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Censoring Children

Siddhattha Gotama was prophesied to become either a guru or a conqueror. His ambitious father, hoping his son would follow the latter path, carefully censored him from death, disease, and old-age. This back-fired, for even a king can not hold back the rain. When the Buddha-to-be saw an old man, a diseased man, a corpse, and an ascetic, he left his family to seek enlightenment.

We live in New York City. Thus, Elanor will grow up seeing beggars, angry men, drunken men, and naked men up on the streets and down in the subways. This concerns my wife and I, since our parents protected us from these things when we were little. Although we have no aspirations for Elanor’s military career, we wonders how an early awareness of poverty and disease, sex and violence, will affect a little soul. Will they traumatize her or make her resilient?

I’m more concerned about corrosive ideas, which are harder to avoid than public transportation. In Socrates’ perfect city he censored “young and tender” guardians from the corrupt poets. “We must supervise the makers of tales, and if they make a fine tale, it must be approved, but if it’s not, it must be rejected.” Hollywood is our Homer. Since we can’t censor the poets without withdrawing from society, and we can’t safely ignore them, we must attack head on. But how can two busy parents, without a religious tradition to lean on, compete with beautiful movies? Should we make our own myths and heroes to strengthen our position—grabbing the best parts of other traditions? Or should we hope our little one is a philosopher and can find the way with unaided reason?