Sorry for the length. It's often quicker for me to write looong posts and sometimes I can't help but revisit them and keep blabbing. Some of this is just me blabbing with my fingers trying to sort this stuf out in my head. I think that some of my questions/concerns will be common and if not, they're still my questions/concerns and I'm curious to keep thinking about this and to get some feedback.
One last warning: I'm pretty tired. Hopefully I don't veer too far off topic!!!
Originally Posted by scubamama
The act of imposing one's morals by force impairs a person from choosing the imposed moral for himself. Who here embraces holding imposed moral values?
A child may be required to act in accordance with certain morals (e.g., not hurt their sibling). The child can indeed later choose this for her or himself. Why should I accept that requiring Simon to abstain from nonvegan foods or from beating on other kids makes it any less likely that he'll choose these values for himself? Doesn't the contrary seem just as likely if not more so? It's far easier for him to always be vegan than to choose to become vegan at, say 6 or 8 or 28 when some of his favourite foods, indeed, several of his staples, may be non-vegan. It's easier for him to refrain from acting out physically when he was sometimes restrained and redirected to help prevent this from becoming a habit. As the poet Evenus says, "Habit is but long practice, friend, and this becomes one's nature in the end" (Stolen from Aristotle's _Nicomachean Ethics_). I don't fully agree with this quote, but don't fully disagree with it either. It needs qualifications, to be sure. But I love the quote and do think there's something to it, so there you go.
Have you heard statistics on adults who were homeschooled by Christian parents and who have adopted their parent's values? It's insanely high -- 80% or more, if I remember correctly. These values were very much imposed on them. The numbers are significantly less for children who were less expected to hold the same beliefs and who were exposed to other beliefs in public schools or even in private Christian schools. I'm not praising this or saying that this is how I hope to guide Simon to accept the basic value that it is wrong to needlessly harm others. My point is just that this is a strong counter-example to your claim that the imposition of values makes it less likely for the child to accept it for her- or himself. That, and the fact that the only children that I know who are vegan were raised to be vegan, just as the children who believe that spanking is wrong have parents who believe this, and so on. How about the belief that wishy-washiness about one's beliefs, especially when they run counter to mainstream culture, makes a child far less apt to adopt them? I know a woman who was raised by laissez-faire vegetarian parents. They didn't really discuss the ethical aspects of it with her, to the best of her recollection. She isn't vegetarian. Why would she be? She was raised with vegetarian foods, but she wasn't raised as a vegetarian. She was more likely to follow the mainstream because it's mainstream and easier to do.
Simon is not yet able to make a full-fledged moral choice in cases in which he lacks the knowledge/experience that so doing requires. I don't think that anyone here embraces holding imposed moral values, but some of us refuse to agree that, e.g., bashing you in the face because I dislike relativism is as good a response as continuing to politely argue with you about it. How can you possibly hold that some things are not morally deplorable? Do you not know that child abuse is wrong? That it is wrong to violate the space and interests of others?
Simon is sleeping now. I'm not violating him in a major way if I go and smother him? That is not morally foul and repugnant? Human societies ought not to accept that doing that type of thing is wrong? Genital mutilation is a social construct just like any other and I'd be wrong to try to stop it from happening?
Wait... how can I think that I'm wrong from trying to stop something if everything is relative? Your stance of non-coerciveness seems to be an objective ethical one. You think that people should not impose their wills on their children because we're all fallible, and because so doing impedes the child's autonomy and so on and so forth (sorry, I need to get back to marking). Or even more than this... that there is no right and wrong. What then is wrong with CIO? That's an answerless question because you are removing the categories of right and wrong from the table, or at least the idea that we can arrive at a mutually agreeable consensus about boundary cases that do involve right and wrong, e.g., Peter Singer's famous example of saving a drowning child if I'm the only one around and this is easy for me to do, and the only negative consequence of doing so is that my clothes will get wet/dirty (this is actually part of an awesome argument that it is immoral to do nothing when people are starving across the globe and we can help to save their lives with very little effort). And of course... there is always that prime case of evil... the holocaust. A subjective wrong, that?
If I/we can't lay down boundary conditions of basic decency and respect for other beings -- because they can feel pain and because needless, unchosen suffering is a bad thing (which I think are intuitively known moral principles, which is not to say that they can never be thwarted) -- what is left? What is the foundation of non-coerciveness? What's the point? What does it matter what anyone chooses? It seems we're left with selfishness and isolation. Are we engaging in non-coercive parenting to raise up some Nietzschean ubermensches? Or is it coercion under the guise of a usually gentler, more strictly emotional and linguistic narrative?
This is fun!!! Will those papers ever get marked!!? Would it be objectively wrong for me to throw them down the hall and assign grades according to where they land? Can't we have a mutally agreeable contract (whether spoken or not) against so doing? Indeed, we do. In virtue of being social beings there are things that we come to accept and expect from each other. Actual rights and wrongs can also exist within a cultural framework, and this framework itself is not beyond scrutiny. Humans have shared characteristics -- rational and emotional -- that are not stamped out through enculturation. We can and do learn to work within other narratives -- however foreign -- and once there, we can bring helpful insights as well as oppressive mentalities. Sometimes it really is fairly easy to see the difference. Consider, e.g., the Talibani oppression of girls and women. That may have been widely accepted as justifiable in that culture, but it was not. It thwarted the real interests that girls and women have in self-actualization, self-determination, security, and on and on. This is a boundary flop. It's unacceptable however justified, even if most of the women have internalized their own oppression.
A willfill toddler will sometimes strike out at others. This should be prevented because it is wrong to walk up to someone and bash them on the head with a toy. There will be situations in which the toddler is not going to make this choice on her or his own.
Non-coerciveness paired with relativism seems to fall apart. How can I justify preventimg Simon from drinking turpentine should he get hold of some? That's imposing my value for health (which is an intrinsic good, imo), which perhaps he does not share. Maybe I'm mistaken in valuing health. Is this persuasive?
If you're going to try to save your child from the ER, you're imposing your preference on his continued well-being over its absense. This is a good thing to do! His continued well-being is OBJECTIVELY (well, little "o" objectively) preferable to his demise or to his needing stitches or whatever. Why is this the case? Because life is good. We value it. It is inherently pleasant. So long as our lives do not turn around so that they are far more painful than pleasant, none of us wants to die. We cherish our well-being and that of our loved ones and we care when we hear that others have been harmed in this way or that. I think that we can look into all of these nearly universal feelings and extract an objective ethics from them. I further think that most people already accept this ethics. We believe in right and wrong. Some things are harder to determine than others and some things are best categorized as neutral, but when it comes to harming other beings, and doing so needlessly, that imo is patently wrong. A mentality that upholds it as acceptable is a warped one. Such mentalities are antithetical to peace and to pacifism.
Do you want your son to be loving towards you and others? Would it bother you if he wants to throw stones at other children? At other animals? Do you not feel an inner drive to protect the other being in this situation? Do you really take this drive to be "your hang-up" as the TCS website puts it? I don't see it as a hang-up. I see it as a dial tone: a starting point that brings all of us together.
Wouldn't you think that someone who lacks the so-called hang-up of caring about harming others is morally deficient and even morally repugnant (or perhaps even suffering from a kind of mental illness or disorder)? How would you respond if you were at a park and a parent sat back and watched while her child beat a toddler or a dog? Parents have ZERO moral responsibility over harms that are caused by their children and that could have been prevented? It is not in the best interest of the child to be prevented from harming others? What do they get out of beating a dog? Many people who experiment with this type of cruelty come to enjoy it. Who is involved in the mutual part of mutual agreeability? Only you and your child? How about the dog being beaten? How about others who can be harmed by his choices? Have they no say? How is it justifiable to silence them? Simply because they are at a distance?
So what if a toddler or child cannot be compelled to stop hitting another child of her or his own volition? Hmmmmm. My words are denying the non-coerciveness of this. It may be less coercive than physically restraining the child -- then again, really? Mental coercion through words seems, perhaps, even deeper to me. We think with words. If you lay a "hitting is painful to others" narrative into your child's head through repetition and whatever other means you deem non-coercive, how is it that this is a belief that he has come up with on his own? He is absorbing your entire way of thinking. This is what children do. It is only when they are older that they start to question it. You (and your dh and his other central caregivers) are the epistemic and moral authorities in your child's life. Our narratives are not separate from our ethical beliefs. They are intertwined. We are social creatures. We are meant to learn modes of conduct from our parents and others. If left to their own devices, it seems that might makes right is a widely accept toddlerism.
In short, there seems to be a legit comparison between common beliefs about mental abuse often being as bad as if not worse than physical abuse and the belief that mentally imposing one's thoughts into a child's head by giving them information that is meant to lead them to a chosen conclusion is similar to, if not more coercive (because it will perhaps run deeper and have more profound, lasting effects) than physical compulsion. Despite the parallel, I'm not asserting that these forms of coercion are necessarily abusive. Of course this is complex. My key point is a general one: that the very act of indoctrinating a child into our culture (and our specific family's ways of acting and thinking) impacts on that child's autonomy, and that even more so than that, presenting the child with arguments/discussions that are so obviously geared towards complaince needs to be looked at further to determine that it is really and always less coercive than actual physical manouevres (e.g.) gently preventing a child from throwing rocks at another child, or than cases in between the two, e.g., cases in which someone might ask or even tell their child to do something (e.g., "Could you please get in your carseat?" when the intent is more like "I would like for you to get in your carseat"). The mini-arguments given in favour of toothbrushing are just that. Here are the reasons that you should accept in order to brush your teeth and take good care of them. I'm telling you a, b, c, d, e, . . . there are not really a variety of conclusions that follow from this this type of argument. A series of counter-arguments are not offered to give alternative perspectives (e.g., opting for dentures!). Rather, what seems to be happening is that this message is being conveyed: I want you to brush your teeth for the reasons that I'm giving you. If you don't, you aren't listeng to reason and your teeth will probably decay, which is a bad thing. I will however give you several options and we'll keep trying until we find something that is agreeable to you. If you don't like any of the options, your teeth will probably decay. That is a bad thing, as I've said. It may hurt. Choosing decayed teeth is clearly choosing the wrong response, whether or not shame and blame are laid down (which they shouldn't be). The entire argument is set up that way. Is the child complying of their own true volition, or because they want to please or displease their parent by, respectively, choosing the proper or improper actions that flow from the lesson being taught? Of course it may be a mix. But is it noncoercive?
Is it wrong to convey to a child that their choice to let their teeth decay (should this be their preferred response despite being given information that shows them that this is not a wise thing to do) is equally valid to taking care of their teeth? Would it be wrong to say, "Oh honey! I can see a lot of plaque on your teeth. I'm really worried about that. I want your teeth to stay healthy and strong. It's really important to take good care of them." I'm not seeing anything wrong with this. Should I be, according to my dissidents?
Some children learn through language to a better degree whereas others are more physical learners. Some may learn from more direct information than the more subtle type of manouevering that would lead to compliance ("Here are all the facts you need to know [no problem with this!?!], I'll tell you everything but the conclusion. You can follow the facts for yourself and see where they lead. What will you choose?"). Provided that the child is not upset about what is going on and is mutually agreeing to it, what's really the difference here? Or does it not count as mutual agreeability in some of these cases?
What would it mean for non-coercive parenting to be truly that? What should we take to count as mutually agreeable choices? Seeking for compliance about many issues -- e.g., teeth brushing, eventually getting into a carseat, not harming others -- doesn't seem problematic if the goal is mutual agreeability. But I'm having trouble figuring out the non-coercive bit. Why is it being considered a good to not impose a value system on to a child? Are all value systems harmful? And how is it possible to not teach one's value system to one's child? Is it not best to try to take care to impose a very good value system than to try to do without one, leaving everything supposedly up in the air for the child to decide? But again is this really the case? "Simon, when you throw a rock at Susie it hurts her. Oh look, she's crying." There is only one conclusion to draw from that. "Hurting Susie is my choice and it's o.k." is the wrong answer. That's not hard to decipher. If it were, gd wouldn't work very well. The right answer is that "Oh. I should stop throwing rocks because it is not nice to hurt Susie." So how is information given in a way that does not pass along a value system? How do you decide which information is relevant? And, why is preferable if it does not pass along a carefully thought out value system? Simply because some value systems are oppressive? If this is the case, we need more non-oppressive ones, right? I don't see how anyone can be raised into a truly neutral value system, and certainly don't see why this would be a good thing.
Not all cases of physical impositions are going to be unpleasant and not all cases of emotional impositons are going to be pleasant for the child. Sometimes a bit of unpleasantness is unavoidable and preferable than the alternative when, e.g., the alternative involves unjustly causing harm to another being. If, that is, it is ever unjust to harm anyone.
I hope I'm not discouraging conversation by my ongoing blabbery. I'm finally heading to bed so that should shut me up for awhile, plus dh won't be home today so I'm not likely to have much of a break to keep at this until later. Maybe that's a good thing, though I feel that I'm getting a lot out of this conversation. Still have a loooong way to go and still not even fully understanding what I'm arguing for or against.