As a father with a newborn son, I found myself myself struggling with a big question: How do I want to raise my boy?
Before the Industrial Revolution this was a very simple question: you raised your son to be a good man to the best of your ability given your station in life. You taught him to value courage, compassion, and empathy. You taught him to think before acting, to choose between options carefully, and to take responsibility for the consequences of his actions.
There weren’t many questions about what that meant. We had a reasonably cohesive set of values (if not always a set that was coherent and free of contradiction), based in Western philosophy, European Pagan ideas of virtue and character, and Christian ideas of faith, salvation, and compassion. Life was far from perfect, of course, but how to raise a son was pretty simple, all things considered.
The massive cultural changes that industrialization and the two world wars meant that the old values system – our grand narratives about God, king, country, Heaven, Hell, equality, freedom… they all came up for questioning. In some cases, like the idea that somehow the lines on a map made two men enemies, or that God plays favourites in wars needed to be questioned. The same with the idea that being eligible for conscription was not enough to give you a stake in the governance of a country, while property ownership was. It was no longer acceptable to us that kings or plutocrats could use us for cannon fodder in wars to protect their riches.
Almost every narrative in Western culture is a double-edged sword. Important narratives can be abused to allow one person to take advantage of many others.
For example, we hold fast to the idea that all people are equal in moral human value, regardless of race, creed, or religion. In the past we played beautiful lip service to that idea by allowing that while everyone was equal in principle, we all had roles appointed to us by God, and sometimes that meant that people needed to be treated unequally in practice – which gave us the Estaats of the middle ages, the rigid class systems after the enlightenment, and allowed us to justify segregation, slavery, and indentured labour for centuries. In order to walk the walk, we’ve been forced to admit that equality means that some institutions had to go.
Today we abuse the same belief by stating that any difference either in the way people are treated, or the outcomes they receive is a failure to live up to that same value. The modern abusers pay lip service to the idea of equality by demanding we stamp out speech that offends, thoughts that might lead to offensive speech, and that we take resources, power, and opportunities from traditionally “privileged” groups – by law or politicized corporate policies – and give it to “underprivileged” groups. All while making sure to give tons of power to the “Just” folks in the middle who arbitrate what is fair, and what is acceptable.
Both are rotten abuses of our values, and it is tempting to just want to throw the whole idea of equality out as convenient smoke and mirrors for the would be dictators, slave-masters, and looters of the day. A lot of people have done just that? It’s so goddamned complicated, they say, why bother even trying to teach my kid old-fashioned values?
And so we find ourselves suddenly faced with a strange set of choices as to how we are going to raise our children?
Do we pretend that the old system worked, cleave to the values, and wave away the systemic abuses of that system as being the unfortunate actions of bad-hearted people? This seems to be the route of the new Traditionalists.
Do we choose to assume that the current batch of thinkers finally has it right, that the postmodern values of relativism, social justice, and intersectionality is good in principle, and the current abuses will sort themselves out? This is the values adjustment doctrine that has been dominating the Academy for decades, now.
Do we choose to teach our kids that values on a whole are fictions, and that as long as you don’t get caught doing something other people will happily punish you for, you might as well just look out for number one? I see this attitude a lot in the Dark Enlightenment community, among LaVeyans, and in some of the harsher Men’s blogs, especially the ones around Game.
They are all uncomfortable ways of teaching children about the world. They will respectively raise naive fools, thoughtless sheep, or sneering elitists. But none of them will make a person happy in the long run.
We are a fragmented culture right now, and the question about how to raise our children is no longer a simple or obvious one. I suspect that we will see the same slowly spread to other parts of the world as they industrialize, too. Given time, every people in the world is going to find this question gets complicated.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this as I wrote all those letters to my son. I found that the answer came to me when I stopped for a moment and stopped asking myself what kind of person I wanted to shape my Son into, and instead started asking myself about what I, as a loving parent wanted to give to him as my legacy.
That was easy – I want him to be happy.
Human beings are short-lived: we get so many heartbeats, and then we die. In that span of time, we can choose our experience. We can make choices that let us be surrounded by good people, love, and comfort, or we can choose to surround ourselves with toxic people, loneliness, or struggle. Our time is the one thing we can never get more of; it is a finite resource… and we don’t even know how much of it we have. Why would we waste it on misery when we can spend it joyously?
Values are a part of the way we make that choice. Our choice of values (or lack thereof) will determine what kind of work we pursue, what company we keep, and how we face challenges in our life. They are tools first and foremost – and yet very few people look at them that way. It’s really only when I studied economics that I came to understand that Values themselves have so much power over our outcomes, as individuals and a culture.
The Canon Western values like Reason, Objectivity, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Self-Ownership may be readily abused, or used as a smokescreen to distract from abuses, but they also have done amazing things for our civilization. The meeting of Pagan individualism with Christian egalitarianism created a society that went from retrograde barbarians to the wealthiest, most advanced society in human history in just over a thousand years.
As a culture, they have let us wipe out famine, plague, feuding, and tyranny within our boundaries. they have let us eliminate the legitimate practice of slavery globally, and lift most of the world’s population out of poverty through trade.
For individuals, these same values create someone who takes responsibility for their results in life. they encourage that person to take initiative and make changes in their life when they don’t like the results that they are getting. They encourage that person to look in the mirror when their relationships are turning sour, and do what they can rather than allow themselves to be mistreated – or walk away prematurely.
And so rather than teach my son to follow my values – or Western values, for that matter, I want to teach him to think about values themselves. To ask “What does this belief do for me? Does it help me or hurt me in the long run?” I don’t just want to teach him about what I and other people believe, but what the consequences of those beliefs are to those people.
I want him to see that victimhood creates toxic people, that dogma breeds cruelty, and that Machiavellianism creates loneliness. I want to equip him to mindfully choose what he believes not just because it is what I, or anyone else does, but because it is what makes sense to a man who wants to lead a happy and healthy life… and to be able to see when a value is being taken to an absurd extreme or being abused.
With most of the men I work with, the greatest progress comes when I help them state their beliefs in clear simple terms, and then ask them how those beliefs serve them. It is at that point that I can help them shed victim complexes, unkind thoughts about themselves, or unrealistic expectations, and start acting in a way that actually makes them happy. Why not teach my son that skill from the start?