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 The present state of those ideas certainly has flaws and will be superseded.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)


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)


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.

*   *   *

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)


Are there hard problems that families face? Hard parts of daily life? Hard parts of relationships? Conversations? Truth seeking?

The answer may seem obvious: yes.

Many people find these things hard. So, they are. You could change the meaning of the word "hard" to "cow-related" and then the answer is no, but that would be silly. Who could argue with this?

*dramatic pause*


Relationship problems, including family problems, can be solved with agreement. This doesn't necessarily solve the fundamental issue, but it lets life go on happily and agreeably. The only thing preventing this is irrationality.

Physics is hard. I mean it's hard to make new discoveries. But that does not mean it's hard to be a physicist. Doing physics can be fun (and if it is not, then the solution is really straightforward: switch professions). All you need to do is find internal agreement and you can go on with life happily and agreeably even if the fundamental issue remains elusive. And the only thing preventing this is irrationality.

Fundamental issues are hard, like figuring out the true laws of motion (but need not be upsetting). And irrationality is hard to deal with. Other than that, life is easy and carefree. There are no problems specific to families that make families unhappy. There are no particular difficulties in relationships that cause fights. The reason people believe there is, is that they are irrational but also blind in such a way they do not attribute the fault to their own irrationality, and instead assume it is a difficult situation and no one's fault. This, unfortunately, encourages them not to seek solutions.

Two of the most common reasons people are unhappy are wanting things they lack the knowledge (including skill) to achieve, and wanting reality to be different than it is (now, without having to bother changing it).

Ever wished your friends were a little kinder? More understanding? Smarter? More fun? Shared more interests with you? Were available more often? Either that is wanting the facts of reality to be magically different, or it is wanting to change your life without learning how to do so. If you wanted to learn how, you'd be thinking "I wish I was more skilled at improving my friends. Maybe I'll make a breakthrough tomorrow." If you were thinking of good goals for what your life could be (yes *your* life. you should want a life with a good environment including the portion of the environment consisting of people) then you'd call them goals not wishes (or you'd, right now, be thinking wishes was the wrong word). (BTW misunderstandings are caused by people being different which is caused by people disagreeing about which way is best to be.)

What is a agreement? It is an idea for how to proceed that everyone involved *prefers*. It's a preference that they have in common. In other words they agree about what to do. If you have that what can go wrong? A hurricane, sure. A fight? No. People only fight when they disagree (including misunderstandings so they think they disagree).

Hurricanes aren't problems. How to prevent damage from one is. But if that upsets you we are looking at the sort of reality denial I mentioned earlier. And there are solutions. Tie down your pigs so they don't fly away, feed your cat until it's too heavy to be blown away, etc...

Finding a agreement is the same thing as finding a common preference. It is the same thing as finding a solution such that no one is hurt. It is the same thing as living non-coercively.

Internal agreement is about getting your own autonomous theories to agree.

What is a theory, and how do we know they are roughly autonomous?

Consider fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you ask them whether the movie or TV series is better most will say they TV series. In this way many different people are alike. In other ways, these people are very different. In other respects, the contents of their minds are very different. If you ask them why they prefer the TV show they will give a lot of the same answers. Again, they are *alike*. The more detail you ask about, the more they will think and the more their answers will be different. These people have different minds and think differently, so this is to be expected. But this one part of their minds behaves, roughly, alike. That thing is less than a person and more than a simple fact like the weight of the average hippopotamus. We know it behaves roughly autonomously because it is capable of giving the same answers even in very different environments (that is, in different minds). I call it a theory. I have also called it a part of a personality or a personality strand. And I also call it an idea because I don't want people to think I mean something like Newton's Law of Gravity which they might if I said "theory". Idea, however, has connotations of something less than the type of theory I have just described. (The reason there is no ideal word to use is that our culture/language does not understand this issue very well yet.)

What gets in the way of agreement? Ignorance? Differences? Problems being hard to solve?


Ignorance is no obstacle to agreeing. There is a rational, objective way to think about the situation, including both people in it (or more), and they can both take that view. More concretely, they can agree to put off a decision until the ignorant person learns more. Or they can agree the best thing is for him to do as the more knowledgeable person suggests for now. This can be evaluated without knowing whether the more knowledgeable person is correct or not. You don't have to agree about that and you can still agree about what to do next. If he wants you to do something and you aren't sure if it's good there is a rational way to think about this situation, and you can use reason to decide how to reply (do it, don't do it, decide later, whatever). And if you can make your decision according to reason, he can agree it is correct. Or he can disagree and criticize, and then you can agree with the criticism, or reply to it further. And so on. And then you will agree about what to do because of what you have in common: reason.

You may fear the "and so on" step will take a long time. He will criticize what I said. I won't think that's right and will criticize what he said. That will sound wrong to him and he'll argue back. Then I'll argue more. And so on.

That is not the natural way of things.

When people are rational and are listening to each other and taking each other seriously and are not biased in favor of their own ideas but are really open to whatever view makes most sense, then every step of the way we can expect the likely result is agreement and the rare result is another round of disagreement. (Another likely result is a short break for some questions to clarify things and increase understanding.) What we have on our side here is that good ideas are hard to come by. So usually we won't have a better idea than the one someone tells us. And if we do, they probably won't have a better idea than that. And so on. And if this goes wrong then all that's happening is we have an unusually long string of good ideas. Not particularly scary :)

Long running disagreements are common, and people remaining different is perfectly fine. It can be hard to understand each other and to get a clear view of which lifestyles and personalities are best, and how to have them. But that isn't what we are talking about here. The issue is agreeing about what to do next. We always have the option: go our separate ways. The only reason we are having this discussion is that we both want to do something together (we already agree on the main point). So that's why it should be easy. We will find a way to do it that we both like. If we haven't yet either we will think it's worth continuing to try (and so we will be happy to keep trying) or we will think it's too much trouble (in which case we would not like to keep trying. but we won't, so no matter).

There is perhaps an underlying idea here: that both people will respect the right of the other to go his own way if he prefers to do so. Either person is expected to agree to that without further discussion if the other wishes it. This is perhaps not a matter of reason but simply of liberal principles: we wish people to be free to live their own lives, not obliged to do what we want them to do. This is a principle of open societies, and it is a principle of the Enlightenment, and it is good. Forcing someone to continue to try to find a mutually agreeable way to work together doesn't even make much sense. If you want mutual agreement then you should let him go when he wants to.

Certainly in families and personal relationships we should especially want our loved ones to be free and not to do anything they don't want to, right?

People being different and problems being hard to solve are also not obstacles to agreeing about what to do next. That people are different means they may prefer to go their separate ways; they may not wish to cooperate for a common goal at this time. But in that case they can agree to that; they can both prefer it. And if there is a hard problem to solve, then you can agree to work on it, or agree to avoid it, or agree to a temporary measure that seems best, or whatever. There is no reason that should cause people to fight.

Disagreeing about what to do next is fighting. It means you can't agree to go your separate ways, and can't agree to do something together either. You are failing to cooperate or separate. And this is not rational. If you can't be productive together, go do different things. Fighting won't help anything. A discussion might. But if you want a discussion, and the other person does too, then you agree about that, and you agree about what to do next. For there to be a fight at least one person must be unwilling to have a discussion.

You may think *that* is the problem: that person doesn't want to discuss. He is preventing problem solving. But that isn't obvious at all. Many things aren't worth discussing. Why bother? You could be writing a mathematics paper. Or learning chemistry. Those might be much more valuable things to do than to discuss this problem. He could have plenty of other reasons too. Maybe he'd rather discuss later. If you think he's wrong you might want to discuss that. And he might not want to. He might not want to tell you his reasons, or hear yours. Now do we have him cornered? He's avoiding criticism! Nah. He still might have better things to do. Further, he might think you are acting unpleasantly and he doesn't want to talk about it because he doesn't think you will take him seriously and listen with an open mind. Or maybe he expects mean or unhelpful comments from you. He might be right about that. If he isn't -- if you are sympathetic to him, and want to help -- then why won't you let him alone?

There is one especially good reason to discuss apparent problems. But it is never urgent. It only becomes urgent if people avoid it for a while, which is a sign of irrationality or a mistaken view of how important it is. (But you will get opportunities to correct that mistake if you know better and they are being rational.) The reason is: to prevent *chronic* problems. One time problems don't need discussion. Sure, something went wrong. But if the same situation is unlikely to happen again then who cares? Forget about it and do something valuable. And a lot of problems could be chronic but people figure out (all by themselves) how to do better, so they don't need discussion. You should only think something is chronic after the second time at earliest. Before that don't worry it could be chronic. The third time is a more reliable indicator that there's a repeating problem.

People do chronically avoid fixing chronic problems. (And by problems I mean irrationalities that cause them to fight with people in their lives. And by fight I mean sabotage finding agreement about how to proceed.) They do this out of irrationality. Fixing repeating problems is worthwhile. (Note: in theory the costs of fixing could exceed the costs of all the many repetitions that will happen. In that case it isn't worthwhile.) This supports what I've been saying: people fight due to irrationality, not due to life being hard in some way.

Isn't being rational hard?

No, not really. It's hard to figure out what is the rational way to live. It's hard to create that knowledge. But if you don't know how to be rational very well, so what? Do your best. No one can ask more of you than that.

The real issue is: today we know how to be rational to a certain degree. Many people don't live that way. They live less rationally than we know how to. And it isn't due to ignorance. They say being more rational is hard or unpleasant.

Living according to reason is, of course, actually rather more pleasant, because you accomplish your goals more, learn more, solve more problems, fight with friends less, and so on. (But reason and truth are no guarantee of happiness. And indeed the deluded man often thinks he is happy. That is an issue for another day.)

What is supposed to be hard about it?

- Taking criticism well (let alone enjoying it)
- Not being attached to your own theories or ideas
- Not having a biased perspective
- Not taking discussion personally (or better: applying it personally without getting offended or upset if it implies you have made mistakes and should change)
- Keeping your emotions under control (or better: changing your emotional makeup so you don't have inappropriate ones in the first place)
- Thinking seriously and trying in general (if you don't want to do that, why stay alive?)

Really, being irrational is a lot harder. Then people can make comments wondering why you aren't suicidal, and have a point. Rational people are immune to such things.

Taking criticism badly makes life a lot harder. It means you have bad reactions to criticism. That itself right there is a problem! You get upset. Better if you didn't. And then also it means you stay wrong longer when you have bad ideas. So you spend more of your life making mistakes. These make your life harder than if you'd done something better.

Being attached to your own theories and having a biased perspective also make you stay wrong longer. And they make it harder to come to agreement with your friends. That makes life harder and less agreeable for both you and your friends. Not thinking seriously makes you stay wrong longer too.

Taking discussion personally makes it harder for you to have productive discussions. It makes life harder than if you were more rational.

Acting on emotions not reason means making more mistakes, which makes your life harder. Imagine the man who gets angry, then drunk, then loses a lot of money gambling. Now his life is a lot harder and less pleasant.

Perhaps the hard part is changing these characteristics.

And indeed that is hard.

But not because life is hard.

It is hard because of irrational memes and the accompanying logic of a static society, from which we come.

Life is not hard. Our culture is hard to deal with.

The problems we face which seem hard are either fundamental (and not upsetting), or parochial.

What should you do about this? One thing well worth bearing in mind is: when conversations start to go wrong, slow down. Pause and think. Be much more careful with what you say next. Regain perspective. Arguing the fine details you were discussing isn't really that important. If you fight about it and never speak of it again life will go on anyway. If you *don't* fight about it and never speak of it again, life will go on too, but better. Take your time. Don't imagine pressure to act now. It isn't there.

*   *   *

Reader: You sure seem to know your Roman Numerals. Very fancy. But can you do large numbers?
Elliot: Sure, no problem.
Reader: Can you do 40?
Elliot: Hmm. That's larger than I expected. Too hard. You might even say 40 is XL.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


How do you think so that you come up with good ideas? What's the secret?

In general:

  • keep an open mind
  • examine all sides of an issue
  • don't reject your ideas because they seem bad, try to improve them
  • speak up and ask friends for criticism, suggestions, etc, don't wait until you already have a good idea to have a helpful discussion
  • optimism helps
  • learn good ideas other people have had
  • try to connect different ideas
  • ask lots of questions. asking others is ok but asking yourself questions is the best.
  • seek the truth whatever it is, not what you want it to be
  • don't let your emotions get in the way
  • don't let what seems best for you cloud your judgment of what is true
  • hold your ideas tentatively, not with certainty
  • don't be afraid to discover you are wrong about something, even something you feel strongly about
  • keep trying, you aren't going to have your best ideas in the first five minutes. not on the first day either. think about stuff every day.
  • apply ideas to areas they weren't intended for if they could logically apply and see how it works
  • sometimes a joke idea can work if you change it a bit. dumb ones too.
  • good ideas can come any time, even in the shower. be aware and alert.
Stuff like that. You've probably heard most these before (maybe separately). But doing all of them excellently in real time is harder than just remembering these bullet points.

To really do them well in your life what you need is to create certain kinds of *attitudes* and *policies* that feel *natural* and you do "automatically". you need to form good habits so your first reaction is something from the list, not something irrational or emotional or anti-truth-seeking.

one way to do this would be to take them a couple at a time (pick related ones) and pay close attention to how much you do them or not and watch for situations where you should do them. then make sure to do them, even if it doesn't feel normal. after a while you'll get more used to it, and see how well it works which will be encouraging (or you'll see it has a problem and have to reconsider if it's really a good idea -- but that's good to you'll learn something). after a while you will start to predict the situations where you should do these things in advance and you'll be mentally ready before it even happens. with practice/learning it gets faster to figure out what you were going to do, and check if it fits the new things you are trying to do, and if not figuring out what you should do instead. after a while it becomes second nature. that's good. now do it with more things.

to do this successfully you need to be pretty self-aware. and you need to take your time not act (or talk) without thinking. it helps if you can put everything aside, mentally, for a minute, and think about how to proceed. don't get caught in the moment -- then you'll revert to old habits.

it also helps not to question your new policy every time it comes up. if you think some of these things might be good to do, and want to try them, then do so wholeheartedly, even if you aren't sure. that's the only way to see if they really work. decide to try them for a while and if you need to reconsider at some point fine, but don't reconsider every time it comes up, do that separately if you notice some problem. if you're wondering if it's really a good idea every time you're gonna sabotage it (unconsciously) or just make the whole experience unpleasant. it's kinda like if you were trying to read more, but you often don't feel like reading, then every time you pick up a book if you struggle with your feelings about it that is not gonna be much fun or work out well. it'd be better to make a decision, and then try to just do the reading if you think that's best. if there's a problem then reconsider the overall policy, but don't reconsider the individual reading sessions every time. you decided it was best to do this, so just do it, you can always change the policy later if it was a mistake. dealing in terms of entire policies of behavior can be a lot easier than trying to decide everything from first principles every day.

*   *   *

Socialization is the process of learning to interact appropriately with other members of society. It sounds like a dirty word to me, something bad, but many people think it's good and fear that if they home school their kids will not be socialized well. To me it sounds like breaking people in -- breaking their spirits -- for conformity.

How to interact with people is a type of knowledge. You can learn it like anything else. You don't need to go to school. You could read a book about it. Or in this case a good source is TV where you can see how people treat each other. Or perhaps even better you can go outside, you can meet people, you can observe your parents, etc

Another issue is that this is parent-centric. what's the parent doing deciding if his child needs more socialization? if your child wants to home school (after hearing your advice, which should be in favor) then start home schooling. if you're worried about socialization, let your child know what you think he might be missing. if child finds he has a problem -- say he tries to make some friends but fails -- then *child* can decide what he wants to do about that (taking into account your advice). child can decide he'd like to try school to improve his social skills if he wants to and he values improving them and he thinks school will help. and he can do something else if he prefers that. this is called "freedom" and it's also a more effective way to learn -- people learn better when they are in control and follow their own interests and try their own ideas about how to learn (they also learn better with lots of good suggestions, many of which undoubtedly will be followed).

the real thing you can't get at home is being beaten up by bullies. and teased for being different. and hazed. and that intense pressure to start making progress with the opposite sex and go on dates and go to dances. and the pressure to be cool, and to have friends. you'll also miss out on this culture that expects you to defer to authority and not think independently. a culture where an 18 year old can be expected to ask permission to go to the bathroom -- they aren't free to go where they please. the teachers enforce it by punishing people who displease them. but worse are the other kids who don't want to risk their own status, so when you do group work they pressure you more than any teachers. and you could miss out and tests and grades and that fear of failure that ruin people's minds for life cure inborn laziness.

*   *   *

When was the last time you weren't sure if you were hungry and thought about it for a while before you made a decision? Probably this is rare at best; you probably are thinking it's too obvious not to know.

If you always seem to know if you are hungry the very likely reality is that you aren't listening to signals from your body much at all (because those aren't perfect and aren't always so obvious and sometimes take some attention and thought to figure out) and you are deciding without thinking. And the result of that would be: you don't eat only when hungry; you don't even know if you are actually hungry most of the time.

When was the last time you were hungry and ignored it for a while? You don't like to do that? That's very strange. Eating promptly isn't that important. You should reasonably often be in the middle of something you prefer to continue. Sometimes you should be so engrossed you completely forget to eat. Not eating for a while is no big deal. So why then is the "eat less" diet so hard? It's not because eating less is hard. Just do something else. Just don't pick up a fork. It's not because hunger prevents you from doing things you are really into and focussed on and enjoying. It's either because you are bored all the time and your hunger is more interesting than the crap you do. Or you are just wildly irrational about food.

Being wildly irrational about food would be no surprise. Our culture is obsessed with food, and with weight, and with appearance, and with sex, and there is huge pressure on people, and people try diets all the time, and think in concepts like whether a calories is "worth it" and attempt self denial all the time. Which all suggests that people's eating habits haven't got much to do with hunger, and have a lot to do with reactions to this huge cultural pressure (going along with it. or rebelling. either way the eating habit probably has more to do with that than hunger. the only way for your eating to really be hunger-based is if you don't much care about pop culture food/weight/sex/appearance attitudes.)

*   *   *

Are emotions learned or inborn?

They are learned. They are ideas. They are thoughts. That we often don't recognize them as ways of thinking and just ideas is one of the things wrong with them. They aren't a very good way of thinking.

Babies and young children appear to have emotions. It seems a bit improbable they already learned them from people somehow. So what's going on?

Seeing a behavior we associate with an emotion does not mean the person is feeling that emotion. There is an assumption there that he thinks like us, and expresses ideas and emotions just as we would. But the whole idea here is this child does not yet think like us, and doesn't know about emotions. So if you see a behavior you do not know what the thought process behind it is. It isn't like yours. There is, prima facie, no evidence the child is being emotional.

Of course, parents then go and tell them they are being emotional and encourage it. "Oh, you seem angry." Or, "She looks so happy." And it's a classic situation that a parent says his child is upset/angry (and calls it a "tantrum") and the child says he isn't being emotional and he just wants the actual thing in dispute and the parent isn't listening. Notice how the parent interprets something in terms of his emotions, and the child denies he is thinking that way, and the parent then insists really it is emotions and tries to force that interpretation on the child.

Unfortunately teaching of emotions is largely inexplicit. Just avoiding statements like, "and how did you feel after susie did that?" or "i know you're upset about XXX, but..." is not enough. i expect emotions will be passed on pretty much completely normally even if you never say anything like that. we don't know their exact mechanisms and logic.

if we can't suppress the idea of emotions, what should we do? well suppressing it isn't a good idea anyway! that's not truth seeking! if your kid picks up the idea of emotions who cares? just don't coerce him about them, don't hurt him, so he doesn't get irrational entrenchments. the truth seeking approach is freedom of thought and information. just convey the same rational ideas about emotions too, and give some advice, and criticize the emotional way of life, and let the truth win out.

what is a rational approach to emotions? at the least: they aren't necessarily right. emotional choices need to be backed by reasons to be any good. making decisions based at all on how you feel is not the way to find the truth, or to make good choices, or to have a life worth being happy about. and emotions aren't that important. at least if you don't think they are. people make such a big deal about them they create their importance. just don't think about it too much and it's not such a big deal.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)


I say this a lot: force is no way to find the truth. Only conjecture and criticism can. One reason I say it a lot is that people don't seem to get it. Parents force their kids over silly things like playing with fire. Teachers force students over studying. Governments force citizens over what projects to fund.

Maybe people don't realize there is a truth to be found for all these issues. Which projects are best to fund is a matter of truth. We want a true answer -- the best answer we can get. An answer that says it's the best, but turns out false, is no good to us. What the right ideas are in an academic field is a matter of truth too. It's not a matter of the teaching deciding. We want the truth not the teacher's opinion that might be false. And which things a student should study is also a matter for truth. We don't want a list that's completely false and will result in disaster. We want a list that has truth regarding the matter of what will work well -- will help the student. And with fire, we should want our kids to have true ideas about fire. That's what's safe -- just like adults are safe around matches because they have true ideas about the properties of matches and fire. But instead of helping child learn the truth, they just use force, and he doesn't learn. They claim it's for safety or something, but really their actions are not at all safe: how many fire-related child injuries are children going behind their parent's back because they are trying to follow their interest and their parent won't help them learn safely? Safety comes from knowledge of how to be safe, not from an ever vigilant parent trying to watch every choice child makes and overrule some -- that never works children will get some time to themselves.

A common mistake people might make when trying to stop using force is they want to meet their friend for a fun day at the park, and their friend declines, and then they say, "Wait, don't just force the answer to be no. Let's find the truth of whether you should go to the park." Actually that's fine so far, but if the friend says no again you better leave him alone or you are using force to make him discuss when he doesn't want to. Involuntary discussion is no way to find the truth he isn't going to come up with great ideas he'll just try to get rid of you. And your trying to force discussion on him is no way to find the truth about whether the discussion should be had or not. If he's not interested probably it's bad to discuss. Even if he's being dumb.

On the flip side, discussion park visits is a pretty good idea if you do it well. And by well I mostly mean briefly. The discussion can be only a few sentences each. You say in one sentence why you want to go or think it's a good idea with 1-2 reasons especially ones you think your friend will appreciate. Then he thinks a little and either agrees or says a criticism or those reasons or says a reason not to go. Then you stop and think for a bit if you didn't predict what he said. And you probably agree with him. If not you give a criticism of what he said or a new reason that now appears more important to say. Then he thinks a little and maybe agrees or replies. And so on. But every step of the way there is a good chance you stop and either agree or just be done with it if it looks like agreeing will be hard. If it's hard to agree about the park thing why bother? We have enough to deal with in our lives, like agreeing about things where it's harder to go our separate ways, or doing scientific research or paintings.

This park thing is a matter for truth, but not a very important one. A more important one is who should be President. This is never discussed as well as it could be. You never see the opposing candidates actually discuss like I outlined above with brief points and answers and come to agree on most of the issues. If they were being rational they could resolve a lot of this stuff. I'm not saying the truth is obvious at all. But even if they don't agree on the absolute truth, they can agree on: given our present knowledge, what is most reasonable to believe? But candidates never have to go through the reasons for their positions in detail and let themselves get "pinned down" in an argument. It's just not expected. Instead they both say talking points that appeal to different groups of people and hope they get more votes. That's not a great way to find the truth. Yes having more appeal is good, but it's not nearly as good as having a rational discussion with the other side. On the upside, in the scheme of things the *change* from one election to the next is the voters who changed their mind during the last 4 years, plus any changes in policies by either side, so the system as a whole is pretty rational.

Here are examples of rational conversations:

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: Not especially.
Joe: We could play frisbee.
Sue: I'd rather watch Avatar at home.
Joe: Cool, can I watch too?
Sue: Sure.

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: If we'll play frisbee.
Joe: No my wrist hurts we'd just walk the dog
Sue: Dogs are boring and the sun burns my skin.
Joe: OK, see you later.

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: What for?
Joe: There's going to be a concert thing.
Sue: What's it like?
Joe: It's a bunch of trance bands I bet you'd like it, and it's free.
Sue: OK, sure.

Joe: Want to go to the park?
Sue: What, like a date?
Joe: No expectations, I just thought it might be fun and I'd like to get to know you more.
Sue: I don't know, what would we do there?
Joe: Play frisbee or taunt the plants. And talk.
Sue: OK, sure.

And here's some ruined by politeness:

Joe: Want to go to the park this afternoon?
Sue: I think I might have band practice then.
Joe: What about in the evening?
Sue: Oh! I promised David we'd work on our science project then.
Joe: What about tomorrow?
Sue: I think I'm pretty busy with homework.
Joe: Maybe some other time.
Sue: Yeah.
(Joe leaves with no idea if Sue wants to go or not. Our best guess is she doesn't want to go, even though she refused to say so and actually said *yes* to maybe another time.)

Joe: Want to go to the park this afternoon?
Sue: I don't know.
Joe: Let's do it. Come on!
Sue: I guess I don't see why not.
Joe: Good, I'll pick you up at 3pm.
(This could happen if Sue does not want to go but is being polite.)

In this next one Sue is at Joe's house and he wants her to leave so he can do some things alone.

Joe: Could you please leave, I'd like to do some stuff without you.
Sue: Well I can see I'm not wanted here. Why'd you even invite me over? Jeez. Fine I'll go. You don't have to be such a jerk about it.

To avoid that, Joe is more likely to say:

Joe: I have a thing I have to do in an hour, OK?
Sue: Sure, I'll leave then.

That's polite. Sigh. Doesn't figure out the truth of when is good to leave at all. Doesn't get what anyone wants. Sue isn't allowed to say anything even if she wants to stay or this might happen:

Joe: I have a thing I have to do in an hour, OK?
Sue: Well, I was hoping I could stay longer so we could watch Avatar on TV together at 8pm.
Joe: Oh, well I guess you can stay then.

Now Sue is staying even though Joe doesn't want her to because she dared give a reason but Joe is too polite to give one himself. The truth of whether she should stay isn't found and she runs a serious risk of Joe "dealing" with this problem by just not inviting her to visit again.

*   *   *

Here's another movie review for Just Like Heaven, also with spoilers (also there is one vague spoiler for Cruel Intentions). In this romance, she's a ghost and only he can see her. The magical thinking continues throughout and actually since there are already ghosts it's easier for them to get away with magical romantic "fate" stuff like she's a ghost because her unfinished business is him and she just happened to be getting set up on a first date with him the night she got hit by a car. By the way romance movies sell better with a happy ending, so actually she's in a coma and wakes up when he kisses her (funny, right? But people actually like this stuff and find it "sweet" or it wouldn't be in movies meant to have mass appeal.) Cruel Intentions has a sad ending. In the director commentary he said he got in the contract from the very start he wouldn't have to change the ending when it turned out that test audience would prefer a happier ending. So there really is a lot of pressure even to mess with the script to get happy romantic sweet endings, enough so you need a contract to protect you.

One cool thing about the movie is that he had rational reason to believe the ghost was real, and in fact he actually gave good evidence to other people. There was "stuff only she would know" style evidence that wasn't great but OK. But what was cool was she could see things and talk with him, so she was able to see behind someone's back and then he could repeat how many fingers were being held up and prove something weird was going on. He could do this with a blindfold on and it would actually work. He could have won the Randi Prize. He could have persuaded scientists. That would have made a much cooler plot. Instead he only persuaded his friend, but still that was a cool way for it to happen. Usually ghost movies no one bothers to look for ways to actually test if it's real. The friend suggested the idea actually: he's like "if you're telling the truth about this ghost, then she ought to be able to see behind my back". that's a good thing to say! and then he really could! still the most likely thing is a hidden camera and a big elaborate set up. but cool anyway.

Their relationship was way above average for a romance movie. They spend most of the movie going around together (cause only he can see her, so she's always with him) and they spend the whole time talking pretty much. they don't really talk about personal stuff or philosophical opinions much but they do get used to each other's company and have good reason to want to be around each other more and they both actually have character backgrounds so you can see how each helps the other. his wife died 2 years ago and he's been drinking beer on the couch since and when he's trying to find out what happened to her (at first they don't know she can't remember) he gets out of the house finally and the company helps him too so he gets out of his funk. and she was a doctor who worked 26 hour shifts and had no life apart from that and personally I respect that but she's glad to have a social life now.

in fact at one point she is planning to stay in the hospital with her body and him to go home, and they don't plan to see each other again. and he's hesitant to leave. and to me it's obvious: he's going to miss her. they've been talking all day for days straight and like each other. of course he doesn't want to give that up. but he doesn't figure out to say anything and they part. so in most movies they fall in love and i still can't see why they like each other at all. but here they actually realize they have a relationship *less* than I do, at one point. so that's great! not some crazy instant falling in love for no reason.

to add drama when she wakes up from the coma she forgets him. but he's really good about it and says he doesn't want to scare her and totally backs off and leaves her alone. but he does go make her the garden on her roof she wanted since she moved in (he's a landscape architect). that's nice of him. and he doesn't then get mad when it doesn't cause her to remember, or say she owes him a chance, or anything. actually he was slightly too passive I think. but they touch hands in parting or something and she remembered. I thought he should have said something like, "I know you don't remember, and I know this will sound magical, but when you were in that coma you came to me as a ghost and we fell in love. I know a lot about you, so if you give me a chance you'll be surprised. Can we try spending a little time together? You can also verify this story with your sister and with my friend." That'd be a weird thing to be told, but well it's a movie with ghosts, if we can look past the supernatural a bit it's perfectly reasonable otherwise and she has good reason to give him a chance. nothing to lose anyway.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

3 Flaws in Conventional Parenting

Here is some conventional parenting advice:
Good kids don't suddenly go bad. Drug abuse, irresponsible and early sex, and teen opposition to authority are all preventable acts.
The examples chosen are telling. What, in particular, constitutes a teenager "going bad"? Drugs, sex, and disobedience. Comments on each follow:

I don't like recreational drugs. I think they are bad. But it's not the end of the world if someone smokes some pot. It's common, and arguably better than getting drunk. It's definitely not true that a child has "gone bad" if he tries some drugs. Lots of the parents reading this advice tried drugs when they were younger, and don't consider themselves to be ruined because of it.

If teens have sex, it's ridiculous to say they have gone bad. Our culture values sex very highly. Why shouldn't they want to have this thing which is held up as one of the best parts of life? Adults are the hypocrites here. They teach that sex is good, then they tell young people not to do it. Why not? Because that's slutty. Because sex is only for married people. Because young people "aren't ready". And so on. But there are no actual reasons on this list. What preparation do young people lack? What about marriage makes sex work better? Calling youthful sex "slutty", and therefore bad, is just labeling without giving a reason.

What's going on regarding sex is that our culture believes that as great as sex is, it's also sinful, unless there are special circumstances (marriage) which justify the sex. This is a horrible way to approach life which is very good at hurting people. It tells teens that sex is great, but then rebukes them if they try it. It tells people to enjoy sex, but to feel bad about having sex. It's created a culture where words like "slut" and "nympho" mean something. People are hateful towards girls who have and enjoy sex, while simultaneously being jealous.

Add to this that young people are considered most attractive, and also pressured most strongly to avoid sex, and you have a recipe for hurting children. But how do parents react? By blaming children who have sex as having "gone bad". That's so unfair. Teens are put in an impossible situation, and then somehow the whole thing is blamed on their age.

Lastly we have opposition to authority. This, we are told, is preventable. What would that mean? That teens obey without question and without independent thought. Obey who? Authorities of all types: parents, teachers, priests, government officials, even experts with PhDs.

This highlights one of the major clashes between conventional parenting and reason. Parents wanted their children to "listen" (obey), whereas reason says we should discover the truth and do that. Parents want to assume they are right, instead of finding out what is right. This is a way of entrenching error -- if they make a mistake, it won't be corrected.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)