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How can we treat children morally?

Ali Abdaal
Ali Abdaal

In this episode, we review Ali's unemployment, talk about how to talk about workism, and Taimur finally elucidates some concrete ideas about how society treats children immorally, and how we treat children better.

Some of the highlights from our discussion:

Scrolling through social media is a form of passive leisure which isn’t enriching or refreshing. Although we may feel as if we are taking a break from work, our indulgence in social media only leaves us feeling guilty and often less refreshed than if we had spent half the time spent scrolling just actively trying to disconnect.

“What do I really want to do be doing right now?” If you find yourself just scrolling aimlessly, try to catch yourself and ask yourself what do you actually want to be doing right now. This is a useful life hack and the act of bringing your attention to this question will force you to pause and reconsider the real value that you are getting out of endlessly scrolling.

People have different ideas about what work actually is which leads to varying definitions. In her book Your Money or Your Life, Vicki Robbin argues that the only thing that defines work is that you are making money from it and that is therefore the definition of work – that thing that you are doing for money. She argues that a lot of people like to define work in other ways – such as the thing that gives you meaning or the thing that gives you social interaction. In reality, we can get all of those things from non-work activities and therefore the thing that really defines work is what you are doing to make money. Indeed, the salient aspect of the money component is the lack of complete agency – not the complete lack of agency but the lack of complete agency. To some extent you have to do something to make money and therefore you won’t be doing something for ‘work’ completely out of choice.

Paul Millerd, who featured on last week’s podcast, proposed the Accidental Meaning theory which attempts to explain the apparent generational disjuncture in how people have found meaning in their lives. He argues that the post-war boomer generation found their lives to be quite meaningful because of the way society was structured – fewer people lived in cities, community tended to be stronger, family life was generally stronger with a greater proportion of a stay at home parent. All of these factors would lead to you staying in one place and building up relationships and this sense of meaning almost accidentally. Whereas in modern society, we have to think a lot harder about finding meaning in our lives because we are less concerned about finding a community or going to local events and building relationships or even building a family. We now have to actively look for meaning which is perhaps where some people struggle.

On the autonomy of children:

We discuss an essay we were sent by a listener entitled ‘Taking children's autonomy seriously as a parent’ by Quill Kukla. We’ve talked in broad terms about children’s autonomy briefly on the podcast before but this essay dives into the deeper structures in society.

The essay argues that we don’t take children’s autonomy seriously or treat them as we would other people. A few examples of this include:

  • It would be unacceptable to say you don’t like a particular group of people but saying something “I don’t like kids” is quite widely accepted.
  • We discount the testimony of children as being somewhat flawed because of their age.
  • We lie quite openly to kids and we think it’s cute when they believe our lies – it would be strange if we took this approach with any other group of people in society.
  • We restrict what they can do to a much greater extent than we would with other people’s lives.

Quill argues that “children’s autonomy rights are as strong and central to their flourishing as anyone else’s". One of our core moral tasks should be to enhance and protect that autonomy but a plethora of cultural norms for parenting serve to push us against this. There is an unsaid norm that you are seen as a good parent if you are being more restrictive and, as such, we’ve come to associate good parenting with some level of oppression which, when put in isolation, is a very strange aspect of the parent/child relationships of modern society.

Quill suggests that there are two underlying ideologies at work here:

  • We see children as ‘not full people’ – we don’t grant them the same level of personhood as other people. If you have an elderly person who is dependent on other people to care for them, your mindset is not ‘this person is dependent, I own them, I decide everything for them’ – your mindset is more geared towards giving them as much autonomy as you can. But our approach to children who are perhaps still at least partly dependent, is full autonomy.
  • It’s the parent’s responsibility to create a specific type of person - she argues that "it's deeply woven into our productivity culture that we treat children as products and that we measure our own success by how well we create what we set out to create". This success is measured according to societal norms and expectations which then only reinforces the dynamic that has developed.

Links:
1. Taking children's autonomy seriously as a parent — the essay by Quill Kukla that we talk about in the podcast.


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What is this?

Not Overthinking is a podcast about happiness, creativity, and the human condition. We talk about things to help us think, do, and be better. Things like social interaction, lifestyle design, mental models...things that are hard to examine, but important to explore. And hopefully, things that make for a fun and interesting chat every week.

Follow Not Overthinking on Twitter: https://twitter.com/noverthinking.

Who are we?

Ali is a junior doctor and YouTuber working in Cambridge, UK. He makes videos about medicine, technology, productivity and lifestyle design. His links: YouTube, Blog, Newsletter, Instagram

Taimur is a data scientist and writer, working on his own startup Causal. He writes on his blog and as a columnist for Medium. His links: Blog, Twitter, Medium, Instagram

Podcast

Ali Abdaal

Junior doctor, YouTuber, web designer, aspiring musician. Trying out this blogging thing.