No, You Can't Have A Hug


We were out with a big group of extended family, and eventually people started asking my daughter for hugs. Not "good-bye hugs," just hugs for no reason at all.

In its own right, this request upsets me. When small children feel relaxed and reasonably safe, they will do anything you tell them to do. This is the power of the trust they give you. Asking them to perform acts of cuteness on command, purely for your own personal entertainment, is an abuse of that power. Asking them to perform acts of emotional intimacy purely for your own personal entertainment is an abuse of the trust. I was among family, so I allowed it, but when the request came for a kiss, I put an end to it.

Someone asked why, and my wife explained that children shouldn't have to feel obligated to give hugs and kisses - and I agree. However, I added: If we were to make a routine of having her give out hugs and kisses, and then (god forbid) an adult ever tried to sexually abuse her, she'd have no idea where to draw the line. By abusing her trust, I would have left her physically and emotionally defenseless.


Like so many other human relationships, the parent-child bond is made almost entirely of trust. It has to be, since small children are entirely reliant on their caretakers. As the first weeks and months of life unfold, they learn to trust us by virtue of the fact that we can be counted on to provide for them physically and emotionally. We parents help, and we do it consistently and reliably. This forms the foundation for our children's trusting us: If parents give them food, then it must be okay to eat it, if parents introduce them to people, then those people must be friendly, if parents take them somewhere, then it must be an okay place to go, if parents teach them something, then there must be value in that knowledge. If children didn't trust us to provide them with positive, safe, and relevant experiences, they would become basket-cases.

That's why it bothers me when I see videos of parents feeding their infants and toddlers lemons. We all know what will happen when the child tastes the lemon for the first time: s/he will make a surprised face, the parents will think the face is cute, onlookers will get a good laugh at it. There's just one question left to ask: What about the kid?

It might seem harmless, but on the other hand, such parents have now given their children a reason to second-guess their parents. The lesson is, "I can't always trust that what my parents will give me won't turn out to be an intolerably sour and acidic thing." The bond of trust is reduced just a little bit. When all we're getting out of this is some cute video footage, it just strikes me as being selfish. Wouldn't it be better for your child to know that not only are you looking after his/her best interests, but you're also keeping a high price on that trust; you won't sell it out for something as trivial as a good photo op?

If I feel this way about making a toddler taste a lemon, you can imagine how I feel about the many more elaborate versions of this, such as the Santa Claus lie. Teaching our children to genuinely believe in elaborate hoaxes, just so their parents can proclaim that the children's naivete is "cute," teaches them only to disbelieve their parents.

There is seemingly no end to the list of things some parents are willing to lie about: monsters, ghosts, elves, magic, anthropomorphism, and so on. Some mistakenly believe that this is how they instill in their children a rich and active imagination. But no, this merely forces the child to do extra work figuring out the difference between belief and the suspension of disbelief. Instead of telling a story about an imaginary character named Santa Claus, in which a child could safely fantasize and let her imagination run wild, the parents stamp out the imagination component of the process by simply duping her.


This is lunacy. If we want our children to value our thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and advice, then we ought to commit to building a strong foundation of trust within the relationship. You might not get everything right, but it's not impossible to simply agree not to knowingly get things wrong.

As children age, they're bound to challenge every thought that occurs to us. Not only is that a wonderful and important developmental process for them, it is also a spectacular learning opportunity for us, since they might ask questions or wonder about things we haven't considered before. If so, we'll want to be forthcoming about that, too, so that our children learn a few additional life lessons, such as:
  1. Not every thought or belief withstands close scrutiny.
  2. It's okay to be wrong, as long as I'm open-minded about the truth and willing to accept it when I see it.
  3. Sometimes kids can be right, too, and if so, my parents will love and respect me for the knowledge I bring with me.
  4. Even when my parents are wrong, they are acting in good faith, subject to the knowledge that they have.

All this, without fostering a general sense of distrust. I won't always be correct about every single thing I tell my daughter, but it's important to me that she at least trust that I'm not trying to pull the wool over her eyes.

Nor should she ever feel that I'd tell her something just so that I had an excuse to observe her "being cute." I already think she's cute. She doesn't have to give strangers hugs or be duped into believing in a magical flying santa-god in order to look cute to me. She's cute when she learns to jump and then practices to get it right. She's cute when she discovers a new word and tries to use it often. She's cute when she expresses affection to me and others voluntarily. She's cute when she asks me to take her to the park, because she knows that as long as there isn't another, prior commitment, I am happy to oblige. And I don't need to feed her a lemon in order to watch her occasionally recoil from a food she doesn't like.

This is all in service of a trusting bond between us. I can't teach her things if she's skeptical of each lesson, and I can't keep her safe if she doesn't trust me to take care of her. Nor can I teach her the right way to be skeptical if I give her reason to believe her own parents are disingenuous. Healthy skepticism comes from evaluating good-faith information on its own merits, but a latent distrust of all claims made even by one's closest relations isn't skepticism. It's cynicism. That's the last thing I'd want to encourage in her.


Free Music

My free music is everywhere. Today I dug up an old demo from a project I never ended up finishing, and was pleasantly surprised. I hope you enjoy it, too.


Some Links


Some Links

Live Life Deeply, Rather Than Broadly

Warning: The above video contains the kind of language and subject matter found in the average comedy club.

The thrust of the above video clip from the inimitable Bill Burr is, "There's too much information in the world, and everybody misses just a little bit." It almost sounds like he was channeling Hayek, but more likely Burr was just taking stock of the fact that nobody knows everything.

I was thinking about this while travelling recently. It seems to me that, unless you really despise a place, no matter where you go, people have figured out a way to live well. I love coffee breaks in Canada, live music in Texas, foreign food in New York City, fine dining in California, the outdoor running community in Colorado, the gym culture in Florida, and so on, and so forth. But as widely as I have traveled so far, I have not yet discovered a place that consistently got everything right.

This concept, accurate at an aggregate level, also sort of applies at an individual level. We all have acquaintances, friends, and family we admire, and they all live good lives, but everyone makes choices somewhat different from what we would do in the same situation. Still, some get it more right than others, and my closest friends tend to get "the most right" out of everyone I know. This shouldn't come as a surprise since friends tend to be people whose values are similar to our own.

Then, every now and then, a close friend makes a decision that calls this narrative into question. A friend might seem to be leading a close parallel life to your own, then suddenly take a 90-degree turn and veer off in a totally different direction. You might be inseparable work colleagues for years, until one of you suddenly decides to go back to school and/or change industries entirely. You might lifelong friends until the day one of you decides to go "find himself/herself," and ends up with a totally new circle of friends with which you have very little in common. Maybe the arrival of a newborn child or a cataclysmic life-change sends your friend off into a previously unconsidered kind of life. Or perhaps you never really knew your friend as well as you thought you did.

If we're doing it right, life is a series of choices that get narrower and more satisfactory as we go. We start out as children with the whole world waiting for us, and then we slowly shape our lives with important decisions, until the array of additional, practical choices available to us is relatively small, but no one choice will completely upend us. Changing your college major from science to business can have consequences as far-reaching as which city you end up living in and what your lifetime income will be. But choosing between accepting a new promotion at work or moving to another nearby firm seldom results in a major lifestyle change. Deciding whether to do soccer or track when you're 13 might very well impact the kinds of activities your prefer for the rest of your life, but deciding whether or not to do that community 5K coming up is largely irrelevant.

Crucially, the more choices we make, the better we should get at making choices. Our goal in life should be to become happier and more satisfied, and large disruptions should only occur if they are acts of nature (as in the case of death, disease, etc.), or if they payoff is so large that it's worth the disruption (as in the case of taking a "dream job" offer and moving across the country or world).

It's not such a good thing if your life is full of twists and turns that result in a lot of false starts, drawing boards, or major catharses. Over time, the volatility should tend to disappear as we transition from major to minor life decisions.

My point here is that if you find yourself leading the kind of life that involves persistent major drama, or constant and drastic change, or hopping from one thing to the next, always reinventing yourself, then you may want to consider your level of knowledge. Most of us are pretty wise, but it's better to have deep knowledge about your own life than it is to have broad knowledge about life-in-general.

So, as you aim for happiness, aim for wisdom, and as you aim for wisdom, aim for depth rather than breadth. Consider large increases in the breadth of your knowledge a sign that you may need to double-down on depth.


Some Links

Really exciting links in this round.

  • People who DIY their own artificial pancreases - and they work. And Medtronic's artificial pancreas will get FDA approval as early as 2017.
  • Speaking of which, David R. Henderson is excellent on the FDA.
  • An economist/runner (no relation) developed a calculator that estimates your potential best running times, based on your previous PRs and the age at which you ran them. The calculator is based on this paper, and also includes separate calculators for swimming, high jump and chess.
  • It's been a while, but I wrote a piece at Sweet Talk Conversation about how open borders is the same thing as free trade, and free trade is just plain good.
  • More recently, I wrote a different piece about how Trump might be bad, but he's no worse than any of the others. My point: If you think he's bad, then you should be really worried about how everything he's talking about is already out there. David R. Henderson scooped me literally at the same time I was writing my piece.


Inexplicable Parenting

A study purporting to analyze the effects on children of spanking was widely reported recently. Unsurprisingly (to me), after analyzing fifty (that's five-zero) years of information, the researchers found that spanking produced a lot of net harm. It's logical to conclude that when we hurt our children, our children become worse-off, and it is not difficult to understand that, since there are alternative forms of discipline, citing the need for discipline is no excuse here.

Still, a solid majority of Americans continue to believe in spanking. It's a behavior that we keep passing down to subsequent generations, despite having no productive use, and despite its causing significant harm to children. Harming children is a terrible thing to do, and we no longer have any excuse for doing it. So, let's all stop.

News of this recent study is a couple of weeks old, but I was thinking about it over the weekend when my over-tired, over-stimulated young toddler turned a trip to the mall into an enormous temper tantrum.

It was the first I'd ever seen her like this. She screamed and cried, she turned red and was literally shaking with rage. The issue appeared to be that she didn't want to get into her car seat and drive to a park, but instead wanted to already be at the park. She just didn't know - she's a toddler. A rational, fully informed person would be able to understand that, in order to get to the park, we need to get into the car and drive there. All she knew is that she wanted to ride in the swing, but she didn't want to get into her car seat. She felt so strongly about this that she was willing to protest, and like any toddler, when she didn't get her way, she went into a tantrum.

But, my reaction to a tantrum like this was to feel very sorry for her. I understood where she was coming from, not because she was 100% correct, but because from the perspective of a not-yet-two-year-old, it makes sense and is the kind of thing I would feel, too, if I were in her shoes. As we grow up, we learn how to control our emotions and deal with occasional dissatisfaction. At that age, we haven't learned those skills yet. Obviously, I'd love to help instill her with those skills, but that takes time, and she wasn't "there" yet.

When it was clear that she wasn't going to allow herself to be buckled into the car seat, I picked her up, took her over by the trees and in the sunlight, held her and spoke gently and calmly to her. I dropped the subject of trying to get into the car and go; instead, I spoke to her about how I understood that she was angry, and that it's okay to be angry. I pointed out airplanes and birds to her (which she likes to see). I rubbed her back softly and did my best to calm her down.

At no point during this process, however, did it even cross my mind to punish her. I was frustrated, sure, because I wanted to go. I suppose that, in a way, the reason I couldn't go was because she was upset, but how could I punish her for a reaction that, at its core, makes sense? I honestly cannot imagine what other parents must be thinking when they conclude that an upset child should be made so afraid of the consequences of being upset that she would simply suppress her reaction and be calm - or else! I don't want her to think she can't tell me that she's upset, nor do I want her to feel that being upset is wrong. I simply want her to learn the right way to talk about it. Punishing her - spanking her - would never be a correct way to teach her that.

To me, this all seems obvious, logical, and reasonable. So, when I read about how many other parents believe in spanking, and when I hear parents out in public, yelling in anger at their misbehaving children, I am simply perplexed.


The Cold War

Edward Teller
Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

Daniel Kuehn offers us a moral dilemma:
So here’s a question – if you had the choice between two worlds: 
1. A world with normal conventional warfare that cropped up with the frequency that wars have for the last century and with American participation rates the same as the last century, or 
2. A world where the U.S. didn’t fight in wars but every president had a kill list of national security threats that was vetted by the intelligence community and White House lawyers and prosecuted viciously.
If only there were some historical precedent we could use to assess the relative merits of each option.