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Lies We Tell Kids (paulgraham.com)
188 points by mqt on May 13, 2008 | hide | past | favorite | 418 comments



Does it count as a 'lie' if it is believed by the parent?

The reason that parents don't want kids to swear is because they genuinely believe that it is wrong for some reason. The don't know the reason themselves, and so break the rule and become hypocrites, but they still believe that it is wrong and want their children to do better than they did.

With regard to group identity (and religion,) most parents actually adhere to that identity themselves. They share the beliefs and assumptions of that group and so would be hypocrites not to instruct their children in them.


I don't know that I've ever read a really good account of the hows and whys of swearing. It seems to me the idea that we're mistaken that swear words are taboo completely misses the fact that we defined these words as taboo to start with. I think restricting children from swearing is in part to give more power to swear words, because as adults we find it useful to have these powerful words. Teaching children that swear words aren't taboo seems to be teaching them a definition at odds with rest of society and would deprive them of a useful set of words if it succeeded, which I doubt it would. In fact teaching kids that swear words are just words is exactly the kind of lie this essay is talking about.


This is basically right. The words are taboo because it's useful to have taboo words, so the culture deliberately makes them so.

Taboo words are useful because they transcend politeness. If a normally civil person comes into your dinner party and tells you that the fucking ceiling is about to fall down, you get moving. You don't waste time looking around for the ironic smile. You don't reproach the person for speaking out of turn.

But it goes beyond simple cultural coding. The neurologists say that there's a physiological basis for swearing: the brain is wired to do so under certain conditions. Under extreme or sudden distress, swearing helps us cope, and the reverse is probably also true: swearing helps to work you into a rage or a panic. That's one very good reason why we tell kids not to swear and correct them when they do: It's a way of calming them down, and of teaching them to be calm, and of encouraging them to reserve their moments of adrenaline-surging fury for appropriate times.


My parents always told me not to swear, because if I did, I wouldn't have anything to say when I got hurt.

So whenever I cut my finger or anything like that, I would make sure to swear as much as could. :)


Genius.


Interesting. So I wonder if exceptions are the programming language analogue of swearing?


NullFuckingPointerException.


They are certainly highly correlated.


Obligatory xkcd comic: http://xkcd.com/290/


Second obligatory xbcd:

http://xkcd.com/292/

VelociRaptorException


Now that is insightful. I think you're saying that, when a program gets into an unstable state of stress and confusion, it throws exceptions... and vice versa.

I could buy that.


Python swears a lot.


The spectrum of motivations for the pressure we put on kids to not "swear" includes "being polite" and "being polite" is related to communication skill. There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain which equates politeness with something which prevents people at the dinner table from killing each other.


Well said.


check out Steven Pinker's "Why We Curse", http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=246c0071-a9cd-46e2...


That was a great article.

It also touched on a commonly-told lie which pg's essay didn't mention: Eternal true love and monogamy in marriage.


I wouldn't quite say unequivocally that those are lies, or at least that true love is a lie.

The poem True Love by Nobel Prize Winner Wislawa Szymborska replies better than I can:

True love. Is it normal / is it serious, is it practical? / What does the world get from two people / who exist in a world of their own?

Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason, / drawn randomly from millions but convinced / it had to happen this way - in reward for what? / For nothing. / The light descends from nowhere. / Why on these two and not on others? / Doesn't this outrage justice? Yes it does. / Doesn't it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles, / and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

Look at the happy couple. / Couldn't they at least try to hide it, / fake a little depression for their friends' sake? / Listen to them laughing - its an insult. / The language they use - deceptively clear. / And their little celebrations, rituals, / the elaborate mutual routines - / it's obviously a plot behind the human race's back!

It's hard even to guess how far things might go / if people start to follow their example. / What could religion and poetry count on? / What would be remembered? What renounced? / Who'd want to stay within bounds?

True love. Is it really necessary? / Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence, / like a scandal in Life's highest circles. / Perfectly good children are born without its help. / It couldn't populate the planet in a million years, / it comes along so rarely.

Let the people who never find true love / keep saying that there's no such thing.

Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.

Edit: I can't figure out how to get CRLFs in the right places, so here's the link for the properly formatted version: http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/694.html


I prefer "Working at love" to "Falling in love" - it addresses both of those "lies"


I prefer "Working at love" to "Falling in love" - it addresses both of those "lies"

But that takes out quite a bit of the romanticism out of it, doesn't it?


Not if it works.


Not as much as a messy divorce or breakup between people who don't work at love :)


When I call them lies, I didn't mean to say they don't exist, or that two people can't be happy, in love and monogamous forever.

But we certainly misrepresent to children the prevalence of this sort of thing.

Look at fairy tales and movies. To a child, _all_ people grow up, meet their perfect true love, marry them and stay together forever. As for the damaging part of the lie, of course there's no need to work at a relationship because the match is just so perfect.


That's why I started out saying "working at love" - make sure to tell kids that things don't magically turn out happily ever after. Tell them that lots of marriages end because of things like money, selfishness, infidelity, and boredom.

There are a lot of things about my marriage that are worse than when I was single, but there are a lot of things that are a whole lot better. On balance I'm way ahead, but we both work at it every day. It's worth working at because of how great it is. And that's a truth worth telling.


Aside from good analysis, the beginning is full of humorous gems. I'm not sure if the humor is accidental, or if the author picked humorous examples deliberately.


I'm sure it's intentional. Pinker's written many excellent books for laypeople which are full of great, fun examples. And the books themselves are great. He has a knack for explaining new, interesting ideas in an engaging way.


Thanks!


Swear words seem to be such a necessary part of language that I'm pretty sure new ones would arise if we ever completely legitimised the old ones. When you wake up at 2 am and discover that your balcony is on fire(^), it's nice to know that your language has a word set aside specifically for situations like that.

In the last few decades, it seems that the C-word has become more taboo even as the F-word has become less so, thanks to the efforts of feminists who like to bitch about it. (Come to think of it, "bitch" seems to have got slightly more taboo during my lifetime as well, for similar reasons.) And then there's a whole new class of newly-taboo words like the N-word -- admittedly nobody shouts that word when they hit their finger with a hammer just yet, but perhaps they will in the future.

(^) That happened to me the other week. I can't remember exactly what I said, but it was neither intelligent nor graceful.


Steven Pinker does a pretty admirable job of running down some ideas on swearing:

http://www.tnr.com/currentissue/story.html?id=246c0071-a9cd-...


I teach my child not to swear because OTHER adults think there's something wrong with it. I truly don't give a fuck, but I don't want my son to be banned from his best friend's house because his mom heard him say "fuck."


My 12 year old's school allows swearing, and while it is curiously disturbing to hear a six year old swearing like a sailor while playing a video game, it is interesting to see what happens to the older kids as the novelty wears off. I allow my child to swear, but he respects which words I would rather not hear around the house, and I've never heard him swear when it was inappropriate. So, I teach my son how not to be banned.


Where is this school? I want in (for my kids)!


As someone who's considered this tactic (I'm some years away from having children, but planning seems like a good idea), I'm interested in how that's working out. Have you ruined cursing for your kid as some people imply this tactic would?


Well, he's 4 and, although he knows every bad word except "cunt," he knows better than to say them, at least in front of grown-ups. But cursing is not ruined for him - he still thinks cursing is hilarious and he frequently asks me to say a bad word.

I would say it's working out. He doesn't offend the tribal elders and I don't have to lie by simulating outrage - I've told him the real reason why he can't curse.


Why not cunt?


That's about the only word we've never slipped up and said around him. It's hard to stop 30 years of potty-mouth cold turkey.


Yeah. No kidding. Honestly? Fuck that. ;)


Oops, I downvoted this prior to reading the parent. I'd change my vote if the interface allowed...


lol. That would look pretty rude if you hadn't read the parent.


Swearing would lose its force if we weren't all told it was wrong throughout childhood. Parents who stop their children swearing are doing the hard work to Keep Cursing Special, and should be thanked for their services to the foul-mouthed.


Does it count as a 'lie' if it is believed by the parent?

There are senses of the word that include that, but I meant mostly things parents say knowing they're false, or at least that they'd admit were false if questioned.


In that case, I wonder if religion counts as a lie. Lots of religious people either truly believe, or have done a great job of tricking themselves into thinking they believe.


Much religious belief has a special protected status, though -- you aren't supposed to ask bare questions about the truth value of religious statements, or tell the truth when talking to someone else's kids;

  Little jimmy: "doing that makes the baby jesus cry"

  Adult: "Don't worry, Jimmy. Jesus is dead."



I read them. What did you want me to see?


And the alternative: those who've tricked themselves into "not believing," but're still in the same reality tunnel, with the wall furnishings taken down but the same core dogma.


Thanks for the clarification.

It seems to me then, that some of the situations that you describe are more often not lies but situations where parent actually believes it himself.


But there's certainly also the possibility that the parent thinks he believes it, although all of his actions and other beliefs reveal that he doesn't believe it.

Daniel Dennett has addressed this well. No one debates the existence of Mt. Everest, and nobody has to assert that they believe in it. To identify yourself as someone who believes in something, there must be some question as to whether or not you would. People who say they believe in something which is at the core of their group identity, and for which there is no strong evidence, are rather obviously choosing not to question those beliefs the way they would question any other belief -- including the very similar beliefs of other people's religions.

So the fact that the parent "believes" in holy reincarnation or holy levitation or holy mindreading doesn't necessarily mean that he is being honest when he tries to raise his kid to believe in such things. Do they really believe those things to be real the same way they believe Mt. Everest to be real? If not -- if there is any hiccup to his belief -- then he is lying to his kid as well as himself.


Which?


I don't think this is true. I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone under the age of 40 (that is, approximately of breeding age) who is genuinely offended by most words that are designated taboo. Any offence that is publicly displayed is most likely a put-on to illustrate they are more cultured that the offender.

What's worse is that it's entirely subjective what words a culture counts as taboo. I've seen US TV shows aimed at teenagers for 5-6PM time slots that repeatedly use the word 'bollocks' when portraying a stereotypically British person. In the US, 'bollocks' is just a funny word, but in Britain it is considered a swear word albeit a fairly mild one that I'm not averse to muttering when I walk out of the supermarket having forgotten to buy something.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with saying these words, it's simply taboo because someone hearing them might take offence. but we've lost the people who might be offended and still kept the taboo. It's brain dead.


I there are plenty of taboo words, but they have changed over time. 50 years ago people had no problem saying extremely racist or sexist things in the open but now it's a new taboo. IMO taboo words relate to taboo thoughts.

The odd things is the FCC is not what's keeping really taboo words off the air but they still keep the old guard of psudo taboo words off of prime time.


I doubt taboo words are (always, or necessarily) related to taboo thoughts. It's not taboo to think about fucking, but in many contexts it's taboo to use the word instead of its "milder" alternatives.


I think it represents a more taboo set of thoughts / actions than it's milder alternatives. Fill in the blank: Illicit lovers ____ where married people have ____ and young lovers make ____.

PS: It's not accurate but many people still think the world started with: "Found/ Under Carnal Knowledge" or "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" which comes back to the idea that the word means more than just the act of procreation.


Ah, I know the answers!

disport

headaches

mistakes

-----------

Alternatively:

pork

mommy & daddy alone time

the beast with two backs

-----------

The possibilities are overwhelming!

Interestingly, I find that some of the more creative "euphemisms" for sex (pork is a middling example) have more shock value when they show up in conversation... the old standards are simply overused, in spite of our best efforts in child rearing, and don't work anymore in conjuring up sufficiently taboo images. Terse, vivid imagery is much more of a live wire.


I personally know quite a few people who are offended by foul language.

What constitutes foul language may be cultural but that's beside the issue. Imagine, a child from 1950s American suburbs was raised in that belief that certain words were wrong to use. The child was consistently reinforced in this belief throughout his childhood by all adults he met but never had it explained to him. Later, as an adult, he finds many friends who swear freely, and, not knowing the reason it is supposedly wrong, adopts the practice himself. Yet, in the back of his mind he still remembers his entire childhood telling him it was wrong and he know that those people genuinely believed that it was wrong. Clearly there was a reason for this taboo to begin, but without knowledge of the reason, how is he supposed to know whether it is still relevant? It doesn't matter whether there is any intrinsic property of the words that is wrong, what matters is thet there is a taboo and whose to say that the taboo isn't still relevant?

Teaching kids not to swear as a rule is especially important when one remembers that there are still places in society where the taboo holds strong and for the children to succeed in those places, they must not accidentally say anything that will offend someone.


Keeping a taboo when the underlying reason for it has gone away tends to be detrimental for society. I saw a wonderful documentary recently called "Born rich" (I highly recommend it, amongst other things from it I finally learned why there are a number of US personalities whose educational background seems so at odds with their outward demeanour. It's that the privileged simply can't get chucked out of a University, no matter how poorly they perform.) in which one of the interviewees was worrying about whether it was OK to have taken a group of her Jewish friends to lunch at her club, and speculating that it certainly would have been frowned upon had they been black.

I've no idea whether this taboo she transgressed is real or not. I'd certainly suggest it shouldn't be, it's the kind of prejudice you giggle at when you read it in the popular literature of the 30s and 40s. However, if it isn't real, the mere concern over it in the mind of the members keeps them from expanding their cultural horizons. It has become a permanently inhibiting fear, without any real referent.

In short, if you suspect a taboo is no longer culturally relevant you should probably consider yourself to have a duty to break it to get it out of the way as quickly as possible.


"In short, if you suspect a taboo is no longer culturally relevant you should probably consider yourself to have a duty to break it to get it out of the way as quickly as possible."

If your goal is change society, maybe. But, if your goal is to succeed within a society, then maybe not. Some taboos begin for good reason and just because you suspect that they're not relevant doesn't mean that they're not.

I would suggest that if you suspect that a taboo is no longer relevant, you have a duty find out for sure and learn why it ever was in the first place.


Hmmm; agreed. Some of the obscenity taboos aren't quite so brain-dead, either, at second glance. Sure, "cunt" and "vagina" aren't at all the same word, but I wouldn't say that if my web developers co-workers used the word "vagina" constantly that would be just fine.

As we're living in a reality where, you know, rape and suchlike happens fairly frequently, if I were a woman in a mostly male workplace and the word vagina was constantly bandied about, is it wrong that I'd feel uncomfortable?

Or say I was a middle-school math teacher who wrote all of his word problems in the form "so, one vagina is moving at 12 miles per hour due east, and...".

Talk is a step towards action, and it does matter what people say, as we are led to imagine them carrying out related actions, and we often assume (rightly or wrongly) some level of intent behind speech.

Maybe that's part of the reason behind some of the taboo words? Not to discount, of course, the unreasonably deep cultural discomfort with sex... but just, you know, tread lightly if you want to accelerate taboo expiration.

And it doesn't so much explain "shit", but that's possibly related -- I don't really want a discussion of poo-poo during lunch, for example, and there are very logical reasons that it might spoil my appetite (I'd rather focus my imagination on this delicious steaming burrito, thank you very much).


It gets pretty complicated when you think about idealism. We might be subtly lying to our kids by acting that the world is a great place where you can be happy. On the other hand, whether or not this is true is largely dependent on whether or not you believe it. So I think that passing such ideals to our kids might be a good thing. It's like that one quote from Second Hand Lions:

"Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in."


I am having a hard time deciding if that counts. I think whether or not a lie might be believed by a parent is what makes it universally recognized as something all adults answer with "ask your parents".


I honestly never feel that I was lied to about swearing.

When I was a very young kid, 3rd or 4th grade, my Father told me that there was nothing wrong with swearing...but that I shouldn't do it in front of my my Mother.

My grade school teacher caught me swearing and she told me the same thing.

It is a respect thing, a culture thing. You don't swear in front of your mother for the same reason you don't take your dick out in public: It's considered impolite.


>Don't all 18 year olds think they know how to run the world? Actually this seems to be a recent innovation, no more than about 100 years old. In preindustrial times teenage kids were junior members of the adult world and comparatively well aware of their shortcomings.

This idea is fleshed out in the writing of John Taylor Gatto, a former Teacher of the Year who disagrees with near everything about modern education.

http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/toc1.htm


amazing link


My least favorite pg essay. It's too easy to generalize about parenting, and so little of this essay applies to me.

1. Raising a kid in the city, and quite happily. 2. No prohibitions on swears in my house. Just at Grandma's, and only because it would offend her, not because swearing is inherently bad. 3. He goes to a school where they only teach you how to read, write, and do basic math. Everything else is a child-led research project. 4. We don't lie about turkeys. Turkeys are not very smart, and have no concept of "wanting to die." If he asked this question, I'd explore vegetarian options with him. 5. Pastafarians. He can make his own spiritual allegiences when he feels the desire to do so. 6. Drugs and sex haven't come up much, beyond the basic "where do babies come from" conversation. We've done that, he's satisfied for now.

On and on. I'm not the only parent like me, either. Be careful about generalizations.


Lying to your kids is like the kind of intellectual fashion I wrote about in "What You Can't Say." No parent thinks they lie to their kids-- except of course in necessary or harmless ways-- just as no one thinks what they believe is an intellectual fashion. But in retrospect it turns out most parents do, just as in retrospect it turns out most people's beliefs are influenced by intellectual fashions.

So if one has a strong conviction that lying to their kids is not an issue, that's not necessarily the kind of evidence one can trust. Plenty of parents you'd consider to be lying outrageously to their kids also think that.


I'm a parent of three children (girl, 6; two boys, 3 yrs and 9 mos), and your essay resonated very strongly with me. Thanks for a great piece of writing.

I've found that I've done a better job as a parent when I consciously thought about these things beforehand, so that I was prepared to discuss them with my kids when they came up (and they always seem to come up much, much earlier than I expect). For example, questions from my daughter about jail led to crime, which led to drug use, which led to recreational drug use. Fortunately I had thought about this one quite a bit, so I was able to give the carefully crafted answer that I had wanted to give. But I haven't always been so lucky, and sometimes the lies come streaming out.

Raising kids - especially more than one - is in some ways like an intense startup experience, where you're constantly trying to extinguish fires, and you're only partially prepared for any one of them. You just do the best you can with the amount of patience, knowledge and raw ability you have at the time, which is never perfect. It's difficult, and transformative, and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.


The examples you presented to illustrate your argument ring false in my experience, and the premise seems flawed as a result. They may seem correct to you, depending on how your circle of friends behave.

It might be more correct to say everybody lies outrageously to everybody else, and sometimes one person is a parent and one person is a child.


I agreed that the essay could use more examples. I understand that the examples might seem silly in 100 years (or even 10), but it would have benefited from things like "In 2008, many parents told their kids X"


Is that not implied? We can assume an author is writing about the present and recent past unless told otherwise told.


In the notes, he mentions concern for how the readers 100 years from now will view his essays.


Yes I saw that. But how does it follow that he has to point out "in the year 2008"? When not given a particular time period, I always assume an author's example is meant to refer to the present. (Maybe I am not understanding your point).


I agree about the author's time being the default context. I just suggested the specifics because pg was so concerned about timelessness.


As my father once said: “they can make you go to school but they can’t make you do anything there.” Lying to your kids is common but optional. At 28 I can't think of a single time my father ever lied to me and as far as I can tell he never lied to my 10 year younger sister. Granted plenty of other people lied to me, but he had no problem pointing out that religion was silly, drugs where fun and dangerous, and conformity was optional if you accept society’s response etc. Odd as it might seem his accurate responces where frequently less than useful such as trying to describe chemistry at the atomic level to a 3rd grader and recomending the joy of sex (a book) to a teenager but such is life.

PS: One extreme example was he was told to lie so he could get a clearance by the person giving the interview and he refused.


Well, he told you a lie: that religion was silly.

Religion can or cant't be the truth. Tell the kid god exits and you are lying(you don't know it) Tell him the contrary and you are lying(you don't know it).

Don't confuse the fact that both of you agree in something(which is normal between parents and son) with the fact this is the truth.


No, he didn't tell a lie. Religion is silly.

You don't have to "know" something is false to know if it's silly. Do I have a singing purple leprechaun on my desk? Well, think before you answer, Skepticism-Is-As-Bad-As-Faith; after all, you don't know whether or not I do!

So take a step back from your false equivalency and use the same common sense on this that you use every day in every other aspect of your life. If someone comes up to you with supernatural claims, every ounce of common sense and experience you possess should tell you that this person is probably saying something silly. And you shouldn't change your mind unless they actually manage to produce the kind of evidence that would change your mind if you were, say, sitting on a jury and contemplating a far-fetched alibi.


I'm aware that I lie to my kids, but sometimes it's appropriate for the child's development level. I said in another comment that "Animals fight, people hug" when we were watching Animal Planet. Now that's not true - people fight all the time and "hugging" - cooperating, loving, etc - is a conscious act that requires work and is relatively uncommon. The intent of the "lie" was to tell her that, as a person, she should not fight. I'll explain human nature and her responsibility to behave well despite the fact that others don't when she's older (like before she goes to Kindergarten)


Turkeys are not very smart, and have no concept of "wanting to die."

Turkeys are very smart birds and their behavior is very finely geared around not dying.


Exactly. There aren't suicidal turkeys; they get slaughtered and cleaned and cooked. Why is that so horrifying for a child?


Growing up in a farming community, death was common and not hidden from children. The more horrific thing for me as a kid was discovering:

"Today’s domesticated turkeys are anatomically manipulated to be so heavy and large breasted, because breast meat is the most desirable and therefore commands the best price, that they are now incapable of breeding naturally."

So, there are people who have to perform this artificially for the males and then for the females. In fact, since turkeys are now raised in mega-farms, there are people with this as their career.


Responding to half your post, there are cultures (such as farms) where death is dealt with more frankly, and it doesn't seem to cause harm to children outside of making them more practical.


One time I called my friend with some land in Texas, his 7 year old daughter picked up the phone. I asked "Can I speak with you Dad?", She said "sure he is feeding the chickens". I asked, "Do you name the chickens?". She replied "No, because we eat them, they taste good". Very innocent, cute response, from a very well adjusted kid.


My inlaws once raised a couple of turkeys. They did name them. Thanksgiving and Christmas. They tasted good.


I think the key is that it's the parents who are uncomfortable with death, since they don't have to deal with it on a daily basis, either.



Perhaps because children tend to assume animals are a lot smarter than they actually are (I remember that I used to), and that their experiences are more equivalent to human experiences.

I wonder whether this is natural, or whether it comes from the fact that children spend all their time watching movies and reading books about intelligent anthropomorphic animals.


I think children tend to project their own concept of being alive onto other creatures. Basically, they assume the turkey is, in some way, like them.

While I think a turkey clearly does not have the same understanding of mortality that we do, I also think that they clearly don't want to die. Basic survival is a common trait of any successful species. The concept of want is different, though, since they have a much more primitive type of consciousness.


For their own sake, don't let your kids be vegetarian until they're at least 16, that's the worst disservice you could ever do them. I speak as a vegetarian myself, but you've got to be pragmatic.

Your kids need animal protein right up until their brains are done developing. It doesn't have to be very much animal protein, as little as a teaspoon a day does the trick, but there is no artificial or vegetable substitute yet derived that will work.

Personally, I think either letting or forcing a child to become vegetarian borders very close on child abuse. You'd be actively and artificially limiting their chances in life.


The American Dietetic Association, at least, disagrees:

"Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence."

http://www.eatright.org/cps/rde/xchg/ada/hs.xsl/advocacy_933...

Can you at least offer a source for your shocking claims?


Erm, hardly shocking. It has been established since at least the 80s that vitamin B12 is essential for brain development, and any number of large scale developmental studies have been carried out to that effect.There are no non-animal sources for vitamin B12. If you find any doctor of medicine who will recommend a vegan or vegetarian diet to either a breast feeding mother or to a child, then they ought to be struck off.

Simply Googling for "vitamin B12 brain development" will return you any number of papers on the subject, but most of them are behind their respective journal's paywalls unfortunately. However, the fact their abstracts include works like "cerebral atrophy" might give you some idea of their content.


Unless you are a strict vegetarian (vegan), you can obtain B12 from eggs or dairy products. Most vegans are well aware of the danger of B12 deficiency, and either take supplements or eat foods fortified with B12. B12 supplements are inexpensive and widely available. So how exactly is B12 a serious problem for vegetarians?


There's also Marmite, which, according to wikipedia, is suitable for vegans (I'm a meat-eater though, so I have no idea really). I grew up eating practically nothing but Marmite sandwiches - it's awesome stuff: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marmite


> vitamin B12

Cobalamin is added to any number of foods (usually in the form of cyanocobalamin), including bread, cereal, orange juice, soy milk, veggie burgers, soft drinks, and on and on. It is produced by bacteria.

I know multiple mothers who have breastfed while on vegan diets. It is trivial to get B-12, simply by taking a multivitamin, which they should do anyway regardless of diet (starting with prenatal preparation including folic acid supplementation).

I would suggest doing more research on the subject of veganism and discontinuation of spreading further misinformation.


Cite? I've never seen any evidence that kids need animal protein to develop. I was raised vegetarian from birth and have no mental or physical defects to speak of. I have siblings and cousins and friends that are the same.

Vitamin B12 is the only thing that can be a challenge to get from non-animal sources, but that's only a concern if you're vegan. The whole "vegetarians don't get enough protein" thing is an overblown myth.


Yes, that's the thing. There's literally millions of people in Africa who get little or no animal protein, and they grow up just fine. The point is that study after study shows that with just a tiny portion of animal protein, they end up a whole lot smarter.

I'm not trying to suggest you aren't yourself a smart person, just that simply because you can't see the ill effects your actions cause doesn't mean they don't exist.


Your use of "vegetarian" and "animal protein" are unconventional. "Vegetarian" generally refers to someone that does not eat meat but does eat eggs and dairy, so when you said "vegetarian kids need animal protein", it implies they need meat. But meat is not essential for development; B12 is, and can be got from milk or eggs.

It's true anyone raising their child vegan ought to be aware of B12 deficiency. Time was when B12 could be got from dirt on vegetables pulled from the ground, but nowadays we're pretty finicky about cleanliness.


> The point is that study after study shows that with just a tiny portion of animal protein, they end up a whole lot smarter.

You're confusing two separate issues. The key factor is that treating malnourishment of impoverished and starving African children is beneficial. This has nothing to do with whether they are fed concentrated protein from animals or plants.


Counterexample: A significant fraction of Indians are vegetarian. They seem to be doing ok in the brain development department.

Are there confounding factors? Sure... but calling it child abuse seems a bit much.


> Your kids need animal protein right up until their brains are done developing. It doesn't have to be very much animal protein, as little as a teaspoon a day does the trick

This is utter nonsense on multiple levels.

1. Biochemically it doesn't matter what the source of the amino acid is. You can supply all essential amino acids from combinations of any number of plant sources.

2. "Vegetarian" does not exclude animal sources, as it typically includes milk and eggs. Vegan does, but that doesn't matter anyway, as per #1.

3. "A teaspoon" -- where did you come up with that rule of thumb? This is obviously superstition.

4. Brains require fats (especially DHA and EPA) and glucose. The human brain is 60% fat. Glucose is the fuel. Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) can be supplied directly through microalgae oil, or converted from ALA in flax, walnuts, and other sources.

5. Human breast milk is only 5%-10% protein (by calories), yet during breastfeeding is when a human grows proportionately the fastest.

Stop with your protein myth and ridiculous child abuse nonsense.


There is an exception to every rule. You can't cover every base in a short essay. I'm sure his next few paragraphs were going to make explicit his exclusion of the extremely progressive.


A couple questions regarding your points:

1) which city, and how urban? I keep trying to convince my wife that the city (Chicago in my case) is ok and I'm gathering data

3) that sounds like a great school - public or private? name? I'd love to find a school like that.


I live in Cambridge, MA. While it's not inner city, it's not the burbs, either. I have several parent friends who live in NYC, Austin, and DC, as well. Chicago sounds like a great city to raise a child. My son goes to a Montessori school, and it's perfect for him. He's already defining his own curriculum, and starting to work on being responsible for setting and accomplishing his own goals (he's 6). However, YMMV with Montessori programs. Some are much better than others.


I grew up in Chicago and raise 2 kids in Oak Park, which is to Chicago what Brooklyn is to Manhattan. Speaking of Brooklyn, one of my two business partners is going to be raising a kid there as well.

The problem with big cities and children is school systems; you can get around that by paying for explicit private schools, or the de facto private school systems you get in the near suburbs.


Congratulations. You're a very rare parent, in my experience.

The essay is based on PG's observations of what he believes to be the majority of families. Essay's targeted to the edge cases tend to have small audiences.


But generalizations are just that... general.

The essay doesn't apply to my parenting but I enjoyed reading it anyway because I know that it applies to many other parents. I could identify with aspects of it because I survived public schools.

You made the decisions to raise your child as you are for specific reasons. I can't imagine that this article doesn't touch onto some of the motivators behind your parenting style.


Essays must use generalizations. There are always exceptions to any possible example. However, you are probably reinforcing many, many other deep-seated cultural norms that were not used as examples. Some that may even drop out of favour in the future.


I'm glad there are more enlightened parents out there like you. I completely agreed with every point he made because that's how I was raised. It never occured to me that some parents might actually be honest with their kids.


My least favorite pg essay.

I agree; it's even worse than the one on philosophy.


Me too.

I use to like PG essays, I don't like this.

I don't remember being lied by my parent's. I used to ask my father a lot, and he as a scientist replied. Then I started reading books. They didn't hide anything.


I predict that you are in for some rough times when he gets a little older.


So is every parent.


"Very smart adults often seem unusually innocent, and I don't think this is a coincidence. I think they've deliberately avoided learning about certain things. Certainly I do. I used to think I wanted to know everything. Now I know I don't."

This is the most important paragraph of this essay. It's really important for anyone who is curious in general to understand this and I have never heard it expressed before.

"The bizarre half is what makes the religion stick, and the useful half is the payload."

This is actually a very effective marketing trick if you replace "bizarre" with unusual. Look at reddit - the alien makes it sticky, Google - unusual simplicity makes it sticky, Apple - unusually good looking devices.

I do think that with religion as with products, short term stickiness comes from the surface unusualness and long term stickiness comes from the payload - the actual utility (honesty and industriousness for religion, unsually intuitive interfaces for apple products, really good search algorithms for Google, and until recently at least, entertaining stories on reddit)

For people who don't find the long term utility in religion, the stickiness that comes from common unusualness is often not enough to maintain their 'belief'. This is truer for products than for religions though - which I'm sure is an evolutionary effect. It's a much harder decision to quit your group or clan than it is to abandon things. Clearly, Apple has managed to cross this product-religion boundary, making it stickier.


Regarding the horrible nature of some things in the world - pollution, the pain and suffering our lunch goes through, etc. - I think one of the reasons people don't always tell the truth is their own comfort with the way things are might be upended. I have a 5 year old who naturally is opposed to eating meat and who is shocked by the thought of killing something to eat it. I personally don't think I would eat something if I had to kill it first, yet I enjoy a bacon cheeseburger very much. I find my own rationalizations becoming thinner and thinner the more I live with him and notice his innate repulsion to meat. I can see the influence packaging has on his thinking - chicken nuggets are acceptable to him - as far removed from an actual walking, clucking feathered chicken as you can get and still be chicken - and by reference can see the influence packaging has had on my own ability to quickly dismiss thoughts of desperate cows clambering to avoid the stun bolt as I bite into my bacon cheeseburger. I can do it quite easily, but would never kill a cow.

I think another reason we don't tell kids the truth about some of the horrible things in the world is that we ourselves shy away from them. Its as if we are all stepping over the dead horse on our way into our house, and the children point and notice the smell, but we hurry them along, anxious to be past the nastiness. Its part of our sanitized world, but I wonder if staring at the dead horse all day long isn't a kind of trap in itself. Where does it end? Can you spend your life pitying the lives of others? Thoreau makes an interesting observation:

“There was a dead horse in the hollow by the path to my house, which compelled me sometimes to go out of my way, especially in the night when the air was heavy, but the assurance it gave me of the strong appetite and inviolable health of Nature was my compensation for this. I love to see that Nature is so rife with life that myriads can be afforded to be sacrificed and suffered to prey on one another. . . . The impression made on a wise man is that of universal innocence. Compassion is a very untenable ground. It must be expeditious. Its pleadings will not bear to be stereotyped.”


thoughts of desperate cows clambering to avoid the stun bolt

I'm certainly not saying that this never happens (How would I know? And from what I hear you don't want to give the meatpacking industry too much slack; they cut every corner they can. Read Fast Food Nation...) but Temple Grandin claims to have built an entire career out of making sure that this sort of thing doesn't happen. She says that panicking the cows is more than just cruel: It lowers the quality of the meat and it threatens to slow your slaughterhouse to a halt.

I read a book by Grandin, and she's an unusual writer; perhaps because she's autistic, she's almost supernaturally incapable of mincing words. I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable reading her work to a kid. :)

Incidentally, as a non-vegetarian married to a vegetarian, I understand your point of view perfectly...


I think most of these "lies" are to avoid things that strongly attract our minds but do not cause them to produce. The things we encourage don't attract our minds immediately, but after time they do, and they cause our minds to be productive.


Here's something potentially controversial:

I believe the most common mistake parents make with raising their kids is attempting to treat them like adults all of the time.

This trend seems to be most common with educated parents. I would bet that when/if PG has his own kids, he would fall flat for it. I'm a parent and became aware of this concept prior to having the first child. Yet I still catch myself from time to time.

The "Lies We Tell Kids" article reminds me of virtually all educated parents attempting to explain things to their children at the moment when it's least effective. I often see (in public places) parents trying their best to explain to children why candies are bad for them, why curse words are bad, etc... all the while the kids are whining and throwing further tantrums. Such attempts are completely useless. What is most effective at those moments should be a stern warning, followed by immediate action if the kid does not comply to your command. Such actions are typically: immediate timeouts, loss of privileges, etc... I'm not talking about or even suggesting spanking the kid.

Regarding the "stern warning" method above, this is my favorite: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1889140163 I consider that one of the best things I have read since having kids.


I know the type of parent you mean (I live in Cambridge, MA), and I definitely would not be one of them.

Incidentally, though I agree treating kids too much like adults is a mistake, I don't think it's the most common one. Only a small number of "progressive" parents do that. From what I've seen, the worst mistakes parents make are (a) setting a bad example and (b) inconsistency.


There's an interesting thing to note about sex amongst youth in rural, suburban, and urban settings. I've been privy to statistics held by birth control manufacturers (although the exact numbers evade my memory, the relations I remember). These show that urban youths begin having sex at an average age of 15. Suburban youths begin having sex at an average age of 14. Rural youths begin having sex at an average age of 13.

So, moving out to the suburbs might seem like protecting your child from having sex at an early age but the statistics would indicate otherwise.


Does PG have kids?

I'm not advocating ignoring the essay if he doesn't.

But just as I'm leery of taking startup advice from someone who hasn't done one, I'd be tempted to discount this a bit.

The issue is that there are forces afoot in your brain when you have kids which are deep, powerful and extraordinarily difficult to ignore. Pre-mammalian lower-reptilian brain stuff.

Wanting to protect them is one of those.


You think his lack of kids would bias him when observing parents? Isn't this more or less the opposite of what courts argue -- that e.g. a judge who owns Microsoft stock should not be ruling on a Microsoft antitrust case, even if he is the only one who really knows what it would feel like for the shareholders were they walloped with a giant fine?


That's a very interesting point! But it seems like you'd want a judge who had at least been a stockholder, though not one in this particular company. Would either side consider a judge that stored his life savings in his mattress and disagreed with the right of corporations to be valid?

The different (and I'll admit I'm on thin ice here) is that kids have a visceral component that is difficult to ignore.

If I drop a brick on my bare foot and yell loudly, would it be more appropriate for someone else, who has never dropped such a brick, to judge whether or not I should have yelled?


> The different (and I'll admit I'm on thin ice here) is that kids have a visceral component that is difficult to ignore.

Exactly - and thus there is value in having a neutral(ish) observer of the parenting process.


By that argument, all OBGYNs should be men. Or women who've not been pregnant.


negative, ghostrider. Suggesting that a male obgyn may have a different and valuable perspective from a female obgyn is not the same as suggesting that all OBGYNs should be men.

To be explicit, I don't claim that all articles about parenthood should be written by non-parents, just that there's a particular type of value in ones that are, since they may more successfully divorce themselves from the visceral feelings of attachment that parents have towards their children.


You're right.

So the question then becomes:

"Does a male obgyn may have a different and valuable perspective from a female obgyn?"


How subjective is gynecology? How much room is there for 'perspective'?

I think the metaphor has been taken too far to be useful here.


I would rather have a judge that impartially followed the law and was not swayed by his personal life circumstances or beliefs.


Having kids is one thing that would allow you to speak on this topic from personal experience. Having been a kid is another.


As a descriptive account of what people do, he doesn't need kids. As a prescription for what people ought to do, we might trust someone more who has been through the process themself.


PG may not have kids, but I do. His observations of parenting are true nonetheless.


As a followup, it'd be interesting to know if any of the reviewers have raised kids.


I have a one month old and a 2.5yr old. Even before reading this, I've caught myself telling lies (or hiding truths) with my older kid.

We were watching a show about baboons on Animal Planet and the dominant male baboon killed and ate a baby impala (more graphically than I expected them to show). I was going to change the channel, but I asked myself "Why is it bad if my kid knows that some animals eat other animals?" I left it on and talked to her about how some animals get food. I also told her that it's different with people, because we've more or less agreed to let every person live.

Then I was going to change the channel again when there was a (again, more graphic than I expected) fight, I left it on and told her that animals fight, but it's not OK for people to fight. Something like "Animals fight, people hug".

So I guess I picked my lies, but I was conscious of it. My guiding principle is that I will

1) instruct my kids on correct and appropriate behavior

2) let them know that people have different expectations and not everyone behaves as well as I expect them to.

PS My wife was pissed that I let her watch the baboons killing and fighting :)


I think it is a sort of lie to tell someone the truth in a context they can't handle appropriately. So, I don't see anything wrong with what you are doing. It'd be wrong if you never stopped telling her such things.


I have.

This essay does not describe my approach to parenting, but I know parents like that.

Made me wonder if PG's SO is expecting.


a good point, essay gets downgraded a bit due to fact that the author does not have direct experience, but like startups, just because you've done one does not make you good at it, and many of the most interesting are first timers (see facebook/google/and most yc co.'s). This essay would be better if he was expecting and thus thinking a lot about being a parent.


Besides being a woman, Marie Curie was the first and ONLY person to ever recieve a Nobel Prize in different sciences. Something her male counterparts have yet to do, so maybe there's something there besides her sex.


Let N be the number of great scientists. It would be sensible for the curriculum to include the n greatest scientists, where n << N. Since Marie Curie always gets included in the textbooks, we can conclude either that she ranks as one of the n greatest scientists, even for very small n, or that the reasons for her inclusion go beyond her scientific accomplishments. Considering how few history textbooks mention (for example) Euler, Gauss, Lagrange, Laplace, Lavoisier, Faraday, Dirac, Onsager, or Landau---whose scientific accomplishments all rival or surpass Curie's---it's safe to conclude (as Paul did) that the textbook writers include some non-scientific factors when deciding which scientists to include.

Let's face it: almost no one reading this knows who the hell Onsager and Landau are---but you probably should. (They were both giants of 20th-century physics.) No one disputes that Marie Curie was a great scientist, but that's not enough to account for her ubiquity in the textbooks. And since the most significant diff between Curie and Landau is gender, it's accurate to say that Curie gets included because she was female.


I don't think anyone is trying to deny that Curie gets a little more attention in the school curriculum and the popular mind just because she's a woman, but I think the point asnyder was making is that she at least has the distinction of being a great scientist, unlike George Washington Carver who (and I had to look him up, since having not been educated in the US I'd never really heard of this guy) doesn't seem to be in that category.

Oh, and be careful with statements like "almost no one reading this knows who the hell Onsager and Landau are". There's a surprisingly large number of physicists reading this board.


We aren't talking about the users of this board, we are talking about the average American who went through the public education system. 99.9% of them have heard of George Washington Carver, but not of Onsager and Landau.


Oh, I interpreted "almost no one reading this knows..." as referring to the users of this board.


Your original interpretation was right. Perhaps I underestimated the number of physicists hanging out here. (I hope so! It would be cool to think people here know who these guys are.) In any case, the original point remains: even on Hacker News, Marie Curie is far better-known than Lev Landau, and it's not because she was the greater scientist.


I am not a physicist, and I have not heard of either of those guys, but I've heard of Curie and Carver.


I have a Landau book in my hands right now ;)


She also died as a result of her research. She carried glowing vials of radioactive goo in her pockets! I don't care what gender or race your are, her life is just a great story that is interesting as well as informative. This may have something to do with her ubiquity in addition to her gender.


I'm sorry I don't know what these "points" mean. Please don't take whatever points are shown with my comment seriously: it's just the default value.

I think Paul Dirac is insufficiently praised not only in the layman's world, but even in the scientific community. Although he was a contemporary of Albert Einstein and although his contributions were comparably important and various, Einstein enjoys a rock-star-like status, whereas Dirac is quite inadequately acknowledged.

The same would hold for Arnold Sommerfeld, Leonhard Euler and many others, some of whose names and contributions I perhaps don't know about.


Curie is included to inspire girls to become scientists. The textbooks provide both a record of history, and role models for students.

I'm not entirely convinced that record-keeping should trump role models.


You forgot to mention Turing :) Turing doesnt get much space in school textbooks. And von Neumann too despite being one of the giants of mathematics in 20th century.


Wow, my list really should have included von Neumann, perhaps the most underrated intellect of the 20th century. He'd be on a lot of people's top-n list even for n <= 3, and yet he's barely known outside of the technical world.


Let's add Alonzo Church to that list.


Indeed - Curie was most definitely "the shit", and that shouldn't be taken away from her.

However, it is also almost certainly true that she was taught because she was female. Now, I'm not entirely sure that's a bad thing.

I would, in fact, suggest an addition to PG's categories of lies: "Making kids think things are easier than they are".

No-one knows better than PG, living in the start-up world, that Big Things are often only even attempted because the people involved didn't realise how incredibly difficult they would turn out to be. If a child had been taught, truthfully, about the obstacles to succeeding as (say) a woman in science, that could well be one of the biggest things she learns from early science lessons. Layer this up over the next five to ten years, and how likely is she to go for that physics class - or even think she wants to?

Some of these lies are to tell kids that the world is as we wish it were, in the hope that they will grow up with these expectations and thereby make it so.


"Making kids think things are easier than they are"

Probably the most important lie I've unraveled in my mind over the last couple years reading experiences from real people (pg, etc) and things like "Myths of Innovation", etc.

This is ESPECIALLY dangerous if you (or your kids) are smart. If you're fairly smart, then school is easy. It's easy, so you never fail, so you never understand that many things (including most worth doing) are hard.


It's not just that they're "hard"...it's that things are usually downright unfair. We never really teach children the essential role of luck in success, and how you can be the best by every objective metric, yet still fail because of phenomena that are outside of your control.


"This is ESPECIALLY dangerous if you (or your kids) are smart. If you're fairly smart, then school is easy. It's easy, so you never fail, so you never understand that many things (including most worth doing) are hard."

Add to that parents who keep telling their smart kids how they expect them to do well, that they can be and do anything they want in life, etc., and the amount of personal disappointment these kids face when life turns out to be more than just doing well on your SATs.


I've taken great care (and gotten my wife on board too) to change the way we praise our older girl. When she does something new, we no longer say "Wow, you're so smart!" - we say "Wow, that was great how you worked hard and kept trying until you succeeded!".


In case others need some help persuading, here is the link to that recent Scientific American article to that effect ( http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-secret-to-raising-sm... )


nice - a small but important distinctions, I'm going to use something similar.


"However, it is also almost certainly true that she was taught because she was female"

This is actually not the case. In fact, she was repeatedly denied entry into universities and had to fight especially hard for any education or appointments that she recieved.


At first, I also misread this sentence in the way that you have. :)

What the sentence means to say is "It is also almost certainly true that students were taught about Curie because she was female."


Ah, yes -- on a related note, this is what I've seen as the function of "political correctness" (at sensible levels... it can obviously be carried to counterproductive extremes).

We lie about how racist, bigoted, homophobic, etc. the general public is (and try to browbeat them into lying as well), in the hopes that our kids will be less so.


Was her work more important than Newton's, Darwin's, or Watson's? I'm not questioning that she was a great scientist. However, if you are going to remember three, she should not be one of them.


If you had to remember only three you could easily have an argument debating the merits of any three scientists. I wouldn't say her work is more important than those three, but I would say it's on that level. The book "Six Great Scientists" by J.G Crowther seems to think so too. It's quite unfortunate that Wikipedia has very little on her.


Or maybe J.G. Crowther was also fond of diversity.

BTW the most important woman in the history of science was Emmy Noether. Her theorem is central to Classical Mechanics and very important also in Quantum Field Theory.


"Probably the biggest lie told in schools, though, is that the way to succeed is through following "the rules." In fact most such rules are just hacks to manage large groups efficiently."

Reminds me of something Seth Godin (?) once said - that the whole purpose of school is to institutionalize mediocrity


The main tool used by schools to manage large groups is competition. Whenever you get two or more people to compete then they have to be, by definition, doing the same thing. The rest of the rules are only there to cover the corner cases that competition misses.

Similarly, no one who is the best at something can ever, by definition, push the human race forward. Because to be the best at something means you have to be, by definition, doing the same thing as everyone else. C.f. here:

http://reddit.com/info/14l86/comments/c14o44


To move forward you have to, by definition, be going in the same direction. The freakish geniuses change the human race, but it's the loyal hard-workers who move it forward.

[sorry to quibble over semantics, but it was too obvious an opportunity to pass p]


"To move forward you have to, by definition, be going in the same direction."

The idea that progress has directionality is just a metaphor to aid visualization. It has no basis in reality. Your argument is a logical fallacy; I forget the name, but it involves using the same word in two different senses.


Progress must have direction (at least implicitly, relative to that which is not progress), or we wouldn't be able to define it; it would just be "change".

Moreover, to say that freakish geniuses "change" the world would be a truism, except for the fact that "the world" doesn't actually change unless everyone else follows the freak. So the parent comment has merit -- you need the people who do weird things, and you need the people who do the hard work of filling in the gaps. Progress is defined by the movement of the whole, and not the movement of an individual.


You can't have an idea of progress without some way of distinguising better from worse, forward from back, more progressed from less progressed. it's been part of the word all along (latin 'progredi', to step forward) - not that etymology always matters, but in this case the metaphor is essential to the concept.

If we have a clear idea of what "pushing the human race forward" is (more knowledge? less famine? better morals?), then somebody can be the 'best' at it - even if they are the best by being somehow innovative.

I'm not sure that this is a fruitful discussion to be having, though - except that people often seem to talk about progress without reflecting on what they mean. Besides, you started it with "push the human race forward" ;)


equivocation


Odd, outside of the top 5% of the academic class I never saw much competitive spirit.


awesome insight.


As a parent I have found myself lying to my kids exactly as layed out in this essay. Mostly along the lines of protections. I just have a couple of specific dissagreements.

Sex,

Having a soon to be 14 year old daughter this section hit close to home. My wife and I haven't told her lies about sex but we have certainly held back some things. Pregnancy and STD are important topics to understand but even more so are the emotional aspects. Sex can be a powerful binding and richly rewarding part of a relationship but only so far as each partner treats it with the appropriate respect. You may have casual sex but it comes at the cost of less meaning for sex in a committed relationship. I don't want her having sex now not because it may cloud her judgement but because I want her to be able to have something much better in the future.

Swearing,

Minor point. I tell my kids not to swear (and don't hardly swear myself) for the same reason I don't let them track mud in the house. I just think it's ugly. I hope that doesn't set me off as less educated.

Death,

There is too much to talk about in this kind of forum. I just wanted to note that talking about religion is far less controversial than talking about parenting.


I'd love to see the sequel: Lies We Tell Ourselves.

Seems like many of the things discussed have their origin in lies we continue to tell ourselves. Kids just get special versions. But if anything those instances provide a window into what we don't discuss honestly - sex, death, identity, formal education, and obeying authority.


I dunno, "lies we tell ourselves" doesn't sound like a very good essay.

Since we don't know about the lies we tell ourselves, it would have to be "lies I see other people telling themselves".

And that pretty much translates to "Things that other people believe that I disagree with", which is a fairly boring topic for an essay.


When's the last time you had an honest discussion with anyone about:

a) Sex (e.g., Do you satisfy your partner?) b) Death (e.g., Was your life meaningful?) c) Formal Education (e.g., If not, then what?) d) Identity (e.g., Who are you?) e) Authority (e.g., Who tells you what to do?)

I don't know, honesty seems much harder than settling on lies to tell ourselves.


I have these kinds of discussion fairly often. In fact, I probably wouldn't consider somebody a friend until we'd had that kind of conversation. I find it hard to judge if that's unusual - maybe it is in other social circles?

I take the point that avoiding self-deception is hard, maybe impossible. But that's no different from talking about science, or history, or just about anything else.


That self-deception is exactly what I was getting at. I have no doubt that many have these discussions but it's so much easier to lie during them. I'd argue it's different in kind from science or history exactly because there's no independent record that can be consulted. Indeed, I can't see many parents lying to their kids about science or history because it would be so straight-forward to identify the lie. No, the lies seem much more personal exactly because we're already telling them to ourselves. Thus the sequel essay.


ah, in that case I do agree - and we're talking about something that huge swathes of philosophers, psychologists, social scientists and miscellaneous intellectuals have spent their lives arguing about.

That isn't to deny that a pg contribution could be illuminating!


I recently found this forum and I am very happy I did. It is nice to see a threads of discussion end in agreement. That doesn't seem possible in many other places.


I'd guess most of the top 10 start with "I don't have time for X", for many values of X.

If you don't have time for something, it just means you didn't make time for it. Despite what you think, it's not that valuable to you because you don't choose to do it.

I realized that by not exercising, I was explicitly saying my health or energy level were not important. Since that's just plain dumb, I started going to the gym 3x/week, and I'm going to start biking again soon.


"A sprinter in a race almost immediately enters a state called 'oxygen debt.' His body switches to an emergency source of energy that's faster than regular aerobic respiration. But this process builds up waste products that ultimately require extra oxygen to break down, so at the end of the race he has to stop and pant for a while to recover."

As a point of information, it's unusual to think of anaerobic respiration as an emergency source of energy; you tend to think of emergency situations as necessarily involving adrenaline, which increases heart rate, dilates blood vessels, etc. The biggest energy source of the 100m and 200m sprints is phosphocreatine, a very useful fuel for anaerobic metabolism; unfortunately for sprinters, it can be depleted in under ten seconds of top physical effort. (Incidentally, A.V. Hill received the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physiology for figuring out the proportions of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism that contribute to energy production in the various distances of Olympic footraces.)

This, of course, is all to say that sometimes lies aren't really malicious - as he says - but that it's simply easier to say simple things than complex things. Since it was tangential to the discussion anyway, it's no big deal.

And if you disagree (as many experts do, even amongst each other) about the role of phosphocreatine, I'll be perfectly content with you calling me a liar :)


Also, that passage made me think that he was repeating the common (probable) falsehood that lactic acid is what causes the soreness and tiredness of muscles following anaerobic exercise. Recent research suggests that it is in fact a source of energy for the body, and slows down acidosis: http://ajpregu.physiology.org/cgi/content/abstract/287/3/R50...


PG: "I think they've deliberately avoided learning about certain things. Certainly I do. I used to think I wanted to know everything. Now I know I don't."

Can you give us some examples of things you don't want to know and avoid learning about? Also, you must already have some idea of what horrible truths you might discover if you learned further, so can you give us a general idea of what those are?


I wasn't thinking about horrible stuff so much as banal stuff. For example, celebrity gossip. I'm always annoyed in a grocery store when I find that before realizing it I've read the cover of some tabloid. It's like unconsciously picking up something and eating it, and then realizing too late that it was a mouse turd.


To a person unfamiliar with economics, accounting, math, etc. the financial markets seem magical, or at least mysterious. Prophets emerge to explain the markets, and often do so in vague and opinionated ways, that to the uninformed seem brilliant and enlightened.

Regarding this article, there are sociologists, psychologists, etc. that make a scientific/formal practice of answering questions like, 'Why do we lie to kids? What are the ramifications.'.

Where the majority of people reading pg's articles are technically proficient, our realm of knowledge generally doesn't extend into the pursuits of a sociologist/psychologist. And so those realms seem magical or mysterious to us.

Does it occur to anyone that the issues brought up in this article have probably been thoroughly studied, and well-reasoned, possibly even evidence based conclusions have been drawn, and in fact are publicly available.

In this age of information, perhaps the lie of the 'original thinking prophet' will go out of fashion.


I can think of another reason for lying to kids: because everybody else does, and if your kid doesn't play along there are consequences. I am reminded of Roman Polanski, who was Jewish but was raised Catholic at an early age to protect him from the Nazis. He ended up becoming an actual Catholic, because you can't tell a four year old that he's really a Jew, but has to pretend to be a Catholic, because they're incapable of being that deceptive. I can't remember why he finally left the Church in his teens, but it was for something like a conflict with a priest, the kind of thing that lots of gentiles have the Church over.

If your kid curses, talks about how there are no worthy black scientists, tells other kid about how the penis squirts semen into the vagina and that's where babies come from, and denies the existence of God (I live in a red state, this one may not be a big deal where some of you live, but in some places this will still mark you as a pariah), then there are certain consequences, especially if the child does it in front of adults, because other parents aren't like that. Nothing as severe as a trip to Auschwitz, but I at least want my kid to understand tribal taboos before breaking them.


Given that we don't have to worry about Auschwitz, We also don't have to lie to our kids to teach them about taboos.

If you don't think there's anything wrong with swearing, you don't have to say "You can't swear because it's wrong." You can say, truthfully, that there are certain words grownups are allowed to use that children aren't. You can say "You are not allowed to say that because if you accidentally say it at a friend's house, his parents won't want you coming over to play anymore." That's very likely true. You may be leaving some things out -- reasons that you don't fully understand and therefore don't know how to explain to a small child -- but you don't have to actually tell any lies.

You don't have to believe in religion to teach your children that you respect other peoples' beliefs, and don't try to correct their religious beliefs when you don't agree with them. Of course, if you actually think they're stupid for having those beliefs, then you will have to lie by omission to help their social life. I haven't told my children any more than they asked about my beliefs, so it took until my daughters were about 10 until they realized I don't believe in God at all, but I didn't lie or pretend to believe something I don't, either. They understood from an early age that different people believe different things for a lot of reasons and it's only polite to respect that.

If your kid is curious enough to ask questions that can't be answered without explaining the mechanics of sex, you can also teach him that we don't really talk openly about sex in polite conversation, and that other kids might have parents that don't want them to know about it yet. And remind them that it's important to them socially that they don't get in trouble with their friends' parents.

You can say that George Washington Carver's achievements were not so much scientific as social (and you don't entirely understand why they're learning about him science class), without saying that no black scientists are worthy.

This is the approach I've taken, and it's worked pretty well so far. We live in a very "Christian" suburb, and so far my kids haven't been kicked out of any homes for being inappropriate, nor have any of their parents come to me with concerns about such things. (I have 16 year old daughters and a 6 year old son.)


I think one of the most important purposes of morality is to keep people smart and interesting. I grew up in a pretty sheltered Christian environment, and the difference between how I thought and they way the jaded teenagers at public school thought was very distinct. The behaviors that are traditionally considered sinful end up making the sinner a boring and small minded person in the long run. This is essentially because sin destroys a person's imagination.

The object of sin is usually a very strong, visceral pleasure, and if there is anything that can control the focus of a person's mind it is strong, visceral pleasure. And, when I am thinking about pleasure, I'm not really thinking about anything. It is just a feeling, and feelings don't have any kind of logical content that can lead my mind to other thoughts. Finally, engaging in visceral pleasure makes everything else seem boring by comparison, while also requiring a greater amount of the pleasure's source to get a thrill. The combined result is me having a one track mind, constantly thinking about nothing.


Thanks for the enlightenment. I never thought about that. I believe something that is deeply ingrained in our mind should have a reason.

Having felt in love when I wanted to work I can understand what you say. Love-sex actives some area in our mind, and nothing is more important in that moment.


Adults may be able to lie to children with their words, but they can rarely pull this off with their actions.

Each of us can remember the many times when, as children, we witnessed the difference between "what I say" and "what I do".

We were told not to swear, drink, smoke, or lie by parents who swore, drank, smoked and lied, not to gossip by adults who gossiped, not to cheat by teachers who cut corners themselves, to do the right thing by leaders who didn't, and to be great by celebrities who weren't so great.

Who knows, if adults actually did what they said, maybe they would have been able to pull it off.

We children may have been a little slow, but we weren't that stupid. After all...

"What you do speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say." - Ralph Waldo Emerson


Interesting essay. I can't say I've read anything quite like it. So I guess that's a compliment!

A couple comments on minor points in your essay:

1) George Washington Carver is, or should be, known for his work for southern farmers and for his research and promotion of legumes and sweet potatoes including several interesting inventions. He is not one of the great scientists like Einstein, Hawking, Newton, etc. He probably is more famous because he was black, but that's not to say his contribution was insignificant. It wasn't.

2) You tend to hear (or read) two opinions about grade school teachers depending on the person: either they are tireless crusaders with hearts of gold or they are mediocre "if you can't's" that live for June, July and August.

I think the truth is more complex. Not all public school teachers were mediocre students. That's the tendency, and it's likely because in many parts of the country they don't get paid a comparable wage. The better students find higher paying jobs. I am an elementary school teacher myself who graduated with honors.

Elementary teachers have to be knowledgeable in EVERYTHING, including child development, literacy, mathematics, social sciences, writing, art and design, physical education, earth science, life science, physical science, etc. What would that be like to attempt to teach students all those various facets of human knowledge? Easy? Well, they're young. How complex could it be?

You'd be surprised how difficult. And you'd likely be intimidated. I'm sometimes intimidated still after 13 years of teaching elementary. Further, one of the most difficult parts of the job is teaching students who could care less and would rather raise an uproar! You wouldn't believe how bad it is.

So, grade school teachers don't know everything? Not experts in their fields? Surprising? At those mediocre salaries (in many parts of the country)?

Just something to think about.


Most lies are of a statistical nature. Moving to the suburbs is a good example. You're seeing lots of true things that aren't statistically representative. The extensive coverage of protected groups in history texts is the same way.

Look at some different lies:

1. "Grandma went to heaven." False.

2. "God doesn't kill good people." False, but containing a moral lesson.

3. "Your parents won't die." False, but translated properly ("Your parents won't die while you are a dependent"), probably true.

4. "2,998 people died in 9/11". True, but statistically at odds with its public perception.

The only harmful lie among those is the last one--the one that isn't a lie--and only because the "lesson" its constant repetition is designed to convey is disconnected from it.

..............

When I was a kid, I was told, literally, that bad people went to a hell and slept with burning maggots. This cartoonish lie has done me no harm.


"Grandma went to heaven" is not falsifiable.

I'd prefer keeping this discussion focused on falsifiable lies. Let those of us who believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the coming of the semantic web, or other supernatural phenomena believe what we want to believe.


When something is falsifiable, that means it is suitable for examination by science. When something is not falsifiable it should be considered false, in most contexts.


"When something is not falsifiable it should be considered false, in most contexts."

Is the above sentence falsifiable? How do you examine the "should be" question with science?

If it is not falsifiable, should it be considered false, or is it an exception? How do you pick exceptions?

My two assertions about your sentence: (1) It is not falsifiable. (2) You consider it very useful.


Notice I tacked on a weasel phrase "in most contexts." I don't think there is a consensus about falsifiability, and I wasn't the one who brought it up. The person who did seemed to understand it backwards. Since Aristotle and Newton operated without the concept, I'm willing to shelve it.

Grandma going to heaven can be reduced to absurdity, and isn't very important, except as a typical line of bull.


It is falsifiable if you can find a single non falsifiable thing that would be useful / treated as true.


"Life has meaning."


Actually, this doesn't fit here, because "useful" implies "for a goal", and if there's no ultimate goal to life, then nothing is useful. So "life has meaning" is just another example of something that is only useful if true. Ah, well.


"Grandma went to heaven" is a statement of fact about a very specific matter that is either true or false.

The person uttering it has not seen, heard, smelled, or touched a single piece of evidence to verify this supposed fact.

Indeed, they're saying it either because they're sincerely repeating a myth they've heard since they were credulous children, because they want to mollify a grieving child's anguish, or both.

If you make a claim about the physical location of a human being, yet you have absolutely no evidence to bolster your claim, then you're making a claim that is not falsifiable and should be considered false.


I've always felt that that was an article of faith.

Ultimately, nothing is falsifiable because you have to make certain assumptions just to function.To truly throw out all assumptions would be to embrace solipsism. All that are left are various arbitrary criteria for belief.


Sure it is. Unless you define heaven or other claims of paranormal phenomena so trivially ("that which cannot be perceived and has no effect") of course it can be falsified. If the soul is a thing, and heaven a place for it, then of course you can verify whether or not that thing is in that place.

We may not yet have built the instrument that can detect souls, or engineered the successor beings that can perceive heaven, or been visited by the magician whose wand can open the door to it, but those are mere practical and technological considerations, not propositional ones.

Religion can, and has, made many falsifiable claims (and they have all been falsified, when put to the test). The ones we haven't got around to yet are no different. From a scientific perspective there's no inherent difference between paranormal claims made in the context of a centuries-old religion and those made in the context of a psychic snake oil salesman.

The separation between "matters of faith" and "matters of science" is itself a lie we tell ourselves and each other so we can tolerate living in a world populated by irrational people and irrational beliefs. But it's artifice, there's no reason any actual phenomenon can't be investigated "scientifically."


"Grandma went to heaven" may be a kind of lie, it depends on the context.

If a priest says to me (a 36 yo adult) that "Grandma went to heaven" it clearly is not a lie. I know that the priest is speaking from faith, and I am able to evaluate the truthfulness of his statement in context. In this case, it's implied that the statement means "I have deep religious faith that grandma is in heaven." This doesn't need to be spelled out.

However, if a priest says this to a small child, it becomes a kind of lie unless the priest explains the difference between faith and fact. If Itell my son that "France is in Europe, catepillars become butterflies, and Grandma went to heaven", I have pretty much lied to my kid, even if I deeply believe that all statements are true.


Welcome to the mirror world, where a lie isn't a lie if you put the word "faith" in front of it! Is this kinda like "Simon Says"? Up is down -- oops, matter of faith, so I'm okay! Burning heretics is good for the human race -- oh, wait, I actually mean that one. Sorry, Galileo...


"Let those of us who believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the coming of the semantic web, or other supernatural phenomena believe what we want to believe."

Bruce, you can't stay stuff like that while I'm at work - I've got people around me who can hear me laughing!


All I have at work is a parrot. And the parrot is now cackling with laughter.


Ah the semantic web, as it was for told in the Book of Revelations.


Funny, my Bible doesn't have that one--just something called "Revelation".


You must be using one of those new-fangled translations.

Tell me, how many Gospels do you have? if there's more than one, we have a problem.

;p


I guess that makes me a modern theologian when I say that the semantic web is already here, it's just not as impressive and dramatic as people seem to expect it to be.


This is the first PG article I've felt a certain way about, which is that its scope exceeded my interest. I may yet read the rest of it soon. But fundamentally, I must point this out:

> By 15 I was convinced the world was corrupt from end to end. That's why movies like The Matrix have such resonance. Every kid grows up in a fake world.

Or the classic example, The Catcher in the Rye. Adolescents are caught between a desire for authentic reality and romantic idealism. They profess to want the former but seek the latter.


After living in suburbia for 23 years (and finally getting out this month, thank "God") I can attest to most of this. One thing PG doesn't mention is that some people flat never grow out of the idyllic view of the world that this segregated space presents OR become so impossibly jaded that they're damaged beyond all repair.

One friend of mine managed to have both of these happen. Not only does he have an idyllic view of the world, at least in how it _should_ be, but he's also become extremely jaded, having found out that most of his views are wrong (despite still clinging to them). These are often entirely contradictory. For example, he believes in true love and that if you _truly_ love someone you could never, ever do anything to hurt them. On the other hand, he's seen enough relationships and enough cheating and other "nastiness" that he's jaded to the point that he believes (his words) "all women are whores."

I would argue that you have less of a chance of becoming extremely jaded if you grow up in a societal sub-section that neither attempts to hide the gruesome truths of the world from youth nor presents them on every street corner. In my humble opinion, suburbia is too close to the former extreme.


I think the statement "as a rule people planning to go into teaching rank academically near the bottom of the college population" should really have a source to back it up.



teachers seem solidly in the middle for the three groups.

This brings up something interesting, as a group, we like to think of ourselves as above average when compared to other disciplines, but Computer & Info. Sciences was comparable to Education. Consider that in many states, ALL teachers must go to graduate school, so many more of them are taking the GRE than Computer & Info. Sciences.

I suppose most schools with Computer Science grad programs probably also have a lite Information Science/Business program that would drag our scores down significantly. I know mine did.


'Education - something' seems to fill a lot of lower rungs.

I know that these scores were a semi-common meme around grad school when I was there. People wondered why philosophers/physicists/mathematicians gravitated towards each other, but it was silently suspected among a few of us that it was due to similar analytical ability. The results were even more pronounced when the logic test still existed.

I think that one shouldn't overemphasize the mean though. There's a lot to be said for the distribution -- in physics, the entire lower part of the curve gets weeded out. That doesn't seem to happen in CS. And philosophers learn to write arguments and navigate arcane vocabularies as a matter of course. Perhaps the math result is indicative of general ability, but they have to do logic, too.


Einstein, like many people, felt differently about religion at different times in his life, throughout which he maintained his Jewish identity.

Young Einstein's observation about religion cited in the article should probably be balanced by older Einstein's insight, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."


Or his written views as in this article I was reading this morning: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/may/12/peopleinscienc...

The essay's quote was used to help describe an experience many people go through, probably better than Paul could himself, and therefore was very appropriately chosen. Why would there have to be an artificial caveat? Later quotes would not be relevant to the time of life the essay was discussing.

Absolutely, he maintained his Jewish identity - the payload of beneficial cultural values - but he consistently rejected the religious practices (non-payload portions) - up until his choice of what type of funeral to have.

Here is a good quote from the article that recognizes the balance however:

Despite his categorical rejection of conventional religion, Brooke said that Einstein became angry when his views were appropriated by evangelists for atheism. He was offended by their lack of humility and once wrote. "The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility."


I find it funny, if also a bit sad, how strongly certain societal groups try to spin Einstein's views about religion decades after his death. For insight, I offer a bit more of his text around that tiny little quote that is so often used out of context.

"The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

Though I have asserted above that in truth a legitimate conflict between religion and science cannot exist, I must nevertheless qualify this assertion once again on an essential point, with reference to the actual content of historical religions. This qualification has to do with the concept of God. During the youthful period of mankind's spiritual evolution human fantasy created gods in man's own image, who, by the operations of their will were supposed to determine, or at any rate to influence, the phenomenal world. Man sought to alter the disposition of these gods in his own favor by means of magic and prayer. The idea of God in the religions taught at present is a sublimation of that old concept of the gods. Its anthropomorphic character is shown, for instance, by the fact that men appeal to the Divine Being in prayers and plead for the fulfillment of their wishes." (whole text is available at http://einsteinandreligion.com/scienceandreligion2.html , and I strongly recommend it.)

This brings us back to the issue of lies. That quote is so often used to state that Einstein was religious later in life, while less than 2 paragraphs away, he completely eviscerates the idea of personal god. Obviously, someone here has told a lie of omission. Was it you, or the one who first told you about the quote? Does this, in any way, lessen your trust in the truthfulness of that source? Will you now be going around correcting other religious people when they use that quote to assert that Einstein believed in a god later in his life?


"I find it funny, if also a bit sad"

"certain societal groups try to spin"

"tiny little quote that is so often used out of context"

"This brings us back to the issue of lies"

"so often used to state"

"completely eviscerates"

"Obviously, someone here has told a lie"

"Was it you"

"one who first told you"

"lessen your trust in the truthfulness"

"Will you now be going around correcting"

My nominee for "Bait of the Year". Nice try.


I admit it, I just couldn't resist. The parent was a better bait, however, far more subtle. I'm not very good at this.

Still, as far as I know, I didn't actually lie, I just wrote the truth like a jackass. How do you classify that?


"On a log scale I was midway between crib and globe."

That is a gem of a description of suburbia.


When I was younger my Dad used to tell me roadkill was just sleeping. I remember accepting this for a while. One day, my Mom was driving behind someone who ran over a cat. The cat thrashed around in the road for a long time until it finally laid down, breathing very hard. My Mom told me to stay in the car and told me explicitly "you don't want to see what this cat goes through right now." I sat and contemplated what the cat must be going through and came to a point where I felt I understood it. The next year, when my neighbor killed herself, I was able to accept her passing with much more ease. IMO a gradual path to accepting death worked out well for me.


That's a key reason for many "lies" told to kids - let them deal with it when they're ready.


Precisely the point of the story. :)


Am I the only one here who disagrees almost completely with everything that is said? I don't mean to be disrespectful or offensive here. I'm just trying to get a feel for whether or not I'm the outcast in this corner of the Web.


What do you disagree with, and why? Dissent is fun to read about.


I sense that some of the disagreements that I have with Paul Graham are deeply fundamental and have to do with the fabric and meaning of our existence. First of all, I'm a religious person. This I have seen immediately qualifies me for ridicule from some on a forum such as this, as believing in God is seen as the logical equivalent to believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. If you think I am totally deluded because of my beliefs, I would ask that you at least show respect for the fact that I am devoted to them and value them sincerely.

I'll pick one thing for now. In the part about sex and drugs, Paul mentions that parents' desires for instilling confidence in their children conflict with their desires to teach children that they shouldn't trust their own judgment.

Teaching a child to avoid doing the wrong or evil thing does not have to be a matter of making the child submit to the parents' will. If a parent teaches a child correct principles (and yes I believe that there are fundamentally correct and incorrect principles), than the child can understand these not only logically, but morally (or spiritually, whatever you prefer). A child can and will be tempted to dabble in things like illicit sex and drugs. However, if that child has been properly taught, then he or she will know that those temptations go against the child's better judgment. There are two forces at work in a child's mind here. One is the natural desire to take the easy way and receive the certain immediate pleasure, the other is the desire to be wiser and live by a higher standard. A parent can instill confidence in a child by showing them that they trust the child to make the right choices. If a child makes a wrong choice, it is not because they used their own judgment instead of their parents', it is because they failed to use their own judgment. They can often feel that they have betrayed the trust that was given them.

Many of you may dismiss this as sentimental hogwash or religious tripe. You may say that this judgment that I describe a child learning from his or her parents comes about through brainwashing and lies. I only ask you to keep an open mind and consider my point of view carefully. Many others share it, though maybe not here.


I think it is possible to have interesting and useful discussions about the nature of who and what we are that includes viewpoints that are religious, non-religious and 'other'. Message boards seem to be very bad places for them.

These are the sorts of things that people have put a lot of time and effort into thinking about and wrestling with - and there are very often emotional personal experiences tied up in those beliefs. On message boards, however, you usually just want to spend a short amount of time making relatively concise statements. Not the best format for getting across a complex worldview. This creates the "Amazon rating effect" where in order to influence the "overall results" you feel compelled to rate things either 5-stars or 1-star even though almost everyone holds 2-4 star beliefs.


Don't worry sofal, you're not alone. No matter how rational the scientific view of the world is, there is nothing in it that precludes the existence of a Higher Being that made it that way!

Also, whether you view the fundamental moral principles as divinely given or the accumulated wisdom of thousands of years of society, they are critical for children to have.


I agree that there is right and wrong, even though I'm not religious. I agree you can try to teach your children right and wrong. I disagree that just because you have good intentions and are trying to teach good values, that this means that what you are telling your children is truthful.

Most parents exaggerate the danger of sex, drugs (including alcohol), and video games (these have taken the place of rock and roll). There's a good reason for this - children probably wouldn't believe you if you said "Well, these can be good in moderation, but you don't have the judgement to tell what moderation is yet." So you might be lying with good intentions, and good effects, but you're still lying.

PS: I can understand how you'd feel attacked by someone implying a belief in God which you hold dear is equivalent to belief in the easter bunny. Instead, imagine that atheists see your belief in God as equivalent to belief in Ganesh, the Indian elephant god. If people tried to justify things in terms of the will of Ganesh, you would look at them somewhat strangely and would certainly not be swayed by their arguments. That's how atheists feel about your God: the way you feel about every other god but yours.


I can definitely see your points. Having good intentions and trying to teach good values is a good start, but it certainly doesn't imply that what you're teaching is truthful.

My dad was quite opposed to video games, and he even tried to get me to stop playing Quake after the shootings at Columbine (didn't work). Parents can misunderstand the uses and dangers of technology that never existed when they were young. It's easier for them to just dismiss the whole rather than try to understand. I think it's much better to stress the underlying values rather than the superficial rules or my own faulty interpretation of how to apply those values.

You're right that I would not be swayed by people justifying things in terms of the will of Ganesh. In fact, I would not be swayed by mere arguments in terms of the will of any supernatural being. I do not see gullibility as a positive trait of any human being, religious or not. I certainly don't expect to find it here, and that is a very good thing. If I justify my arguments in terms of the will of the god I believe in, then they are weak indeed. I think there is a common ground where we can reason with each other. My defensive comments about the anticipated anti-religious tone here were not appropriate or at least not in tune with the "common ground" feel.


>f you think I am totally deluded because of my beliefs, I would ask that you at least show respect for the fact that I am devoted to them and value them sincerely.

Belief qua belief does not deserve respect. That is a self-serving myth told by believing people.


How about civility? That's kind of like respect. Do I "deserve" any civility? If it's a myth and a self-serving lie to think that you should show respect for other people's beliefs, count me as one of the self-serving liars.


If I were having a conversation with a friend I would prefer Prrometheus' comments to yours. If I were told in response to something I said: "Belief qua belief does not deserve respect", first of all I would think "Alright! Half-baked Latin! That justifies the price we paid for these coffees!" but also I would be happy to be given the chance to advance the conversation. I would have been given a choice either to explain to my friend that I had not got my point across and to try again, or I could discuss why "belief qua belief" does deserve respect.

However, if the conversation began with my friend telling me "you will probably just dismiss this" and especially "many others believe this" I would feel insulted/dismissed.


I think you're right about that. I've made a few defensive comments in anticipation of and in reaction to antagonism. It's pretty weak of me to be defensive and reactionary in that way. I didn't intend it to insult or dismiss others' viewpoints, yet it did. Thanks for that comment.


Thanks for taking that in the way I intended. I think it is understandable. A "discussion" on the net can feel like a hundred people quickly walking by and taking a quick potshot rather than a genuine exchange of opinions.


I'm actually not sure if I'm using the Latin 100% correctly, I've just seen it used in that context.


I think you should show respect for others' beliefs, at least to the extent of not ridiculing them, except when those beliefs are themselves the topic of conversation. In that case, there's really no way to have the discussion without being willing to disagree.

When talking about lies people tell each other, the beliefs are the topic, whether or not you believe they are lies or truths. If you don't want to have other people weigh your beliefs in such a context, I would suggest not mentioning them during such a discussion. There are beliefs I have which I'm sure most don't share, but which I don't feel the need to defend (anymore) at every opportunity. For example, as an atheist, I wouldn't typically go to a Christian forum and announce that God doesn't exist, unless I were prepared to have my views ridiculed.

Please don't take this as meaning I think you shouldn't discuss your beliefs in this thread, but only that I think you shouldn't try to influence others not to debate you honestly by implying they're being uncivil.


I agree that belief by itself does not deserve respect, and I upvoted you since your sentence addresses a common defense and should be highlighted.

But, no one has beliefs independent from any kind of cause or reason. So, just because someone says you should respect what they think because they believe it does not mean you should reject their belief due to bad justification.


Another issue is that religion is better understood when someone has grown up within one. It's alot easier to understand the lack of religion. The same things with a number of affections that the educated consider false, such as patriotism, true love, etc.

So, really, if a person keeps their child away from things like this so they can make an informed decision when they are older actually can limit their ability to make an informed decision.


"...believing in God is seen as the logical equivalent to believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. If you think I am totally deluded because of my beliefs, I would ask that you at least show respect for the fact that I am devoted to them and value them sincerely."

Do you not see the irony here? Would you be making this heartfelt plea for us to respect your beliefs if you did believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny?

Of course not -- because a belief doesn't deserve "respect", no matter sincerely its followers may value it. A belief deserves either support or skepticism.

The adherents of every belief, however, deserve respect. As do you. Part of that respect involves an honest description of how unlikely your beliefs are to be grounded in truth.


Given the nature of this essay I'm sure almost everyone disagrees with some aspects of it. The more interesting question is what you disagree with and why?

With an essay like this I think the problem is that most people will think that their knowledge of specific exceptions invalidate the generalized situation described.


Can you be more specific about what you're disagreeing with?


I just noticed that I was very critical when I was reading the essay. Almost like having a higher standard for Paul's essays. I mostly agree with him, but I was trying to find holes in every sentence. I am not usually that critical. edit:syntax error


"And after having spent their whole lives doing things that arbitrary and believing things that are false, and being regarded as odd by "outsiders" on that account, the cognitive dissonance pushing children to regard themselves as Xes must be enormous. "

Typo: I think there's suppose to be an "are" in "lives doing things that ARE arbitrary"


Thanks, fixed.


Is this intentional? "the anaesthesia was too too much for it"


No; fixed that too. BTW, it saves space on comment threads if people tell me about typos by email (my username @ycombinator.com).


Not necessarily. Being that pedantic and reading sentences that are not so well-edited is no fun at all.


Stephan Pinker has argued that swear words cause a involuntary negative emotional response similar to the slight of an angry face: http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/books/stuff/media_articles/TNR...(1%20of%203)%20(print).htm

So parents not wanting there children to hear taboo words would seem to be better considered as another example of not wanting their children to exposed to negative/frightening experiences.


Fantastic read.

My son has always been allowed to swear as long as he chooses appropriate times and places. The words aren't particularly important since a person can be extremely rude and/or cruel without ever swearing. So instead he has been taught about about the taboo surrounding swearing as well as the importance of communication.

I want him to be a kid and have a good time and feel safe but I also want him to be realistic and prepared. Sometimes it's a balancing act but I never get lazy and tell him untruths.I've considered it but it seems a slippery slope. My son is also very perceptive so when things don't add up, he's quick to point it out.

At times I will give him a simple answer but I tell him it is a simple answer and that I can tell him more if he wants it, now or later. He usually opts for later. If I don't know something, I suggest that we google it and research it together.

I've read that adolescence is somewhat of a new thing (past 100 years or so) and that it is lasting longer and longer because of the way children are coddled by their parents while overwhelmed by options via media. It's my hope that by keeping things real that he will be able to utilize the world around him rather than become another indecisive, selfish, bored 25 year old years away from exiting their adolescence.


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