How to Horrify Your Children

When Time Magazine asked Americans which of our practices would horrify our children, I don't think Cindy Crawford (and possibly even Time Magazine) understood the question.  Her answer was that our children would be horrified by our "otherness" – or our inability to recognize that we're all exactly the same.  Our children's answer will much more likely be that we failed to recognize which portions of humanity are incompatibly different.

To be fair to Mrs. Crawford (for whose bikini photos I maintain the deepest of respect), I don't believe that most parents understand the question, which is the same reason we repeatedly horrify our children.  For when we ask which of our practices are most likely to horrify our children, we aren't really asking what we've done wrong to horrify them.  We're asking which things we mistakenly thought we were doing right.

The things that annoy our children are usually the things we take too radically.  The things we're sure they'll go crazy about are the things they're most likely to throw away – because they have already seen us go wild for them.  Our sins, contrary to popular opinion, are not acts of evil committed for evil's sake.  They are acts of evil and stupidity committed in the pursuit of happiness and morality.  Our children are often smart enough to realize when we've made them unhappy.  They will tell us how we did it when they're old enough to know why we shouldn't have done it.

What our children will not criticize are the acts too unpopular for us to commit.  They will criticize the things we successfully champion in our popular magazines.  They'll criticize the imbalanced doctrines of our colleges and governments and pastors and presidents.  What Mrs. Crawford and the American majority have forgotten isn't only that their morality is deeply entrenched in the worlds of law and business, but that it is supreme and unchallenged in almost all matters of popular culture.  And because every choice that we make is an exclusion of something else, a radical decision is a radical exclusion.  The things our children miss will be the things our children want, and the things our children want will topple the imbalanced world we've built for them.  The one thing we love above everything else – more than justice, more than reason, more than borders and manners and heritage and honesty – will be the one thing our children begin to openly question.  We may pass many things on to our children, but our radicalism on pet issues is not often one of them. 

We believe that by handing our children a world free of judgment, we are excluding exclusion; but what we are really doing is giving them a world where they are afraid to express their preferences.  It's a world in which our children are told not to prefer better men over the worse, and wisdom over stupidity, and prettier girls over the ugly; a world in which we're told to ignore obvious dangers and taught to scrutinize obvious innocents.  We haven't been telling our children not to judge.   We have been telling them not to live.  We think that they will be reading Dreams from My Father.  They will more likely be burning it.

Ironically, from the earliest stages of education, we have also been telling our children that mankind evolved from the animals.  What they will realize, if they are intelligent, is that mankind can evolve from mankind.  And they'll realize that if there is any reason humanity looks and feel very similar and nobody appears to have changed beyond the possibility of interbreeding, it is because our minds are incredibly different.  The dogs comprise hundreds of breeds, and the finches are composed of different beaks, because dogs and finches adapt with their bodies.  But man's adaptations are spiritual, and we recognize his evolution not only by the way his environment shapes him, but in the way he shapes his environment.  Our evolution is marked not by our bodies, but by the quality of our civilizations and our ability to hand them to our children.

Our unwillingness to judge hostile foreigners and domestic enemies by the ideological superstructures responsible for shaping our environments isn't actually an indifference to men.  Rather, it is an indifference to outcomes – and in the realest sense a denial of any kind of progress or safety or civilization.  Our children will hate us probably not for our otherness, but for our pusillanimity and reckless imprudence.

When we show our children paintings of the Puritans and the Indians and ask them whether we'd have the Indians do any different, they might for the moment answer no.  But later on they will wonder why we didn't do what was necessary to avoid ending up like the Indians – or the dhimmis.

Jeremy Egerer is the editor of the troublesome philosophical website known as Letters to Hannah, and he welcomes followers on Twitter and Facebook.