Saturday, October 5, 2013

Child custody battles

Why do people see child custody cases as "battles"?

Its because these parents are fighting each other for custody of their kids. But it doesn't have to be that way. In fact it shouldn't be that way. Its wrong on so many levels.

Oil painting by Ragod Rustom
For one, its wrong in that it ignores the preferences of the children. Surely the children don't want their parents fighting -- especially not about them -- its how kids learn to feel guilty about their parents fighting and breakup. Its as if the parents are using their children in order to hurt each other, all while hurting their children as collateral damage.

Parents should be thinking about their children more so than themselves because the adults can take care of themselves for the most part and the children are caught in the middle because they still need their parents help -- and their parents are still responsible for helping them become independent.

Children should have a say in their lives

More importantly, the children should have a say in how they live, whom they live with, where they live, etc. If a child wants to live with his mother, and if mother wants that too, then they should live together. It doesn't matter what the father wants in this. The child chose. Done deal.

Now here's where things get hairy. Most people will think that I'm advocating whim-worship. But I'm not. Whim-worship is evil. Let me explain.

What is whim-worship?

Whim-worship is the anti-thesis to reason. It is evil because in conflicts of interest between people, if one person resorts to violence to resolve the conflict, its because he acted by whim instead of by reason. Resolving conflicts rationally can only be done by reason. And as long as there are whim-worshippers in the world, there will be evil. When the last whim-worshipper learns the error of his ways and stops acting by whim, evil will have been eradicated.

Can children reason like adults?

Most people think that children can't reason like adults do. They think that a child can't do better than whims. But that doesn't make sense. Anybody can learn to improve his thinking. Anybody can learn the value of a reasoned preference over a whim. Anybody can learn to recognize the difference between a whim and a reasoned preference. Even children -- especially children.

Why did I say especially children? Its because children are more rational than adults in an important way. Adults have far more irrationalities than children do. And its the irrationalities that cause people to ignore their problems. Some people think that having (or admitting that a person has) irrationalities gives that person a pass. But this is wrong. People are responsible for fixing their irrationalities. And they are responsible for their actions even if those actions were caused by their irrationalities. Blaming one's irrationalities does not absolve himself of the crimes he commits because of them.

If you can't imagine a concrete example of what I mean by an irrationality, consider this example. Some adults feel attacked when their ideas are criticized -- they learned this from being raised by parents that shame them to make them feel bad (dirty looks, insults, yelling, emotional or physical punishment). And they also learned to react to criticism by ignoring the criticism, blocking it out of their mind, so that the bad feeling stops. So they've created a conditioned response -- a trigger. And young children haven't yet conditioned themselves to do this. Its because their parents, teachers, and friends haven't yet done the shame/punishment thing to them a lot.

You still think I'm wrong about children? Maybe you remember examples of situations with your child where you failed to persuade your child of something, and your child got upset. And you think this means that children are irrational. Well you're wrong. What you did was resolve the conflict by coercing your child, which means that its against his will. So you resolved the conflict with coercion -- like violence -- instead of reason. Why did I add violence in with coercion? Its because if the child continues to disagree with his parent, at some point the conflict is resolved in one of two ways: either (1) by them walking away from each other, or (2) by the parent resorting to physical violence against his child. Now most parents don't go as far as violence because their kid's will breaks before that. So violence is averted, but not because of the benevolence of the parent and instead its in spite of the evil of the parent. And what's worse is that its these situations that cause children to have irrationalities.

Walking away from each other is a rational way to resolve a conflict. Resorting to physical violence is an irrational way to resolve a conflict -- its whim-worship. So actually what happened is that the parent was acting irrationally and not the child. So the parent got it backwards, and its because of his own irrationalities that he gets this wrong.

A common thinking mistake that leads to acting on whims goes like this: "I know way more than my child does, so in any given conflict between me and him, the rational approach is to side with my way since I know more." But this doesn't work. This means judging ideas by authority instead of by merit. It means adjudicating between rival theories by working out which theory was created by the guy with the most knowledge. And this doesn't work because the guy with more knowledge can make mistakes just like the guy with less knowledge. That's because everybody makes mistakes. So its possible for the less-knowledgeable guy to be right even when the more-knowledgeable guy disagrees with him. So working out who knows more is not a rational way to resolve a conflict of interest. Its whim-worship. Its anti-reason.

All people are fallible

Still unsure about the idea that children can reason like adults? Well consider this. All people are fallible -- that means everybody makes mistakes. It means that each of us has flawed knowledge of:
(1) reality, which is about how the physical world works, 
(2) morality, which is about how people should act, and 
(3) epistemology, which is about how knowledge is created.
And acting rationally is something that requires knowledge about how knowledge is created. And the thing is that everyone applies knowledge about how knowledge is created, not just adults. How do I know? Well, how do you think children learn a language? Do you think raw sensory data is physically written into their brains like how our computers physically write 0s and 1s into their harddrives? Its not the case. What happens is that babies actively think about things and create concepts of them and they attach labels to them which we call "words". And as they create concepts, they create their own (mostly inexplicit) epistemology which they then use to understand the world. And the thing is that everybody has imperfect epistemology, which means that we all make mistakes when we create knowledge.

Further, because we're fallible, its impossible to know in advance which of my ideas will be found to be wrong in the future. I can't predict future criticisms. That would be predicting future knowledge-creation. That means knowing something before you learned it, which is a contradiction, so its impossible. It means prejudging a case before learning the facts of that case. No good judge does this. So no good parent should either. You should never under any circumstances prejudge a case before learning the facts of that case. Its pure evil. Its what leads to violence in all forms including war.

How do I know if I'm wrong?

In terms of theories and criticisms, just because I feel I'm right about a theory of mine, that doesn't mean that I should act like I'm right even in the face of outstanding criticism of my theory. Having an outstanding criticism means that my theory is refuted -- i.e. treated as false until further notice. To be clear, an outstanding criticism is one that doesn't itself have an outstanding criticism.

So do you agree that children can reason like adults do? If not, then what is your counter-argument to my argument that they can? If you don't have a counter-argument, and you still disagree, then your disagreement is a whim. Which raises the question: Aren't you part of the problem instead of being part of the solution?

If you want to improve your skill at being part of the solution, start by learning better how to do conflict resolution with some advanced epistemology.

If you're still not sure, read this essay covering a lot more details about parenting.


Check out my other essays on parenting related topics:
How should parents raise children? 
The Nature of Man
Telling people what to do doesn't work 
Why curious children become scared adults 
Relationship between psychopathy and Autism/Aspergers
How do children learn how to act? 
Parental respect 
Traditions vs New ideas 
Lying and responsibility 
Golden rule vs Platinum rule vs CPF 
Why should people collaborate?
Join the discussion group or email comments to

1 comment:

  1. Wow. This is really brave of you. Oh well. Everybody has their own opinion for anything. For me, almost all of your points are basically true. I also think that child custody cases should not be called “battles” because it's the child's life we're talking about. The decision for custody could either make or break a child's life. Thanks for sharing.

    Rochelle Wagner @