Thursday, April 10, 2014

Morality: how to help children learn moral reasoning

Take care of yourself first

---[while in a plane]---

Air hostess: ... put your own mask before helping others.

Lance: shouldn't you help me with my mask before doing your mask?

Dad: no. If I help you before I put on my own mask, I could die, or pass out, before I could help you. so then we both die. but if I do mine first, then I have the chance to do yours too, and then we could both live.

Lance: oh ya

Dad: if you have children, and if you don't take care of yourself first, then you can't take care of your children either. 

Lance: makes sense.

Dad: like if you don't get enough food/sleep/etc., then you can't do well helping your children and so you'll be failing at your responsibility to your children.

Lance: so the most important thing is to take care of yourself first.

Dad: yes. and one reason this is true is because that's the only life you have control over.

Lance: what do you mean?

Dad: let's consider an example. 
do you remember when you wanted to play chess with me and then you tried to control how i play? you told me not to make certain moves?

Lance: lol ya.

Dad: and then i didn't want to play chess with you anymore, not if you're going to try to control me.

Dad: and do you remember when you were playing with cash and you got upset?

Lance: i don't remember.

Dad: you asked him to play with you and then you got upset when he didn't play exactly like you wanted him to. and then he didn't want to play with you anymore because you were trying to control him. and then you screamed at him to try to get him to continue playing, and to do it your way, so you were not only trying to control how he plays but you were also trying to control whether or not he plays with you.

Lance: oh ya. that was bad. i should have left him alone.

Dad: the point is that you can't control people even if you wanted to.

Dad: and the more important point is that it's bad to want to control people.

Lance: ok i want to watch my shows now.

Dad: k

---[end scene]---

---[at dinner]---

Lance: hmm, but you said that I should care about if something is beneficial or harmful to me.

Dad: primarily yes. but you also don't want to hurt other people, right?

Lance: right.

Dad: so let's say that you thought of doing something with me, and then you found out that if you did it then i would be harmed, like maybe i die.

Lance: oh ya, i wouldn't want to do that.

Dad: so that's why when we are talking about doing something together, what we should do is find something that we all agree with. that means no one get's harmed. well, as long as no one is lying about their real intentions.

Lance: what do you mean by real intentions?

Dad: well, sometimes somebody will hide their real intentions for various reasons, and then that makes it impossible for other people to know their real intentions. so then when they find something that they all agree with, actually one of the people disagrees, but he's hiding his disagreement. so he's keeping the other people ignorant about his disagreement.

Lance: why do people do that? what's an example?

Dad: well, sometimes the person that is doing that thinks that the other people are trying to trick him. so he's trying to trick them back.

Lance: huh?

Dad: ya it's pretty dumb.

Lance: why are people like that?

Dad: well, i think for most people it's because they were raised in an environment where people tricked them a lot, and so they learned that that's what people do, and they think that everybody does it, when actually lots of people don't do that stuff. so when they interact with people, they are very suspicious of everything and everybody.

Lance: eww

Dad: ya I know. it sucks.

Lance: so it's not their fault.

Dad: well, that depends on the situation. but the more important matter is what they can do about it to change, to improve.

Lance: what can they do?

Dad: they can learn better philosophy.

Lance: what do you mean?

Dad: let's consider an example, and then let's talk about the ideas involved.

Lance: ok.

Benefit of the doubt

Dad: so let's say that you are walking down a crowded street and then somebody bumps you as they are walking by. what do you do?

Lance: um, i don't know. say sorry?

Dad: ah so you've already decided that he did it on accident?

Lance: well ya, why should I think he did it on purpose?

Dad: so you're giving that person the benefit of the doubt. he could have done it on purpose, say to try to hurt you, or he could have done it on accident, say because somebody else accidentally pushed him because it's really crowed. and what you did was give him the benefit of the doubt -- you chose to error on the side of the possibility that he has good intentions instead of evil intentions.

Lance: right.

Dad: so that's it. that's the better philosophy. if the person we were talking about learned what we just explained, then he wouldn't be suspicious of everything and everyone. 

Lance: hmm, why do I know this and that person doesn't?

Dad: well, one possible reason is that you lived in an environment where people aren't trying to trick you, but he didn't.

Lance: oh ya you said that before. what's another possible reason?

Dad: well just because he lived in a mostly bad environment, that's not enough to make him bad. it's possible that a person in that environment turns out very good. even one good experience with another person could help this person decide and figure out the better philosophy.

Lance: hmm. that's like what you told me about tv. just because i watch a tv show doesn't mean that i'm going to do what the tv show says. i make my own decisions about what i agree with. and for the stuff that i disagree with in the tv shows, that's the stuff i won't copy, and for the stuff i do agree with, i'm not copying it, i'm just doing what i think is good.

Dad: right, and btw, this tradition of giving people the benefit of the doubt, is a tradition i learned from watching tv i think.

Lance: which show?

Dad: oh I don't know. i'm just guessing. i've known this for as long as i can remember.

Lance: so maybe you learned it from grandma.

Dad: actually ya that's part of it too. my parents give people the benefit of the doubt too.

Lance: and maybe your parents learned it from their parents.

Dad: maybe. ya come to think of it, my grandfather on my mom's side was a thinker. he worked as an attorney, and he was a poet.

Lance: so if you're a thinker, then you're good?

Dad: it helps. how can you do good and avoid evil if you don't think about what things are beneficial what things are harmful?

Lance: ya you gotta think about it.

Dad: and it takes a lot of effort.

Lance: so, getting back to what you said about controlling people...

Dad: oh ya we got off track there.

Lance: you said that the most important thing is to take care of yourself because that's the only life you can control. but lots of parents control their kids.

Controlling people is violence

Dad: yes. and that's wrong. actually it's wrong for a more important reason than the one i already gave you. the more important reason is that controlling people means initiating violence on them when there is a disagreement. and that's evil.

Lance: controlling means violence?

Dad: usually.

Lance: but what if you're just tricking a person. that's trying to control them, but it's not violence.

Dad: well, you're right about some cases. but for others cases that's not right. sometimes people try to control by threatening violence. like sometimes a kidnapper will steal a kid from a rich family, and then they will tell the family that they want a million dollars or they'll kill the kid.

Lance: oh ya. i saw that in [forgot tv show name]

Dad: so that's a case of somebody trying to control somebody else by threatening violence. actually they already did violence by stealing the kid, and then they threatened more violence if the family doesn't pay.

Lance: wait, how did the kidnapper already do violence?

Dad: do you think the kid didn't try to get away when he found out he's being kidnapped?

Lance: i'm sure he did.

Dad: so why didn't he get away?

Lance: oh. because the kidnapper forced him, which is violence.

Dad: right.

Lance: but we were talking about parents controlling their kids. why is that violence?

Dad: well, if there is a little child who wants to play with his iPad, and if his parent doesn't want him to play with it right now, let's say because he's punishing him, then the parent might forcefully/violently strip the iPad out of his hands and put it on a high shelf that the child can't reach.

Lance: ya that's bad. why doesn't the parent talk with his kid to come to agreement?

Dad: mainly it's because he doesn't care to. i mean, he doesn't believe that the tradition of freedom should apply to children.

Tradition of freedom

Lance: why not?

Dad: probably because he never really thought about it. or he did think about it but he didn't realize the contradiction. or he did realize the contradiction but he rationalized it.

Lance: what contradiction?

Dad: if you believe in the tradition of freedom, that all individuals have the freedom to do whatever they want short of infringing on other individual's freedom to do the same, then why would you say that this tradition doesn't apply to children?

Lance: i don't know. why do they do that?

Dad: well, there's also a tradition that children are not fully human.

Lance: WHAT!?

Dad: ya, people who believe that, also believe the idea that children aren't rational. so they are making an exception for children. they are fooling themselves.

Lance: that's stupid!

Dad: ya. it's stupid because it ignores reality. if children were not rational, then how could they learn english?

Lance: ya!

Dad: learning english is a huge feat. you have to have a fully functioning mind -- a fully functioning faculty of reason -- in order to have the capacity to learn english, or to learn anything.

Dad: now some parents would deny that they think like this. they'll have other reasons for why they think they should control their kids, denying their freedom.

Lance: like what?

Dad: well, first what they do is pick a really extreme situation, like a kid is running into the street to get a ball, and then they ask: should the parent give the child the freedom to do that? and then they conclude that giving your children absolute freedom means letting him kill himself. and then they conclude that sometimes a parent must control his child because that's what's best for him because he doesn't know better.

Lance: eww.

Dad: ya it's dumb because surely the child wanted to be saved from being harmed from the oncoming car. so when the parent saves his child, he's not doing something against the child's will because the child wanted to be saved. So it's not against his freedom. these parents are fooling themselves.

Lance: so they are lying?

Dad: ya they are lying to themselves so they can feel better about controlling their kids. it helps them feel better about doing things against their child's will. they're thinking that it's best for their child.

Lance: that's sad.

Dad: yes. so many children don't have freedom. their parents control so much of their lives. it's like a government who wants to control it's citizens.

Lance: what do you mean? 

Dad: well, like how in new york city, the government doesn't allow restaurants to sell soda in bigger than 16 oz cups.

Lance: why!?

Dad: because they think that will help make people less fat, or something.

Lance: uh..

Dad: ya it's stupid. if people want to consume a lot of calories, this stupid law isn't going to stop them.

Lance: that's like how lots of parents stop their kids from eating too much candy.

Dad: right, and it's stupid.

Lance: lol, i remember when we got a bag of marshmallows and i ate too much of it and I threw up.

Dad: ya, and you asked me to not let you do that next time. you asked me to only give you a few marshmallows and to put the bag away so you can't reach it. so you were asking me to control you.

Lance: ya and you said no. you said that you don't want to be involved with that. you told me to control myself.

Dad: yep. and what did you do?

Lance: well i never ate so many marshmallows again.

Individual responsibility

Dad: see. you took responsibility for your actions. that's very important. you can't make other people responsible for you. it doesn't work. if i stop you from eating marshmallows you could go eat too much ice cream and throw up from that.

Lance: ya.

Dad: and lots of people think that kids can't make good decisions, but they don't realize that they are partly to blame for that. i mean, why aren't they explaining to their children that they should take responsibility for their own actions?

Lance: i guess it's because they think children can't be responsible.

Dad: ya and that's stupid. how can someone learn to be responsible if he's not given the freedom to make his own decisions?

Lance: hmm, that's backwards. so they blame their children for being irresponsible while forcing them to not take any responsibility.

Dad: it's circular logic. it's like saying i won't give you freedom until you're responsible, but you can't learn how to take responsibility for your actions until i give you the freedom to make your own decisions.


the rest is disconnected...

then you won't even want to do something you think is bad, and you will try to do something you think is good.


the rest is disconnected...

Lance: well. no. but why?

Dad: because I know that I could be wrong. so if I forced you to follow my opinion, and if I was actually wrong, then I'd be forcing you to do something wrong.

Lance: ya that's bad.

Dad: that's why forcing your opinions on other people is bad in general. because we could be wrong.

Dad: actually it's worse than that. the most important reason that it's wrong to force your opinion onto somebody else is that it means initiating violence in response to a dispute.

Lance: you mean force means violence?

Dad: ya. how else could i control you besides using my bigger size to make you do something you don't want to do?

Lance: well, you could trick me.

Dad: um, ya that's true. that's wrong too.

Lance: why is tricking wrong?

Dad: for the same reason I already said. if a person's goal is to trick another person to do something against his will, it's wrong because 

Lance: but you said that sometimes it's right to use force.

When is force ok?

Dad: yes, like if you need to meet force with force. like if someone attacks you, now you need to protect yourself from his harm. you could run away, but sometimes you can't run. so in those cases you should defend yourself with force.

Lance: ah that's what people mean when they say self-defense.

Dad: right. so, force in self-defense against force is ok.

Lance: so if somebody hit's you, it's ok to hit them back.

Dad: well that's vague. it depends on the situation. it depends on why you're hitting them back.

Lance: let's say it's self-defense.

Dad: but calling it self-defense doesn't really help explain the situation. i mean it doesn't help explain why you're hitting them back. 

Lance: it's because I want him to stop.

Dad: ok but are you thinking that he hit you on purpose or by accident?

Lance: uh, let's say it's on purpose.

Dad: well let's do the easy case first. if it's by accident, then there's no reason to hit him. hitting him is not going to help anything. if he did it by accident before, let's say because he doesn't know how to do something, then he might hit you again by accident because he hasn't learned anything different from last time.

Lance: that makes sense. so what about the on purpose case?

Dad: well first of all, before you make a choice about what to do, you have to figure out if he did it on purpose or on accident, and sometimes that's not easy to figure out. so you might have to make a choice about what to do right now even though you don't yet know whether he did it on purpose or on accident.

Lance: how do you do that?

Dad: well, in general, you should give him the benefit of the doubt.

Benefit of the doubt

Lance: what do you mean by benefit of the doubt?

Dad: so if he did it on purpose, let's say to hurt you, then his intention is bad. and if he did it on accident, let's say while he was trying to help you, then his intention is good. and since you don't yet know which one it is, you should err on the side that his intention is good.

Lance: ah, so the doubt is about not knowing whether his intention is good or bad. and you say benefit of the doubt to mean that you're siding with the good intention.

Dad: right.

Lance: ok so let's say you know his intention is bad. let's say he's saying mean things and giving mean looks or something like that.

Dad: well that's not enough information to rule out the possibility that his intention is good.

Lance: ok can you make an example like that so we can talk about it?

Dad: ok. let's say you're walking at night and somebody pushed you really hard to the floor and said "give me your wallet". unless you're an actor in a movie, then this guy has bad intentions.

Lance: lol, ok so then what?

Dad: you should make sure to protect yourself. maybe the best thing for you to do is to throw your wallet at him and run away. or maybe the best thing is to mace or shoot him and then run away.


innocent until proven guilty


friend situation and revenge

why not get rid of friend?

doing favors in return for favors

trading sacrifice 

sacrifice for me and i'll sacrifice for you later

(give and take)

owing things


making promises

What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode.

Dad: because there's other parts. one thing is that you don't know what other people's interests are -- and even if you tried to know, they can be manipulating you or otherwise lying to you for fear of being rude or breaking some other social rules.

Lance: hmm, but I don't do those things.

From a religious point of view, (at least this is a context that everyone, even non religious, could understand), forgiveness is a virtue. From my experience, it helped me moved on with my life. We may be talking under different frequencies with different life experiences, but for me, I become stronger when I willingly forfeit my right of retribution without any strings attached.

Rami Rustom you don't have any "right" to retribution. so that's the problem. you think that forgiveness means relinquishing one's right to retribution, and i'm saying that there is no such right. there shouldn't even be a *want* for retribution. retribution is fucking stupid. it's fucking evil.

stuff from win-win/win-lose notes

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