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Why Are People Afraid to Form Their Own Judgment?

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[A]nyone who introduces a ‘somehow’ into his idea of the means of achieving his ends always means ‘somebody’ […].

Ayn Rand, the founder of Objectivism, explains why so many people are opposed to capitalism and misrepresent its nature. She says it’s because people are generally afraid of rationality and independence; in short, afraid to form, and rely on, their own judgment. They would rather defer to someone else’s judgment, second-hand. I ask in turn: why is that?

I think it comes from childhood. Children are punished for using their own judgment whenever it contradicts the parents’ and teachers’, which happens often. This instills a fear of punishment in children, which, over time, translates into a fear of forming their own judgment.

For example, most children do not get to disagree about bedtimes. When they do not see according to their own lights why they should go to bed, parents force them to go to bed anyway. (For the skeptical reader, though the details are out of scope for this article, I preemptively add that all common objections to letting children go to bed when they think it’s right have already been addressed.)

There’s also screen times, compulsory schooling and homework, chores and other unchosen obligations, and more. Day in, day out, children are forced to disregard their own judgment, listen to their parents and teachers instead, and do as they are told, OR ELSE. Their youth is already planned out by the time they are born, and they do not get a vote.

After 18 years of this torture, most newly minted adults are effectively helpless in their efforts to face reality, since their only tool to face it head on, their ability to form their own judgment, has been gradually sanded down and castrated; all that remains is an amputee’s stump, still bleeding on the edges.

Forming judgment to one’s own satisfaction, and relying on it to navigate the world, is one of the hallmarks of rationality. Parents and teachers, and to some extent other adults, systematically beat this rationality out of children, figuratively if not literally.

Capitalism, a free society, requires independent judgment and personal responsibility. A mind without capacity for judgment, however, provides the ideal breeding ground for the anti-values of second-handedness, altruism, and authoritarianism. It’s easy to see why such a mind is opposed to capitalism. ‘Since I am now an adult, my parents do not judge for me anymore. I can’t do it on my own, so who will? Someone, somewhere, somehow, must face reality for me’ – ie the state, which really means: the productive people whom the state expropriates. Ayn Rand explores this dynamic in depth in Atlas Shrugged.

Children depend on their parents largely in a material sense: they rely on their parents for physical survival. But children do not depend on their parents or anyone else in the realm of ideas – not until they are older. On the contrary, young children in particular have a most independent intellect, as evidenced by their unselfconsciousness around other people. In a way, as they grow up, a physical dependence on the state replaces their physical dependence on their parents as their intellectual independence largely vanishes.

I’ve previously found that the true purpose of schools is to make children neglect their own interests – I now wonder if that’s a special case of making children disregard their own judgment. In any case, an objectivist analysis of the traditional upbringing of children helps to reveal its evils.

Not all is lost: the bleeding stump can heal and eventually grow back. And, by some miracle, a minority of children manage to retain, to a sufficient degree, their ability to form independent judgment in adulthood.


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