Raising Kids in Cages

In response to my claim that:

It is tyrannical for parents to attempt to reproduce their ideologies and prejudices in their children, especially when this requires social isolation and emotional coercion.

Robin Hanson replies:

So is the principle here that parents should go beyond their simple judgment when choosing to what to expose our kids?  For example, should we let polygamists argue for their way of life directly to our kids?  Should we let pedophiles argue their case directly to our kids?  Or is the principle here that we know we are right and those other parents are wrong, obligating us to make those parents give their kids what we judge best?

Yes. Parents morally ought go beyond their “simple judgment.” I’d be happy to have polygamists make their case to my kids. Pedophiles too, as long as they’re not philing my peds. The thing is, these will likely be bad arguments that appeal to dubious values and I intend to help my kids develop a sound sense of epistemic and moral judgment. If they can’t tell these are bad arguments (by a certain age), then I’ve probably failed. The principle here is that freedom is good, that psychological freedom is a kind of freedom, and that psychological freedom has some developmental preconditions — it requires the cultivation of certain moral and epistemic capacities. Part of that cultivation comes from practicing judgment in a complex world of moral diversity.

I don’t find the fact that people disagree about this any more interesting than the fact that people disagree over the wrongfulness of foot-binding or genital mutilation. Decent people  agree that there are minimal developmental conditions parents must provide their children. No one may raise their kid in total darkness, say, so that the child never develops sight–even if the kid is well-nourished, etc. You can’t lock your kid in a cage in the basement and teach it to be your personal slave. And, yes, the minimum is historically and culturally relative. It is simply not OK to intentionally raise an illiterate child, even though illiteracy is the natural human condition. So, yes, “we” just do decide that “we” are right and some other parents are wrong “obligating us to make those parents give their kids what we judge best?” Is this even controversial? Who thinks clitoridectomy or breast ironing ought to be legal in the U.S.?

Libertarians are touchy about this issue. They agree parents can’t raise their kids in a cage, but they also don’t want the state to be telling parents they can’t teach creationism, either. I agree! But it seems like lots of libertarians are so jealous of the right of parents to teach their kids about saddled dinosaurs, that they’re a bit too motivated to wave away the very real violence to freedom that comes from neglecting the conditions under which kids come to be able to meaningful exercise their freedom. If you don’t think it ought to be legal to raise malnourished kids, or blindfolded kids, or mute cage kids, then I think you’ve got to think harder about why not. And then you’ve got to think about whether some actually existing conditions are more like that than you might have thought.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center