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.

For Leaving the Community Behind

Richard Chappell says, “communitarianism creeps me out.” That makes two of us. More from his excellent post:

I’m so incredibly grateful to be where I am now, to have the opportunity to dedicate my life to the discipline of philosophy; I can’t even begin to imagine being nearly so happy doing anything else. The academic philosophical community is the first to which I’ve felt that I truly belong. But if I had been born a Maori, if my skin were a darker shade, then suddenly I would have been obliged to remain with my ethnic community instead? *shudder*


So, count me in favour of meritocracy and the upward-mobility (though not the crass materialism) of “middleclassness”. Count me in favour of “elitism”, understood as the claim that some ways of life are better than others, tempered by the cosmopolitan insistence that the best forms of life not be closed to anyone merely due to the circumstances of their birth. (Sadly, this demand is yet to be met. Much more still needs to be done to enable humanity. But entrenching class divisions in the name of “solidarity” is not the place to start. We should want as many people as possible to join the creative classes — to vacate the working class and its culture, not hold people there and reinforce it.) Count me in favour of liberalism.

Richard emphasizes that one need not be some kind of egoist or a pinched individualist unable to value a common enterprise to think this. It’s just generally better for people if they do not feel pushed to consider their parents’ culture a cage within which life must be lived.

Communitarian Aestheticism

I am not alone:

… I know and do not regret the major role that aesthetic considerations play in human life, even apart from erotic desire, and even though in an often unrecognized manner, it is certainly possible to distinguish between kinds of aestheticism. As Emerson suggests in “The Poet,” bad poetry (so to speak) is part of the fabric of ordinary—that is unreflective—life. In every society, ordinary life is full of bad displacements and condensations, of unintentional metaphorization and shadowy symbolism. Worse, some kinds of socially exaggerated aestheticism are hideous in their perverse beauty. I find that communitarianism is often an encouragement to bad poetry, to a heightened conventional aestheticism that in modern circumstances can be satisfied only with mischievous or even pernicious results.

— George Kateb, “Individualism, Communitarianism, and Docility” in The Inner Ocean: Individualism and Democratic Culture

This is a great essay. Speaking of which, here is Emerson:

The inwardness, and mystery, of this attachment, drive men of every class to the use of emblems. The schools of poets, and philosophers, are not more intoxicated with their symbols, than the populace with theirs. In our political parties, compute the power of badges and emblems. See the huge wooden ball rolled by successive ardent crowds from Baltimore to Bunker hill! In the political processions, Lowell goes in a loom, and Lynn in a shoe, and Salem in a ship.’ Witness the cider-barrel, the log-cabin, the hickory-stick, the palmetto, and all the cognizances of party. See the power of national emblems. Some stars, lilies, leopards, a crescent, a lion, an eagle, or other figure, which came into credit God knows how, on an old rag of bunting, blowing in the wind, on a fort, at the ends of the earth, shall make the blood tingle under the rudest, or the most conventional exterior. The people fancy they hate poetry, and they are all poets and mystics!

I do not trust that tingle. And I would like to know more about this “huge wooden ball”!