Tuesday, January 13, 2009

AskPhilosophers.Org is Hit-and-Miss

It is the rare teen adult who, like John Galt in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," can just walk away from one's parent and never look back.

I don't like the website called AskPhilosophers.org. Generally speaking, the answers are so full of humanist values they have little to no objectivity. Last Friday's answer didn't even come near the question as far its conclusion went. I wanted to respond, but only the "panelist philosophers" may do that. So I am responding here, to the metaphysics, the epistemology, and the ethics brought up in the question.

Q: "Do your parents have the right to impose their worldview on you, simply because they paid for your upbringing and education? What if their worldview and values offend you deeply - do you owe them anything more than you would to anyone else who had offended you, simply because they may have sacrificed financially for you, when you were a child and had no identity that could clash with theirs?"

Response from Oliver Leaman, who teaches at the University of Kentucky:
"It depends what is meant by 'impose'. Parents are entitled to provide what they think is appropriate guidance for their children, and of course if these views are regarded as dangerous or deplorable by the state then there will be some official way of intervening despite the wishes of the parents, and that is appropriate."

I do not disagree with the ethics. Metaphysically that "appropriate guidance" is not "imposed"; it is lawfully negligent for a parent or caretaker not to "appropriately guide." Epistemologically, it is not a matter of entitlement, and if children and parents alike understood that, then children could be partners in their own upbringing by asking things like: "Dad, are you allowed to let me do this or that?" Or, "Mom, I want to do something you told me you don't want me to do. But if take certain steps and precautions, and I understand the consequences, can you then allow me to do it?"

One example from my own family comes to mind. My sister, in the fifth grade, wanted to start using make up. My mother never used much beyond rouge and lipstick. She was not opposed to her dauther being a "modern young lady," she just didn't have the knowledge to teach my sister how "not to go out looking like a whore," as she uncharacteristically was forced into saying. (She never uses such language.)

It was a typical mother-daughter argument, and went on for a couple of weeks as I recall. Then my mother had an inspiration: if my sister would go to a young girls' "finishing" type of school where she would properly learn the techniques of makeup, among other femininely things, she would be allowed to wear the make up.

My sister had a fit and for some time, perhaps a week, threw tantrums, cried, yelled, and said no. She could figure out on her own, she said, how not to look like a whore. My mother continued to insist, and eventually my sister gave in.

In today's world many, but certainly not all, daughters would just wear the make up, spiting and cursing their mothers, or do it behind their mothers' backs. That is sad, because it demonstrates no bond of respect has been made, neither by the parent toward the child, nor by the child reaching out for adult and parental advice. The parent is not respected enough for the child to bother looking for it because the parent looks at respect as an entitlement, instead of something earned for being a good, loving, and morally and legally responsible parent.

What happened with my sister was remarkable. She not only learned proper make-up techniques, she learned how to use patterns and a sewing machine to make her own clothes, which she continued to do right through college in order to save money and still have nice and fashionable clothes.

But that wasn't all. I remember her telling my mother it was the best thing my mother ever made her do. It was obviously because, as with all people, not just children, there is so much that she had not known she did not know, and after learning it, discovered what she learned was all of the things she had wanted to know.

My mother was right in her decision, from the point of view of a responsible parent who only wants to make the best right decisions. But it was also legally as well as morally right, because if my mother had lost that argument, she would lost all the rest that came later. It was not an "imposition" to decide a finishing school was best; it was the appropriate guidance of an adult who knew her proper, authoritative role as parent was at risk.

But to get back to the rest of Oliver Leaman's answer:
"Children may come to feel that their parents' views are not ones they wish to assume, and I dare say that they owe their parents a duty of respect..."

Hold the presses. A duty of respect? We all know that many parents are drug users, drunks, and are sexually promiscuous, yet who could at the same time be the whistle blower of the Harper Valley PTA.

These are not parents who whom children owe a "duty of respect" when it comes to accepting their moral values. It is true that while living under the roof of a parent, a child (or anyone else) must respect the rational requests to do certain things, and sometimes those "things" may resemble the "duties" of Cinderella the stepsister. She gave her mother the respect owed of someone who put clothes on your back and food in your stomach. Beyond that, all she wanted was to get out of that family and never look back. Cinderella certainly didn't owe a "duty of respect" to her stepfamily's values.

But, because of Professor Leaman's advice about a "duty of respect," he continues in the same vein, saying, "...so they should take seriously the option of adopting those views, but they are not bound to do so."

Cinderella should have taken seriously the option of adopting the views of her stepfamily? Not in a million years, and that would have been clear from the first time her step-mother or a step-sister invaded her own right to a "duty of respect."

Children know what values of their family they cherish and hold dear, if any, and which they despise and rebel against. Unfortunately, most children do not understand that they have the option of changing their own lives for the better, to get rid of the influences of their nurturing. They become neurotic, sometimes psychotic, sometimes alcoholics, wife and child abusers, and sometimes they become mass murderers on their school campuses.

It is the rare teen adult who, like John Galt in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," can just walk away from one's parent and never look back. But they must be taught to do so, if we do not want generations forever being mentally and emotionally harmed by some so-called "duty of respect" for people whose values and actions they cannot respect.

"Surely no-one has the right to impose views on us;" Leaman concludes, "in most religions even God invites us to share his worldview, he does not oblige us to agree with him."

Misogynist or alcoholic fathers, and cheating mothers, do not "invite us" to become like them, yet children who are admonished or counseled to accept their parents failings while having to live with the chaos, the immorality, the conscientious objections they will have, and the possible physical harm and emotional anger, do not owe their parents "anything more than you would to anyone else who had offended you."

But "philosophers" such as Leaman, who's answers to life's questions often give our discipline a bad image, continue to create the twisted people who make up a twisted society that has thousands of girls posting fights with other girls on U-Tube, who create populations of prisoners whose ranks are growing faster than the general population, and who create the legislators who craft the laws that attempt to control every little aspect of all our lives so that in the end one doesn't know whether he/she is coming or going, acting morally or legally but immorally, or morally but illegally.

The idea of any sort of "duty" to anything but what one chooses to be "dutiful" toward is slavery on both a moral and a psychological level. AskPhilosophers.Org is similar to the short answers to the questions of life we get from the likes of "Ann Landers," but often less honest, and in a hit-and-miss style, because philosophers are expected to be "deep thinkers," not to throw off quickie answers about altruistic "duty."

The answer to the younger questioner should have been, "No, you do not owe anything to people whose world views offend you except the respect of treating them like humans who have the right to be wrong. After that, walk away from them if you need to."

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