Beware Identity

More from Paul Graham’s fantastic essay on lying to kids:

Some parents feel a strong adherence to an ethnic or religious group and want their kids to feel it too. This usually requires two different kinds of lying: the first is to tell the child that he or she is an X, and the second is whatever specific lies Xes differentiate themselves by believing. …

Almost anything else you tell a kid, they can change their mind about later when they start to think for themselves. But if you tell a kid they’re a member of a certain group, that seems nearly impossible to shake. … When parents are of different religions, they’ll often agree between themselves that their children will be "raised as Xes." And it works. The kids obligingly grow up considering themselves as Xes …

If you want to set yourself apart from other people, you have to do things that are arbitrary, and believe things that are false. And after having spent their whole lives doing things that are arbitrary and believing things that are false, and being regarded as odd by "outsiders" on that account, the cognitive dissonance pushing children to regard themselves as Xes must be enormous. If they aren’t an X, why are they attached to all these arbitrary beliefs and customs? …

This form of lie is not without its uses. … You can tell the child that in addition to never wearing the color yellow, believing the world was created by a giant rabbit, and always snapping their fingers before eating fish, Xes are also particularly honest and industrious.  Then X children will grow up feeling it’s part of their identity to be honest and industrious.

I try to be wary of beliefs attributed to me via some part of my being a nerdy middle-age white male American economist homeowner parent.  I do not want any such feature to on net influence my beliefs (other than through influencing my truth-seeking).  Do read the whole Graham essay, by the way – it is gold. 

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