Rush Limbaugh and bedtime stories: definitely not the worst thing that happened last week.

by Harry on May 11, 2015

The interview I linked to last week, about our book Family Values provoked what, for both me and Adam, has been a somewhat bizarre, and occasionally disturbing, experience. The sequence of events seems to have been this. Some Australian journalist (Tim Blair of the Daily Telegraph) with a beef against ABC, the broadcaster of the interview, wrote an article/post lambasting ABC for broadcasting it. Then, Mr. Rush Limbaugh picked this up and, in turn, lambasted Adam for insanity and ridiculousness (quite to my irritation, he didn’t mention me at all). Then – well, I guess a mention on Mr, Limbaugh’s show is enough to get you a lot of publicity, and the right and ultra-right wing blogs took up the cause. We started getting invitations to appear on talk shows, and a slew of hate mail (almost all of it to Adam – the worst I got was one saying “your also a fucken idiot like your mate adam smith. pair of wanker fucksticks. simple. fuckoff idiot). NRO took it up, and that spread it further. As you might guess, once Mr. Limbaugh has hold of something, the white supremacists pick it up pretty quickly too, and one site (to which I will not link, because it is so repulsive) celebrated the 70th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death by telling its readers that if the world had only listened to him, people like me and Adam would be silent.

Now, what did we say that was so insane and ridiculous? – what was it for which, according to one of Professor Althouse’s commentators, we should be shot?

We wrote a book, providing an elaborate philosophical defense of the family. Not, maybe, exactly, the traditional family – we are clear that same sex parents, adoptive parents, and single parents count as families—but something quite like it (indeed, one left wing blogger who had linked to one of the ultra-right websites ridiculing us criticized our views, in an email, as “highly moralized in a way typical of bourgeois moral philosophy”). One passage in the book – which I initially drafted, and with which we are both pretty pleased – explains in considerable detail why reading bedtime stories to your children is so valuable that it is something nobody should be prevented from doing, and should be (cautiously) encouraged to do –and, in fact, we argue that parents have a duty to their children to do intimate things like reading bedtime stories to their children. One commenter, indeed, said it was the most eloquent account of what was so good about bedtime story reading that he/she had ever read.

The part of the internet I explored seems like a huge and bizarre game of Chinese Whispers (in the US I’m told we call it “telephone” which seems behind the times – can I suggest renaming it “internet”? ), with a distinctly postmodernist view about truth. By the time it reached Mr Limbaugh, our view was that it is immoral to read bedtime stories to your children and before long it seemed that we believed the family should be abolished.

Now, I am not whining (it’s very hard not to sound like I am whining, but, really, I’m not, I swear!). As I said when I mentioned this in the election thread, it was hard to figure out how to write a post about this – “Rush Limbaugh is not very nice to people who are completely reasonable” and “People on the internet are really horrid sometimes especially when they don’t give out there names” don’t really seem especially insightful or informative tag lines. I totally understand that people like Mr Limbaugh make their livings by misrepresenting other people and sometimes outright lying about them, and that the ultra-right echo chamber is populated substantially by people less privileged than I am, who sincerely feel disempowered by, and isolated in, a cruel and uncertain world. And of course I recognize that some people lack a taste for moral complexity; the idea that there could be bad aspects to good things and good aspects to bad things (as, we argue, there are downsides to the all-things-considered good and justified practices of raising kids in families and parents reading bedtime stories to them) seems incomprehensible to some people, which is understandable given the state of public discussions of politics in the US. Personally, I am not especially bothered by the insults, the comparisons with Pol Pot or the claims that we deserve to be shot (though one friend to whom I pointed out that Adam has had far the worst of it, said “Yeah, but you live in a state where everyone who says you should be shot owns and can legally carry a gun”). Still, it did make me somewhat distressed about my relatives who listen to Mr. Limbaugh and think of him as an entertainer.

The one thing I genuinely worry about is my institution being brought into disrepute. Many voters, and no doubt some legislators, in Wisconsin, listen to Mr. Limbaugh, and read the kinds of blogs that have misrepresented my and Adam’s ideas. (I’m not completely naïve – I know that part of Mr. Limbaugh’s purposes is to drip drip drip misinformation in order to erode trust in and support for the institutions he despises). I did, completely absurdly, waste some time posting corrections in the comments sections of some sites, but stopped when I got to the white supremacist site (honestly, when I got there, I saw lots of sidebar references to Jews, and felt particularly sad that a Jewish blog had taken up the misrepresentation – so I was actually relieved to find that wasn’t the case, but then, after reading for a bit, started feeling physically sick). Adam has posted a comment on his personal website presenting our actual views, as a corrective. I tried to write something similar, but couldn’t get it to seem quite right. Daniel implied that I (or we) should go libel shopping, but as I said, my dad’s already sued for libel once, and successful as that was I’m not sure I have the resources to do that. Any advice about how to pre-empt or counteract any bad effects this might have on my institution would be welcome.

{ 81 comments }

1

JimV 05.11.15 at 2:50 pm

All I can think of that’s vaguely positive to say is: if you make a link for donations to fund a libel suit, I’m in for $1000.

It is really hard to have any hope for humanity these days. I know humanity is what it is and hasn’t changed, but in my youth things seemed a lot more optimistic – due I guess to a lack of information.

2

Henry 05.11.15 at 2:55 pm

More seriously, I think that in these kinds of situations, unless you want to go in all guns blazing and devote your life to it, or there are specific personal threats (whether to safety or livelihood of those you care about), it’s best to mostly let it go. The frothing demented mob will most likely swiftly move on to other outrages. At most, I’d think about doing a joint post hitting some of the key phrases at CT, to use our Googlejuice to ensure that an accurate account appears somewhere reasonably high in the search results.

3

Frederik 05.11.15 at 2:55 pm

Harry, I do not have to offer anything in terms of legal advice but I hope I can give you some moral support. And I hope that it might mean a bit more coming from someone who has actually read the book (I`m just guessing that Rush has not read it, but I’ pretty sure about this assumption.) So as one who is writing his PhD about children’s rights and education I found your book and previous articles super helpful. Especially because they challenged my very superficially ideas about family rights I had before. I was actually more in the “abolish the family” camp (Not really, but in the Peter Vallentyne way, I guess) before I read your articles and book.

Thank you for that.

4

Harry 05.11.15 at 3:13 pm

Thanks Jim. And Henry — yes, that’s basically how I feel about it — I actually never really had hold of it — I guess I find letting go easy — except for this nagging worry about the small possible effect on the reputation of the university (though, reading through some of the posts this morning, most of the high traffic sites don’t mention me, and those that do bury wisconsin in the confusion about whether the authors are English, British, or Australian). Anyway, thanks, that’s good advice, we’ll do it if we have the energy!

5

Lynne 05.11.15 at 3:14 pm

Harry, I’d second Henry’s comment at # 3. Also, I wonder whether it would be worth consulting your publisher and/or someone at the university. You would not need to act on their advice right away, or at all, but publishers will have thought of situations like this, and maybe universities will have, too.

Sometimes I despair at the level of public intellectual debate. I’m sorry this is happening to you, and I hope it spurs more sales of the book to people who would like to see for themselves what you are saying.

6

Manju 05.11.15 at 3:34 pm

your also a fucken idiot like your mate adam smith

Wait…this particular hater could very well be a lefty.

7

Bruce Baugh 05.11.15 at 3:38 pm

Lynne offers the advice I was going to: see if the publisher and university have counsel with thoughts about the matter.

8

AF 05.11.15 at 3:43 pm

I do think the post Henry suggested is worthwhile. The views wrongly attributed to Adam Swift and you in the Tim Blair article are indeed worthy of ridicule, if not vitriol. A very simple post saying without equivocation or digression that you are in favor of bedtime reading, not against it, and that you never said you were against it, should go pretty far toward solving the problem.

9

Anarcissie 05.11.15 at 4:01 pm

AF 05.11.15 at 3:43 pm @ 9 —
‘A very simple post saying without equivocation or digression that you are in favor of bedtime reading, not against it, and that you never said you were against it, should go pretty far toward solving the problem.
That’s not the way it works. From the point of view of the people reciting the misconstructions and lies, facts are unimportant. It is the text itself which is important — not the original text, but whatever it has morphed into, and the emotional or aesthetic reaction which it provokes. Poetry, you might say.

10

MPAVictoria 05.11.15 at 4:34 pm

“That’s not the way it works. From the point of view of the people reciting the misconstructions and lies, facts are unimportant. It is the text itself which is important — not the original text, but whatever it has morphed into, and the emotional or aesthetic reaction which it provokes. Poetry, you might say.”

Sadly accurate. :-(

/Best of luck with this Harry.

11

Chris Bertram 05.11.15 at 4:40 pm

I saw Adam at the weekend and he told me of some of the more lurid wishes of the commentariat. I echo Henry, it will pass in a week or so.

12

mattski 05.11.15 at 4:46 pm

Every time I’m tempted to accuse right-leaning people of being out of touch with their emotions I’m caught short on the realization that they live in a world full of emotion and virtually devoid of facts.

13

AF 05.11.15 at 4:55 pm

““That’s not the way it works. From the point of view of the people reciting the misconstructions and lies, facts are unimportant.”

True. But those aren’t the people you are aiming at. You’re aiming at the fair-minded folks who might read the Blair article and conclude that you wrote a ridiculous book. A simple post explaining that this is not the case would be helpful with respect to those people.

14

Anarcissie 05.11.15 at 4:56 pm

Curiously, on the Net I often see people of sort-of-Rightish prejudices accusing people of sort-of-Leftish prejudices of exactly the same thing.

15

TM 05.11.15 at 5:05 pm

If some of these vile comments involving people shot look like actual threats, you shouldn’t hesitate to let to FBI handle this. It’s their damn job to look up the identities of these people (which they can easily do) and arrest them.

The other thing I would suggest you do: call the Nazis Nazis, starting with Limbaugh. Call out their mendacity, inhumanity and vileness. Call out the “respectable” fellow travelers like that law professor for taking up the Nazi misinformation and spreading it further. None of this is funny and it shouldn’t be treated as a joke.

16

Marshall 05.11.15 at 5:08 pm

I think the only thing likely to be effective in protecting UW is organizing at the precinct level. I mean organizing a precinct. A Kids & Books program sounds like a natural.

17

Sumana Harihareswara 05.11.15 at 5:30 pm

My condolences that this happened to you.

18

The Temporary Name 05.11.15 at 5:46 pm

We started getting invitations to appear on talk shows

I hope you can take advantage of this to get the message out.

19

parse 05.11.15 at 6:12 pm

We started getting invitations to appear on talk shows

I hope you can take advantage of this to get the message out.

This actually sounds like it could be very amusing, as the shows would presumably book you with the expectation that you are in favor of abolishing bedtime stories.

And then you simply appear on the show and say, “No, we’re in favor of bedtime reading. Apparently, you [insert host name here] haven’t had time to read the book”

20

Harry 05.11.15 at 6:18 pm

Well, I have written back to two shows, saying I couldn’t do it at the allotted time (because I had teaching) but I’d be happy to do it another time — and then, said, that they should know that in fact we’re in favour of reading bedtime stories. No response!

21

Jake 05.11.15 at 6:46 pm

Harry, perhaps the silver lining in all of this is that philosophy can still brew up a firestorm in public discourse. But then we realize that too few (i) understand/engage with the argument, and (ii) are willing to reasonably treat the claims as starting rather than ending discussion. Sometimes the politics of the ivory tower may be preferable to the politics of the rest of the world.

That said, I for one would love to see you and Adam on a talk show, and would even turn on Fox News to watch it if I had to. Heck, I’d even call in and lob you guys a softball question.

22

Sandwichman 05.11.15 at 7:20 pm

Thnk god Rational Choice is here to save us from all this irrationality!

23

Anarcissie 05.11.15 at 7:43 pm

I imagine in the next stage of this story, it will drift free from attachment to any particular person or thing, and become a tale of unnamed professors who demanded that the reading of bedtime stories be suppressed, the prohibition to be enforced by the black-helmeted, jackbooted thugs of the UN. Thence the tree of versions will grow slowly into the miasmic heavens of urban legend.

24

dr ngo 05.11.15 at 7:45 pm

OK, but the color-coding is wrong. UN jackbooted thugs wear baby blue helmets (as is well known) but they come in black helicopters, IIRC.

25

T 05.11.15 at 7:52 pm

You really have to have the stomach for this stuff if you proceed. If you do, however, you have to go on the offensive. So, in very short order, 1) say you strongly believe in reading to children; 2) quote a very short passage saying so; and 3) quickly list the benefits. Then spend the rest of the time saying how sorry you feel for Rush and the others because their mothers either didn’t read to them or didn’t do it very well because otherwise they wouldn’t have made such a simple error in reading comprehension. Be extremely sympathetic. Don’t say the moms did it on purpose. And say the comprehension difficulties may not have resulted from their mom’s inattention — maybe she did read to them — but some other problem. Show sympathy for Rush — even famous people may have problems with basic reading comprehension. It’s a teaching moment…

26

Anarcissie 05.11.15 at 7:56 pm

dr ngo — These are special jackbooted thugs, not ordinary jack-booted thugs. Black helmets. I saw one once. So it must be true.

27

dr ngo 05.11.15 at 7:57 pm

Did they at least have baby blue jackboots? THAT I could believe!

28

Phil 05.11.15 at 7:59 pm

The real culprit seems to be the ABC interviewer, who came up with the idea of restricting bedtime reading for greater equality all by himself – and I’m presuming that even then he was arguing in devil’s advocate mode (the phrase “devilish twist of evidence” is suggestive).

Horrible thing to happen, anyway.

29

Andrew Smith 05.11.15 at 9:10 pm

“one site (to which I will not link, because it is so repulsive) celebrated the 70th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death by telling its readers that if the world had only listened to him, people like me and Adam would be silent.”

Woah. That escalated quickly. It was very strange to see this “bedtime story” topic go around social media, but when the dark parts of the internet start to touch you, it is truly chilling.

30

Main Street Muse 05.11.15 at 9:28 pm

I feel tainted because I clicked on the Limbaugh link and read his bile. How very sad that spewing as Limbaugh does is so very lucrative.

ABC framed the interview in a way that allowed Limbaugh, et al. to take off into the stratosphere of rage. I guess the battle for attention wins over rational discussion every time.

You are NOT advocating that people stop reading. IF interviewed at all in the future, simply reinforce the idea that family is a huge factor in a child’s success.IF this is a shocking surprise to anyone, god bless that person. If pressed further, borrow the Republican tactic of blaming the news media for mangling your message.

Your institution is facing far bigger threats than hysteria over your Ozzie interview – however, the hysteria whipped up by the right-wingnuts over this could be used as fodder. I think it’s all part of the general war going on in places like WI and NC. I am concerned that the extreme is now becoming the norm. And that is a terrible thing for us all.

31

TM 05.11.15 at 9:28 pm

T 25: not a bad plan but eave the mother out. Don’t even go near. Instead, point out that Limbaugh is either a liar or can’t read, one of the two, which is it? Don’t be sympathetic, it only backfires. Seriously.

32

Alan White 05.11.15 at 9:29 pm

My deep condolences on all this trouble that has been thrust on you for absolutely no reason other than the fierce desire on the part of some to lambaste perceived enemies, even if they have to be produced by ex nihilo paranoid imagination.

Readers should appreciate that Harry’s concern is partly about timing. Right now the legislature is mulling over how big looming cuts will be to UW, and in light of zip increased tax predictions and forthcoming disclosure on the so-called present “cash reserves” that were used to take away proposed additional funding and to continue tuition freezes for the foreseeable future, we in the System are braced for nothing but bad news once again. You’re right to be concerned Harry; I wish I had some good advice here. But none of this is your fault.

33

Harry 05.11.15 at 9:31 pm

Thanks Frederik! I’m glad someone has enjoyed it!

Yes, the interviewer was doing a devil’s advocate thing — ‘well, if you think X, why isn’t Y implied by it, and if it is why isn’t that a reductio?’ I just taught a large lecture class, in which a freshman sitting on the front row became better at doing this, week by week, it was an absolute thrill seeing someone developing the capacity in front of your eyes!

I am pretty sure I don’t have what it takes to do those talk shows well. Too passive-aggressive, probably. Also, though, too indisciplined. I once did a live interview on BBC 24 news, to discuss a New Labour proposal for an education bill. I had studied the provisions, and knew what to say (broadly critical of it), but I hadn’t bothered to watch the press announcement. So when the interviewer asked me what I thought about what Alastair Campbell had said about “bog-standard comprehensives”, I started to giggle (it was funny!) and very nearly said “did he really say that, that’s so funny”. I did struggle through, but that was with a friendly interviewer, not sure I’d handle a hostile interviewer well.

I agree with T, and I don’t have the stomach for it. Actually — I think that CB was involved research (long ago) that showed that nobody ever objected to Baa Baa Black Sheep, a story that emanated from The Sun or some such, so nothing really changes.

34

ragweed 05.11.15 at 9:58 pm

@23 – Its too late for Rush. Obama has the US military training to go after bedtime stories – they are already on the ground in Texas.

35

Val 05.11.15 at 10:38 pm

Uugh Harry this is awful. I feel particularly bad that I unfortunately chose to vehemently attack you for not being left wing enough in the week this happened! Sorry.

As an Australian, given that this started with ‘our ABC’, I possibly can do something to help. A statement by the ABC might be useful. I’m happy to write to them and try to get others to do so, but I would need to do a bit of reading first (as I haven’t read your book or heard the programme etc). I guess Adam or you could contact the interviewer or producer to let them know what has happened, but this kind of follow up may be better if it comes from external sources.

There is a program on the ABC called Media Watch that sometimes deals with these kinda of egregious issues. I haven’t watched it for a while, but it’s possible they might be interested. There’s the possibility of keeping the fire burning, but media watch is usually quite brief and incisive, so it can be a handy way of getting some reality back into the situation.

36

Val 05.11.15 at 10:42 pm

Not sure if you’d be able to watch the programmes outside Oz, but this will give you some idea of what it’s about. They do request tip-offs

http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/

37

harry b 05.11.15 at 11:01 pm

Val — don’t feel bad its fine. It’s probably true that I am not left wing enough. Phelps has told me he’s off CT till the Fall (when I’ll write about his new book, which I can’t wait to read) — but if you look him up you can ask him how left wing he thinks I am.

Can’t watch mediawatch through their site, but there’s lots of youtube clips — I already LOVE it. Not sure this is their cup of tea, but if it is, please feel free to tip them off (there’s plenty of material here, plus

http://crookedtimber.org/2008/09/16/whats-so-great-about-the-family-anyway/

http://crookedtimber.org/2009/02/05/equality-of-opportunity-and-parental-partiality/

http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/55447-family-values-the-ethics-of-parent-child-relationships/

(very nice review — we’ve had startlingly positive reviews, but it did take a decade to write it!

http://page99test.blogspot.com/2014/09/harry-brighouse-and-adam-swifts-family.html

My problem listening to mediawatch is that the three Australians I have listened to most are Germaine Greer, Ritchie Benaud and Brian O’Shaughnessy (my teacher and, imo, one of the few great, and undoubtedly most underrated, philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century), so basically an Australian can say anything and I am inclined to believe it.

38

T 05.11.15 at 11:17 pm

Like Henry suggested, it’s probably best to let it go as it will disappear from the news cycle pretty quickly.
On the institutional side, is there a press office that would show interest and do you even want to raise it with them? Is there another prof at UW that has gone through this?
A three or four paragraph press release may be helpful with a title like “New Research from UW Professor Documents the Benefits of Bedtime Stories” or “Reading to Your Kids” Spend one paragraph on that, the second paragraph on the misinterpretation with a quote from the book, and the last one or two on the rest of the book. Throw in the the usual “I’m aghast” quote. “Both Adam and I were surprised, to say the least, that a book that encourages reading to your kids and shows its benefits was misread to say the opposite.” I’m sure the CT readers can do way better than this.

39

Not a Lawyer Not Even 05.12.15 at 12:21 am

*Not legal advice, but . . .* Anyone ever think of trying to sue these guys in the U.K. or elsewhere where the libel laws are much looser? I don’t know U.K. law. But my understanding is that the standard for libel is much lower over there. And there must be some kind of “minimal contacts” in the U.K. At least a “slap suit” to get them to have to pony up some dollars . . . to settle.

40

JWP 05.12.15 at 12:46 am

wait, “chinese whispers” is NOT behind the times?

41

js. 05.12.15 at 12:59 am

Harry,

I’m just incredibly sorry that this happened. I don’t have any useful suggestions, but what Henry said @3 does make sense to me.

42

js. 05.12.15 at 1:13 am

I clicked on the Althouse link thinking it might be the least bad of the lot. I think I need a shower.

43

floopmeister 05.12.15 at 1:16 am

Tim Blair has form on this sort of stuff – he was an early right wing blogger and culture warrior when blogging first took off in Australia and has obviously managed to attach himself to the Murdoch teat along the way.

He’s a minor wingnut figure with a long and proud history of getting most things wrong. For a small example, here is is on the success of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: http://timblair.blogspot.com.au/2003_05_18_archive.html#94659185

and winning an honorary Godwin’s Law award:
http://timblair.blogspot.com.au/2002_11_03_archive.html#84253944

I’d ignore him.

44

david 05.12.15 at 7:16 am

You should post the relevant extracts from the book or the interview transcript, or someone will quotemine it for you.

45

yabonn 05.12.15 at 7:43 am

… And you would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for them meddling nutjobs !

46

bad Jim 05.12.15 at 8:34 am

Five-minute hate? Endure, enjoy the hormone surges; you don’t have a choice. Voltaire said that he only had one prayer, that God would make his enemies ridiculous, and you seem to have had that covered from the beginning.

47

Ebenezer Scrooge 05.12.15 at 10:37 am

Don’t wrestle with pigs. You get all covered with mud, and the pigs enjoy it.

And never, never try to engage with somebody who deals in bad faith. IAAL, and the standards of good faith in my business are strait. But they are real, and they permit engagement. Limbaugh and his acolytes have none, and they know it, and they enjoy it.

48

Map Maker 05.12.15 at 1:24 pm

Bad faith quote is right, particularly when there is so many other quotes from the book that are good faith and probably would have gotten the crowd worked up just as much:

“We could prevent elite private schooling without any real hit to healthy family relationships, whereas if we say that you can’t read bedtime stories to your kids because it’s not fair that some kids get them and others don’t, then that would be too big a hit at the core of family life”

banning elite religious/private schooling in the hopes of making a more egalitarian society is pretty sick. No need to make stuff up about reading in bed. A society where the search to end equality leads to people not being able to follow their individual, personal faith decisions for themselves and their family is not an appealing one to me. YMMV.

49

john in california 05.12.15 at 2:09 pm

MAPMAKER,
Can I be the first to say, “I don’t think those words mean what you think they mean..” ?
hohoho

50

Anarcissie 05.12.15 at 2:44 pm

This is the Internet you’re staring into. The Abyss. You know what can happen next. Take care.

51

The Raven 05.12.15 at 3:09 pm

A lawsuit, if successful, funds itself on its winnings. I do suggest consulting a law firm in this area with a good reputation. Seriously, if no-one fights these things, the blither just builds and builds.

“Do not throw pearls of wisdom before swine, lest they trample them, and then come and rend you!”

52

harry b 05.12.15 at 4:03 pm

Map Maker — right, that’s why we don’t — all things considered — advocate banning even eltie private schools, let alone private schools altogether, and have a chapter about the very considerable extent to which parents may legitimately shape their children’s values. I’ve written a number of papers defending faith schools, and arguing that they should not only be legal, but should be supported by the state (and have argued in favour of this before Parliamentary committees in the UK).

See, eg, my contribution to the debate in Reform, the magazine of the United Reformed Church:
http://www.reform-magazine.co.uk/2014/03/a-good-question-do-faith-schools%E2%80%A8-have-a-future/

In fact I think Adam’s 2 kids had about 14 years of religious schooling between them; my eldest had two, and, if we’d continued to live in the UK, my 3 would have had about 7 years each.

53

Shelley 05.12.15 at 4:05 pm

I remember reading somewhere years ago that it was during the Reagan administration that the old admonishment “There but for the grace of God…” died away.

Someone, I believe, once told Senator Wagner of New York during the Depression that since he had raised himself from poverty, he should see that no one else ought to need help.

Wagner looked up, horrified: “That was luck. Luck. Think of the others.”

54

Ogden Wernstrom 05.12.15 at 10:37 pm

Perhaps a thank-you note is in order, thanking Rush for promoting reading aloud to children and for the surge in sales of your book.

I recall that Al Franken had his publisher send Rush Limbaugh a pre-publication copy of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, accompanied by a note to the effect “It would really help sales if you would talk about this book on your show.”

55

James Wimberley 05.12.15 at 11:28 pm

Ad Dr. Ngo in #27: What colour jackboots do feminazis wear?

56

Luke 05.13.15 at 12:13 am

I actually think that any honest meritocrat must be in favour of banning private schools. And private parenthood, for that matter.

Also, when children are being sent to religious schools, they’re actually not making “individual, personal faith decisions for themselves”, they’re being indoctrinated. Wherever schooling is concerned, the individual cannot be the unit of analysis.

57

John Quiggin 05.13.15 at 9:29 am

As Floopmeister says, Blair is the Australian equivalent of Glenn Reynolds.

58

Harald K 05.13.15 at 9:57 am

Anarcissie: “Curiously, on the Net I often see people of sort-of-Rightish prejudices accusing people of sort-of-Leftish prejudices of exactly the same thing.”

Me too. And worse, they have been right. There are definitively people in the “left”-press who think that not getting misrepresented is a privilege their opponents don’t deserve, and it works, too. The “Jacobinghazi”-affair did not really get any satisfying conclusion.

59

reason 05.13.15 at 9:59 am

Luke,
I think you are correct, which is one reason I tend to agree with Chris Dillow on this – meritocracy is not a sensible thing to aim for. A (relatively) egalitarian society is.

60

engels 05.13.15 at 10:15 am

“banning elite religious/private schooling in the hopes of making a more egalitarian society is pretty sick.”

Word.

61

reason 05.13.15 at 10:22 am

Luke @56
“Also, when children are being sent to religious schools, they’re actually not making “individual, personal faith decisions for themselves”, they’re being indoctrinated. “

Yes also, but note that this can and does often backfire, especially if the schools are sufficiently regulated that they also have to teach critical thinking.

62

engels 05.13.15 at 10:46 am

I seem to remember the last time the possibility of banning private schools was discussed in these august pages, it being a ‘very far left’ position which was a dead duck now anyway because of the Human Rights Act. Every cloud has a silver lining…

63

Ben 05.13.15 at 11:57 am

“Indoctrinate” is just the present-pejorative tense of “teach”, as in the irregular verbs: “We persuade, they manipulate / We teach, they indoctrinate”.

Point: We can justify parental authority on a consequentialist basis. Which is nice. However it is a mistake to think that this bolsters the idea of the family. That’s nonsense. It bolsters the idea of consequentialism. If you can’t justify Motherhood and Apple Pie with consequentialism, then consequentialism is obviously absurd. The fact that you can, means consequentialism… need not be thrown out right now, let’s see how it goes.

Unless your own cover blurb is wildly, wildly misrepresenting the contents, the reality is that you have written a book premised on the notion that family life should be contingent on …. well it doesn’t really matter what, it’s the fact that you are suggesting it is contingent which is drawing anger. So great! We can continue to read bedtime stories! For now… until in their wisdom our betters come up with a reason why not…

“What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children.”

Translation: “We have no plans for cutting Motherhood at the present, but we think Apple Pie should be reduced by half”.

You’ve written a book which lays a few stones in the groundwork for increased state intervention in family life and for reduced parental autonomy. You must know that. And the mob knows that.

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engels 05.13.15 at 12:12 pm

A society where the search to end equality leads to people not being able to follow their individual, personal faith decisions for themselves and their family is not an appealing one to me.

So forced marriages and female genital mutilation should be legal?

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kidneystones 05.13.15 at 12:49 pm

64 Female circumcision is evidently a function of tradition, rather than faith. Just checked the Guardian and a number of other sources. Forced marriages are/can be connected to faith, but are more reliably tied to the notion of women as property, with one of the unpleasant consequences being forced marriage. On the larger point. There will obviously be a tension between religious freedoms and the need to protect individuals within family, clan settings. One of the many problems with the Harry and Adam’s arguments is that they bridge the Atlantic. The guarantee of religious freedom and the rights of those practicing minority faiths is the First Amendment and precedes all others. For a Brit such as Adam to suggest to an American audience that a state does, in fact, have the right to constrain long-established faith practices in families because a secular Brit and his liberal US pal say so is, like it or not, an unequivocal attack on the oldest civil rights in US history and certain to cause a great deal of consternation. Surprise!

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engels 05.13.15 at 12:57 pm

Female circumcision is evidently a function of tradition, rather than faith. Just checked the Guardian and a number of other sources. Forced marriages are/can be connected to faith, but are more reliably tied to the notion of women as property, with one of the unpleasant consequences being forced marriage

So forced marriages are motivated by private property and inequality whereas sending your kid to $40000 / yr prep school is all about Jesus? Mmmmkay

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harry b 05.13.15 at 1:02 pm

Ben, read the book. The blurb correctly describes the book. Of course the justification of any institution is contingent on its being good. The family is good. We explain why. We give reasons that not everyone would agree with (obviously, otherwise why bother??). The alternatives are: i) there is no reason at all why the family is justified and ii) some other reasons than those we give better explain why the family is justified. If there is no reason why the family is justified then it isn’t. If there are reasons then its justification is contingent on those reasons. Most alternative on the table are either grounded in sectarian religious commitments (which no-one who isn’t religious will find convincing) or in some vague commitment to liberty, which doesn’t work, because families involve, and are maintained by, coercion — specifically, society forces children to be raised by specific adults, who in turn are licensed to exert a great deal of coercion over them that, otherwise, nobody can legitimately exercise over anyone. Luke’s second sentence, and engels’s single question in the comment preceding this show that anyone who gave it a second’s thought would realise that a commitment to ‘liberty’ is not going to do the work of justifying a thoroughly coercive institution. (There is, actually, one kind of argument from liberty that I think is worth taking seriously, but it has the drawback of justifying the family without any reference to the interests of the family members, and I, like you I presume, don’t want to make the family’s justification contingent in that way)

We have to explain why parents are licensed (indeed, in our view, obliged) to exert a great deal of coercion over their children, and explain what that coercion should aim at (the good of the child) and we have to explain why society is justified in forcing children to be raised by specific parents (which our theory does, successfully). One interesting feature of our theory is that, whereas most secular (and many religious) theories of the family focus solely on the interests of the child, we, although we ultimately give children’s interests trumping weight) identify in great detail what the interests of adults are in being able to rear children.

What is revealing about this whole affair is how many people assume that when someone has written a book about something they (the non-reader of the book) can judge that the authors haven’t thought at all about what they wrote the book about, because they (the non-reader) disagree with some thought that is in the book (often without having given it much thought).

Finally — in response to yoour comment: “For now… until in their wisdom our betters come up with a reason why not…” you might want to bear in mind that we are just philosophers. Both of us probably (I certainly) could have gone into politics if we wanted to oppress people. But, no, we offer up arguments and ideas for public debate, and while we hope people will (unlike My Limbaugh and, apparently, you) think carefully about what we come up with, and present counter-arguments, and come up with their own arguments so that we can think about them carefully, as part of a collective project of trying better to understand the phenomena at issue and, hopefully, get a bit closer to the truth, our votes count for exactly as much as your and Mr Limbaugh’s votes, and we think that is as it should be.

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kidneystones 05.13.15 at 1:17 pm

66 Actually, no. As you well know, tradition and faith are often closely connected, as are money and religion. But in the areas of Africa/North Africa where many of the mutilations occur, Islam has been wrongly blamed as the rationale for the practice. We can and should recognize that the second-class status of women and their effective enslavement in some societies has been rationalized by religious texts and customs. We sent our daughter to a very good Buddhist kindergarten which had no rules at all. Hell on earth, I suppose, to some. I very much support freedom of faith and religion.

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engels 05.13.15 at 1:27 pm

Kidneystones, I support freedom of faith and religion too, I just don’t think it’s a rationale for social apartheid (any more than it is a rationale for violence against girls).

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kidneystones 05.13.15 at 1:31 pm

69 Agreed. Many of the criticisms of religion, religious people, religious creeds, and of religious institutions are firmly grounded in fact. I’d argue strongly, however, that cash and power are at the core of a great many ‘religious’ questions.

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reason 05.13.15 at 3:09 pm

Ben
““Indoctrinate” is just the present-pejorative tense of “teach”, as in the irregular verbs: “We persuade, they manipulate / We teach, they indoctrinate”. “

No it is not. My father always used to think the Australian TV show “It’s a Big Country” was great precisely because it didn’t try to create a guiding narrative, but let the characters speak for themselves. Provide what facts and theoretical speculation based on those facts to the students and let them form and articulate their opinions, is quite different from telling students what they should think. The difference may be subtle, but it is there.

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reason 05.13.15 at 3:20 pm

… what facts ARE KNOWN and …

P.S. Your sentence seems like the very definition of deconstructism. Everything is just a point of view? Really?

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harry b 05.13.15 at 3:26 pm

reason’s right on both counts.
You can’t seriously think that all teaching is indoctrination can you?

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Ben 05.14.15 at 10:26 am

@reason, Harry b, I don’t think “all teaching is indoctrination” and that’s not what I said. I said “indoctrination” was the pejorative form of “teaching”, i.e. it is “teaching the speaker disapproves of” – it’s the connotation of disapproval which makes the difference.

(A right-winger may call school lessons on the importance of recycling indoctrination, a left-winger may call religious education indoctrination, and a flat-earther may call geography lessons indoctrination. It’s not the method, it’s the content, and specifically the speakers attitude to the content.)

You may argue if you wish that the word has some formal meaning which is different, but I am saying that as a practical matter, that’s how the word is actually used by both the left and the right. They may be using the word loosely, but then loosely is the normal mode of speaking.

This is a commonplace, at least 40 years old, “I educate, you indoctrinate, they brainwash”, “I am firm, you are obstinate, he is a pig-headed fool”, “I inform, you propagandize”, “I am an effective public speaker, he is a demagogue”, “I have many admirers, he has a cult-like following” and so forth.

For amusement, I’ve found a dated published example specifically of “I educate, you indoctrinate, he brainwashes” going back to 1968.

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Ben 05.14.15 at 12:07 pm

@harry b, as an amateur of philosophy and, if you like, a recovering utilitarian, I am sympathetic to attempts to justify morality in terms of simpler rules. Very possibly I might enjoy your book on that basis. So if you want to send me a proof PDF, I’ll undertake to read it.

However I don’t think such efforts are likely to succeed in the short term, and there is a distressing tendency for philosophers and scientists to think that, now, at last, their formal understanding of a subject is complete enough to displace pre-existing accepted heuristics. If they are wrong – if their theory is not in fact mature enough to do this – then the attempt to do so can cause great harm, there are enough examples of this. That goes for simple-minded appeals to “liberty” as well as to utilitarian theories.

That’s precisely why people don’t think like that. Instead they start from a relatively large set of assumed/accepted moral facts, and work by analogy and induction from there, without any formal theoretical framework of any kind.

So to consider your view put here: “If there is no reason why the family is justified then it isn’t. If there are reasons then its justification is contingent on those reasons” and “why parents are licensed” by society to have authority over their children.

To most people this is simply incorrect. The family is justified axiomatically – this is one of the accepted moral facts. Other institutions such as government and religious worship were historically justified by analogy to the family – the state, and organised society, has traditionally borrowed the authority of the family rather than the other way about. Nor do most people conceive of themselves as being “licensed” by the state to be a parent. To the contrary, they believe that various state child protection activities are only licensed *to* the state by virtue of the state being in loco parentis – that it is only the delinquency or inability of the parents in carrying out their accepted duties which justifies any interference in the family at all.

So your argument seems to start from: “How good does the family need to be for the society (i.e. the state) to allow parents this power and authority over their children?”

But most people would say “How bad does a family have to be before the state – or anyone else – is justified in interfering?”

Those are two very, very different things.

“we offer up arguments and ideas for public debate, and while we hope people will (unlike My Limbaugh and, apparently, you) think carefully about what we come up with, and present counter-arguments, and come up with their own arguments”

The problem with this, is it essentially asks for a fresh political debate over every privilege that the family already has. Why would they agree to this?

Since the current social and political settlement is that the family is presumptively good and interference requires justification, suggesting it could or should be justified on a different basis is rightly seen as a threat to this status. You may think you are making a neutral enquiry – I disagree, all logical systems embed their conclusions in their premises, so there is no such thing – but even if it were so, why should they agree to start from a neutral position when they already have the advantage?

RL is not making counter-arguments because he doesn’t need to. I – actually – am, because as I said I am interested in the subject, and a recovering utilitarian.

All the best, Ben

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Harry 05.14.15 at 12:58 pm

Right, because Rush Limbaugh is not interested in having reasoned justification for his beliefs. That’s fine by me — I am interested in people who want to have true moral beliefs and anyone who wants to needs to have reasons for them or to be stunningly lucky (because, actually, morality is very complex, as a moment’s thought about any dilemma you have every faced makes obvious).

Your ‘two very different things’ (questions) have, in fact, exactly the same answer. (They are equivalent, not very different, questions. Our book offers an answer to both those questions. It might be a wrong answer — in fact, as with any attempt to answer any difficult questions, it probably is wrong (to some extent, in some ways).

No philosopher thinks that the fact they have worked out an answer is enough to replace existing heuristics. They offer their answers as resources for other people who want to think better and more carefully, and have truer beliefs, about the matter at hand to use in their own thinking about it. People can choose not to do that. And they can choose to try and stop others from doing it, by misrepresenting the ideas and scorning people for attempting to think better.

On education/indoctrination. You can use those words however you like. Attempts to distinguish them are interesting for people who want to ensure that children are educated (whatever that means) in ways that enable them to process information and ideas rationally but authentically, rather than just believing whatever their teachers/parents do. If you are not interested in that, that’s your choice, but if you are, then you need some sort of conceptual and normative distinction (and you might use different words, of course).

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Ogden Wernstrom 05.14.15 at 3:59 pm

Map Maker 05.12.15 at 1:24 pm

banning elite religious/private schooling in the hopes of making a more egalitarian society is pretty sick.

engels 05.13.15 at 10:15 am:

Word.

Yes, we can’t have another Finland, with all that equality-of-opportunity emphasis.

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Ben 05.14.15 at 4:27 pm

“Your ‘two very different things’ (questions) have, in fact, exactly the same answer. (They are equivalent, not very different, questions.”

The same applies to “innocent until proven guilty” and “guilty until proven innocent”. That does not mean they are interchangeable for practical purposes.

All the best, Ben

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Bufflars 05.14.15 at 6:38 pm

@27 dr ngo

Did they at least have baby blue jackboots?

I think you’re thinking of the totally fabulous jackbooted thugs that come and force straight people to gay marry.

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Lenoxus 05.15.15 at 12:26 am

Psychologist Scott Alexander of the the nearly-anagrammatic Slate Star Codex touched on some of the issues that have been raised by this fascinating discussion in a science fiction story, although that’s not quite the main point of the piece.

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reason 05.15.15 at 9:03 am

Ben,
I think those heuristics you are claiming as a starting point are:
1. not universal
2. constantly changing and/or being challenged.

I don’t think it works as you think it does. What was it Keynes said?

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” Ideas matter.

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