Taking Children Seriously (TCS) is a philosophy of parenting and education. But it's bad to label it. It isn't one set of opinions that you may or may not agree with. It isn't meant to be a particular school of thought or camp. Other parenting labels advocate specific actions and are tied to those actions. Attachment Parenting wants more parent/child touching, co-sleeping, babies in slings, and things like that. It's a set of ideas you might agree with, and might disagree with. Homeschooling is about taking kids out of school. If your kids go to school you aren't a homeschooler, even if it is morally right that your kids go to school -- perhaps because they want to for a good, thought out reason.

TCS isn't about doing a specific thing and if it's right to do something else you must give up on TCS. It's a different sort of thing. TCS is a set of ideas about what *is* right. If we were to change our mind about what was right, we'd also change our mind about what TCS is. That means it can't turn out to be wrong, at least in the long run, because it will change. No valid criticism of TCS can stay true over time because TCS will change so that is no longer a valid criticism of it.

This all sounds a bit unfair. Like TCS is cheating because it wants to win no matter what. And that gets back to the original point: labeling it is misleading. No one thinks it is unfair that our best ideas of parenting should be continually updated. The only thing that's unfair is calling the best ideas TCS, saying we invented it (or that Sarah did), and trying to take credit for "TCS" even as it changes.

But, there really is a distinct set of good ideas about parenting, which are unpopular or unknown in general, and which are advocated by the TCS movement. The present state of those ideas certainly has flaws and will be superseded. But, at present, it is important, and it's hard to refer to otherwise.

Anyway, this is all about terminology, and a bit dull. The important thing is: what *are* the best ideas of parenting and education that we know of? And we might also wonder why they aren't very popular, and what is the history of the presently dominant parenting ideas, and other fun things like that.

First I want to say that some good parenting ideas are popular. I respect the progress that has been made. We take for granted, today, in the USA, that we should buy things that our children want, and help them to learn, and help them to be happy, and help them to become independent. Each of those has some limits placed on it, but still those are great things. Think of what are goals are *not*. We do not spend all our time teaching conformity and obedience (although parents do expect a certain amount of obedience and discipline, and often encourage conformity, sometimes unintentionally). We do not approve of forcing children to work for our benefit (chores being only a minor exception). We do not, generally, decide what our child should (must) be, and his place in life, independent of his wishes, and force it upon him. We do not foist arranged marriages on our children. We don't mutilate female genitalia.

One thing that is helpful to know about these new and (I claim) better parenting ideas is that many are not full descriptions of how to live. And this also relates back to, above, why TCS does not prescribe particular behaviors and link itself to them. TCS is more about suggested policies of behavior, and it is up to you to decide which particular actions are appropriate within the bounds of the general policies which are right. And it also has many criticisms of present day behaviors, often with no particular alternative given. If this sounds a bit unhelpful, don't worry. There is ample advice about how to think such that you come up with great ideas, and there are explanations of why no alternatives to many parenting practices are needed.

Thanks for bearing with me so long. One of the problems is it is difficult to figure out where to start. There is a big picture, but when you talk about it then it sounds a bit like boasting. But if you talk about the fine details it may not be clear why they are important.

So, let's consider punishment, aka "discipline". Parents generally make some rules, set some limits, some boundaries. And they make requests to their children, and expect certain attitudes like politeness and a degree of obedience. Sometimes this is hidden. Parents often will tell a child it is bad to do a certain thing, and that he must do something else. They expect obedience and become very frustrated if child does not comply. It seems to them child is being intentionally wicked and is a trouble maker. It is good to have reasons for parental commands, such as an appeal to morality, but that doesn't make them any less of commands.

There are two major issues here so let's try to separate them. One is the obedience itself. It's the idea of parental authority -- a legitimate right to command the ignorant child. The other issue is what do parents do if their child is disobedient. They discipline or punish him. Sometimes they plead, or try to make him feel guilty, or other unpleasant things. Those things are designed to control the behavior of the child just as much as a punishment is.

So, authority. Why should a parent have authority? Well, maybe because he knows more. Compared to a young child, a parent is an expert at most stuff. There is really a big difference. Another possible justification is that the parent is bigger and stronger -- he can use force. This is not a good reason, but it's worth mentioning and rejecting because the idea comes up sometimes. Consider a time out. The justification might be that the parent is smarter, wiser, and therefore correct and the child needs to learn to do the thing the parent knows is right. But whatever we might think of that, the form a time out takes is forcing a child to sit in his room or in the corner. So the form of the authority -- force -- does not match the claimed justification very well. If the thing that sets parent and child apart is intelligence then why is the parent using force instead of his mind? Why doesn't he best the disobedience child with rhetoric? With criticism of child's actions? With powerful, undeniable good reasons? People will say it is because the child does not listen. But first, punishing child is a very poor way to make them listen. It turns them against you because it hurts them, which is its purpose. And second, children do listen sometimes, especially when they think you're being helpful. If you're so much smarter and wiser, and especially if you have great knowledge of the issue child is being punished regarding, then that is all the more reason you should be able to talk so child will want to listen, because you have such good things to say.

Authority is never a valid way to argue, you know. Just because I have this fancy blog doesn't make me right. People with college degrees make mistakes. Kings too. Priests too. Experts of all sorts are wrong sometimes. We all know this. If you say you're right because you have authority, so listen to me, you're just being a jerk. You can't say that to people. What you need to do is give a reason you are right -- and one the other person can understand. If you can't give one they can understand -- maybe you say it's too complicated -- then why would they listen to you? A real expert would be so good at his field he could give a summary. It might be missing a lot of details, but it's something.

This is important stuff. If your car mechanic says "I'm a mechanic and I know best" you wouldn't trust him. You don't to find a better mechanic who will treat you like a thinking person and explain his recommendation, and then let you make the final decision if you want the expensive stuff he suggests.

If your college professor makes a claim about a philosopher that you don't agree with, and he says he's right because he's the professor, that's a bad teacher. You shouldn't listen to him. Do your own research and make up your own mind. A good professor with a good point would convince you he was right.

There's one exception. Parents don't have to give reasons. "Because I said so." is an approved sentence. It was even featured in marketing by Apple Computer, which demonstrates that it doesn't offend a significant amount of people. There's a movie by the name now, too.
Because You Said So
More flexible parental controls in Leopard mean you can place restrictions on use of the Internet. You can, say, specify a time of day and duration for your child to play World of Warcraft.
This isn't just rejoicing in taking choices away from children and putting them in the hands of their parents. It isn't just about having power over your child's life. It's also about *not having a reason*. You don't have to give reasons, you just set it up and that's it. You said that's how it will be, so that's how it will be.

That's authority. It's bad. What we should aim for is a life governed by reason. Part of living according to reason -- according to thinking about what is best and why and trying to find the truth of things -- is having reasons for things! And discussing them. If someone disagrees, even a child, you can't just assume you are right. You need to hear their reason and think about it. Maybe it's valid. Maybe not. If you can say why it's wrong that's fine. But then you've given a reason. And if you can't, that doesn't mean you're wrong, but you shouldn't be certain who's right if you can't say what's wrong with the alternative.

Children know a lot less. That doesn't mean they are always wrong though. The times they speak up about something are usually the times they know the most about something! It's not what they know on average that's important but what they know about the specific thing at issue. Say the issue is when they play World of Warcraft. That's actually something they would know a lot about. They know their own schedule pretty well. They know how tired they are and whether they want to go to sleep yet. A parent can have a different opinion about one of these things -- and be right -- but it's no where near guaranteed. If you just block all World of Warcraft after 10pm that's not a very good policy. It's going to make a mistake. One saturday night child is going to be playing with a group of 39 other people completing a major quest and he'll be wide awake, and he'll have no important things to do the next morning, and he'll want to play longer and not abandon those real live people he's playing with. And then the apple software is going to kick him off the internet whether it's right or wrong, and it's not going to give any reason.

Sometimes children think they know enough to have an opinion when they really don't. But that's not so hard to deal with. If you help them figure out how to tell if they know enough -- and how to learn enough -- to have good opinions that is genuinely useful advice and there's every reason they will want to know that and listen (unless they think it's a mean trick to control them more, of course). But besides that, the argument can still proceed rationally even if they are mistaken about how much they know. It's really not a problem. If they don't know enough just ask them some questions about their position and they won't have the answers because they don't know. Problem solved. They'll see their ignorance when they can't answer.

A lot of times children don't want to do as they are told because they think they won't like it. That, again, is absolutely no time for a parent to put his foot down or rely on authority. If child thinks he won't like something out of ignorance just tell him a little about it focussing on the fun and enjoyable parts.

You might think all this explaining things to children is a waste of time. Well, not a total waste because it's educational. But how important is it, really? What if you're tired and don't feel like it right now? If you know you're right, what does it matter if you don't give your child a lesson about the reasons every time?

The answer in very short is that you might be mistaken. Don't take it personally. Everyone is mistaken sometimes. But it's more than that. The process of giving reasons is actually a part of how we can avoid mistakes. The more you know, and the more right you are, the easier it is to give reasons. But the less you know, and if you are wrong, then it's much harder to give reasons or arguments or to persuade anyone. So the times when you most feel like giving reasons is too much trouble are actually hints that those are the times you are most likely to be wrong or at least not to have thought it out carefully.

So part of the concept of authority is obedience. That's what the child is supposed to do. The authority gives a command, and the child obeys. Obedience is kinda mindless. It's not about considering if the command is a good idea. It's just about doing it. That's not a good habit to be in. It won't serve you well in life. And even if it would, is that really the kind of life you want for your children? We rightly value lives of thinking and reason where we make a lot of our own decisions and we can pursue happiness according to our own values. The idea with children is they can do that when they are older. But isn't it strange to live one way and then suddenly change later? If thinking is so great why not start young? Very talented people usually do. It's kind of well known that young kids sometimes learn really fast. Other times people say young kids don't have fully developed brains. But that's a load of crap. English is very complex and they figured that out.

Thinking isn't important just to get in the habit. You learn more when you think things out. And that dispels ignorance. And ignorance is the justification for authority over kids in the first place. By expecting obedience you take away opportunities for them to grow up, essentially. Even making mistakes is important to people's learning process. Most mistakes have no serious lasting harm so don't worry about it so much. Say child stays up late *and it was a mistake*. Who cares? Next time it will be even easier to persuade him to go to bed -- if he doesn't want that on his own! -- because of the bad experience. Being able to try out your own ideas is important. Discussion is great but sometimes people find this or that thing hard to understand just from words and it'd help to experience it.

Obedience also is about not questioning or criticizing authority. But questions are a great thing. They help people to learn and understand better. People don't ask enough questions. And criticism is good too. It's a chance for you to learn your mistake. Or if you think the criticism is wrong it's a chance for you to point out a mistake in the criticism and then the criticizer can learn. In general, criticism helps find good ideas because they stand up to it best. And it helps get rid of bad ones because they can't stand up to it very well. With no criticism you can't really tell the difference between good and bad ideas because you aren't looking to see what's wrong with any of the ideas.

As a reminder, the other major issue we were keeping separate earlier was about what you do to a disobedient child -- how you exercise and enforce your authority. I'm stopping here. I might write about that tomorrow.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


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 | Permalink | Messages (0)


TCS says that you should live morally, and you should live rationally, and these are essentially the same thing. Actually, I don't know how clearly that message is said. But who cares? *I* say that. And *you* should evaluate whether it's correct or not. You shouldn't obey TCS, like one follows the tenants of a religion. (You shouldn't *obey* a religion either.)

A lot of people would say it's obvious we should do what's right, and that they, and most people, already try. Partly they are correct, and that's why our society is much better than during the Dark Ages. But if we consider the basic steps required to do what is right we will soon discover they aren't all so common and popular. To do what's right you must have knowledge of what is right. To get that you must seek the truth. To do that you must be open to new ideas, and to criticism of your present ones, and you must be able to have *critical discussions*. You don't absolutely necessarily have to discuss with other people. You could read books at home. But if you do you have to simulate critical discussions in your head: you need to argue both sides of points that come up. If you only argue in favor of your own side, the book isn't going to respond very well. So either you need a lot of intellectual integrity to criticize your own ideas, or you need to enjoy to have other people do that for you. Or better, both.

A lot of people have somewhat different goals. Some want their present idea to be true. Some want to be happy. Some want all their conversations to be polite which includes hiding disagreement and therefore criticism.

If you want to be happy that can be fine. In fact it's very good if it means the right thing. If you have a choice between happy and unhappy, go happy. If you have a chance to seek happiness, or not, then seek it. etc. But if you have a choice between an option that appears to be best for happiness, and another that appears to be better for learning the truth of the matter, you must choose the truth, and many would not.

If you chose happiness over truth you get neither. You may well fool yourself and think you are happy. But that's no life worth living. If we wish to be fooled we may as well do it right: use hard drugs. And in the future use Virtual Reality technology to fool ourselves into believing we have the life we want. The only way to get a good sort of happiness is to know the truth, and to then be able to make an informed judgment about which lifestyles are good, and to enjoy and be happy about having a good one. Knowing more is no guarantee of happiness, but not knowing guarantees you have no way to make good choices so it doesn't even give you a chance.

Ever heard of "constructive criticism"? Of course you have. People all the time say they only want constructive criticism. Partly they have a point. Some criticism is of the form, "that sucks" which is pretty useless. Though I must say I don't see how one can really mind "that sucks" from a stranger -- what on earth do you have to feel bad about? He hasn't bested you in any sort of argument. He hasn't given a reason your work sucks, and therefore hasn't given you any reason to think it sucks. You should just disregard his unsupported assertion. But anyway many people don't want to hear such insults. I'd rather have a truer sense of what sort of people exist and how they react to my work.

But does wanting constructive criticism only rule out unsupported criticism? Not at all. It also rules out anything very harsh -- even if that is the most accurate and reliable way to communicate an important critical idea. It also indicates the author is fragile and that a long list of criticism will not be appreciated no matter how high quality every listed point is. It also means that if the work in question is in fact bad, and should be abandoned, the author doesn't want to learn that truth. The author only wants "constructive" criticism, ie focussed on how to improve it and not focussed only on pointing out flaws, no matter how important they are. Any reader who notices a flaw but doesn't want to take the time to provide the extra help of also finding a way to fix the flaw isn't able to offer "constructive criticism" and therefore must offer no help at all.

Constructive criticism is about hiding from the truth. Not fully hiding. Just partially. But that's what it does.

Why do people do it? One reason is that they take criticism personally. That's very bad. How are you going to find the truth if you are attached to certain ideas, true or not? We should let our ideas die in our place, not attach ourselves to them and die with them. Bad ideas must die. Our ideas might be bad. How should we know they aren't? People make mistakes all the time. If valid criticism comes then the idea is flawed. It must be changed or possibly given up entirely. That is best. We should be pleased. We were going down a dead end by mistake and now we know better and can avoid that fate. We have at least a chance of pursuing something good and being happy now, because we know more.

Taking things personally and being attached to debatable ideas obscures the truth. It makes it harder to understand the "opposing" side (they should not be seen as the opposing side. it's just a different side and you should dispassionately consider if it has a point). getting offended by things which say the idea you are attached to is wrong helps nothing. it doesn't make it easier to figure out objectively which idea is true.

So suppose you like what I say and agree with it in theory. What is needed to actually apply it in your life? Because it's common that people agree with philosophical ideas then thoroughly fail to actually follow through on them. So what are the important things to keep in mind for actually being able to objectively find the truth?

The first and perhaps most important thing to keep in mind is that there is far more to learn about the philosophy than I've said here. Even if you know more than me, you could understand all these things better. Learning more makes applying it easier and more effective.

Next, there is a sort of self-awareness that is very important. Many people assume that they understand themselves and know why they do things and that they choose to do all the things they do. This is very false. Many things people say about why they did actions are guesses, often very bad and thoughtless guesses. And often the reason for that is they did not have a reason when they did it -- they didn't think about it and choose what seemed best to do -- so there is no good answer to why they did it. But that's hard to admit. And hard to notice in the first place. I think it's worth mentioning this is partly caused by static memes, and those are very good at hiding themselves and being hard to criticize, and also causing emotional distress in those who do criticize them. But it's not just memes. Remembering things at all is guesswork. And finding the truth, including the truth about our own personalities, is hard, and requires being open to criticism and not being attached to particular ideas and not taking things personally and so on. People find that hard with their own personality above all!

So, self-awareness. If we pay close attention to how we live, how we feel, how we think, then we will be able to spot problems and to try to change them. We can notice we are sometimes thoughtless, which among other things means not carefully considering what's best and not carefully considering what is the truth of the matter, and if we get good at self-awareness we can notice *in real time* and then intervene and do something different.

Some people would find that scary. Notice their flaws? Then they have to admit to having them. Change personalities? Then they have to admit to being messed up so much they need to change. Really that's a harsh way to put it. No one is perfect. Imperfect people should change so they can get better. But people often think of it the harsh way. Regardless, noticing our flaws is the only road to getting rid of them. Knowing the truth is the only way we can move on to better things. While we might seem and feel happy in our ignorance we must remember those flaws are making our lives worse. All sorts of things we care deeply about are not working out as well as they could. Flaws make us less wealthy. They make it harder to get promoted. They make us hurt our children, and fight with our loved ones. They make us less able to help loved ones and friends in need who we want to help. They can make us less successful at everything we do. Now I'm not saying every flaw does all these things to a huge degree. But flaws do things like this. And how do you know what the bad effects are if you won't look honestly to see what your flaws are?

This thing about perfect and imperfect people brings up an interesting point. If we are imperfect do we really need to change? We might just have the tiniest little flaw. I would say every little bit counts. Being the best we can be means caring about even small improvements. But also the smaller the flaw the easier it is to change, so that's no reason to "not bother" or something. When people are scared of facing flaws they aren't thinking of tiny imperfections -- those aren't scary. It's big things that are definitely having a significant effect on their life.

What else can we do to get better at seeking truth? One important thing is asking questions a lot. People often think they understand things when they don't. People also often pretend to understand things to avoid looking ignorant. A friend told me that in Mexico if you ask for directions people will make them up if they don't know just to pretend they aren't ignorant. How can you tell if you understand well? Try to apply the idea to other issues. Or try to explain it to someone else. You don't need an actual person you can just imagine explaining it. And imagine this person asks questions about it. Can you answer them all? If so, fine. But if it's even a little blurry in your mind then you could understand better. You should be asking those questions so you know more about it. Really the only thing that *should* be embarrassing is *not* asking questions: that is just dumb. You have this opportunity to learn something, which you should be proud to do, it's part of a good and admirable lifestyle to try to learn all the time. And instead some would waste it on a different lifestyle: pretending they have nothing to learn.

Question asking isn't just a matter of being willing to ask. It's also sometimes a matter of seeking out people to ask. If you want to know something you can find someone to ask. And of course you can also find books to read, google it, and so on, and that's important too.

It's also a matter of skill. Often people aren't totally clear on a concept but also can't think of a question. They aren't sure what it is they don't understand well. But with enough skill we can quickly create lots of questions. Unfortunately it's hard to explain how to do that. You might try reading my series of dialogs starting with How To Ask Questions which attempts to provide a good example: Caeli asks a lot of questions.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Let's discuss discussion. Some people have the idea that discussions are (sometimes/often) long, boring, and unproductive. Not all kinds of discussion. Scientists discussing their work of course can make progress. Discussion of a shared interest that's something fun like a computer game no one minds. But discussion regarding *disagreements* many people consider unpleasant.

People say the three keys to relationships are communication, communication, and communication. We can interpret that as evidence people need reminding and avoid communication. No one seems to take those keys very seriously, especially at first. Like The Rules where you can't call her for 3 days so you don't seem desperate. And people are scared to say how they feel at first rather than eager. Even later people often react to doing something their spouse would not like by *not telling him*. Don't get me wrong. I don't especially blame people for keeping things from their spouse. They are frequently correct that the spouse would react unpleasantly. Though I would recommend that we try to live in a good way, including with open communication -- give it a serious chance -- and if it fails, well what good is a marriage like that? If you have low expectations for your marriage, fine, but I am not impressed by such an attitude.

Anyhow, discussion is important. This is well known. How can you solve problems if you don't explain your preferences to each other? Without understanding where the other is coming from it is very hard to think of a solution that you'd both like. So discussion, while it can't guarantee a good outcome, seems to be a pretty necessary part of a good outcome. So what goes wrong?

One issue is people talk way too long and say lots of irrelevant stuff. This is boring and makes the discussion less effective because the important issues are obscured. I don't think people especially do this on purpose. The largest factor is they don't have much skill at identifying the key points and stating them briefly. But they are not totally innocent. Many people expect to have a long "heart to heart" or something and are not trying to get to the point.

Another issue is people talk incessantly about their feelings. This puts emotional pressure on the other person to acquiesce to any demands. And it's parochial and generally boring. And frequently the feelings being discussed are very irrational. So why listen to them? They don't follow fixed rules so there is no reasonable policy you can use to avoid triggering them. This is generally thought to be especially true of females who are known for being mercurial, and for wanting their boyfriend to support them and sympathize with them whether they are right or wrong. But men do the same sort of thing too, for example they more often get angry, and perceive the target of their anger as having wronged them and the more angry they get, often the more they decide they must have been wronged. And men, as well as women, get sexually jealous easily enough -- perhaps men more so.

What should you do? Well first state the issue and see if you agree about that. "I want to get a dog, but I think you don't." Confirm that! You could have misunderstood, and it helps focus the discussion. Now pause and think for a moment. Don't just start listing all the reasons you want a dog. They might not even be needed. And what good is a big list? You can't be right twice, let alone 10 times. OK so there might be an obvious solution here. Like if you live at different houses and you will take care of the dog then you might only need to say "I won't bring the dog on visits to your house" and that could be that. You're probably thinking I cheated by making the scenario too easy. But seriously stop and think a moment, there are easy solutions sometimes.

OK but say there isn't. You share a house. What now? Well listing the merits of a dog at this point is silly. For all you know you agree about that. You should ask why she doesn't want a dog. Let her say what she thinks would be bad about it. She might be wrong. You might agree with her and change your mind. Or at least you will know which merits of having a dog are actually relevant to her opinions.

So for example now she says that dogs are smelly and hairy. And you say they don't smell if bathed once a week, and that a certain breed doesn't shed much hair and you actually like that breed. There, problem solved. No need to remind her about how you had 3 dogs growing up and really loved them.

Maybe she says she thinks the dog will be neglected and she will have to feed and walk it and she doesn't want to. Well, that would be the time to point out how much you love walking dogs, and to explain why you expect to be reliable about feeding it. See how focussed that is? Still no big list of 500 reasons you want a dog, or 500 feelings you have about dogs. Only relevant things. And really, when you put the problem this way, doesn't it seem pretty simple and easy to evaluate? Yet people really do have fights about getting a pet, and fail to agree and often even fail to have a pleasant conversation about it. If she still thinks you won't be reliable ask her why. She might have a good point. Maybe you aren't reliable! But still there are easy answers. You could borrow a dog and see how you do. Or say her evidence is that you haven't mowed the lawn and bought the groceries on schedule. You could do those well for the next month to dispel her doubts.

There's a secret to why it's been easy so far. Well, there's two main reasons, but one I've been telling you. The one reason is focus: no big lists of irrelevant reasons for things, no wailing about emotions, just stick to very straightforward descriptions of the problem and the major preferences involved. OK the secret, what sets these hypotheticals apart from reality, is not at all that they are chosen to be easy or they are overly simple, or they are unrealistic. It's nothing like that. It is: the people I'm imagining are acting rationally. That makes a huge difference.

Here is what a fight looks like. First she says the dog would smell. When you offer to wash it frequently then she says it'd be too hairy. When you offer to get a breed which is not then she says you'll probably never walk it. When you deal with that issue she says you'll forget to bathe it. After you address that she says she doesn't like the idea of having it around the house all the time. When you explain about building a dog house in the back yard she says if you want a pet so much maybe can we get a cat? And it goes on and on: she changes her story repeatedly. Why is she doing that? Well because she doesn't want a dog, and it isn't for some straightforward reason that she knows of, so she's just guessing what her reason is, but each time you refute a reason she finds she still doesn't want a dog so it must actually be something else so she guesses again. But it isn't any of those things. It's an irrational anti-dog hang up. And so the discussion, when focussed only on a rational exploration of preferences and reasons, goes nowhere, or in circles, or whatever.

By the way you should keep in mind fights are common, but the subject matter varies from couple to couple. As strange as it is to be irrational about dogs, maybe one person in 40 is, which means about one couple in 20 will have the dog thing. But there are many hundreds of things people can be irrational about. So even if the rate for most of them is 2-5% the rate of fighting for each couple is still pretty high. And remember all those things you aren't irrational about are pretty easy and go pretty fast: the fights get a lot more time, attention, and notice.

Also all this stuff applies to friends, parent/child, co-workers, etc, not just couples. A couple is just part of my example.

So, what do we do now? How do we face irrationality?

One thing that helps very much is to limit the irrationality. Having irrational preferences about the dog issue is one thing. But that doesn't mean you have to discuss irrationally. It can be pointed out to you that you are changing reasons and clearly don't know what your real reason is. Or you can notice that yourself. And you can react to this by thinking: hmm, maybe I'm irrational about this. And then you can go back to having a rational discussion about reasons for things but just say your reason is: I seem to have a hang up about dogs. And I don't want to face it. (If you don't mind facing it, then do that, of course. It can be fun to crush memes and irrationalities. Yay human power and spirit.)

So you are irrational. He might say: that's a shame, but I don't want to put you through a hard and potentially painful experience, nor is a dog more important than you having control over what hard things you have to face in your life. And again we're done. Issue resolved. Easily. This can happen.

Another reason people fight is they think life is a zero sum game. Well they might not think all of life is, but they at least think a particular issue is. They think either I get what I want, or you do, or we compromise and boht get part of what we want and part of what we don't want (compromises aren't much fun. and also they are not what anyone thinks is best. (if you thought it was best you'd want it, so you wouldn't regard it as getting only part of what you want.)). That could lead to further problems over the dog. She's irrational? Argh. That means either I can't have what I want (a dog) or she can't have what she wants.

There are still plenty of easy solutions. You might be satisfied with your friend getting a dog and you visiting often and walking it. You might be satisfied with a cow instead, which she might not mind.

But ok, what else is there? Well, one big big thing is you can change your preference. You can decide something else is best and then find you want that. Faking this is no good. Deciding you "should" want something else, when you don't honestly want it, isn't going to turn out well. But genuine changes of opinion can take place. In fact it is common that people change their mind *in general*. It's only rare *in fights*. And partly it seems that way because any time someone does change his mind/preference there is no more fight, so people don't remember it as a fight.

Really, people change their preferences all the time. It's easy. "Let's go to the park tomorrow." "I can't, I promised my grandmother I'd visit her." "OK." See that "OK"? That means he changed his mind about wanting the two of them to go to the park. Easy. "Let's go get icecream." "Nah, I had a big lunch, not hungry." "OK." And now suddenly you don't prefer to go get icecream together. etc

So the real thing people are worried about is: what if we irrationally disagree and we won't change our minds and then we fight? Well the first and most obvious thing is: would you rather change your mind or fight? The second most obvious thing, imo, is that maybe you don't need to agree about this at all. Maybe life can go on without a discussion. I know that isn't much use in the case of the dog for the married couple who share a house. That is one of the downsides of sharing so much of your lives: it puts pressure on you to agree about more things. But if you are just friends then a lot of things you can just say "nevermind" and maybe get what you want with some other friend.

You're probably thinking that if you give in because it's better than fighting that will set a bad precedent and it won't be fun to do that every time. Well first of all you could take turns. Second of all things don't always turn out how you expect. Maybe once you get the dog she will actually like it. Or once you don't have it you will take an interest in something else and forget all about it and not be sad. Third, what is this about a precedent? You are scared your wife, your cherished loved one, will discover that if she refuses to agree she can make you give in even though you'd rather not? Well, suppose she discovers that is possible. She will not want to do that! Right? She better not. If she does what on earth are you doing married? So you shouldn't be scared of that. If you are you have much bigger problems than a dog. Bigger than a cow, even.

But Elliot, I read all this and it's still not working? What can I do? Well, it'd be easier if you were a better person. I'm not insulting you. I'm saying you are capable of improving. It's a compliment, see? Now the point is if you improve in ways that seem to have nothing at all to do with the dog problem you might come back to the dogs and find some of your wisdom actually turns out useful or it just seems easier now. Making progress in other fields often helps out in unforeseeable ways. So clearly if you are really having a hard time you should all take a break to read my blog.

What if we can't gain perspective and treat our irrationality rationally? Well first of all you can. It's possible. You have simply failed to do so, for now. But next, yes that's a common issue. Nasty memes frequently make people believe they are behaving and thinking rationally. And this makes people act willfully blind, misinterpret things, confabulate reasons, and so on. Oh dear! What is to be done?

There is no general answer. General answers only work well for rational problems. Rational problems have patterns and logic to them, so there are often lots of helpful general things. And there is a general approach to rational problem solving that can help. Besides imagine there was a general answer, and it was "Do X." for some X. Well, soon people would be asking, "What if I also have a hang up about X?" So that's not going anywhere fast. What to do depends. THere is a nasty hang up of some sort. Well, what sort? What would make it better? What would get rid of it? Put it in remission? Put it in hiding? There are answers, but they depend on the specific mind of the person in question. Some people would enjoy to go through with things in spite of their hang up. They might be proud to ignore their irrationality and thumb their noses at it. They could find the whole thing fun. But others would hate to do that. They might rather read a lot about the subject and meditate on it and slowly form better views about it more based on facts. Other people don't see what's so wrong about having a hang up -- no one is totally rational -- and don't seriously want to change it, so they aren't going to.

The original topic is having a discussion to solve a problem. I'm going to go back to it now. That could help people who are all caught up worry about their irrationality. Relax. Calm down. Think about the basic steps to discussion and try one of them. They don't hurt.

So, one thing that helps discussions go well is to have a mental model of the other person. This sounds fancy but we all have them at least inexplicitly. If you ever guess what someone would reply if you said something you have a mental model of that person which is helping you to predict what they'd do. Vague mental models usually are full of stereotypes. That's not such a bad thing. Most people are pretty conventional so a lot of stereotypes are *roughly* accurate. It's good to keep in mind they are just stereotypes and you don't know for sure, but they can help and are better than nothing. If you make frequent use of your mental models of each other you can save a lot of talking. You can notice that you already agree about something, or that you think the other person understands a point, and then you don't have to mention it. Or if someone says something with multiple possible meanings (which many many sentences have) then if your mental model is pretty good you might be pretty sure which they meant and can assume that. But keep in mind you made that assumption! If a little later you find you are miscommunicating then you should question if your mental model got that wrong and double check.

Only give one argument at a time. As I said you can't be right twice. You also can't be more right. You are right or you aren't. Just give your best most important reason and discuss that. It's the most likely to settle the issue in either direction. If it's wrong you have the most reason to re-think your position. And it's the most likely to persuade the other person. It's also easier to keep track of things if you focus on one issue at a time and resolve it to your satisfaction.

Another important thing is if something is confusing or unclear or ambiguous then don't be embarrassed not to understand. Communication takes two. Don't feel so bad. Maybe they should have made their statement easier to follow. Or maybe it's something silly like a typo that is causing the confusion. So ask!

If part of this was unclear feel free to email me to ask about it.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Parenting is important because it's the biggest factor for what knowledge is transmitted to the next generation. We all know this (though few keep it at actively in their thoughts). But we don't all know what to make of it.

Some people take the importance of parenting as justification for parents to have extreme powers to make absolutely sure nothing goes wrong. This is not a freedom-loving attitude. If power over other people is bad in general, then when things are important is the *worst* time to rely on such power. The higher the stakes, the more critical it is to do things properly! The same issues come up in politics. People say courts and police are too important to leave to the market. (Why don't they say this about groceries?) That only makes sense if the government is better at doing them. If the market is better then we should be saying it's too important to keep letting government do it.

What information transfer to the next generation means to me is that this is where improvements need to happen. For an improvement to be lasting it needs to be appealing to young people. If we raise kids to know exactly what we know, and be just like us, then progress comes to a halt. That isn't what we actually do. But it may be something we do for certain issues. Children are especially supposed to adopt the religion, morality, and values of their parents, but then are given scope to, for example, believe newer scientific ideas. So scientific progress continues, but religious progress barely exists.

It seems plain to me that we should absolutely want our children to question all our ideas and not accept anything uncritically. While that is a good attitude for everyone to have in general, it is most critical for children to have that attitude towards their parents. Children have a fresh perspective. They aren't yet set in their ways. Their life doesn't revolve around any opinions they have -- changing them is still easy. Contrast with a politician or a scientist or a preacher -- if they change their mind it's a big deal. Changing your mind about your spouse is hard. Changing your mind about your hobbies, even, is hard -- you might have a decade of experience with a present hobby, and many friends who share it.

If we have mistaken ideas that we do not improve that is unfortunate. But if our children have the same ones that is much worse. The idea sticks around a lot longer. And if their children are its victim as well, and their children after them, and so on, that is just what we really don't want. So how do you avoid that? Well what absolutely will not work at all is if parents decide which ideas their children should believe according to which they think are good. Then any bad idea they have which they don't realize is bad will be passed on. And we all know we are often blind to our own flaws. Memes can evolve to make their holders blind to them. If children make their own decisions that does not guarantee a better result. It could even turn out worse. But it gives a chance of getting away from bad ideas that make their holders blind to the badness. It also respects human dignity to prefer people choose their own ideas.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Marriage is silly. It's especially silly if you marry a cow, but it's always silly.

Marriage is forever. At least the people intend it to be, and take steps to make it so. Sometimes they fail, but that is beside the point. They want it to last forever.

An alternative way of approaching relationships I would call "project-based relationships" (PBR) where people sometimes do projects together and they stay together as the details of the project require, and no more (unless they do more projects).

Some people might claim you could have a marriage, but only for raising a child, and plan to divorce afterwards. And they would say this is wise because the arguments against committing to a marriage forever have some point (we'll get to what those arguments are later), but that most of the details of what married people do are good for at least some purposes, including for parenting (I will argue against that later too). For now let me just say: that is not a marriage. It fits very well into the PBR mold. They are choosing to act in certain ways (which can be summarized as how married people act) because they believe that is functional to the project at hand. They are not intending to continue doing it once the project is complete and therefore the functionality is gone. So in a fundamental way they don't have the attitude behind marriage and can more accurately be said to be in the PBR camp.

The importance of the *forever* part of marriage is not to be underestimated. You can't just ignore it like some surface detail. It plays a huge role in how people treat each other during courtship and in marriage. While this role has many bad effects, it also is an important part of *defenses* of marriage. What's so good about marriage? One might say that the commitment to face life together allows for new and better knowledge creation, but that the commitment to do this forever is necessary to secure such a huge investment -- all the effort to become closer and more intimate and face life together would not have been well spent were one's partner to leave.

Forever throws off how people value things. If something has such huge potential, and is best started as soon as possible, then even a small chance of it is given a lot of value. And so people meet a girl and think "she might be the one" and then make a serious effort with her, even though they have little reason to expect the effort to be well spent. And they know their odds are poor but they want the imagined *eternal* reward so much that they don't care. A bit like wasting money on the lottery.

Forever also changes the dynamics within a relationship. If a friend has an annoying habit, who cares? He's worth visiting anyway. You only spend a limited amount of time with him. He might get a job and move cross country and your problem will disappear. But when your spouse has annoying habit you don't want to settle for less or just live with it because you are trying to have a perfect, ever-lasting relationship. If you really will be together forever then even a tiny annoyance is best fixed immediately. And, by the way, failure to do so proves a lack of commitment to the relationship by your spouse which fuels further fighting over the triviality.

Forever also isn't reality. Lifespans are still short. So perhaps putting in a lot of work now for intended rewards eventually is not wise. People know their lives and marriage only have a limited number of decades but still their philosophy is polluted by forever and imagining plenty of time to reap the benefits of a very good relationship once it is created so that they are overly willing to delay the benefits. This has a further adverse effect because one of the best ways to find out if something is going well, likely to work out, worth doing, etc -- one of the best ways to predict future benefits -- is to see how well something is going now. If it's producing great benefit now that's the best way to judge it's really going to work later as well. (I don't mean literally you can just assume one based on the other. But it's a good type of evidence and when applied using common sense and thought it is a reasonable approximation for good criteria.)

Forever is also a bad idea. People change. People learn. Learning is not predictable -- you can't understand what you don't yet know. Making long term commitments reduces our scope for future choices. It reduces our freedom.

Forever, further, is a sort of promise. People make wedding *vows*. As Godwin taught us, promises are not rational. When it comes time to do as you promised either the action you promised will be right to do, in which case you would do it whether you promised to or not. Or it will be wrong, in which case you have promised to do wrong, and ought to break your promise. So either the promise makes no difference, or it encourages you to do wrong and should be broken.

I know there are a lot of strands of the discussion open. It's somewhat hard for me to remember them all, so it's probably hard for you as well. And I don't have section headings or anything. So to do us both a favor here is a reminder list of the open topics, including some that have not yet been mentioned:

- statements of intent, alternative to promises
- arguments for how long term commitments can sometimes increase freedom, and about counting choices, and then response about specific faults of marriage
- comments on non-forever details of marriage which PBR style "marriage" might emulate and why they are bad
- investing in relationship + requiring commitment/promise/vows silly. why not do w/ friends? what do we do w/ friends instead? compare
- optional comments on marriage specifically related to parenting
- optional comments on what commitment means
- optional comments on love
- optional comments on sex
- optional comments on cohabitation

So if promises are irrational what is to replace them? They seem to serve a useful function. What if you plan to do something in the future and want people to know your plan and perhaps to be able to rely on it? Surely there is a way to arrange this. And indeed promises sort of play that role: if you promise to do something it becomes morally right to do it in a wider variety of circumstances -- you've changed the moral landscape. (All actions change the moral landscape at least a tiny bit. But here we've made a significant, intentional change.) The replacement is very simple: say you intend to do something. Promising pretends to know what will be right in the future. Say you do not know what will be right, but you will try to make the intended action right, and use your planning to try to make it happen. Then people can include reasonable actions by you to make it happen in their personal guesses of how the future will go. They should make their own guesses and take responsibility for said guesses, BTW. In fact that is another reason promises are bad: they invite people to trust you instead of taking responsibility for their own lives. Trust is a very bad thing. Don't put your life in my hands! You are just asking to be a victim if I mess up. And you should be trying to learn how to make your life good yourself instead of counting on me to make it work out. So make your own judgment please instead of trusting me to tell you the future.

My comments on long term commitments reducing the scope for choices and therefore freedom at not at all the whole story. All choices alter the scope for freedom: you cannot choose not to have made that choice. But if you don't do it, you can't choose to have done it (at that time). More concretely, if you buy tickets to a concert now you can't not-go and keep your money (though you have some new options like trying to get a refund or selling the tickets to a third party). Your options are restricted. But if you don't buy the tickets you can't get into the concert (except perhaps by buying from a scalper or somesuch). Again your options are restricted, but in a different way. Which is better? Well first of all it isn't a matter of counting. You can't just count which way provides more options and say that way is more freedom. This is for two reasons. One is it doesn't matter so much how many options you have: you're only going to actually choose one option, and you want that to be the best one. Keeping your options open is only much use if they many options seem *good* and you aren't sure yet *and* you have reason to think you'll be able to make a better choice later *and* you aren't giving up any great options by keeping the other options open. The second reason you can't just count options is that there is no known method of counting them. What, exactly, counts as one option? Don't we always have infinte slightly different options? I could eat the tickets if I have them. Or rip them. Ripping them is not just one option because I could rip them in so many ways. There are a lot of atoms in the ticket -- much more than trillions -- and I could separate them in ... well every atom has multiple bonds to other atoms I guess, and each one I could separate or not. If I don't have great tools I can't be so exacting but there are still a vast number of ways to rip the tickets. Trying to count those and compare them to how many ways I can rip the $20 bill I would have if I don't buy the tickets is completely absurd and pointless. And please don't email me to point out that obviously the $20 bill is larger than a concert ticket and can therefore be ripped up in more ways and therefore having the money provides greater freedom.

So that's why giving up some options does not necessarily reduce freedom. Sure you can't do all the many things unmarried people can do. But how many different things can you do with your spouse that are at least slightly different than doing the same things with a friend? Lots. There is no obvious way to say that the choices available to married people are less than those available to single people.

What's wrong with marriage, then, in this regard? There must be something because I made comments along these lines above while trashing marriage, and I obviously am familiar with the above defense, so I must have meant something this defense misses.

Well, as I said, people change and learn, unpredictably. So for one thing married people might develop different interests. This can lead to them having no active interests in common. Theoretically they could then go many millennia without speaking. More immediately their interests could lead them to live on different continents. Or one could become an astronaut and go on a manned mission to mars that doesn't include a return trip. Does marriage make sense if you don't see each other for a long time, possibly ever again? I don't see how it could. And worse, does *exclusive* marriage make sense? If marriage is good then going without the day-to-day benefits of marriage for so long must be awful. And further, if marriage really is about learning to be close and intimate so you can create knowledge and solve problems together really well, and is thus a big investment in your future, then if you spend so much time apart that is a waste! And if it's not some huge investment requiring huge commitment to be reasonable then why marry? Why not just do this good thing with all your friends? And if some leave it's no big deal b/c, by premise, you have lost little. And you were gaining while friend was still around so it's probably a net benefit. And even if not the policy of acting this way with your friends is because the leaving rate is pretty low so on the whole you win.

That reminds me of a snappy phrase I wrote, "Lovers leave, friends stay." This was inspired by a Buffy plotline where someone has serious problems in her life. Her lover feels betrayed and leaves her -- if she really cared about the relationship she'd stop messing it up with her personal flaws and just fix them already (or something. that's silly of course. she'd fix her personal flaws if she knew how to, committed relationship or no). Meanwhile her friends did not leave her. They did not feel betrayed. They helped her. After she was helped and improved then her lover came back and wanted to try again. That was funny. Before leaving they said things to each other like they'd be there through good times and bad and they were so dedicated to helping each other and so on. And the lover coming back wasn't even apologetic. She still generally thought it was her fault for having a flaw. What meaning can a commitment to stay with someone have if a single flaw voids it? A defender of marriage would of course condemn this action and say a good couple would not be like that. But still that leads to some questions:

1) What *is* grounds for leaving a marriage if your partner turns out to have flaws? Nothing? You stay and help no matter what, forever? The trick is just to pick a perfect person based on imperfect knowledge, and if you mess that up it isn't marriage's fault? But if you try to make the grounds something simple like "you are justified to leave if your partner's flaws really suck and bother you" then you have to admit you can't reasonable claim *your* marriage will last through the next week because your partner could have a flaw you don't yet know about. if that sounds unlikely, besides standard comments about you really don't know how likely it is and you shouldn't underestimate the differences between people I also want to point out a different mechanism by which this could happen: you could *both* have a flaw, and be blind to it, (so far this is very common), and then one of you could learn of the flaw and improve, but fail to convince the other. and there you go. now your partner has a flaw, and quite possibly you really hate that flaw because you have the zeal of the convert. and quite possibly argument and discussion don't solve this problem. so, divorce? and BTW yes I know i've written at length about the power of discussion, and about there being no barriers to human understanding. But there are also no guarantees to understand a given thing soon. if you don't mind to give it a few millennia then probably your partner will eventually learn what you did about this flaw. but learning is not predictable. you can't count on it happening quickly. especially when memes, irrationalities, and blind spots are involved! these things are so strong that many people think if they are involved then changing is impossible!

So we were talking about whether the commitments in a marriage are functional and increase future freedom and provide good options in the future, and I was saying they do not, and worse people do not specifically even try to pay attention to the function of each commitment and to justify each one, they just take marriage as a big bundle -- what could go wrong, anyway? they love each other and "would never hurt each other" so even if some of the agreements are bad or dangerous they have nothing to fear, or so they imagine. the well known fact that consequences of actions are often not what was intended can't override love, or something.

There is ample room for serious discussion of specific details of marriage commitments and which might be reasonable and which are not. and there is room for discussion of how marriage might allow new and better problem solving and knowledge creation. that sounds very fishy, btw, since umm knowledge creation comes through conjecture and criticism as specified by Popper, not through trust or love or intimacy or whatever. But anyway, for today i am going to leave that out.

Another good thing to consider is an arctic expedition. If you're traveling through the snow you cannot just back out and leave at a moment's notice. But you also would be silly to make detailed and extensive plans in advance for what you will do as soon as you get home. Sure you might plan a party in advance, and some relaxation time. But you won't be planning the second arctic trip yet, nor how often you will meet with other team members to reminisce about the trip. You only plan things in advance when there is a purpose to doing so. So you plan to be on the trip for the entire trip because that is functionally necessary to going on the trip. You plan the coming home party early because you will be tired when you get back and won't want to plan it then. This is all perfectly justified and rational despite the significant commitments and the advanced planning. Marriages though aren't like this. People don't choose to get married to make some new thing possible that they couldn't do before. And people don't choose what to commit to in advance in a marriage based on what has functionality, they choose it based on what a marriage is supposed to include (which they would say is what they personally want. but what they want *is*, ignoring some superficial details, the stereotypical thing because they are infected with memes).

A lot of people would claim the things required of married people *are* functional. Agreeing to stay together long term makes buying a house together better. Sharing money makes parenting together, and having one parent stay home without a job, work better. It's hard to give more example because most things required of married people either have something to do with sex, or are justified as steps that make the marriage/relationship work better and help it last. If you weren't married they wouldn't be necessary. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt and imagine married people do lots of things that non-married people would also do for functional reasons. Then it is still the case that married people are not doing those things one at a time, specifically when they are needed for some function. They are not paying close attention to what steps are needed and why and doing them only when there is reason to. That isn't the attitude at all. The real attitude is: no we are married, and we trust each other, so let's share a house, and share out bank account, and tell each other secrets, and everything else. It's all lumped together to obscure any relation between a particular restriction on married people or unusual action they take and its functional justification. They just want to be together, forever, in body and soul and mind, and merge their lives, or whatever, not think carefully about what steps intended for the good of the relationship and for closeness and intimacy actually have a useful effect.

A friend of mine suggested I might want to rethink mentioning bestiality in the opening paragraph. This amused me because it had not occurred to me to have sex with the cow, even if married. I thought only that cows are ridiculous, being friends with one more so, marriage even more so. And also that the conversations would not work well. This brings up the very real issue of the role of sex in marriage. Many defenses of marriage say they allow better sex, and this is important. Some even go so far as to mention avoiding STDs as an important reason to get married. It might be an argument for sexual exclusivity, but what does that have to do with marriage? Maybe I'll tell you tomorrow. (I do not promise to do so. I may never return to this topic. Do not form expectations except based on your own judgment and for which you take full responsibility.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


What are marriages actually like? What do married people do, once they are all committed and make their vows and so on? What's the meat of the idea, once all the (lots and lots and lots) of meta is relatively complete?

Married people tell each other secrets. Their own secrets. Their friend's secrets. Sometimes military secrets. Sometimes they withhold some, but they are pressured not to.

Similarly, married people are encouraged to have little or no privacy from their spouse. This includes each of them not having a room of her own. Sometimes it includes sharing a computer. Sometimes they share an email account. When they go out they are often supposed to call the other and let him know. Changes of plan must be recorded. If people had any free, unmonitored time they could cheat.

Friendships must be limited, especially with members of the opposite sex. Nothing can be allowed to threaten the marriage. If your spouse wants more time with you that must come first even if you are more interested in doing something else. You are considered wrong to have that interest -- you aren't sufficiently committed, you don't value the marriage enough -- and pressured to change or suppress it. Friendships run the risk of learning and change which could create incompatibilities with your spouse, so that must be controlled and monitored (you do that yourself more than anyone else intruding). Friendships also run the risk of developing feelings for someone else -- why wouldn't you? you believer in marriage, who got crushes on people easily in the past, and who worships the infinite potential of an everlasting union -- and that must be suppressed too.

Married people make each other do some of the chores and dull tasks they don't like. Or perhaps you could say they split them up and each avoid the most hated ones. Gender roles are taken for granted: men do repairs with power tools, not women. (But men sometimes do some of the cooking and cleaning and laundry thanks to feminism. Why don't feminists encourage women to mow the lawn in the name of equality?) Perhaps my objection here is more to people's attitude to such chores in general -- many could be avoided easily enough -- and isn't much to do with marriage. But regardless of whether it is bad, it is a significant part of the interactions of married couples. So it bears mentioning. Further, if someone so mundane takes up a significant bit of a couple's attention then that does not support the previously told story whereby marriage helps create knowledge better and solve hard problems.

There are more tasks than you might realize. House maintenance requires a lot of effort when you have conventional standards of how well kept and presentable things should be. Cooking, cleaning, laundry require a fair amount of effort, and it increases significant with kids. Sometimes married people share a car and spend a lot of effort coordinating who uses the car when, and sometimes giving each other rides. There are errands of all sorts. Groceries, a new chair, a new light bulb, a toy for a child, getting photos developed, and so on. Then there's taking kids to school and back, and to soccer practice, and to their chess tournament, and to their friend's house, and so on. And there's calling other mothers to schedule such things, and to work out carpools. And there's parent/teacher conferences.

When you throw in sleep, work, friends, extended family, and sex, how much time is really left for talking and thinking? How much opportunity is there for the supposed rewards of marriage to be reaped? All these mundane things could just as well be coordinated with a roommate -- and without the marital fights! Not much. And don't forget the 5 hours a day of TV the average adult watches, or whatever it is. Which demonstrates again there *is no special connection* allowing wonderful and mind enhancing conversations filled with learning -- in reality TV is more interesting than a spouse.

The vision of a knowledge-rich marriage seems imaginary. It seems an excuse concocted by people who believe in the value of knowledge in order to feel better, but with little relation to the facts.

This is not to say that spouses never have any valuable knowledge of each other. They often do -- and more than their friendships have. It can be very important to their lives. Many men find their wife helps inspire and encourage them through bad mental states. Many women find their husband helps calm and lead them through bad mental states.

But the comparison is not fair. If they spent so much time and effort with their friends then their friends would get better at doing the same things. Nothing about a marriage makes those specific skills more possible or effective.

You might say that it's too risky to develop that with a friend who is not committed to staying with you for your entire life so that's why this personal knowledge should be developed with a committed spouse. My first reply is that putting all your eggs in one basket -- who is about 50% likely to die before you, and has a significant chance to die many years before you -- is not the conservative, risk-averse strategy that, apparently, it is being implied to be.

But aside from being trivially false, it's also false for a more philosophically interesting reason. It is fundamentally the same point touched on previously about promises being irrational. What does this commitment to stay together really mean? Is it a promise? If so, what use is that? Either it will be right to stay together, or it won't be. Promising to stay when one should not cannot help matters. It is only a promise to do wrong. Promising to stay when one ought to stay is irrelevant -- and possibly harmful: if we stay because we promised without realizing it is right then we, by not understanding the full importance and rational reasons for staying, run the risk of being persuaded to change our minds fairly easily due to our ignorance. What if it's a statement of intent to stay together? So we don't promise, we just try to plan things out so that happens? Well first consider what married couples would be pleased to think of things that way! They are fragile enough about leaving already. Just try telling your girlfriend that you refuse to promise not to leave her. She won't be pleased at your rationality. She will wonder if you are setting up excuses for leaving in advance. She will be fearful. She will think of course you should intend that -- if you don't she will be very angry with you, and feel betrayed -- but look you should care at her enough to do more than try. Any other guy would promise. You must not really love her.

But never mind that married people won't accept statements of intent. Are they actually a good idea? Well, they work well for short term things. But the further into the future the intent goes, the harder the future is to predict. If you are making predictions about a decade hence either your life is very static -- unlikely to have much change -- or your statements of intent are fairly worthless. Sure you intend to. If it works out. But if unforeseen circumstances change things then your statement of intent will be void. If you make long term predictions then the unforeseen circumstances are so overwhelmingly likely that the statement of intent should be considered fairly worthless in the first place because it will almost certainly become void. What it really comes down to is morality. The only thing that should keep people together is that it is good for them to stay together. The fear being discussed is creating valuable, personal knowledge with someone, then they leave without using it and getting the benefits of all that work. (Creating the knowledge itself should be an interesting learning experience one was glad to have had, so this is already a bit confused. It's not work.) So why not just say it this way: you believe it is important for a person with such knowledge to, in most circumstances, stick around and stay in your life. In other words: it would be wrong to leave, because of the knowledge. Fine. That's a perfectly reasonable sort of thing to claim. But then what do you need a promise or commitment or any sort of intent for? It's wrong to leave. There you go. If person wants to leave you can tell them they are making a mistake and it is better for both of you if they change their mind. You can explain why. You can be persuasive. You believe you are right, and have a good case, so you have every reason for optimism in this discussion. And also if person persuades you he is right then again any promise or intent would be irrelevant -- now you would have to say: damn your promise, you are right to leave, that is for the best, so go, the promise was a mistake, but keeping it would be a larger mistake!

Once it's down to morality, not marital vows, commitment, promises, or whatever, then it doesn't really make a bit of difference whether it is your spouse or not. Your friends should give some priority to not leaving, proportional to how much knowledge you've created with each of them. Ditto for your spouse. It's the same. And creating knowledge with someone shouldn't be seen especially as creating risk. It's now more right to stay. (The actual importance of people staying in your life is open to some debate and is off topic. But precisely how important it is has no bearing on the principle.)

The way people choose marriage partners is absurd. It has a lot to do with sexual attraction and physical appearance. What have those to do with knowledge?

Most people never claimed marriage has anything to do with knowledge, of course. It never occurred to them that it is or should be. So why do I keep addressing that issue? Because knowledge *is* important, and the only way to make a plausible defense of marriage is to claim it somehow is about knowledge. What else would matter? (Seriously, email me answers. And yes I know many would mention love, sex, or children. Maybe I'll address those issues later.)

So people choose marriage partners a lot about sex and looks. Also first impressions play a large role. Also courtship plays a large role. That's silly too. How can you learn the suitability of someone for married life by interacting with them in a distinctly different manner? Sure it's possible -- human creativity will not be stopped by such trivialities as doing something unsuitable -- but it's not an especially good way of doing things.

Why should you care so deeply about sharing your life with someone very pretty? Are you really so shallow as that? I have nothing again pretty things. But get a painting. Get a poster. Fill your house with the best things you can find. Have nice rugs. Why should you wish to impose your sense of aesthetics on people and thereby limit which people you consider options? If marriage is so important shouldn't you seek above all to find the best personality/knowledge/worldview/ideas you can? Why should co-parent with someone you like to have sex with? Sexual prowess does not make for good mothers or fathers. They are wholly unrelated.

That brings up another point. This marriage is such a package deal of many unrelated things. Finding one person who is a great match at 20 criteria is worlds harder than finding 10 people who, combined, are good at all those things. Why should the person who is good for snuggling with to watch movies be the same person who you go on hikes with? Or pick any other two things. It's easy.

So, why indeed? Well the only plausible claim that comes to mind is: they should be the same person so you can have ongoing conversations encompassing all those things. So you can make each better with reference to the large common pool of knowledge you've developed. Because an expert at the topic is less important than doing it with someone you trust, someone you aren't embarrassed to make mistakes in front of while learning, someone who is patient with you, someone who understands how to teach you new things, someone who will recognize when you are sad and know how to cheer you up, and so on. The claim would be that such people are hard to find so it makes sense to if you are so lucky as to find a great person for all those things that are useful in general to many fields to take that person and do lots with them.

Notice that when we try to *rationally* defend marriage then knowledge comes up.

If you have a person who is good in those ways then *great*. I congratulate you. That is a good thing. And it really does frequently make sense to prefer to do things with this person you like rather than a subject-specific expert. However, consider that marriages might not generally be like that. For example marital fights are common, as is marital counseling. Why would those take place if there is so much great knowledge?

Further I ask: what does having a person like this have to do with marriage? Why marry them? Couldn't this person quite possibly be a same-sex friend? And if you did marry them, or not, what difference does it make?

You might say the difference is love. But if you have this great thing surely there are very positive and appropriate feelings to accompany it -- call them love if you like -- and whether you have a marriage ceremony shouldn't change those feelings which are based on your shared knowledge and enjoyment of each other's minds.

You might say the difference is parenting together. But you can do that without marrying. Co-parenting is a perfectly good project for a PBR (project-based relationship). So wanting to co-parent is no way to differentiate between a marriage or PBR being right for you.

You might say the difference is living in the same house. Friends could do that. This isn't really a point open to debate. There are many other differences that might be put forward. But, again, friends can do that. What's to stop them? When it comes down to it I think we all know where the line between "just friends" and "something more" is.

The line is sex (including sexual activity like kissing). If you have sex, and you have an important relationship, then like it or not our culture does not consider you to be friends, at least not first and foremost. You are lovers. You are romantically involved. You are on the path to marriage.

What sex has to do with anything is a bit of a mystery. I understand the importance in the era before cheap, reliable birth control, and I also understand that attitudes can be slow to change. But what does sex matter now? It is claimed to do everything from create intimacy, express love, untangle emotional problems, create knowledge, be extraordinarily fun, and even to be so complex as to allow for the application of great skill. And sex "means something". Having sex with someone else is this huge deal, frequently relationship ending. It's "cheating".

Maybe some other time I will attempt to put forward some plausible arguments for the above claims regarding sex, and tackle them rationally. For now it shall suffice for me to say that this stuff is complete lunacy, and any arguments in its defense are ad hoc excuses. It's much worse than arguing with UFO believers. People don't think about these things, they just behave according to their memes, and their memes make them completely blind, far more blind than a paranoid UFO nut.

If you're offended: *good*. At least you noticed I did mean you. You aren't some rare exception. Now try seriously to think about it yourself. Any knowledge you create about sex being silly yourself will serve you far better than what I could tell you, because it will be tuned to fit into your own mind well.

Feel free to email me attempts at logical arguments about the importance of sex. If I feel like it I might address them.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Leaving aside claims of what marriage can be like if you choose a very, very good spouse, let's consider what most marriages are like. As people get older they are pressured to find a spouse, especially females to find a husband (because a woman's life, lacking a marriage, has less in it than a man's, because women devote more energy and thought to relationships and less to having personal interests or a career). They are encouraged to stop waiting for someone who isn't coming (ie, a very excellent spouse), and told they aren't getting any younger (a matter prettiness and childbearing age), and they are told to stop having unrealistic expectations. The meaning is to settle for less.

How can a very close, trusting, intimate, knowledge-creating, problem-solving relationship be possible if you settle for less? How could you settle for someone who doesn't understand you well? Who doesn't care for learning deeply? Who isn't trustworthy? Who is bad at solving problems (with you, or generally) and does not have the right attitudes and personality to change this? Who lacks curiosity? Who has bad values or bad moral theories?

The advice to settle for less reveals that marriages don't *really* have all the amazing goodness claimed. They aren't about creating a better situation for knowledge creation. If they were, people would advise only to marry when the prerequisites are present. But people don't advise as such. They advise just *as if* marriage is about being less lonely, getting laid, having kids, sharing chores, sharing a house, and other mundane things (except parenting isn't mundane).

How do you avoid being (slightly) old and unmarried, and thus being pressured to finally find someone that you can be happy enough with? (One implication here is you cannot be happy enough alone. Which again speaks to marriage being chosen not because it is amazing. In this case we see people sometimes marry simply because they fear the alternatives.) The most reliable way, by far, to avoid being unmarried for too long, while maintaining high standards, is to delude yourself. Create a fantasy of what people you meet are like. Marry the fantasy that seems so perfect. I don't mean to suggest people consciously set out to do this. That wouldn't be a very good way to delude yourself. But consider love at first sight, crushes on people who have just been met, "young love", being infatuated, and so on. Further helping this along is sexual repression. When young people do start having sex with someone it seems so new and amazing that they can easily mistake this for having a good relationship, special connection, or their partner having some positive attribute.

By the way, marrying because the alternatives seem worse to you might sound logical. OK, strictly, it is logical. But it only seems this way due to irrational memes. There isn't some good reason that "being alone" should be so horrible. The main reasons it is are either that you want to be married, so you interpret unmarried state as lonely and bad. Or you don't know how to live your own life so your life is empty, in which case marriage will not actually solve the problem.

So get married young and deluded (and also frequently low on perspective just from youthful ignorance), or older and pressured. It takes great luck or skill to do better. So, most people do not do better. Their spouse is no one amazing.

You may say: never mind them. My marriage *is* special. My marriage creates lots of knowledge, more than friendships do. It is a shame many people marry who should not. I even advise them not to. When asked for details, you might talk about how in love you are, how well you can talk, how can can be happy when you are just together even without talking, how much your intimacy helps your lives, how happy you are together, how much you enjoy sex together and have no interest in sex with anyone else, how well you understand each other, how well you coordinate routine parts of your lives effectively and efficiently, how well you help each other through hard times and stress, how much you inspire each other to take up new interests (usually together), how often you tell each other interesting things, and so on. Now, here's the thing: *all those average, normal marriages, based on delusion or settling, that simply are not particularly special* ... if you ask them to describe their marriage, many of them will say *all* of the details I just listed of why the good marriage is supposedly good. The self report that people use to say how great their own marriage is, is virtually the same from couple to couple. And you are trying to claim yours is better but are only invoking the same praise everyone else claims to deserve. You have badly failed to set yourself apart: nothing listed is remotely unique. And further, that you match the claims of most marriages so closely is strong evidence you are suffering the same memes and delusions they are.

*   *   *

Three huge benefits of privacy are:

1) helps alleviate problems caused by having flaws and irrationalities (including memes)
2) helps manage flaws other people have and irrationalities (including memes)
3) helps with criticism scheduling

People don't value privacy enough in general. Children frequently play privacy-destroying games such as "Truth or Dare" and "Ten Fingers". In truth or dare people are asked questions and under very strong pressure to tell the truth. The questions are designed to be uncomfortable, to reveal secrets. They often embarrass people who have unusual sexual or drug history, or just unusual preferences. They are a mechanism by which people are pressured to have conventional experiences and preferences. Ten fingers is similar: people ask who has done something and if you have you put down one finger. Everyone can see if you've done it.

Parents don't like to give privacy to their children. That allows children opportunity to disobey. And what do they need it for, anyway? Parents are only there to help. Why hide from your helper? Children especially never have the private use of much money.

Friends pressure each other to reveal secrets, and also to talk about things (especially relationships or upsetting things), even where there is hesitance. Friends "pry". And once they do ask something they don't like not getting an answer. Aren't you friends? Why can't you tell?

Married couples are perhaps the worst destroyers of privacy. They share a room, a bed, financial affairs, their friend's secrets. They are supposed to share their intimate feelings, deepest fears, embarrassing sexual preferences, and anything their partner would feel he has a right to know or would want to know. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?" is a common complaint. "You should have told me." And they do it on purpose. They look down on privacy. "Why would you want to hide things from me?" And "We share everything" comes with bragging rights. That is the ideal.

If marriages are really about knowledge creation, at all, they should care deeply about privacy if only because knowledge creation requires criticism *at the right times* and a good way to get criticism of an idea at the right time is only to tell people at the right time.

That shows you the main idea of what criticism scheduling is about. But it also takes place within one mind. Imagine you are trying to write something, say a blog entry. Criticism is part of the editing process. (It's also part of the thought process of deciding what to write, and indeed the process of having any idea at all.) When you edit you look for flaws and problems in the writing and then figure out how to change them. Most people have separate writing and editing phases. Occasionally they will do both at once (or perhaps they are just switching back and forth very quickly). Anyhow, bad criticism scheduling might look like this: you write one sentence, then edit it a lot and try to make it perfect. And the result is you get kinda stuck and don't get much content written down. And also once you have more sentences which the first one needs to coordinate with the requirements for the first sentence will be different so the initial edits probably will have been a waste. At worst people sometimes get stuck and can't write much at all because they always stop to criticize and edit it, but have trouble doing that part well so early. Criticism scheduling within one mind may seem easy. Subjectively it is. But that's only because we do it without thinking about it intentionally. It is a skill that some people are better or worse at. But it's a skill we all have a fair amount of. A bit like speaking your native language seems very easy, but actually it's complex and you are very skilled.

What about flaw management in self and others? How does privacy come into play there? Well suppose someone is bad at chess, but thinks he is good at it, so you don't like to talk about chess with him or play with him, because of his faulty perspective (and you tried talking to him about it, but he seemed irrational and it went badly). You want to manage this flaw by avoiding it. How do you do that? Well either you can never play chess, or if you like chess then what you need is privacy. If he knows you play actively he'll ask you to play, and you'll be under pressure to lie (better avoided). But if you have privacy you can play chess without it coming up with him.

This brings up a common point: frequently if you don't have privacy you will be tempted to lie. This is essentially a way to try to get some privacy back. If you fool someone then they'll act as if the thing they found out was false, which is a bit like they don't know it happened. Or suppose someone asks one of your opinions that you don't want to say. Then if you can't ask for privacy ("I'd rather not say.") then a way to answer the question without revealing your opinion is to lie. This is true whether you have the flaw (irrationally defensive about your opinion, for example), you just don't want criticism now (scheduling issue), or the other person has a flaw (would react badly to your opinion). In all cases lying gets you out of it, but privacy is better.

Why wouldn't you be able to just ask for privacy? Well, people might assume you would only do that if you don't want to answer, and therefore you have an opinion that is offensive. (And they might be right. Some people behave that way.) More generally, people who don't respect privacy keep trying to get the information out of you, and it isn't pleasant to be poked like that. They won't just ask a variety of question, and perhaps spy on you. They will also make guesses and possibly just assume the guess is correct, or also they might ask you about their guesses and try to judge your reactions. And if you keep refusing to discuss they may well get offended. People who value and respect privacy are nicer to interact with, but also if you set the right tone from the start they are more able to get the right idea (if you seem conventional about privacy at first then abruptly want privacy then you're probably just hiding something and claiming you respect privacy in general to cover up).

When people are irrational it's usually awkward to tell them because they are blind to it and will not appreciate the sentiment. Having privacy in general helps avoid such problems. If you only ask for privacy for the specific issues where you think someone is flawed then the act of choosing which issues to request privacy about is giving away a lot of information. It's a bit like if you gave someone a map of your house, and you blurred out 5 different parts where you have something private. If you then let them look through the house of course they will investigate those 5 spots. You gave it away. But if the entire map is blurred, or you refuse to give out a map, then you're safe. Also safe is to have a distinct public area which is all clear, and the rest all blurred.

When you are irrational you probably don't want to talk about it, at least with most people. Unless they are sympathetic it isn't much fun! And commonly one mechanism irrational memes have is that if you consider doing otherwise then they make you feel bad. So if people manage to persuade you that rationally you should change your mind, a likely result is to find yourself unable to do so and to feel very bad about it.

That's irrationalities other people disagree with. Another scenario is you are making progress in getting rid of your hang up, and it's a conventional hang up, and then you should want privacy from people who have the same hang up, because they would pressure you to see things in the old, normal way, and try to make you feel bad about changing, and also they might be offended that you are trying to be better than them and think their way of life is bad. You could also label this a kind of criticism scheduling. Once you have changed yourself and are solidly the new way you might not mind to get flak from conventional people anymore. You may have finally fully learned how to handle it (perhaps by running test conversations with the conventional voice in your head).

Privacy about age is nice for dealing with ageist people. This is hard in person, but fairly possible online. This is another example of managing a flaw in another person. Also if you were a bit ashamed of your youth, and perhaps felt you were not adult enough to do serious, important things, then again privacy can help because at least other people won't be able to bother you about the shame or encourage it. If you are being hard on yourself that is difficult enough, you don't need the added burden of trying to defend yourself (while not even sure you should be defended in what you are doing!).

Privacy about medical records is a commonly respected type of privacy. It's no one's business but your own and your doctor's, if you have an illness. Unless you have reason to want to tell them. That's a good attitude. You don't need a special reason to have privacy for your records. It is your right. I expect that you approve of medical privacy. So take a moment to think about why you approve of this privacy, and whether that attitude logically should also apply to other types of privacy.

The privacy of one's bedroom is also respected in general, except for laws against sexual deviants (gays, sexually active young people). But that mostly applies to strangers. Your friends very well may ask about your sex life. Be wary. It is important to be free to try your sexual preferences (with consent of partner) and not to repress them. Knowing that your friends will ask, and it will be difficult to avoid telling them, is an extra mechanism by which people are under pressure to keep their sex conventional and repressed.

There is nothing to gain from having little privacy. Tell people things when you want to talk about them (and think it's safe enough). Other than that, what do you have to gain from a policy of not taking seriously and protecting your privacy? Remember that you can always reveal some information later should you find a reason to do so, but you can't take it back, so when in doubt keep it private.

You should take steps not to ask for private information, and not to be told private information. If someone is gossiping about a third party you should interrupt and see if it's OK for you to be told this. If your friend says, "oh, she wouldn't mind" that isn't good enough. You need to take responsibility for yourself, and form your own opinion of whether this would be minded. To do so you'll want to ask for the *reasons* your friend knows the third party wouldn't mind, and see if they are good.

Try to notice when you are getting information out of people. Even if they don't seem angry that doesn't mean it's ok, and it especially doesn't mean it's *best*. Often people tolerate invasive friends without complaint, and will say it's fine if asked, but if they really had control of the situation, and they were under no pressure, they wouldn't tell. Pressuring information out of people is like rape. And it's well known that rape victims often fail to stand up for themselves (and this creates many borderline cases where the person didn't want to have sex but didn't clearly or verbally communicate that fact. but anyway you don't want to be either person in a case like that!). And rape victims often blame themselves. Anyway, mind rape: just don't do it. And after social nights think back on what happened in the conversations: noticing such things after the fact is a lot easier than in real time. A lot of people pressure their friends and don't realize it. So if you're thinking you don't do it, that isn't sufficient. Maybe you, too, don't realize it. You better analyze some situations you were in thoughtfully to make sure.

You might think if someone really didn't want to answer your question, they wouldn't, and that isn't your responsibility. This is the wrong way to look at it. If a computer program tried to get a secret out of you by asking the same 5 questions over and over on an infinite loop then yes it would fail, and people who answered would be people who wanted to answer. That's trying to get the answers *non-creatively*. But when people ask, and then ask again in a different way, and again, what they are doing is using creativity to make each question as hard to answer as possible. And the answerer is using creativity to try to avoid answering each time, but it's hard: the path of least resistance is often just to answer. In this creative battle of wills either side can win. The defender starts with a number of advantages, sure, but they can be overcome. And the aggressor has advantages too. Often numbers. Often social convention.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Parenting one child (well) is a very large project. Deciding to do it is a big deal. It creates lots of obligations towards the child. And they are very time-sensitive -- child needs help now, not later. They are hard to reschedule.

Lots of questions and hypotheticals about parenting involve two children (or more). Many of them try to prove painless parenting is impossible by putting forward difficult situations and claiming there is no solution. Fundamentally, these issues are not very interesting. Two kids? Well of course it's easy to craft very difficult situations out of that. You've taken on two, separate, very large, very time sensitive projects, with unpredictable and hard to change schedules. Of course that's probably not going to work very well. Just like one kid + one arctic expedition. Or one arctic expedition + one space expedition (simultaneously). Or trying to raise your young kid attentively while President.

Many people would say, "But I want 2 (or more) children, and I don't want to have the second one when I'm 50." I agree that with present lifespans having multiple children while avoiding overlap is not much of an answer (occasionally people have more kids after their first one or set grow up. it can work. but it isn't like some great idea to recommend to everyone). Also, by the way, there always must be a little overlap unless the first child dies. But when child is mostly independent then it is no longer problematic: you have plenty of time, attention, etc, for a new large project.

Note also that any problems which result from choosing 2+ children were in no way fundamentally inevitable dilemmas! They were avoidable. You chose to face them. And, if they are seriously troubling you, then you chose to face them without being adequately prepared, which again is not at all inevitable. And note also that many common examples of potential problems with 2+ kids, such as them fighting ... well they are common! They are well known! If you have a second kid without thinking about how to solve known difficulties in advance, and being satisfied that it will work out OK, then that is gross negligence. And if you do think you can solve them, but turn out to be mistaken, then you were mistaken, so again there was no inevitability here, just human error.

So, what *is* my answer? It is: wanting 2+ children does not address the issue of what should be wanted, which is what I'd like to know about, and consider most important. Should we want that? If we are prepared to deal with the problems it entails, then it's fine, if we are not, then we should not. This is a very liberal rule. It allows for a wide range of personal taste. It only says that if we aren't prepared to handle it, then we shouldn't want it. Otherwise, it's up to you. Judge based on your values, and I have no particular advice (Well, I guess I do think people should in general move away from large families, and towards paying more attention to less children. In fact that is a trend: more developed nations have less kids per family.)

One kid is a massive responsibility. People wildly underestimate it. Kids take time and money. People know that much, although they actually take more time than is thought if you want to parent really well (and if you don't want that, please don't have kids). They also take more money than people expect, if that money is available. And being budgeted for beer and cigarettes counts as available.

Kids are born in ignorance. Not like your stupid friend. This is serious ignorance like you can't imagine. I can't imagine it either. To properly imagine it we'd need to realize that most of our ways of looking at the world don't exist in such an ignorant person, so they give us inaccurate views. The more we think about it and create knowledge and understanding of what it means to be so ignorant, the more we are *not* seeing through their eyes. Damn hard to imagine what it's like. But understanding, and explaining, is something else. We can do that. One thing we can understand is that children need a lot of help and advice to become knowledgeable members of our culture. Expecting them to figure it all out themselves is lunacy. It is *not* lunacy because children are dumb, or their brains don't work right, or they are lazy, or they are incapable, or anything like that. But consider the past. Think of the dark ages. Think of the static societies. Think of the wars (war is on the decline). Why would past societies live in such ineffective, violent, awful ways, when they perfectly well could have invented all the good ideas we have today like democracy and freedom? Because inventing all these good ideas is hard! So, if you were to not help your kid they'd have the same sort of chance of coming up with good ideas as a neglected kid from the dark ages (with various caveats: other people might help. TV might help. Books might help. Modern appliances create extra leisure time. School would ruin everything. etc). The point is the truth is not manifest. Whole societies failed to find a lot of our good ideas for generation after generation. So it's important to help new people to learn all the great stuff we already know, not to expect them to reinvent it. So, parenting takes a lot of "teaching" (teaching is a loaded word).

School, church, and daycare cannot be expected to educate your children for you. (And if you want them to then you should reconsider why you want to have a child in the first place.)

Daycare hardly tries. I don't think many people would seriously try to argue daycare is the best place for kids. They would only say parents have a right to work and have their own lives, and daycare may be a necessary evil. That doesn't seem logical to me. If you want to "work and have your own life" and not have enough time in it for a kid then don't have a kid! What if you want to parent but only a little? Part time? Well, you could babysit. Or you might consider sharing one child with another couple. If you are thoughtful and live close (or share a house) then that certainly could work out fine for child. Why is it better than daycare? Because then child is around people who care about him personally and want to help him. At daycare there isn't much personal attention: the caretakers are focussed more on avoiding disasters (fights, tantrums, very upset children). You might object that having 4 parents would lead to fights about which values to teach child. I have two things to say about that. The first is that if you care so much about what values child has then shouldn't you be willing (and happy) to spend lots of time with child teaching him those values? The idea that daycare is better than extra parents because they won't teach him values (or much of anything) so he won't be changed when you get him back is essentially praising daycare for *not* being a place of learning, while simultaneously advocating daycare. My second comment is that it's silly to fight over which values to teach child: you should all present your best ideas and then child should make his own decision about what makes sense to him. All parents need to be prepared for the possibility their child will disagree with them about one of their values (or about anything). Complaining about some other adults being in positions of too much influence (that is, as much as you have) really comes down to complaining you have less power to control your child, and fear that he will not be obedient. That is a bad attitude.

What about Church? First, religions are very strong memes. Caution advised. Next, Church's don't claim to teach you everything you need to know. They have only a limited sphere they address. Next, religious philosophy contains errors. Never mind whether it's right *on the whole*, there are individual errors in thinking -- mistakes. It would be irresponsible to send your kids to be taught such things without helping them to understand rational philosophy, critical thinking, and logic, so that they are equipped to evaluate religious claims in the best ways that we know how. One specific example is faith. Religions ask people to have faith. Philosophically, rationally, that is no good. We should think about our beliefs and do our best to choose good ones. Embracing faith means being less thoughtful. So, at most Church can provide an incomplete education while requiring some other education for it to approached with reason.

For what it's worth, I may be not religious, and I believe there is no God, but I do not hate religion. I say this because the mainstream position of atheists today is extreme hostility to religion. Examples include Dawkins and Hitchens (Christopher. His brother is religious!). And even though I believe the largest claims made by religions are false and are magical thinking, I also think a lot of what they have to say is pretty good.

That leaves school. The first thing to consider is that most schools are Government run, and are run much worse than the post office. But that can be dealt with: you can get your kids into a private school, or a particular public school you believe is better, if you care enough. The second thing to consider is that schools expect children to be obedient. This makes them largely unsuitable places to get an education for thinking people. There can be exceptions, but people who expect obedience make very bad helpers for helping you to learn what *you* want and what *you* are interested in. Schools teach the lesson plan, not your interests. And they don't let you pick and choose what to learn according to your interests. They have homework and tests and quizzes about each topic to monitor you. Why do they need to monitor you and invade your privacy? Why can't you decide for yourself how it's going and whether you want extra help? Because they want obedience, and they need to monitor if you are being obedient, so they can punish you if you haven't learned what they want, at the time they want, and agreed with their conclusions about it. So, schools are bad places. Don't expect your children to attend. And if they do attend, don't expect them to receive much education. And if they do attend, much like with religion, it will go much better for them if they learn critical thinking skills first. It will be better if they understand that the people with authority are not necessarily right, and that obedience is bad (and also that disobedience will be punished -- children should be warned of detentions, various types of mental pressure, failing grades, and so on). School is easier to deal with for people with the knowledge to be confident, assertive, and calm in the face of hostility or adversity. Children should understand that their interests *do* matter, and that following the one-size-fits-all lesson plan is *not* the best way to learn, though it is important for avoiding trouble. And so on. Lots of skills help.

So, if school, church, and daycare won't education your kid, that leaves you. You need to be prepared to explain all sorts of things. If you don't like giving explanations then what business do you have wanting to be a parent? You also need to be prepared to learn all sorts of things that your child asks about and you don't already know. And also to sometimes learn with your child, together. And to teach him how to find things out. And so on. Big responsibility. Remember, children are born with huge ignorance.

The theme has been that parenting is a big responsibility. Many parents have a kid and suddenly feel hugely responsible for the child's safety and well being. This is a somewhat strange phenomenon. Didn't they think about this in advance? Why should the child being born be a major learning experience or cause a revelation? But, OK, they are right. They have that responsibility. They need to be careful. Just leaving everyday objects in places a child can reach could be dangerous and requires some thought.

What happens next, often, is that parents are so protective, and are so used to doing things for child's own good, to help him, and help keep him safe, is that when child wants to do something parent considers dangerous then parent tries to thwart child and is frustrated by his lack of obedience. "Why won't you listen to me? I do so much to keep you safe. Why won't you cooperate?" But obedience is not the right way to help people, offering good ideas is the way to help. Obedience is the way to force.

Another thing that happens is parents want to protect their children from *ideas*. And I don't just mean a meme that causes suicide, or an idea designed as a weapon of war, or something out of a sci fi book. I'm talking about mundane, ordinary ideas like about courtship, sex, profanity, drugs, birth, and sometimes TV in general. And sometimes even anything the parent disagrees with he labels a "harmful influence" and wants gone. This is absolutely the wrong approach. The way to fight ideas is not to hide from them, it is to criticize them. This isn't just best because it's most effective. The crucial issue is that it helps test whether you are right or wrong: it's hard to criticize effectively when you are wrong, but much easier when you are right. So using criticism causes *error correction* whereas refusing to think about the other idea has no way of correct errors if you are wrong. And some of the above it isn't even a *wrong* idea the parent wants kept hidden. It is the truth. Parents try to make their children ignorant of sex and birth, for example. What good can come of such a thing? The justifications for this are laughably flimsy. Children "aren't ready" to know such things. But why? There is no reason. People might claim to be scared of pedophiles. But that is all the more reason to make sure children are *not* ignorant about sex. A child who knows nothing of sex and relationships is a much easier target! He won't even understand what the danger is. And also he may be glad to be helped to learn what his parents were keeping from him. Hiding sexual knowledge from children is about as rational as scaring them with the idea that masturbation causes hairy palms. And it's an important part of the process by which people are made wildly irrational about sex, which is why parents are acting this way in the first place: their parents did it to them, and it has evolved to make people do it to their own kids.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Brief theory of war: voluntary actions -- those which all involved parties consent to -- are best; disputes should be decided with reason. The justification for war is: the enemy acts in such a way that the outcome will not be voluntary no matter what you do. Because then he makes a voluntary, consensual outcome impossible. Since the issue will not be decided by reason regardless of your decision, you are not wrong to use force. And in fact there is a reason you should use force: better you (who values reason) win the war than the enemy (who does not).

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Libertarian ethics allow a minimum amount of human cooperation including free trade, while avoiding force. that's very good. that line is approximately what the law should be.

it's also good for some people to cooperate more closely (ie, be friends). friends cannot automatically justify their actions by saying libertarian ethics finds those actions permissible. what works well for friends is a restricted subset of what is allowed for business partners. just because something is legal does and peaceful does not make it a good way to treat your friend. it could still be mean, callous, unhelpful, etc

one of the hallmarks of friends is that they sometimes help each other with problems. not because they have to. but because doing so benefits them -- both of them. helping someone is a perfectly interesting learning experience in its own right, but it also means having a better friend in the future which is nice. and later being helped yourself is good too.

if your business partner is annoyed by your hat, who cares (unless he will ruin the business deal over it. in which case you almost certainly don't try to reason with him about hats, or help him form better preferences. you either give up the hat or the business deal.) if an acquaintance is annoyed, you can say "who cares?", or not, your call. but if a good friend is annoyed, then while it's perfectly legal and libertarian not to care, that does not facilitate cooperation or coordination with him. it creates distance if you never resolve the hat thing and can only meet on days you aren't wearing a hat. better, generally, is to ask why he doesn't like the hat and seek a mutually agreeable solution.

even if it's entirely his fault -- an irrationality about hats -- still it is better to be helpful about it if you want to continue cooperation elsewhere. why let this little hat problem get in the way of the mathematics paper you are writing together? or your ski trip? or anything else of importance.

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Most kids are dirt poor. Not because their parents are dirt poor, but because their parents don't give them much money. This is partially and inadequately made up for with gifts, and with the ability of children to ask for parents to buy things. Children should not need parental approval to buy things -- what that really means is that if they disagree then parent gets his way by force (if they agreed it doesn't matter who is in control). Having to go through your parents also compromises your privacy. And also parents generally think kids don't need much, and prefer to keep the money (how self-serving!)

Parents prioritize a lot of things above wealth for their children. Such as lotto tickets, beer, cigarettes, kitchen remodeling, new cars, vacations, and generally whatever else they want.

For now I will make one simple suggestion: is donating to charity really more important than giving your poor kids more money?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)