Mr. GM Palmer was kind enough to say that it made him sad that I post so seldom, which inspired me to get to work on the last post for a while about the Hegelian Dialectic. I’ve already started work on a long post about another subject, but it isn’t finished yet, so:
In the late 80’s, there was a TV cartoon about the Flintstones and the Rubbles when they were children. I was too old for non-classic cartoons by then, but for some reason I watched one episode. Little Wilma’s friends had started taking drugs and pressuring her to join in, and I think she was tempted to give in to keep their companionship. She talked it over with her parents, and they sat there smiling as they listened, then told her about the things drugs do to you. “They can even stop you from thinking straight!” they told her cheerfully, and little Wilma replied, “YUCK!” They didn’t issue any orders, like, “You are NOT going to use drugs, young lady,” nor did they seem at all troubled that their daughter was associating with drug users. If I recall correctly, when little Wilma bravely stood up to her friends, they were so inspired that they stopped using drugs too.
At that time, I didn’t understand why that approach to keeping your kid off drugs would probably be ineffective, but I do recall finding the storyline unconvincing. Now, I recognize this approach as one derived from Carl Rogers, and I realize that it was what my teachers and many of my classmates’ parents were trying to do.
Allow me to quote again from the very good The Road to Malpsychia:
…Values Clarification was essentially an adaptation of Maslovian motivational theory and Carl Rogers’ ideas about person-centered therapy. Instead of being taught that certain things were right, others wrong, children were encouraged to “clarify” their inborn values. When students discussed hypothetical moral dilemmas in class, the teacher-facilitator carefully refrained from suggesting that one response was preferable to any other. Like shoppers in a market, children could select their beliefs from a dazzling array of possibilities.
Values Clarification was destined to have a lasting influence on programs that aimed to educate American schoolchildren about drugs…. In these programs, teacher-facilitators – or, in the case of DARE, specially trained police officers – were careful never to say in so many words that drug use was wrong. Students were supposed to discuss the facts among themselves and come to their own conclusions about healthy choices. All too often the long-term effect was to remove some of the stigma surrounding the subject and leave children with an unwarranted confidence about their ability to experiment safely.
Because of Values Clarification, which alert readers will recognize as a variation on the Hegelian Dialectic, since the 60’s teachers have had the silly notion that by encouraging students to discuss things instead of telling them facts, they are “teaching them to think”. This doesn’t apply only to drugs. Schools have become hotbeds of violence because instead of telling children, “Don’t hit other kids,” teachers try to inspire bullies to reach, on their own, the enlightened conclusion that they shouldn’t. Meanwhile, the smaller kids have to resign themselves to being punching bags until their larger classmates receive their enlightenment.
The Values Clarification attitude often lingers well into adulthood. The problem is a logistical one: people simply do not have time to figure out the moral course in every situation they are going to meet. In addition, given how fallible even the best human minds are and how incomplete our knowledge always is, sometimes with the best will in the world we will reach the wrong conclusions. That is why we have codes of conduct that have been worked out over centuries.
Values Clarification leaves us at the mercy of whatever conclusions the people we deal with have independently come to. I once dated someone for two months before discovering that I had been lied to about several very important matters, including whether or not he was seeing other people or using illegal substances. When I angrily accused him of lying to me, he said, “So what? We’re not married, we’re not living together. We’ve only been dating for two months.” He and his friends had decided that there’s nothing wrong with lying to people as long as you haven’t known them for very long.
Another ex frequently did things, usually minor things, that hurt me, and when I asked that he stop, he would respond by demanding a convincing philosophical reason that he do so. “You claim to love me and this is hurting me” was apparently not good enough. Now, people who have read my blog might point out that giving convincing philosophical arguments that someone stop doing something is not much of a challenge for me. This is true. The problem is that when I gave him my theoretical appeals, he never decided, “Yes, that is a valid reason, I will stop doing that.” His next step was invariably to argue more. Only years later did I realize that this was the process to him. He had so internalized Values Clarification, the Hegelian Dialectic, that he believed that the proper response to an objection to his behavior was to continue discussing it, weighing all possible permutations and arguments, with no resolution ever in sight. Nowadays, of course, I put distance between myself and anyone who displays this attitude even once, but back then, I naively believed that we were having real arguments that could be resolved.
I think that many unscrupulous young men have learned to use a crude form of this Delphi Technique to gain sexual favors from a girl. This never happened to me, but a couple of female friends have told me about this kind of thing. “Take your hand away from there.” “Why?” To a girl in a vulnerable state of mind, this can be surprisingly difficult to deal with. Especially when she herself has been trained in Values Clarification instead of told in no uncertain terms that she is not to allow her boyfriends to take liberties until she is married, or at least of legal age.
This attitude has a more sinister side. When I was younger, before I embraced my reactionary inclinations and started digging through musty books to learn the theoretical underpinnings of everything I dislike about the modern world, for years I was good friends with a man with whom I went to high school. He ended our friendship a few years ago for trivial reasons, and in retrospect I am glad. His behavior was mostly good, except for ditching old friends, but his conversation would be maddening to someone who has studied Edmund Burke and G. K. Chesterton.
For example, there were a few times when he and I happened to be discussing child molestation, and I mentioned something I have read, that sometimes children do enjoy being molested, which only adds to their confusion and guilt, and does nothing to lessen the damage it does to them. My friend would always reply with an idiot statement he got from someplace: “Old enough to want it is old enough to do it.” Every time, I would lay out in detail everything I knew about the many reasons that child molestation is damaging even if the victim derives some passing enjoyment from it. Every time, I believed that I had cleared up this bit of confusion in his mind, only to have him say the exact same thing months later.
Now, I do know that he would never have actually done such a thing. In practice, his morals were actually much better than his conversation indicated. But supposing that he had wanted to have sex with a pre-teen or child. His Values Clarification code of conduct would have been a flimsy barrier to anything he had felt any desire to do.
And now that we have a large population of adults who were trained in Values Clarification, that barrier has not proved strong enough. When Mary Kay Letourneau was first arrested, I remember the incredulous reaction of everyone – including the friend in the last few paragraphs – that a grown woman would have any interest in sex with a 13-year-old boy. I myself found it utterly bizarre. Today, fifteen years later, it has become commonplace to hear about female teachers molesting their prepubescent male students. I even once read a profile of the type of teacher who does this (no longer online). A great many women clarified their values and discovered that helping themselves to underage boys did not conflict with their innermost selves.
This attitude can be applied to many things besides sex. Property, for example; I would guess that part of the reason for the continuing increase in socialist measures is that the old moral imperative not to covet one’s neighbor’s goods has been replaced by asking yourself if you believe that it would be wrong to get the government to steal them for you. Abortion is another; unfortunately, I would not be surprised if Peter Singer and his accomplices get their wish to have “abortion rights” extended until two years after the child is born. (And if they do, they will not stop there.)
When your fellow citizens start clarifying their values, everything is up for grabs.