John Stewart: Dead to Me

You know what? I'm just gonna say it: I'm bored bored bored of John Stewart. The Crossfire thing was the final straw, the shark jumping. He's permanently tainted, and from here on out we can only look forward to the long slide into “Remember when that guy was funny.” Sanctimony is death to satire. The last thing I need is the fake news guy thinking he's King Shit protector of the public interest. Yes, Tucker Carlson is a dick. But we all have eyes. Damn, John. You used to be cool.

  • JJR

    If you ask me they need to make a new version of Godwin’s law for pedophiles. Anytime anyone brings them up in a discussion they should automatically lose. No one’s moral system approves of pedophilia, pedophilia isn’t comparable to gay marriage or polygamy because children cannot legally consent or psychologically understand the consequences of that consent. Now we just need a catchy name and maybe people will stop treating pedophilia like a rhetorical hammer.

  • NAMBLA blah blah?

  • Bill Gardner

    <>

    I completely agree with your last sentence. Suppose, though, that despite your efforts, you find one of your adolescent children spending time with peers or adults in situations that you think put them at significant risk of sexual exploitation, exposure to harmful drugs, or involvement in crime. Now what?

  • Jamie

    I think that your point is right to a certain extent. But there needs to be gradations of exposure, at the children’s different maturity levels, and that has to be subject to the parents’ judgment. For example, my 14 year old may be ready to rebut the polygamist’s argument with some basic concepts about the benefits of monogamy, but I would rather not put my 8 year old in that situation.
    Every kid gets released into the real world eventually, so it’s really just a matter of the kids getting exposed sooner or later, and the parents have to decide when is too soon.

  • muirgeo

    I fully agree with you here.

    I’m basically an atheist and I encourage my kids to try different churches and to question everything. So far one is a leaning Protestant and one appears to be a Buddist/Pagenist…. but they are evolving and learning to challenge my views as well as others and to think for critically for themselves.

  • Tyler Blalock

    One thing that needs to be emphasized in these debates is not only the effect on the children, but the effect on society as a whole of allowing parents to shelter their children and indoctrinate them with a worldview. It seems that while indoctrinating children in creationism, for example, does positive harm to the children, it also does positive harm to society as a whole. Not the current society, rather the future society! If there are many such children, their presence in society might well constitute a kind of demographic social pollution: scientific illiteracy (or illiteracy in general) will be a huge social problem if it afflicts a large percentage of the adults in a society. And the children of today are the adults of tomorrow, and we owe it to the future society to make sure that demographic pollution of that kind does not take place, because it affects everyone in society, including ourselves in our old age.

  • mk

    Is “Don’t splash your chocolate milk all over your classmate! Be nice to people!” considered part of an ideology which one should therefore not attempt to instill in one’s child?

    Or do you mean like “Socialism”?

    We all have a moral outlook that we want to inculcate in our children. I would tend to say that it should be a pretty zoomed-out, meta-level moral outlook (something like: don’t be mean, respect other people, respect scientific enquiry). But a moral outlook nonetheless.

    We also implicitly instill a moral outlook in our children, say by enrolling them in piano lessons, jujitsu and soccer. We help them develop their skills so they can lead a rich life and get what they want out of life. And they associate with other kids who are enrolled in jujitsu and piano, and form social groups that reinforce a certain notion of morality.

    So this moral shaping is inevitable. Are you saying that when deciding how my kid will grow up, I should place no value on whether my child’s moral development is consonant with my own moral beliefs?

    Or maybe you are just saying that whenever there are explicit episodic tests of my child’s “freedom to hear moral beliefs other than mine”, I should place value on that freedom? So if a Scientologist knocks on my door for some reason and wants to proselytize to my kid, I might or might not let him in, but I place some value on allowing my kid to hear a different perspective.

  • So, yes, “we” just do decide that “we” are right and some other parents are wrong “obligating us to make those parents give their kids what we judge best?”

    Thank you Will! I am perpetually annoyed by the moral realists who think that if moral opinions and values are “merely” opinions then we are somehow obliged to respect the values of others regardless of how terrible they may be according to our own values.

  • Yes of course once you accept that we should ever use the government to intervene in how kids are treated, the question becomes what the threshold is for that. So to be clear, are you saying that the way these 400 kids were treated in Utah does or does not rise to this threshold? Surely the consensus against locking kids in dark cages all their lives is far higher than the consensus against treating these kids they way they were treated.

  • Penetrating article. Kudos!

    I just surfed over to this blog from Overcoming Bias. I think it’s great to find someone who is willing to ask “why?” for things most people take for granted, such as, “why” it is not okay to raise a kid in a cage. Raising questions like this is usually frustrating – it exposes a whole lot of fog where people’s reactions typically stop being rational, and it becomes hard to find any kind of solid ground on which to base a conversation. It is refreshing that someone’s willing to seriously think about this.

    My answer is that we are brought up in an environment where many of us accept a foolish notion of fairness and justice. There exists, fundamentally, nothing like that. In nature, there is only the law of the strongest, and the strongest may choose to raise their kids in cages, if they so prefer.

    It so happens that “the strongest”, in our world, is a tribe of people many of which have inculcated ideas of “fairness” and “justice”, for better of worse. For better, this creates a world which is, for most, probably less threatening, easier, and more comfortable to live in. The increasing social safety nets are an aspect of this phenomenon. Normally, in nature, the incompetent, the lazy and the stupid would be left to cope on their own, or die trying. The strongest tribe, in our world, has a penchant for the weak, so it places burdens on the strong to support them.

    Similarly, since the strongest tribe has a penchant for the weak, and children are weak that are seen as needing help, it is illegal to raise them as personal slaves, or to keep them in cages.

    I think that all talking about what “should” be (how we “should” raise children, etc) is missing the point. There is no “should”. There is only “can” and “want”. “Should” becomes defined only relative to what you want. If you want X, then you “should” do Y or Z in order to attain that. If you don’t do Y or Z, you won’t attain X.

    If you want an answer to the question “how should we raise our kids”, then tell me what the intended goal is. What do you want to reach? What criterion do you want to maximize? Answer that, and then there is an answer to how you “should” raise your children.

    Meanwhile, the illegality of raising children in cages is just a cultural idiosyncrasy. It is based on nothing fundamental in reality, it’s just that the ruling culture has a penchant for the weak and helpless, and children are weak and helpless, so oy vey, the children.

  • Robin Hanson says: “So to be clear, are you saying that the way these 400 kids were treated in Utah does or does not rise to this threshold?”

    This is a question of “want”, not a question of “should”. There is no objectively best threshold unless you define what you want to maximize. What you want to maximize, in turn, is just your personal preference, and you need to present arguments why the ruling tribe would want to maximize that same thing. Even so, it all boils down to what the ruling tribe wants. There is no “should” beside what “should” be done to achieve what the ruling tribe “wants”. There is no outside standard to decide what the ruling tribe “should” want, and no way to measure it other than to go around and ask members questions.

    Judges are a formal organ of the ruling tribe here, so the threshold is where the judges say it is, assuming that their judgement is upheld. The judges will make their decision based upon some mix of idealism derived from founding principles, mixed with some legislature, and a large dose of personal preference. There is no greater outside standard beyond their decision.

  • It is simply not OK to intentionally raise an illiterate child, even though illiteracy is the natural human condition

    So do you support the government forcing parents to teach their kids to read and write? If a set of parents were proud of their illiterate culture, and wanted to raise their kids to be part of that culture, I’m pretty reluctant to use government force in this case.

  • Yes. Literacy is crucial to the meaningful exercise of freedom in a society like ours. You can get along well enough as an illiterate just as you can get along in a wheelchair, but we don’t let chair-bound parents saw off their kids legs, even if they do it in ideal conditions. They have no right to impose this disability on their children. Parents don’t themselves have to teach their kids to read and write. But parents need to try to make that happen. The government teaches kids to read and write at no cost to the parents, so its not much of an imposition. Anyway, I didn’t figure you as a “cultural rights” kind of guy. I think we both agree that individual rights exist even inside the family, and may be politically enforced. (We used to think that husbands couldn’t rape their wives, now we think they can, and we’re right.) I guess you just don’t think being able to read and write is as important as I do. Do you think the historical/cultural relativity of the politically-mandated developmental minimum bothers you?

  • Literacy is crucial to the meaningful exercise of freedom in a society like ours.

    True, and this can be extended to the world at large, not just American society. But this is issue is separable from the question of government force. When CLR James, the unorthodox Marxist anti-colonialist, critiqued the excuses for continued British control of various parts of Africa, he mentioned their idea of the inability of the indigenous blacks to self-govern due to mass illiteracy. Self-determination was to be denied because of a “politically mandated developmental minimum” in the eyes of the colonizers.

    The British, in this case, can rightfully claim that literacy is a necessity for a “meaningful exercise of freedom” (even then, mid 20th century), can they not? Or, at least, meaningful for an exercise of freedom that a Brit would likely undertake. But the indigenous Africans of yesteryear, and the resistant young adults of FLDS, are not comfortable with an external force telling them that without their intrusion their life is not sufficiently “meaningful” from the perspective of the dominant mainstream.

    Robin’s argument is not necessarily “cultural rights” in orientation. Mine is not. No individual member of the FLDS should be forced to reside in rural Texas by government forces in order to “preserve” culture any more than the FLDS, collectively, should be suppressed by same forces. (And, apparently, the Texas welfare apparatus has been keeping these folks in suspended animation – isolation – for some years.)

    Kind of off-handedly, I recently read a story about ex-Californians and Vegas yuppies moving to a very remote part of southwestern Utah. The area has a good number of polygamists, who exist in tension with the more mainstream Mormons. These newly arrived, relatively secular liberals are fine with the polygamists, and get along well with them. The mainstream Mormons find this upsetting. If I can only find the link somewhere…

    In any case, it’d be interesting to see if a kind of polygamist attrition occurs over time, as the “secular liberal professional” population grows in rural Utah. (But if the polygamists continue to exist in a legal-welfare limbo, they can be artificially sustained.)

  • Will it more about humility that relativity. Yes some cultures can be right and others wrong, but the fact that so many other cultures disagree with a practice of my culture should give me pause, especially about using government force to impose my culture on others.

  • Robin: “Yes some cultures can be right and others wrong, but the fact that so many other cultures disagree with a practice of my culture should give me pause, especially about using government force to impose my culture on others.”

    You still haven’t specified any criterion you want to maximize (the “want”) in order to determine what you “should”.

    If, suppose, the government wants to maximize happiness a few generations down the road – or even just for the next generation – then it makes sense for the government to (a) support those parents who raise children in a way that will be happiness-maximizing, and (b) use force on parents who raise children in ways severely detrimental to happiness.

    One could make the argument that it helps maximize their future happiness if you raise kids in an open-minded manner while trying to develop their abilities for good judgement and information processing.

    One could then further argue that (1) religious inculcation is forcing a child down a certain cultural path rather than letting them evaluate their environment and opt for the option which provides them with most happiness; so religious inculcation is detrimental to happiness.

    And, (2) not teaching a child to read or write detracts from their ability to process information about their environment, and thus reduces their ability to make choices that will maximize their future happiness.

    If the government believes these arguments, it now has reasonable grounds to use force against parents who inculcate their children with religious beliefs, and who fail to teach a kid to read or write.

    It’s all a matter of setting up criteria and then finding ways to satisfy them. You ain’t gonna answer this question without deciding what you want to achieve in the first place.

  • I, for one, want to achieve that which allows people to achieve what they deem happiness-maximizing – without full knowledge of every possible lifestyle (an impossible demand which even cosmopolitans would fall short of) – without coercion; “coercion” being described in the typical classical liberal fashion.

    When enforced “happiness maximization” is something apart from the aggregate of individual desires, with all of their informational and situational shortcomings, it comes dangerously close to being illiberal and authoritarian.

  • Dain: so if some people believe that bringing up children illiterate, blindfolded, mute and caged is a happiness maximizer, according to their own personal holy book, that’s okay, and everyone should let them do that?

    If the community, as represented by the government, feels that it has the right to step in so as to prevent children being raised in cages, then (1) the community has some implicit wants with respect to raising children; (2) the community is imposing its own interpretation of what behaviors will reach those goals; and (3) the community is imposing coercion in order to get those behaviors.

    To truly let parents raise their kids as they see fit, without external coercion, is to allow parents to raise children in cages, and worse.

    Even if you let parents raise children in ways they consider happiness maximizing, and you truly let parents decide what happiness maximizing is, you are allowing all sorts of genital mutilation, torture, etc. If you have no standards with regard to what leads to happiness, then the parent only needs to justify the genital mutilation as helping towards the child’s future happiness. They will provide just such justification.

    Your remark “dangerously close to illiberal and authoritarian” fails to see that there is no way, at all, even in principle, that we can have the reproductive process that we have, and avoid being illiberal and authoritarian. If the community doesn’t impose standards how children should be raised, then parents are free to raise their children in tyranical, illiberal, authoritarian, abusive fashion. On the other hand, if the community imposes _any_ standards on parents, then the community has crossed the line. As soon as you enforce that parents shouldn’t lock their children in cages, or give them beatings, or whatever, this is _already_ being illiberal and authoritarian.

    The question is not _whether_ we are being illiberal and authoritarian. The question is _who_ is going to be permitted to lord it over whom. Because someone’s gonna lord it over someone. In the extreme example, either the community lords it over abusive parents, or the abusive parents lord it over their kids.

    It is even theoretically only possible for a community to be _relatively_ liberal, and to have _relative_ absence of coercion. I agree that it is preferrable that coercion is minimized, but the minimum amount of coercion isn’t zero. This is never achievable. At the very least, you need to have a sufficient amount of coercion to prevents coercive people from being coercive.

    And even then, you can have your island of non-coerciveness within a relatively confined community, such as the community of people, but you ain’t ever gonna make that system work in nature in general. Outside our little civilized communities, the law of the strongest reigns supreme.

  • Dain: so if some people believe that bringing up children illiterate, blindfolded, mute and caged is a happiness maximizer, according to their own personal holy book, that’s okay, and everyone should let them do that?

    This makes me wonder how anyone would even know this was happening to the children, as apparently removed from the peering eyes of the community as this hypothetical would seem to make them.

    Children have individual rights too, and I’d have to wonder how they’d feel about such actions being taken against them. But I’ll assume you mean that these kids have grown up since day one in conditions like this, and so pose no real threat of resistance, not knowing any better.

    This is akin to slavery IMO. Many, if not most, slaves grew up thinking their condition – being caged, actually owned – was simply reality, and they could expect no better. They had to be persuaded that their bondage was unjust, and to demand bodily sovereignty. But no matter how much one demands they realize this, “forcing them to be free” (to leave the plantation) is unjust. Admittedly, in the case of children unable to communicate, it would be fine by me, and a risk I’d be willing to take, if they were so forced (rescued). If they later say “What the hell were you doing, I wanted to stay!”, well, they have a point. (Keep in mind this is indeed what the FLDS kids were saying, and not even “later” but rather immediately!)

    If the community, as represented by the government, feels that it has the right to step in so as to prevent children being raised in cages, then (1) the community has some implicit wants with respect to raising children; (2) the community is imposing its own interpretation of what behaviors will reach those goals; and (3) the community is imposing coercion in order to get those behaviors.

    There is no need to invoke “community” as demanding justice, just any individual or collection thereof taking action to end coercion. But they don’t have a right to do this at the expense of others lives, i.e. bombing thousands at the periphery to reach thousands at the core.

    It is even theoretically only possible for a community to be _relatively_ liberal, and to have _relative_ absence of coercion.

    Of course. And no definition of coercion is rock solid. I’d refer to J.C .Lester’s definition as “minimizing proactive imposition” as an alternative to an impenetrable Rothbardian natural rights edifice. In this way, reductios become less likely to cause one’s head to explode.

  • If the community, as represented by the government, feels that it has the right to step in so as to prevent children being raised in cages, then (1) the community has some implicit wants with respect to raising children; (2) the community is imposing its own interpretation of what behaviors will reach those goals; and (3) the community is imposing coercion in order to get those behaviors.

    There is no need to invoke “community” as demanding justice, just any individual or collection thereof taking action to end coercion. But they don’t have a right to do this at the expense of others lives, i.e. bombing thousands at the periphery to reach thousands at the core.

    Sorry, I notice I didn’t quite provide a reponse to your points that actually addresses them.

    When you write “the community is imposing coercion…”, I don’t think they are, but instead preventing it (from continuing), save for the ex post facto declaration of “Hey, I didn’t want to be saved!”, in which case coercion was imposed. In the hypothetical you present, however, I’d be damned surprised if this posed much of a problem though.

  • Very very interesting post..
    I like this one.
    gotta bookmark this one.

  • This is quite impressive, I am pleased to read this post, keep posts like this coming,

    you totally rock!
    Cheers,
    backyard gardening