A TCS Blog
Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Boredom is a fairly complex state of mind which I think is probably mildly coercive for most people. Yet with the world as backward as it currently is, it seems amazing that anybody could be bored unless they were being forced into it somehow, for instance by being stuck in a classroom all day. Surely there are so many millions of good things worth doing that would improve the state of humanity, nobody moral can really sit around being passive and coerced: they should simply improve their moral ideas until they have found the motivation to do one of the many useful jobs around that isn't being done yet?

Well, I don't know if that's a great argument, but even if it is, I can't say I've always found it easy to put into action. However, it seems to me that the solution to the problem of boredom may be to find the right kind of activities, and that the right kind of activities might be challenging activities, in the sense of activities which include some degree of personal difficulty and personal growth which we choose to engage in not because it seems immediately like "fun" but because we are rational beings and we know these activities will be good for us and the world. In particular, activities involving a gradual and carefully-managed exposure of our most dodgy theories to criticism by others.

Often our motivation is limited and we find it difficult to begin and to sustain our efforts at making and meeting such challenges. It is a gradual process of building-up and maintaining a dynamic of action which becomes its own motivating force. But wherever the starting point, it can be done. We bored people of the world need to wake up from our passive doziness and start looking for ways of being useful. Neither egotism nor self-abnegation get one anywhere: the relationship between the individual and the moral universe is what counts. And to grow that, one must explore the world with an open mind.

Monday, October 27, 2003
Lying about Christmas

It's true; the TCS list is really busy at the moment. Here's the latest discussion to catch my attention.

Someone wrote:
"Coming up to Christmas, I was wondering how TCS views children being told that they can ask Santa for something they want, and he delivers it on Christmas Eve? And all the "white lies" that go along with that, eg. how does he get into the house, how does he deliver to all the children in the world etc etc )."

Elliot, succinct and to the point as usual, replied that lying to children about what is real or not is wrong and harmful.

About Christmas presents:
If you want to give your children lots of presents at Christmas, then I would advocate honesty about where they are coming from. The Father Christmas scenario could be presented as a fiction, and then the child could decide whether or not to act it out (with the whole stocking-at-end-of-bed; glass-of-whisky-for-parent-while-preparing-the-stocking; coming-into-parental-bed-at-dawn-for-opening-of-stocking bit). The tooth fairy game comes under the same heading, although actually, giving someone 20p or whatever because their tooth finally fell out or was pulled out or came out in an apple seems totally weird to me now.

There's an argument that gift-giving at Christmas has more sinister overtones, since it might imply lack of provision of things the child needs or wants at other times; arbitrarily making the child wait 2 months/6 months/3 days for the things they want. Is waiting for what we want a good thing? If I want to try out these George RR Martin books, should my family say "er, no, sorry, you'll have to wait two months"?

I suppose it partly depends how much the people involved like surprises, and how good the people involved are at guessing what other people would like. If either of those are in doubt, forget spending money on presents at Christmas; use the national holiday to have a big party instead, and spend any spare money on fantastic food and drink.

About the lying bit:
Children are rational creatures trying to make sense of the universe. Lying to them damages that attempt, and gives them the impression that the universe is not potentially understandable, but is instead subject to arbitrary rules. How can this possibly be a good thing?

Friday, October 24, 2003
Entrenched theories

There's been a discussion on the TCS list about advantages and disadvantages of school, and one poster wrote about how difficult it might be for a parent to talk about the child's decision to try out school without coercion, because the parent has entrenched theories about how awful school is:

“The problem is knowing when something is too personal to be discussed. Some choices and decisions feel deeply irrational to one, but never the less one feels that one needs to follow a certain course of action.”

Emotions are just signposts to theories. For a normally rational person, the panic, or irritation, or fury, or whatever other emotion goes with ‘this is too personal to be discussed’ is a message from the brain saying “danger; this one is ring-fenced; entire world-view may crumble if this idea is challenged”.

Perhaps we can interpret the emotion not as a signal to close off consideration of the matter, but as a signal that our theories are irrational and therefore need critical examining. It may be that a long solitary walk or a bath or a private diary is a good place to start that examining rather than in discussion with others.

It’s not so much that “When the child imagines that her present theory will seem irrational to her parent, she just needs space and support (no questions) to try this thing out”; it’s more that the parent needs space and support (no questions) to try the thing out. And then the parent can discuss the theory with the child.

PS I posted this response to the TCS list too.

Monday, October 20, 2003
Town V. Country

I am starting to think that the whole idea that a serious debate as to which is best should even exist is based on fallacy. What about living in the country is objectively good for knowledge-growth? How can it be better to be faraway from the centres of human culture and ideas, rather than as close to the middle of them as one can get?

And the idea that children should grow up away from big cities I am starting to put down to the general anti-children and anti-learning memes combined: best way to stop 'em learning and make sure they knuckle under= deprive them of interesting new inspirational ideas.

I have nothing against fields. For growing food, and for camping holidays. But people who eschew the world to live on hilltops and enforce same on their kids, who have no idea what they're missing out on...?


Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Christians aren't supposed to be morally relativist...

I'm not really all that interested in whether the Anglican Church solves its differences over homosexuality or not; my impression is that Christianity is a religion that is very good at adapting its doctrines to retain its currency. But I was struck by this article about the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that while terrorists often use means that are abhorrent, their aims are possibly 'intelligible or desirable'.

1. good aims; good means = morally good
2. bad aims; bad means (e.g. terrorism to promote a genocide, for example) = morally bad.

Those are easy-peasy. But

3. good aims; bad means = ? Does this really happen? If the ends are morally justifiable, are there not morally justifiable ways of achieving them? You only have to terrorise people into trying to accept your point of view if it is not otherwise compelling.

update: Alan Forrester has put it all much better than I could

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I just finished a series of rants on an autonomous-learning kind of theme, over on my blog.

Education invites commenters to write about memorable learning incidents in their lives. Education addendum expresses some of the frustrations we unschoolers have to put up with when dealing with the ignorant and uninitiated. Avril Lavigne makes some points about about growing good musical ideas. Then (ie above) there is some other stuff. And then there is a review of Avril Lavigne, who I think sums up a lot of what TCS parenting, life and learning are about, and why it matters.

And now I am having a bath.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Today I got a spam for this product.

As far as I can tell, it's for real. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Oh, here's their catchy tag-line at the bottom of the "Technology" page:
Kids hate it, Parents love it......

Alice wrote here about her home educating day, which was scheduled to include 'a bath, some light shopping, a lesson in French pattiserie (we are making proper tarte a la fraises with pate sucre, creme patissier and apricot jam glaze), hopefully culminating in a grand gluttony session in front of the Blackadder Goes Forth (the whole series).'

To which Andrew Duffin replied (in comments): 'I suppose this is sarcasm or irony or something else clever that I don't understand, but I'll bite... Who exactly is being educated in this scenario, in what, and with what end in view?'

So here we go. Presumably the people learning here are Alice, her children, and any other small people who happen to be around. If I was in Somerset, I'd probably ask to join in too, not having added French patisserie to my repertoire yet.

What do they learn?

Obviously it'll totally depend on what the people involved already know. There's likely to be some reading happening, and if anyone is interested, they can do some internet searching and find out about the origins of patisserie, and let-them-eat-cake and I've no idea where that train of thought would lead. I'd end up watching The Scarlet Pimpernel, probably. Following a recipe is a pretty useful and 'transferable' skill.

Some weights and measures familiarisation - heck, maybe even converting an annoying fahrenheit oven setting into a centigrade one, with added discussion of what those two things are and whether kelvin would be more useful. Er... oh there's loads of numbers-y and fractions-y conversations these people might be having.

They could do the whole thing IN FRENCH, with a french recipe and discussion in any mixture of Franglais and English strictly prohibited (I'm assuming that no self-respecting French person would eat patisserie made in an English accent).

There might be some practical hot and cold physics, children getting used to using cookers and oven gloves and things, talking about the order ingredients get put together and why it works. Blind tasting of sweet/sour/spice flavours. Mixing and hand-eye co-ordination.

Practical chemistry.

When the cooking is done, it may well take some PRETTY ADVANCED angle-work to make CP divisions of the pie. Did you know that a circle can be divided exactly (and I mean exactly) into 13 or 17 using only a ruler and compass? There's a book about it, but I only understood the pictures. "How big a piece do you want?" "72.5 degrees, please"

The thing is, it's so much easier with one or two adults and not many children to go where everyone's brains want to go. The amount someone can learn when not being "educated" dwarfs the amount they are likely to learn when they are following someone else's syllabus, being presented at the average speed of the people involved rather than at their speed - fast or slow.

So many children are Not Allowed to cook, because it's Dangerous. What better antidote than this sort of afternoon's activity? How long before the children feel confident to cook unaided? I spent most of my childhood making aptly-named rock cakes before my mother got home (when we weren't having unsupervised bonfires in the garden). Minor domestic injuries? Well, I'm down to an average of one self-grating/cut per fortnight now, and am considering selling my shares in elastoplast.

OT: For exciting things about metamorphosis, try this fudge recipe: one tin evaporated milk, one bag sugar, one block stork margarine (or another one - stork sometimes burns at a late stage). Bring to boil. Keep boiling and occasionally drop a bit into a saucer of cold water. Eventually, it will go into a soft ball instead of just dissipating in the water. Keep boiling for another few minutes, with much testing (and eating of the tester drops, obviously). Then shove the pan into a basin of cold water (don't let water splash in) and stir till your arm drops off/ it starts to set. Put in a tray. Try to let it set before you eat it. The longer you boil it, the harder the fudge.

Saturday, October 11, 2003
Addendum to the post below

I don't mean to imply that Mork and Mindy is better than Sex and the City. I think what I mean is, shows which attempt to describe reality, and which then describe social conventions instead (inevitably) without realising it, and therefore without criticising those conventions, are less truly reflective of reality than shows which use some device (eg, alien characters) to throw out the conventions, or criticise them more strongly. And that in the former kind of show, it's good to pro-actively criticise in order to put the falsehoods into some kind of context, while watching with children, whereas in the latter kind, there is often a refreshing sense of not having constantly to do that. But the overall quality of a show depends on plenty of other things besides this particular characteristic.

Well, that's my current theory, anyway.


Things have been quiet on both TCS blogs lately, despite quite a lot of activity on the TCS list. I wonder why. Or maybe there's no point wondering *shrugs* Anyway, I have been frustrated lately watching TV with kids and finding there are so many lies and misrepresentations of things that have to be explained. It gets annoying.

For example, on the Friends re-run when Joey's sister is pregnant, he goes into immediate bizarre emergency-mode because there is absolutely no question of even mentioning the possibility of abortion. I think this is vile. It's much worse to have children you can't look after properly than to abort pea-sized foetuses. Then that stupid thin naggy woman with the dark hair buys expensive boots which are painful to wear and lies to her husband for days, preferring to wear them and damage her feet. This is crazy. It's to do with horrible relationship conventions that stink and are difficult to try to explain rationally, because, well, they're not rational.

Then there is Kevin Spacey on American Beauty who is attracted to a friend of his daughter who is probably about 17, which is tabboo. Because, it just is. Then there is Charlotte on Sex and the City who has a miscarriage at 3 weeks and acts like her mother dropped dead or something and says she can't go to her friend's one-year-old's birthday party. What's that all about, really, when you try thinking about it? And I'm not even going to start on the subject of BBC "educational" nauseating rubbish.

Blackadder, My Parents Are Aliens, Will and Grace, Mork and Mindy, Pokemon and Sabrina the Teenage Witch: these shows are comprehensible. The ones purporting to be about reality, forget it. Explaining the conventional adult world-view to a sensible child is about as easy as getting Saddam Hussein through the eye of a needle. It doesn't make sense.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003
i posted this on my blog too. anyway: so i've been reading A Song of Ice and Fire, which is totally TEH r0xx0r. but anyhow, I've got a morality question:

Arya is a highborn girl; an important person. And not just any highborn girl, but one of the most important half dozen houses in the realm. She ends up captured by enemies, but is dirty enough to be mistaken for a boy. Even cleaned, she isn't recognised. She's put to work cleaning on the cleaning staff at a castle, basically slave labor until the war is over (and after, the ones who really are lowborn won't have anywhere to go or anyway to leave, so they'll stay, and work, to keep getting fed).

After a while a hundred prisoner's from Arya's brother's army (her father died) come to the castle dungeons, and the enemy army leaves, except for maybe a hundred guards and some hired mercenaries. Arya manages to free the prisoners who take over the castle (the hired people all change sides). However, Arya doesn't trust anyone, so she doesn't tell them who she is, and keeps doing work. One day it is announced her brother's bannermen will soon leave, and she discovers she would remain and the hired mercenaries would rule the castle. They are *nasty* people. Really fucking nasty. Arya does *not* want to be in their power. So she decides to escape. She steals some horses and swords (two friends come with her) and food. The stealing seems perfectly moral to me. But anyway, after that, there's one thing standing between her and escape: the man at the gate. (She goes to a small gate with only one guard.) Arya kills him. One of her brother's soldiers, who did no wrong. Was this murder wrong?

I do have my own answer, but I won't give it until enough people comment. I do have one piece of advice though: I would suggest considering morality to be that which helps promote human flourishing, whether it's true or not in the limit, won't help at all here. Killing the guard is good for Arya's flourishing and bad for the guard's flourishing. Ho hum.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003
Freudian nonsense

A friend of mine has been commissioned to write a review about a book concerned with opera, death and psychoanalysis/ knitting, sex and Freud/ poetry, eating and the unconscious/ whatever.

I expressed my surprise that anything being written now is concerned with anything Freudian - I thought he was completely discredited.

Is this a reflection of academics in the Humanities being completely out of touch with philosophy? Or of ideas never being discarded but piled relativistically on top of each other in a perverted 'growth of knowledge'?

The rant I replied with:

I don't know what theories psychologists base their work on nowadays, but then I think most of them are witch doctors anyway. It isn't in their financial or professional interest to 'cure' someone or to acknowledge that they are not 'ill'.

Problems don't get solved by "telling me how you feel" or by wallowing in the emotions of real or imagined past crises. I believe that problems are instead solved through rational criticism. The emotion per se isn't important; it is a clue to a theory being held. The trick is to work out what that theory is, why we hold it, and whether it is a reasonable theory, ie whether it withstands rational criticism.

The only possible role for a professional that I can see would be in helping one to overcome entrenched theories, since they are, by definition, resistant to self-criticism. But presumably friends and family can help with that stuff for free usually.

Powered by Blogger