Why did my mother’s coercive words fly out of my mouth?!

“Why do I sometimes say or do coercive things that are out of alignment with my non-coercive intentions?”

“In some moments, it is as if I am possessed by a coercive demon. What’s that about?!”

“Why am I doing things I do not even believe in, and that I do NOT want to be doing? It is like something has taken over my mind and is compelling me to coerce my kids. WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?”

“Why did my mother’s coercive words fly out of my mouth?!”

David Deutsch explains1 that parents coerce their children because their own parents coerced them in ways that installed anti-rational memes in them that both sabotaged their ability to criticise the memes and compelled them to install the memes into other people, including especially their children.2

“What are memes? What are anti-rational memes?”

Memes are ideas that cause behaviour that causes others to adopt the meme. An example of a rational meme (or set of memes, memeplex), is that native English speakers enact English grammar whether or not they explicitly know anything about grammar. I can write, but I have never been taught grammar explicitly, and I can’t tell you the rules of grammar, but clearly I enact them.

Rational memes like the rules of grammar thrive in a critical environment because they are true and they solve a problem.

But anti-rational memes work differently. According to David Deutsch, they interfere with and hobble our ability to criticise them. They act as an entrenched authority in our unconscious mind, such that when we question the idea, this anti-rational hobbling part of our mind is opposing our attempted criticism, and making us feel bad or wrong any time we even think about questioning the idea.

When you hold an idea in an entrenched way, that has a potentially large adverse effect on the whole knowledge-creating system.

And not only do anti-rational memes work by preventing you from criticising them, they make you feel compelled to treat your children in ways that in turn make them feel compelled to enact the same patterns of thought and behaviour. They propagate from person to person and down through the generations by suppressing our ability to criticise them and compelling us to install them into other people (especially our children).

In general, when we have noticed that some ideas in our mind are conflicting, we naturally resolve the conflict using our creativity. Our minds are actively solving such problems all the time – and it feels good to be solving problems. But where an anti-rational meme is involved, that is not what happens. They resist criticism, so every time you have a conflicting idea running up against that anti-rational meme, the anti-rational meme part of your mind is actively sabotaging your attempts to solve the problem, and it hurts. Having anti-rational memes in your mind is painful.

Anti-rational memes are not only passed from parents to children, they exist more widely in our culture. This is why other people seem to feel so free to judge and criticise you if you are taking your child seriously, and it is why complete strangers in supermarkets command your child to thank the cashier, or tell you to keep your child under control.

And this is why the corresponding anti-rational meme in your own mind has you feeling rebuked, ashamed, upset, and defensive, whereas under other circumstances when some stranger says something spiteful to you, it does not adversely affect you in the slightest – because in that area of your own mind there is no anti-rational meme operating.

So one of the ways that our anti-rational memes maintain their power is by making the society endorse the meme and penalise deviations from it. So there are probably anti-rational memes operating when parents are feeling compelled to go along with the standard coercive paternalistic approach with their children despite their reasonable doubts about its wisdom or rightness.


1. David Deutsch, 2011, The Beginning of Infinity. Read this mind-blowing, world-changing book for a much deeper understanding of anti-rational memes.

2. I prefer to put this slightly differently, if more clumsily, for four reasons:

  • to try to avoid giving the impression that anti-rational memes are ‘installed’ bucket-theory-of-the-mind style into a passively-receiving mind;
  • to avoid giving the impression that they are coming from outside our mind, as opposed to being inside our own mind and (unconsciously) adopted by us ourselves;
  • to avoid giving the impression that these anti-rational memes are immutable so taking children seriously is impossible
  • to avoid channelling readers into the learnt helplessness and resignation of a powerless victim mentality.

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘Why did my mother’s coercive words fly out of my mouth?!’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/why-did-my-mothers-coercive-words-fly-out-of-my-mouth/

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