Looking Normal, Part #1

We try so hard, you know?

I swear, it must be half of our brainpower dedicated to it. It doesn’t matter what our state of affairs is, we must always do what we can to appear normal, which, I’m guessing, is a survival adaptation, “looking normal” must mean “looking like an ‘in’ member of our social group,” and so we avoid expulsion or persecution so long as we do.

I knew a fellow, he had been my mother’s live in boyfriend for many years, and while they had split up and he had moved out, he keeled over and died ay Mom’s dining room table during a visit. Several minutes passed before the ambulance arrived and they revived him, and there were some weird things when he woke up. First of all he had lost either a decade or more of the most recent of his memories – my mother and her family completely wiped out – or most of his life, it was hard to tell, because we didn’t know enough about his earlier life to tell what he knew or made up. Made up, I say, because he seemed to think he was constantly switching planets and lives. All this was immediately after his heart attack and demise, I can’t say whether he recovered any in the intervening years, but it was his efforts to appear conscious and functional that stuck with me. He didn’t recognize us, but seemed to get that he was supposed to, so he pretended. Anything we asked about was a positive – “Oh, yeah, I know that, I remember that” – and then some story that might have come from L. Ron Hubbard’s discarded first drafts!

The social pressure, the need to look normal . . . that was an extreme case, I know I’m not proving anything about the rest of us with the tale of a flatlined, brain damaged man’s priorities, but it’s there, and it works in some number of different ways. It’s a priority for us all.

(Plus of course, ‘normal’ can move around, and it can be very different from crowd to crowd. Some of our most extreme efforts to appear to fit in with our group can be exactly what places us so firmly in others’ ‘out’ categories . . . the obvious cases being the polarization of political groupings. This is probably more the point of what many people are trying to describe with terms like ‘confirmation bias.’)

From silly things like trying to look cool through a trip on a flat floor to amnesiacs keeping up appearances to what degree they can, to my mother’s boyfriend’s altered reality – me, in a sports bar on Superbowl day – the importance of an image of comfort and belonging seems to be very basic. Closer to foundational in our psyches rather than modern or cultural. Again, not that I’m a prime example of primality or anything! I may have been the weak link among those examples, but still. It’s almost certainly an important survival trait, for anyone who knows anything about fighting or ever watched a boxing match. If you can look normal, unhurt when you really are, perhaps your opponent doesn’t rush in for the kill every time and you have a chance to come around again and survive the round, the match, the real, primal struggles that we as a species have known forever. Statistically.

So, like many things, not a bad thing in the long run, part and parcel of being the beings we are, an important adaptation for ourselves made somewhere along our evolutionary path and not likely to change anytime soon anyways, but just something good to know about ourselves. If I can really cram this idea into my own head, that whatever altered state of mind a person is in, that what we see is them trying their hardest to look normal. If not normal, at least like they’re not the sort of abnormal that doesn’t belong. Maybe there’s a sort of a no-man’s-land for outliers within our groups, as long as they’re not clearly ‘in’ in some other group either.

I have this idea that the naïve, the starry-eyed and trusting among us, or the plain dumb, like me, what we don’t get is that people aren’t being genuine, that no-one is really themselves. I mean, I always just assumed, why wouldn’t you be? We only get one life, probably, at least it seems that this is the place we are this time through, so why would someone go through life pretending or lying? Just in case that sounded like false self-deprecation there, try this: blind and stupid as I am, I have been writing, thinking and talking child-rearing and abuse for my entire adult life and I can still ask the questions in this paragraph without ever having made the connection. I mean, I assumed it of the few users and liars that I’ve encountered in my life, that they had been abused and lied to and that it seemed sort of normal to them, but I sort of thought that unabused, we would all just be ourselves.

Not so sure of that right now . . .

I’ve just read two different books, both telling a disturbing story about some tests that were done with epileptic people who had required and received that surgery where they remove the connective tissue between the hemispheres of the patient’s brain. I think the theory is that a seizure that originates in one side doesn’t take over both sides, and there is improved quality of life. But the experiments somehow showed that when one side of the brain does a thing, that when questioned, the person’s other hemisphere will tell strange, tall tales about it, that is make up the reasons for the action. They may come up with something possible, even plausible, but it’s a guess or something, because it’s not what happened. It makes the authors consider that reason itself is an illusion and we’re all just making it up after the fact. Add to that what we have all heard over the last few years about memory, in the context of eyewitness recall and some celebrity false memory faux pas, it would almost seem that we’re so concerned with looking normal that we have completely forgotten to try to be! It’s a sad thought that perhaps looking like we know what we’re doing is as good as it gets.

(The books were The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker and The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty, by Dan Ariely. I don’t think Ariely got into any detail to warrant a citation, but I’m sure Pinker tells us exactly who did what and what they learned. I’ll try to find it.)

This is getting long. I guess this can stand as Part #1.

Domestic Violence among the Agents of Authority

Here’s a popular recent article from Addictinginfo:


  • And here’s the text:

You Think Football Players Have A Domestic Violence Problem? Cops Are Three Times Worse


One of the biggest problems with police is that simply being a part of the force gives them a PhD level training in how to get away with breaking the law. While the majority of cops are likely honest (I hope), this sort of being above the law can make life very difficult for spouses and domestic partners of police.

Over the last year or so, the National Football League (NFL) has been under fire for its domestic violence problem. After Ray Riceand Adrian Peterson, the NFL has vowed to do something about it.

Still, almost 70 percent of Americans believe that domestic violence in the NFL is a serious problem. Did you know that it’s actually a bigger problem with police, though? It’s three times worse.

The problems in the NFL are somewhat overrated. There are actually a lot fewer domestic violence arrests among NFL players than there are in the general public, but that could be because police are often fans, which brings us to police. Of all professions, cops are the worst for domestic violence.

In families of police officers, domestic violence is two-to-four times more likely than in the general population — from stalking and harassment to sexual assault and even homicide. As the National Center for Women and Policing notes, two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10% of families in the general population.

A 2013 Bowling Green State University study, through news searches, tallied 324 cases of reported officer domestic violence. It is likely that this number is a gross underestimate, because as the National Center for Women and Policing has detailed, officers frequently cover for each other.

“Cops ‘typically handle cases of police family violence informally, often without an official report, investigation, or even check of the victim’s safety,’” the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf writes, quoting a study from the National Center for Women and Policing. “‘Even officers who are found guilty of domestic violence are unlikely to be fired, arrested or referred for prosecution.’”

Source: MIC.com

Unlike in the NFL, police carry a gun for a living, which can make it particularly frightening for domestic partners. Even worse, they know where the battered women’s shelters are, so there is no escape. Even with cops’ reluctance to do anything about their brothers in blue, 40 percent of families of police report domestic violence, as opposed to just 10 percent of the general population.

Aside from having domestic partners of cops wear body cams, there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about the culture of domestic violence and its cover-ups. One woman in Colorado wasn’t wearing a body cam, but she did record the abuse of her daughter and even then, the police department tried covering it up. After the video made state and national news, the county dissolved the police and the sheriff’s office took over.

Jeremy Yachik, the abusive officer in Colorado, was convicted of egregious crimes. According to his girlfriend’s 15-year-old daughter, he regularly tied her up, slammed her head into walls, beat her with ropes, restricted her food, left her tied up in dark rooms, and force fed her a sauce that’s about 10 times hotter than habanero peppers. His punishment was three years of supervised probation, 30 days in a jail work-release program, and 80 hours of community service. We may have another chance at justice, but only because he was arrested last week for separate charges of sexually abusing a minor.

Featured image via Wikimedia

Share this information!


So that’s a little depressing, to be sure, but it’s not a surprise, is it? After all, force and authority are the job, so it’s not a huge stretch to suggest that some police also believe in those things on a personal level and that some certainly employ them in their personal lives. I know I’m not showing causation, as Ms. Gittleson also did not, but this phenomenon does surely underline a strong correlation between the legitimate force of authority and abuse.

Causation and it’s proof are always hard to find in human affairs, so that will be a tough row to hoe, but let’s state the challenge, say it out loud and see what happens: how do we establish causality between the legal, authorized use of force and punishment and the phenomenon of domestic abuse? To say violence begets violence is a truism to my mind, but hardly a proof of anything, and anyhow, folk wisdom like that in regards to authority, punishment and abuse has a tendency to support the authorities’ positions. It’s something I’ve said before, but I would like to reset the precedence: folksy aphorisms will have to line up on the side of the status quo. But perhaps causation is not really the relationship there; maybe it’s more like one is the other rather than one causes or promotes the other. The analogy might be this, that choice does not cause discrimination; rather choice is discrimination, two sides of a coin. Certainly that is my view of it – punishment and abuse are two sides of a coin, two sides of the same coin.

We should never be surprised when a great number of policemen lose their faith in force and violence and begin to see their role as better served through mercy and discretion, but it should be no great surprise when “legitimate” force and punishment are co-resident with abusiveness either. I imagine that the difference is that some folks can keep force and punishment in the ‘necessary evil’ category while some just come to see it as a good thing always, as long as it’s being dished out by the right people.

I’ve made these points elsewhere, so I’ll leave off with my philosophizing for now. But the other thing about this article, the main thing, is frightening. Woe to those whom the agents of authority have singled out for abuse, for they have no-where to hide. Authority has a tendency to become a social club rather than a regulated organ for what is right and what is wrong; it always seems to be about who’s in and who’s out. In the worst cases, its members can apparently do no wrong.


Sept. 19, 2015

Doubter’s Alert – Punishment

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Doubters Alert.”

          “What? What part of ‘punishment’ don’t you agree with?

          “Uh, the core concept, I guess.”

Does anybody else feel that this challenge crosses the line into some personal sort of trolling? This is the last day of summer vacation, I really should be outside – but, OK, if you wanna fight . . .


I’m choosing to imagine that a lot of us might have read this challenge that way, ‘five to ten thousand clicks bait,’ an unavoidable death match for people with a cause. OK then. On with it.

The truth I would challenge is that there is any sort of punishment of children that is not based in violence and not potentially damaging. My case amounts to a series of observations:

  • It’s been shown that abuse and corporal punishment increase the level and frequency of a suite of damages in victims, many of which are mental, psychological, emotional
  • Forms of punishment not intended to be ‘corporal’ can have all of the invisible effects above, mental, psychological, emotional problems, if the punishment includes those forms of penalties. If the penalty isn’t physical (i.e. not corporal punishment), then it’s non-physical, meaning mental, psychological, emotional, and therefore that’s the sort of hurt it causes
  • Forms of punishment not intended to be ‘corporal’ can and often do become physical fights regardless of the intended penalty’s ‘non-corporal’ nature, if they need to be forced, as well. In these cases, the penalty and the hurt have all the components, the physical and the invisible ones

So. Core concept, you say?

The definition of punishment, while it takes thousands of words in the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy, can be boiled down for our purposes, to something like this:

An authorized person doing something to someone because that person won’t like it in order to change something that person is doing, stop them doing something, or get them to do something.

People doing things to us that we don’t like – that is abuse. Punishing is abuse with a goal, usually a goal that is acceptable to the society or the family, so it rests on the old ‘ends justify the means’ idea, but here’s the thing: the second half of that thought does in no way change the first. To whatever degree abuse hurts, so too does punishment. There’s a real world out there, or at least we do better behaving as though there is, a real world where causes have effects, and the effects of our actions do not change if our actions don’t, if only our intentions differ.

If we mean to hurt, if we plan to abuse, say we pick a bogus fight with a kid and then beat him up for some sick kind of fun, that is horrible, and we might expect trauma, right? That’s clearly abuse.

But if we have a legitimate confrontation with a kid, over some behavioural issue of his, and feel the need to decree a punishment, grounding (house arrest and curfew), and the kid tries to leave, refusing the punishment, and we physically restrain him and he fights and we fight and win, we think of that differently, don’t we?

I don’t think we should. I think the two scenarios are too close to make that distinction, all the components are the same – except the adults’ intentions, the adults’ hopes, the adults’ wishes . . . and of course, if wishes were horses.

I think the fight against corporal punishment needs to morph into the fight against all punishment. I don’t see the distinction making any headway, corporal punishment isn’t going away, because the whole idea of it is a lie, that there are non-violent forms of punishing. Parents who buy into this lie learn the truth the first time their kid feels disagreeable, and so the entire gentler child-rearing movement fails. The core concept of punishing is brutal, “do this or else” – so there isn’t a harmless version, there can’t be, can there?

Sorry Folks, not my best, no art in it, I’m afraid.

But you asked!



Sept. 7, 2015