I have been recently accused by relatives of robbing away my son's childhood. The fault? Telling my son the truth. The truth about there being no such thing as Santa and the truth about there being no evidence whatsoever for this thing we commonly called "magic".
Let's dedicate three sentences to the small mindedness evident in the accusation. I have any reason to promote the Santa idea to my son: that character has nothing to do with the culture I grew up on. Moving on, I have to say I’m pretty proud of my son’s ability to stand unshaken at these relatives' pro Santa arguments. It also has to be said that it wasn’t us parents that drove our son away from childish concepts of “magic”: it was entirely him, driven by the need to know how things work. I suspect the difference between my son and other kids was the ease of accessing good information: historically, kids had to rely on what their parents tell them; my son can pretty much watch any video he wants to, and his choices usually come down to “how X works”.
Two generation separate the said relatives and my son. I take two things from this clash of the old generation with the new. First there is the matter of feeding bullshit to a child in order to get them to accept, a bit later, the bigger bullshit in the room – religion. Given the relatives at hand are believers, they obviously lack the ability to fully discriminate fact from fiction (as evident in subsequent discussions on the story of Baby Jesus, a glaring fabrication). Since they already accept one form of supernatural magic, accepting others does not take much. My son is different, though: he has no reason to accept magic in the first place. Magic is the lazy person’s answer; he wants to know reality.
Which brings me to my second taking: when given the choice between reality and magic, my son went for the former. Why? I suspect some of it is because the real can be seen and felt. When he sees a video about electricity and can then experience it by playing with a torch or licking a battery, it makes a difference. However, I argue there is more to it: I argue that the tales of magic invented by humans pales in comparison to what the real universe throws in our direction. Can Santa compete with supernovae or black holes?
As far as I can tell, all I did was let my son think things up for himself and make his own choices. His choices seem very clear to me, and I already told him how proud I am for him standing up for these choices. Not by insisting, but by arguing for them.
Which brings me to the matter of child abuse as it manifests itself in the form of parents feeding their children’s heads with crap. Physicist Lawrence Krauss seems to agree with me on this point, as per the video below:
To put things in the contents of the discussion I started this post with, feeding my son’s head with bullshit is a form of child abuse. What is the point of in the first place? Conforming to a certain old style concept of childhood some people have formed in their heads? Or setting things up so as the child would be able to accept religion later? I suspect a bit of both.
Moving on, I found PZ Myers expanding the definition of child abuse even further interesting. Although I beg to differ with him on the grounds of some parents being unable to perform what he’s asking them to do, he does set an aspirational target worth setting.
The universe is magical enough as it is. There is no need to stick to traditions for the sake of tradition; just enjoy what this world has to offer during that one precious life you have to enjoy it with.