People debate all the time about how strictly children should be disciplined. Obviously, this is a worthwhile debate to have, as there must be some optimal amount of discipline that is greater than zero. The debate's nominal focus is usually on what's best for the child, with even the advocates for greater strictness arguing that it's "for their own good." It might also touch on what's good for other family members or for society at large. What I think is missing from the usual debate is that it assumes nothing but honorable motives on the part of the arguers. That is, it assumes that the arguments in favor of greater strictness are completely untainted by any element of authoritarianism or cruelty. But people are sometimes authoritarian and cruel! Just for fun! And the only people who you can be consistently cruel to without them slugging you, shunning you, suing you, or calling the police on you are your children. This is a reason for more than the usual amount of skepticism of arguments that say that strict parenting is necessary. If there were no such thing as cruelty in the world, people would still argue about the optimal level of strictness, and sometimes the more strict position would be the correct one, and parents would chose the optimal level of strictness on the basis of these arguments. But what we actually have is a world with lots and lots of cruelty lurking just under the surface, which cannot help but show up in the form of pro-strictness arguments in parenting debates. This should cause us to place less weight on pro-strictness arguments than we otherwise would.*  Note that this is basically the same idea as Bertrand Russell's argument against the idea of sin: its true function is to allow people to exercise their natural cruelty while at the same time maintaining their opinion of themselves as moral.

One example of authoritarianism masquerading as sound discipline (even among otherwise good parents) is the idea of "My House, My Rules." I've even heard parents go so far as to say things like: "it's not your room, it's the room in my house that I allow you to live in." This attitude makes little sense on its own terms, as it suggests that parents would have no legitimate authority over, say, a famous child actor whose earnings paid for the house. Worse, it's a relatively minor manifestation of the broader notion that the child has a fundamentally lower status in the family just for being a child, that they deserve less weight in the family's utility function. I don't think this is what parents would be saying if recreational authoritarianism really were not a factor. They would still say that they, by virtue of their superior experience and judgment, get to make the rules (i.e., decide how to go about maximizing the family's utility function, though even this might be done with more authoritarianism than is necessary). But you wouldn't be hearing this "I'm higher than you in the pecking order and don't you dare forget it" attitude that is so very common.

*Some might argue that arguments should be evaluated solely on their merit, and not on the motives with which they were offered. This is correct when the validity of the arguments can be finally determined. For most kinds of persuasive argumentation, especially in complicated and emotionally laden subjects like child rearing, arguments work on us without us ever being able to fully evaluate their merit. And in that world, it does make sense to down-weight arguments that have some bias built into them.

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I'd like to see an adult child hold a grudge and use the "my house, my rules" tactic against visiting parents.

"Dad, I appreciate you and Mom coming to visit all the way from Houston. But you weren't home by 10:30 as per the rules of this house, which I paid for. You're grounded for two days. I've taken your car keys. Also, Mom, if you want to live under this roof, even for a week, you'll stop using that Lady Grecian formula. No mother of mine is going out looking like a blonde harlot. And I don't care if your other 64-year-old friends are doing it."

I don't think I'd ever quite pull this, but I am looking forward to the day when I can end an argument with my dad by kicking him out of my house.

My father used to do this. Taught me libertarianism, and then, as soon as I tried to use the principles to argue my own case, swung right around and tried to use the same principles to justify his absolute authority because he was feeding me.

My hatred of rationalization and distrust of authority... I can't say it was born at that moment, but it was certainly a watershed moment. It probably did more to make me libertarian than a hundred political arguments - seeing how easily power corrupted (humans), even ones who espoused libertarianism.

Indeed, "children" is the world's most oppressed minority group...

Exactly! Think of all those cases of Child Labour! Wait, we only consider 'child labour' oppression because they are children and that violates one of the many rights we grant children due to their age.

I'm serious.

People who are under a certain age have the most restricted set of rights of any group in the United States, with the possible exception of convicted felons.

They can't vote.
They can't sign contracts.
They can't serve on a jury.
They are restricted in the ways they can earn an income. Even if they do earn an income, it is rarely enough to be self-sufficient, and they have limited ability to control how the money is spent.
They can't consent to sexual relations.
They can't purchase certain legal substances.
They can't hold political office.
They can't drive cars.
They can't travel freely, instead needing permission from someone else.
They can't direct their own education.
They can be forced to attend religious services against their will.
They can't control their own medical treatment, and can be forced to take psychoactive medications against their will.
They can't choose where to live.
They can have their genitals modified without their consent.

Do I really need to continue?

The worst is probably the social environment they're forced to be in. The rest aren't that bad, in comparison.

In almost any group of people you'll find hierarchy. When groups of adults form in the real world, it's generally for some common purpose, and the leaders end up being those who are best at it. The problem with most schools is, they have no purpose. But hierarchy there must be. And so the kids make one out of nothing.

We have a phrase to describe what happens when rankings have to be created without any meaningful criteria. We say that the situation degenerates into a popularity contest. And that's exactly what happens in most American schools. Instead of depending on some real test, one's rank depends mostly on one's ability to increase one's rank. It's like the court of Louis XIV. There is no external opponent, so the kids become one another's opponents.

That was an extremely interesting article, thanks for posting a link to it.

I more or less agree with you. But just for the sake of the exercise:

They can't vote.

I'd let them vote. It isn't going to make the decision making process all that much less rational.

They can't sign contracts.

An interesting one. I'd almost appreciate paternalism on that one. Contracts are more useful for the party with the power to see them enforced.

They can't serve on a jury.

Innocent until the jury finds out they're missing the Simpsons by dragging things out! (Just how different is that to current practice?)

They are restricted in the ways they can earn an income. Even if they do earn an income, it is rarely enough to be self-sufficient

Being incapable of producing significant economic value isn't 'oppression'. The obligation of parents to support the economically weak is more credibly a violation of liberties here.

The most obvious restriction on the ways children can earn an income, the one cutting the most value from their income earning potential is of course child prostitution prohibitions.

and they have limited ability to control how the money is spent.

Yeah, that sucks.

They can't consent to sexual relations.

That's seriously harsh. Not just the parent... (read more)

they can't consent to sexual relations.

That's seriously harsh. Not just the parents but the law deciding when you're allowed to have sex? No surprise that teenager's gain a reputation for rebelliousness.

Yes, the US is one of the more puritan "Christian" countries. In the US, two teenagers cannot have consensual sex together, by law. If they do have sex, they are both punished. (Some states have recently passed exceptions that tend to start at age 16-17, for couples that are of the same age. Even then, two 17 year old can have sex but an 18 year old can't have sex with a 17 year old because one's a major and the other one's a minor. Choose your mate's birthday carefully.)

As an aside, many US teens who took nude photos of themselves and gave them to their boy- or girlfriend have been charged with the high crime of distribution of child porn. Here is a report on one such Florida couple, aged 16 and 17, who were convicted (on the appeal, too). They kept the photos for themselves, but someone tipped off the police, the court record doesn't say who - possibly the parents. The appeal judge wrote in his opinion that one reason he wanted to punish them was that if left alon... (read more)

As an aside, many US teens who took nude photos of themselves and gave them to their boy- or girlfriend have been charged with the high crime of distribution of child porn.

It is scary that that judge is allowed to vote, let alone pass sentences.

It is not the fault of the judiciary that the people consistently elect profoundly stupid legislators.
You know how bad the media is when it reports science? Well, it doesn't get much better for law, sadly. The defendant's appeal claimed that her right of privacy was being violated by this prosecution. An essential part of that is whether she had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The conclusion was she did not: if teens take naked pictures of each other, there's a meaningful chance that those pictures will be shared with third parties. This same reasoning has been used to break the privacy defense for photographs of prisoner abuse. This doesn't help her: The opinion is interesting, though I say that from a law-oriented background. The law being idiotic does not necessarily make the judge idiotic, and there's at least a very good argument that the majority applied the law correctly. No expectation of privacy, no right to privacy defense. They may have erred when they ruled this prosecution counts as the "least intrusive method" to uphold state interests, but I just don't know the case law on that.
My lament referred explicitly to the "the appeal judge [who] wrote in his opinion that one reason he wanted to punish them was that if left alone they might in the future sell their photos to child pornographers to make money" and so it stands. You haven't said as much directly, but am I to take it that you do not believe this judge is factual? If so, I rejoice in his absence from reality.
The CNET report was sensationalized, as Psychohistorian pointed out to me in another comment. You can read the judge's (appellate majority) opinion here. The appeal was about their right to privacy, and the judge's opinion that "if left alone they might..." was saying that because they might do this in the future, and because he expected them to do so, they gave up their right to privacy by creating those photos. Because digital photos are so easy to distribute, so they would surely do so someday even if by mistake. So if they use cellphones to take photos, they give up privacy. ...No, it doesn't sound much better put that way, does it? But it wasn't the justification for the original conviction; CNET doesn't link to that opinion.
Even this is a caricature of the actual legal question. In order for a right of privacy to attach (and that's her argument against the law), you have to have reasonable expectation of privacy. In this context, that means that you have to have a reasonable expectation that no third party will be exposed or involved. The majority concluded that a high school teenager cannot reasonably expect that no one will ever see the naked pictures she takes with her boyfriend and then sends to his hard drive. In fact, the defendant explicitly stated that she was worried her boyfriend might distribute those naked pictures. The decision also states that, in the context of a more mature or serious relationship, privacy would likely have attached, because some expectation would have been reasonable. There's still plenty of room to disagree with this, but it's a lot less absurd than people are trying to make it. As far as the whole decision goes, if you keep in mind that the judges (and, more importantly, the law) see child pornography (even of basically adults) as an evil that is abhorrent to society, and that damages society by its mere existence, the whole decision is a lot more understandable. Whether you agree with that view or not is largely irrelevant; the voting public seems to have made it rather clear that that is their attitude.
No, it really doesn't. But I do understand the desire to justify the decision that he had made. Actually come to think of it that description sounds even more scary. Guilty (in the future) when that the media in question is proven reproducible.
Future guilt had nothing to do with it. The question was about whether an expectation was reasonable; an expectation is necessarily about the future. The court concluded that one cannot expect a teenage boy to keep naked pictures of his girlfriend to himself indefinitely. It may be incorrect or unfair, but it isn't absurd or unreasonable. It certainly isn't convicting anyone on the basis of future guilt.
It is my understanding that if the court had not made this determination, it might have had to uphold the defense's claim to right of privacy, and the defendants would have have been acquitted on appeal. It is worthwhile quoting the entire relevant part of the judge's opinion, for those who don't want to spend time reading the source: So, he equates privacy with deliberate secrecy. That's not a presumption of privacy. Note that I'm commenting on common reason, not on whatever the relevant case law may be. (My emphasis.) So, he says that because they are teenagers, their relationship cannot be "mature and committed", and so we must assume that one of them will in the future hurt the other for money (not even in revenge or somesuch). (My emphasis.) IOW: each of them is capable of harming the other in the future. Because they are teenagers, we assume they will do so. We explicitly disregard their trust in one another; the relevant point is that we, the society, do not trust them. Therefore we will punish both of them proactively by withdrawing their right to privacy.
It is scary that many judges and public prosecutors in different states agree on charging such young people and declaring them guilty. I don't know the percentage of charges and of convictions out of all proposed cases or reports and accusations made to the police, but the actual count is apparently in the dozens (google tells me). It is not, however, surprising, considering common (and legal) attitudes to morality, sexuality and young people's rights in the U.S.
Given the context it seems ironic to let them off based off youth. No, I'll let them off because the crime itself is absurd.
It's a pity you didn't extend the logic further.
The logic being that I disapprove of the judge's ruling and wish to undermine his credibility with mockery?
The logic that it is frightening that this man's decisions have power over us, whether in his capacities as judge or as voter. Hence it is frightening that a great many people in whom we would not entrust our lives also have votes.
And there's that whole 'jury of my peers' thing that really scares me. Good point (that I really didn't want to be reminded of.)
Jurors are treated very differently from voters. They are selected so as not to be biased, they can be removed during the trial, they are kept away from outside influences, the evidence they are allowed to hear is very restricted, they are given instructions on how to vote for various charges and it is the judge who determines the actual sentence in response to their decision. If it is deemed that something went wrong (even years after the sentence is handed down), a mistrial may be declared.
More realistically, they're selected so as to have a bias acceptable to the counsels and the judge, they are kept away from, uh, undesirable influences, they are given the evidence that the counsels & judge think will make them vote appropriately. The only possible way a jury system could be any good is by being compared with even more horrid alternatives, like a judge-only court. Sort of like democracy.
Good points. I'm reminded of Robin's Law as No-Bias Theatre.
Old South African government didn't really "work" for anyone who wasn't white.
Some black south africans disagree.
Just because the new black government is bad, doesn't mean the old white government wasn't bad. Some government collapses go quite well, others like South Africa and Soviet Union don't.
Fair enough. The point wasn't that white rule is good, but that democratic rule is bad.
There's plenty of countries where democratic rule is good and stable, and it's not too hard to predict those. Some obvious predictive variables are tradition of rule of law (which you get transitioning out of some dictatorship like Korean, but not some others like Soviet), low economic inequality, and stability of political system. All happen to be false in case of South Africa. But these also tend to correlate with wellness and stability of any other political system - so democracy might still be the least bad system for South Africa, given such constraints.
Sweet Jesus, I hate the media. If you check out that article, note the "..." in the summary of the majority opinion. Here's how it reads as quoted: Here's that "...:" In other words, the article is deliberately constructed to make the concern that the photos be disseminated seem absurd. But the defendant herself expressed a concern that they would be disseminated!. Also, fun fact: it wasn't a picture. It was 117 pictures. Might that increase the odds that one or more gets distributed? Story doesn't bother with that little fact. This just in: don't believe everything you read.
She "expressed a concern"? When it wasn't her idea to talk to the police in the first place, and when the police's job is to make her look as bad as possible so she can be convicted? For all I know it went like this: Police interviewer: did you intend for your boyfriend to spread those photos? Defendant: no I didn't. And he hasn't. Police: but it's possible he'll do it one day, right? If you break up, say. Defendant: I don't believe he'll do it, but I suppose it's possible. Police: imagine he has done so. And all your class has got nude photos of you. Doesn't that scenario concern you? Defendant: yeah, that would concern me if it happened... Bottom line: the majority opinion says "he statute was intended to protect minors like appellant and her co-defendant from their own lack of judgment". How do they protect them? Not, say, by having the police destroy the photos and telling them to go home and be smarter next time. They protect them by putting them through court and a conviction. Here's a relevant part of the majority appellate opinion: Least intrusive? Really? It must have taken some creative law-writing to make it so, when ordinarily the state has so many ways of interfering in a teenager's life.
Oh, fun! I get to advocate for the Devil. How much of a deterrent effect do you think this has? "OK, kids, you're creating a thing that is a complete abomination to the people of this state, a form of speech so vulgar that even the first amendment won't touch it, and that mere possession of it carries a prison sentence. And if you do it, you're going to get the worst talking-to you can imagine! We'll tell you that what you did was wrong! And that you shouldn't do it again! And we'll delete all the digital copies! Well, all the ones we can find, anyhow! That will teach you to manufacture child pornography! And you can bet we'll be devoting serious police and prosecutorial resources to ensure that we gently slap you on the wrist!" It has to be the least intrusive means of furthering the state's compelling interest. Giving kids a lecture and telling them "don't do it again" does not effectively further those interests. The legislature has determined it should be criminal, and it's not in the power of the courts to say, "Well, it's a second degree felony, but screw the voters, we think it should be a fourth degree felony!" The state has a compelling interest, and any reasonable action short of criminalization will not effectively further that interest. It's not the place of the courts to be fine-tuning criminal punishments because they think the ones the legislature came up with are too easy (or too harsh). As far as the summary of her talking to the cops, that's pure conjecture. We don't even know if she was interrogated; they certainly didn't need to talk to her once they had that evidence. For all we know, they found about the pictures because she called them out of fear her boyfriend would distribute them. I also doubt that the police were sophisticated enough to be prying into her grounds for a constitutional defense at the appellate level. And such an interrogation certainly isn't mentioned in the dissenting opinion (which is right below the majority one). And
I'm not going to argue with the devil :-) Merely to reiterate that the law on child porn doesn't care what the age of the creator (photographer) or the possessor is. It only cares what the age of the photographed minor is, for the purposes of defining child porn. But the two teenagers were found guilty in part because they were teenagers. If they had been adults, in possession of the same child porn (photos made of themselves years ago at age 16), then privacy protections would have applied. And so this is a small part of the relevance of this whole story to the original discussion on youth rights.
If I went to a bar, met some woman, went home with her, and we consensually took naked pictures with each other, and sent them to each other, privacy would not attach (at least under the reasoning of this ruling). The minors were not denied privacy for the simple fact that they were minors; they were denied privacy because the nature of society and of their relationship did not create a reasonable expectation of privacy. I believe that if a significant expectation of privacy had been demonstrated (they were engaged, they had been in a relationship for an extended period of time, they had drawn up some kind of non-disclosure contract, etc.), the case would have turned out differently.
Edit: I remembered the judge's opinion incorrectly, so I withdraw my comment here (it was only posted for a few minutes). My apologies. I can add though that the whole case makes people uneasy because it's convoluted, as court cases often are. The appeal's argument is that the state should have respected the teenagers' privacy. The appeal court denies the argument for privacy because it feels the girl must be protected from her boyfriend, who may use those photos against her. As the court opinion says, So how do they protect her in case her boyfriend hurts her in the future? By making her a felon, putting her on probation, and using up her money on court cases.
3Gordon Seidoh Worley
Just to be fair, although the child pornography laws are ridiculous (you want to make its production illegal, fine, but not its possession and distribution), some states have laws that make a little more sense when it comes to age of consent for sexual relations. In Florida (which I know only because I live there), a person under the age of 24 can have sex with a person who is at least 16 years of age legally. Of course, this still isn't that great because the law considers anyone under the age of 16 unable to consent (not listed in this statute), but at least it opens up a wide "grey area" that eliminates the majority of silly "rape" cases.
As a matter of record: most states set the age of consent at 16 not 18.
Who would you trust ? The state ? The child himself ? I don't think either of those would make better choices than the parents. It sucks when parents make bad decisions about their children's medication, but I don't see any easy way out of that. Better information for the parents could help some cases.
Myself as a child, absolutely. In those rare cases child-wedrifid rejected the will of authorities he had a damn good reason to. If he was (counterfactually) forced to take psychoactive medications against his will it suggests that neither the parents nor the doctor were able to supply any semi-plausible evidence that the medication would benefit him. I would trust his judgement and denounce the coercion.
Among cases where parents and their child disagree as to whether the child should take psychoactive medication, do you think that there are more where the child is right, or more where the parents are right ? ("right" meaning more or less "better for the long term health and happiness of the child)
An answer to this question would be more a comment on the efficacy of popular pharmaceutical interventions than a comment on human judgement. More generally, I do not consider the possible stupidity of other people to be a good justification for the abuse (pharmaceutical or otherwise) of me, or people like me. I feel absolutely no obligation to support mores that would be bad for me or an entire class of people that I empathise with.
But how do you know that giving the children (instead of the parents) the last word on whether or not they take psychoactive medications will actualy result in better results for the children ? Or is it that you only emphathise with smart children, not with stupid children ? I'm not convinced that the policy you propose (children get the last word) will result in the result you describe (it will be better for the children), or I'm misunderstanding you.
Yes. Certainly. For the sake of argument, why would anyone do otherwise?
I haven't made a proposal. I've made a statement about who I trust and also rejected 'best for a particular majority group' as a reason that I should personally support a specific brand of coercion. This is different from 'parents can force a child to take psychoactive medications against their will'. In the latter case may be tempted to assign policy for at what age this 'parental right' expires. It would be less than 17. It would also apply to a far smaller set of situations than that for which psychoactive medication may legally be offered or recommended to or by the parents.
A few of these are a bit hyperbolic, particularly consent. There is never a situation where they are the criminal but an adult wouldn't be, as opposed to, for example, buying alcohol. So the harm falls on their lovers, not them. Also, these laws are quite poorly enforced. Non-consensual genital modification generally occurs at birth, and in all Western countries is strictly limited to male circumcision. I am not sure, but I don't think you could have your 12 year old circumsized against his wishes. So this bullet point is a bit exaggerated. More generally, and more importantly, minors have substantial privileges. People are legally obliged to care for them and ensure they have a certain standard of health. Schools are obliged to educate them for free. Crimes against them are punished far more severely. Their own crimes a punished (usually) far less severely, and they are in many cases not legally responsible for their own actions. You certainly have a point, but it's a bit unbalanced to simply list the downsides. Minors may be among the most restricted groups, but they're also amongst the most heavily protected by the law.

It may be worthwhile to separate general goods and evils from specific opportunities. The protections you list make children safer from things that are bad for everyone - violence, poor health, inability to get educated. These are, arguably, things that everyone should be more protected from. Saying that children have more of these protections than adults says something about the inadequacy of protection for adults - this sort of intuition drives the affection many people have for universal health care, for instance. Meanwhile, what adults have that children don't are opportunities to pursue things that they specifically find good and desirable. A child gets an education, but can't choose its content except in fairly trivial ways - apart from picking a foreign language and a music class, and testing into certain higher-level academic courses, I didn't get real course selection until college, where I was treated as an adult and had much more loose requirements to fill. As adults, we might or might not have access to education, but if we do, we can pick what kind.

So basically, the protections children get are nice and well-motivated, but they're one-size-fits-all and poorly suited as a substitute for adult freedom to children with personalities.

A well made argument. Particularly agree to the one-size-fits-all argument. Our evolution as mammals has forced us to protect our young ones for the survival of our species. The concerns CronoDAS has made are from the perspective of a modern society, especially that of western countries. Even now, millions of kids in third-world countries do not have the option to choose most of the things in that list. In such a situation, more responsible adults need to make a decision on behalf of the children and make available whatever they can for their own benefit.
There is another circumstance in which this applies. Intersex infants with ambiguous genitalia are often surgically modified to better match one of the two standard genders. (But, yes, I admit that the bullet point is exaggerated.)
But in most places, sex between two minors is illegal (edit: below a certain age, not just below the age of majority), and both are liable. And while court cases are rare, punishment at school and at home is common, and most teenagers have to vet their romantic partners with their parents. Like Alicorn said, these are privileges that should be extended to adults. In many countries, a standard of free health care is guaranteed to all. In some countries, university education is free to all citizens. I'd like to see more of that. But this is only necessary because they're prevented from defending themselves the way adults would. Most crimes against young people (it's silly to call 16 year olds "children") are done by someone the law forces them to be in daily contact with, even if they hate that person. Such as parents and family and schoolyard bullies. (Most people aren't allowed to veto their K12 school, class, or teachers.) If we're taking the US as a reference point, I would argue that adults should be punished a lot less for most crimes...
I have to correct myself after reading your answer. I think in reality, counting parents, relatives, and schoolteachers, people really aren't punished more severely when they commit crimes against children. Particularly parents. It's only strangers who commit crimes against children, or people who commit sexually based offenses against them, that we really bother punishing. On the other hand, it would be really interesting to see a workable alternative system proposed. This is all, "Kids don't have these rights!" as opposed to, "Here's the rights we should give them, how we'd enforce those rights, and how it would work out for the better!"
Googling it says otherwise. In 27 states, there's a "grace period" in which minors can consent within a certain age range, and in 10 states the defendant must explicitly be an adult. Facts are fun!
I stand corrected... So, although the age limit varies by state and is not the same as the age of majority (gaining full legal rights), every state has an age limit below which sex is illegal in all circumstances; usually around 14, but 17 or 18 in a few states. The separately stated age above which all intercourse is valid (i.e., with much older people) is 16 in most states, never lower. Wikipedia also has an interesting map of worldwide age of consent by country (not representing rules for age differentials or categories). Oh, and quite a few Western countries have laws against specific sexual acts or against certain numbers or sexes of participants.
Could you elaborate?
"Non-consensual genital modification generally occurs at birth, and in all Western countries is strictly limited to male circumcision. I am not sure, but I don't think you could have your 12 year old circumsized against his wishes. So this bullet point is a bit exaggerated." a major controversial choice with extremely opposing opinions and no medically correct answer is non-consensually taken away from the child before he has the ability decide for him self. "People are legally obliged to care for them and ensure they have a certain standard of health." the child is forced to live with a adult who choses to have em and can chose to give him up for adoption at any time. "Schools are obliged to educate them for free." the child is forced to be educated with or without there will so the will hopefully profit society in the future "Crimes against them are punished far more severely." unlike other laws the laws that only affect children are not decided by those the laws will affect. (laws that "protect children" are made for them with out there input) "Their own crimes a punished (usually) far less severely, and they are in many cases not legally responsible for their own actions." this shows the most that they are thought of as lesser children are not thought of as having the ability to be a threat to society but only the pawns of adults.
Point one: you write this as if you've thought of a better way. I'd imagine many six year olds would love to never go to school and eat nothing but candy. That it is decided for them that this is not an acceptable option is a net good thing, unless your sole terminal value is freedom of choice. Point two: Your objection seems almost entirely directed at bad parents, not the nature of the parent/child relationship. The vast majority of children are actually quite happy about this arrangement, and for some strange reason show distress when you attempt to free them from these terrible, terrible adults. And the claim that adults can choose to give them up for adoption at any time is both misleading and absurd. Legally, yes, but this doesn't actually happen much, for many social and personal reasons. Comparably, anyone who was willing to go to jail could torture and murder you pretty easily. I hardly think that's a serious infringement on your freedom, because that subset of people is incredibly tiny. I also must live in constant fear of being slain by a meteorite, but somehow this does not make my life much worse. Point three: Your final point rather clearly indicates that your mind has filled in the bottom line and is filling in everything above it. This is an unequivocal benefit - I cannot imagine any situation in which someone would prefer to be tried as an adult than as a child (though a tiny number may exist). When you're at the point of taking clear benefits and saying, "But really, it's a bad thing," it's unlikely that you're seeking truth.
2Alex Flint
We would have to enforce each of these below some age. It's never going to be a good idea to let two year olds hold political office and drive cars, and I think this holds for every one of the items you've mentioned. The debate is only which age is the correct cutoff, and I agree that this parameter may need re-evaluating.

You assume that age is the correct parameter. There are others that are perhaps more relevant.

More relevant, maybe, but age seems to be the simplest and the easiest to put into law. Other viable conditions could be some academic achievments, or financial independance ... these would be good, but age is just simpler.
In the case of political office, how about simply the ability to get the suckers to vote for you?
That one's easy, it's self-correcting. Others - alcohol, sex, voting - are not.
alexflint: We would have to enforce each of these below some age. It's never going to be a good idea to let two year olds hold political office and drive cars, and I think this holds for every one of the items you've mentioned. The debate is only which age is the correct cutoff, and I agree that this parameter may need re-evaluating. When I saw this my answer was, "No, age is not how we should decide this. Skill and comprehension is. But these two made me rethink the matter. . . wedrifid: In the case of political office, how about simply the ability to get the suckers to vote for you? Emile: That one's easy, it's self-correcting. Others - alcohol, sex, voting - are not. If we had a tests to see if we were ready to assume the responsibilities involved then the tests might be flawed, or even deliberately sabotaged to prevent or mislead the thought processes of those taking it. Maybe this is why they rely on age instead. It will block those already prepared to handle whats involved, but reduces mistaken or malicious meddling .
Religious services? medically unnecessary genital mutilation? I'm not sure you need an age cutoff at all for those two. "and can be forced to take psychoactive medications against their will." is one I had... opinions... about. And yes, while I was being forced to do so. (to this day, I'm not sure my parents ever managed to really comprehend what it was that I objected to)
Seconded. Even if 'right to make medical decisions' is an unrealistic solution to the problem, I think 'right to refuse care' would fix this problem without too many repercussions. It would've done the job perfectly in my case (and did, when I turned 17 and gained the right to refuse).
Or at least, there ought be rather strict rules about when medical care can be forced. I guess forcing a kid to take an antibiotic in the case of them having a nasty bacterial illness that doesn't go away on its own, etc etc... is one thing. ie, if there's a clear unambiguous no one could reasonably dispute it "you're unhealthy now, you'll be better off with this" thing, then okay. But "well, kids are teasing you, you're a bit different, we're not even really going to diagnose you with anything, but it's just easier for the teachers and everyone if we make you take ritalin 'to make you focus' and supposedly 'help you cope'", well... zah? (excuse me? You want to forcibly chemically hack my mind, that which makes me, well, me... and without even a really compelling justification?) (yeah, they did mean well, but...) But yeah. I do admit though that, like most things in this world, pretty much any rule we adopt is going to probably have nontrivial downsides.
I suspect that your suggestion wouldn't've helped in my case. I did fine on the ritalin; it was when I decided that I wanted to learn how to function without it that the problems started: They decided I was being oppositional because I was depressed, and forced antidepressants on me. I had bad reactions to every single one, and wasn't believed when I told them about the issues. (It turns out the 'my thoughts feel fuzzy' issue I had on the prozac was probably a result of me being unable to code things into long-term memory - my memory is pretty sharp for events before and after that two-year stretch, but nearly nonexistant for events during it. I'm still horrified.) I actually became depressed while on the antidepressants, because of how poorly I was being treated, so even an objective evaluation of whether I was having a problem 'worth forcing treatment of' wouldn't've helped at that point. Limiting the situations where treatment can be forced to physical issues would be safer for the kind of situation I'm concerned with, but there's also the issue of kids with, say, cancer, where the parents may want to signal 'being a good parent' by doing everything possible, and the kid knows from experience that the treatment is worse than the disease. I don't want to screw them over, either.
Well, my suggestion is more along the lines of "the justification for forcing a psych medication against the consent of the patient/victim had better be really strong. Not just 'you do okay' with it but that + 'the situation is really absolutely unambiguously no question about it vastly worse in a reasonable objective sense without it, so much worse that the extreme level of violation of forcibly hacking someone's mind is actually not as bad as letting the situation continue'" So that rule would have probably taken care of your situation, I think. As far as the last, tricky... hrm...
Who gets to decide if it's 'unambiguously worse', though? And how do you make sure that they're deciding rationally, and from unbiased information? My mother had very little trouble getting the doctors to go along with her way of seeing it, and never mind that I'd never actually been violent or threatened suicide or anything. Also note, I'm specifically talking about the situation with the antidepressants. While I wish in retrospect that I'd been more informed about the side effects of the ritalin (gee, maybe my dangerously high blood pressure as a kid wasn't because of 'too much salt', especially given that I eat about as much salt now as I did then and it's fine), I didn't have any objections to it for the first 8 years I was on it, and wouldn't've chosen to refuse it. If we're going to talk about how to make it so I never would have been on it at all, that's a bit of a different conversation, and I'm not actually sure that I agree that that's a worthwhile goal.
Well, as far as the anti depressants... did they clearly unambiguously show that you were to such an extent clinically depressed (rather than just saying "heh, he's oppositional. We can't be wrong, we can't even be forced to consider his own opinion on its own merits, therefore it's clearly a symptom of something") to the extent forcing you (rather than giving you the choice) on them against your will would have been acceptable even under a strict standard?
She had the power, she had a goal. She was going to get what she wanted either through greater experience in the arts of influence or by finding out which doctor was the best candidate for a preferred 'second opinion'.
What Wedrifid said. (And I'm female, by the way.) The stated rationale, at least at the beginning, was that it was clearly not in my best interests to go off the ritalin, because keeping my grades up was just that important, and thus justified to take other measures to ensure that I kept taking it. I disagreed about the importance of the grades compared to the importance of learning to function without being drugged. Your (Psy-Kosh's) 'dramatically objectively worse' qualifier isn't clear enough to detangle this issue, because it doesn't talk about what should be measured. If grades were the measure, I should have stayed on the ritalin and not objected to it strenuously in the first place: My grades did indeed drop dramatically when I went off it, as I expected them to. The same issue comes up with the antidepressants: My mother swears that I was easier to get along with while I was on them, and that they were therefore justified. (I can't comment, because I don't remember. D: ) If that isn't an appropriate thing to measure, what is?
I wasn't stating or proposing a specific standard. I don't know exactly what it should be. But I don't mean just grades. I mean something that could reasonably be described as "a situation that is bad objectively, like obvious physical illnesses, and the situation being so bad that it would actually justify forcibly hacking someone's mind against their will" ie, that's more of the spirit of what I had in mind. I don't know how to make that explicit sufficiently to have a starting point for a legal standard.
The mass of each pill of SSRI as you steadily taper off your dose. ;) You start the process only after you have successfully convinced your oppressor that you have submitted to their will. You then take whatever measures necessary to convince them that you are going along with their plan and do whatever you can to thwart it, within the limits of what you think you can get away with. In this case it is fairly difficult to ensure that a victim has swallowed a tablet without intrusive physical intervention. Disagreement, argument, defiance and even 'oppositional' behaviours, undesirable as they seem at first glance, are actually a something of a privilege that you are granting. In the absence of bystanders whose allegiance could be manipulated these all imply that you trust them enough for honest engagement to be in your interests. You (you being a general hypothetical entity in related circumstances) don't owe this kind of intimacy to anyone, particularly if you suspect their response will be to have you forcibly sedated! There is a time and place for honest assertiveness. That time and place can be loosely described as 'when it works' (with a whole bucket load of caveat). In all other situations lie through your teeth, hide the pills near your cheek and spit the unsavoury incident and unwanted pill out of sight and mind at the earliest possible opportunity. Better yet, use the Prozac to spike her coffee. That'd almost certainly do more to enhance your personal wellbeing than taking it yourself.
It appears to be part of my innate nature to be nicer than that, ironically enough, though I did say 'fuck it' and discontinue the prozac on my own after they blatantly lied to me about what I'd have to do to get permission to go off of it. Thing is, if they'd caught me, they could (according to the threats they were making) have taken even more drastic measures - it's not exactly difficult for a parent to have a child locked up in horrible conditions, especially if the kid has a psych diagnosis or two.
Ouch, yes, I very nearly brought up that 'Therapy' earlier but refrained because the very topic makes my blood boil.
I go more 'flight' than 'fight' over it, but either way, it's part of the reality of being in that kind of situation, unfortunately, and it's not rational to ignore it.
You know, I agree with the general thrust here about the suboptimal treatment of children, but my reaction to this particular sub-thread is to be somewhat envious of those whose parents were actually informed enough to have them put on psychiatric medication for these types of issues. Myself, I was in graduate school before I found out that I needed this sort of treatment. My parents, I think, always viewed my difficulties as character flaws, blamed me (and themselves) for them, and attempted to correct the problem mainly through shaming and punishments of various sorts. In contrast to the experiences of a lot of other people, I tend to think that if I had been given something like Ritalin from an early age (say middle school), I might not have nearly flunked out of high school (which resulted in my having to attend a run-of-the-mill state university, and so on).
0Alex Flint
Wow, I just read about Ritalin on wikipedia... ugh. I would be nearly as worried by doctors prescribing ritalin for gullible adults as for children.
I was on it for quite a number of years actually. I forget exactly. Actually, for a while, they started throwing other things into the mix, for a bit had me also on meleril(a depressant, IIRC) at the same time. but yeah.
I voted you up for 2(!) points. Bugs like children. I find this reduced set of rights particularly problematic as children are quite unbiased by popular political opinion and are able to come up with very novel solutions to hard problems.
Except that same scenario could be read as "unequal power makes humans abusive, and economic inequality can be leveraged into power", a contra-libertarian lesson.
It isn't just that there is economic inequality between the parent and the child -- it's that the child is economically dependent on the parent. How much each has matters more than the gap between them. A billionaire can exercise some leverage over a millionaire, but not nearly as much as a parent over a child.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky
I wasn't aware that socialist-leaning countries didn't have companies with bosses who were bastards.
First, find me a socialist country without unequal power. Or heck, without economic inequality. Even Soviet Russia had the "nomenklatura" and the dollar black market. Are you assuming I'm reversing stupidity? I think there might be pain inherent in libertarianism but that doesn't mean I'll go running to whatever defines itself as an opposite.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky
What I'm trying to say is that corporate abuse of power doesn't automatically go away because you give power to the government. The end result may just be even more power sloshing around in the system. But now we're degenerating into mere politics...

Nope, a degeneration into politics would be marked by one or the other of us switching to "arguments are soldiers". I don't think we have.

I'll put my cards on the table here. I have a lot of respect for libertarian abstract pure capitalism. Its particular advantages that I don't think are equaled elsewhere are: a local update rule (making it embarrassingly parallel), by agents who are self-motivated (without external force) by monotonically increasing expected utility, producing coordinated activity without coordinated preferences, and typically producing compounding reinvestment that grows the technological and wealth base for everyone. I think capitalism is the fixed-point an economy will fall into if you have scarcity, enforce property, and don't do much else. It's the only system that can operate in the presence of scarcity without needing coercion.

I just don't necessarily think those advantages mean it's nice.

5Eliezer Yudkowsky
Sane libertarians don't say it is nice. They just say that the problems are not automagically fixed by saying, "Let's have the government pass a law against..."
For one thing, politics is basically the rules governing conduct between people who are treating each other as members of different tribes. In this environment "nice" isn't really a likely outcome, given human moral sentiments.
Politics is primarily a within tribe tool.
The definition of "tribe" is very flexible, at least as how it applies to human moral sentiments. I'm talking about psychological tribes, not literal ones (hence the slightly awkward phrasing in the passage of mine you quoted) The law is principally about how you deal with people you don't really care about. You generally don't look to the law to work out how to treat your family or friends (and when one does, its generally considered a bad thing). The law's primary purpose is to control how you treat people you have no strong affiliation with. Humanity does not have a happy history when it comes to dealing equitably with strangers or near-strangers.
I'm talking about psychological tribes too. That is where politics finds it's primary home. To the extent that families and friendship groups act like tribes, they too have politics. As do offices. As for laws, well, that's slightly more complex, made more so when our inter-tribe and within-tribe moral systems get somewhat blurred by circumstances.
2Alex Flint
I agree with Julian completely but I would add the observation that there are no countries today with anything remotely resembling pure capitalism. Europe, the US, and the remainder of the traditional "west" are particularly far away from such an ideal.
1Gordon Seidoh Worley
Agreed. Really free markets were regulated away in the early 20th century, it what has always felt to me like a case of trying to trade stability for growth by preventing whatever caused massive volatility in the past from happening again.
All the worst company abuse stories come from countries with largest inequalities. Abuse by bosses in socialist continental Europe is really mild by historical standards.
Citation needed. I flat out don't believe you.
For those who have played the game, this is much of the premise of Bioshock, where the antagonist to which the player is introduced at the beginning of the game (Andrew Ryan) essentially claims complete authority over the city of Rapture in defense of, rather than in spite of his alleged libertarian ideals.

"But people are sometimes authoritarian and cruel! Just for fun! And the only people who you can be consistently cruel to without them slugging you, shunning you, suing you, or calling the police on you are your children. This is a reason for more than the usual amount of skepticism of arguments that say that strict parenting is necessary."

That's a very good point. But there may be a parallel counterpoint: "Sometimes parents are indulgent and too lazy or exhausted or undisciplined to enforce an appropriate degree of discipline in their own children. And the one relationship in the world that is probably most often characterized by unquestioning, adoring love is that from parents to their children. This is a reason for more than the usual amount of skepticism of arguments that say that liberal parenting is necessary." Nothing makes most (... or at least many?) parents happier than making their children happy — so shouldn't we expect a bias toward indulgence too?

Perhaps it would be better to weight our arguments about appropriate parenting styles based on the personalities of particular parents.

This is a good point. One problem with legal oppression of young people is that the age of majority varies from 16-21, but most people stop adoring their parents (and, technically, stop being children) in adolescence, age 11-13.
9Gordon Seidoh Worley
A good point, and in fact some modern societies do place the effective age of majority (if not the legal one) that low. I have a friend from Thailand who told me about his frustration with living in the US when he immigrated here at 16 to live with his aunt. Back home, he had moved out of his parent's home at 12 to attend a secondary school in Bangkok and was living on his own as much as any American college student does: still financially and socially tied fairly closely to his parents, but effectively independent. He had his own apartment, bought his own food and cooked his own meals, took care of his own transportation, bought his own clothes, etc.. When he came to the US he felt like he was a prisoner because he went from being an adult to a child in the matter of a single flight.
I guess people who can't control their kids might make a virtue of necessity and say that they did it on purpose b/c it's good for the kid. Nice twist. But the amount of harm that comes from this strikes me as way smaller than what comes from "it's for their own good." Abusing context slightly, I will quote The Souce: Bart: No offense, Homer, but your half-assed underparenting was a lot more fun than your half-assed overparenting Homer: But I'm using my whole ass.
To enhance the reading experience quote slabs of text by placing a '>' at the start of the line.
Done, thanks. (That was my first ever comment here)
Welcome, Breakfast.
Well, thank you again!
I was going to make exactly that point. There are biases in both directions; the author's argument should be that the bias toward harshness dominates. Also, it's likely that much seemingly frivolous cruelty actually increases the status of its perpetrator. I don't think there's much gain when the victim is so far from you in status as your child, but it's quite believable to me that at least a few million adults are broken enough that it's a possibility.

This is slightly tangential, but I'd argue the main problem with excessive discipline is that it tends to get directed inappropriately. Parents tend to invoke the harshest disciplinary measures when their kids are being inconvenient as opposed to being bad. I think this guy really nails it.

Very good link. Somewhat tangential: what's wrong with spanking? I was spanked as a kid (and from what I remember, it was because I deserved it, not because my parents were pissed - which seems to be the policy the link recommends), and don't see anything bad with that. My wife and I also expect to have a minimum of disciplin with our children, including spanking if needed. We just don't want our kids to be whiny spoiled brats with no self-control.
I've encountered at least three separate reasons for why people might consider spanking wrong. There may be more, of course. 1) Many people (me included) have a strong, emotional aversion to the thought of using physical force against a child that has effectively no way to defend themselves. (Needless to say, such emotional reactions say nothing about whether it's actually right or wrong to hit a child .) 2) AFAIK, there are studies indicating that spanking is an ineffective method of discipline. In general, it seems that positive reinforcement has stronger effects than negative. That'd lead to spanking being both useless and needlessly hurtful to the child, and therefore obviously something to be avoided. 3) The notion that hitting a child to make them do what you say teaches them that it's okay to use force against others to get what you want.
There's also (related to 1 and 3) 4) How do the parents feel about the idea of the kid later on hitting them when they don't get what they want? If their answer to this and their answer to how they feel about spanking their kids differ, they probably ought to carefully examine their thinking.
I don't see much of a moral difference between a kid hitting his parents when they don't do what he wants and parents hitting their kid when he doesn't do what they want - but I do see a difference between those and spanking your kid when he did something wrong and he knows it (for example : hitting a younger child for fun, stealing candy from the store, burning his schoolbook then lying about it ...). By the way, I did know a kid who would threaten to hit his mother. What a brat he was, he's probably why I'd rather have a bit too much disciplin than not enough.

By the way, I did know a kid who would threaten to hit his mother. What a brat he was, he's probably why I'd rather have a bit too much disciplin than not enough.

"That's right kiddo. And I'll keep hitting you until you realise that threatening violence isn't the right way to get what you want!"

(assuming you meant to say "I don't see much of a moral difference between .... but I do see a difference between...") Well, let's poke and prod at that idea a bit. What about spanking someone else's kid? If your answer is different there... why? What about "for talking back"? What of the case in which it's "for disobedience" or such? What about an adult? (remember, we're not talking about taking them to court or whatever, just grabbing him or her and spanking, no appeal, no reasoning, etc etc...) More generally, even if there is merit in the abstract, do we want to trust parents (as mere humans) unconditionally in this matter? Did the mother (or father) tend to threaten or hit him?
Simple. I might think it would be a good idea if I were allowed to spank other people's kids. This does not mean I think it would be a good idea for any adult to spank any kid (or, especially, my kid). I can recognize that laws and customs are generally good things, even if I think they might be better if they didn't apply to me in particular.
Supposing you had to decide on a rule that both you and others had to follow. Would you prefer "people can spank other people's kids"? And would that be different than your preference for the rule of whether or not "people can spank their own kids"? And if so, why?
I can't do that. I have to decide on a rule that both my and others follow and that can be effectively enforced. Things may well work better overall if no one spanked their kids, or they may not - just because bad parents overuse spanking does not mean preventing it will make them into better parents. But it would be really, really expensive to enforce a rule that prevents other people from spanking their own kids. It is not that difficult to prevent people from spanking other people's kids. "Difficulty of implementation" is an excellent reason to support one rule but not the other, in my view.
I think I should be allowed to spank other adults too.
Indeed, I don't have any such aversion, and tend to score pretty low on the "emphathize with other human beings" thing. Which probably explains some of my puzzlement :) I definitively will research the subject more before I have kids :) Overall, I'm dubious about the idea that negative reinforcement (a.k.a. punishment) is fundamentally ineffective, since fines and jail sentences do seem to work as a deterrant. Depends how it's used. As the guy in psychohistorian's link says, the problem is when the severety of the punishment depends not of what the kid did, but of how the parent feels. If the kid gets spanked when he knows he did something wrong (like lying), he shouldn't interpret it as meaning that "it's okay to use force against others to get what you want."

Overall, I'm dubious about the idea that negative reinforcement (a.k.a. punishment) is fundamentally ineffective, since fines and jail sentences do seem to work as a deterrant.

I think the general notion is that negative reinforcement teaches you to avoid being caught, while positive reinforcement is more likely to make "being good" part of your self-image. The difference between wanting to be good, and wanting to appear good when others happen to be watching.

Very good point, thanks. There is indeed a whole range of ways to subtly manipulate kids into being good, and threat of spanking is a pretty coarse method.
Oh, minor note. Negative Reinforcement and Punishment are generally considered to be different sorts of conditioning, rather than terms for the same thing. Negative reinforcement counts still as reinforcement, ie, rewarding good behavior. It simply happens to be via reducing an undesired thing rather than increasing a desired thing.
Good, I was just going to make that point. Reinforcement, as originally defined by Skinner, seeks to increase the chances of a desired behavior; punishment seeks to reduce the chance of an undesired one. Of course, since the distinction between positive and negative reinforcement (or punishment) is fuzzy at best (e.g., taking away the requirement to perform a chore could be seen as giving additional leisure time), it's no wonder that "negative reinforcement" has turned into a euphemism for punishment.
Yeah, negative reinforcement and positive punishment do seem to sort of "blend" into each other... (A friend of mine is starting up a dog training (well, and training the humans with regards to training the dogs) business and she finds herself a bit frustrated at how she seems completely unable to get communicate the idea (to one particular person) that the four things are different)
See also my recent review of Kazdins positive reinforcement method:
Good point, and great link.

But what we actually have is a world with lots and lots of cruelty lurking just under the surface, which cannot help but show up in the form of pro-strictness arguments in parenting debates.

Conversely, people also want to signal that they are kind and caring (and, in certain social circles, corporal punishment of children is considered a serious taboo), and being able to say you don't use harsh discipline suggests that you're an effective parent. Also, just as some people enjoy being cruel, some people enjoy being kind, generous, and indulgent, particularly towards their own offspring. It's also a phenomenally well established fact that people think other people should (or do) share their values and act like them, even if their actual values or situations are quite different. So, by the exact same reasoning, disingenuous arguments against cruelty should also abound, and arguments against cruelty should be discounted to some degree as well.

Such a bias could exist, and it would indeed cut the other way. As a practical matter, I'll worry about it when too much grooviness starts doing 1/1,000,000th the damage in the world that is caused by too much cruelty
This has already happened. Look at what happened to crime rates during the 60's and 70's when prison sentences became shorter and less common. Admittedly, there may have been other factors, but given how obvious the incentives are here, this was probably a significant one. Too much "grooviness" can cause active harm. It's admittedly much harder to see in child-rearing, because "parents beat kid -> kid turns out bad" harmonizes with our availability heuristic much better than "Parents fail to beat kid when actually deserved -> kid turns into narcissistic, sociopathic jackass with an overdeloped sense of entitlement." Both happen, and both fail to happen even though it seems like they should. The first just fits much better in our storybook. Alternatively, of course, there's "It doesn't much matter whether or not parents beat kid, but why parents beat kid," which is what I'd bet is closest to the truth by a wide margin. Just because it's easier to think of doesn't mean you get to say it's more than a million times worse without a shred of supporting evidence or argument. I'm not saying you're wrong; I haven't researched this. I'm just saying you're rather unapologetically making things up.

In my experience, children are cruel, immoral, egotistical, and utterly selfish. The last thing they need is to have their inflated sense of self worth and entitlement stroked by the sort of parenting you seem to be advocating. Children ought to have fundamentally lower status, not just because they're children per se, but because they're stupid and useless. They should indeed be grateful that anyone would take the trouble to feed and care for someone as stupid and useless as they, and repay the favor by becoming stronger.

Children are ignorant and powerless; that's not the same as stupid and useless.


Children ought to have fundamentally lower status, not just because they're children per se, but because they're stupid and useless.

So then the legal system should award status based on usefulness and intelligence, not age as in the present system.

Usefulness to whom?
Well, no. Status is a informal, social concept. The legal system doesn't have much to do with "awarding" it.
But should stupid adults have no rights?
Fewer rights, perhaps. More to the point, equal rights isn't a good idea because it's just and right, but rather because it's a defensive position against rulers who grant extra rights to privileged groups.
/me checks into legal status of retarded adults & vegetables Dunno about 'should', but they don't have very much beyond what kids have...
Usefulness to who? Isn't it enough for people to be useful to themselves if they're not harmful to others?
I don't know that I agree with you, but * I also don't know whether I disagree with you * No one else came close to this point * and you made it well so upvoted.
To convert the above to a bulleted list, add a space between each asterix and the sentence.
This caused me to imagine a little ASCII character that resembled Asterix.
haha, I loved those books when I was a kid ^_^
I love them still as they are really useful for practicing my french. My teacher has a shelf full of them. I've already read them in English, and they contain a lot the the plot in the picture and they use very simple language. The best test of my abilities come when one of the characters with a lisp or foreign accent is talking and I have to puzzle out what french word they're using.
* asdf * asdf * adsf sdf sdf *sdf
I am not a parent myself but I've been told a lot of times by my parents and others that they have learnt a great deal from children. Thus, calling them useless is not fair. Also, even now children in rural India are treated as future bread-earners. Thus, taking care of them and helping them grow is seen as an advantage to the parents. Stupid, yes they may be but then weren't we all?

David, yes supposedly altruistic "paternalism" by parents is often a mask for other less admirable motives. But since you and I debated government paternalism, I presume you think that more justified because in that case we are in fact more altruistic. But you should consider: how can you be so sure? As a parent I can tell you we sure feel like we are altruistic, just as pundits and wonks do when promoting government paternalism. Do you have more evidence besides your feeling of altruism?

I don't know what Balan would say, but our evolutionary history required parents to have instincts toward genuinely beneficial things for their children, not simply behavior that gives a fake altruism signal while hurting them.

Strictly speaking, this is just an instinct toward doing things that help your children spread their genes, but this largely coincides with what we would consider helpful, at least in the long term.

Robin, I don't see any disconnect here. I certainly did not mean to suggest that parents shouldn't be paternalistic towards their children. Of course they must be, though there is room for legitimate argument about how much paternalism is really necessary, and I think often less is better than more. The point of the post was simply to point out that people often disguise cruelty as justifiable paternalism, and that that's bad. Same idea with government paternalism. I think there is a real necessary role for it, but it is susceptible to abuse. As I argued in our debate, in times and places where the abuse was very severe, we would have been better off getting rid of it altogether. But in decently well-functioning societies, that's not the case. And if we got even better at limiting the abuses, I'd probably be in favor of even more paternalism.
With decent well functioning kids parents don't need paternalism. With decent well functioning citizens governments don't need paternalism. So how do we know when the parents and governments are more well functioning than kids and citizens?
It's not that in well-functioning societies there's no need for paternalism. It's that in well-functioning societies the government can be trusted with enough power that they can carry out the kind of modestly paternalistic agenda that people like me favor. Similarly, in well-functioning families parents can be trusted with enough power to do modest, reasonable parental paternalism. Naturally, in poorly-functioning societies/families the government/parents seize power anyway, but we're talking abut what's legitimate, not about what actually happens.

Worse, it's a relatively minor manifestation of the broader notion that the child has a fundamentally lower status in the family just for being a child, that they deserve less weight in the family's utility function.

Are you sure those two are the same ?

In Chinese traditional culture, children are explicitely of lower status (they need to be respectful and obedient etc.), yet families will make great sacrifices to be able to afford a good education for the kids. So it's possible to be both at low status and have a big share in the "utility function&... (read more)

I think part of the problem is that the term "low status" is too laden with multiple meanings. Having low status might mean that you need to obey your superiors, OR it might mean your superiors consider you expendable, OR it might mean both.

I'm not very familiar with Chinese culture, but I could imagine a situation that fits your description but where children aren't actually of a lower status in the sense implied in the original post. If children are highly valued and their parents sacrifice a lot for them, then it makes sense to assume that children are expected to be respectful and obedient in return. If somebody's making a lot of sacrifices for you, then it's only proper that you show them respect for it and aren't too bothersome. That can be read to mean that you're of a roughly equal status, as you are participating in a fair exchange - be respectful and obedient, and the others will benefit you in return.

Indeed, I had a problem with the fact that he meaning of "low status" is fuzzy (partly because we rarely speak of such things openly). Your phrasing clears things up, thanks. I'd say that there are many kinds of relationships between people (employee, customer, parent, friend, lover, co-worker, ...), and we are hard-wired to pay attention to how the relationship reflects on the relative status of those involved. But the relationships where one side seems "fundamentally worth less" than the other are just a subset of status relationships. So the idea that "considering children as lower-status implies that they are fundamentally woth less" looks wrong to me.
Relevant in the Chinese context:
It is true that there are some people who both believe that their kids are and should be fundamentally below them in the pecking order while at the same time would make major sacrifices and even die for them. But I don't think this changes the basic point of the post.

"But you wouldn't be hearing this "I'm higher than you in the pecking order and don't you dare forget it" attitude that is so very common."

The human race is, essentially, a species of upgraded monkeys, and there is (so far as I can see) no way to have two large groups of people, one of which strictly dominates the other, without this particular monkey behavior being ubiquitous. This holds true even when the child, in some sense, has higher utility (eg., when the parents would sacrifice their lives for their child's life, as parents often do). The only real alternative is to give children as a whole higher status, by, say, rewriting the laws so that children are not essentially their parent's property.

Here's a set of laws I'd really like to try as a social experiment. 1. Any child below the age of must have at least one parent. The parent(s) have responsibilities and rights as per normal. 2. The starting parents are the biological ones. 3. The parental relationship may be disconnected from either end. Consent of the disconnected party is not required. Disconnection severs both rights and responsibilities. Per rule 1, the last parent can't disconnect without arranging an adoption. 4. The child can add, eject and swap parents. Per rule 1, the child can't eject their last parent, they have to swap. 5. For a child-initiated addition or swap to go ahead, all parents and the child present after the swap must mutually consent before the swap.

I don't think this would have much of an effect. Even abused children will typically cling to their parents and try to avoid outcomes where they'd become permanently separated. Theoretically, a child might choose to swap or eject a parent if they came into contact with a new adult and grew to like them far more than the previous parents, but that sounds like it'd introduce an incentive for parents to prevent children from growing close with other adults. Also, it creates a possibility for manipulative adults to pressure children into making decisions about their parental figures that they wouldn't actually make otherwise.

Abused children fear being abandoned. Would they fear swapping? I suspect the potential-wall would be lower, at the very least. Also, abusers divide into some that want a child to abuse, and others that abuse an unwanted child. The latter would just disconnect, and I think they make up the vast majority of bad parents. Yes children could make mistakes (under pressure or otherwise), but they could also recover from mistakes.
Does anybody think it's actually a good idea (and not just a funny joke, or fuzzy-generating slogan)? Except for a few cases where it is, it seems emphatically not.
Eh? What is? The idea of social experiments? Yes I think they're a good idea. And unavoidable too - there are too many variables moving fast and now for much cultural stability at the moment. The main question is whether to prefer organically grown cultural shifts, or forays into deliberate design.
Fascinating idea. Only question I'd have relates to the game theory involved--if both parents want to disconnect (or suspect that they might want to in the future) there is an incentive to be the first to do so, as the first does not have to deal with the swapping requirements. Thus, there is some potential for pre-emptive swapping in order to avoid being left in a degrading situation. This problem only gets steeper as the situation becomes less pleasant. An interesting extension: would children be able to add additional parents, with their current parents' consent?
Yes, there is an incentive to swap first, but the other parent can swap if they find any willing adopter, even somebody nasty. The child isn't consulted here, but they can immediately proceed to arrange their own swaps until satisfied. That isn't an extension, that's part of what I designed in. 1->n parents are implicit in rules 1, 4 and 5 none of which have maximum limits.
This sounds like it's making an unreasonable assumption of the children's rationality. A child isn't going to start calmly calculating whether their situation warrants further parental swaps, carry out the necessary amount of those swaps and then carry on contently once they reached the favored state. More likely, the insecurity and uncertainty of knowing that anyone can at any moment decide to disconnect the relationship would leave them in a state of psychological ruin before they reached adulthood.
They don't have to calmly calculate, they just have to find someone they'd prefer to be with who's willing to take them - a "Matilda" scenario. If the relationship is stable, they won't be stressed. If it's unstable, they will be comforted by the ability to search for a safe harbor via swaps. I think this system would encourage self-reliant responsibility early, since every child would feel able to alter their circumstances and recover from a mistake.
At what age could these kinds of separations be initiated? At any age? Does that imply that children would need to be convinced of this being a real possibility as soon as they're old enough to understand it, so that they're capable of voluntarily choosing it? The earlier the age that the kids found out, the more harmful it would be for their well-being. Even the very possibility that your parents might choose to abandon you at any moment is going to damage the well-being of many children. I remember, at the relatively old age of ten, being shaken to the point of tears by the mere thought and worry that one of my parents might happen to die. Not to mention the consequences of it actually happening and proving to the child that they can never be absolutely certain of being safe from abandonment. Your proposal is not necessarily fully bad, but I suspect that in most cases, the kids would need to be at least teenagers before they were prepared to handle the emotional weight of simply having the option available.
And once I've taught them about the conditional nature of love (and the parent-child relationship) am I allowed to go ahead and teach them about Santa Claus? There's a whole new spin I could put on the Christmas tradition (He's making a list, He's checking it twice, He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town!...) Meanwhile, is it ok to use religious indoctrination to prevent children from considering adoption a viable option (on pain of eternal damnation)? Can I legally lure children off the street with candy? How about push advertising targetting the well know vulnerabilities in human cognition? Can I start a cult which is to be propagated by preaching the Divine Will that all followers attract and adopt as many children as possible into the fold. Heck, most of the existing religions would lap that up straight away.
You could certainly lure, but could you retain? Memes wanting to parasitize the ready supply of children would have to get extra-tasty. This may or may not be a good thing. I'm assuming the rules on abuse start out the same, but I think they'd shift. For some things, "so jump ship" would be the answer, and the severity of legal disapproval would decrease. I think the law would quickly increase the penalties for brainwashing, as it would be viewed as an attempt to game the system - nobody likes a cheat.
You could be right. I like the sound of that!
Any age that could coherently express an intent in words: "I want you to be my mommy instead". For babies, this would work like expedited parent-initiated adoption. Probably anyone still holding the baby a month after the birth is determined to make a go of it. After children start to socialize they would be exposed to this as a pervasive cultural thing among their peers. "Yeah, I traded up to Miss Smith, she's really nice", "Bobby got given away, and he doesn't like them, so he's been asking around, but I think he'll have trouble because everyone knows he's rude". You were raised in a culture where you get an allocation of at most two parents and that's it. Instinct insists that if they die you starve - naturally the thought of abandonment panics you. I think what this system puts in place instead is more like a tribe where the aunts and uncles chip in with the parenting and the child runs to whoever is closest when they want a hug. Leaving a parent might be a terrible wrench, but the feeling would be there that "I could go back, I could have both at once if they agree, nothing's final". But of course I'd have to see it run.
You are implying that a child's need for security in the form of having stable caretaker figures, guaranteed not to disappear no matter what happens, is a learned cultural thing. While this is in theory possible, every intuition I have gained from my exposure to developmental psychology disagrees, and quite strongly so. E.g. attachment theory - yes, there may be several attachment figures, but that doesn't mean that being betrayed by any in the form of abandonment is going to be any less shocking. You also haven't addressed the feeling that ensues from the thought that you can never really rely on anyone, knowing that anybody could at any time choose to abandon you, and the effect that is going to have for forming commitments later on in life. Or the constant pressure to be "good enough" not to be abandoned that children in such a scheme would constantly be exposed to. Young children are distressed by even such minor things such as disruptions in their evening routines, to say nothing about the knowledge that your entire home might change at any moment.

Wow, I'm surprised by the number of comments supporting this baby-swapping opt-out-of-mommy nonsense using self-reference as evidence. First of all- we were NOT like most children in our intelligence or rational abilities. Developmental psychology clearly demonstrates that there are many concepts most children are incapable of grasping until reaching certain ages. Do you really think an entity without basic object permenance can decide who its mommy is going to be? OOH That mommy has CANDY!

Also, we might NOT correctly remember how we reasoned things out as children. My mother tells me how I would make up ridiculous stories (once saying my father ran me over with the car) that I actually believed. I have no memory of this.

Finally, in a somewhat Burkian argument, there are many cultures with different ideas of child-rearing, but all of them privilege the parent-child relationship. Over all the irrationality surrounding feelings and human relationships, this seems to work and to last. The implementation of any of these thought experiments would involve massive government intervention into something very personal and natural. And I know no one here really wants that.

There is clearly a lot of bitterness here about having been both rational and powerless as children. However, I would guess that more damage is done in our society from its extended adolescence, keeping twenty- and thirty-somethings financially dependent on mom and dad than from children not being able to 'swap up.'

I'm not surprised. There are certain axes along which many Less Wrongers are just weird (incorrect and slightly tilted from reasonable). The view of children as suppressed, oppressed small-sized adults is one of them. My hypothesis is that Less Wrongers draw from a couple dominant sources: people who had an overly authoritarian upbringing and thus see things like "Santa Claus", normal parental controls and religion in an overly negative way, and people who are socially impaired enough to not recognize when others are getting these ideas consistently wrong. Instead of cultivating an insular world where like-minded individuals try to figure out what they don’t understand in the ways that they endorse (ways that are proving to NOT WORK on certain kinds of topics), they should try to encourage people who think differently (but smarter on those topics) to explain it to them. And then, it would be useful to look and check if endorsed methods could have (in theory) found that answer or if there are certain topics for which rationality just doesn't do the job, yet.
While I am somewhat surprised at how close the suggestion came to being seriously discussed I haven't seen large numbers of people supporting the baby-swapping opt-out-of-mommy nonsense out of self reference. In fact, I haven't seen a single example of that, even if self reference came up in tangents. Although to be fair a few replies may have slipped by 'recent comments' without my awareness. As someone who considers his childhood to have been remarkably empowered I am a little wary about just where you are waving your generalisation stick around, I am sure to catch a splash here or there. I don't think the interest shown in the comically absurd child liberation proposal is evidence of bitterness. A complete detachment from reality maybe, but not necessarily bitterness. I think you're right.
All good geeks love a game of what-if. Ejection and swapping don't kick in until the child can express a coherent preference. Lets say, definitely not two and definitely by seven, although a magistrate could still hear pleas when the child is under-age and act as a proxy for the child's good judgement. Addition kicks in immediately, because the rule of mutual consent gives the existing parents a sanity veto. Running from bad parents is only one use of this system. Creativity quickly comes up with other uses. For example, surfing around the world by adding travellers and riding with them, or adding multiple families and having "a home in every port". Cementing best friendships by merging families. Adding a mentor, such as when the beloved existing parents are great at childrearing but don't know a potter's studio from a mud hut. I thought this up because I was modelling the question "what if parenting could be mutually consensual". It may be silly, but silliness is if anything a red flag to ignore your snap judgement, because it's contaminated by "common sense".
Not exactly - I'm implying it may be a contextual instinct. That is, a highly nuclear family pushes different buttons from a highly extended one. The feeling of being a rolling ball on a narrow hill ledge is different from the feeling of being the same ball in a valley bottom. Children would tend to fall out of unstable families and into stable ones. Having lived my childhood in an unstable family, let me assure you that the feeling "this is teetering on the precipice" is not assuaged by the inability to swap.
Or stuck with a less-than-averagely-attractive baby, with bad genes or something, because supply of babies for adoption will almost always outgrow demand.
That's why you'd want to legalize infanticide.
Within a short time of birth, certainly. I'd be in favor.
It would be fascinating to see the dynamics of this system, and particularly how children start to actively offer something to potential parents whom they see as superior to their current ones. Ultimately, I think this would come out as a matching system that puts the worst children in the hands of the worst parents and so on, while simultaneously giving everybody an incentive to be a better child or parent. Two potential downsides: children may be mistaken about their short- vs long-term interests (goodness knows I was at several times in my development), and the inequalities in outcomes may increase--as usual, there is a tradeoff between equity and efficiency. If the best parents match to the best children, we would expect the range from worst children to best children to expand quite dramatically, particularly if the legal obligations arising from adopting a child were minimal and so successful children could attract a number of investors/parents.
It would certainly be fascinating. It would construct a functional reputation economy for both parents and children, give children a lot of real power but prevent them misusing it, force a more negotiated style of parenting, break down "the family" and create something different but perhaps better, "the family as a standing wave". It would almost entirely detach sexual activity from family. People who wanted families could just offer their services (singly or in partnership) and obtain kids. People who like children could continue parenting indefinitely, or perhaps even specialize in an age range. One possible downside: it would let people be casual baby lasers, as they could foist off their spawn about as fast as they could pop them out.
Even that could be an upside, considered differently: those who are most capable of having children--who have access to high-quality genes, the kind of physiological traits that make childbirth relatively easy, whatever--could very easily consolidate the work of actually having the children, while those with greater material means (should the groups be distinct) can provide for them. Clearly, this is technically possible even under the current legal regime, but the system you're proposing might open the door to related contracts. In fact, if we believe that there are economies of scale and gains from trade within families, two parents may be suboptimal. With three or more, one parent could more easily be home (with perhaps more children to handle) while the family's income could remain substantial. Also, I love thinking about families as standing waves.
Constrained only by the capacity of Neverland Ranch.
Yes, a celeb with money who wanted children and was wanted by children could quickly gather quite a large family.
That's some strong selection pressure in favour of attractive, well behaved and appreciative children who will grow up to be repulsed by their own spawn.
I get the first part. What's the selection pressure for the second part, though? (I tried a couple times to reason it out and I'm not seeing it.)
Think Cuckoo. You can afford to produce more offspring if you can reliably ensure they will be well cared for by others (they are adorable) but are immune to their allure yourself. You will get rid of them and don't have to spend resources that could be better directed at finding mates and gestating.
Aaaah, okay, whoops. Of course, once everyone's repulsed by kids, the selection pressures would change a bit.
I think he's saying a baby laser wins on resources and heredity. Which is true, but they lose on memetic influence.
Baby laser? Nice one, I hadn't heard that term before.
How does child support fit into the mix?
Child support is a responsibility like the others, it arrives with adoption and disappears with disconnection.
This sets up an incentive for states to compete on child rights. If one state lets children work/drive/have sex at age 18 and a neighboring one at age 17, then a lot of 17 year olds will want to find new parents in the second state and move there.
We have a lot of bad impulses that one way or another are the legacy of our monkey origins. The trick is to get better at not giving in to them, and part of that is recognizing that they exist.
Is there any evidence for this being more than just talk?

It's extremely hard to sacrifice yourself for someone else. There just aren't many situations where making yourself dead is the best and only way to make someone else stay alive.

But parents — probably the vast majority of them — routinely make tremendous sacrifices in every area of their lives for their children, which seems to come pretty darn close.
Evidence of these "tremendous sacrifices" being... ?

In my experience at least:

  • Thousands of hours invested in directly providing care, travel, and other services
  • Hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in education, food, clothing, etc.
  • The sacrifice of one parent's career
  • Choosing housing locations based primarily on educational and social opportunities for the children, rather than convenience for employment or entertainment

Are these similar to dying for a child? I don't know. It's possible that the sum of the financial equivalent of the above is comparable to a statistical life, but I'm just giving rough estimates.

Child birth.
Can you substantiate the claim that giving birth is a sacrifice made for the child as opposed to for the future good of the mother herself? In general I find it hard to believe that people would choose to become parents for the sake of a potential child, who will only exist because they decide so, unless they expect to enjoy raising a child at least some of the time, or otherwise profit from it (social approval, commitment between married partners, support in old age, government aid).
Are any sacrifices provably made "for the recipient" rather than "because the sacrificer gains some (intangible) value from having made it?"
Point taken, it may be too fuzzy a term to distinguish.
I'm sure many of the siblings of our ancestors chose otherwise. But I'd be surprised if that choice stayed popular. Those reasons help. But our instincts give an extra boost when it comes to both expecting and remembering.
If it ain't broken, don't fix it.
The system is very, very clearly broken. If a parent wants to (for whatever reason), it is quite easy for them to abuse their child enough to give them shell shock, without there ever being any chance of a court prosecuting them. See, eg.,
That's what I what I told my wife when she got the idea that she should be allowed out of the kitchen. It should be clear this is intended only as an argumentum ad absurdum. (Because there is no way I'm willingly placing myself at the mercy of whatever laws happen to be politicked into marriage already or at any time in the duration of the contract in question. That's just crazy.)
Or, we could give the most dominant parents free access to all the best trash. (See, for example peace-among-primates.)
I notice in a plug at the end that Sapolsky wrote a book about why zebras don't get ulcers, and other stress-related diseases. In fact, ulcers are caused by bacteria, and a Nobel was awarded for that discovery. I wonder if Sapolsky will want to avoid being credited with that in unrelated op-eds.

A point:

"My House, My Rules" certainly makes parents feel good about themselves. They have a nice CAPITALISTIC excuse for their behavior.

So let's ask the question, what happens if child-animal bucks?

What happens if child-animal wants to move out? Get a job?

Well, child-animal is REQUIRED to attend school, and if child-animal escapes, the full force of the state will be brought to bear to drag child-animal back. Child-animal will do exactly as it's told, or child-animal will pay. S... (read more)

Aptly put I think this is largely a myth spread by child abusers in denial and the people they've convinced. It undermines the efficacy of child protection and makes people doubt the veracity of child's claims, and in turn the authenticity of their own experience. Child abuse is real, widespread, and overwhelmingly underreported. Far more dysfunctional households are not dismantled than functional households are dismantled for child protection. Institutional child abuse is yet another problem, however. Though, likely to be superior to child abuse at home. There was a point when I was abused where I had to steal my own passport and other identification which I then destroyed out of fear it may be used as part of an ellaborate abuse plot (and later reported missing). So sometimes parents destroy totally functioning states as well. A friend recently raised the point that my abusive parents weren't just giving me a hard time, they're having a hard time themselves. That's why people are mean to one another usually. It was an inspiring reframe from the stereotype of pure psychopathy I sometimes imagine. She put is: I understand how you're feeling when your parents are going through a hard time. It made it sound situational, rather than permanent. I love that! Thanks 'B'! It's been brought to my attention recently that experiments in operant conditions suggest rewards work, but punishments usually just creates fear and instinctive reactions. I really need to consider my approach to reverse parenting my parents with punishment instead of rewards. It does seem to have worked though,

There is a movement called Taking Children Seriously that advocates that a parent should never deploy arbitrary authority, but always reason a child into doing what they ought to do. I think they are nuts, but some people I respect respect them, and it might appeal to rationalists. They are somehow based on Popperian epistemology.

In a related vein I just made a Facebook page for the Association of Anarchist Parents, an organization that I have envisioned ever since my own kids were old enough to have wills of their own.

arguments work on us without us ever being able to fully evaluate their merit.

I think the is a better reason to down-weight arguments that go along with a likely bias. The bias calls into question the rationality of the arguer.

If Omega tells me I should route a train towards one child and not another, then that's almost certainly the case.

If you tell me, then well you could be wrong, but If I think you're rational and have more information than I do, then I should treat that as evidence.

If I know that the child you want me to turn the train away from is yours, then your advice doesn't really bring me much information.

None of what I've read about Omega seems to indicate that his moral system is similar enough to our own that we should take his advice on moral matters. Have I missed something?
I think the point is that in thought experiments involving Omega, you take Omega's word as truth since it simplifies matters. I took "Omega" to mean all knowing being that doesn't lie to you, and it seems to make sense given the context. The other part is that when people say "you should do this" it generally means "you should according to your own utility function" rather than meaning "I want you to do this, but you would be worse off if you did" (even if the latter is often the underlying truth).
You really think that's what it generally means? It's probably close to the right interpretation for most speakers here, but in general I don't think anything like a utility function is invoked in most "should" statements - unless you're including things like "you should go to such-and-such a store for flour because it's on sale there", which isn't a moral "should" like the original case, and arguably calls for a completely unrelated interpretation style.
Hmm, good point. I know most people don't think in terms of utility functions, but I don't think it's quite necessary for what I said to make sense. For example, someone without the concept "kinetic energy" might say that when person A throws a baseball it has a lot more "hurt" than when person B throws it. The difference is the KE, even if the person doesn't know the concept by common name or know much about it. However, now that you bring it up, I'm not sure how well it works in this situation. "You should turn the train towards the smaller number of kids" and "you should go to such-and-such a store for flour because it's on sale there" sound the same to me at first, so I forget that other people make a big distinction. I guess the way to test this is to ask people "Mr.Smith wants to kill as many kids as possible. What should he do?" and see which way the responses lean. Perhaps more people would give responses like "turn himself in", but I'd expect most people I associate with to give answers that would result in high death tolls. I guess I have a creepy question to ask for a while. Either way, in the context given, I think my interpretation was fair.
When person C throws a baseball, it has even more hurt in it, because he aims for your head. Also may I introduce you to person N, who is a ninja and throws pointy stars... Buy a flock of goats?
I meant to imply omega was explicitly referencing our system of morality by using the human "should". Something like: If you knew everything I know, you would definitely want to divert the train. "omega-should" is presumably very different.
None of what I've read about Omega suggests that Omega even has a moral system. Cue standard argument against God :-) Omega is said to be pretty nearly all-powerful. Either the universe is already to Omega's liking, in which case Omega's preferences and "morals" don't match human ones at all. Or else he isn't all that powerful, and we shouldn't believe him when he goes around offering to double our utility functions indefinitely.

I think discussions like this are useless unless "child" is qualified by the age of child you are talking about. Children of different ages have vastly different cognitive capacities and what is suitable for one age is not for another. Think about children at ages 0, 5, 10, 15, and 20 (to take arbitrary ranges). The line about "my house that I allow you to live in" is something I might conceivably use in an argument with a surly 15-year-old, who is at the point where they need to start thinking about leading an independent life, but it would seem like an incredibly cruel thing to say to a 10-year-old, and would probably just be meaningless noise to a 5-year-old.


For most kinds of persuasive argumentation, especially in complicated and emotionally laden subjects like child rearing, arguments work on us without us ever being able to fully evaluate their merit. And in that world, it does make sense to down-weight arguments that have some bias built into them.

When we are dealing in such topics, we presumably have our own bias on the subject, and in making some assessment of the degree to which another's argument might need discounting due to their bias, we may bring our own bias into play. Are we then risking just ... (read more)

Watch how he treats the arguments of people with whom he agrees. Also watch his conclusion (and more subtle agenda as applicable).
Like so many things in the general OB/LW project, it's always possible that an otherwise sound practice will steer you wrong. If you come up with a good reason to downweight certain types of bad arguments, you might end up using a similar reason as justification to ignore good but unpalatable arguments. That's why it's hard.

A utilitarian will evaluate the parents' happiness along with the child's. In this view, a parent may be right in applying rules to their child that increase their own well-being to a greater extent than their child's situation is worsened, so long as overall happiness is increased.

And the child is right in hunting down the utilitarian in question and eviscerating him. Only to the extent that their own well being is increased by more than the utilitarian's is worsened, naturally.
Now I'm pondering how wonderfully ironic it would be if it turned out that humanity's utility would be hugely increased by utilitarianism's being thoroughly demonized and eradicated as an ideology, and all utilitarians ruthlessly destroyed.
If you measure utility by what people say they want and by how they act, then perhaps humanity's utility would be hugely increased by killing all atheists and scientists and burning all their books. More likely this was the fact a few hundred years ago when fewer atheists were around. And so what? Who cares about humanity's utility aggregate function anyway? I care about mine, and it doesn't include terms for other people who want to act in ways I consider thoroughly immoral. This happens to include most of the people on the planet by far. I'd be surprised to learn that anyone really disagrees with this, all the talk of CEV non withstanding...
I certainly didn't mean to suggest that parents deserve no weight in the family's utility function.