Tuesday, June 07, 2022

But Where Do We Draw The Line?

John McWhorter advised in one of his Great Courses that you can enter an earnest controversial discussion on virtually any topic, whether you know anything about it or not, by listening in for a few minutes to get the flow of the controversy and then asking "But where do we draw the line?" Humorous, but very nearly true. It's why there is any discussion going on at all.

So even people who call themselves gun absolutists will think something has gone badly awry if the kindergarten teacher is bringing loaded pistols for the children to play with without any instruction, and few absolutists in the other direction (though frankly, there may be some) will argue that there should be no armed private security firms. There's a line, and we're arguing about the line. We get carried away with our phrasing in order to be dramatic, but really, there are lines within lines. Some people say they will never ride anything but a Harley, too, but will happily jump on an old Indian or even a 70s Ducati.

So in discussing risk versus safety, it's going to be a lines, and different lines that we draw for ourselves, for those we have responsibility to teach, and for the society around us. There are long traditions of embracing risk because it teaches us not to panic, to remain calm in case some emergency comes up. It is a virtue in many modes of thought to take on risk and to teach the young to take it on as well. I raised five sons, and I have done this. One son had been skiing after school a few years and was still too cautious.  So I went skiing with him myself, too fat, long out-of-practice.  But I attacked the mountain more than he did and he saw it was possible and had changed over by the end of the day. I did not injure any hip, knee, or ankle. But mostly with boys you are going in the opposite direction, getting them not to drive so fast, and especially not to tailgate, because really son, your reflexes aren't that good. And we have seen this go bad, of a father in our circle who thought it unmanly to wear his seatbelt and taught his son to do the same. It ended as badly as you might fear, with the boy dead driving home from college on Mother's Day years ago. And teaching children to manage risk mostly applies to training for physical situations, not imbuing a sense of calm. I don't see evidence that such things really work.  A lot of that is hard-wired, but training can be given to anyone. Almost having accidents doesn't teach boys not to tailgate anywhere near as much as you think it would. Even if it did, I don't think new driver's ed classes are going to come out teaching them to practice going twice the speed limit so that they get good at slower speeds.  It doesn't work that way.

Dealing with social risk is also a virtue to be passed on to children. It comes in many forms, and as JMSmith offered at the the Othosphere and James notice at his site, "Peer pressure is good for those who are worse than their peers!" Well, we are all better and worse than our peers in something. But there does come a time, dramatic or quiet, when the choices are stark, and only physical downstream of the social and political choices. By the light of burning martyrs, indeed. Learning to have risked social disapproval, or even humiliation, and learning that you did not die from this, but came through on the other side, is a valuable thing to have risked.

Yet it is different in what we put ourselves up to because we are inspired and what we make our children go through, or our charges at school, or scouts, or Basic training. We believe we are doing well by them, but so did many evil and abusive people throughout history.  How much do we know is actually good for their character, and how much is just myths that we tell ourselves, supported by myths that earlier authorities told themselves? Did the challenges i put my children up to actually improve their character?  I can think of examples where they did not, and might have been damaging.

How much more when it is other people's children?  Yes, we do not want to artificially protect the children in our town from real life, as that might leave them unable to face everyday stresses.

Or will it? We tell ourselves that and find convenient examples from the news to prove how badly other parents or cultures did by not challenging children enough. So have abusive cultures throughout time. How do we measure such a thing? Risks can go bad. In Tolkien, the Shire is protected from risk, and this is taken as a very good thing on balance by those who undertake the real risks.

The parallel example of suffering was put before me, quite to my surprise. Suffering can be good for us, sometimes the highest good, and sometimes the only voice we will hear. Yet I don't think anyone claims we have the right to inflict suffering on others, that it might be good for them and make them better people. It compares quite closely to risk. Those who reject the guesses of the authorities about risk judge no better - and the effect is not only on themselves and those they have some authority over, but on all of us.  

Worse, contagion is a different type of risk than physical or social dangers.  We don't learn much about dealing with contagion by facing contagion, as we might with skiing or criticism. If my choice increases your risk, how is that defensible? I know the myth.  I was raised on it.  I have five sons, as I said.

Well, it's all lines we draw, as I said at the outset. But I think one side of this that I have always thought had something solid behind it may just be justification for doing what we feel like doing.

1 comment:

Christopher B said...

Yet I don't think anyone claims we have the right to inflict suffering on others, that it might be good for them and make them better people.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

― C. S. Lewis

I'm pretty sure that right now there are people who are deciding whether to put food on the table for their kids or gas in the car so they can get to work and keep their job, and Biden et al are blathering on about how this is necessary to make the transition to the Greenie's electric powered fantasy land.

....we’re going through an incredible transition that is taking place that, God willing, when it’s over, we’ll be stronger and the world will be stronger and less reliant on fossil fuels when this is over...”