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 Art Became Ugly by Stephen Hicks

11 02 2012


…………Brilliant article

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.

LTE – Carbon Tax

11 07 2011

I have been ridiculously busy this year, running a new business, studying full time (only for one year thankfully), playing in several bands, getting married, and more.
Blogging has been light and will probably continue to be light.

I am someone who is drawn to philosophical, political, economic and legal issues even though I specialize in none of these fields.  But I have actually been attempting to avoid reading the news this year.  As I am getting older I think I’m becoming more realistic about what social changes I can expect to see in my lifetime and quite frankly I don’t see much value in following the news closely.  Reading the paper leaves my depressed,  seeing how so many of my fellow citizens “think”.  And as for politicians, I find it hard to even consider them human.  It’s quite hard to find a politician these days with ideology close to Objectivism and just as hard to find a politician with intellectual abilities worthy of any respect.  Personally I think being a politician would be a waste of time and would be self destructive.  I think political activism in other forms is fine, but cultural change occurs from bottom up, not the top down.

Anyway, Australians are currently being bombarded by Carbon Tax propaganda (which they are forced to pay for of course).

So I thought I’d write a quick LTE:

Any Australian who thinks they will in the long run be better off under a carbon tax is mistaken.  In order to consume, one must first produce.  This is simply a fact of nature.  To penalize big producers, inevitably penalizes consumers.    To think that Australians could somehow benefit from the burden of even more bureaucratic wealth redistribution is absurd.  Time and time again government officials are shown to be economically incompetent and their economic predictions false, yet unfortunately people still cling to these authorities like desperate drug addicts.  Australians will suffer but most won’t even be aware their life could have been better, because the productive potential of Australian business will not be seen.  The carbon tax is simply another leech vying for position on a dying Australia that is running out of room to host such parasitic measures.

While Ju-liar Gillard’s claim that 9/10 Australians will be better off under a carbon tax is absolute nonsense (and horribly utilitarian), there is one thing I liked about this speech.
I’m glad that the Labor party is attempting to sell this tax based on “benefits” to Australians, as opposed to some kind of altruistic justification.  It’s impossible not to be egoistic to some degree (without immediately killing yourself) but perhaps this strategy indicates many Australians are more rationally egoistic than I give them credit for.

Highly recommended podcast – radiolab

23 06 2011

I enjoy these episodes for their entertainment value.

This one is particularly good:  http://www.radiolab.org/2010/dec/14/

The podcast investigates the nature of moral “good”.  Good is equated with altruism and selflessness (a common mistake), but the presenters don’t hide this fact.  So in effect the show should have been titled “altruism”, and this is why it is interesting.  I was particularly fascinated by the section on George Price.  see “The price of altruism

A Quick Update

30 11 2010

Readers of my blog may have noticed I’ve been awfully quiet lately.  This will probably continue for the rest of the year.  I’ve been very busy setting up a secondary part time business.

For any readers interested in finding out more about Objectivism, it seems that the new site http://objectivistanswers.com is getting a fair amount of traffic and discussion lately.  So check it out and feel free to ask a tough question.


Environmentalist ideology well entrenched in Australia

29 10 2010

There are two very concerning items that came to my attention this week in the sick sad world of politics.  They have been covered in the press quite well but have been met with apathy by most in the public. 

The first bit of news is that Al Gore’s (I thought widely discredited) movie, An Inconvenient Truth will be added to the Australian school curriculum.  See article.

Andrew Bolt covered the issue quite well with this statement:

“The film is error-riddled and alarmist, and the work of a prize hypocrite and deceiver who dodges any attempt to hold him to account. Even an otherwise sympathetic British judge says the film contains so many errors that it should not be used in classrooms without a health warning.”

So the brain washing and indoctrination continues in Australian schools.  Surprise, surprise.  I have previously written about what I think of indoctrinating school kids on political issues here.

And the second item of concern for this week:

Apparently 19% of Victorian voters are now intending to vote Green.  That means almost 1 in 5 people in the state I grew up in think its a good idea to vote for the Greens!  OMFG.  This mirrors my own experience with friends I chat to. 

Hopefully next week will bring some brighter news…………..