If criticism is valuable why not be more critical?

“If criticism is valuable why not be more critical?”

“As a critical rationalist Popperian, I value criticism highly like I thought you do too, Sarah. I believe it is vital to counter the irrational anti-criticism memes rampant among coercive parents. I recall you saying ‘criticism is a gift through which we learn’, so it’s disappointing that you are watering that down. Depriving kids and other people of our criticism is not taking them seriously! If we don’t share our criticisms how is that going to help coercive parents change their minds?

Sarah, this needs a rethink. It is the height of irrationality to question the value of criticism! You shouldn’t be encouraging irrationality! Taking Children Seriously must build a culture that recognizes the value of criticism in all its forms, without reservation, otherwise Taking Children Seriously is just as anti-knowledge as any other bad theory.”

That is like saying: “I value knowledge and education highly like I thought you do too, Sarah. I believe it is vital to counter the irrational anti-coercive-teaching memes rampant among non-coercive parents. I recall you saying ‘education is a gift through which we learn’, so it’s disappointing that you are now questioning the value of the coercive education to which I subject people. Depriving kids and other people of compulsory lessons is not taking them seriously! If we don’t subject parents to compulsory lessons, how is that going to help them change their minds? It is the height of irrationality to question the value of coercive education! You shouldn’t be encouraging irrationality! Taking Children Seriously must build a culture that recognises the value of education in all its forms, without reservation, otherwise Taking Children Seriously is just as anti-knowledge as any other bad theory.”

Subjecting people (of any age!) to unwanted criticism is coercive. It is coercive education, like subjecting children to compulsory lessons. Whether you call it ‘education’ or ‘criticism’ or ‘taking children seriously’, if it is not wanted by the person on the receiving end, it is coercive. Coercion impedes the growth of knowledge. Coercion impairs knowledge-creating processes and institutions. Taking Children Seriously is opposed to it. Taking Children Seriously has always been opposed to it.

“But you used to urge people to be open to criticism! Surely the growth of knowledge requires openness to criticism, otherwise you might not correct errors! What about what David Deutsch wrote in The Beginning of Infinity, about how progress sped up when society developed a culture of criticism?”

Criticism is indeed valuable. There is no growth of knowledge without criticism. I am not watering anything down. I am not advocating depriving anyone of criticism they want. However, when I used to urge people to be open to criticism, I was making a significant mistake. And if that mistake on my part has given you and others the mistaken impression that all criticism is necessarily valuable, or that if someone does not welcome and engage with all criticism no matter what, that person is being irrational, or that subjecting other people to our criticisms whether they like it or not is taking them seriously, well, that was a mistake on my part.

Our minds are already open to criticism. Sure, we all have all sorts of stuckness – entrenched bits – in our minds, areas in which there is a lack of openness to criticism. But the idea that saying “be open to criticism” would help people to free up such stuck bits of their mind is a mistake. Consider what expressing the idea of criticism (without which there can be no error correction, growth of knowledge, progress, learning) as a categorical imperative in the way I did might do in the mind of someone trying to live according to the “be open to criticism” imperative.

Here you are, your mind flowing with ideas (and misconceptions, and entrenched bits, true ideas, false ideas, a vast edifice of ever-changing thinking. Now along I come with my “be open to criticism” and other “canons of rationality”, and I am presenting powerful criticisms of everything you have ever believed about how to treat children; and the message you are getting is that if you remain unpersuaded by my devastating criticisms – and especially if you cannot instantly articulate why my criticisms are unpersuasive – then you are violating the canons of rationality and you are failing to “be open to criticism” (you bad and wrong evil anti-rational coercive parent, you).

You don’t want to be evil. You don’t want to violate the hallowed canons of rationality. You don’t want to be bad and wrong and anti-rational. You don’t want to be “not open to criticism”. You certainly don’t want to be acting wrongly towards your beloved children, whom you love so so much. You are wondering what if my criticisms of you are right and your unease about my criticisms is you being “not open to criticism”. So you start feeling compelled to override your own inner criticism (including your inexplicit and unconscious criticism!) in the name of being “open to criticism”. You start overriding the very criticism that is actually relevant and valuable in your unique problem situation in that moment – your own criticism – in the name of being “open to criticism”! You coerce yourself. Coercion impedes and impairs the growth of knowledge. So in the name of creative rational thinking, you throw a spanner in the works of your creative rational thinking. And you think that unless you do that, you are being ‘irrational’ and not taking the growth of knowledge seriously. 😳

“I’m not suggesting people coerce themselves! They shouldn’t be coerced by criticism. It’s irrational! What I’m saying is, people need to develop an inner culture of welcoming criticism. Maybe learning about Taking Children Seriously can help them do that.”

What you are alleging is that people have a dearth of knowledge that they shouldn’t have, and entrenched thinking that they shouldn’t have, and that there is a certain kind of knowledge that you think you have, that they lack, and that they should correct. That raises the question, how do people learn?

Do they learn through coercion, or do they learn through what Karl Popper called “conjectures and refutations” – bold guesses and checking their guesses to see which stand up to their own critical scrutiny, including inexplicit and unconscious criticism? Unwanted criticism is coercive education. Coercive education interferes with and impedes and impairs our own inner criticism: it sabotages learning. It sabotages it when the person receiving the unwanted education is a child, and it sabotages it when it is an adult. It sabotages it when it is an adult trying to take his children seriously, and it sabotages it when it is a coercionist who currently feels sure that coercing children is necessary and good.

This site is about taking children (and other people) seriously. Subjecting anyone of any age to coercive education (unwanted criticism) is not taking them seriously. Nor is it even taking the valuableness of criticism seriously! Let alone taking the growth of knowledge seriously.

So to answer directly the question of why not be more critical of coercionists (those who advocate coercion), first, this site is full of criticisms of coercion, explaining its effects and explaining how it impedes the growth of knowledge, and why that is a problem. Secondly, if the question is really asking why not give it to them with both barrels, shame and punish them for their alleged evil, the answer is that coercion impedes the growth of knowledge and impairs the very creative rational thinking processes through which the person learns. Disabling and sabotaging the very thinking that could make a positive difference is a mistake. And finally, being fallible human beings and not omniscient, we could be mistaken. What if we do all that shaming and punishing, and we are actually wrong?

See also: Surely criticism is always good?

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘If criticism is valuable why not be more critical?’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/if-criticism-is-valuable-why-not-be-more-critical/

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