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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #81, 2/24/2007

Parental Justice

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

In Issue #38 (“Evil Explained”), we described evil as a dysfunctional pattern in the brain that can be detected by a polygraph. One internal lie requires another to cover it up—and another and another—until the brain is a mess of self-contradicting intentions. You don't even need to turn the polygraph on to see an evasive reaction. Just hooking someone evil to the machine is sufficient to make them squirm and react against the test.

A practical question is, how do you stop evil from the outside? It isn't easy. Truly entrenched evil is self-sustaining. If you point out someone's carefully protected lie, they are going to instantly react, perhaps by lashing out at you. They will probably accuse you of lying, of being worthless or having bad intentions, and thereby your criticism will be disabled.

Still, you have to try, especially if it is someone you care about or are responsible for. Children, for example, need to have their lies corrected. If you catch your son or daughter deceiving you or otherwise acting in bad faith, you absolutely must respond. It is one of your highest parental duties. This doesn't have to be a harsh response, but the child must have the sense that they have been "caught" and that lying is not acceptable.

Take shoplifting. Is it bad? You could make an argument that pocketing a pack of gum at Wal-Mart is relatively harmless and even a service to humanity. Wal-Mart isn't going to be hurt by it and probably won't prosecute if you are caught. What is damaging, especially to children, is the deliberate deception that must go along with it. If you are lifting a pack of gum, you have to hide this fact and essentially maintain two faces. If your act is successful, you may come to see deception as a legitimate way to get what you want, and thus begins the cancerous descent into evil.

If a child steals from Wal-Mart, they need to be caught, not for Wal-Mart's benefit but for their own. Young deceptions must be detected and appropriately “corrected,” or they may grow into a lifetime of self-deception and internal conflict.

This is the test of compassionate parenting. "Trust but verify." No matter how close you may be to your child, sooner or later they are going to try to pull the wool over your eyes, and you need to have your radar on to detect it. There has to be an appropriate response on your part; otherwise, the deception will escalate until it reaches a point where you have no control over it.

It is pretty much like dog training. The dog wants to please you, but he is also going to test your limits. If you let him get away with things that he "knows" aren't right, then you are soon going to have an uncontrollable mutt.

Deception has obvious personal benefits. Why should you do your chores when you can just say that you did them and go play instead? Hopefully, adults learn that you can't cheat the system like this: The chores have to be done or you are going to pay the price later. Children, however, don't grasp the whole cause-and-effect cycle yet. For them, the main issue should be good faith/bad faith. Are you presenting yourself honestly or deceptively? Are you doing what you said you would do, or are your words and actions two different things?

Of course, the parent has to create a world where honesty actually gets you places and doesn't just bring punishment. Many children become deceptive because that is their only means of survival. If they don't want to be beaten, they have to learn to hide things. This sets up the destructive double world of lies vs. reality. There is something that you feel inside and something else that you tell the world, and over time this expensive dichotomy eats away at the integrity of your brain.

A brain built on lies is not a fun one to live in. Your inner world is fenced in by frightening inconsistencies and unhealed wounds that your thoughtstream is constantly trying to avoid. One self-deception leads to another and another, until the brain is a tangled mess, and you are trapped in a repetitive pattern of self-destructive actions.

The seduction of lies should be addressed at the beginning. We shouldn't expect sainthood from our children, just reasonable consistency with themselves.

—G.C.




Reader Comments

“Family Court doesn't care if the parents lie and get caught lying so maybe those Judges should substitute "parent" for child in your article and MAKE RULINGS to save the children.” — 3/3/07 (rating=4)

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