I wrote this privately in Feb 2009. I've made minor edits.
Dear Lurkers (yes, you),
Figuring things out is hard. And fooling ourselves is easy. (This is a paraphrase of Feynman, one of the best philosophers of the 20th century.)
A truly wise man knows how ignorant he is. (This is a theme of Socrates.)
I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth. (Popper)
Through seeking we may learn, and know things better... (Xenophanes)
If you think you know how to parent without hurting your children, and haven't written a thousand posts about it, then you are probably violating these quotes.
It certainly took me a lot more than a thousand posts to figure out what I know today. David Deutsch too. Do you think you're a lot smarter than us, and a much faster learner?
If you are, that's great, please go invent something better than quantum computers and TCS. Then write a better book than The Fabric of Reality. If you're taking requests, start by defeating aging.
Back to parenting: what I know today is, in my view, insufficient. Parenting and education is a hard problem in the mundane sense of needing a lot of practical knowledge. And it's a hard problem in the sense that most people fail badly. And it's a hard problem in the sense that commonsense gets a lot of things about it wrong and advanced philosophy is required to correct those errors. And it's a hard problem because many mistaken ideas about it are entrenched traditions and seem obviously true. And it's a hard problem in the sense that many people see some of these dangers, and think they can do better, but fail to; it's very common to think you are different and still fail. There are also misconceptions about education built into the English language. And there is also constant pressure from your own parents, and friends, and neighbors, and sometimes Government officials, and school teachers, and well everyone, to do a wide variety of things that your children won't like. Also, sometimes these people will try to coerce your children, so there is the added problem of protecting children.
Parenting is also a hard problem because our own parents hurt us in such a way as to make us bad at parenting, and irrational at thinking about parenting and evaluating our knowledge of it. If your instinct is to deny this, that is a major indication that you will be a bad parent. If you intellectually will admit this, but still have the emotional instinct to deny it, then again you should expect to hurt your children. Just changing intellectual theories, but not intuitive reactions, emotions, and how you live life on autopilot by default, and thus being a person always in conflict, simply isn't good enough.
Fully non-coercive parenting is a harder problem. How many people here could even explain what coercion is accurately and answer questions? Hardly anyone. Few people have been interested enough to think about it a lot and ask lots of questions about it and try to talk about it frequently over the course of years. I also think it's implausible that someone who never tried to write an essay on it actually understands it.
It's easy to think you agree with and understand something. It's easy to miss things and not notice you missed anything. It's easy to fool ourselves. What's harder is to take the knowledge you think you have and apply it, and also explain it to others, and persuade people who disagree. If you really understand morality and epistemology well, you should be able to actually do things in real life that normal people can't do, such as change your emotional makeup from whatever it is to what you actually think is a good idea, or break your bad habits (bad in your view) without feeling bad, and many more things which, if you can't think of them yourself, you still have a lot more to learn.
(If you think some of these things are not desirable, then you definitely ought to post at least a little more. Why don't you write a post to try to settle the disagreement? To be confident in your view, and not feel an urgent need to learn more about our disagreement, you better have some significant and clearly thought out criticisms of my view. So post those, just to make sure I'll concede, and won't have anything to say that you hadn't thought of. If you don't feel the need to post ideas to be criticized, just in case others know something you don't, then you are not respecting the difficulty of finding things out.)
Maybe you are all having wonderful conversations IRL where you learn a lot. But I doubt it (I mean you probably have some, but not enough). Non-coercive parenting is extremely unpopular. It's hard enough to find any conversations about it on the whole internet, let alone in your neighborhood. And that's any serious conversation with interested people at all. Finding people who also know something about Popper and philosophy -- enough to have thoughts about education that actually engage with important questions -- is much harder.
Parenting is of course not the only issue. For example, non-coercive adult to adult relationships are very important as well. You will coerce your spouse unless you have quite a lot of knowledge of how to avoid doing so. I needn't list any more. Try to rattle off a dozen more danger areas in a couple minutes. If you can, you've listed them for me. If you can't, then certainly you don't know enough to avoid harming and wronging people you interact with. (What? You thought you could be a decent, peaceful, nice person without knowledge?).
If you'd like to post, but don't know what to post, then you have a problem. So ask a question about that. Or consider a common problem and try to figure out if you have it and how it can be solved. Or take a post and try to understand it, and if you don't get all of it, then ask a question, and if you think you do get all of it, then post some further implications, or even better ideas on the same topic, or something like that.
If you're bad at writing, don't worry, everyone is born that way. You just need a combination of practice, thinking about it, and educational resources. Here are some guidelines to get you started:
- focus on expressing one idea at a time, very clearly
- short sentences
- no fancy words
- short paragraphs
- simple sentence structure
- content matters more than form or style
- don't try to impress anyone
- omit anything unnecessary
- avoid meta discussion
- include an example
- when in any doubt about the meaning of a word, check the dictionary or don't use it
- short is better, but harder. don't try for length, but don't worry if it ends up long
- misunderstandings are very common, and will happen, so don't get discouraged or pessimistic. if someone misunderstands then try to clarify
- if someone says something abstract that's hard to understand, ask for a simple, practical example
- above all, never write a list
FYI, the last item on the list is a joke. Jokes frequently cause miscommunications, and this joke was misunderstood by at least one person who actually said so (people usually don't tell you when they don't understand you). A better tip is to avoid jokes if you want to be understood.
Although this post focuses mostly on parents, the issues apply to everyone. Knowledge helps you hurt yourself and others less. Choosing not to seek knoweldge means choosing to hurt people, including yourself. (I think you should especially care about hurting yourself, but many people think they care more about hurting others. Anyway both matter.)