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Should my posts ever seem to contradict each other you have two choices: believe the most recent post, or think about it yourself. You can apply the same options when I seem to be mistaken, if you like. The most recent post then would refer to the one you are reading and think is dumb, since it's the only one in the relevant set.

TCS does have some constant points, which I alluded to in saying there is a present day group of people who are identifiably "TCS". Should they give up the constant points, they'd probably think they should give up the name too.

But the constant points are not, as I also mentioned, the sort of things you'd expect. There are no prescribed behaviors. Common debates on the TCS email list include the merits of TV, ice cream, no bed times, and home schooling. But if we turn out to be wrong and TV really is harmful that won't make TCS wrong. The TV thing is just our best ideas about TV, not a necessary part of TCS.

The more constant things are much more abstract. TCS says that morality is a type of knowledge and that the same laws of epistemology (study of knowledge) which apply to knowledge in general also apply to moral knowledge. It is also committed to parenting according to rational principles and not, say, parochial ageism -- this is part of a general commitment to *living* rationally. TCS is also generally committed to the idea that the laws of epistemology are Popperian (roughly: evolutionary).

None of these things are especially about children or parenting. But TCS is about how they apply to parenting. When we apply them we reach conclusions like TV being good. We might have applied them wrong. Maybe they are true and TV is bad. That'd be our mistake but not any fault of TCS's core ideas.

I'd like here to say something like, "so, for example, if X was true, then TCS could be essentially given up on. the world would not be the way we think it is. it'd be like y." but the problem is there are no rival theories to Popperian epistemology which make even the slightest bit of sense. I don't mean to express any sort of certainty that Popperian epistemology is correct. it's just there aren't any respectable rivals today. i think we're lucky to have one sensible theory -- 100 years ago we had zero (well we had the beginnings).

let's talk about disobedient children now and ways of exercising authority.

hitting people is good for obedience. it has its flaws -- they might disobey when they think you won't find out. but essentially it is effective. people don't like being hit. they will go to a lot of trouble to avoid it.

the standard theme in parenting advice, historically, has been if you hit your kids early they become obedient quickly and you don't have to hit them very many times.

recently hitting has been confined largely to spanking. people say two different things about spanking. one is that it helps improve obedience, even if you only do it once or twice. well they usually don't put it quite like that. they might say it improves behavior. but they are judging the improved behavior in terms of which behaviors the parent finds pleasing. so that means good behavior consists of obedience to the parents wishes. the second thing they say is spanking your kid just a few times isn't cruel. if he's very young he will hardly remember later. it's just a very temporary pain. no big deal. but the behavioral improvements will be lasting.

this is kind of contradictory. how can the behavior improvements last if the fear does not?

i think what happens is the fear becomes less explicit. child isn't thinking to himself all the time "if i better do X or i'll get spanked". he doesn't verbally complain about spankings. but he is in the habit of obedience and has vague fears of doing otherwise. of course parents do many things to encourage this. vague threats are very common. "you better not do X". why not? what, exactly, will parent do if you disobey? almost all parental commands are backed up, implicitly, by some threat of force, but it's vague what it will be, and it frequently does not come to that.

other force parents use is time outs. these are supposed to be more humane than hitting children. as i understand it they originated as a "time out from love and affection" essentially. they are absolutely a tool for controlling and manipulating children. if you notice your kid really values your kindness, affection, warmness, etc, then you just take it away when he doesn't do what you want. sigh.

now let's stop and think a moment. these sorts of use of force are common expressions of authority. we sort of take for granted they actually have something to do with authority. but do they? parents aren't able to hit their kids due to parental wisdom. it's b/c the parent is bigger. how is the authority of a parent's intelligence being shown or used in any sort of punishment of discipline?

maybe a parent could claim that he uses his great wisdom to decide which punishments will be good. ok but good for what? the options are:

- obedience
- education
- other types of good things in the child's life such as not being arrested or killed

as i mentioned punishments are pretty good for causing obedience. but that's bad! obedience isn't a rational way of life. it presupposes the parent is right. it doesn't allow for making mistakes and learning from them. it doesn't allow for discussion, questioning, and criticism.

how does obedience function, really? well say parent wants child to eat more carrots, and child thinks they taste bad. well, then child has to eat them. never do they communicate about how important the reason to eat carrots is and compare that to how important the dislike of carrot flavor is. how can the parent know he's right without such a comparison? he doesn't know how they taste to the child -- he doesn't know what it's like to eat them. the only way to really figure out what's best is to communicate about the issues so one person can understand the points on both sides and compare. i'm not saying if you do that you are guaranteed to find a good answer, i'm just saying if you don't do that you can't possibly find a good answer except by pure dumb luck.

what about education? are punishments educational? parents often say, "go sit over there and *think about what you did*".

well the first thing to consider is if punishments are educational *in general* then shouldn't we use them with adults too? you and I should wish to be punished in educational ways. stop reading this and go have a time out. pretty silly concept, isn't it? adults don't learn by being ordered about and made to suffer. they learn from good explanations and from choosing to reflect on things. also from practice and such.

so if punishments are obviously no educational with adults why should they educate children? what on earth is it that not only makes suffering educational but makes it only educational for young, small, weak people who just happen to have parents who want obedience?

while there may be a good answer to that, it certainly isn't a well known part of modern thought. if we don't have the answer *already* then all that punishing of children can't possibly be justified by a rational expectation of it being educational.

as far as keeping the child from dying and such, that is essentially an attempted justification for making children obedient. then you can order them not to drink sweet sweet draino and they will obey. if we are going to claim making children obedient is good then fine, but let's be clear about what we are doing.

obedient children is not the best way to keep them safe. as i mentioned earlier, they won't obey when they think they won't be caught. and they won't obey any more when they grow up. the only thing, ultimately, that can keep people safe is knowledge of dangers. and the best way to have a child with a lot of knowledge is absolutely not to expect obedience. it is to have an attitude of being open to discussion and debate. people learn far more when they can discuss the merits of things and ask for your reasons and have their own reasons taken seriously and be given criticism of them.

it may be hard to recognize, in modern society, the sort of obedience that is expected of children and is common. many old types are fading. chores are only a remnant of what they once were. fathers no longer choose the husband of their daughter and take it for granted that she will go along with it (and will also obey her husband once married. sigh. stupid past.)

what do parents want today? well they say things like they want a good kid. they probably want good grades, or at least respectable. they probably want to keep him safe, which means to them things like having a curfew and not letting him be friends with bad influences who might do drugs or get drunk or something. some want polite, "respectful" children. parents want their children's love. most want to be called "mom" or something else which is not their first name. most want their child to go to school. and they want him to succeed in a career and "be happy".

all of this sounds sort of pleasant when you say it like this. they are trying to look out for their kids, and help them, aren't they? well, each of these things is a potential for disagreement, and a potential place a parent might want obedience without having to defend his view in debate (which, perhaps, he cannot do).

a good kid -- good natured, fun loving, happy, well rounded, and many more positive traits -- means a child who agrees with certain values. when a child is not "good" there are two possibilities. one is that he's making mistakes while trying to do it. but in that case obedience is useless b/c even if you order him to be good what difference will it make? he's already trying and just doesn't know how. the other possibility is there is something about being "good" that he doesn't like or want, so he's avoiding it on purpose. why would that be? well the conception of a "good" kid people have is very complex and detailed -- there's a lot there. plenty of room for differences of opinion. especially if there are no open discussions to clear up misunderstandings and give reasons which is how you can rationally reduce differences of opinion by coming to agree. so if there is a difference of opinion child might seem "bad" in parents eyes -- he keeps not doing as expected and as parent thinks is best. parent might be frustrated and then think his child isn't listening and then want obedience (he might not even think of it as obedience, but you can see how he could unconsciously want something like that).

what about grades? well we all know a lot of people don't like school and find it unpleasant and aren't learning much. also a lot of teachers aren't very good, and sometimes are arbitrary, capricious, and unfair. getting good grades in every class might not be best. especially if child isn't very interested in what that class is teaching. so again we find room for a parent to want obedience, and to think to himself he's just helping his child, when really he might be fighting to make his child do something which isn't best. the rational thing isn't to assume of the child is right, of course, it is to seek the truth of who is right. and that has to be done without any use of authority. if you're such an expert just say and think wise things and you'll both find the truth faster, whatever it is.

what about keeping kid "safe"? well basic things tend to be easy to agree on. people rarely fight over whether it's ok to tie yourself to a stake and light a bonfire. common issues are more like curfews where it is not at all obvious to child that there is any serious danger of anything more than fun. or maybe "danger" of alcohol -- but to child that isn't a danger b/c no one will force him to drink he will only drink if he chooses to. (yes i know child may be pressured to drink but it is ultimately his decision and he also chose to have those friends b/c he thinks it is best). whether there are safety concerns or not there is easily room for a parent to want obedience here after he finds it hard to persuade his child.

being polite is a specific case of the issue of being conventional. most people are conventional, and don't see how life could be otherwise, and condemn other ways of life. children who haven't had a given convention entrenched in their mind often won't want to obey it. this causes disputes with parents. conventions tend to be short on good reasons, so parents are very tempted to want obedience even if they can't give good reasons.

i may be wrong about politeness. maybe it has more merit than i see. and certainly i don't advocate complete rudeness. i just think a fair amount of politeness is unnecessary waste of time and energy. but anyway the point isn't really whether i'm right or wrong about any particular convention, nor whether it's good or bad. the point is the logic of the situation tempts parents to desire obedience. and the rational thing to do capable of discovering the truth of what is right is not obedience. obedience never ever finds the truth. how could it?

ok enough examples you get the idea. there are lots of temptations for obedience today. so any sort of punishments don't find the truth, and don't seem to be educational with adults. and how could they be educational? sitting in the corner is rather different than reading a math book. while sitting there you might think of a good idea. but the corner isn't going to tell you one. when you are hit again the hitting doesn't tell you any good ideas. it just pressures you to come up with ideas about how to please the people hitting you so they stop -- obedience.

another type of punishment is various types of "consequences". if you get up late you have to walk to school. if you stay up too late playing video games you can't watch TV for a week. if you lie to your parent you can't see your friends for a month.

sometimes they are "natural" consequences which are supposed to be justified by being natural parts of the action, but which in fact can easily be avoided by parenting choosing to avoid them.

these consequences are sort of manipulative. you get child to relate waking up late and having to walk, for example. but those don't really have anything to do with each other. it's a very weird life where these arbitrary things are tied together.

and they are clearly punishments. they are things the child doesn't want, and which the parent just does to him to make him suffer and to make him obedient. how do we know it's for obedience? well parent wants thing 1 so he threatens thing 2. these consequences are never about convincing. they aren't reasons thing 1 is best. they are just threats of the nasty stuff parent will do if child doesn't do what parent wants done.

and they are clearly not educational. say waking up early has merit but child doesn't see this. how is threatening him with walking around going to show him the merit? it isn't an explanation of the merit.

we could claim that child might learn the merits himself by trying it, and the point is just to get him to try it. in fact that must happen sometimes. but is threats the best way to get child to try something? won't he learn more easily if he's going into it with an open mind trying to learn?

of course if child would try it just because he was asked that would probably happen. so issue number one is parent either can't give any reasons it's probably worth trying or he just doesn't want to bother b/c he's used to obedience and finds that easier (it means he has to think less). that's no way to find the truth. maybe the reasons are hard to give because there aren't any. and issue number two is if child doesn't want to try it that is because child sees benefits to something else. if you threaten him and make him obey you are taking away those benefits that he believes the alternative has. you are depriving him of the good things he believes his preferred lifestyle has. and how do you know you are right to do that? the only way to get a good sense is to have an open discussion and communicate the merits of each approach and compare to see which is better. if you try to do that you still might not agree -- which is evidence that either it's hard to see the answer (so you shouldn't be so sure of yourself) or someone is being irrational (which could be you, so again don't be so sure of yourself. i know you're saying it's not you. but imagine if you did have an irrational idea in you. you'd probably still say you didn't, right? because they usually make you blind to their presence.) the bottom line is anything that doesn't communicate the rival ideas and compare them -- such as threats of consequences -- can't possibly be a good way of seeking and finding the truth of the matter of what is best. and if you aren't striving to find what's best, aren't you in a really poor position to be demanding obedience?

Elliot Temple on July 13, 2007


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