Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I go entire days without feeling the urge to beat anyone with a stick

Gracchi takes issue with my post defending the advertising industry from the National Union of Teachers' attempt to lay just about every problem in the modern world at their door. He puts a lot of words in my mouth.

I never lambasted parents at all and "morally flaccid" "liberal parents" are entirely his creation, not mine. Instead I argued that parents' will to resist their childrens' pestering is weak; very different to suggesting they are, in general, weak. I sought to explain why parents struggle to resist pester power. The explanation I settled on was not some deficit in parents, or any group of parents, but an intellectual climate that told them they shouldn't assert moral values.

Next, he accuses me of supporting parents assaulting their children. At this stage I was tempted to stop reading his post and blog. Apparently this is the natural conclusion of some deep-rooted love of authority that he has discovered in me. He even includes this ludicrous little section: "how can it be consistant to call hitting an adult with a stick assault and hitting a child with a stick discipline." I write a post that argues for parents "telling - for example - their nine year-old that dressing like Christina Aguilera isn't remotely appropriate" and he leaps from there to assault with a stick!

I'm not engaging in the corporal punishment argument. I don't think I'd support bringing it back. Those that do don't deserve his calumny though. He seems to have missed the difference between punishment and assault. Just as imprisonment isn't kidnapping corporal punishment isn't assault.

Before I move on I've just quickly got to deal with the idea that being inconsistent between adults and children is some kind of problem.

Children and adults are different and warrant different treatment. Very moderate people can see this. Those that believe in an age of consent, a minimum age for voting and for smoking and compulsory education among other things. They are all inconsistent impositions of adult authority upon children that are not visited upon adults and therefore fail Gracchi's test.

The argument that I'm really after 'authority' rather than morality is not only offensive when taken to the extreme he takes it but only remotely plausible if you entirely ignore the actual examples I used of immoral behaviour - which aren't just anything that the parent disagrees with. Let's return to the more moderate identification of the love of parental authority he claims to have discovered in my post.

"Lets start with the idea that the power of pestering represents the decline of morality- I think its worth distinguishing in this area two important concepts: morality and authority. The power of pestering represents the decline of the second of those concepts, but not the decline of the first. If for instance, as Chris Dillow argues, sympathy is the basis for secular morality (and Matt lest anyone need reminding is an avowed secularist- in that he does not decline his morality from theology) then acknowledging the power of the pester and relinquishing authority may be a moral response."

I'm not calling for a generalised imposition of parental authority on their children. Just in the cases where it is clearly needed. The consequences of pester power when it gets excessive weren't described in detail in my post as the NUT's case that I was rebutting was predicated upon them. Here are a couple of examples from the NUT study:

"Children are bombarded with "unrealistic and unachievable images" of what they should look like, leading to an increase in anorexia, bulimia and eating disorders.


The rise in childhood obesity and illnesses such as the early onset of type 2 diabetes"

If Gracchi is arguing that these are some kind of healthy expression that parents shouldn't be using their authority to quash then he's truly lost perspective. If he can see no reason beyond a blanket desire to enshrine parental authority behind my desire to prevent children becoming sexualised, obese or anorexic then I'm a little alarmed.

One can be entirely sympathetic with your children but see that overt sexualisation while they're young is awful. That their innocence is worth defending from the world. In fact, I'd suggest that to not see that what they want is not necessarily what is best for them - while they are a child, where paternalism is appropriate - is a failure to be truly sympathetic. It is just as unsympathetic to fail to see that they might have trouble controlling their weight and be grateful - either at the time or later - for parents being firm and saving them from obesity.

His final argument is that the ability of parents to control their children is undermined by advertising and other technological and social changes reducing inequalities of information between children and parents that are at the root of parental authority. This argument is more plausible but is what I set out to rebut in my last post. Contrary to Gracchi's assertion I don't actually think that declining parental authority is the problem. As such, children having more information than they used to isn't the problem either.

Instead, I think that parents need to use the authority they do have to prevent their children being exploited. All of the problems of 'pester power' that the NUT identified (Gracchi's analysis actually requires him to rebut them as well as myself) will evaporate if parents make clear that they will not allow their children to be exploited. This would, in the past, have been the most natural thing in the world. Unfortunately, any imposition by adults on their children is now conflated with tyranny by relativism, Gracchi provides a handy example of how that conflation proceeds.

Finally, I have to pull this paragraph out:

"Ultimately this reflects back on a much older process- the process by which the child converted from being unpaid labour on a peasant farm- to being a precious entity by which its parents are evaluated. In that change swinging through the centuries, we can see the roots of Matt's angst about declining authority."

I'm honestly baffled at the idea that my arguments were all masking an esoteric call to defend some lost pool of child labour.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Not being a blogosphere-addict, I don't know who Gracci is, or how highly rated his/her blogs are, but I have to say their inferences are downright bizarre.

I didn't agree with every last sentence of your original post, Matt, but I thought the overall spirit of it was fairly reasonable and not hiding an ajenda of wanting a return to child labour (!).