Specific Questions
by Elliot Temple
Originally written for the TCS List, on Feb 18, 2002, at 10:11 PM, Elliot Temple wrote:

There seem to be a lot of specific questions about TCS in particular situations.

Here's an example:

A post wrote:
>> Since there are some very strong opinions about breastfeeding/bottlefeeding, I am curious as to what TCS would advocate in this area.<<

And another poster wrote:

>> What do some of you consider the amount of money that is the childrens' right?<<

Or to make some up:

Which foods should I give my kids?
What about candy, isn't that special?

Should I let my kids watch TV?
Even that show I think is really awful?
Even porn?

Should I really let my kids have a cell phone at a young age?

Should I let my kids do dangerous activities?
What about swimming, they could drown! One time when I was little I developed a fear of swimming, and I feel like something is wrong when I see them swim

This could clearly go on and on and on.

Some people request to be informed of a TCS position on an issue. TCS is consistent with the theory that any particular food, or game, or hobby is good, and TCS is also consistent with the theory that the same food, game, or hobby is bad. More specifically, TCS is consistent with the theory that TV is great, and with the theory that TV is evil. TCS is consistent with the theory that books are evil, and the theory that books are good. etc etc

I feel I should note this is not to say that being a rational person is consistent with all these theories. I am in no way advocating relativism, there are right answers. However, the point is that TCS itself does not depend on what the right answers are. They are determined not by reading an official list of TCS positions, but by...well read some Popper or Beginning of Infinity, there are better writers on rationality than I.

What TCS says is to *help children get what they want* If your child wants to watch TV, it doesn't matter if TV is good or bad, they can watch it. I almost wrote "they should be allowed to watch it" however, as others have pointed out in the past, you don't "allow" your child to do anything, b/c you don't have any right to
control your child.

Again, if your child wants to read a book, it doesn't matter if books are good or bad, they can read it.

If you feel something is bad, TV, books, or anything else, the solution is to explain your theory to your child, to the extent s/he wants to hear it. (In fact, if your feelings are good or neutral, you should also offer any advice on the subject your child might like!) When someone is truly bad, it tends to be very easy to convince your child so. For example, its easy to get your child not to jump off the roof by explaining it will hurt a lot. It's easy to get hir to wait until a break in traffic to cross the street, by explaining about getting hit by cars, and how little fun that would be.

If you have a good relationship, and your theory is not ludicrous, likely s/he will want to hear it, so please don't ask "What if my child won't listen to me?" If s/he won't, it's gonna be hard b/c s/he doesn't trust you, but that *does not justify coercion* which would only make matters even worse.

Questions about the value of this or that aren't strictly about TCS. However, there are a lot of common areas that kids are coerced in, so a lot of TCSers like to fight against them, providing better ideas. This is all well and good; I feel it's great for rational people to actively point out flaws in others' thinking, and help counter misconceptions. However, its important to keep in mind that a revelation that TV and books are both harmful, based on some new theory no one thought of, would in no way cast doubt on TCS itself. And the correct action would be to explain this new theory to your children, so that they too can see the harm of TV and books, and they will choose to avoid them (if the new theory is more convincing than their current theory that both are great).

I don't think TCS *can* have a list of official positions. The position is that good things are good**, bad things are bad, and it's up to your child, using your advice, to decide. Deciding for your child would pass anti-rationalities on. How one decides what's good and bad is a separate issue, albeit a very important one.

One thing people can do is make suggestions, provide theories others might like, and give advice. Asking to be told what to do is silly!
Use your theories, or ask for *ideas*.

So, in conclusion, I'm trying to say that all the specific questions are (or should be) requests for ideas on a subject, new theories that might be superior to your current ones. They can't be a request for someone to point out "TCS says X" or some other authoritative statement for those wouldn't be useful. And if you suddenly realize your question is "Can someone help me think of reasons to give my child to convince hir that X is bad, b/c mine have all failed?" perhaps you'll consider that your child may be right.

**You might exlaim: "If TCS says that good things are good, it can't be wrong!"
I would have to agree with you. Laughing

(Read more of Elliot Temple's writing at Fallible Ideas )