Too much of a value

By skepticlawyer

Legal Eagle’s post on screaming children and deafened passengers on a long-haul flight put me in mind of an interesting (offline) conversation I had with Lorenzo a month or so ago. On LE’s post, I made this comment:

I do think we have taken social disapproval of parents disciplining their children in public too far, with the result that people stuck with tantruming children are left with no sticks and very few carrots when it comes to keeping them under control. The other thing that has gone is the old ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, with the result that it becomes impossible for parents to rely on teachers or other authority figures to make genuine use of the old legal principle ‘in loco parentis’.

People desperately want schools to be better disciplined and more structured, but legislation has deprived teachers of the capacity to achieve that — this, in part, explains the flight to private schools. The hostie and pilot on M-H’s flight were stuck in a similar position, and one only has to imagine a scenario where the hostie was injured thanks to falling over the child in the aisle to add a toxic topping on top of what would be a litigation shit sandwich.

During our conversation, Lorenzo and I discussed the idea that too much of a value is usually bad. At the time, we were considering an attempt by a political philosopher to argue that the modern employment contract is a species of slavery, a topic on which Lorenzo has written engagingly and thoughtfully. My view was as follows:

Slavery represents, I think, authority, as does the employment contract. It is common, these days — when it is clear that too much of a thing is bad — to suggest that any of that thing is also bad. Slavery is authority, authority is bad, therefore anything that evinces authority (like the employment contract) is also bad.

Lorenzo describes this phenomenon as a form of ‘rejectionist moral absolutism which infects a lot of modern thinking,’ pointing out that ‘it comes from lots of people whose life is not actually grounded in making things work, except in a very narrow sense.’

One can see this ‘rejectionist moral absolutism’ playing out very widely across society. Here’s one from pharmacology and medicine.

DEM used to be able to take a particular variety of medication that controlled her nerve tremor very well and relieved the pain she experienced far more effectively than its replacements. The good medication was co-proxamol, which has been withdrawn despite being on the market for over thirty years. Allegedly (as this paper points out), it was linked to suicides and potential for accidental overdose. DEM (and millions of other MS sufferers) now no longer have access to a very successful treatment. Understandably enough, they’re not happy about it (as a visit to any message board or forum where disabled people or those with chronic pain gather soon shows).

Co-proxamol was a little bit dangerous. Because any danger is now seen as bad, it was withdrawn. The idea that people should simply be more careful when taking drugs did not seem to cross the authorities’ minds. LE has a life-threatening nut allergy. She simply has to be careful — no-one is going to ban nuts. The withdrawal of co-proxamol, I think, represents an attempt to regulate society so that it takes in every possible exception. It is a clear case of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good.

Still on the medical front, it’s even possible to overdo the ‘slip, slop, slap’:

Computer-obsessed children who spend too long indoors and over-anxious parents who slap on excessive sunscreen are contributing to a sharp rise in cases of the bone disease rickets, doctors are warning.

Drug availability, the public disciplining of children, sunscreen, the employment contract: these are just a few instances of the same thing. No doubt there are hundreds, even thousands of others. It probably seems trite to go all Aristotelian and argue for moderation in all things, but that idea does seem to have gone by the wayside in recent times, and the consequences are both expensive and perplexing (not to mention often litigious). In days gone by, the screaming child would have been smacked on the backside and given a draft of something soporific. Now, nothing is done at the most immediate level, so the aggrieved passenger goes to court, the last bastion, it would seem, of real authority in most Western countries.

If we step back and take a good long look at ourselves, it is possible to see how deeply silly this is.


  1. Posted July 21, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the plug 🙂 Though now I wish I had come up with a cleverer phrase than “rejectionist moral absolutism”. It is really a form of moral perfectionism, so that no one can be more concerned than you!

  2. Posted July 21, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    It probably seems trite to go all Aristotelian and argue for moderation in all things

    Especially as Aristotle didn’t argue for moderation in all things… However he did argue for right judgement, picking the right action in the particular situation. I think there probably is a good Aristotelian argument to do with picking the right action, which probably lies somewhere in between assaulting the child (or smacking it), and doing nothing.

  3. Posted July 21, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Deborah: I should have said ‘all Greek’, I suppose, but have been made wary of saying this as lots of people don’t know it’s a classical maxim and modern Greece (in terms of the parlous state of its finances and the popular insistence that the EU just has to harvest the money tree in Brussels) is evidence of precisely the opposite of ‘moderation in all things’.

    I’m also unpersuaded of the valency of ‘assault’ when it comes to smacking small children; our fear of excessive discipline, has, I submit, undermined reasonable discipline.

    Lorenzo, if you come up with a better phrase, do let us know. The phenomenon is very widespread, and very damaging.

  4. Posted July 22, 2010 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    {sobs} I miss my co-proxamol! It shifted 75% of the nerve pain and gave you a nice little buzz thanks to the muscle-relaxant which meant you didn’t care about the other 25% any more. 😉 Side effects did however include whistling the tune from Hogan’s Heroes whilst touring the former concentration camp at Dachau while on a European holiday several years ago. None of the replacements have been anywhere near as much fun (or as effective as it happens) though I did have a GP suggest cannabis as an alternative. Even slipped me the phone number of the local “man who can”.

  5. Patrick
    Posted July 22, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    My personal favourite was the German dad who in the waiting lounge in Singapore whose 4- or 5-yo daughter bit his thumb so hard that he screamed.

    His reaction: (loosely translated) no that’s naughty we mustn’t bite – delivered in soothing tones whilst vigorously nursing his sore thumb!!

    My son/daughter would have bloody known about it if they had bit me like that!

  6. Chris
    Posted July 22, 2010 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Vitamin D defficiency problems also happen in Australia. Probably because the slip slop slap message has been so effective and the level of protection is tuned around people with pale skin.

    There has been some talk about removing the no-hat-no-play rule in schools during winter because some kids really do need the extra sun exposure.

  7. Posted July 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    One thing about moving back to Darwin is that I’ll never have to worry about Vitamin D ever again.

  8. TerjeP
    Posted July 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    My usual rule for hitting children is to only do it if they physically harm me or are trying to physically harm me or if they are putting themselves or others in danger. I have not adhered perfectly to this rule but it usually works. I have been bitten plenty of times without responding physically but I wouldn’t rule it out. Sparing the rod does not in my view spoil the child but providing no disipline or feedback does.

  9. Posted July 22, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    One thing about moving back to Darwin is that I’ll never have to worry about Vitamin D ever again

    Don’t bet on that, various studies show that in older adults sunshine exposure does not produce sufficient vitamin D. We lose the ability to create it with age.

    And make sure you protect your eyes up there, bright sunlight alone damages our retinas and lens.

    though I did have a GP suggest cannabis as an alternative.

    Studies support that advice, seems particularly good for neuropathic pain. Hemp oil might even work if it contains high levels of CBD, thereby avoiding the high from THC.

  10. Posted July 23, 2010 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Yes to this post. I do despair of people who seem unwilling to appear to be in control of their children for fear of damaging them in some way. There is no way for children to grow up entirely undamaged. They will deal with it as adults the same as you did. Get over it, and take responsibility for people who are too young to take it for themselves. And yes to the stupidity of banning effective drugs due to a small proportion of side-effects.

    I’m very agreeable this morning, apparently.

  11. Posted July 23, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    sufficient Vit D is obtained by 10 minutes exposure per day, over about 9 square inches of skin.

    re small people screaming on planes: it is the air pressure hurting their middle ear and WHY airlines cannot routinely dispense small foam disposable earplugs, I will never understand. such a simple fix.
    Friends flew 1st class to LAX with new baby and made me very sympathetic for other passengers sharing who might have saved for the (now ruined) luxury of it.

  12. Posted July 23, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    The problem with co-proxamal is that it has much higher death and toxicity rates than similiar compounds. The real worry is the paracetamol, I’m not sure anyone should be taking that drug on a sustained basis because it is a known liver killer. I’m not supporting the ban, I suspect the ban is more to protect the doctors, govt, and pharmas than patients, but I would be extremely reluctant to keep popping paracetamol.

    Deus X, if you wish, contact me at [email protected], provide current treatment, pathologies, and symptoms, and I will go data mining. I will not tell you want to do, I will provide a list of references for your doctor and yourself to help him\her make a decision.

  13. Posted July 23, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of pain management, this came up in today’s news …

    “Cannibinoids offer great promise in the treatment of chronic and acute pain, and they’re effective in much lower amounts than opioids — the only currently approved treatment for this disease.”

  14. Posted July 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Another good solution to the inner/middle ear problem is boiled sweets. Air New Zealand used to have cabin staff distribute them to every passenger as the plane went into its decent (for some reason it is worse going down); it worked a treat. I wonder if they still do that?

  15. Posted July 23, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    sufficient Vit D is obtained by 10 minutes exposure per day, over about 9 square inches of skin.

    No it isn’t. I have even read a study from Finland where women exposed to sunshine had only a minor increase in vit D production, whereas supplementation markedly increased Vit D. levels to the desired level. It is not that well known, yet, but many people over 40 lose the ability to synthesise sufficient vitamin D from the sun.

    Vitamin D is very important for people with autoimmune diseases, it may even be preventive in some cases. Take MS, there is a clear association between vitamin D levels in the teenage years and later MS onset.

  16. Posted July 23, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    1. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2010 Aug;26(4):172-6.

    Is casual exposure to summer sunlight effective at maintaining adequate vitamin D

    Diffey BL.

    Department of Dermatological Sciences, Institute of Cellular Medicine, University
    of Newcastle, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. [email protected]

    BACKGROUND/PURPOSE: The advice that an adequate vitamin D status can be achieved
    by short, casual exposure to summer sunlight is ubiquitous. This review will
    examine the value of this advice. METHODS: The results of experimental studies on
    changes in serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] concentrations following
    ultraviolet exposure are interpreted in the context of human exposure to
    sunlight. RESULTS: It is shown that current advice about modest sun exposure
    during the summer months does little in the way of boosting overall 25(OH)D
    levels, while sufficient sun exposure that could achieve a worthwhile benefit
    would compromise skin health.
    CONCLUSIONS: Failure to understand the nature of
    human exposure to sunlight has led to misguided advice concerning the sun
    exposure necessary for an adequate vitamin D status.

    PMID: 20626818 [PubMed – in process]

  17. Posted July 24, 2010 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    The problem with co-proxomal is that it has much higher death and toxicity rates than similiar compounds. The real worry is the paracetamol, I’m not sure anyone should be taking that drug on a sustained basis because it is a known liver killer.

    Unfortunately I don’t have much choice as codeine-based painkillers don’t seem to work very well (perhaps I’m one of the 8% that link mentions whose liver doesn’t process it properly). Have had liver vulnerability since contracting viral hepatitis as a teen and am just trying to vary between paracetamol and ibuprofen pain relief and taking Milk Thistle tincture from a medical herbalist. I’m about due for my annual liver-function test.

    Frankly, I may be taking you up on the data mining offer. My pain meds are NOT working. (So if anyone can supply me with the name of a man who can in Edinburgh… do get in contact. 😉 )

    Studies support that advice [to try cannabis], seems particularly good for neuropathic pain. Hemp oil might even work if it contains high levels of CBD, thereby avoiding the high from THC.

    You say that like it’s a BAD thing…


    If you’ve moved to Darwin you’ll be needing more Vitamin C from what I hear.

  18. Posted July 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    You say that like it’s a BAD thing…

    Yah, I’m being hypocritical. I never drink, or only for social purposes but I love my happy happy joy joy times. Or used too because I could keep working while in the same state but over recent years that ability has all but vanished. Damn.

    Cannabinoids do induce opoid expression and I suspect this is THC mediated so in terms of pain management both THC and CBD are probably advisable.

    There is a synthetic cannabinoid on the market, Marinol, but I don’t know if it is available in the UK or good for pain management. My suspicion is that it won’t be as good as natural cannabinoids because it lacks the psychoactive component, ie. THC function. I know from personal experience and that of a few friends that cannabis is very good at reducing pain. It is also has a very low side effect profile, much safer than other drugs.

    Some trials for MS sufferers have shown good results from using cannabis as a whole rather than just THC and CBD. That is, cannabis is not only a source of THC and CBD, but also contains small chain omega 3’s and a potent vitamin A analogue. Your doctor is probably aware of this hence his previous advice.

    A long time ago I did a lot of reading about MS. There are a whole variety of strategies people can utilise. For example, one study showed that for women with the relapse remitting type, a fast at the onset of the attack can help ward off and\or reduce the severity of the relapse. To explain why this is so I have to go to Acronym City but trust me it does make sense.

    You should definitely look at long chain omega 3’s – oily fish, you should have your vitamin D status checked (70+ value!) but in the interim take at least 3,000 iu in oil based capsule form. Also think about a magnesium supplement, everyone should think about that but in your case particularly important because Mg reduces excessive nervous function so much that it used to be a standard treatment for seizure control.

    Try some whole cannabis and if possible do so with a vaporiser for cannabis, created for the MS trials but I think can be accessed. Not that important, occasional smoking isn’t going to damage the lungs that much and there is no evidence for a cancer risk, probably because cannabinoids demonstrate anti-cancer properties. You can also eat it in cookies, the effect is a much slower onset so be very careful because it is easy to eat too much and then about one hour later … . However, given that cannabinoids are potent antioxidants might help the liver. Additionally, CBD is good at lowering inflammation, a key problem with a damaged liver.

    I would not be surprised if you found a big benefit from cannabis, if only because the happy happy joy joy it creates provides a wonderful relief from chronic pain. I know, been there ….

    PS: The Milk thistle is a really good idea.

  19. Posted July 24, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Consultant Anaesthetics and Pain Management
    Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Shropshire Nuffield Hospital.
    Born 1965, Edinburgh.
    Qualified 1990 MBChB Manchester University.
    Acquired membership of the Royal College of Anaesthetists in 1997.

  20. Posted July 24, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    This group should be able to direct you to a pain specialist in Edinburgh. The other link has an email address, you might contact them for a relevant specialist in Edinburgh.

    MSc/Dip/Cert in Pain Management

    Contact Information

    The Graduate School of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
    The University of Edinburgh
    The Chancellor’s Building
    Room SU216
    49 Little France Crescent
    Edinburgh EH16 4SB

    Tel: +44(0)131 242 6399
    Fax: +44(0)131 242 6462
    Email: [email protected]

  21. Posted July 26, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    One of the negative effects of the consumer society, democracy and protracted peace in the developed world is that people have come to expect pain-free, drama-free, risk-free lives. And every time anything goes wrong there’s an outcry that requires that someone write a law.

    The extends to child rearing where there sems to be a trend that one should protect one’s child from the slightest inconvenience not to mention anything actually unpleasant.

    Perhaps I’m being a bit of a miserable highlander but it seems to me that lives of complete and utter ease create lazy, weak, stupid people. People who are, ironically, always unhappy.

  22. Melaleuca
    Posted July 27, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    DEM says:

    “{sobs} I miss my co-proxamol! It shifted 75% of the nerve pain and gave you a nice little buzz thanks to the muscle-relaxant which meant you didn’t care about the other 25% any more.”

    I took morphine for about 5 years after breaking 18 bones. It worked very nicely. I also found that swimming or vigorous wading in a pool was great when my chronic pain was at its worst. Personally I’d steer clear of cannabis as I’m nutty enough already so I’d worry that the psychological side-effects might flip me out completely.

    I hope you come up with a decent solution soon.

    Posted July 27, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Oddly enough, there are synergies within this thread starter that appeal.
    I wont say I disagree with the administering of a smack for a recalcitrant brat in a supermarket, for example. The moderation comes in the force of the slap, rather than removing it from the disciplinary canon for all time.
    The child is not the only person with”rights”.
    A slight cavil as to people’s reactions to authority- I doubt whether its blind rejectionism a lot of times, so much as an awareness derived of experience, as to how fallible and treacherous unquestioned authority can be and how destructive, re lives of those in subjection.

  24. Posted July 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    This therapeutic strategy has two benefits: reduces the immune response(important in autoimmunity) and alleviates pain. High opoid expression impedes the immune response, so much for that nonsense that using heroin has no ill health effects.

    Last year some doctors from the UK argued for the re-introduction of morphine for pain management in the elderly. As one doctor quipped, “well is isn’t like they are going to go out and steal a porsche.”

    I know this treatment is available in Australia. It might be available in the UK.
    Low Dose Naltrexone in Experimental Model of MS

    Posted July 27, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Legal Eagle,
    As long as there is a spark of fight left, that’s what some people will do ( kids in the third reich ).
    Lately I’ve been dwelling on some of the less savoury aspects of humanity and its a a tonic to remember just how splendid humans can be, also.

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