building perpetual motion machines is impossible. But is winning the nobel prize impossible? not impossible, but highly unlikely. Is it irrational to want to win the nobel prize? Not if winning the nobel prize a) motivates future work positively, b) produces net positive effects. It is if wanting that causes other poor consquences. Obviously we can't tell ahead of time which is which, now, can we, or we'd all know what we were supposed to do and how to do it.



Your statement "it is immoral to desire to do things you should not do" is simply confusing. I don't know what you mean by "should". You think telling your children they "should" do things is immoral, too. You think one should rationally know what one 'should' not do, but TCS parents can't even come up with a list of things that children should be told not to do. If it were so rational, why the disagreement?



But there's a deeper issue. Humans don't have perfect knowledge. What seems rational given imperfect knowledge may not be rational given more knowledge. So it's not always possible to do the "moral" thing. This whole idea on how rationality alone will tell people how to change their minds toward rational choices doesn't address the fact that with imperfect knowledge, the "rational" choice may be not to try to do *anything*. Certainly, that is not truly moral.



I agree, it may be the case that what a child wants that makes them feel safer and what you want for them might coincide. But it might not. Maybe the child thinks "I don't want to play football because I might get hurt." Rationally, it's reasonable assume they will get hurt. High probability, they get hurt a little; low probability, they get hurt a lot. But is it rational to avoid an activity to avoid getting hurt? what if the person who taught them that they might can hurt was a parent, who in "being rational" scared the child about possible pain? What if they want to play, but are afraid of being hurt? How can the child tell what is a reasonable time to say no out of fear?



The real issue here is that the blanket assumption that providing what seems rational to adults will be understood that way by children could, in fact, be incorrect. Taking children seriously is not the same thing as taking them to be adults. An adult is quite capable of understanding stories about the possibility of terrorist attack and handling that fear, coupled with the rationality of the likelihood of that incident affecting them. Children don't have the same sense. They don't have the same security because they don't have the same autonomy.



(more to come, this post is LONG.)


foo at 1:35 AM on February 17, 2004 | #817

statement "parents should want that", in a realm where you say "parents telling their children that they should do X" is coercive is stunningly bizarre.



Apparently, what you mean is: "it is immoral for parents to do otherwise than X", and your argument about the parenting thing is "parents shouldn't make their children go to school because going to school is amoral at best.



Is that accurate?



I think I have it wrong, but I'm confused. Is the argument "parents shouldn't make their children go to school because making them do things is immoral, regardless of the thing" ?



This is the crux of what the many things I've read about TCS seems unable to get to. It seems that in fact, TCS is arguing the latter. But then sticking to obligations when they don't want to is immoral. But then you say i'm wrong for saying that--but you don't explain at all how this is consistent. Why are some the keeping of some obligations moral but not others? You said obligations aren't coercive. You said that people should do moral things, and it is immoral not to do the things they should do. But now you allow no enforcement mechanism? the enforcement of the morality is immoral, but the imposition of the original morality is moral? Is your issue that the obligation is moral, and sticking to the obligation is moral, but forcing your child to stick to the obligation is immoral? But didn't you say people should do what is moral?



or maybe that isn't what you meant. Maybe you interpret TCS to mean children shouldn't be made to do X,Y,Z when X,Y,Z are amoral. do I still have that wrong? In fact, TCS goes farther--not just to say that it's wrong to not make the children do something, but that even telling them that they SHOULD do something might be too close to making them do something (since telling them they should could be coercive, particularly to children.) but it IS okay for adults to tell other adults what they should do based on morality. Fine--so would you claim that TCS advocates telling children what they should do when it is a moral issue? Can you define the set of moral issues for me?



My issue is with the definition of coercion. The funny part is that the TCS faq doesn't define coercion. but the dictionary does. It defines it as the process of coercing; which it defines as to restrain or dominate by force, or to compel to an act or choice.



But where is the line between coercion and persuasion? If I tell you that you'll be a stupid child if you don't do X, or that you'll be ugly or fat, that isn't just persuasion to you, is it?



you say that obligations are not coercive. Well, what if when the obligation comes (the appt time by which I must leave in order to meet someone I said I would meet), I don't want to go? Maybe rationally going is a bad use of my time. Should I not go? Is that acceptable? Must I keep my obligations, even if my making them was irrational?



re: love and accommodation: if you love me so much why don't you want to be accommodating? Because that's not how the neurodynamics of love works. Period. Maybe the accommodation Isn't Rational. Certainly love isn't rational; it in fact precludes rationality from taking place in judgments all of the time.



My point again is that I don't think the semantics you presented are consistent. Self consistency, with a moral basis, would make TCS robust. For TCS to be robust, TCS must explain why how it can tell the difference between coercion and persuasion, or if it can't, it needs to assertively state so, and state that the goal of TCS is to try to avoid the grey-zone between the two, because defining the line is impossible.



The other issue is the moral issue of how it is possible that some obligations are moral while others aren't. Ignoring the fact that I still don't know what your basis for morality is, let alone if it's rational, I do not understand whether you believe that it would be moral to make your child do some moral thing, or prevent your child from some immoral thing.


foo at 2:08 AM on February 17, 2004 | #818

You may disagree that argument is a way to improve TCS's rhetoric.



Maybe, before you criticise TCS, you should try to understand it. For example you might join the TCS email list and hang around a while. If you'd done that, you would have noticed since November 2002 I have over 500 posts, which is more than one every day. The vast majority of them are arguments defending TCS. So I'm approximately the last person in the world that cheap shot ought to be directed at.



You might also, if you read much of my writing, notice that I generally emphasise that criticism should not be scary, should be welcomed, etc.. I point this out far more often than I mention the other side of the coin. I've even gotten flack for unbalanced emphasis that way. (There are arguments that pull both ways, and there is a correct way to act that takes them all into account, and what to emphasise depends on what the person I'm talking to seems to be missing.)



As to the rest, I haven't read it yet. I expect I'll say something later.


Elliot at 2:18 AM on February 17, 2004 | #819

Why do you insist that I haven't tried to understand it? What would convince you that I have?



I've read everything on Sarah Fitz-Claridge's web site. That means I've read all of the articles and months of the posts on that dicussion board site. I don't join mailing lists because that's just not something I do, but I found this site by reading other TCS blogs and those posts. Hence the comments!



Where is the cheap shot? Point it out to me.





Would telling you what I've read convince you i'm pro TCS? I've read numerous books by John Holt and others re: the problems in schooling. I know many things that David Deutsch has said in many fields including TCS. I have taught in college, tutored student in grammar school, junior and high school, and tried to teach high school teachers. In every single one of those venues, I have seen how teachers use coercion and witnessed the fear that it produces in children, and witnessed the wide variety of responses children have to that fear. I can extrapolate from watching parents how similar their own techniques must be to those teachers' techniques.



I still have a problem with your argument about having obligation being non coercive. the TCS FAQ

says: By "coercion" we mean (1) the psychological state of enacting one theory while a rival theory is still active in one's mind.



Clearly, having an obligation can be coercive by this definition. A person can have a theory in mind of their freedom to do X with their time; the existence of an obligation produces a rival theory while that wish/hope/idea about the freedom to do X is still in mind. Distress results.



Do you disagree with my example? or do you disagree with your defn, or with theirs?


foo at 2:40 AM on February 17, 2004 | #820

The email list is the only place you can expect to learn TCS. Perhaps that should be clearer. Sorry if you don't like email lists, but the board sucks. I skimmed some recent threads just now and I don't see any posts from competent TCSers. None. We don't go there. We post to the email list and sometimes talk on AIM.



The cheap shot I meant was exactly what I quoted. Specifically, implying I was unwilling or unable to argue my positions. If you give me a working email (you can make a new one [email protected] if you like for privacy) I'll be happy to send you hundreds of TCS posts. Then you can see these views are argued very thoroughly.


Elliot at 2:51 AM on February 17, 2004 | #821

obligations "can be" coercive. so can doors. neither has to be.


Elliot at 2:53 AM on February 17, 2004 | #822

parents should parent b/c it is their responsibility b/c of the specific choices they made (ie choosing to be a parent).



what choice do children make that means they should have to obey their parents? none! they don't choose that. parents have no right to ask them to surrender their autonomy.



statement "parents should want that", in a realm where you say "parents telling their children that they should do X" is coercive is stunningly bizarre.



I don't say that, though. I fully support giving children advice about what they should do. I just don't support being a dictator.





as to the rest, it's mostly vague questions such that any answer i give, you could add further details so i'd be wrong. the answer is, over and over, that it depends on the exact circumstances and that you haven't given me enough information.


Elliot at 3:12 AM on February 17, 2004 | #823

So you can't explain to me whether or not the moral issue behind TCS is that only the coercion at issue is the moral issue, or whether or not TCS is saying that certain acts are immoral or moral even if there were no coercion? why is this not something you can say without being reduced to a specific example? I guess I still don't see how persuasion isn't coercion; specific examples won't convince me that TCS has an answer, only that different people have different answers. i find that not robust enough. towards that end, i'll give you a lousy example. do you think a parent who says "Billy, you should brush your teeth" is or is not coercive? you think saying "bill, you should brush your teeth" is or is not moral?



you said above that it's moral to give advice. you claim that obligations aren't necessarily coercive. so you think the above sentence is moral and non coercive, right?



What if the reason the child does it then is to please the parent, who is telling them what they should do, not because they want to? What if the child is afraid of being immoral or disliked by the parent because the parent's disapproval hurts the child? Does that make the advice immoral or coercive? TCS claims that even if no distress is viewed, distress may still be present. How can you tell in this case? Is disapproval of the child for this behavior coercive or immoral? If the child asks why they should, is saying "because it's the moral thing to do" coercive or immoral? If the child asks why, and you say "because if you don't, you might get a cavity" coercive or immoral? Do you consider that rational? (certainly not brushing your teeth once is not going to make or break dental hygiene. would you explain at length to a child that over time, the habit of not brushing your teeth may cause your teeth to decay? What if the child says "but my teeth will fall out anyway?" Or was this not something that a child should do in the first place, regardless of its morality?)



i don't post real email addrs to blogs because the spam i used to get was already overwhelming that I use a challenge/response system to stop it; your mailing list will probably choke on it. I have to set it up to accept the mail in a certain way. i'll email you in the next few days once I figure out a solution.


foo at 4:10 AM on February 17, 2004 | #824

TCS does not say coercion is the only moral bad; TCS also says coercion is sometimes right (like in war; just not as part of parenting). I didn't say this before because I wasn't clear on your question.



in the context of most families, parents saying to children "you should brush your teeth" is a veiled order. if the parent actually just meant he thought it was a good idea, and the child understood this, it'd be fine. for example if I told my friend "you should watch Alias, it rocks!!!" it'd be clear I wasn't ordering, only advising, even though I used the same terminology coercive parents often do.



ok now what if my friend watches it just to please me, and not because he wants to? i guess he has some fucked up psychological complex. *shrug* what's your point?



telling children they might get a cavity if they don't brush their teeth is fine WRT (with regard to) coercion, but not very good advice. for example i rarely brush my teeth but have no cavities, so it's simply not very true. parents should try to give accurate advice.



that someone could be distressed and it not be obvious to an observer is trivially true. what's the problem?



if child says his teeth will fall out anyway, you should explain that *when* they fall out is important. for example if they are on schedule to fall out at age 40 he probably won't like that so much when he turns 40. on the other hand if they are scheduled to fall out at age 350, then it looks like he cleans his teeth plenty and will be a happier 40-year-old.



for email, why not just make a free yahoo or hotmail account to use just for this?


Elliot at 4:32 AM on February 17, 2004 | #825

grrrrr. limit all discussion of coercion and morality that i've mentioned here to parenting.



re: coercion: yes, TCS says that if in fact CPs can't be reached, (like, say, someone thinks it's perfectly reasonable to annihilate western civilization just because it's western civilization, or israel because it's israel) then coercion, like war makes sense. I concur. not what i'm talking about at all. not interested in debating that one way or another, either, if it turns out that TCS people don't think that. i'm sticking to the parenting issues in these posts.


foo at 4:42 AM on February 17, 2004 | #826

ok now what if my friend watches it just to please me, and not because he wants to? i guess he has some fucked up psychological complex. *shrug* what's your point?



That children aren't like friends. children are completely dependent upon their parents for their survival--physically, emotionally, intellectually--at least for the first n years, so their desire to please isn't a fucked up psych complex. it's self preservation.



I agree, in most families, "you should brush your teeth" is a veiled order. That's my point--How Can you Tell The Difference between you Offering Advice and a veiled order? More the point, HOW CAN THE CHILD? What's the difference, and why can't you enumerate it?



you said that in most families it's a threat. well, yes, and in most cases, obligations are coercive, but you argued against that becuase In the Abstraction, they don't have to be. Be consistent. In the abstraction, "you should brush your teeth" doesn't have to be a threat, so it isn't a threat definitionally.



But you ignored the question of whether that statement is moral or not. Are you saying that if it's a threat, it's not moral, but if it isn't a threat, it is?



You and I concurred on that parents should strive to be accurate. but the accuracy of the "because I would like it" isn't in doubt, either--is that coercive? is it moral? Further, I claim that the accuracy of many statements is lost in the nuance of the situation. We can't even achieve it here; how are you sure that the attempt to achieve it with children, while a good goal, won't cause more distress than it solves? If the kind of accurate information you give can't be understood probabilistically the way adults see it, how can that be helpful.



Having written all of this, I finally see hwat you want--for me to take this offline. okay, lemme see what I can do.


foo at 4:55 AM on February 17, 2004 | #827

was persistent about email not to get you out of comments, but rather b/c i'd prefer to mass forward email than to write it all again.


Elliot at 5:30 AM on February 17, 2004 | #828

That children aren't like friends. children are completely dependent upon their parents for their survival--physically, emotionally, intellectually--at least for the first n years, so their desire to please isn't a fucked up psych complex. it's self preservation.



it would not be self-preservation in a TCS family because children would have nothing to fear in terms of survival if they did not please their parents. TCS children could be confident that even if they upset their parents very much, they would still be supported. this is a possible way of life.



I agree, in most families, "you should brush your teeth" is a veiled order. That's my point--How Can you Tell The Difference between you Offering Advice and a veiled order? More the point, HOW CAN THE CHILD? What's the difference, and why can't you enumerate it?



children are people with brains, capable of rational thought. just as my friend can tell i'm not ordering him, so could my child. and in a household where there had never been an order, it wouldn't be hard to tell the difference, because it simply wouldn't be an order. just as children in normal households understand it's *always* an order, children in TCS households could understand it's always *not*.



it'd be pretty easy to tell the difference by watching whether or not the statement is enforced. children can tell if they are forced to comply or not.



you said that in most families it's a threat. well, yes, and in most cases, obligations are coercive, but you argued against that becuase In the Abstraction, they don't have to be. Be consistent. In the abstraction, "you should brush your teeth" doesn't have to be a threat, so it isn't a threat definitionally.



whether something is a threat depends not on the words used by the meaning communicated. the same words can have different meanings in different contexts. so if you ask if some words are a threat or not out of context I won't be able to tell you for sure.



You and I concurred on that parents should strive to be accurate. but the accuracy of the "because I would like it" isn't in doubt, either--is that coercive? is it moral?



Parents with strong preferences about what their children do will tend to be coercive because, for example, this might happen:



A) child wants to do X which is contradictory to parent's preference

B) child wants to be supported in X



now if parent can't let go of his preference, and hasn't got good enough arguments to persuade child he is right, there's gonna be a problem.



btw it's also true *in general* that it's a bad idea to have a strong preferences about what other people do. these preferences tend to be very difficult to realise and thus will often end in disappointment.



Further, I claim that the accuracy of many statements is lost in the nuance of the situation. We can't even achieve it here; how are you sure that the attempt to achieve it with children, while a good goal, won't cause more distress than it solves? If the kind of accurate information you give can't be understood probabilistically the way adults see it, how can that be helpful.



I meant accuracy as in truth. We ought to say things that are true not false.



As to accuracy as in amount of detail, there is a possible way of communicating the correct about of detail to child for child's problem situation. and there are lots of easy error correction methods. like if child looks bored that's a sign of too much detail. or if child asks for more details that's a sign of too little.


Elliot at 6:06 AM on February 17, 2004 | #829

Elliot the boy wonder wrote:



"...but the board sucks. I skimmed some recent threads just now and I don't see any posts from competent TCSers. None. We don't go there."



hilarious! My, you are full of yourself, aren't you elliot?


a competent TCSer at 7:36 AM on February 18, 2004 | #830

Very brave of you.


Elliot at 9:22 AM on February 18, 2004 | #831

I actually checked for posts by you. But apparently you didn't use your real name, so my check came up negative.


Elliot at 9:30 AM on February 18, 2004 | #832

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)