We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Such love as we allow

Via Tim Blair and David Thompson, I came across this thoughtful philosophical discussion compèred by Joe Gelonesi of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?

The power of the family to tilt equality hasn’t gone unnoticed, and academics and public commentators have been blowing the whistle for some time. Now, philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse have felt compelled to conduct a cool reassessment.

Swift in particular has been conflicted for some time over the curious situation that arises when a parent wants to do the best for her child but in the process makes the playing field for others even more lopsided.

‘I got interested in this question because I was interested in equality of opportunity,’ he says.

‘I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.’

Once he got thinking, Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors, and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions—from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories—form a largely unseen but palpable fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations.

So, what to do?

According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.

‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’


It seems that from both the child’s and adult’s point of view there is something to be said about living in a family way. This doesn’t exactly parry the criticism that families exacerbate social inequality. For this, Swift and Brighouse needed to sort out those activities that contribute to unnecessary inequality from those that don’t.

‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.

I hesitate to add anything to David Thompson’s takedown. I would almost call it an exorcism. Thompson writes:

Conceivably, there are quite a few parents and children who would like to escape a state education similar to my own, where those deemed overly studious ran the risk of being bullied, tormented or whipped across the face with bootlaces, thanks to the attention of the school’s dozen or so budding sociopaths, who amused themselves, in corridors and in class, with apparent impunity. A state school, a comprehensive, where objects of discernible value were routine targets of vandalism and theft, and where the teaching of basic grammar was thought inegalitarian and therefore superfluous. A conceit embraced by other ‘progressive’ educational establishments.

But it’s not all Thou Shalt Not:

“In contrast, reading stories at bedtime, argues Swift, gives rise to acceptable familial relationship goods, even though this also bestows advantage.”

Ah, this “we” would allow.

“Swift makes it clear that although both elite schooling and bedtime stories might skew the family game, restricting the former would not interfere with the creation of the special loving bond that families give rise to. Taking the books away is another story.”

No, “we” won’t take your books away. So there’s that.

The one thing I feel compelled to add is that the philosopher (I think it is Swift rather than Brighouse who is being quoted) does concede that abolishing the family would be “a really bad idea”. He goes to some lengths to explain exactly why private schools should be abolished but reading bedtime stories should be permitted. No doubt all three, Gelonesi, Swift and Brighouse, feel genuine frustration that the rubes in the audience have got themselves so worked up. Why, the whole point of the theory of “familial relationship goods” is to show that reading to your children and other forms of passing on privilege within the domestic sphere can be justified!

Gelonesi is quite clear that Swift and Brighouse are defenders of the family:

Although it’s controversial, it seems that Swift and Brighouse are philosophically inching their way to a novel accommodation for a weathered institution ever more in need of a rationale for existing.

And there is the metacontext: the family is in need of a rationale for existing. From philosophers.

Philosophically, Swift and Brighouse’s argument that parental care is an acceptable deviation from the straight road to equality seems weak to me. If equality is the destination, the supreme principle, then familial love should be abolished.

47 comments to Such love as we allow

  • For that matter, if the objective is to remove any possible advantage (rather than ameliorating disadvantage), then let us simply turn all children into crack addicts. That way they will be equally bad off.

  • Such people are why I support civilian ownership of firearms.

  • rxc

    And of course, when it does not suffice to take newborns from their mother’s arms and re-assign them, by lot, to others, or to be raised in state creches, because “inequalities of results” do not disappear, then we move to the next stage. Namely, to stop allowing people to choose their partners, and instead assign them by lot. In-vitro-fertilization shall be the only permitted method of breeding, with egg and sperm donated and mated under strict supervision.

    Sex will still be permitted, because it is “fun”, but it will be strictly controlled. We will all be having a wonderful time…

  • the other rob

    Didn’t Rush write a song about this, on 2112?

    We’ve taken care of everything
    The words you read, the songs you sing
    The pictures that give pleasure to your eyes
    It’s one for all and all for one
    We work together, common sons
    Never need to wonder how or why

    We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx
    Our great computers fill the hallowed halls
    We are the Priests, of the Temples of Syrinx
    All the gifts of life are held within our walls

    Look around at this world we’ve made
    Equality our stock in trade
    Come and join the Brotherhood of Man
    Oh, what a nice, contented world
    Let the banners be unfurled
    Hold the Red Star proudly high in hand

    We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx
    Our great computers fill the hallowed halls
    We are the Priests, of the Temples of Syrinx
    All the gifts of life are held within our walls

  • Lee Moore

    I think it’s very good stuff. It demonstrates the essential point, that we normally have to demonstrate by making up our own illustrations, that increasing equality does not require any improvement in the lot of those at the bottom of the pile. These folk can be left in the poo, or even made worse off, just so long as we make the lot of the mid- and top of- pile folk worse.

    I have always cherished the famous Clackmannanshire phonics experiment. In which – in darkest socialist Scotland – some lunatic thought it was worth a try to teach reading the old fashioned way rather than the then ubiquitous guess the word way. The results are always reported thus :

    Clackmannanshire children were three-and-a-half years ahead of their peers in reading and almost two years ahead in spelling

    (from the Graun, but it was reported in the same way everywhere)

    What they meant to say of course was that the Clackmannanshire pupils were performing at the level reasonably to be expected of average children taught in the straightforward manner by which their grandparents had been taught – while their peers, at that time pretty much every child in the UK state school system, were three and a half years behind what could be reasonably expected in reading, and two years behind in spelling.

    The glory of egalitarianism is that however crappy the lot of those at the bottom, you can always have a jolly good go at crappifying the lot of those above them.

  • lowlylowlycook

    Philosopher starts with Totalitarian premise, arrives at Totalitarian conclusion.

    More news at 11.

  • Phil B

    “Reading bedtime stories should be permitted” FOR NOW.

    There. Fixed it for you.

  • Our new nationalist masters are way ahead of him. Freeeeeedom!

  • Myno

    It’s a hop, skip and a short jump to Anthem. Kill the personal pronoun. When it’s only “we” and “us”, none can better another.

  • A lot (perhaps the majority) of free marketeers believe in “equality of opportunity”, though they would throw a fit if you accused them of being egalitarians. The problem is that, if opportunities are made equal, outcomes must be equal; if they are not this is proof that opportunities were not equal.

    A horserace, for example. This horse has an unfair advantage because of its bigger lungs; this one has an unfair advantage because its jockey is in form; this one has an unfair advantage because it likes soft ground. Once all unfair advantages have been dealt with, the result must be a deadheat.

    This is fine if you want to use social engineering to make your dreams come true; not so much if you don’t.

  • Henry Crun

    I watched the film Equilibrium last night. I’m in two minds as to whether it was a documentary or science fiction.

  • Cristina

    It’s such an inexhaustible source of joy the certainty of the devotion of the left to our betterment!

  • Alsadius

    A few years back, ABC had a lovely cartoon game that told children that they should die at a young age because they’re burning too much CO2, complete with an exploding “average Aussie greenhouse pig”. http://www.news.com.au/…/story-e6frfro0-1111116454821

    Frankly, I’m not even too surprised by this sort of crap anymore.

  • Ellen

    It’s easier to dumb down and brutalize than to educate and civilize. Thus we get the Least Common Denominator. And even then, some brutes will be more brutal than others.

  • Veryretired

    It is no accident that the perversion of the concept of equality before the law into absolute equality in all things ends up destroying the very liberty the former helps to preserve.

    In a similar fashion, the concept of human rights as areas of human activity which should be unfettered by state interference is inverted by so-called “positive” rights into demands that require the active intervention of the state in order to take resources from some and transfer them to others.

    The genius of the progressive campaign to politicize everything will only be overcome by an equally inspired effort to refute the central premise—that private action is a threat which must be guarded against by conferring ever expanding powers to a compassionate state.

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    How long before children are raised by the Department of Hatcheries and Conditioning?

    “I’m so glad I’m a Beta. Alphas work so hard and Gammas wear such beastly clothes. I’m so glad I’m a Beta …”

    Aldous Huxley presumably thought he was writing a warning as to how society might develop, but the Left seems to be in the process of adopting it as a “how to” manual.

  • Fraser Orr

    See that is the problem with reductio ad absurdum. There is almost no degree of absurdity one can reach that there isn’t someone who will think that it is a perfectly reasonable conclusion.

  • Regional

    Bolhi parents should not be allowed to indoctrinate their children in Left Wing ideology.

  • Regional

    There’ll b one loser from the G.E. You!

  • Nicholas (Self-Sovereignty) Gray

    Ellen, don’t you mean ‘LOWEST Common denominator’? ‘Least’ actually implies some sort of elitism.
    I pointed out a few weeks ago that america is ready for an Affirmative Action Relationship Department. Let dates be assigned at random, regardless of personal choice about looks! Marriage partners also could be randomized!
    Or everyone could be allowed cosmetic surgery as a public service, so we could all look like movie stars and models and beauty contest winners!

  • The new literalism: it’s good to throw the baby out with the bathwater!

    Best regards

  • roystgnr

    I once tried to explain to someone that “women are being paid N% less than men for the same work” is an absurdity in a world full of capitalists who would all *love* to fire all their male employees and hire female replacements for an N/2% cost savings.

    The goal posts were immediately shifted, to “Actually, women are *really* being exploited by their husbands and children, thanks to the patriarchy’s sacralization of gendered love”. At this point I bowed out, because we’d hit the limits of Poe’s Law: when someone claims that their ideology demands Defeating the Lies of Family and Love it’s impossible to tell whether they’re a serious feminist or a reactionary troll or a cartoon villain.

    Apparently I was too hasty; “Loving Families are Unfair” is an actual thing that honest stupid people believe.

  • Nicholas (Self-Sovereignty) Gray

    I’m still waiting for someone to say “April Fool!!!” (Yes, but if we’d tried this on the actual day, you’d have known straight away!)

  • john malpas

    Take to crime is the answer. The toughest, the brightest , the best looking will be able to stamp into the ground the average.
    Being law abiding is like being a battery hen.

  • Let’s race to the bottom.

  • TimR

    My answer to them involves sex and travel.

  • View from the Solent

    Straight out of Book V (VI?) of ‘Republic’ by that well known proto-Nazi Plato.

  • Actually from there

    @ Ellen
    @ Nicholas (Self-Sovereignty) Gray

    Peeve alert!

    “Least common denominator” or “Lowest common denominator” is neither here nor there. It’s just the wrong analogy and yet it’s so widely used, in all sorts of contexts. If you teach to the level of the slowest kid in the class (assuming you’re trying to bring that kid as far as he/she can get), then “highest common factor” would be a lot more appropriate. Likewise for all those meetings where there are so many opposing views that the outcome is crap but is still as good as you can get. “Lowest common denominator” kind of sounds right, because it has ‘lowest’ (as in ‘low-down and dirty’) and ‘common’ (as in ‘common as muck’) but it’s just wrong. It annoys me to a degree that is way beyond reasonable.

    Rant over.

  • Rob Fisher

    Wait… They’re openly admitting that they want to achieve equality by destroying everything that is good?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Having taught mathematics and physics to schoolchildren, I really feel for you, Actually from there thence.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Rob Fisher and others making similar comments,

    No, they don’t want to destroy everything good. Perish the thought! They want to destroy everything individual as a general principle but are cautiously willing to let a few remnants of individuality survive in captivity for sentimental reasons.

  • staghounds

    Once we ensure that all get to at the finish line together, no matter how slowly arrive, THEN, we can do away with the race altogether, can’t we?

  • Actually from there

    Thank you Natalie. I suddenly feel less alone in this dark, cold, mediocre world….

  • Greytop

    I seem to recall when comprehensive schools were forced on us (sorry, I mean introduced) the cry from the great and good was that the achievers would help the non-achievers to improve. Mixing the bright and the not-so-bright in a class was, in the eyes of the egalitarians, a perfect recipe for less able to be stimulated to do better.

    I think the evidence was that the bright, once they had recovered from their beatings, kept their heads down and ceded everything to the unruly at the back of the class. Indeed, in the brave new world of equality at comprehensives, acting in any way that could be remotely deemed intelligent was a guarantee ‘teacher’s pet’s’ school life would be hell.

    But hey, the egalitarians just want the best for us so lets put up with it and smile sweetly (unless a bully thinks we are grinning too much in which case we will scowl like they do)

  • Paul Marks

    As I have said elsewhere…..

    All this is a reminder that egalitarians are not nice but misguided people.

    Egalitarians are evil people – evil because of their egalitarianism, a doctrine that leads them to demand the end of independent schools and to question the family itself.

    As for Plato being corrected by Aristotle.

    Sadly there is a lot of the influence of Plato’s collectivism in Aristotle himself – as people who have read such works as the “Politics” know.

    The top down belief that it is for the state to decide what is “just and good” and make everyone live the way it (the state – guided by the intellectuals) thinks they should.

    It is the great tragedy of Western thought that Aristotle did not fully reject Plato (a partial rejection is not enough)and that writers who did fully reject Plato (such as Lycrophon) are lost.

  • DP

    Dear Miss Solent

    Abolish the family, then bring in the Handicapper General http://www.shmoop.com/harrison-bergeron/diana-moon-glampers.html

    All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall.



  • John Mann

    Those who are interested in the topic of equality of opportunity may be interested in reading George Reisman’s essay Freedom of Opportunity Not Equality of Opportunity, in which he argues that the goal of equality of opportunity is both absurd and vicious.

  • Mr Ed

    I seem to recall when comprehensive schools were forced on us (sorry, I mean introduced) the cry from the great and good was that the achievers would help the non-achievers to improve. Mixing the bright and the not-so-bright in a class was, in the eyes of the egalitarians, a perfect recipe for less able to be stimulated to do better.

    Recipe hint: A teaspoon of sewage in a pint of soup does not improve the soup.

    They knew that they were lying, we knew that they were lying, but the lumpen elements let them do it.

  • Paul Marks

    George Reisman is correct – he normally is.

  • Error 404 World Not Found

    Reckon you’re going to be hard pressed to find anyone on Samizdata who ever thought the notion that equality of opportunity was a good idea. The idea is moronic.

  • Xhip

    At some point producers, individualists, innovators and people who generally wish to live and let live may need to organize and find a place to live together.

    While collectivists, statistics, consumers and people who wish to exploit and rule are left to their own devices.

    The former will flourish of course while the latter will quickly eat the seed corn and look to the former.

  • Laird

    The Golgafrinchams had it figured out.

  • eric wiseley

    It’s gotta be satire. Adam Swift? C’mon. It’s “a modest proposal.”

  • Lee Moore

    Xhip : At some point producers, individualists, innovators and people who generally wish to live and let live may need to organize and find a place to live together. While collectivists, statistics, consumers and people who wish to exploit and rule are left to their own devices. The former will flourish of course while the latter will quickly eat the seed corn and look to the former.

    Yup, they’ll look at the former and say “that looks like a nice place to live, let’s move there.” So they’ll move in, and STILL vote Democrat, long and hard enough to destroy your little haven.

  • thefrollickingmole

    And the people who wrote this will continue to send their kids to private schools in the best areas.
    Notice the scourge of single parent families not brought up, scared to touch the “3rd rail” of personal choices again.