The right to an open present

That was a long blog break!  I've been thinking of changing what I do at this blog, or starting a different one, or abandoning blogging...but for the moment, I'm going to stay the course (as "W" used to say).

Quick thought for the day.  In procreative and parental ethics, philosophers are forever talking about a child's right to an open future.  By appealing to that right all sorts of conclusions are reached, about matters as disparate as gender selection, circumcision, and religious education.  The basic idea is: we should make procreative plans and parenting decisions that preserve our progeny's ability to choose among many different possible futures, upon reaching adulthood. The sheer multiplicity of possibilities isn't what's valuable (I take it), but being able to choose among many different possible futures.  So, we are to create children and raise them in such a way that we protect their adult autonomy.

Why not, I wonder, also speak of a right to an open present?  Would it really be OK to impose one trajectory on a child's life, up to age 18, so long as at 18 she burst out of childhood with lots of options?  No, surely not.  Granted, all that suppression of choice would probably yield a closed, or at least highly dysfunctional, future.  But it seems bad to make all the choices for your child regardless of what the future will bring. It would be bad even if you knew your child wasn't going to live a long life, or the world was coming to an end.   The childhood stage of life couldn't possibly go well if your parents chose everything for you--what you ate, what you wore, what shows you watched, what books you read.  It's intriguingly awful to think about this--the child whose parents choose every article of clothing, plan every party, select every sandwich.  That's bad already, I think, and not just because it's going to give the child a closed (or dysfunctaional) future.

Setting aside the closed/open talk, what seems to be true is that autonomy is part of the good life at ever stage of life, but what it should comprise changes with the child's development.  Perhaps writers focus on the right to an open future because they think adult choices are the ones that matter most--choices of career, marriage partner, religion, etc.  It's not worth thinking as much about choices a five or ten year old must be able to make for herself.   This demoting of the issue of childhood autonomy can be part of a more general stance that sees childhood as not quite life yet -- as merely a preparation for things to come.  You can make a case for that, but I think not a terribly convincing one.


ashok said...

A few thoughts. I hadn't been blogging well for a while, but I am so glad it was there while waiting for dissertation chapters back. I'm working on a conference paper with a friend that should be provocative. The blog post written about the idea already got some useful feedback.

An open present - do we really talk about parenting in terms of rights? Not to dispute you at all. Just want to be clear on the character of the tasks involved.

Working on any projects during break?

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, the rights talk sounds overly legalistic--it's probably shorthand for something else.

Projects over break? I'm trying to make progress on a book I'm writing, but also going off to have some fun in west Texas.

Blogging is good for keeping writing fluid and having a place to try out ideas. Yes, a pleasant distraction when distraction is what's needed.

An Ardent Skeptic said...

Hi Jean,

Please don't stop blogging. This is the place to come for intelligent, thought-provoking, well-written reading on the internet.

Speaking of reading, here are some books which I always have with me on my travels.

1) National Geographic's "Guide to Scenic Highways & Byways"

2) National Geographic's "Guide to National Parks"

3) National Geographic's "Guide to State Parks"

4) National Geographic's "Road Atlas Adventure Edition" which provides scenic route info. A great way to enjoy the drive while getting to your destination.

5) National Audubon Society "Guide to Photographing America's National Parks". Even if you aren't a photographer this book helps direct you to the most beautiful places to stop in National Parks. Very useful if you have a limited amount of time for exploring a park. Since you are headed to West Texas, there is a section of the book about Big Bend National Park.

Jean Kazez said...

Hi Ardent Skeptic, You are very kind. I am a big National Geographic fan so should really have all of those books. Big Bend is awesome, and so is the little town right outside of it (Terlingua).

I think I may soon revamp this blog in some way, to get my juices flowing again. I am contemplating some possibilities. Thank you for making me feel like someone cares!