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The church of Liberalism sends out a new encyclical

Zippy has put up a number of really interesting posts about liberalism, and he and I have kicked around our different perceptions of liberalism in another thread here. To tell you the truth, I can't always tell how much we disagree. I know we agree about a lot about liberalism, and sometimes I think we're saying the same thing in different ways.

But I could not not link to this story, which definitely seems pertinent to the subject.

In the UK, a new pamphlet is coming out from the government's "children's minister" that tells parents that they should not try to convince their children about sexual ethics when discussing sex with them. Says the pamphlet,

Discussing your values with your teenagers will help them to form their own. Remember, though, that trying to convince them of what’s right and wrong may discourage them from being open
That's really helpful. Gee, I never thought of that. Of course, my kids are going to fornicate like crazy regardless of what I say, and even so much as trying to convince them of what's right and wrong might have the unintended effect of preventing them from telling me about their fornication. What I'm supposed to do about what they tell me I cannot imagine, since surely I'm not supposed to stop them from acting on their own "values" in this area. Perhaps it might make it harder for them to get condoms if they aren't "open" with me because I made so bold as to try to convince them of right and wrong in a discussion. Yeah, that must be it.

But all is explained by a word of wisdom from one Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist:

We do not know what is right and wrong; right and wrong is relative, although your child does need clear guidelines.
Okay, I get it now. Thanks for making that clear.

The article's author appears not to be entirely sympathetic to the pamphlet, so maybe it is with malice aforethought that the final paragraph of the article begins, "Labour’s attempts to cut the rate of teenage pregnancy through education are showing signs of faltering."

HT Secondhand Smoke

Comments (10)

That is a pretty amazing story; or it should be but isn't, is maybe the right way to put it. Next up will be enforcement of anti-values against parents, rather than mere suggestion. It will start with 'soft' enforcement (withdrawal of benefits, shunning, etc, like the APA stuff under discussion in Frank's thread) and get harder over time. I am all in favor of that kind of thing, of course, as long as the substantive values being enforced are true, which they pretty much cannot be by definition here. Most obviously self-undermining statement: "We do not know what is right and wrong; right and wrong is relative, although your child does need clear guidelines.". So, um, is it right to give your child clear guidelines, or is it wrong to do so?

I'm not sure we disagree about liberalism either. It is possible to describe the same thing from different perspectives, and when that thing is at bottom incoherent those different descriptions may at times seem contradictory. And again ironically this is one of liberalism's strengths. Those contradictory descriptions introduce a kind of deniability: not to get too Zen or anything, but the liberalism which can be captured in a coherent description is not the true liberalism.

I thought of that as well. One area where this will certainly be enforced immediately is upon foster parents. Even in the U.S., I think we sometimes have little idea of how much the state micromanages the interactions of foster parents with the children they are caring for. The children are wards of the state, and there is none of the assumption of parental discretion in teaching and interaction. Obviously, my earlier post about the foster mother who was fired because a Muslim girl became a Christian in her care is relevant here. (That was in the UK.) So it's obvious to me that UK foster parents are being required in a fairly un-soft way to refrain from trying to convince the children in their charge of right and wrong. The next group to be affected would probably be parents on welfare of some sort, in whose lives the state often does interfere. Single moms, even if not on welfare, would probably be the next target.

Pediatricians will doubtless get into the act at the pointless yearly physicals for teenagers that parents are urged to bring them to.

Most obviously self-undermining statement: "We do not know what is right and wrong; right and wrong is relative, although your child does need clear guidelines."...

Yep. And I imagine it's safe to say that this same person also believes that truth is relative. But if she believes that truth is relative then why does she contradict herself by making the positive truth claim that "right and wrong is relative?" Implicit in the statement of course is the idea that the opposite opinion - right and wrong is not relative - is false, which simply reinforces what her actual belief is; that truth is not only not relative, but it is also knowable, at least to a select few of us, she being one of the select few. As for the rest of us, apparently we can only understand it if they put it to us in self-contradictory terms.

I think the reason the psychologist doesn't see the problem with what she says is that she is treating the statement that the child needs "clear guidelines" as a purely psychological one: The child will feel more secure, etc., if he has clear guidelines. In the immediately preceding sentence in the article, it says that this psychologist regards the matter of guidelines as one of _negotiation_. So basically, we start by assuming ethical relativism and then we negotiate with our child to come up with rules, which will then be formally clear, as to what we will and won't let him do. All with the assumption that this isn't a matter of right and wrong but more like, say, a matter of how often you want your child to clean his room or something else fairly arbitrary.

The child will feel more secure, etc., if he has clear guidelines.
I agree, but that naturally raises the question of why it is good for the child to feel more secure, etc. The standard move is made to understand the liberal position as a strictly formal referee, thus entitled to authority on that basis: to is-ify the ought by spritzing 'scientific' eau de toilette on sus scrofa scrofa.

So much for the home being the first school and the parents as the first teachers. Certainly parents can be bothersome things, standing as they do between their children and government, with it's phalanx of educators [an army of semi-illiterates],social workers, and "experts" of various persuasions who inevitably locate themselves under the broad umbrella of public policy and programs.

A young and open mind is important if you wish over a period of twelve to sixteen years to shape it, a process both of stripping down and inculcation. Rest assured those who essay the task and those who encourage them have very clear, you might say frozen, ideas as to right and wrong.

Nothing new here, it goes back to at least Plato and has been carried forward by different mobs of political gangsters through time. It's so old it might be called "progressive".

One of the ironies of the article is that they quote the "children's minister" as saying that their job is to "support parents." Uh-huh.

Yeah, just like Kurt Gruber's little organization was there to "support parents".

Of course, the psychologist's remark could be simply what it appears to be--confused and equivocating, at once craven and cynical. But still, when I read it, it seems that there are some real guidelines lurking behind it in the psychologist's mind.

My guess? Ms. Blair is thinking of things like the use of birth control and prophylactics. This is the usual nuance--we don't know what is right and wrong, therefore it is imperative that I show you the proper way to fit yourself with protection. See--you really can get both moral agnosticism and clear instruction. It's just that the "guidelines" you have to be "clear" on aren't really moral, but are purely practical and instrumental ones.

Well, my question was how on EARTH do you set "clear" guidelines, if there is nothing to set them by?

That's just throwing a bone to parenting.

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