Parenting Alignment Problem

Okay, the world sucks and is pretty darn broken. But, I’ve got great news for you. You get to be the one who fixes it. You get to raise a single human who grows up to be put in charge of everything.

Your child grows up like a normal kid, but when they hit adolescence, they continue to get smarter and smarter. So smart, they make Einstein seem like a chump. Through it all, they keep most of their base beliefs about the world. (Unless they disprove those beliefs so thoroughly they must find some other path.) Whatever your child believes is “good” in the world, they carry that forward and push for it. Whatever you initially taught them: that is what they will strive for in the world.

They go to college, with a tearful goodbye, and you make them promise to video chat once a week. Every week they’re learning so much, you’re astonished. Within the first year, they somehow fund the right research to figure out how to make themselves immortal. Then they make themselves impervious to assassination. Your child invents a cryptocurrency system that works more efficiently than anyone thought was possible, and it solves a bunch of other coordination problems at scale in one fell swoop.

Now, when they call you once a week, it’s clear they are doing it out of habit, and out of respect for you, but they are so far advanced that they can’t really explain to little ol’ Mom and Dad what the heck they are actually doing. Now they have the resources to really push for their goals. Whatever your son or daughter thinks is good? Now that is what happens.

They continue to learn and grow, and the rest of us can no longer understand what it is like to be them. Their opinions of humanity change, due to their new perspective.

If you are a liberal leaning person, you might balk at perhaps forcing everyone under the thumb of a single person’s intellect. But maybe your child could make the world much better than it is?

If you are a conservative or libertarian, maybe you see this as your chance to rear a really smart king. They will make the world better for everyone, somehow.

Still. If you put your mind to it, you can imagine many ways in which this goes horrifically wrong. Your offspring’s viewpoint, whether you can put them in a right or left or conservative or liberal bucket, will be pushed to extremes, causing unforeseen side effects.

Let’s imagine.

They’re so damn smart. You raised your child to think radically about the world, and empathize with all humanity. It becomes obvious to the world at large, as we implement more of their great ideas, that we should just put your offspring directly in charge of more and more things. They become a liberal, radical leader who creates a one world government in the span of less than a year. Borders are eradicated. Hunger is eliminated. Everyone is healthy. Miracles for life extension are shared. But then we find that our great leader somehow turned off our ability to procreate (because overpopulation would increase suffering, they patiently explain.) Instead of humanity expanding outward into the universe, we all sit at home, plugged into machines that make us happier than you can possibly imagine. You and the rest of us are all told by your offspring that this is for the best.

Is this good?

Or, maybe, it goes a bit differently.

They’re so damn smart. You raised your child to think very carefully about the world, and try not to rock the boat so hard it tips over. They become a conservative, reactionary leader who gradually grows into their role as the puppet-master of the global economy, keeping everything as it is. Like society is an exhibit under glass. Cancer and other killers are solved, but death is kept around, because it’s “necessary” to avoid overpopulation. Progress past a certain point is deliberately crushed by the dear leader, in order to keep things going in a guaranteed way. The world’s governments and economies are left in stasis. Any development of technology or art or political idea which is too “new” is silently destroyed in reaction, to keep us all from leaving the equilibrium. This is for the best, they patiently explain to you, every time you ask.

Is this good?

Did you raise them right?

Are you sure?

If you’ve ever raised a child, then it’s probably easier to imagine other ways this could go very, very wrong.

Now imagine it this way: instead of raising a normal child for the job, you’re raising a new strain of genetically enhanced human. They’re the first ever. A huge evo-devo-related gene therapy breakthrough has been made. Your new baby is predicted to grow up much, much faster than a child. In the first week, they pass through their toddler years. By the second week, they become a teenager. You begin to worry, because you can’t really control what they do. As the third week rolls around, it’s official: they are already smarter than you, and better at most things. Any time you try to punish or correct their behavior, they chuckle at you. And by the fourth week, they have already done the research to make themselves functionally immortal.

This new kind of person — let’s just agree to call them “King” — is not really going to be raised like a child. They won’t have the chance to grow up slowly, over time, where you can attempt parental course corrections. This King does not get taught carefully in a process full of making mistakes that you point out, and boundaries you set that keep them safe. Instead, they grow up in a hectic whirlwind of you trying to impress upon them what’s important, in a frantic race against time, before they spin off into the world.

How can you be sure they will learn what you are trying to impart?

How can you be sure the King’s decisions would be good for humanity? That they will stay good for humanity, over time?

In a month, as hard as it is to believe, your freakish child will be smarter than us all. They will be running everything.

Think how different you are from your parents. Think how similar you are, in other ways, the ways you would really rather not be.

What if they call you one day, their eyes filled with pity, and explain that they need to erase humanity and start over, because of fundamental biases in the way our cognition works? You beg your child, who is now more like a god than a king, for another path… but they stare through you at something you cannot see, say “Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Mom.” They hang up.

Are you worried about the value alignment problem yet? If not, why not?



What can you do?

If you make it a habit, in the blank spaces of life, to spin your brain to create something… even if it struggles or critiques too harshly at first, you will find a strange and wonderful thing occurring. You will find a small, shrunken section of yourself that has lain dormant since childhood, or squashed down even then by circumstance and situation, and it will awaken. Slowly, if you encourage it, your mind will start to spin patterns in the downtime you have. Creativity that did not exist before will start to flow, linking disparate tangles together to make new and strange knots. You may find knotted patterns building even subconsciously, eventually, a wellspring unblocked by not worrying about perfection and just focusing on making the act a part of you.

Creating is something you can learn. Creating is a powerful act. Meaning from thin air. Abstraction over nothing. Making it a habit of mind to fill the cracks between the everyday urgencies of life with pure making is worth doing. It is possible. To make things. Nothing into something.

Make yourself a person who is never bored. Boredom is the retreat of a mind wrapped up in its critic, bound by its assumptions that “Oh, I’m just not creative.” “Oh, I don’t know what to do.” “Maybe I’m not good enough.” Horseshit. Unchoke the energetic, unfettered child inside and let it grow to join you in breathless, joyful moments of pure fun that creation drives us to.

Make stories. Make yourself examine things that you normally overlook, but inspect them from new perspectives. Make good conversations; an often ignored high art. Improvise with the limited resources around you, and find the boundless joy inside any restrictions. Pierce depression by popping it with acts of sharp, intuitive, simple art. Respond to anger by angling it into a fury of wrathful creation. Open yourself to your inner emotions and you will feel an expanse inside you. As this opens, the critical side of you will shrink from a crushing, choking force into a useful helper on the road of making something powerful.

Start slow. Start by observing more. Start by writing a tiny bit. Start by doodling. Start by building. Start by turning everyday objects into otherworldy strangenesses. Simply start every day; every time there is possibility. Start by seeing that possibility instead of lying dormant and passive. Start by not worrying about what failure might look like, and find out directly what failure looks like so you can learn from it.

Turn paper into fuel. Turn a blank page into a challenge, not a chain. Turn your darker side into something that doesn’t just drag you down. Use shadows as firewood to burn through your barriers. A blank piece of paper is not an albatross around your neck. If the infinite possibilities of it sit heavy, then reduce them to a subset of possibility. Think of a single word or emotion or object and work from that. Think of a strange limitation and build on it.

Make with others. When you can, encourage the good things you see in others. We can always build on those.

Creativity is not something you are born with. It’s not an innate talent. That’s a lie told by the system at large, and your situation may embed it, saying that you weren’t gifted with it to start with so you’ll never have it. But nobody starts with it fully grown. Creativity is nourished, grown like a particularly pensive plant, encouraged slowly over time. Others may not be always around to encourage it through the rough times, so you have to learn to push yourself. That willpower to not sit idle and stare, to not sit idle and doubt, is where creativity actually comes from. It’s not a magic spark; it’s the stubbornness of an unstoppable fool that powers you through the flawed failures to the grains of accidental perfection. You can’t grasp at the perfection, or expect to harness it; you have to churn through the chaff and the waste and the utter crap to get there, and you have to keep your wheels turning despite being splattered by cynicism from within and without.

The question you should ask is not “What if I try, and I’m terrible?”

It’s something more like “How will I feel, at the end, if I look back on my life and I never really tried?”

The question you should ask yourself is not “Am I creative?”

It is “When do I want to be creative?”

Get out into the strangeness and fail. Learn something. Come back with new insight. Embed the pattern in yourself that you are going to keep trying, keep failing, keep finding the gems between the mistakes. We can all make ourselves forces of creation. What’s the worst thing that could happen?