Friday, April 26, 2013

Academic intellectuals and the social model of policing.


Religious education, child abuse and responsible parental stewardship

[this is cross-posted at Prosblogion] Richard Dawkins has argued several times (e.g., here) that bringing up your child religiously is a form of child abuse. I think his argument that religious upbringing in general is child abuse has little merit (after all, Dawkins himself is the product of a traditional Anglican upbringing and calls himself - rather proudly - a cultural Anglican, hardly the victim of child abuse). However, his claim in the linked article is that parents who attempt to instill things like Young Earth Creationism (henceforth YEC) in their children are doing something wrong, or are somehow overstepping their role as parents. This question, I believe, is worthy of further attention. 
...But where can we draw the line? Under what circumstances does the transmission of religious beliefs count as a form of child mistreatment, to put it strongly? For clarity of discussion, I do not mean those aspects of religious education that involve, say, denying your child a vaccine or blood transfusion, but I want to focus on the transmission of beliefs alone. An interesting model to consider the moral dimension of parenting is the stewardship model.

Kevin McdonoughHelen (if I may), these issues are discussed fairly extensively in the philosophy of education -- the work of folks like Eamonn Callan, Harry Brighouse, Meira Levinson (and others), is exemplary in this respect.
You might find of interest Bryan Warnick's discussion of the parental right to 'invite' their children to participate in a particular (religious or other) way of life- see his new book "Understanding Student Rights in Schools". I think Warnick's arguments are interesting and also sympatico with what you are proposing above.

Rebecca KuklaI've never actually understood why people don't think it is morally problematic to lie to their kids about things like Santa. First of all it's lying, and we typically think that's wrong ceteris paribus, and second of all it sets them out at the start with a super confused and scientifically impossible ontology (not to mention a deeply creepy ethics in the Santa case but never mind that for now), which might well make it harder to reason well later, who knows?  

Two comments of mine, and no response: 
"But where can we draw the line? Under what circumstances does the transmission of… beliefs count as a form of child mistreatment...? " 
"Belief": that all men/women/people are created equal; that theirs is "the necessary country"; in the American dream; in vegetarianism; in dualism; in materialism; in marxism; in democracy; in capitalism; in pacifism; in unaided reason; in empiricism; in "love". The logical ordering of a desire begins with the desire. Dawkins is as Anglican as Colin McGinn is Catholic.
Lewontin : Billions and Billions of Demons 
Dawkins' arguments are best defined as moralizing anti-politics; they're based on an a notion of textual inerrancy that begins in religion and noted (publicly) in the US most often in arguments over the meaning of the Constitution. Once you allow for interpretation you allow for subjectivity, and subjectivity is assumption and assumption is faith. 
I know plenty of people who would never, ever, raise a child in the United States. 
Rumsfeld and Rove are both atheists, and Dawkins is somewhere between Nino Scalia and Carrie Nation.
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
There's no master, only politics, in the best sense or the worst depending on the people involved.
With all the discussion of autonomy I wish I could say I was amazed by the constant sense of coercion in the language above. It's everything Foucault et al spent their lives describing in their attacks on liberalism: the inner and outer coercion of Protestant moralism. Brighouse is on record worrying about the anti-egalitarian forces at work in the love of one's own children. He's deeply concerned. He wrote an entire paper on "legitimate parental partiality". [I'd written "permissible"]
He's also on record wishing there were "mechanisms" to keep our trouble-making desires in check. Read him on G.A. Cohen. 
[The image on the left appears twice on this page. Both apply]
Since I linked to Lewontin I'll quote him, from a different piece. [PDF] It's a quote I'm fond of. [repeat, recent]
"Bill Wimsatt's "Lewontin's Evidence (that There Isn't Any)" made me think about a lot of questions in my paper. I would like to point out that the rhetoric of this conference has undergone a sudden change. Up until Bill's presentation and mine, everyone read his or her paper. In the tradition to which I belong that would be considered very bad form. That rhetorical difference is a mirror of the differences that I want to talk about. The words that all of the rest of you use are conceived of as being the matter, and so you must choose them carefully, and, therefore, you have to compose your papers and read them. I, on the other hand and perhaps Bill as well, but especialy I, as a natural scientist, am nothing but the oracle of Delphi, sitting here on my stool with eyeballs rolled upwards, and through me Nature speaks. That explains, in my view, the difference in rhetorical tradition between a meeting like this and the ones at which I spend my time. No one in my tradition believes that the words are very important. After all, if I misspeak someone else will say the right thing because we are both talking about the same things and ultimately the gods will speak through us. So words are not the matter. It is extremely important to understand the origin of that difference in rhetorical tradition because it represents a very great difference in what scientists believe to be the nature of evidence in natural science. A conference on the questions of evidence is really a conference on the questions of theory and metatheory. We cannot begin to talk about the evidence until we talk about what it is we are trying to produce evidence of. And the very method which we use is itself a form of evidence."
"The words that all of the rest of you use are conceived of as being the matter" Words or ideas as opposed to events and actions. 
My parents were atheists, as I am. But they were modernists. They held to ideas of morality and the world, but first and foremost, of themselves. After my mother died, my sister told me the story of how our mother came into her room one christmas morning when my sister was 5, at 3 AM, in tears, begging her daughter to forgive her for lying: the truth is there is no Santa Claus.  My sister was more disturbed by her mother's behavior.  She remembers it now with bemusement, but my mother's actions were less driven by a sense of responsibility for others than by her own narcissism, which manifest in any number of ways. The same held for my father. By their own logic there could be no subtexts to their words or actions. Their consciousness and conscientiousness was a given, the sine qua non of mature intellectual adulthood. This was made clear to us in no uncertain terms. In fact they were wrong, disastrously.
I'm happy to assume most of you are better parents than mine were. That's not the point. Outside of home and social life I'm proud of the record of their actions. In the world at large they understood that words are not the matter.
repeats of repeats of repeats
Modernism was the fantasy of writing with the assumption that from then on there would be only reading with and no reading against. To read tale against teller or to read against the grain would be gross error. Rebellion against this has always taken the form of the rebellion of youth against their parents, with the more sympathetic elders caught in the middle, trying to justify the revolt while trying to make it fit with what they know and what they are. So we get the obscurantist poeticizing of Derrida-the philosopher magistrate as wise old fool- and the blandness of Rorty and Nussbaum, struggling to find a way beyond technocracy, while being mocked for the attempt by professional technocrats and lionized by amateur enthusiasts. The model of the Continental philosopher was as Pope and Anti-Pope combined, a philosophical self that could contain an other, in a sense obviating the need for actual democracy. And now that Continental and Anglo-American philosophy are joining out of necessity and the need for survival, we see parallels in Bruno Latour's Collective and David Chalmers' Extended Mind. 
The tension in the older tradition of classical humanism, now mostly forgotten, between the worldliness of antiquity and the otherworldliness of Christianity and its relation to modern science, or what science is taken to be. Why I paired the Lewontin quote above with Arendt, who like Panofsky, and Manfred Stanley, is from that older tradition.
The true heirs of the classical tradition are jobbing lawyers.

Brighouse needs there to be objective moral truths because he needs a foundation to authority, but whose authority will that become?

"You might find of interest Bryan Warnick's discussion of the parental right to 'invite' their children to participate…"  
Pretensions of equality/equivalence between parents and children, self and other (the extended mind), man and nature (Latour); willing power relations away.  

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