TCS Basics 8

A theme of TCS is to have discussions where you try to learn something (about what is true, rather than just sticking to the ideas you already have), and find a way of proceeding that everyone is happy with (or content with, the point is no one is distressed or suffering or hates it). But what if your child doesn't speak English yet? Or doesn't want to sit still and talk for an hour?

I only use the word 'discussion' because I don't know a better one. The important thing is there be communication with certain qualities. It can be spread into lots of little pieces with no long sessions, that's fine. If it's not in English, that's fine too, just try to express things (like options the child has) and try to understand things the child communicates (like whether he likes or dislikes something) and keep an open mind (if you expect your child to like something, but he hates it, then your prediction was mistaken and you need to change your mind about what your child's preferences are). So young children who don't have long, English discussions are no problem.

The 'discussion' (communication) does need to have certain properties. It needs to be rational. That means if either side has a mistaken idea it could be corrected. It means ideas are treated as having a degree of uncertainty. It means never relying on authority in place of using your own judgment and understanding, and especially not expecting your child to submit to authority against his better judgment. The communication needs to facilitate voluntary interaction. That means if a child should do something, you don't force him to do it, you help him understand why it's right. If something is morally right, and you don't help a child see that for himself, then you are doing him a great disservice. And if you force him to do it while he thinks its wrong, you are making him act in a way he considers wrong so he loses respect for right and wrong, and also for you. Principles like these work just as well with young children as older children, and also work with adults. Forcing adults to do things is bad too, and with adults too if something is right to do (like being kind to one's children) then it's very important he understand that for himself, and not do it just because someone commanded him to.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Sad Story

In May 2007, I posted to the TCS list a Sad Story:
Show: Lizzie McGuire

Background: Lizzie is a pretty normal girl, about age 14. Larry
Tudgman is a nerd her age and one episode he asks her out. She feels
bad about rejecting him and decides to go on a date, but then he
tells people at school that they are boyfriend and girlfriend. She
breaks up with him and says they aren't compatible. She expects him
to cry. The conversation continues as follows:

Tudgman: I guess you're right. We're living a lie. I need a
girlfriend who's into astrophysics, amphibian skeletal systems, and
rotisserie baseball.

Lizzie: Yeah. And I need a boyfriend who's into
...
(pause)
...
"stuff". (small laugh)

The show then cuts to Lizzie's thoughts, and she thinks:

"Maybe I should develop some interests."

But then she adds:

"And then I could join a club and meet a boy there."
Someone replied:
I don't think that's necessarily a sad story at all.

Inexplicitly Lizzie is into a lot of things ... like figuring out
relationships, attraction, cultural ideas and expectations for girls.

These things are at least as important as amphibian skeletal systems.
And David Deutsch wrote:
In a way, yes. But in practice that's not really comparing like with like. There's 'figuring out' and there's 'figuring out'.

For instance, if the boy's figuring out leads him to the conclusion that existing ideas about amphibian skeletal systems are fundamentally flawed, and if he's right (or even interestingly wrong), then it will lead him to *gain* exactly what he's looking for: more and more chances of being entertained, respected, mentally enriched -- and indeed paid -- for doing that very kind of thinking, which he is already doing for the intrinsic fun of it even today.

But if Lizzie's figuring out leads her to the conclusion that existing ideas about relationships, attraction, cultural ideas and expectations for girls are fundamentally flawed, then whether she's right or wrong, this will lead her to *lose* all the things she is currently looking for. She will only get those things if her thinking ends up with the same conclusions as most of the other girls who are doing it.

I think the story is indeed sad because of the pause, and her subsequent thoughts, during which she did *not* say that she found those cultural ideas wonderful to think about -- nor anything else, for there was no such thing. It was precisely because Lizzie recognized her own life as being devoid of the kind of interests the boy had, that there was a painful gap. Which she eventually filled by deciding to do *more* of what she's not intrinsically interested in.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Taking Children Seriously

All long lived ideas are spread from older persons to younger persons. If that didn't happen, an idea could not outlive the current generation. The future of civilization depends on its knowledge (including traditions, institutions, ideas about a good society, etc...) continuing to exist over time. Consequently, the future depends on which ideas are passed on to younger persons, and in what way. Any civilization which does a bad job of this cannot last but will die off.

For passing on ideas to younger persons, the most important thing is the behavior of parents. Parenting is by far the biggest influence and factor here. Bear in mind that for a child to attend school, his parents choose to send him, and if they behaved otherwise then the child would not attend. (There are exceptions for some countries with laws suppressing that freedom, but they could choose to emigrate instead of comply, so again the behavior of parents is the most important consideration.)

All the major current civilizations do manage to reliably transmit ideas to the next generation. However, there is a second issue: this needs to be done in a way that allows for improvement and progress. Otherwise the civilization will never change for the better and will inevitably die off when some problem comes along that its knowledge cannot handle (like a meteor impact, or even just a tsunami for a civilization stuck with less technology and wealth).

Western civilization is in a mixed state. Improvement and progress are possible, but they are limited and we could do a better job. Better parenting and educational ideas can address this problem, as well as making family life happier.

Imagine a way of life which is perfectly transmitted to the next generation. They will therefore do the same things their parents did, including the same methods of parenting. So they will transmit that same way of life to the next generation, and this will repeat until external circumstances intervene. But no progress will ever happen. This is the nightmare scenario of a static society.

Western society is not static, but most people do parent similar to how their own parents did, in most respects. Unfortunately, that means passing on many mistaken ideas. What would be better is a method of parenting which can pass on good ideas while selectively not passing on any mistaken ideas.

No method can accomplish that perfectly because that would require omniscience. But we can do a better job of it. The most important issue is how disagreements, disputes and conflicts are approached, and whether it is in a rational and truth seeking way or an irrational way that suppresses innovation.

What most parents in the West do is consider what they think is a good or bad idea. If they judge something is bad, they'll try not to teach it to their children. This is a good start which allows for some progress over the generations. However, it has weaknesses. It misses the opportunity for the child to contribute. Parents make mistakes and those will be taught to their children. And, sometimes parents decide an idea is bad but accidentally pass it on to their children anyway.

Parenting and education can be improved by addressing these weaknesses. How can do we that?

Taking Children Seriously (TCS) is an educational and parenting philosophy. Its most distinctive feature is the idea that it is possible and desirable to bring up children entirely without doing things to them against their will, or making them do things against their will, and that they are entitled to the same rights, respect, and control over their lives as adults.

TCS is the only educational philosophy that draws heavily on the correct philosophy of knowledge (explained by Karl Popper). By applying some of the most important existing philosophical knowledge to this area, and finding its implications, TCS provides important insight. TCS is also the only parenting philosophy fully compatible with (classical) liberalism.

TCS has the philosophical answers for addressing the weaknesses.

TCS proposes that family disagreements, disputes and conflicts be approached by finding a common preference -- a way of proceeding which everyone prefers. This is different from a compromise in which the action taken matches no one's preference.

Common preferences are always possible and are a better approach than compromises, sacrifices, or the use of force. A common preference can be thought of as any solution to a problem. Anything else is not a solution but at best a "partial solution" which means some problems are not solved.

Solving problems is good. When they are not solved, people get hurt and suffer.

Let's now return to the issue of passing on ideas to the next generation while correcting mistakes in those ideas, improving them and filtering out bad ideas. Solving problems is one of the elements of how to accomplish this. It is not accomplished by people being hurt or suffering.

It's important that children use their own minds. Children should only accept ideas they are persuaded of, which is the rational approach to thinking. This will help filter out bad ideas.

As long as parent and child agree, life is easy and a wide variety of parenting approaches are in agreement about what to do: do what both the parent and child agree on. It might not be perfect but it's the best option known to them.

What sets people apart more is how they handle disagreement. If the parent and child disagree, what happens next? Does the parent force, pressure or manipulate the child to "listen" (obey, believe) as the parent says to? If so, that is irrational. It is not a truth seeking approach. If the parent is mistaken, his idea is passed on anyway, even though the child initially recognized the potential that this particular idea is a mistake. The child's input is ignored in the cases where it's most important because it could correct a parental mistake.

A rational approach which can do a better job of filtering out bad ideas must, in the face of disagreement, judge ideas based on their merits not their sources. It must not be biased against the child's mind in favor of the parent's mind. When there is a conflict it needs to open mindedly seek the truth. That means that the parent and child each may try to persuade each other and explain themselves. They both have a voice.

So, they discuss it. They explain their understanding of the problem at issue, and how it can be solved, and what they see as flaws in the other proposed solutions. And they explain how their solution can be altered to meet any criticism, or why that criticism is itself mistaken. But they still disagree. What next? They can either agree to disagree and drop the issue for now, or try to come up with better, more persuasive ideas.

Although parents know more than their children in general, that has no bearing on the specific case where the child -- knowing that his parent is knowledgeable -- still thinks he knows something important, or his parenting is missing something, about a specific issue. Because parents know more, children will usually agree with their ideas, but in the case of a disagreement then people must not assume the parent is correct. When a parent says, "Because I said so," or, "I know best, so just listen to me," that is the epitome of irrationality.

Especially crucial is that a parent never coerce his child. And it's in disagreements, disputes and conflicts in particular where parents may be tempted, but must instead rely on voluntary, mutual persuasion (just the same as liberalism's approach to disputes between adults).

All problems have solutions which are best for everyone, and if a parent fails to persuade his child of something -- if the parent is offering something the child does not see as best for himself -- then this indicates a weakness of the parent's thinking, not a character flaw in the child. The child may be ignorant, but if the parent fails to explain the issue to correct the child's ignorance then that is the parent's mistake and he should learn to be a better educator. The child may be mistaken and have bad ideas, but if the parent fails to come up with compelling criticisms of them, that is his own weakness. And if the parent offers something which isn't best for everyone, so the child rejects it, again that is the parent's mistake not to have come up with a better idea that wouldn't compromise the child's well being.

When a parent fails to rationally persuade, this is exactly the sign we need to identify potentially bad ideas being passed on to the next generation. This is the perfect opportunity to stop trying to pass on the idea and reconsider it, and only to pass it on if the parent can improve it to the child's satisfaction.

The issue of parents accidentally passing on bad ideas can also be ameliorated by never making children do anything against their will. If they are in control of their lives, they can resist picking up ideas they don't want to. So at least in some cases we can get a better result.

Although we cannot have perfection, we can recognize disagreements as places where at least one person is mistaken, and therefore as opportunities for learning, progress and improvement. If a child is mistaken, help him understand better instead of becoming frustrated and coercing him. And the more he resists parental explanations, the more unsure the parent should become, and the more the parent should begin to question the quality of his knowledge on this topic which is either mistaken or not good enough to help the child understand.

Normal parenting and educational practices today are routinely irrational. Parents punish and force their children. They coerce and manipulate. Teachers have curriculums and lesson plans and make it their goal that the child learn and agree with the material; they irrationally expect the material to have no mistakes and not to need improvement (despite the evidence that it has plenty of room for improvement: bored and unhappy children getting test questions wrong or, contrary to the irrational assumption, perhaps disagreeing about some test questions the teacher may have gotten wrong).

The irrationality of forcing children to do things applies to brushing their teeth, attending school, having a bedtime, and everything else that parents might want to make an exception for.

Improvement in this area can change lives and change the world. It's a huge opportunity. Join us and help expand and refine TCS. Learn it yourself and explain it to others.

Join the TCS discussion group: http://groups.google.com/group/taking-children-seriously

Update: TCS discussion has moved to the Fallible Ideas group.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (11)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (28)

Helping Resource Budget

People help each other. I will discuss parents helping children. These comments apply to many other situations.

John helps his daughter Lily in lots of ways, but he can’t give her unlimited help. He has a limited amount of resources: time, money, energy, attention, creativity, etc.

When Lily is very young, John decides how to help her. He uses his best judgment. He tries to take into account Lily’s gestures and reactions, but he makes the decisions. He decides how much to help and which types of help to provide.

As Lily gets older, she can make verbal requests for help, and John is often responsive to those. And later she can start planning her life more and having long term goals that she asks for help with. How John helps is still partly his decision, but he partly lets Lily decide for him. Sometimes John does something to help that he doesn’t want to, or disagrees with, because Lily cares a lot.

Since Lily gets a limited amount of help, it must be budgeted just like any other scarce resource. Lily could benefit from more help than is available. Choices have to be made about which help happens and which help does not happen. John and Lily have to say “no” to some types of help that would benefit Lily because they don’t have the resources, like time, to do them all.

John and Lily will be better off if they know that helping must be budgeted and they try to understand the prices of different types of help.

In order for Lily to get helped effectively, cost and benefit must be considered. How expensive is a particular piece of help, and how big are the benefits?

Suppose John can provide 100 points of help per day. Having a 30 minute tea party with Lily and her dolls might cost 20 points, and having a 2 hour tea party might cost all 100 points. And going out to the park is 40 points, and watching Lily’s TV show with her and answering questions is 30 points, and making her an easy dinner is 10 points, and making her a hard dinner is 50 points, and so on. That means, for example, that Lily shouldn’t ask for a 2 hour tea party if she also wants to go to the park today.

Some days, John goes over budget. That’s unsustainable. he can’t help that much, on average, every day, but he can do it occasionally as an exception. If John helps too much and keeps it up for months, then his own life will suffer, he’ll be unhappy, he’ll be exhausted, and he’ll end up having a worse life and being less helpful to Lily.

For life to go smoothly in general, John and Lily need to be aware of the budget and make reasonable choices about which things to fit into the budget and which not to. That requires having some idea of how big the budget is and how expensive different types of help are.

The prices are just estimates, but they can often be pretty decent estimates. You can’t make perfect predictions, in advance, about how expensive an activity will be. For example, John doesn’t know exactly how tiring taking Lily to the park today would be.

Technically the budget involves many different currencies: time, money, energy, etc. An activity can use 3 points of time, 7 points of money, and 5 points of energy. To simplify, it’s often OK to just think of a single budget for help and hope things average out OK (some activities cost more money than average, but some are free, so overall if the help budget comes out OK then the money budget may come out OK too). If there’s a notable shortage of a particular resource (commonly time, money or energy), then paying attention to that budget can help. People are pretty aware of time and money as limited resources, but pay somewhat less attention to energy. Sometimes you have plenty of time to do something but you’re too tired. E.g., after work one day, John might have 4 hours of free time, but because he’s tired he doesn’t want to do much more than watch TV.

Typical families do a poor job of communicating about budgeting. Parents don’t tell their children much about money. The child doesn’t know how much money the parent makes or what it’s spent on. Instead of rational budgeting, parents help in socially normal ways with no overall plan. As individual things come up, the parent tries to help if it’s a normal way that parents help children, and the parent can help (the budget hasn’t already run out). Then when the budget runs out, the parent starts saying “no” to stuff and the child is disappointed. Then the parent talks about how much he already helped his child, and how much he does for his child in general, instead of talking about how to stop doing some of those ways of helping so that the child can get some more things of his choice without running into “no”. The parent doesn’t normally say, “I don’t have time to do that for you today, but we can talk about which things I can skip doing for you tomorrow in order to save time for it and for your other requests.”

Parents often find their children’s requests unpredictable. Some days have way more requests than others. This makes it hard for the parent to know how much budget to save for the child’s requests, vs. how much help to offer the child earlier in the day.

Children often don’t think about budgeting, they just want all the help that seems reasonable or normal to them, that they see on TV or see their friends get, or that sounds good to them. That doesn’t work and leads to disappointment. They would be better off if they thought about budgeting. A 4 year old can understand and think about some budget, and a 14 year old can do a lot.

Parents can think of helping their children in three different ways: asks, expectations and guesses. Asks are things the child asks for. Expectations are things the parent is pretty confident the child wants, e.g. because he’s asked for it a lot in the past or likes it a lot. And guesses are things the parent thinks the child might like. Guesses should usually be small things so it’s not a big deal if it doesn’t work out. If the parent guesses the child would like a big thing, the parent should ask the child about it before spending a lot of resources on it.

With babies, parents start out guessing. These guesses are informed by our culture. People know, in general, what kinds of stuff babies commonly like and dislike. That gives the parent some ideas about how to help. Then the parent sees how the baby reacts, and what happens, and can start customizing the help and having some expectations. As children get older, they ask for more and more things. Once they are adults and move out, they still occasionally get help from their parents, and most of that help is specifically asked for.

At first, the parent controls the whole helping budget. Over time, he gives up control of an increasing large amount of the budget to the child. This makes rational budgeting harder. When the parent makes all the decisions, he can have a master plan. Parents are often stressed and don’t do a great job at bigger picture planning, but at least they can do it, and do give it some thought. Once the budget has two people deciding on expenditures, it’s harder to control and plan. The two people don’t have all the same goals. So one person is spending the budget for some goals, and the other is spending it for different goals, so it’s not all being used according to one single plan. People fight over budgets when they have different goals: John is trying to get Lily to do the stuff John thinks should be done, and wants help budget spent on that, but Lily has other ideas and wants more of the budget used her way. It gets really bad when people’s goals contradict and they are using shared resources, so they end up using up the resources to work against each other.

It’s hard for 10 year old Lily to control the helping budget because she doesn’t control the help provided in the expectations or guesses categories. And it’s hard for John to control the helping budget because he doesn’t control the help provided in the asks category. Lily does have some control about expectations (John is paying attention to what she likes, what she wanted in the past, etc) and guesses (Lily has less control here, but John tries not to spend a lot of budget on this because, for that reason, it’s a riskier category). And John does have some control over asks – he can say no or he can discuss whether an ask is a good idea and maybe change Lily’s mind.

John and Lily often don't see the costs or benefits of help the same way. Sometimes Lily asks for something which she believes is easy, but it's hard for John (it uses up a lot more budget than Lily expected). Sometimes John offers help which he thinks is very helpful to Lily, so it's worth the price. Lily accepts because it helps her a little, but it's not actually worth the price.

The budget model of helping can help John and Lily understand that there are limited resources (rather than just trying to do socially normal help in an ad hoc way) communicate about the costs and benefits of different ways of helping, think about big picture plans and goals, and try to figure out a budget which will do a good job of helping with those goals.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

The History of Taking Children Seriously

This is a history of Taking Children Seriously (TCS), particularly the online community leaders: Sarah Fitz-Claridge (SFC), David Deutsch (DD) and Elliot Temple (ET).

TCS was founded in 1992 by SFC and DD. (SFC was Sarah Lawrence at the time but changed her name in 2003.) It started with a paper journal. When ET joined in 2001, the community had TCS list (an email discussion group with around 1,000 members), a website with articles, and a chatroom.

SFC, a mother of two, did most of the recruiting. She met with homeschoolers and libertarians, networked and gave speeches internationally, and posted at many online parenting and homeschooling groups. TCS advocates frequently got banned from other online groups but did get the word out first.

DD, a theoretical physicist, did most of the intellectual theorizing. He had made significant contributions related to quantum computation and learned about Karl Popper’s Critical Rationalism (CR) philosophy. He and SFC were libertarians with ideas like individual freedom, minimal or no government, and laissez-faire capitalism.

DD’s books are The Fabric of Reality (FoR, 1997) and The Beginning of Infinity (BoI, 2011). They discuss science and CR philosophy. DD also wrote hundreds of blog posts about politics between 2003 and 2008.

A main idea of TCS is that CR – a philosophy about how to create knowledge – applies to parenting and education. DD thought we must understand how learning works in order to know how to treat children. There are no reasonable philosophical positions which imply that punishments are educational. And if punishments aren’t educational, then they’re cruel and abusive, and “coercive” as TCS calls it.

TCS was also based on (classical) liberal values like peace, freedom, cooperation, individual rights and opposing tyrannical authority (be it a king, parent or teacher). Karl Popper shared these values, although he was no libertarian.

CR says all people learn by brainstorming, critical thinking and critical discussion. TCS concluded that even young children, even babies, think and learn this way. People learn on their own initiative with help from others, not as buckets which educators can pour knowledge into like water. Learners are the leaders of their own learning.

TCS’s big claim was that children could be raised well without doing anything to them that they disliked. It’s always possible to find “common preferences” – win/win solutions that everyone prefers. The main obstacle to this kind of rational problem solving is the irrationalities that adults have. Irrationalities aren’t inborn, they come from coercion, so don’t coerce your child and he won’t become irrational.

TCS Activities Timeline

SFC wrote around 1,000 TCS list posts (emails), mostly from 1994-2002. DD wrote around 2,000, mostly from 1996-2002. ET wrote around 3,700, mostly from 2002-2012, though he hasn’t stopped writing about TCS and still answers questions and posts.

SFC secretly began building a separate community unrelated to TCS which she launched in 2003. This partially explains why she reduced her involvement with TCS. Year after year, SFC hid these other activities, while leading people to expect more TCS activity soon and misleading people about her interests and priorities. She avoided transitioning to a new community leader, and blocked messages sharing alternative TCS resources, which left many TCS-attempting parents with little support and fewer resources than they reasonably expected.

SFC stopped creating the TCS Journal in 2000 after 32 issues. She never announced that it ended and left the webpage up where people could pay money to sign up. People were still confused about the matter years later and SFC still didn’t clarify, while still advertising herself as the TCS journal editor.

In late 2002, SFC deleted the TCS IRC chatroom that she’d started in 2000. She said she didn’t know how to run it well and received too many complaints. Rather than solve the problem, she shut it down.

In 2003, SFC discontinued the TCS website. She let the domain name expire without putting a notice on the site telling people about the new site, redirecting traffic, or leaving it up as an archive. She created a new site which had a worse layout and she never even finished transferring over all the old articles. The new site was never very active and SFC mostly stopped work on it after only 3 months. There was an occasional update later, e.g. there were 4 posts in 2004. After trying to be active for one month in 2005, the updates stopped entirely in 2006.

In 2006, SFC announced moving the TCS list from AOL to the new website. People were supposed to be automatically transferred but the new group had no posts and people kept using AOL. This was never explained. Then in 2008, SFC moved TCS list to Yahoo Groups and intentionally didn’t automatically transfer anyone. The result was reducing membership down to around 50 people from a past high over 1,000.

After these disasters, ET created the TCS Google Group in 2009 and Fallible Ideas website in 2010 which included articles about CR and TCS. ET’s TCS list had around double the membership of SFC’s and many more discussions. It became the primary TCS list while SFC’s group went inactive. Meanwhile, at DD’s request, ET also made the BoI Google Group and BoI website in 2011.

ET also became the owner of the Autonomy Respecting Relationships (ARR) forum in 2010 or 2011 after running the group as moderator for over a year. ARR was started by SFC and DD as a way to apply TCS ideas to romantic relationships. Major ARR ideas included that standard romantic relationship patterns are irrational and hurt people, and that freedom implies polyamory instead of monogamy. ET, however, criticized polyamory as well as monogamy.

Elliot Temple Joins TCS

ET read DD’s book, FoR, in 2001, then read DD’s TCS articles and joined the email group and chatroom. DD regularly talked with TCS community members on IRC and on the email group. ET quickly got much of DD’s attention due to energetic curiosity and quickly learning and arguing in favor of CR and TCS ideas. Over the next decade, ET and DD had around 5,000 hours of discussions (the majority were one-on-one, not on the public groups). In 2002, ET started a private email discussion group named curi where DD frequently participated. In 2003, ET started his blog, Curiosity.

After only a few months, ET became TCS’s most active advocate. He was more interested, and wrote more, than anyone else. He’d debate anyone about anything (like DD, ET was interested in ideas broadly, not just parenting), and whenever he had trouble winning an argument, he brought the issue to DD for advice. That way, ET learned how DD would argue each issue and address each challenge. DD heavily influenced ET’s views and arguments. For example, DD converted ET from left to right wing, persuaded him of capitalist and libertarian ideas, and got ET reading Ayn Rand. DD also persuaded ET to favor George W. Bush and the Iraq War politically, to support Israel, and to reject environmentalist ideas like recycling and global warming.

Due to the close association and agreement on so many issues, people, including one of DD’s close friends, accused ET of being DD’s puppet. However, the agreement was achieved by rational discussion, not puppetry. ET argued with DD more than anyone else and persistently followed up on disagreements. It took ET around five years of learning to become skilled enough to win any significant arguments with DD, at which point some disagreements started forming as ET developed more of his own ideas.

ET began providing detailed feedback and editing for BoI in 2004, which continued until publication in 2011. DD and ET routinely discussed topics related to the book. In total, ET wrote around 250 pages specifically to help with BoI, which is enough material to fill a book. That’s why the acknowledgments say “especially Elliot Temple”.

ET was also recognized favorably by SFC. For example, in 2006, ET, SFC and another speaker gave a TCS seminar to a paying audience in SFC’s home. In 2003, SFC tried to persuade ET to “becom[e] a regular contributor to the TCS blog/web site”. She said more articles from ET would help with her goal to “make it more difficult for people to bitch about TCS the way they are now.” SFC had some mixed feelings, stating “In the past, I have sometimes found your posts a bit too harsh and dismissive and lacking explanation, but I have noticed you have written some beautiful posts which are both true and also kind and non-alienating.” Overall, SFC saw ET positively and wanted him to be more involved with TCS including writing official articles because, also, “I really love your writing.” Similarly, in 2005, SFC was also asking ET for more TCS writing: “If you would like to write articles for the site, and if you would like to contribute to a new FAQ for it, that would be splendid!”

TCS Affects Lives

Thousands of people took an interest in TCS. As with many communities, especially controversial ones, the majority quit for one reason or another. Some had major disagreements with TCS from the start. Others liked TCS initially but had major disagreements when they learned more. And others liked TCS but drifted away without planning to – they just never really got around to doing much. But hundreds of people made TCS a major part of their life. TCS affected how many children were treated.

SFC led people to believe that TCS was an important, growing movement that they could join and then get ongoing help and advice. People thought TCS came with resources and support, at least articles, a chatroom and the email group. But then SFC and DD stopped writing articles, SFC discontinued the chatroom and journal, and SFC reduced her TCS list to complete silence. This harmed people who were struggling to live by TCS ideas, as well as preventing other people from joining TCS.

These problems were made much worse by the lack of announcements, clarity, transition plan, etc. The original TCS founders didn’t take responsibility for the movement, what they led people to expect from them, and the consequences of their actions for people’s lives. Instead they broadly kept up public appearances years after ceasing most TCS activity.

The continued availability of TCS materials, and discussion places where people can ask questions, is due pretty much entirely to ET. But ET has done more to take over DD’s intellectual role than SFC’s community leader role, so it’s not a full replacement. And SFC sabotaged the transition to ET’s leadership by preventing many people from finding out that the new resources existed. Even some of the more involved TCS parents were left not knowing what happened or how to continue with TCS.

SFC knowingly poured time and effort into a different, unrelated, non-TCS community, in secret, while misleading the TCS parents that had trusted her. These actions go beyond explanations like merely neglect, failure or incompetence.

DD Quits

DD gradually left TCS for several reasons. First, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, many TCS members sided with the terrorists by making anti-American comments. The political conflict divided the TCS community. Most parents open to TCS were left wing, while DD and his intellectual associates were right wing.

By the end of 2002, DD didn’t write public posts as frequently, although he actively discussed with ET and others. From there, DD’s public posting gradually declined, but it took a decade to stop. Meanwhile, DD often watched ET debate in favor of DD’s ideas, like TCS, and encouraged and advised ET behind the scenes.

As time went on, DD pushed back the publication deadline for BoI but eventually had to face it. In the several years leading up to the 2011 publication, he became increasingly busy and talked with everyone less. He even had to cut a few planned chapters from the book in order to finish.

Although DD hoped and planned for things to return to normal after the book was done, they never did. Instead, he quit every discussion forum, stopped talking about TCS, and decided to focus more on his new physics idea, Constructor Theory.

After gradually distancing himself, DD stopped collaborating with ET and most other active community members around the end of 2011. DD never gave a clear explanation of why, never wrote an article arguing his case, never announced anything had changed, and never even tried to claim that ET had changed in any significant way. It was DD, not ET, who had changed. DD was disillusioned by how little TCS had changed the world, and how few people had learned his ideas. DD wanted to try to get along with the mainstream more, while ET continued developing non-mainstream ideas like TCS and CR.

Looking Back At TCS

From day one, TCS had always offended many people and attracted hateful comments for its unconventional ideas. DD hoped it would spread and gain traction over time, and it did some, but less than DD wanted. Meanwhile SFC ended the journal, chatroom and original website, reduced TCS List membership by 95%, and stopped creating content or recruiting.

ET kept TCS alive as a philosophical theory with some resources to help, but the number of participating parents dropped over time. Eventually, there was little discussion about parents trying to use TCS in their life.

To see quotes from the harsh, offensive side of early TCS, as led by SFC and DD, see this post and the comments under it.

The TCS list grew initially. But SFC said that whenever the list got over 1,000 members, a bunch of people would unsubscribe when there was an active topic causing them to receive lots of emails. Many of the people SFC recruited were not interested enough in TCS to direct the emails to a folder outside their inbox, and just left instead.

The TCS list was moderated. SFC and her buddies blocked whatever posts they wanted, quite frequently and aggressively. It was common for posters to regularly have some their posts blocked and keep participating anyway, though some people left when they weren’t allowed to speak freely. Consequently, SFC had control over the content of the list. If the content alienated people, that was her choice.

At his groups, ET always emphasized free speech instead of controlling what you were allowed to say. He thought this better fit the total-freedom-and-libertarianism-and-maybe-even-anarcho-capitalism type principles of TCS and its founders.

Conflict Between DD and ET

When he quit TCS, DD also quit associating with TCS’s new leader, ET, as well as with active participants in the TCS community. ET wanted to do problem solving. What about CR, common preferences, and win/win solutions? ET wanted to fix things but DD refused.

At the end of 2012, over a year after DD had become unfriendly and withdrawn the help and support he’d led ET to expect going forward, DD had refused many olive branches from ET. ET wrote I Changed My Mind About David Deutsch. This carefully worded piece left out most details to respect DD’s privacy because DD didn’t want the problems discussed and debated openly. Every statement was written so that it could easily be defended and explained if private facts were included in the discussion. DD saw the article prior to publication and made no objection then or later. Others in the community supported the article or didn’t mind; there was no opposition to it because people had seen DD change and leave over the years. ET thought the article was necessary because he’d been such a fan and promoter of DD, so he thought he should update people when he changed his mind about stuff he’d told them. ET was taking responsibility for the advice he’d given other people, as he believed SFC and DD should have but did not.

Although preferring to mostly leave DD alone, ET also wrote David Deutsch Interview Undermines His Philosophy in 2017, Accepting vs. Preferring Theories – Reply to David Deutsch in 2018, and David Deutsch Smears Ayn Rand in 2019. ET thought it was important to defend the ideas he’d learned from DD, even against DD himself. Again DD had no objections, publicly or privately. DD didn’t want to defend or explain his opinions or offer any rebuttal. Although critical discussion and rational truth seeking are major parts of the CR and TCS philosophies, DD didn’t do them nor explain why he wasn’t doing them and how that was compatible with his philosophy. ET’s claims remain uncontested. Meanwhile, DD never said anything negative about ET, leaving him to continue running the BoI, TCS and ARR groups and explain philosophies like TCS and CR to the world.

SFC Destroys FoR Group

Alan Forrester (AF) ran the FoR discussion group, about DD’s book, for a decade. He has a CR blog. Although AF ran the FoR group alone, SFC was the original group creator and never gave AF ownership. This allowed SFC to do whatever she wanted with the group, regardless of AF’s opinions or consent.

After 10 years with no posts or involvement by SFC, she suddenly took over FoR in order to ban ET as revenge for the I Changed My Mind About David Deutsch post. (AF agreed with ET regarding the philosophical issues that ET and DD disagreed about, and didn’t want ET banned.) Then SFC immediately neglected the group and soon everyone stopped using it. She’d been uninvolved because she wasn’t interested in FoR ideas and because she was still involved with her secret, unrelated community; being motivated to ban someone didn’t change that situation.

Just like when SFC neglected the TCS Yahoo Group, everyone interested in discussion moved over to one of ET’s groups. In that case, they went to ET’s TCS group. In this case, they went to the BoI group: since DD’s second book was out now, fans of the first book naturally were interested in the second book too, which covered similar topics.

SFC didn’t attempt problem solving, consent or common preference finding with ET, AF or the FoR group membership. She violated the standard group policy of giving warnings before banning people. And she said nothing indicating that DD himself had any problem with ET’s article. It seemed to be her own personal vendetta, and she didn’t care that she was primarily punishing AF and the FoR discussion group members, not ET who owned the BoI group anyway.

DD and ET had always had a relationship based heavily on explicit communication: if you want something, request it; if you prefer something, say so. DD knew he could make requests of ET and had wide latitude to get whatever he wanted. Several times, DD had asked ET to refrain from saying something or take something down. But this time, DD made no request and expressed no preference, knowing that ET would take that as a go ahead signal. DD, to this day, hasn’t said anything negative about ET or ET’s critical articles.

Fallible Ideas Group

In 2013, ET merged several discussion groups into one, the Fallible Ideas (FI) discussion group. Although the older groups were left unchanged, ET simply asked people to switch and every active poster voluntarily started posting on FI. This smooth transition stands out in contrast with SFC’s disastrous move of the TCS group.

ET merged the groups because the topics are all related. They’re all about understanding good philosophy and applying it. And, over time, under his leadership, the groups had become more philosophically sophisticated. For example, it had become unusual for posters to be unfamiliar with DD’s books. With a smaller membership that was more knowledgeable about all the ideas, and had more consistent ideas, having a single forum made sense.

Thus, the FI group is the continuation of the TCS group from 1994, as well as the ARR, FoR, BoI groups. The FI group also merged some more minor groups: TCS Society (a companion to the TCS group for political discussion), Rational Politics (a newer group by Justin Mallone, which ET and DD participated at), and an Ayn Rand discussion group (by ET).

Where Are They Now?

DD has gone on to work on Constructor Theory. He also became a member of the Royal Society in 2008. DD and SFC seem to no longer like to talk about TCS or be associated with it, but don’t make clear statements or requests about the matter. ET has withheld the older TCS archives posts from the public at DD’s request, even though DD has not provided any public statement about his reasons.

SFC stopped being involved with philosophy, TCS or ARR. She still hasn’t explained what happened or apologized to any parents.

SFC’s two children were friends with DD too, and one was also a friend of ET. They are adults today but never got very involved with TCS or CR. No other child with any sort of TCS upbringing became very involved either.

ET has gone on to improve CR with new ideas like Yes or No Philosophy, Paths Forward, Overreaching, Impasse Chains, Using Intellectual Processes to Combat Bias and Rationally Resolving Conflicts of Ideas. As of today (2020), ET still posts regularly to the FI discussion group and has been a consistent, active poster continuously for 18 years, and he’s branched out to videos and podcasts.

Editor’s note: I made a serious effort to get the facts and dates right. If anyone believes any fact is in error, please let me know.

More info:

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Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (18)