In Unhappy with natural consequences, David Deutsch wrote:
There is a solution that satisfies everyone. Creativity is required to find it. When the parents’ creativity is impaired, the child’s should easily take over – unless it is impaired by coercion – which is why it is especially important for the child not to be coerced in areas where solutions seem hard to find.
Taking Children Seriously believes that parents often have irrationalities and impaired creativity, which is what prevents them from finding wonderful solutions that satisfy everyone. I agree parents often have relevant flaws, but I also think problem solving is hard.
Looking at it in a Popperian way, I think problem solving is a lot like doing science. Karl Popper and TCS both said that Popper’s epistemology applies to all problem solving, not just to science. Popper even titled a book All Life Is Problem Solving. My point is that, while scientific problems do have solutions, you might not make a major scientific discovery in your lifetime. Great ideas can take a lot of time and effort. Even if we’re rational, we need options for what to do in the meantime before we create important new knowledge that could take centuries.
TCS proposes the following: have your child solve the problem. As long as you didn’t coerce your child, he should still be creative and therefore “easily” solve the problem.
Suppose you’re a chemist and you’re stuck on a hard problem at work. Should you have your young child take the lead on figuring out a new chemistry theory? Since your child has never done chemistry, he hasn’t yet been coerced about chemistry, so he should be fully rational about it and “easily” find a solution.
That is extremely unrealistic. Rationality is not the only thing required to solve problems. And rationality doesn’t come just from lack of coercion. Rationality is also a skill people have to develop. You can learn techniques for rational thinking and become more rational. You don’t just start at 100% rationality at birth and then lose rationality when coerced.
Young children may have less trauma impairing their rationality, but they’ve also read fewer books explaining how to think rationally (and picked up fewer tips from school, TV, magazines, friends, etc.). Children know less about avoiding biases, logical fallacies, being organized, project planning, and many other skills that can give adults an advantage at problem solving.
There may be a solution that satisfies everyone. And there may even be a way to find such a solution today instead of in the future. But TCS doesn’t know how to do it. Just having the child take the lead on problem solving, on the assumption that he’s more rational, is not a reliable way to quickly get a great solution. It doesn’t say what steps the child should do; it’s just hoping the child will think of something, somehow. And if TCS did have any specific problem solving steps to offer that would work, then having the child take the lead wouldn’t be necessary because the parent could follow the steps too.
The key to problem solving is not lack of coercion damage. Rationality and problem solving are positive skills to be developed. They don’t consist of a lack of irrationality, hang-ups, memes, or mistreatment. That’s why Popper presented positive theories about how to create knowledge rather than just saying to avoid bad things and then using creativity should “easily” work. Children can participate in problem solving and be helpful, but expecting them to come up with solutions whenever the parents get stuck is not a reasonable method of parenting. Parents need to take primarily responsibility for problem solving instead of delegating that job to their children.
If you don’t think your child can ”easily” use his creativity to solve any family problem, Taking Children Seriously may not work for you.
David Deutsch first noticed that Libertarians have a tendency to make what he calls the “Libertarian mistake” of fetishising explicit consent and ignoring everything else. David also pointed out that it is not just about fetishising explicit consent, but the explicit more generally.
I was making the Libertarian mistake when, for years and years, I did not repair a particular relationship with an extended family member because whenever I tentatively reached out to the person to try to sort it out, they explicitly and forcefully said “no”. And I thought: consent matters! It takes two to repair a relationship, and if they are not consenting, what can I do?
I honestly could not see, for years, that I was betraying that relationship by not finding a way to repair it. I honestly thought that I had tried everything! I had written, I had phoned, I had even tried visiting. Nothing had worked. Then one day, when I mentioned my oh-so-reasonable-seeming predicament to someone and asked for his criticism, what he said totally surprised me. He was positively scathing when I suggested that the lack of consent was stopping me. He called that an excuse.
He says to me, accusingly: “You have sold out on that relationship. If it were my family member not talking to me, I would not rest until it got resolved. I would be camping out on their stoop [front door step] until they agreed to talk to me, if that’s what it took. You are pretending you are not responsible for the state of this relationship but you are. You are pretending you are powerless to repair it but that is BS! You have sold out on the relationship and you are leaving them suffering.”
Wow! Really? WOW!
I immediately saw that my critic was right.
Taking Children Seriously used to care a lot about consent (and libertarianism). Not anymore?
Why did they change their minds? What was wrong with their old reasoning? They don’t say. Fitz-Claridge insults her past self as “dogmatic”, and that may be true, but it doesn’t explain exactly when and why it’s OK to violate people’s consent, and what was wrong with the old principle of respecting consent. In general, violating people’s consent tends to be coercive.
Instead of immediately seeing that her critic was right, Fitz-Claridge should have thought things over. She should have remembered and reviewed her old ideas, which disagree with the critic. She should have tried to understand the conflict between her old views and this new idea. Instead she just adopted a dangerous new idea without any post-mortem or preparation. The new idea is dangerous because when you ignore people’s consent you may hurt them. Camping out on someone’s stoop, who doesn’t want you there, is trespassing and harassment. There are some cases where the person will thank you later, but many others where you’re mistaken and then won’t.
Taking Children Seriously repeatedly said that it’s never OK to do something to a child that he doesn’t want and consent to right now on the basis that he’ll thank you later. It said that even if someone will later appreciate what you did, it was still wrong to do it to them at the time that they disliked it.
If you have a bad relationship with a family member, and they don’t consent for you to contact them, there are usually things you can do to improve the situation that don’t violate consent. You don’t have to choose between violating consent or ignoring the problem. You can read self-help books, get therapy, and otherwise try to fix problems with yourself. The reason your relative won’t speak to you is commonly because of some problems you have. If you genuinely improve enough, one of your relatives will probably tell the person you’re not in contact with. (In the alternative, your relative could just be fully unreasonable and be the one with all the problems, while you’re doing absolutely nothing wrong. In that case, violating the consent of a very unreasonable person to try to engage with them more is unlikely to get a good result for either of you.)
It’s not a choice between following explicit consent and solving the problem. You don’t have to compromise like that, and pick one good thing while accepting something bad. Problems are soluble in principle. There are no conflicts between good things like consent and problem solving. You can find a solution that gets you both. (That’s generally possible in practice, though not always. If someone is unreasonable and irrational, they might prevent solutions other than leaving them alone and having a good life your own that’s separate from them.)
Fitz-Claridge’s article concludes with:
My current idea of fallibilism includes not just saying and explicitly thinking that one takes the view that one can be mistaken and that there is no authoritative source of knowledge, but also being that way – not just paying explicit lip service to the idea, but that idea fully informing one’s actions, way of being, and ways of viewing and interacting with other fallible human beings.
Where’s the fallibilism is ignoring consent? If someone says he doesn’t want to talk to you, and you contact him anyway, you might be in the wrong. When you ignore someone’s stated ideas, you’re basically trying to override their judgment with your own, on the assumption that you’re right and they’re wrong.
It’s like saying: “I know you explicitly say you don’t want to have sex with me, but I’m getting inexplicit signals that you do want it.” That attitude is not compatible with morality or fallibilism because it disregards that, being fallible, you may be reading the inexplicit signals incorrectly. Ignoring people’s consent in other cases may be less horrible than rape but the principle is the same. And that’s, more or less, what Taking Children Seriously itself used to say.
Also, when people’s inexplicit signals contradict their explicit signals, that’s a sign that a person is conflicted or coerced. In that case, you should be extra sympathetic and gentle with them. They have problem that needs to be dealt with. Just proceeding according to whichever signals you prefer, while ignoring the others, is likely to hurt them. It’s bad enough when a person tries to disregard some of his own conflicting ideas. It’s worse when someone else does that to him without his consent.
If you like mainstream views on consent, or you liked David Deutsch’s older, pro-consent libertarian views, then Taking Children Seriously might not be for you today.
When there really is no time to ask the person if they want their life saved, we save their life, obviously!
In the highly unlikely event that the person whose life you have just saved says to you, “Hey, I was trying to commit suicide! Why did you save my life without checking with me that that was what I wanted?” I would be wondering why the person had not thought to mention that intention earlier in our walk. And if the person really does want to commit suicide, well, there is no shortage of articulated lorries – not to mention bridges, tall buildings and fentanyl. 😳
There are a lot of problems here.
There are a lot of things wrong with suicide and it shouldn’t be treated so casually. People who commit suicide are usually highly coerced about it rather than doing it as some kind of rational conclusion. And the specific methods Fitz-Claridge mentions are broadly bad ideas which would only be used by someone who is highly coerced, not someone who made an intellectual decision to die which they feel good about.
And if hypothetically you’re going to commit suicide, don’t traumatize (coerce!) a truck driver. Also don’t traumatize the people on the street next to a tall building and the workers who’ll have to deal with your messy corpse. And don’t create a potential legal liability problem for a building owner. It’d be better to do it more quietly and cleanly.
Fentanyl is a dangerous, controlled drug. Getting it in limited amounts requires a prescription from a doctor whose goal is to avoid giving it to anyone who would use it for recreation or suicide. And just because some people get in the news for dying of fentanyl overdose doesn’t mean it’s a safe, painless, or accessible way to kill yourself. Illegally buying it from a drug dealer is problematic, especially for people who’ve never bought street drugs before and risks the fentanyl being impure.
Taking Children Seriously incentivizes kids to say “I might commit suicide this walk” if they want to be able to run around without being grabbed. A kid might say this because he thinks it’s fun to run into the street when it’s empty and he doesn’t want his mother bugging him about it, being overly cautious (from his possibly-incorrect perspective) and ruining his fun. Or he just doesn’t want to be nagged when he even runs near the street.
Fitz-Claridge’s passage normalizes suicide in a reckless way with no consideration of why people do it, what to say to talk them out of it, the downsides of some methods, etc. And it does this, bizarrely, in an article about parenting and helping kids avoid being run over by cars. If you’re going to bring up suicide, you should devote at least a whole article to it and treat the matter seriously and give useful advice. Instead, suicide is brought up casually like it’s no big deal and then addressed with brief, terrible advice. If someone is actually considering suicide, don’t tell them that there are plenty of trucks and trains available. That would be completely the wrong thing to say even if it wasn’t cruel to truck and train drivers.
If potential suicide comes up in your life in some way, please treat the matter seriously and read about how to handle it well. I’m no expert and won’t attempt to give good advice about suicide here. I’m only commenting on it at all because TCS brought it up in a bad way.
Fitz-Claridge’s footnote reads:
Much as I choose life and detest death and would do everything in my power to persuade a suicidal person not to kill themselves, ultimately people do have a right to end their life if they want to. It is a total tragedy if they do, and I wish everyone who is feeling suicidal could see a psychiatrist like Michael Golding, who could so easily have them feeling better in a very short time – no one has to feel so bad they want to end their life – you can feel better, and when you feel better, you can then be solving your problems. It breaks my heart that so many people suffer terrible depression and suicidal feelings and have no idea that such feelings are totally treatable using psychiatric medications.
Fitz-Claridge is biased here. She has a conflict of interest. This is an advertisement for her husband, Michael Golding, without disclosing the relationship.
Taking Children Seriously used to have anti-psychiatry views. The old TCS website had a book recommendation list including The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct by Thomas Szasz (a trained psychiatrist and libertarian opponent of psychiatry). David Deutsch and Fitz-Claridge are still libertarians. They’ve provided no explanation of how they were mistaken before and actually psychiatry is compatible with libertarianism. This is another example of them changing their minds without acknowledging that they ever believed their previous ideas.
What happened is Fitz-Claridge married a psychiatrist and then she and Deutsch started raising their opinion of psychiatry. Now they claim psychiatry is not only good but can “so easily” cure suicidal depression which is “totally treatable using psychiatric medications”. That’s a lie about how effective Golding’s psychiatry is, it’s an insult to all other psychiatrists who are less effective, and it’s contradicted by psychiatric research papers which don’t claim any medications are that effective. Mainstream psychiatry doesn’t make such strong claims about how well it works because they know their treatments are pretty unreliable. They say they’re working on creating more reliable medications and that if one doesn’t work there are several others you can try instead.
Fitz-Claridge also seems to be assuming that all suicide is due to negative feelings, not negative life situations like chronic pain and illness. She uses words like “everyone” and “no one” to communicate that she’s talking about all cases. TCS hates “ageism” but she forgot that ninety year old people with serious health problems exist. Anti-depressant drugs are rarely an appropriate response when the very elderly are suicidal. Besides health problems, the elderly commonly have problems with their freedom – staff in old folks homes may treat them kind of like children instead of like full people. But TCS only cares about prejudice against children, not all prejudice.
If, given the life-and-death situation, we yank the child back so powerfully that they are, in that moment, shocked and upset, then yes, that might be coercion.
This kind of thing should be disorienting not upsetting. People don’t get instantly upset when they don’t know what’s going on. Unless they’re in pain, they have to come up with an idea of what’s going on – an interpretation of events – before they get upset. This can be very fast when they understand the situation. But if they like and trust their parent, and their parent does something surprising, then they won’t immediately assume that the parent is their enemy who is coercing them. They’ll want to know what’s going on first and form their opinion of it second. When sufficiently surprised and disoriented, forming an opinion takes a little while.
Fitz-Claridge’s article fails to address the practical problem that some children don’t understand the danger of cars and streets well and don’t do a good enough job of staying safe. Instead of helping parents keep their kids safer, TCS gives weird arguments meant to legitimize saving your child’s life as “non-coercive” rather than “coercive”. The point of the article is that many parents read TCS and think it maybe says you aren’t allowed to keep your child safe from traffic, and TCS is trying to argue back that actually, using the right philosophical arguments, avoiding traffic accidents can be allowed.
Then TCS is done with the matter. There’s no attempt to figure out how to handle these situation well or do a good job. TCS is satisfied by having some intellectual arguments which conclude that you’re allowed to keep your kid safe, instead of disallowed, and then their interest in the matter ends with no practical problem solving knowledge. It’s theories about coercion, not streets, cars or toddlers, which TCS cares about. And suicide was discussed because it’s seen as a potential intellectual exception to claim, not to actually say something useful about it.
If you want practical solutions instead of armchair analysis, TCS might not be for you. On a related note, although Fitz-Claridge has children, TCS theory was developed when they were very young, and wasn’t significantly updated later. TCS isn’t based on Fitz-Claridge’s parenting experiences. TCS came first and then she hid her personal results from using TCS. So it’s basically like TCS was made by childless philosophers living in an ivory tower.
“So does the infant who incessantly attempts to open the medicine bottle, medicine cabinet, toilet lid, etc. How about the child who wants to reach up and grab the pot of boiling water on the stove?”
I think there is a difference, in that if you were to explain to the child that the medicine would be dangerous to ingest (if indeed it is), or that the pot is hot, he would not wish to drink the medicine or pour the boiling water over himself. If he does not know what “sick” and “hot” mean, then I’d say his parent ought to be explaining those things to him. It is not difficult, even with tiny children.
Taking Children Seriously claims it’s “not difficult” to explain things even to infants. But instead of explaining how to do it, they suggest anyone who doesn’t do it simply isn’t trying very hard. Since it’s not difficult, failure would be due to malice or refusing to try. However, for those of us who doesn’t find it easy, TCS never provides details of what specific words to say that will work.
TCS is allegedly based on Karl Popper’s philosophy. But this clashes with Popper’s criticism of the doctrine of manifest (obvious) truth. Popper said the truth isn’t obvious, and it’s easy to err while making a good faith effort. And we might think someone else is wrong, but actually we’re wrong without realizing it. Therefore, we should be tolerant.
Popper explained that believing the truth is obvious leads to believing people who disagree are refusing to see the truth, on purpose, and therefore they’re wicked. TCS is falling into this trap by claiming something most parents fail at is “not difficult”. That implies they could do it and just don’t want to. In other words, they’re choosing to coercion on purpose, even though they could easily just talk to their kid instead. That’s wicked.
I think it’s actually pretty hard to explain things to adults. Communicating with people and understanding each other is hard. Teachers, spouses and managers have to work at it, and many don’t do a good job.
Ideas like these are why TCS advocates were often asked whether they actually had children.
Later in the post, Fitz-Claridge further answered:
“Where do you draw the line of honoring a request? ice cream, vegetables, vitamins, medicine, lye, ammonia, gasoline? Again is it not a subtle form of coercion to restrict access to anything?”
I do not draw lines at all. That idea does not suggest coherence to me. Yes it is coercion to restrict access to anything that the child wants access to.
I don’t think it is coercive to avoid keeping cupboards full of toxic substances when one has babies around. I can’t remember the last time I used any medicine, for example, but if I did, I’d keep it somewhere out of reach and out of sight and throw it out when I’d finished with it. If you make jolly sure that you keep the bleach locked away, the issue is not going to arise unless you make a point of bringing it up.
These replies contradict each other. Locking things away, not keeping them in the house, or putting them out of reach are ways of restricting access. First Fitz-Claridge says restricting access is coercive, but then she says it isn’t.
the tiniest tiniest child is perfectly capable of understanding the dangers of ammonia. I suggest that instead of coercively preventing the child from going anywhere near the stuff, one should allow the curious child to smell it. One whiff is all it takes to persuade a child that this is nasty stuff. Failing that, show him what it can do. Show him how it “burns” things. Coercion is not necessary. Same goes for petrol. There are ways of safely showing tiny children why certain things require caution.
Is it even safe to expose an infant to ammonia or petrol (gasoline) fumes for them to smell? With their tiny bodies, they’re vulnerable to much smaller doses of toxic chemicals than adults are. Other parents try harder than Fitz-Claridge to protect children, e.g. they worry about merely pumping gas while pregnant. Organizations like Poison Control warn about the dangers of kids and gasoline because, contrary to Fitz-Claridge’s assertion, not all kids are deterred from drinking gas by the smell.
Showing a kid how to burn things with ammonia or gas sounds potentially like entertainment. The kid might think it’s fun rather than dangerous. He might try to do that activity again later.
Young children often misunderstand things. People make mistakes. TCS is supposed to a fallibilist philosophy, but it views children as infallible. Fallibilism is the idea that everyone makes mistakes, mistakes are common, and there’s no way to get a guarantee that an idea is true not mistaken. Fitz-Claridge is fully confident that children will come up with true beliefs about everything dangerous. She doesn’t think they could make a dangerous mistake. Even if a child understands that something requires caution, he may make a mistake when attempting to be cautious.
If you lack confidence in your ability to explain ideas to infants, you may want to find other advisors besides Sarah Fitz-Claridge and David Deutsch. If you don’t think you can easily talk your kid into voluntarily avoiding every danger, Taking Children Seriously might not be for you.
The Taking Children Seriously FAQ features the question Is Taking Children Seriously only for the rich? (mirror). Normal parenting movements aren’t frequently asked this question. Let’s examine the strangely-worded question and Sarah Fitz-Claridge’s answer:
“I cannot afford the bus and ferry fares to the Outer Hebrides, never mind buying a scheduled plane ticket to Outer Mongolia to be with my daughter. Is Taking Children Seriously only for the rich?”
Certainly not! Taking children seriously does not depend on being rich. I myself was an extremely impecunious single parent family. Many parents taking their children seriously are currently very poor indeed. Indeed many parents taking their children seriously choose less-well-paying work that they can do from home so that they can be with their children more. They just have very different priorities from other people.
Fitz-Claridge is speaking from a place of unrecognized, unacknowledged privilege.
Who can purposefully choose less-well-paying work? Who has the option to switch to working from home? Is it people who love their kids more than other parents? People who are gentler, nicer, more rational or more non-coercive than other parents? No. Poor parents love their children too. Even parents who live somewhere without electricity and plumbing love their kids. People can choose less-well-paying work when they’re already in a good, privileged situation and have extra money.
People who are struggling to make ends meet, and who work a second job to try to pay for rent and groceries, don’t have options like Fitz-Claridge and the people she knows. Fitz-Claridge looks at people with one job, who can switch to working fewer hours, and thinks that’s “very poor indeed”. Her attitude is insulting to poorer parents. She’s saying anyone can spend more time with their children if they want to, but not everyone has that privilege.
Here are some facts about Fitz-Claridge’s life which could have helped clue her in to her privilege: She’s from the UK and now lives in USA. She’s white. She has travelled internationally many times. She trained as a Cordon Bleu chef then didn’t pursue it as a career. She’s signed up for cryopreservation (she’s paying roughly $900 per year to have her head frozen if she dies). She’s used her pretty privilege to date rich and prestigious men. Now her husband makes over $400,000 per year. Contrary to Fitz-Claridge’s libertarian views, he works for the government (which is why his salary information is available on a website for government wage transparency – at that wage, he might not actually be a good use of taxpayer money).
She was able to be a Taking Children Seriously founder (which she never made much money from), while being a polyamorous single parent, because she wasn’t even working one regular job. She thinks she was “extremely impecunious”, but she had money and had friends in high places. For example, her friend and co-founder David Deutsch went to school at Cambridge and Oxford. Then he was able to avoid working a regular job, such as being a professor who has to teach classes, because his relative gave him a free house.
Some TCS parents were genuinely quite poor, but the TCS founders never talked with them enough to understand what that’s like.
If I did not have the money in the bank, I would borrow it from a friend or relative and find a way of working it off or something.
When you’re really poor, you don’t have friends and relatives with extra money that they’ll lend you. Often, everyone you know is also poor. If anyone had money, you already borrowed all you could from them in the past. No one will just give you more money. Some people couldn’t get any loan even in a huge emergency, but Fitz-Claridge assumes anyone can just successfully ask for money because their kid wants to go on an international vacation.
Why does anyone ever get a payday loan? The interest rates on those loans are high. They do it because their friends and relatives won’t give them the money. Fitz-Claridge is too privileged to ever socialize with the kind of people who use payday loans, but somehow she doesn’t realize that other people have it harder than her.
And how could you work off a debt when you’re already working a second job and struggling to pay rent? Or what if you’re a rural farmer in a low income country? Also, not everyone has access to banking. Many people also can’t get travel visas to wherever they want, which are harder to get when you don’t have the privilege of a UK or US passport.
What a parent taking their children seriously would not do is to take the view that there is no way to solve the problem, or no way to get the money, and give up. Once you take that view, you make it highly unlikely that you will ever solve the problem. (Perhaps the solution to the problem might not involve you flying to Outer Mongolia at all. Or perhaps you have a friend who has always wanted to go there, whom your daughter likes a lot and would love to see instead of you? Or perhaps there is some other solution that would be better than anything I can think up in the abstract.)
For parents taking their children seriously, finding a way to solve such seemingly impossible-to-solve problems is all part of the fun. We can do hard things! Problems are soluble, and we can solve them! When your child wants to spend a considerable period in an expensive country on the other side of the word, and everyone tells you it is obviously impossible, and you nevertheless find a way to make it happen, it is exhilarating!
So we should use our creativity to find solutions to seemingly impossible-to-solve problems. That should be our fun, exhilarating hobby. We should just be really smart and good at things, have money and other resources, not be busy, and then do a bunch of problem solving. How, exactly? That sounds great. What concrete steps should I take to achieve it?
Taking Children Seriously says the key to problem solving is believing the right philosophy (only TCS will do) and then trying to solve problems. TCS suggests the reason other people fail is either that they see hard problems and give up, or else they coerce their kids on purpose because they think coercion is good. There are no empirical results to show that believing TCS and choosing to try hard will result in wonderful solutions. Fitz-Claridge herself (despite all her resources, privileges, and TCS beliefs) was not very successful at problem solving with her own kids. And Deutsch didn’t have kids.
In case it is not obvious, whilst many of these quotations are consistent with Taking Children Seriously, many of them are not. Sometimes it is just interesting that that person said it, or it is interesting for some other reason.
Why would it be obvious that you posted quotes you disagree with and mixed them together with quotes you agree with? That isn’t normal.
They’re purposefully making it ambiguous what they believe. This prevents criticism. They’re avoiding taking clear stands and exposing their ideas to critical analysis. This is contrary to what Karl Popper said to do, even though TCS is allegedly based on Popper’s philosophy.
Popper said to share bold theories so that the theories can more easily be criticized. Don’t hedge to make criticism more difficult. For example, Popper wrote in Conjectures and Refutations:
This is a view of science which takes its critical approach to be its most important characteristic. Thus a scientist [or rational thinker] should look upon a theory from the point of view of whether it can be critically discussed: whether it exposes itself to criticism of all kinds; and–if it does–whether it is able to stand up to it.
some [better] theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks.
Instead of taking the risk of advocating specific ideas, Sarah Fitz-Claridge and David Deutsch have avoided sharing their conclusions. It’s weird to simultaneously, on the same topic, both:
- Share and promote your ideas as some kind of movement you want people to join.
- Hide your ideas.
They’re making it harder to critically discuss their conclusions. They want to be able to post a bunch of stuff while keeping the option of disowning any of it if someone explains that it’s bad. Instead of learning from their mistakes, like Popperians, they’re setting it up to claim they never made those mistakes in the first place.
They’ve suggested basically that you should read the quotes, and whichever ones you think are good and pro-TCS are the ones they agree with, and whichever ones you don’t like are the ones they disagree with. They’re saying to form your own opinion and use that as a guide to their opinion by assuming there are no disagreements between you and them. This approach hides disagreements and clashes with fallibilism.
“The condition of a negr0 slave in the West-Indies, is in many respects preferable to that of the youthful son of a free-born European. The slave is purchased upon a view of mercantile speculation; and, when he has finished his daily portion of labour, his master concerns himself no further about him. But the watchful care of the parent is endless. The youth is never free from the danger of grating interference.”
– William Godwin, 1797, The Enquirer, Part I: Essay VIII: Of the happiness of youth, p. 54
This is a horrible quote. Being a slave is worse than being a child. Slaves weren’t left alone after their daily labor. Slaves were watched, controlled, beaten and raped more than children. Maybe in 1797 Godwin had less access to information about how bad slavery was – though it was probably an awful thing to say at the time. Sarah Fitz-Claridge and David Deutsch, writing today, should certainly know better.
It’s also a misquote in four ways:
- Godwin wrote “negro-slave” with a hyphen.
- Godwin wrote “West Indies” with no hyphen.
- Godwin wrote “its grating interference” but TCS dropped the word “its”.
- In the book, the word “negro” ends with the letter “o” not the number “0” (zero).
You can view the book online to check what Godwin actually wrote. You can also copy and paste from it in order to quote accurately.
This quote being incorrect and horrible was pointed out previously when it was on Fitz-Claridge’s website. Then she quickly removed it. But now they’ve put it back up but still haven’t gotten the quote right. It seems they regret none of their errors like misquoting or downplaying the evil of slavery.
On Fitz-Claridge’s website, it was misquoted differently in order to leave out the word “negro”. Making changes shows they’re putting it up again intentionally rather than just copying it over by accident. The first time, I guess she thought that leaving out any mention of the race of the slaves would make it seem less racist. Now I think they changed a letter to a number to make the quote harder to find with searches.
Why share the quote if you’re ashamed of it? I think they aren’t ashamed; they think it’s a good quote that’s worth posting despite offending many people. They just think other people, who view the quote as horrible and racist, are irrational. They want to share it because they like it, but they want to hide it from people who don’t like it. They’d like it to be seen by people who are really into TCS and will agree with them, because they think it’s a great, valuable quote, but not seen by people who think it’s bad. They want to manipulate their audience, control who sees what, and avoid receiving criticism about the quote.
If you think it’s wrong to suggest that black slavery is less bad than white childhoods, TCS might not be for you.
Taking Children Seriously (TCS) is a bad parenting movement and philosophy founded by David Deutsch (DD) and Sarah Fitz-Claridge (SFC) in the early 1990s. It’s a form of gentle, “non-coercive” parenting which also claims to be extremely rational and to be based on the philosophy of Karl Popper. It basically accuses every alternative approach to parenting of being irrational child abuse. TCS had an online discussion forum with tens of thousands of posts, a paper journal, and conference speeches from SFC and others. They claimed they were going to improve the world.
By 2005, TCS was clearly inactive. The founders never admitted that they stopped working on TCS or explained what happened. But there were no new articles, speeches, journal issues, etc. They also removed many articles from their websites and killed off the discussion forum. By quitting their own movement, the TCS founders left many parents without the help and advice that those parents reasonably expected. The least they could have done was openly admit that TCS would no longer be offering any help. Then, knowing the situation, it would have been easier for parents to make the intentional decision elsewhere. They also could have recommended some alternative resources that parents could look into and could transition to using instead of TCS. But they didn’t.
They told people every other idea about parenting is bad. Parents need TCS and no alternative will do. All alternatives, besides rational non-coercive parenting (which every other community falls short of), would permanently damage your child’s rationality. So it was hard for them to recommend alternatives. But then, after alienating many parents from all other resources and communities, they abandoned those parents. TCSers had a pattern of getting banned on other parenting forums for their aggressive criticism and verbal abuse directed at normal, widespread parenting practices (not just spanking but also e.g. making a kid to go to school or brush his teeth, have a bedtime, or otherwise do anything he didn’t want to). SFC and DD taught their followers to be incompatible with the rest of society. After isolating them, they abandoned them. It’s a little bit like forming a cult, getting people to be dependent on you, and then just wandering off.
DD is an award-winning physicist, a successful popular science author, and a member of the Royal Society. He has no wife or children. He put his name and reputation behind TCS, which gave it credibility that SFC couldn’t give it. But then he tarnished his reputation by stopping his participation in his TCS movement without explanation.
SFC is a mom with no special credentials or reputation apart from TCS. Allegedly due to privacy concerns, SFC and other TCS parents hide their actual real-life parenting outcomes. They do occasionally suggest, with no details, that their outcomes are great. However, SFC’s children actually fought regularly during their childhood. They both dislike SFC and live on a different continent than her. (SFC moved away without them when they were teens under 18.) One of SFC’s children has a job (teaching) which contradicts TCS principles and the other has been unable to get and hold a job (they’re past age 30 now). There are other examples of TCS’s practical failures, which were purposefully hidden from parents interested in TCS. For example, an American child moved to another state, to get away from their TCS parents, as soon as they turned 18. (Their mother was a friend and associate of SFC, not just someone who read a few TCS articles.)
In September 2022, they put up a new TCS website. TCS is back. SFC claims she’s soon going to finish and publish the TCS book she’s been working on for around 25 years. She has recently gone on some podcasts and given some online speeches. There has still been no explanation of why TCS stopped or why it’s restarting again now. They’re trying to act like nothing happened and TCS has been continuously active since the 1990’s.
Since they’re actively trying to advocate and spread TCS again, I thought that, as a former member who knows a lot about TCS, I should speak out against it. I want to warn people about how and why TCS is dangerous.