A review of James Dobson’s Dare to Discipline from an Objectivist viewpoint.

13 05 2012

Updated March 2014

Recently I read a book called “Dare to Discipline” 1977 by James Dobson, a Christian author.  I
found it very interesting to get inside Dobsen’s Christian mindset and the book actually had some good information in the early chapters.  I mostlydisagree with this book but it wasn’t as bad as you might think and reminded me somewhat of my own upbringing.

In the early chapters, the basic principle is that when a young child challenges the authority of a parent showing defiance and disrespect, this challenge must be decisively “won” by the parent.  He states that the ultimate paradox of raising children is that children want to be controlled but need to be sure their parent is up to the task of controlling them. I think there is some truth to this idea.  Perhaps this idea can be justified in the following manner:
There are certain laws of nature and certain characteristics of a human being that cannot be willed away.  Reality has a certain nature and human beings have certain characteristics.  Therefore reality itself sets limits and demands on our lives at all ages.  In this sense, we must all follow “rules” like those imposed on children.
I think a parent’s discipline can teach a young child that they cannot simply do what they feel like in every waking moment.  The child relies on the parent for their survival.  And parental discipline can ultimately help a child develop their own self control and self discipline.
So a parent or classroom teacher should be on the lookout for when a young child (from the age of 18 months to early teens) “clenches their fist”, “lowers their head” and willfully defies parental or school authority, attempting to impose their will on others via tantrums or name calling and attempts to do what they feel like at the expense of their care takers.  This behaviour should be dealt with promptly and Dobson also recommends spanking for young children.  (I’m not really sure what to think on spanking but I don’t think it’s a major problem for young children – Yes, I was spanked as a young child).

<Update: As a father I have never spanked my child ever and I am against doing this.>

In typical Christian fashion, Dobson often appeals to tradition and the bible as the ultimate explanations for his view point.  He also sometimes justifies his viewpoint by appealing to the will of the majority.  Once again I was disappointed to see how Christians who are opposed to the progressive movement and left wing politics justify their viewpoints in such an intellectually weak manner.  Another instance of this intellectual weakness is observed in Dobsen’s occasional pragmatism.  He often justifies his opinions by appealing to the middle ground and writes off approaches that he sees as being extreme.  For example, rather that viewing A.S Neill’s Summerhill school as being anarchistic, he claims this school encourages an extreme in “freedom”. Admittedly, Dobson isn’t alone here, many researchers in pedagogy talk about a continuum of classroom control ranging from authoritarian to Laissez faire.  They search for the golden mean in between these two extremes, often referred to as democratic.  I don’t think this way of viewing the problem of classroom control gets to the root of the issues.  An anarchistic environment where children can run around chaotically, vandalizing and disrupting learning violates the rights of the teacher and the school to run classes as they see fit.  These children are forcing disruption and time wasting on the teacher and the students who want to learn and behave.  This isn’t an extreme of freedom.  It’s an absence of freedom where property rights are trampled on.
Another example of this pragmatism can be seen when Dobsen says it’s possible for a parent to “love” a child too much.  What he really means is that you shouldn’t spoil children and abdicate on the parental duty to discipline and control certain bad behaviour in children.  A loving parent wants to raise healthy, productive children.  Therefore, once aware of the dangers of constantly bowing to the whims of their children, a loving parent will not spoil their child.

Dobsen believes the very early years of childhood at crucial to developing self discipline and control.  He explicitly recommends indoctrinating young children into one’s religious beliefs.  There is an almost deterministic attitude here, that emphasizes the environmental (particularly parental) influences on young children.  It seems that Dobson holds little hope in a person’s ability to change their personality and morality in late teenage and early adulthood years.  There may be something to this but at least in my experience, I am an exception.  I discovered Objectivism when I was 26 years old and I changed my ideology.  I was indoctrinated into Christianity and survived fairly intact.  I believe many psychologists sweep volition under that carpet.  They are not overly concerned about an individual’s efforts in shaping their personality and the power of free will.

Dobson is a big fan of Behaviourism.  He believes in reward and punishment; in positive and negative conditioning.  It’s easy to see why he can be deterministic.  I like to think about conditioning as a process of induction.  I think human brains are tuned to observe what works and stick to it.  To experience the effects of their experiences and learn from them.  So in this sense there is certainly something to Behaviourism without the need for deterministic beliefs.

He places a large emphasis on self esteem arising from how one is viewed by one’s peers.  Dobson is of course not alone here.  Many psychologists generally emphasize the importance of acceptance, belonging and peer approval.  For example, Alfred Adler states that belonging is the basic motivation. I personally believe living would be the basic motivation.  But I’m confused on this issue.  I suspect peer approval is quite influential on young children (but not in adults).  This is something I need to look into more.

Another thing that struck me was the reversal of cause and effect in the mind of Dobson.  This was especially apparent in the chapters detailing his view on the importance of sex as a driver of morality.  Dobson doesn’t believe humans have instincts and believes that all behaviour is learned (or conditioned more like it).  But his focus on sex as driving morality seems ironically similar to Freud’s views on the importance of sexual instincts.  He thinks that productivity and creativity occur in societies because they have banned premarital sex i.e. Monogomous relationships will lead to a man being productive because he has to provide for his family.  Dobsen also thinks sexual promiscuity has risen because of the “manipulative” media not because the media is responding to the wants of the culture.
In reality, there is a problem with whim-worship in our culture (hedonism).  Many people follow the path of attempting to find happiness through momentary acts of sensory pleasures as opposed to a long term approach to living whereby one attempts to fulfill the ongoing requirements of life.  A productive, long-range focus will lead to a person treating sexual relationships seriously.  Dobson has reversed cause and effect.  He believes attempting to force your kids to remain virgins until they are married will result in them being more productive and sensible.  I say that productive, sensible people can see the value in loving, long term relationships.

The book has several biblical quotes.  The following one really struck me in demonstrating the difference between the Christian view on morality and Objectivist ethics:

In 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (LB) Paul warns, ” You may as well know this too, Timothy, that in the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian. For people will love only themselves and their money; they will be proud and boastful, sneering at God, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful to them, and thoroughly bad. They will be hardheaded and never give in to others; they will be constant liars and troublemakers and will think nothing of immorality. They will be rough and cruel, and sneer at those who try to be good. They will betray their friends; they will be hotheaded, puffed up with pride, and prefer good times to worshiping God. They will go to church, yes, but they won’t really believe anything they hear. Don’t be taken in by people like that .”

Note this line at the start of the verse:

“For people will love only themselves and their money; they will be proud and boastful

For an Objectivist like myself this passage seems so absurd.  How could someone who loves and cares for themselves and their family possibly be rough, cruel, hotheaded, ungrateful, dishonest etc?

Considering that one’s life and happiness requires material possessions in order to be sustained, why is it evil to “love money”?

Why is it evil to by proud?  Should we hate ourselves? What is wrong with feeling happy for one’s achievements?

And why equate being proud with being boastful?  Boasting is generally a sign of a lack of self esteem.  A need for approval from others or an axious desire to always be “one up” on others. This is not at all how I think of pride.

Christianity.  It’s warped.  But it’s still interesting.

Why do we have business trading hours regulations?

4 04 2012

A friend sent me a link to a typically idiotic article in a mainstream newspaper denoucing deregulation of trading hours.

I think he does this just to rile me up:) Anyway, here’s my response:

The biggest problem with all these news stories is that no one cares about freedom and the right to one’s life. This language is not well understood by the general public and not even discussed most of the time.

Property rights protections can be derived from the right to your life because people need to work to live and they need material goods and services to live (to survive and prosper). These are facts of reality. And despite what many people think, having material possessions (they call it being materialistic) is not evil. Sometimes I wish people would practice their ridiculous morality consistently and see how long they survive without eating, or drinking or wearing clothes or having a house etc.
Although in reality, this would be very sad indeed. A tragic example is the man George Price, a clever scientist who tried to practice altruism consistently with disastrous consequences. Very interesting but very tragic life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_R._Price

The issue is this. Why can’t people open their shops when they want? It’s not about central planning like so many politicians think. It’s about freedom and the individuals whose lives are actually affected by these destructive laws.

Even those on the correct side of deregulating the trading hours laws don’t argue it right. Their arguments are utilitarian/pragmatist – generally some BS about how it’s for the good of society. Really, it’s an issue of individual rights and freedom. What is wrong with letting people live how they want to live? Why are we all assumed to be so inherently evil and pathetic that we aren’t even allowed to operate a shop in the manner we wish without being at the mercy of some parasitic, destructive bureaucrat? This is an abuse of government power. There are so many people out there who seem to think it’s perfectly OK to use police force to get people to do what they think they should do. It’s no wonder so many people are hating on each other these days. Everyone has to keep looking over their shoulder in case their nosy neighbour decides to dob them in to the authorities. It’s like a watered down version of East Germany and we all know how well that turned out. Perhaps people think some poison is necessary or even good for them. But poison is poison, pure and simple. There’s no happy medium when it comes to initiating force against others. It’s evil and it’s the behaviour of a dog, not the optimal behaviour of human beings. Most animals rape. Humans ask. This is how we work because we are the animals that live by using our intellect. We have the capacity for reason, volition, self-awareness, self control etc that all other animals on earth at least, don’t use as their primary means of living. People seem to think it’s OK to be raped in the face by their governments! Everyone thinks it’s their right to add their two ill thought out cents on every issue as if their opinion matters. We are fast becoming a nation of opinionated mor#ns just like the worst of what you see in the USA.

If people don’t want to celebrate Easter or if they make the judgement that they’d be better of working on that day because they could make a fortune, what’s wrong with that? How many people already try to avoid school holiday periods when traveling so it’s not as busy? What’s wrong with that? Why can’t people choose when they take their holidays? What’s wrong with that? Answer: Nothing. The alternative is having some overlord tell you how to live your life. I wish people would stand up and tell politicians who think it’s OK to violate our right to life to piss off and get a real job.

How dare some ignorant and arrogant journalist at the Age newspaper tell people how to run their shops. (The Age is a typically pathetic newspaper that could only be useful in those rare emergencies when the shops run out of toilet paper).

Every person who has a shop should be allowed to open it whenever they want.

There may be the rare instance when having a shop open at weird hours may violate another person’s right to their life in which case the authorities would have the right to intervene. For example if you opened up a shop in a quiet suburb and your shop was extremely noisy and you wanted to trade at 3am – then a noise limit would be justifiable because you are forcing noise into someone else’s property (ie: you’re initiating force). This is similar to how police should come and check on an out of control house party that’s threatening the safety of neighbouring properties – but that’s about all I could think of and none of this contradicts the principles of freedom and individual rights.

Why Art Became Ugly by Stephen Hicks

11 02 2012


…………Brilliant article

Chemist: Stanislao Cannizzaro (1826 -1910)

12 01 2012

Recently I read a very good paper that all of those trained in chemistry should read IMO. The paper is briefly discussed in Harriman’s book, The Logical Leap

Sketch of a course of chemical philosophy (1858).
I have linked to the PDF version of the article.

Ask a recent chemistry graduate from a university this question: How did scientists prove that matter was made of atoms? How do we really know things are made of atoms?
Tell them that the scientific world basically agreed this was the case in the middle of the 19th century. ie: Long before the invention of our advanced spectroscopy instruments, X-ray diffraction, electron microscopes, nuclear magnetic resonance etc. These instruments would perhaps not have even been developed to their current day levels without atomic theory because there would have probably been less interest in the types of instruments that investigate the behaviour of atoms if people didn’t believe atoms existed.
The human eye sees wavelengths of light as small as about 390 nm. But an atom is over 1000 X smaller than that and obviously cannot be directly perceived with our eyes alone.

When I graduated 9 years ago, I couldn’t have answered this question. Seems like it should be a pretty easy thing to answer doesn’t it? But the way science is taught in Australian schools is a hodge-podge of Constructivist BS which often amounts to nothing more than indoctrination. Students unfortunately don’t learn about how scientists validated atomic theory. I have come across academic pedagogues who dispute the idea that teaching science history necessarily aids in scientific understanding. However a paper like this demonstrates the power of an investigation into the essentials of science history. Because when studying science, the scientific method itself, the method of achieving accurate knowledge of physical reality is far more important than the results themselves. Once you have the method, it can be applied to any area of science. And by investigating the type of work needed, the disagreements that occurred, the errors that were made, students can see for themselves the process of scientific method at work.
They no longer just believe that everything is made of atoms on faith – everyone knows that right? They are encouraged to stop and check this seemingly obvious assumption. They can independently validate the theory for themselves. The process of scientific discovery has been highlighted and they aren’t just required to accept theories from the Oracle of Science. They see what was required to validate atomic theory and can appreciate the brilliance of the great scientists and their intellectual determination and rigor. So without even necessarily focusing on the topic of scientific method, they are nevertheless investigating it and coming to appreciate its importance.

So thank you Cannizzaro! 🙂

Cannizzaro’s paper answers the question. It’s very interesting and has inspired me to go look up some of the original work done by Avagadro, Dumas, Ampere, Dalton and Gerhardt.

More on the destructive environmentalist bandwagon

12 01 2012

Once again the parasite Tim Flannery has been exposed for making a completely false claim about the environment. See this article of Andrew Bolt’s blog.

Bolt also links to another good article: On IPCCs exaggerated climate sensitivity and the emperor’s new clothes

I wish the general public would take much more note of predictions made by authorities and hold them accountable when they fail massively.

There are several areas where mainstream beliefs are demonstrably wrong. Two examples are Keynesian-inspired economic theories and climate change science.

If the public are authority addicted and refuse to look at facts but prefer to suspend their judgment and worship their false political idols, then there’s not much that can be done. And eventually you get a situation like the very sad state of North Korea or Syria or Zimbabwe or any number of examples showing where an authoritarian government leads.

But I believe human beings are not as stupid as their authorities assume them to be. I believe that if more people read articles like this where they are reminded just how delusional and completely off-target many present day authorities are, then most of them are honest enough to look at the facts and realize something’s up.

After all, government action is not something to be taken lightly. This is obvious if you have any knowledge of history but unfortunately most people don’t seem to realize this. Government is the monopoly agency of force. Of course such an entity is necessary to deal with people initiating force on others (eg/ crimes like murder, fraud, theft etc) and as such any country should have a strong police force and legal system. But clearly, government is very different to a business which cannot force you to buy their product or make you do what they want (without government regulation at least, ie: an element of fascism and subsequent cronyism).
So it is quite depressing to see so many in our society who call for ever more government intrusion. And this is the real danger of environmentalism. It’s basically an excuse for socialist or fascist legislation which is always harmful to business and therefore to human life and prosperity. The world-wide trend arguably over the last 200 years has been towards ever increasing fascism and socialism (until countries implode). I am 31 years old and I think most people from my generation don’t know any different. They are confused, ignorant and are conditioned by popular culture and their substandard schools to believe that business, at least “big” business is evil. They have a hard time thinking independently and in their minds their is no alternative except to run like a crying little baby believing in the fantasy that government force can and should fix their problems. A very sad state of affairs that always ends badly.

We need a culture where people stand up for the rights of individuals. And a culture where people are quick to recognize the danger of political movements like environmentalism. Instead most people have gleefully jumped on the environmentalist bandwagon like a herd of sheep jumping on the truck headed to the slaughter house. Meanwhile, our roads get worse, hospitals are more over-crowded than ever, money is thrown down the drain by governments spending on unnecessary desalination plants and illiteracy is on the rise even with technological advances and more education expenditure. The common factor here is government.

What commodity is more important than any other? Arguably food supply. Human starvation is an appalling thing, so shouldn’t the government socialize the food industry to make sure everyone eats? No. Historically every historical instance of significant government intrusion into the food industry resulted in rationing followed by starvation. This observation highlights the principle that socialism and fascism are always economically destructive compared to freer societies. No wonder roads, healthcare and education are suffering so much, they are industries held back by high levels of government ownership and regulation, ie: government interference. No wonder the computer industry has thrived over the last 30 years – an area that has much less government intrusion. No wonder Australian cities are subjected to water restrictions (in Australia, water supply is socialized). The masses suffer unnecessarily.

Unfortunately in our dependent, authority addicted culture, the worse a problem gets due to the legislation of idiot politicians, the more secure their jobs become. The politicians benefit, and the people suffer. A maddening injustice. The useless Tim Flannery is not held accountable for his false claims. He’s been rewarded.

As an ex-research scientist, (I lost my job because I worked for an international company that shut down their Australian operations due to the global financial crises and I have now changed to a more rewarding career). I have observed many scientists with poor intellects who seem to operate on the level of an automaton and would be far better suited to a routine factory job. I’ve seen many scientist who are intellectually helpless when it comes to thinking scientifically and problem solving. Many times, I’ve been appalled by the ineptitude of PhD graduates whom I have had to help deal with very basic problems.
It really sucks that the intellectual standard is so low in current Australian science – Tim Flannery certainly proves my point. I don’t think it has to be this way.

Death Threats should rightly be illegal

9 01 2012

For future reference I have posted a response to John Humphrey’s “Defending Death Threats” article which appeared on the Thoughts on Freedom Blog 18 Dec 2010.
Hopefully some politically minded person may find an Objectivist approach to this topic makes far more sense than John’s article.

John said: “The moral reason to allow the above sort of rants is that Graeme hasn’t actually directly hurt anybody with his rant, nor has he tried to coerce anybody (by saying “do XYZ, or else””

It’s very easy to conceive of a situation where speech could cause harm. eg/ Fraud.
But John is being careful to say that causing harm while immoral, shouldn’t necessarily be illegal. Agreed? I too agree. Say I tell a perfectly sound of mind person to jump off a tall building and they go all crazy and actually do it with disastrous consequences – this does not mean I should have been censored by the law.

However if the harm was effectively forced onto another without their consent, then it is no longer simply immoral, it should be illegal, eg/ if I pushed the person off the building. Agreed?

John’s position appears to be that speech by it’s nature cannot be an initiation of force. Yes/No?

Where we differ is demonstrated by the classic yelling “fire” in a crowded theater example right?
I think this is an initiation of force and should be illegal – John doesn’t.
Say a mother hears my shout of “fire”, picks up her baby and runs out the theater. But there’s a big crowd pushing and shoving at the door and she drops her baby and its arm breaks.
I believe I have initiated force against the mother. Accordingly the law should make me pay the medical costs for that baby and that I should also be charged for threatening others. Whereas John wouldn’t agree. Perhaps John would argue that the mother shouldn’t believe everything she hears? Feel free to elaborate.
Personally I suspect there’s a mind/body dichotomy here. After all the physical presence of sound waves in the air don’t in of themselves constitute an act of force.

Ideas themselves and speech ie: spoken or written ideas, are linked to physical action. ie: The mind and the body are always interlinked in reality, even though we can separate them as different conceptual categories. Speech involves certain actions and ideas themselves also prompt actions. I think it’s easy to show that speech can effectively be an initiation of physical force.
Eg/ A man approaches me in a dark alley and says, “give me your wallet or else I will kill you”. Say I can’t see if he’s got a weapon or not so as to keep this on a level of speech only. in John’s words, this man “hasn’t actually directly hurt anybody”.
But I’m not going to wait and see if he means it or not. I must take his threat seriously because if I don’t I could be dead. This man has initiated force against me – and this death threat itself should be illegal. My life is the ultimate principle guiding the conditions of freedom, and the limits to free speech should be defined based on the fact that my right to my life the fundamental. Free speech is a necessary condition to a free society, but it is not the most fundamental principle to freedom and it has limits.

It’s worth noting that the ability to speak freely presupposes the physical means and therefore property. If free speech is an absolute right, then logically some psycho should legally be allowed to force his way into my house and crap on about white supremacy for as long as he pleases.

For example/ A noisy left-wing protest at a university which shuts down the talk of an invited guest who advocates capitalism. Say the protestors enter the lecture theater during the speech and start chanting and shouting so no one can hear the talk. Using speech they have shut this guy down.
This would be a property rights violation by the protestors against the university. The protestors do not have the right to do what they please in buildings they do not own or without the owners permission. They have every right to speak publicly with the approval of property owners or to write their objections in publications willing to print their opinion or to start their own publication. They can preach whatever foul, twisted ideas they have which if followed could result in countless deaths – but using their property. Here I am agreeing with John. It would be ridiculous to think that a government is capable of or should control the spread of ideas themselves. This would violate a person’s right to their life because human beings are volitional. Knowledge is not by its nature a matter of authority or force, it is an impossible fantasy to think human beings would be better off with any level of censorship of ideas themselves. However it does not follow from this fact that speech cannot be used to initiate force.

Finally one more example. Say I own a store which has a big window on the the street frontage. This is a busy street (note the street is not my property of course) in the city and all sorts of people walk down this street as part of their daily lives. I think it should be illegal to put up a big poster of a naked, mutilated dead body in the window of my shop, or to have hard-core porn showing on a big TV in my shop window. Even though I should be allowed to purchase and watch this material myself and even though I am using my property to do this – anyone who walks past would have real difficulty in avoiding seeing my displays. I am effectively forcing my “speech” onto passers-by many of whom would be offended. This is a similar principle to justifying laws against making excessive noise forcibly disturbing others on property you don’t own like your neighbours.

Incidentally, I have a brief comment specifically on the Bolt incident. Admittedly I didn’t look into this incident in any detail when it occurred. My understanding is that Bolt was ridiculing people who claim to be Aboriginal when they don’t look Aboriginal. He, like me probably hates the way Aboriginals are treated differently by the law. And I suspect that he thinks that if the law insists on this racism, then shouldn’t there be an objective standard of proof to show you are Aboriginal rather than being able to just assert you are an Aboriginal and receive extra welfare money or be favored in job applications? I don’t know the details or even care – my position is one law for all adult individuals. I think it is immoral and harmful to base legislation on any collective grouping of people above individuals ie: race, sex, class etc.
From the very little information I saw, the result was a clear injustice towards Bolt. And I believe the Victorian Racial Vilification Act violates the right to free speech, and should probably be completely repealed.
The government has failed in its role of protecting freedom and not surprisingly this legislation will and has resulted in immoral, unjust and impractical consequences.

Gay marriage ad.

5 12 2011

Hat tip to Diana Hsieh – she’s already posted this video.  But I loved it, so I’m adding it to my blog.  🙂