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The “Daughter Test”

[ 61 ] June 7, 2011 |

There are obviously a ton of problems with this heuristic, but I think the fact that it’s a “daughter” test and not even a “child” test tells you everything you need to know.

And I’ll note again that the test is also fatally undermined by the fact that it won’t be Levitt or Douthat’s daughters who bear the brunt of the legal sanctions their test might incline them to advocate.

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Comments (61)

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  1. Scott P. says:

    I actually think it’s a pretty good test, as long as it runs in both directions.

    Lots of those arguing against it are pointing to “icky” things that they nevertheless think should be legal. I would reply: if you think that people should be free to choose those actions, maybe you shouldn’t think of them as so icky.

    • BKP says:

      I would reply: if you think that people should be free to choose those actions, maybe you shouldn’t think of them as so icky.

      Rational people can realize that aesthetics aren’t the end-all of morality and vice versa.

    • BigHank53 says:

      I think colonoscopies are icky. Nevertheless, there’s probably a couple in my future.

      • Hogan says:

        They are icky, but the drugs they give you are awesome. I would take them every weekend if they let me.

        • Holden Pattern says:

          Wow, I hated the drugs. I hate pain more than I hate anesthesia and opiates, but I definitely hate the drugs.

        • DrDick says:

          I really don’t remember the drugs as I went bye-bye about 30 seconds after they administered them. It is not the procedure I hate (I do not actually remember any of it), but the preparation before hand. That sucks big time.

          • Holden Pattern says:

            That wasn’t as bad for me as it was for a lot of people. But I was light-headed from hunger when I went in for the procedure. I was certainly grateful for the ninety-seven, ninety-six, where am I? but the after-effects of the drugs were miserable for me. I don’t much like morphine either.

            Again, like pain less, so not complaining on that score.

  2. soullite says:

    This is an insane test. Why do people think of their children (especially, but hardly limited to, females) as possessions instead of people?

    Really though, the fact that we have a two-tiered system of justice and the wealthy never have to live with the consequences of the laws they bribe congressmen into passing has much more extensive ramifications for our society than just the abortion issue. Oddly (given it’s political and ideological leanings) this site is relatively good on those issue. Tapped not so much…

    • MPAVictoria says:

      As a poor person, I don’t care. This was the kind thing people like me could have cared about a decade or two ago, and even been on your side. Now? It looks like the elite whining about some random issue in a laughable attempt to distract us from the real problems this country faces.

      Nobody is going to care about the pet causes of the liberal elite so long as the economy is this bad. Nobody cared much before the crisis, because things were bad enough for real people then. People are really, really not going to care now that things have gotten even worse.

      If you’re rich and over-privileged, you have room on your plate for all kinds of outrage. If you’re not, you have to learn to prioritize.

      (Oh wait. This would be a really stupid thing to say….)

    • “This is an insane test. Why do people think of their children (especially, but hardly limited to, females) as possessions instead of people?”

      I don’t necessarily like the test (on some level it makes sense from a cultural perspective, but very little in terms of deciding legality, but how exactly does not wanting your child to be a heroin addict (or a severe alcoholic, for that matter) translate into viewing your children as possessions?

  3. The Fool says:

    Isn’t it specific because Levitt only has a daughter? I mean, not to defend Doughhat’s expansion of the test, since it’s stupid, but Levitt used “daughter” because it was a personal heuristic, not a universal test.

    • mark f says:

      But if that were the case Levitt could’ve said to himself, “Hey! Not everyone who has kids has a daughter or only daughters, and ‘would I want my son doing it?’ is just as valid. But I don’t have a son, so that wouldn’t apply to me. Perhaps ‘would I want my child doing it?’ would be more inclusive, and have the added bonus of avoiding a retrograde paradigm.” But he didn’t think that way, or ignored it if he did, and thus accidentally or on purpose reinforced the retrograde paradigm. Which is the point.

    • rea says:

      To acquit Levitt of sexism, not only was his child a daughter, but he has blogged about his 7-year old daughter’s poker playing skills, so in context, he was talking about a very specific situation. It’s Douthat, opf course, who tries to expand Levitt’s family story into a general rule.

      • Tirxu says:

        Also, I do not see the piece in question advocating the use of the “daughter test” as a good way to determine policy, merely as a hint on why he personally stands on one side or the other.

  4. cpinva says:

    it’s a test for five year-olds, not adults. i have solid reasons for not wanting my (under age) daughter to avoid engaging in certain activities, but i have no good reason for stopping adults, by legislative fiat, from engaging in those same activities.

    contrary to mr. douthat’s thinking (and i use that term in its very loosest sense), the world doesn’t actually revolve around children, it revolves around adults.

  5. R. Porrofatto says:

    The idea behind the daughter test, as I see it, is to clarify which vices seem so profoundly self-destructivel that they merit sanction in law…

    I think alcoholism would certainly be deemed by most people to be profoundly self-destructive, perhaps even self-destructive enough to merit sanction in law. We should try that. We could call it Proscription or something like that.

    The problem with using the question “How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity?” to decide in favor of laws making an activity illegal is the word in it that’s always the kicker: “my”. Someone else’s children might want access to whatever it is Levitt wants to ban to protect his. Like birth control, abortion, communist literature, a joint, whatever.

    • cer says:

      For that matter, his daughter might make different choices than he would. That’s part of being an independent human being. And that’s the problem of basing your law on how you wish others lived their lives.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah, the problem with the Douche’s argument is that he isn’t even aware of what the other side’s position is. I don’t oppose the war on drugs because I think a heroin addiction is no big deal. I oppose it in spite of the ‘profoundly self-destructive’ nature of the drug. So this test is idiotic because it ignores the most important argument against the drug war: it doesn’t help the people on drugs and it hurts a lot of other people too, in total, the human cost of criminilization is far greater than of legalization and heavy regulation.

  6. witless chum says:

    Yeah, somehow I don’t think government by suburban dad’s prejudices is the solution that will work for America.

    Maybe we could get some good laws passed about forcing black kids to pull up their dang pants already, though.

    • mark f says:

      I call it cRap “music”!

    • R. Porrofatto says:

      I’m guessing you knew about this, right?

      Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake with the snarky comments kids make today. If I had a daughter I’d ban Andrew Breitbart, so she could get her Titter pics in peace.

    • Holden Pattern says:

      Yeah, somehow I don’t think government by suburban dad’s prejudices is the solution that will work for America.

      Well, we have had significant experiential data points on this, and I think the data agrees with you. Not that the data will actually make a damn bit of difference in the practice.

  7. cer says:

    In an endorsement of this test, I sent this article to my mother who replied “Would the daughter test ban my daughter from sending me Douthat columns? Jesus, I don’t need this bullshit.”

  8. Holden Pattern says:

    And now for something completely different: the various ad server calls are REALLY slowing down loading time. I try not to use ad blockers, because I’m happy for y’all to get whatever meager scraps are on offer, but I’m considering it.

  9. astonishingly dumb hv says:

    What an embarrassing position to take.

    The idea behind the daughter test, as I see it, is to clarify which vices seem so profoundly self-destructive that they merit sanction in law…

    The thing I don’t understand is why we can’t try to measure how self-destructive vices are (and compare that to the costs of regulating them). Allowing idiots to invoke daughter-texts is hopelessly tainted by confirmation bias, false positives, and false negatives.

    Further, it completely rules out any narrative that attempts to understand the intent of his child. E.g. I would prefer that my children don’t attend religious cult meetings, but I would endorse it in a second if they were trying to save someone from the cult. Etc.

    Finally, no need to deconstruct the infantilization of public space that occurs when using tests based on parental (paternal!) attitudes towards their children whose welfare they are specifically responsible for and whose childish judgement can’t be trusted.

    • chris says:

      E.g. I would prefer that my children don’t attend religious cult meetings, but I would endorse it in a second if they were trying to save someone from the cult.

      I would prefer my (hypothetical) children don’t attend religious cult meetings, but if they’re old enough to *want* to do so, I might have to think twice about whether any good could come from an attempt to stop them, or whether I even had any right to stop them.

      But then, I’m not an actual parent. Many parents seem to be prone to some mental disorder that prevents them from recognizing when their child is no longer three years old and is capable of making decisions worthy of respect. Extending *that* into lawmaking would be a terrible idea in all sorts of ways.

      • astonishingly dumb hv says:

        I may have miscommunicated that I would attempt to interfere beyond whatever force my parental disapproval holds – I hope I would not (I also do not have kids).

        My point with that sub-argument was that calling actions “vices” destroys understanding intent, which trumps.

      • Walt says:

        I think it’s right around when they joined a cult that it became clear they weren’t making decisions worthy of respect.

  10. chris says:

    The big thing that jumped out at me about the daughter test is that it implicitly puts the armchair moralizer in a position of authority over, well, everyone else in society (or at least the female ones). Maybe a sister test would promote a little more respect for other people’s choices (unless you happen to be a big jerk to your sisters, which I suppose some people are).

    Of course if the issue you’re moralizing about isn’t gender-specific, then you should remove the gender specificity from the test, too. But that’s almost a side issue compared to framing yourself as a parent of *the whole society*.

    • sharculese says:

      Maybe a sister test would promote a little more respect for other people’s choices

      I don’t have any daughters, but I do have two younger sisters, and I’m not sure how this is any less paternalistic.

  11. Warren Terra says:

    I just adore how, leaving the whole sexism part of this completely to one side, this plan not only endorses “paternalism” but does so unapologetically and completely literally.

    But then, Douthat’s main idea in any given circumstance is that we should do exactly what the holy father says (wars excepted, of course).

  12. rea says:

    Waht the Douthat’s and maybe the Levitts of the world don’t seem to grasp is that not everything wrong ought to be illegal. I’m a custodial quasi-grandparent. My two oldest are 11 (girl) and 12 (boy). Influenced by the criminal defense side of my practice, I think sex among teenagers generally ought to be decriminalized–it’s not inherently abusive, and you might as well legislate against gravity (sex between adults and teens is a different story). But note, that does not mean that I would approve of my two oldest becoming sexually active anytime soon . . .

  13. Erik Loomis says:

    I’ll be Douthat has some really special relationships with women. Patriarchy all the way!

  14. Dr.BDH says:

    The cocaine example is particularly problematic, like any drug or alcohol prohibition, because the prohibition itself causes signifcant problems: property crime, violent crime, incarceration, etc. I wouldn’t want my sons to use cocanine, but if they did, I wouldn’t want them to rob, steal, kill and/or go to jail.

  15. I’m weakly in favor of abortion being legal, even though I put a lot of value on unborn fetuses.

    How does an economist put a lot of value on unborn fetuses, in general? There has to be a book there, especially because he’s putting a value on generic unborn fetuses as a class rather than fetuses particularly important to him or any other particular person.

    So many glibertarians and little-government conservatives revert to rock bottom traditional reptile brain values whenever anything is at stake.

    • The Fool says:

      The argument is found in Freakonomics.

      The short version as I understand it is that they have a discounted value as full human beings. That is, a large number of those fetuses which come to term will become persons with all the value thereof, and so the fetus, as current form of a future person, has some value (he doesn’t place a value beyond “more than none”).

      Of course, that’s really more metaphysical than economic, but that’s the argument.

      • herr doktor bimler says:

        Levitt’s initial statement is flabbergastingly selfish: as a glibertarian, he does not object to heavy-handed government regulations that impinge on other people’s liberty as long as they bolster his own parental-discipline policies:

        If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it.

        Nothing ‘emotional’, irrational or visceral about this preference; just self-centred interest taken to its extreme.

        Douthat overlooks this, turns it into a statement about gut-feeling-based policy-making, and concludes that a ‘daughter test’ is completely useless because other people’s intuitions differ from his own. But he goes on to insist that the test is still worth applying as a way of ensuring that your own policy preferences are based on gut feelings rather than rationality.

        If public policy were to be based on my own gut feelings and visceral responses then you would be seeing the “Kick Levitt and Douthat in the Groin Law”.

  16. chines says:

    The Daughter Test is deeply stupid even on an emotional level. I’ve got one of each, and I wouldn’t want either my son or daughter to engage in prostitution. But if they were doing so, I certainly wouldn’t want them to face criminal charges for selling their bodies. It’s always seemed beyond stupid to punish extremely marginalized elements of society. I’d want social work to try to lift them out of that situation. Now, if either of them were pimping…which seems to be no more than subjugating another human being…I’d be open to them facing criminal charges.

  17. ajay says:

    I actually think it’s a pretty good test, as long as it runs in both directions.

    Something like this:

    Would you want your daughter to be deprived of medical care through inability to pay?
    Would you want your daughter to be imprisoned for a non-violent offence such as shoplifting?
    Would you want your daughter’s employer to be able to fire her without warning and without cause?

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