This post is about Taking Children Seriously (TCS) and what it was like before my leadership. This is primarily interesting because of the value of TCS's bold conjectures about how to apply Critical Rationalism to parenting and education. I'm secondarily bringing it up because some people today are unfamiliar with TCS and other ideas from David Deutsch (DD) and make ignorant, incorrect assumptions about what it's like. E.g. Bruce Nielson posted to The Beginning of Infinity forum in 2018:
Thanks Elliot for the excellent and thoughtful feedback. I'll try to come up with a new version that improves the problems of the existing version.
I joined [FI]. I hope to be an active participant.
You can read my free DD/CR (David Deutsch and Critical Rationalist epistemology) help, which Bruce was so thankful for, at Critical Rationalism Epistemology Explanations.
Although it's been a year and a half, and Bruce said he would follow up, he hasn't. It appears to have been his first attempt at online DD/CR discussion and it went nowhere due to his own disinterest and inactivity. Fine, but then why is he now a manager at an online DD/CR discussion group that is attempting to splinter the community and sideline FI? He's a newcomer who hasn't yet succeeded at his first productive DD/CR discussion, but now he's taking on a leadership role?
Some people commenting on this problem (which Bruce won't engage in problem solving about, but I have) think I and other FI posters are too harsh. They seem to conclude (without specifically stating and arguing it, and without involving facts), that FI's posts are different than a non-coercive-and-problem-solving focused philosophy like DD's TCS. Therefore FI can't really be a continuation of DD's thought and community. So let's take a look at some posts from before I joined the community. What sort of community did I join, learn the culture of, and am now continuing? I think if people knew what the TCS forum was actually like, and what DD was actually like, they would agree that I and FI are milder successors.
1996, full post from a TCS leader (minus names):
I subscribed to this listserv several weeks ago and have been lurking for some time. The name of this listserv caught my attention because I am a public school educator who is interested in changing my teaching and classroom management methods to a more child - directed approach.
Then your only possible course of action is to
- resign at once,
- take up a morally justifiable profession,
- become good at it, and
- be prepared to welcome children into your working environment, answer their questions and pass on your knowledge and skills to them if they ask you to.
Save yourself if you still can, [name]. I'm not joking.
1998, part of a post from a TCS leader:
Or are all of you against public school? My daughter (13 years old) is a homeschooler, but I am studying elementary education. I want to use non-coercive techniques in my classroom--basically because I realize that the idea that a teacher can control any student's behavior is a myth. Behavior can only be controlled by the "behaver" (the person doing the behaving)!
I think you're mistaken. If this were really true, most of the children in your classroom would simply get up and walk out. The fact that none of them do -- until the instant that you give them permission to -- despite the fact that throughout the lesson many of them are painfully yearning to do so, is one token of the fact that you are controlling them.
2000, full post from a TCS leader:
Could someone help me? How do you discipline a child that has got in the habit of throwing temper tantrums, when she doesn't get her way? It's becoming a common practice for my daughter to fallout wherever she is(public, home or daycare), which is very embarrassing. HELP!
That's a tough one, but I think this may be one of those rare cases where a sound thrashing might actually help. You may think that that would be illegal, but not if you arrange things properly. This is what you do:
Visit a bar in the sleaziest part of town, and employ the largest, strongest man you can find. (With a little bit of luck, he may well be willing to do this job without payment.) Introduce him to your daughter and explain to her that this is being done for her own good, and that it will hurt you much more than it hurts her. Explain to her that this nice man's job is to follow you and her around wherever you go. He will be unobtrusive and helpful, unless and until your daughter throws one of her tantrums. At that point he will step politely forward and beat the shit out of you.
Then the tantrums will soon go away.
1996, full post from a TCS leader, italics in original, bold added for emphasis:
People often complain that I lack respect in my posts. They accuse me of not "practising what I preach". They suggest that I should "teach" non-coercive educational theory by "example", and only post "non-coercive" messages. In practice this means that if I post anything other than soothing, dishonest, posts that are "accepting" of tyranny and coercion, I am being "coercive" to those whose posts I criticise. Certain posters have criticised my "lack of tolerance" over and over again, and called me "hateful" and "vengeful" and any number of colourful epithets in their attempts to show me (respectfully, by example, presumably?) the error of my ways.
But whenever I ask them whose rights they think I am violating, they decline to comment.
Perhaps they feel uncomfortable about admitting that logically their criticism of me in such cases amounts to a defence of tyranny.
I respect people whom I consider worthy of respect. I do not respect tyranny; I do not respect organisations like the KKK; I do not respect harmful human institutions whose existence is inimical to the growth of knowledge and thus to human happiness. I think these things are objectively wrong. So when I read posts advocating coercion or proudly detailing vile schemes to manipulate children into states of mind that are bad for them, I wish to express my contempt, and I wish to argue against these proposals. Ridicule is, as [another TCS leader] pointed out recently, an effective weapon against tyranny, and I shall continue to use it. I do not apologise for being honest.
I am often told that in order to change minds, I need to adopt a soothing, respectful tone, and cut the contumely. The thing is, changing minds in that sense is not my aim. I am not interested in placing people into a state of mind pre-determined by me, if the only way I can no this is to mislead them. It is all too easy to lull people into the appearance of agreeing by deliberately equivocating about what the words they are mouthing mean. These are manipulative aims, and I have already said I abhor coercion. Indeed, the whole idea that it might be possible to coerce someone into non-coercion is incoherent.
If someone says something false, or wicked, against which I believe I have a good argument, I want to put that argument to them and to others who might be subject to similar errors. If someone reports horrible things they have done to their children, seeking (and invariably getting) praise, justification and encouragement to do more of the same, I want to say "no, this is wrong". If there is any changing of minds that I am hoping for in connection with my arguments, it is the person himself changing his own mind, through his own thinking.
My purpose in posting (including this little post) is to support those who already feel that coercion is bad. Sometimes one feels something to be wrong but does not know why it is wrong. Sometimes it helps to know explicitly why something is wrong. (Sometimes people think "A-ha! Of course!" when they read explicit arguments against things they already felt in their guts to be wrong.) And of course when I write these scathing, "unacceptable" posts, I nearly always get messages from people saying "thank you so much for saying that" -- so I get to "meet" new sympathetic others. Advocates of coercion can find support everywhere. Those who are struggling to make their relationships consensual can't.
Note that I am never disrespectful in response to posts from people saying that they consider coercion is bad, but they do not currently have the knowledge of how to find consent in such-and-such an area (but are trying to learn). We are all in that position. We are all fallible and we all make mistakes. If someone seems genuinely to want to find consent-based solutions, I am always deeply respectful. That is because I feel deeply respectful. But ask me to be deeply respectful to a tyrant and I'll metaphorically spit in your face. If I did less I might be betraying the child who is suffering behind the tyrant's sugar-coated self-justification, and certainly the readers out there who want to read the truth, for once, unalloyed.
As you can see, some of the recent complaints are nothing new. They are to be expected, as a TCS leader explained in 2001 shortly after I joined:
[A TCS leader] wrote:
Have you noticed it says ...
the socialists Sarah Lawrence, David Deutsch, and Kolya Wolf
It's not the first time I have been branded a "socialist". Makes you wonder if the person who wrote that was on something when he or she read up on us, doesn't it? You'd think he or she might be slightly embarrassed about being so mind-bogglingly ill-informed, wouldn't you? 8-)
People have described me as "a sad collectivist", "right-wing", "PC", "a fascist", "a Randroid", and "an anarchist" (and no, they didn't mean an anarcho-capitalist). (Also, "subjectivist", "relativist", "moralistic", "amoral", "irrational", "a cold rationalist", and so on...)
Still, never mind, I have also been branded "full of original sin," and "a libertine"... but also "a do-gooder" and according to some interent authorities, I am "on a different planet" and "a joke".
Many have said that I "have clearly no experience of children", "obviously don't have children", "have obviously never come within a hundred miles of any living kid"; others have branded me "a progressive parent".
And then there was the argument about whether I am "a cow", "a cow with udders for brains" or "a cow with BSE".
So if "socialist" is the worst they can come up with, well hey, I think that's a distinct improvement. 8-)
I was informed only last month that I'm "nutty", that I "don't make a lot of sense", that my "philosophy is neurotic", that I'm "hysterical", that my "reading comprehension could use some work", that I have a "hysterical point of view", that my "reading comprehension is really in the dirt", that I am "screwed up psychologically" and:
"pseudo intellectual b.s."
"This is all coming out of your bu*t."
"You just seem to have some kind of... problem."
"You just don't seem to understand anything at all."
"Actual real mature grown ups (unlike yourself)"
"You just seem to have a personal problem."
"You are clearly hysterical and a crack pot."
"You have some other personal problem that you, really, should get help
"your own hysterical interpretation"
"You're on medication, aren't you"
"This is clearly delusional"
"You are either sick or the concepts you are trying to critique are
too deep for you."
"From that place you go to when you run out of meds?"
"You are an idiot."
"You just have a chip on your shoulder."
"you don't seem to get anything."
"the keeper of this website is clearly floating around in their own warped
"You spout a bunch of words"
"you don't know what you're saying"
"you don't know what others are saying"
"you're not even aware of how obvious you are. Sad."
"just some nut with a personal problem."
What provokes this hatred and vilification -- and blind misunderstanding?
I think it's this: someone who is far in advance of most people about an important moral issue is likely not to be understood at first, and in the meantime, to be hated and vilified just as much as someone who is egregiously wrong. How could it be otherwise?
If you don't like DD's ideas like TCS, that is your right. For those who do want to learn about DD's ideas – the ideas of the person who wrote two great books, hundreds of blog posts, and thousands of discussion forum posts – join the FI forum.