Fearlessness versus citizenship

We all want our children to grow up fearless. In particular, we want them to believe that they can do anything they set out to do, that with the right combination of hard work and belief in themselves, they can achieve any goal they aim for.

I would guess that most young people come into this world with sufficient general natural ability that with enough practice and dedication they could indeed become decent writers, musicians, lawyers, artists, athletes, and so forth. I’m not saying they could necessarily become the best, but that focus, dedication and hard work, over a period of years, is an enormous force — sometimes even an unstoppable one.

Yet societies are not generally structured to optimize for fearless children. Getting young people to grow up obeying the rules of society involves a certain level of unconscious coercion. From the time we are little, we are told in various ways — some subtle, others not so subtle — that there are lines we shouldn’t cross, doors we’re not supposed to walk through, that in fact we cannot treat everyone as an equal, because there are certain “high status” people we are supposed to defer to.

Socialization, in just about any society, is a continual prodding toward the average, to the place where people are not going to question things too much, nor to stir up an inordinate amount of trouble.

I wonder whether it is even possible for a society to fully embrace the extraordinary possibility within each child. Or would that just violate too many taboos, create too much uncertainty, and result in the dangerous (and exciting) possibility of a citizenry of individuals with the self-confidence to do more than tend toward the norm?

4 Responses to “Fearlessness versus citizenship”

  1. Sharon says:

    I’d like to think it is possible. I suspect it is a luxury in that it takes more resources to provide the individualized education that would guide each child to reach their full potential. Also, groups that are struggling to survive probably need children to conform so that they contribute to meeting the immediate needs of the group. In this context it is remarkable when poor, new immigrants invest in their children’s education to the extent they do, allowing the children to come closer to reaching their potential than the parents could. I was thinking about this as we toured the Tenement Museum in NY today and learned about the garment workers at the turn of the 20th century.

    I wonder whether the fact that it takes more resources to provide individualized education is inherent, or rather an artifact of trying to do it in a society that is not structured for it to be the norm.

  2. admin says:

    Kela, that’s a very cool article! But how does it relate to the topic of “Fearlessness versus citizenship”?

  3. Kela says:

    «Socialization, in just about any society, is a continual prodding toward the average»: you are literally right, in light of what is in that article. What is sad is that Truth is not encompassed by that narrow spectrum of average-ities. It seems that `horizontal’ interactions are propped as helping us in our quest of The True (which requires a certain fearlessness): as that article shows, such a widely held prejudice is unsurprisingly false (being arrived at through inter-coercion). The last § of your post is very probable: that massive apparatus of brainwashing tools named `Media’ (cf. history, Wikipedia), by connecting way too much a majority of us, tries hard to average us, making us less adequate for fearless and uncommon intellectual pursuits. Perelman is a seclude, Gödel too.

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