Nature VS Nurture – Traits

Nature VS Nurture – Traits

I’m not saying that we are born with blank slates; that would be my first assumption too at this point in the conversation if I were listening rather than speaking, but no. Clearly, if our slates were really blank, how would we ever boot up, how would learning ever have a starting point? What I am saying is that we write very aggressively upon our children’s slates, and we start before we have any idea what it is we’re writing over, and before long what was there before we started our writing is buried forever, indecipherable.
The Nature VS Nurture argument has moved, I hope, finally, from the Blank Slate VS pre-determinism to the Unknown Slate VS Original Sin – at least that’s how I would frame it as regards children and parenting. Now I’m aware that the geneticists of the world will say that our slates are becoming known, more so every day, and yes, but I think we need some more social science before we have a meaningful list of traits to match with our genetic discoveries! I mean if ‘persistence’ or ‘mild-tempered’ are simple things that are either present or not, yes or no? If the qualities we ascribe to one another are also unimpacted by life experience and we can match them to a gene, terrific. But they’re not, are they?
The genetics, and its daughter-disciplines, they are coming along, no argument. Genetics and its offspring will have terrific success when it can be applied to things we understand, like medicine. However, they are already way out ahead of our ability to understand social things and how to live. Our DNA is real; of course, ‘traits’ are imagined things, mirages. I suspect that the old issues are not going away, and Free Will may still apply.
The traits, our behaviour – that we may still have to figure out in the human sphere, not with microscopes, but with honesty and love.

Punishment is a Crime

       Punishment is a Crime

It’s Sunday morning, the wife and I, over fifty, don’t sleep in past seven o’clock anymore so we’re up, each of us at our computers. On Twitter, I see, a Dr. Roger D. Jones has added one of my blog posts to his online psychiatry newspaper – that’s a great start to my day, but not for long. My wife is fascinated by all manner of tragedy, the bigger the better, and she’s reading about the Residential School scandal, the dark, most recent chapter in the story of Canada’s genocide of its Aboriginals. She tells me about a kid who, for the crime of speaking in his own language – a high crime for the genocidal – was beaten and thrown into a root cellar for two days and when they went in for him, they found he had died of his injuries.

An horrific story all around, and not at all rare and extreme as these Residential School tales go. The violence, sexual and otherwise of those schools seems to have been the fucking point of them. Perhaps that is where the church knowingly placed its most sadistic and evil staff, and the urban church scandals were perpetrated by priests who never made the cut for the big game against the still extant native North Americans.

Flatly disgusting. Personally, I would give Canada’s First Peoples half of Canada’s land, and not just the Barrens, either, the good stuff, the coasts, the farmland. When we are two strong nations – then maybe we can think about integrating, when it’s a merger of equals. Otherwise, with no balance of power, there can be no integration, only assimilation – the larger part of which is genocide – when you’re dealing with the aggressive, world-domination driven, white Christians of Europe. Yes, I know you don’t want to hear it, but that’s what we are.

This is not my field of expertise, however, those are opinions, and the revelation the story of that murdered kid gives is the point here. Apologies, but I have to scream it:

Don’t even tell me what the victim of abusive punishing did to earn it. If you beat a kid to death, I have no interest in HIS crime, we are talking about WHAT YOU DID, we are talking about YOUR crime.

Of course, I don’t deal in one-off situations, I don’t concern myself with random phenomena that require specific individual explanations; I like to think I deal in principles. Anyone who for whatever reason seeks to understand me had better know this, that on the very same principle,

Don’t even tell me what the object of punishment did to earn it. If you are treading on another person’s rights, if you are bringing pain and or deprivation to people intentionally, THEIR crimes are not subtracted from yours. We will deal with them and their crimes, meaning that we will work to solve poverty and ignorance and teach our children how to live – but we will also deal with you and your crimes. That means ‘correction’ will no longer be a moral defense for your crimes of punishing.

I know, I’m going after a basic tenet of our societies, the legal/moral point that criminals forfeit their human rights. First of all, not so much. Despite the baffling and inexplicable fact that no-one is listening to me, that is already improving everywhere. Of course, in the former First World, prisoners have a reduced suite of human rights, it’s not that they have none at all, at least in theory if not in practice. The state has to work very hard in America for instance, to strip you of your right to life. Still, it’s a weird definition for ‘rights.’ Certainly it makes our rights very alienable, whatever that means. Apparently, we reserve the right to suspend your rights if you misbehave – clearly a breach of our inherent human rights, which is a logical fallacy no-one would ever allow if it weren’t beaten into us.

I tell you now, this is not a logical conundrum humanity cannot escape, we can. We have to want to, of course, which means we need to understand it first. I think we have no idea of what we’re missing, I think a world where every crime doesn’t automatically replicate itself and become two crimes instead could be a much better place to live.

Lost Causes – Picking Punishment Apart

What a long, weird trip it’s been.

I’m not sure I’m going to be able to express this properly, the strangeness around my effort to change the world, but I’ll try.

I’d like to find some common ground and some connection for myself as a Person with a Cause and somehow talk about that independently from the perceived merit or not of the cause itself . . .  of course that will mean talking about my crusade, laying it all out, but I’m not trying to sell it in this one. I have a hundred and fifty to two hundred posts online and one really bad book collecting dust under my desk where that’s what I’m trying to do. Today, it’s not about me and My Cause, but rather about my cause and what it has meant to Me.

You should know, I don’t really like challenges. My self-image has a low white cell count and I really don’t need to get into any fights I’m likely to lose. In the real world, I’m a bit of a spaz and a moron to tell you the truth; my latest theory or excuse for it is in a recent post, that I am for some reason permanently stressed out, living life flooded with cortisol, which is an emergency mode of functioning that is intended to preserve life and has for much of our time as animals on this Earth. It’s a good adaptation, but it’s not supposed to be chronic. We are supposed to have some measure of peace between existential threats; breeding, raising kids, requires some calm, some respite from the battle for survival. Like I say, that’s my present rationalization for my poor connection with the world, my stupidity. Of course, like all things, if I had uncovered the correct reason for the problem, the problem should be solved. That not so much being the reality, I’ll keep the case open – but for now suffice it to say that I am not really a person on the rise, building success upon success and ready to take on  big, public challenges.

I really didn’t need this shit, is what I’m saying. This cause, for whatever reason, chose me. It has been suggested that all I am is a contrarian, that I have selected my viewpoint for the express purpose of picking fights with everyone and so that I can feel original, but I assure you that I worry about that, that I am not unaware of that danger, and try to stay vigilant about it. That is the sort of thing that can never be settled or proved, however, so if you’ll allow me, I’ll take a different tack: is that charge not a version of the fallacy of authority? An unknown or disreputable source is not proof of the failure of an idea. Honestly, I do have personal good feelings about what I believe, I even derive an occasional ego kick from writing and feeling original. All true, but besides not being damning to my theories, it should be obvious if we look at it: Having the epiphany experience and carrying around a fixated idea that no-one else appreciates – it’s not all fun and compliments.

It can be something of a burden, truth to tell. Does anyone remember Sean Connery in ‘Medicine Man?’ – “How do you think you would feel if you found the cure for cancer and then lost it?” I’m sure every crackpot like me knows the feeling – how do you think it would feel if you found what seems to be the answer for everything and no-one wanted to hear it?

  1. I think we’ve all seen enough of that side of yours truly for the moment! Ahem. Moving on.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, my best friend and the girlfriends we had all agreed – I hate everything. I was always making observations about everything in life and the people I saw and I wasn’t impressed. For example, although I’m not sure this one occurred to me that young, I would try the wrong one of a double door to a store or something, find it locked and bark something like:

“I hate that! The place is open but one door is looked, just to make half of us feel like fools! Are you open or aren’t you?”

I did that stuff pretty constantly, and I still do, I can’t stop. So I’ve decided that complaining is a good thing, positive, and if you’re not complaining then you’ve simply given up. It’s the complainers of the world that are pointing out the problems, hoping for change. But I get that it would drive folks nuts. Rick, Diane, Darlene, Maureen, Gavin, Jim – I’m sorry. Like I say, I can’t stop – but I’m sorry. I ruined every round of golf for decades for my latest best friend with my anger and my frustration that is all part of the same attitude, and Phil, I’m sorry. I know there is no way to make up for it, all those years.

Having said all that, there is still a place for the social critic, even if he’s simply a private, individual curmudgeon and it’s not so much a job as just a catastrophic combination of personal traits. The door example – I can imagine reasons: a quicker lock up in case of some sort of trouble, or just that it’s sometimes a low-level employee in charge of opening and maybe he’s not sensitive to the slight, negative message of one locked door that a conscientious owner might be – it’s real, right? Somebody at some point made a decision that impacted me in a very slightly negative way – and maybe on my worst day it could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, the difference between a good day and a bad one, or me seeing the universe and mankind as basically good or not. If you’ve got two doors and you’re open, opening both doors would be more thoughtful, is all I’m saying. If there is a better reason for you not to, fine, but it doesn’t change my experience.

So I’m grumpy, always looking for something wrong in the world, hypersensitive to the tiniest of offenses.

There are other ways to look at it, of course, but I’m going to go with this right now: it is this talent of mine, which was always present and developed and nurtured over time which has made me the perfect victim of this cause. It’s a nasty irony that while I am so open to the appreciation of this problem, that I’m not much of a vehicle for solving it. (Man, this is just dripping with Christianity and self-abuse, it sounds like Joan of Arc or something, ‘your humble and unworthy servant!’ I’m actually an atheist, a cultural Christian – and this is the power of culture. If it disqualifies anything I say in support of my cause, I hope any critic will commit to demonstrating exactly how and working through it with me. Everyone has baggage!)

OK, so much for the preamble. Sometimes, all I have is preamble; I think that when I die, someone should take everything I wrote, bundle it all up and make it the introduction to the book I wanted to write. My secret dream is that before that happens that I might ever get to the fucking point. But oh, well.

My long-game cause is the end of the practice of punishment in nearly all of its forms. A mid-range goal would be to end the punishment of children in all its forms. The nearest goal would be that we just start to think about it at all.


It’s punishment that I’m focussing on, and it brings its own problems. Anywhere we see a list of topics or subjects, school curricula, websites, the big board on ‘Jeopardy,’ even, anywhere that categories are delineated, there is one word, one concept, one real-world thing that is never there, and that one thing is punishment, or the practice of punishing. My epiphany, my Grand Unification Theory of Life, punishment – is not even a subject, not a topic, period.

Somebody, please, I beg you – does that sound strange?

I’ll brainstorm a little myself before I continue here. What else, what else that is so common in life, is not a topic? We have all manner of science built around the air, and water, and all of humanity has some level of expertise with food and our bodily functions, all of these ubiquitous, taken-for-granted things have deserved study and nomenclature, all of these things have many people dedicating their lives to them, and they are vast fields of knowledge, ever expanding . . .

As is the study of punishment, it too can be a door to a huge area of study, but, so far, that is apparent only to me and a few others. I suspect it is in the particular nature of this particular thing, punishment, that it by necessity and design escapes our eye, our human inquisitiveness. Like a living parasite, punishment can somehow make sure that we don’t look directly at it: it’s controlling us that way. Oops – talking for the cause, not about it. Redirecting . . .

As a cause, at this point in history, the eradication of punishment is utterly hopeless – not even an available topic for discussion, as I’ve been told. This cause has made a pariah of me; I spend my time telling pretty much all parents that they’re Bad Parents, and it doesn’t matter that I’m speaking to all of humanity, or that I often include waivers to that effect when I write, ‘nothing personal,’ ‘not you, it’s the system,’ I say, doesn’t matter. Parenting is personal, period. There may be more people in the world that would side with me on it, but so far I suppose I could count more of my fingers than I could those people. It’s not even a subject. The index for the Book of Life has references to punishment on nearly every page, but it’s not in the Glossary section and there is no Further Reading on it – that is, there wasn’t until a few folks like me came along. Sadly, because punishing hasn’t really been optional anyway, and few folks ever really think about it in a critical way, there doesn’t seem to be established arguments about it yet. There are no Keyneses and Hayeks for us to line up behind.

Unless there’s a smarter and better situated person to do it, I would be willing to play the part of the ‘Keynes of Punishment,’ making the arguments and taking the flack, but who will be my Hayek?

The rare few of us who have looked at punishing behaviour for decades and tried to analyze it have no trouble finding opponents to dismiss and ridicule us, but I haven’t yet found anyone who suffers my equal but opposite obsession with the subject, anyone who has built a logical structure in defense of punishment – I’m sorry, but I mean a logical structure that deserves to be called one, one with more than a few dozen words, a serious breakdown of what logic may support it. Again, I’m sorry, and I’m not asking for that from busy parents, either. Surely there is some authority, some institution that will speak for Standards and Practices? – kidding of course. Punishment is not a subject, not a field, and there aren’t any experts to consult. Just in case you’ve been thinking it – psychologists and educators, are they not our experts?

First, for the educator, punishment is simply a tool in their kit, in the past often the most used one. From what I can see, however, the school systems appear to be ahead of the curve in terms of at least corporal punishing, plus they’re not the parents and they’re not prison guards or police, so really, they’re not doing most of the damage. Not at work, anyway.

For the psychologists and all the other iterations of head doctor, it seems all stimuli and effects are just data, bits of a puzzle (other than Alice Miller and her followers, I suppose) and frankly, punishing and over-punishing is giving those fields job security. The main thing is, though, these issues are personal. Psych people and educators, they are like all of us, first and foremost, persons. All the personal, psychological things that exist around child-rearing and punishment are there for the educator and the psychologist as well; blind spots are blind spots, it doesn’t necessarily matter that many psychologists, psychiatrists etc., have spectacularly good vision, we are all born and bred in the system. The parasite does not allow itself to be seen.

A question, for any psych folks out there – was punishment a subject in your educations, a topic? Did the concept get the time a single event we punish and traumatize for gets, like toilet training, or that tired old saw about catching your parents doing it?

Really, really what I’m asking for is for the universe to spontaneously create the zealot who will see his mission to create a philosophical basis for punishing in the world, for my nemesis to appear, the Unbreakable one to defend the world as it is, to my Mr. Glass (a movie, “Unbreakable,” M. Night Shyamalan, I think). Either that, or people have to confess to me that there is no rationale for punishing beyond the senseless sound bites we all know, and start to think about it. As always, the best time was ten years ago, but now is good too.

Actually, never mind all that crap about the universe making me a strawman to flog, let’s just go with that last bit.

I need to realize that there is no such equal and opposite argument, even less so than there is for global warming. Feel free to correct me, but really, this is something we should be applying that impressive human brain to, we should step one pace back from ‘do we like punishment?’ which most folks could answer, to ‘what is punishment, exactly?’, start from there. I’m not saying most people couldn’t answer that one, I’m only suggesting that no-one has ever asked them that before, and perhaps it will get us thinking. I do think that many folks have things in their definition that really aren’t punishing at all, so the definition can use a little refresher in our minds anyway.

I am deeply sorry, Dear reader-if-there-is-one, I cannot seem to keep this thing on track, it’s become more of a ramble, I’m afraid, a catch-all. Honestly, I’m trying to build myself a strategy going forward, how I’ll write, maybe try to change my tone to something recognizable as writing in this century, as well as how I’ll blog and promote and even how I’ll talk to people. Not sure yet, but I think this will help: sorry to use you for a sounding board like this (it’s what a lot of blogging is, I guess), I hope my circular rambling was at least mildly entertaining. I promise more substance and less navel-gazing next time.


Don’t We Think Our Parents Did their Best?

Don’t We Think Our Parents Did their Best?

Kids nowadays got no respect.

They’re out there right now, whining about their pasts and blaming their parents, like their parents were supposed to know better or something, telling their own kids what brutes their parents were, while condescending to these poor, just started walking upright past generations that they ‘did the best they could,’ or ‘the best they knew.’

In past generations, my ‘no-punishment’ talk might have at least found an argument. The older generations at least knew that they were punishing, and they knew it was a practice that could be attacked and/or defended. But these kids now, trying to raise their own? You can’t talk them out of something they don’t even know they’re doing. These nampy-pamby modern young parents think they can get it all their own way without corporal punishment, without getting physical on their kids – which means when these too-nice parents do get it all their way through intimidation and threats and having shown the kid who’s boss while he’s a baby and can’t tell anyone, as well as by occasional violent outbursts, that no-one’s allowed to realize it because ‘We are not a Family that uses Corporal Punishment.’ That is the difference between the honest corporal punishers of the past and a whole lot of the ‘non-spanking’ parents that were the children of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Don’t get me wrong – these are the gentler of these children with children! Many still just spank – but they still mostly think they’re nicer than the old folks were, and maybe so. Maybe so, but the first group mentioned above, they tried to make a real change in principle, at least in their minds if many perhaps failed in practice, but the others? It’s not even a philosophical split. For the ones who are staying the course with parental authority and physical methods, it is only a matter of degree, what the old folks got wrong. They just took things too far.

So here’s the insolence, the lack of respect.

What did the previous generation, the children with grandchildren fail at? Were these knuckle-dragging forefathers simply incapable of controlling themselves once they started with the whoopin’, is that the theoretical basis for the ‘took it too far’ theory? Perhaps it was something they thought instead. Maybe they simply held with stronger deterrents and stronger penalties than we do today, or they had a longer list of punishable offenses., so the difference is perhaps not that the beast remained so strong in our parents and grandparents that they were simply more impulsively violent, but that they were more institutionally violent, that it was not accidental, but a belief driving the action. If that’s closer to the mark . . .

Then what did they fail at?

Strictness level too high, penalties too harsh? So this generation has the dial in just the right spot, is that it, kids nowadays don’t have the same feelings and the same complaints as our parents did and our grandparents did, because we have dialled in just the right amount of pain or deprivation to match their crimes, and they can’t help but admit it? Or are the children of the children of these modern middle-aged children still going to make the same complaints to each other because the basic principle hasn’t changed, namely, ‘they never let me X and they think they own me and they shit on my life whenever they want?’ Find me the evaluation of any matter of degree in that, I ask you.

So were our parents, our grandparents unevolved, incapable of non-violence, or less violence? No, that wasn’t the trouble then, any more – or any less – than now. There were some gentler people living in even the far past than many people living today; civilization is not a linear progression, it’s messy. Did they simply ‘go too far?’ No, because of course we don’t go too far – and you know our kids have all the same complaints we did and our parents did. Again, I’m still getting to it: the disrespect.

They didn’t do their best and fail. They’re not animals with no self-control any more than you are, and they didn’t fail at assessing what was punishable and what was an appropriate punishment, either. They failed because there is no winning this game. Spoiler alert –you are not going to win the game of discipline in child-rearing either, and self-control won’t save you. Getting just the right amount of force and/or fear in your discipline isn’t going to win it either – because . . .

The right amount of force, violence, deprivation, unpleasantness of any sort is none, exactly none, which is a principle. These are the contrasting principles in this story: the betrayal, violence and/or deprivations of punishment – or not; yes or no, that is a difference of principle, and that is the only change in our child-rearing that would be a real, qualitative change.

The old folks, they didn’t fail, because that’s not fair to say of someone who never had a chance in the first place, and it’s disrespectful. Those folks weren’t stupid. They were exactly like us, they had better intentions, and they did the best they could within a bad system. If we think we’re going to do better, without having a better idea, without having a different idea, then we’re going to find out, and we’ll know that we were no smarter than they were. Too late to make a change, of course.

Evolution isn’t automatic. It happens because we want to live and sometimes in order to do that, we have to figure out a better way.

The Easy Route

The Easy Route

Here’s an interesting article:


Influence People by Leveraging the Brain’s Laziness

MAY 29, 2015

Discussions of influence are almost always focused on messages and information, the assumption being that the best route to drive people’s actions is to get them to understand the course of action that is best for them and then to pursue it.

But another stream of work on influence has also noticed that the environment affects people’s actions. Over the past decade, proponents of the work described in Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have focused on small changes that can be made to the environment that have a big effect on behavior. The classic example from this work is that changing the default option from opting in to a retirement program to opting out of one can have a significant affect on how much people save.

In all of this work, though, there is still an assumption that the environment is treated as a reflection of information that should drive preferences. For instance, it’s assumed that people tend to stick with the default option because they do not know enough to change it.

This view of decision-making assumes that information is always at the core of the cognitive economy. But in fact, energy is the key currency that the cognitive system seeks to preserve. The human brain is roughly 3% of people’s body weight and yet it uses 20-25% of our daily energy supply. This energy is required to keep the brain running regardless of exactly what the brain is doing. That means that time spent thinking about a choice is highly correlated with the amount of energy consumed by the brain.

A better way to think about the role of the environment, then, is to recognize that people want to minimize the amount of time and brain energy they spend thinking about a choice and also minimize the amount of time and bodily energy they expend toward carrying out actions after the choice is made. The simplest way to do both is to simply take the actions the environment is conducive to. In other words, people are not treating the environment around them as information in most deliberative processes. Instead, they are performing the easiest actions with as little thought as possible.

So if we want to influence other people’s behavior, we must make desirable behaviors easy and undesirable behaviors hard. Take the design of your grocery store, where impulse purchases are often displayed on the endcaps or in the checkout aisle. You’re not spontaneously purchasing those items because you have more information about those non-necessary products, but based on a combination of what the environment makes easy to do, the habits people have learned from past actions, and the results of previous deliberations about a decision.

Consider a consumer preparing to buy toothpaste. As a child, her parents used Colgate, though she tried Crest and Aquafresh at friends’ houses while growing up and saw plenty of commercials over the years. In college, when she began to make her own toothpaste purchases, she would typically search for the Colgate, but if another common brand was in easy reach, she selected that instead. A promotion that placed a toothpaste she liked in a special display would lead her to grab that as she charged through the store. She was frequently frustrated by the number of times that toothpaste manufacturers changed their packaging, making it more difficult to select one of the brands she typically bought.

In this example, none of these decisions involved significant deliberation. Instead, there were small preferences for brands based on prior exposure and a number of selections based on what was easy to do. Indeed, one thing that brands often do that blocks this low-effort behavior is to change their packaging, which forces the consumer to put in effort to find the familiar brand in an unfamiliar box.

This orientation to the environment can change or reinforce all kinds of behaviors. As I discuss in Smart Change, one of the most successful public health campaigns of the last half-century is the effort in the United States to reduce the number of smokers. One of the most important factors that decreased smoking rates among adults from roughly 50% in the 1960s to about 20% now is the environment. It is no longer possible to smoke in public buildings in most places in the United States. Some businesses no longer allow smoking on their entire campuses. This change to the environment makes an undesirable behavior


In the workplace, there are many ways to set up the environment to drive people toward desirable behaviors. For example, many companies set up databases of prior projects and their outcomes as a way of capturing organizational knowledge. However, these databases are often difficult for employees to access and have clumsy user interfaces that make it hard for people to find what they need. To make the archives more useful, they need to be accessed quickly from people’s computers, and the user interface needs to make it easier to find past reports than it is to ask a few random colleagues if they know of any related projects.

Similarly, if your aim is to get people to schedule shorter meetings, organize the office calendar program in which the default meeting length is 15 or 30 minutes rather than an hour and needs to be adjusted to be longer if necessary. Although people will still end up scheduling a number of hour-long meetings, the need to expend energy to override the standard option will shorten many of the items that end up on people’s schedules.

Anyone interested in influence should start by focusing on the environment of the individual they are trying to affect. Analyze that environment and find ways to make desirable actions easy and undesirable actions difficult. Remember that the human cognitive system aims to get the best possible outcome for the least possible energy cost.

Art Markman, PhD, is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. He has written over 150 scholarly papers on topics including reasoning, decision making, and motivation. He is the author of several books including Smart Thinking,Smart Change, and Habits of Leadership.


Of course that is my idiocy exactly, attempting what only I and a handful of other folks the world over consider to be rational arguments in the most emotional, contentious and consensual subject possible. Of course a nudge is exactly what the UNCRC (United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child) and the anti-corporal punishment movement is hoping to provide by getting governments to pass laws criminalizing the corporal punishment of children. Once that change reaches the world’s biggest empires, then I plan to try to start the next wave of humanism – outlawing the fights parents get into with their children when they’re trying to impose their non-corporal punishments.

That because, in the end, what is the difference to me if you plan, in the most dispassionate way to punish me corporally with a spanking or a beating or whether you decree a non-corporal punishment like ‘grounding’ (curfew/confinement), and wind up beating me up in the fight that ensues when I refuse? How is one a violent crime and not the other? They certainly both are when both assailant and victim are adults. Oh, Hell.

I’m doing it again, aren’t I.

Oh well, I’m home, sick with a parasite, I can’t do all the work my home and yard and employers need, so if this is all I can do right now, I’ll do it.

The thing is, what that article gives us first is, a solid, biological reason why we don’t like to think too much, so we’re all off the hook. Turns out that maybe we’re not just mean and stupid because we’re mean and stupid, that maybe it’s not so much a choice at all. Thinking too much really has had a biological cost forever. The biological cost is energy, they said, I assume it means an advantage where food is not unlimited and more energy efficient genetic lines succeed and survive better.

The costs of not thinking are not all biological, of course, and nearly impossible to measure.

Of course, the energy cost is no excuse for some of us, many of us can afford to find the calories required for conscious thought; but it does mean there’s no shame in not thinking more. It’s our evolutionary heritage, and no-one expects the whole population to swim against the current.

Having said that, it often appears that it is just those of us swimming just that direction – overthinking, thinking about something either other folks just don’t or just in a new way – that have made our species so different from all the others. Somehow, just as there are micro-climates that gardeners need to understand, there are also micro-environments within humanity – we are 90% of our environment, society is our environment now, more so than anything to do with geography or the weather – where there are eddies and back-currents, evolutionary rewards that seem contrary to the general flow. Too, somehow, we have assimilated our own outliers, and made them part of our species’ mosaic, preserving their genes and their ideas rather than letting nature simply dead-end them like one might expect – and we are more intelligent, diversified, and resilient for it. But I digress. Where were we? Energy?

My stance, my epiphany, my cause, my obsession, E., All of the above, is that we shouldn’t punish our children, ever, for anything, that the basic premise of punishment is wrong, doing things to people because they don’t like it, although it appears to provide a motivation in a good direction, unfortunately also hurts, same as abuse, and so actually takes us in the opposite direction in the long run. Punishing is a net cause of misbehaviour and crime, not a cure (I’m happy to argue about that, and if you’ve never read me or a very few other folks who say it, I know, it’s a bombshell. But I’m talking about the stance right now, talking around it, as it were, and the first point of this particular post is not to make that declaration, but to talk about that declaration. Moving on).

My wife and I raised our two girls with no punishment whatsoever, other than a few things that I’ve written about elsewhere, an iPod that didn’t get replaced for several months after losing two of them, and some MMA action between me and our second baby in the family bed on one horrible, sleep deprived night. Other than that, we never tried to train our kids, we simply followed them around to keep them safe. There was a lot of leg work, and that was high-energy work, chasing them, talking endlessly and fruitlessly to them about why we do what we do and why we don’t do what we don’t, and then cleaning up the messes when talking didn’t work. Like I say, high energy – but only for the first five years. We didn’t know what would happen. It was a pleasant, unexpected thing: parenting just started getting easier every year.

As it turned out for us, if you don’t punish, that is if you don’t commit the counter-intuitive-to-a-kid betrayal of punishment, if you don’t start hurting your kids with the very first few exploratory mistakes they make and then just fall into the trap of doing it all the time – you will never have to punish. If you can get through the first several years and wait for them to learn the language, wait until they can talk and reason with you without you trying to hurt them, they will be on your side and life will be easier for you all. I swear to God. For the normal, European-descended Canadians around us while we raised our girls it was the opposite. For them, things just kept getting harder and more contentious all through the teen years.

So, in conclusion, thinking costs energy, and we’ve evolved not to engage in it more than necessary. However, possibly new to this calculation, punishing also costs energy, also threatening our success.

Our Parents Did Their Best, Didn’t They?

       Our Parents Did Their Best, Didn’t They?

Our parents did their best, right?

This is not your usual parenting blog, and ‘yes’ is not going to be at the top of my list of relevant answers. If you’re looking for support for a normal parenting model, structure, discipline, that sort of thing, move on. I am not in the business of seeking to be popular with the great masses on those topics, and here you will find only one piece of advice regarding those things. Unless your child has special needs I don’t know anything about – just don’t do it, or rather do it as little as possible. I don’t mean socially possible, or possible for us, uh . . . mentally without a lot of internal conflict and even pain. I don’t care about that. I mean, I care, a little. Parental pain however, is not my primary concern; this is for the kids, as they say. What I will accept as a real constraint is money. If you’ve got to go to work and your kid is screaming blue bloody murder and doesn’t want to be dropped off – well then my concern may also be that you keep your job and the kids continue to eat and enjoy their roof – still though, there is probably an entire range of income levels where people might say that. At some point, uh, no. Somewhere between if you’re rich and if you really could stay home without losing that home, your excuse for forcing and frightening that kid starts to wear thin. I’m not saying ‘Ladies, stay home.’ I’m saying go to work, Mom AND Dad even, but find a way to get to work without having to use force and discipline on your kids, that’s all. Your chance of parenting success improves if both parents are doing the work.

That’s all I’m saying.

If you’re poor, or unsupported, working class, even lower middle class, people have to work, and so my ask of the world of parents becomes a big one. I know you have to move them around quickly, I know certain sorts of misbehaviours just aren’t tolerable in the short term and a short-term only fix, less than optimal as it is, is sometimes all you’ve got. Society, inequity, all manner of evil shit conspires to make life tough all around and worse for the poor and working poor, and anyway, everyone thinks that the tougher we are on our kids the better, so no shame in it, it’s normal. I still ask one thing though:

Just think about it. Just as you go about your busy days, doing all the stuff you have to do, just try to keep me and my plea – don’t punish your kids – in mind, see how it fits. Maybe notice the times when a promised punishment wound up with the kid in harm’s way from trying to avoid it, or that the worst kids seem to have the parents who are ‘using discipline in the most vigorous way,’ things like that. I know most of us don’t have the luxury to wait and reason with a child, but just start to think about doing just that if you could. A lot of rich folks could, but they never think about it and they don’t.

What we do regarding discipline is the problem, and not a solution for anything in the medium or long terms. Structure, unfortunately, requires discipline, so that’s out the window too. So to whatever extent you can afford it, even if it’s only dreaming about gentle, patient parenting, please, live free-range, give up the structure and the tradition and anything else that makes you want to punish your kids, that is my position.

Are you still here? Really?

You know I mean any punishment at all, right, not just the physical stuff, not just hitting and corporal punishment? That I mean don’t take away screen time or favourite toys (or God forbid, pacifiers, rattles, or Mom), don’t ground punitively (you may sometimes need to keep a child or teen home for their physical safety, I suppose), don’t put ‘in timeout,’ none of it? Just don’t do anything if you’re doing it for the specific reason that your child won’t like it. OK?

OK, we must be alone now!

Where were we? Oh yes:

Our parents did their best, right?

First of all – so what? ‘Did their best!’ That, as they say, plus a couple of bucks will get you a coffee at most places. Seriously – Hitler could have said that! Again, seriously! What do you suppose are the odds that his final prayers included the words ‘God, I tried, God, I did my best . . .’ oh, Man. I so want to blather on about Hitler right now . . . but no, back to kids, more important by sheer numbers. Riddle me this, Dear Reader if there is one, or Objection, Your Honour if you prefer: relevance?

In what other situation, when humanity attempts some feat and fails, is the admission – ‘they did their best’ – also the solution? That shouldn’t be the end of it! Of course it amounts to an Appeal to Emotion and can only serve to put a stop to any further questions, but sure . . . there. All fixed. Sigh.

Of course they did their best. If the Hitler illustration wasn’t clear enough: we all try to do our best. But what is it we’re doing that we have determined is ‘the best’ we have to give? Again – refer to your Hitler lessons. Everybody’s ‘best’ means something different and it’s not a good enough answer; we need to know why things go wrong, duh. But there’s something else.

If all the parents in our family’s history ‘did their best’ and that somehow means it’s OK or at least that we’re not going to talk about it anymore, then I would like to contrast that with how we seem to feel about them, the other, all those other parents out there whose best isn’t good enough at this very moment. Surely there must be a huge number of people out there who are neglecting their responsibilities and not educating or disciplining their kids. How else to explain the state of affairs in the world, the bullying, the disrespect, the crime and delinquency?

(I wanted to say ‘the music’ but I thought the joke would work better if I didn’t give it away for another quarter-second.)

With the present state of affairs, can we dispense with the apologetics and say that it might matter if the current batch of parents’ best isn’t good enough? No? Careful there, you’re right, it’s a trap: if the excuse that works for our parents works for the other, then we’re not going to be able to blame things nowadays on parents nowadays. After all, they’re doing their best, right? So . . . yes? It matters? Of course it matters, if parenting matters at all, but that is not enough agreement to matter, is it? How does it matter, exactly, that’s the thing. If it’s the thing I said above, ‘a huge number of people out there who are neglecting their responsibilities and not educating or disciplining their kids,’ then first, I thought you left the room a long time ago, and second, uh, no, not so much. There is no such large group of parents. How many do you know, how many people have you ever met who profess no interest in disciplining their children? Seriously, that hypothesis is bigotry in the broadest sense, postulating something that it is possible to believe about the other, but patently ridiculous if it were suggested about ourselves.

Pretty much everybody in our culture believes in discipline, don’t believe the talk, as if the support for discipline is threatened. Still, it is possible to see the world and children and teens as being in a terrible, uncontrolled state – so if there’s anything to it the answer must be somewhere else. And it is.

So they did their best, that’s true as far as it goes – not very far – and we can’t blame them, but I tell you this: if we don’t look at it, if we don’t figure out exactly how their best wasn’t good enough, we are going to repeat their mistakes, and our kids will say of us, ‘they did the best they could.’ – and they’ll be wrong. We have our chance to make changes right now, but we don’t want to even look at it.


June 5, 2015

A conflicted Society – Cognitive Specialization

Cognitive Specialization

A search of my blog for the character strings “cognitive damage”, “and cognitive “, or just “cognitive” will produce results pretty consistently. It’s a central tenet of mine, of course:

“The cognitive damage associated with abuse and corporal punishment is a result more of the repetitive nature of a very limited number of punishments that are provided as effects for a world of different possible causes, the true effects of which, while possibly painful at times, are all things that human beings need to learn, and the earlier the better. The cognitive damage is the direct effect of these missed learning opportunities at early ages, blah, blah, blah . . . “

I’ve said that many, many times, but it wasn’t until recently, within the last year when I started to allow the reverse side of that concept to creep into my thoughts. I thought of this post and forgot it again several times over the last year; thank goodness I happened to be home sick, sitting at the computer when I thought of it this time. Personally, I think I’m afraid to pursue it because I’m afraid it may be the bane of my entire edifice. I can’t wait to see how far I may have to stretch myself to cover this additional bit of information.

But you know, here goes. Of course I don’t have to publish. Ha.

If all those chances to learn real things about the real world are being missed – aren’t we still learning something, even if it isn’t how hot the stove really is, or why you shouldn’t punch your friends? Of course there are more conventional answers to that, even ones I like and agree with – but also these:

  • We learn our first versions of ‘might is right’
  • We learn a list of our parents’ likes and dislikes
  • We learn the basic principles of punishment, which are, we’re supposed to bring some sort of pain or deprivation to people who behave in ways we do not like, and that pain and deprivation are good for us, that we deserve them
  • We learn that it is standard practice for the large and powerful to bring pain and deprivation to the small and weak
  • We learn that pain and deprivations are the preferred tools for manipulation, for getting people to do what we want

That’s all somewhere in the realm of the normal, I’d say, but that last entry, is that not slightly more nasty and objectionable? We learn manipulation? And is that some generic-sounding code so that I can say ‘manipulative,’ a much more loaded and powerful word, without actually saying it? It’s a fair cop. I was hoping to make an argument to get us from the one to the other.

So before I get into other things, what sort of result would you imagine, what sort of person might we expect that education might get us if it takes, if that is the sort of lesson we get possibly far more often than we get a chance to learn something about the real world? Well, yes, the aforementioned cognitive damage of course, the life of missed learning opportunities, but what about all the time, all the focus, the opportunities to learn in depth about our families’ quirks and psychoses, and the fine arts of manipulation, and Pavlovian conditioning? Surely those sorts of hours pay off. Surely we are all specialists. Like the Reindeer people know their animals, like the Sherpa know the wrath of the mountain – that’s how we all know this world of the human social animal, with its complex hierarchies and its sometimes random mix of rules, deterrents and punishments. All of us are Subject Matter Experts – both in support of the system, dealing out our own share of the discipline, as well as in avoiding the penalties we deserve if our own disciplined subjects deserved theirs. Degrees all around, generally confirmed about the time our first child turns three, but sometimes, thank goodness, some of us argue with the professors and the department heads because we think we know better – and wind up tenure-less. Early retirement, which in this case can mean irrelevance.

Seriously, navigating our modern world – a social group of millions, even billions in some senses, interacting with any number of different authority structures and agencies at once, at least three levels of government and all three with a suite of bureaucracies. After that, international law, the hierarchies at work, church, and any clubs or associations . . . and all that arrayed against us in adulthood. In childhood, it’s pretty much every adult on earth that we must navigate. As an example of the general level of expertise, we can perhaps note that navigating our teen years, the time between child and adulthood, the period that we finish as adults, this time during which even most of the most sheltered do most our growing up – this, generally must be accomplished on the sly. Practicing to be a grownup, love, sex, relationships, learning about adult temptations like alcohol, drugs, crime, and gambling – all this is supposed to happen on the other side of ‘the law’ so to speak, teens are not encouraged to ‘grow up’ in this way. We are, however, expected to know all about it all by the time we’re adults. What I’m saying about our expertise, about how much of our plastic and modular brain is allocated for this sort of thing, is, somehow we all still manage to get through it, on our own, in the black market where we’re not supposed to be. That’s kind of impressive, considering that we aren’t all perhaps running on all eight cylinders upstairs.

So this is maybe our scenario, that we are to some degree denied a lot of learning at an early age when we are able to absorb it the best, but that we are all a species of savant as regards living our lives among an endless bunch of social structures some of which are downright hostile to us, and even half of the friendly ones of which would punish us, hurt us to keep the social order. And still we somehow live our lives, because we were raised in this system, we’re street-smart. Hardened. So, continuing with the analogy, then.

If we are all lettered, then what may become of the top of the class, the best and brightest? If we are all steeped in the system, dyed in the wool, then who are the standouts, the pound-for-pound best in this field where everyone has been at it their whole life? I don’t have to name names, of course, but suffice it to say that there are some big jobs for those who are able to manipulate a population of lifelong manipulators, great, unreportable rewards for the con who cons the cons. So yes, we’re talking about our leaders, the super-rich, our politicians and the spin doctors, the PR kingmakers and all of the types who rise to the top of a society built on manipulation and force. This is not an aberration that these manipulative psychopaths are our leaders; that is the system and they are the best. As long as this is our system, they are our rightful champions.

Nothing is going to change for us by simply rotating through different faces and names, when sociopathy is in the job’s list of prerequisites.

It explains a lot, looking at things this way, which of course is the test of a hypothesis, a theory: does it explain more, can it account for previously unexplained phenomena. It explains the power of advertising, and it explains an important piece of the whole Equality Bias and Confirmation Bias phenomenon for starters. It seems to make some sense that if I am invested with an idea of my own rugged, western individualism and independence then maybe I wonder at the advertising industry and that the dollars spent on it seem to always bring returns, when I am not swayed by it. Ignoring that some clever somebodies sold this person the American Dream at some point in his life, this person may theorize about some two kinds of people, the impressionable and the not so, but we may find that our wonder over the effectiveness of advertising and media is lessened if we consider that manipulation is what we do, that it is perhaps the most highly developed discipline that we have.

Similarly, regarding Equality and Confirmation Bias, I personally found the ideas counter-intuitive and I wasn’t sure I believed them, but again: if I think my social group is not bright and/or undirected in their social pressure to think like they do, then yes, it seems unlikely. If, however, I recall that even my relatively uneducated social group have a lifetime’s knowledge and experience in the manipulative world of the most manipulative species’ most ubiquitously manipulative time and place . . . well. It’s not so strange after all.

Plus, it explains even more.

My thesis here, that we are real-world stupid, that our connection to the real world was not made during our early years, and that we are conversely, social and manipulative geniuses may explain how so many clever people can focus on elections and high-powered corporate careers with incredible acumen and success, and yet fail to worry about what their social and political successes may wreak in the real world. Veritable virtuosos in the field of the human mind, social networking and politics – but unable to make the connection we need with the real world.

This is how ‘the economy’ always trumps the Earth and the environment. That social and political construct we can understand, we have evolved a massive organ to deal with it – but our brains’ ‘real-world’ lobe, that is going undeveloped, ignored in early childhood and stunted through life and it is atrophying, becoming vestigial.

We need to broaden our minds beyond ourselves, and start worrying more about the real world. In a real way, dedicating so much of our brain’s real estate to one another and to social concerns at the expense of our resources to process real-world things is analogous to an individual being in arrested development, trapped in the dynamic of their nuclear family and dysfunctional outside of it; the concerns of the social group have grown beyond their proportions. The real, physical world needs some time in our thoughts too, or it may become increasingly inaccessible and therefore even more at risk.

First we need to grow up.

Then we need to clean up our room.

Stressed Out, All My Life

Stressed Out, All My Life

You know, I’m a little scrambled, I can’t remember these days which summer vacation it was, 2009, 2010, or 2012, the year the four of us went to either Costa Rica or the even bigger, once in a lifetime trip, Fiji – but for some reason that summer when my vacation arrived and I was off work . . .

First we stayed at a place, a fairly local beach and it was the first day, worked Friday, set up at the beach on Saturday, and I relaxed. I felt the absence of a tension, I went completely limp and calm for nearly the entire three weeks. I think by the time I was back to work I was . . . normal again. That was once. The second time in my life that I actually relaxed was maybe six weeks ago, and that was, uh, let’s say better living through chemistry.

It’s getting these days that if you want the heathen devil-weed you can get a prescription if you’re sick, but at least around here, in BC, it’s getting where you can just walk into another store, swear you’re hurting, sign, and shop. I guess they’re getting ahead of the legal curve a little, getting jump on it before it’s full on legal and Phillip Morris jumps in. I didn’t believe it, I didn’t. I mean, I was a pothead for a long time, I know it helps with pain and the worry and stress of pain. But I didn’t realize they were actually being serious about the medicine, like identifying different traits for different troubles. I didn’t think the ‘feels’ could be as different as they are and now I think they may have a breed, a particular mix of different cannabinoids, etc., just right for each and everybody, because it was this Purple Heaven that reminded me what calmness felt like again, and I’ve had – there’s no better way to put it – the American Beauty experience. Zero paranoia.

And in that state, that I too would have described until recently as ‘clinically wasted,’ I was calm, and performing better at everything for it, making fewer mistakes, forgetting fewer things. The relaxed mind works better, apparently. Is this how other people feel? Calm, and a lot of the time? Really?

That particular breed hasn’t been available since. Well, it is just plain terrific, besides being magic for me in particular, it’s stats are insane. Maybe this stuff just feels that good for everybody, I don’t know. I’ve been smoking again since a death in our family three months back, all manner of cannabis, other breeds of bud, keef, hashish, oils . . . I’m trying to finish my last bit tonight and not go back, at least for some months. If I’m gonna smoke, it’ll be like the Phoenix character: “This is all I ever smoke.” Plus I’ll invest in a vapourizer, try to make it a little healthier, stop this cherry oil smoked off of a cigarette business. I’ve never even smoked cigarettes, they’re disgusting, especially in this country. But enough of this dope talk, you don’t want that, nor do I.

The point of all that was that although the first time was nice, the first time in my fifty years I really relaxed, it didn’t seem important then, and I pretty much forgot it until the second time, my week long trip to Purple Heaven. Now, however, after my American Beauty epiphany, but more importantly, after realizing that I have been stressed out, unable to calm myself long enough to swing a golf club either forever, or at least as long as I can remember, I want that. I’m worried about my health at nearly fifty-five, and it just plain feels nice, but more. I’m starting to see how being constantly stressed has caused many, many of the mistakes and embarrassments in my life, how it has limited my effective intelligence in applying myself in this life. If I were a TV show, meaning if anyone has been watching my life, I almost want to apologize. It must have been so sad, to see my tensed up little self, with a stiff and brittle connection to life, trying so hard and undeserving of a moment in decades for a few deep breaths. I mean, this despite a life with more than its share of sloth.

I was a pothead for years and years, and I spend a lot of time on here, or in front of the TV – but all that dope never put a dent in my stress, and neither does ‘staying real still until that feeling goes away.’ Of course back then it was really illegal, and I was hiding it from the kids – I’d tell them, but I wouldn’t show them – it was a bad thing then, an addiction, which of course only causes stress in your life in the long term. There’s something there to write about, but I’ll only mention it today: by legalizing it, lives may be transformed, addicts may become patients, treating themselves and having relief from stress rather than the reverse. A prohibition pushes lives to the dark side, not all of which may have been there already. Like I said, twice in my life, within memory, I really relaxed. This goes to psychology, of course.

Perhaps I am feeling the stress of the Mask, the suit of body, mind and heart armour that so many of us wear in order to fit into our families and society, the front we present that fits the shape of the place that other people’s perceptions and delusions have left for us to inhabit. The mask, if I understand it, is our avatar in the game of Surface Life, our userid here in Maya, the World of Illusion.

The Mask is not my symbol. I think has been around for some time, but there is a blogger here who has made it their own. Here’s his ‘About’ page:

And here’s a few examples of his ideas. I advise you get to the end of at least one of them, it’s so worth the trip:

Cortland here has an incredible way of laying it all out, creating a story that makes issues of mental illness stand out clear as day whereas everywhere else we encounter the subject or the illnesses, confusion normally rules and hope evaporates. The ideas in the takingthemaskoff blogs have the potential to make straightforward what was  . . . esoteric, extremely difficult to nail down. Cortland is shining a light for us.

Inherently stressful, is life behind the Mask, maybe it’s as simple as that, or not. The Mask is a ceramic suit of compromises we make with our environment – other people, that is the environment for humans and other social animals – and it sets up, hardens over time while our true selves are locked away and ignored. For myself, I’m sure I haven’t yet identified who I am, which parts of me are me and which parts are part of the Mask, but I’m going to start trying to figure it out. I don’t yet see where this issue of my lifelong stress-state fits into the metaphor of the Mask, but I’m intuiting that it’s all of one thing, and that this is where the key to it will be found.

It’s a rough world out there, maybe that’s enough to explain why my entire life has been spent in a spasm of a species of desperate, bracing for the blow fear that has made any kind of peace a pipe dream for me (apologies!), and maybe other folks like me as well. That peace, having glimpsed it, that is something I need now. The way I’ve been? That has been some only pretending to live type bullshit.