Rule of Rules: the Unseen

There is a great, empty space in our minds, and it’s right in the middle of everything. It’s a place we cannot enter, but we must go to all the other places, so we’re always going around it, unaware. We live in curved space, we say, there is no straight line to anything; the quickest route is always an arc, around this unspeakable void in the centre of everything. The straight route is just around the next corner, always.

Of course, this meme works for many scenarios. The forbidden place can be the loss of God to an evangelist, the unconscious to an analyst, etc. I think to evolutionary biologists and many psychologists, when they must insert this void into their writings – a “black box” exercise, the trick of gleaning what you can from observing a thing in a system when the thing’s function is unknown – I think, to these modern scholars it is “aggression.” It’s a variation on the Man’s sinful nature theme, an unexplained, blanket value judgment right in the middle of our earnest attempts at understanding, science, psychology, everything.

Two paragraphs, that’s all the tension I can build, I don’t make you wait. I’ve worked it out, or I worry that I have, I mean, I’m not happy with my answer either, but I also haven’t changed my mind since yesterday: it’s abuse, or rather the mental and emotional pain of abuse. I’ve looked at rules and punishments, and while I understand the concepts of deterrent and control, the narrative about civilization and majority rule (as recently expounded/expanded by Richard Wrangham), I also understand some things that should place all that in some perspective.

First, the same suite of scientific thinking about humans and their origins that includes this majority morality places us as still being that proto-hominid, that ape, just under our skin, and all the glory of modern civilization, in another but parallel conversation doesn’t add up to spit, it’s a veneer and we are constructed of the same wood as chimpanzees. To talk about our moral accomplishments is an odd, puffed up stance that fits better in church or politics than in science.

Second, I did a thought experiment along the lines of one of Kant’s (OK, the only one I recall, the first part of the book I haven’t finished. He’s tough) about time and space where he decides that he can imagine space empty of things, but no things not in space, or time passing without anything happening, but nothing happening without time passing while it does, and so space and time to Kant were properties of the mind, since his mind could not operate without them. My point, the analogy is, rules and punishments are endlessly variable – “Thou shalt not kill” has its correlate in many times and places among nearly all people when thou shalt absolutely kill or be shunned, reviled or killed yourself. In a less extreme and more accessible vein, different societies have different rules, and things forbidden in one place can be ubiquitous elsewhere, some societies generally are more permissive than others – but all have rules, all have punishments.

No one rule is sacred, though some are more universal than others, and no penalty is sacred, though we say they all are, they change, new rules are created with new technologies, etc., – but we can imagine a completely alien set of rules and we perhaps cannot imagine a society with no rules at all. We can perhaps imagine a completely foreign set of punishments to go with a given set of rules – but can we imagine no punishments at all? Wow, I started the Critique nearly forty years ago, this analogy may have figured hugely in my approach to this.

Mama, can this really be the end?

No. Rules serve a purpose, one we all know – but no particular rule serves this purpose, none are indispensable, yet the purpose exists, so we are able to accomplish it with a set of rules that I assume I’d need some proof to call random, but that can certainly be variable, enforced with a set of penalties that are, shall we say, also an opportunity for some human creativity. So here’s the game: pick your rules, pick your penalties, we don’t care which ones, but you have to pick something from each bin. What does this accomplish, when we’ve ruled out the contents of any given rule?

The first, easy biology answer is of course, dominance. If the content of the rule doesn’t matter, then it’s who writes it, and who forces it upon whom, and clearly, that is absolutely what’s going on, all over the place, no question. The discriminating aspect of rules are all about our human groups, about who has to follow the rule and who doesn’t or who is forgiven and who isn’t.

But don’t even our most egalitarian dreams have rules and punishments, don’t our socialist or democratic fantasies about majority rule still include some built-in idea about rules and punishments, like time and space? Even in our utopian dreams, remove the alpha, the king, we still need rules, right? He was just taking advantage of our older habits, using the rules to his advantage. So, dominance, yes, but not being in that game myself, I don’t place a lot of priority on it. Again, perspective: we ain’t all alphas. That the minority dominants enjoy the situation doesn’t explain why you I and Kant can’t imagine no rules at all, ever. I think, when the excrement has flowed downhill, and the alpha’s bad mood today reaches the zeta man-ape and he turns to beat his wife and/or children for it, I think to call the zeta’s reactive violence “dominance” isn’t right, he’s defined as lacking it, and punching down is not how you acquire dominance, that requires punching up, to climb the ladder. To me it makes more sense to define these transactions as happening at the more basic level, not some highly developed concept of social dominance as much as just the cause and effects around social and physical abuse. A by-product, if you will, if you want to fit this into a worldview about civilization, about organization and dominance. Yes, he learned the rules, and yes, he knows his place.

My concern is that his lessons pissed him off.

And that, I worry, is the deeper point of them. Rules come and rules go and penalties are subject to changing times and to whom they are applied, but there must always be some set of rules and somebody must be penalized – the details don’t matter. You all know this. Here’s a story, names forgotten to protect the innocent (except mine, so it’s all knowable).

In my kid’s elementary school, some kid wrote some nasty gossip in the girl’s bathroom, and people had ideas about who did it but no proof, the school wasn’t bringing in handwriting experts to prove the matter. It was probably kid A, but there was a strong case about for kid B doing the deed knowing it looked like the work of kid A. Honestly, I can’t remember who got the punishment, a call home, maybe a suspension, I was already anti-punishment, I didn’t want to see any child punished, but they picked one and punished – knowing they had a fifty-fifty chance of punishing the right kid – actually something less than fifty-fifty, because there were other possibilities besides the main two kids. A message had to be sent, no crime goes unpunished! This function was served, despite that justice had less than an even money chance.

Even the perpetrator is interchangeable! Just so long as someone gets hurt. Dominance, sure, that principal over those kids, grownups generally over kids – but really, only an even money chance, if she got the wrong kid, a case can be made for the guilty kid’s dominance of everyone there. If she got the wrong kid, it was pure abuse for that kid, the whole world of grownups throwing in with the other kid’s dominance. Of course if she got the right kid, then the principal’s (and adults’ generally) dominance and the child’s experience of the penalty are all things we all agree with – but I submit we have still pissed that kid off. She may learn the lesson, but another kid may learn the same lesson in a nicer way, and if so, these kids’ life histories will be altered in different ways (statistically), both have the lesson’s knowledge, but one has a distasteful experience and memory. Deserved, didn’t “deserve,” this is not the point, the changes are the point. A different society, different set of rules, different crime, maybe a whole different “deserving” dynamic – same changes, this is the point. Doesn’t it sound like some white kid version of a super-villain back story, the unfairness?

What affects us is pain, not some long-winded construction about what the pain is supposed to accomplish. Pain is simple. Any idiot can cause pain and make changes in the world, especially if they’re actually trying to cause it. I know I’ve caused plenty while trying not to, but if I had been trying all these years, I think I could have done worse. I’ve been working all this out for myself and finding concepts I thought I had to name – I said “mimic meme,” and I switched to the generic sounding “useful fiction,” but if I’m talking biology, I’ve just heard “adaptive fiction,” so I guess that’s the term. At some point, though, at some level, if our adaptive fictions are pervasive enough, they become our adaptive truths, self-fulfilling prophecies.

I want to call this rule, that there must be rules and penalties and so pain, regardless of the particulars, one of our foundational adaptive fictions except that once we have adapted to it so completely, “fiction” doesn’t quite get to it; if it is inescapable in the human world, a case can be made that it’s an adaptive fact. If it’s our rule, and we make the rules, then this rule is factual enough for you, something like that? I think in reality it’s a fiction, just maybe not for us.

But it will need to be if we’re ever going to take the next step.

 

Jeff

April 28th., 2019

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Abuse, Driver of Inequality

School: Children’s Boot Camp

 

I was powerfully moved by the description I read in the Nurture Assumption of what Rich Harris termed something like the “eternal children’s group” and especially by the description of the Yanomamo children’s group, described by an anthropologist – Mead? Or maybe the fellow who has come under such scrutiny lately about it? – the description being that in a little hunter/gatherer/warrior group, the boys teach each other to fight, and the boys who don’t or won’t fight are abused until they do or until they are killed. Even under the shadow of the general bad attitude anthropology has sometimes had, I’ve been to school: this may have been cherrypicked, but it’s not outlandish. Perhaps the scandal is in labelling some group of brown folks in this way – I don’t mean to say all hunter/gatherers are warriors, I only mean to reference the ones that are. Of course the point is us, Canada has a military.

I grew up in the context-free West, west of west in white Canada all the way out on the Pacific, and I thought parents raised children in some way, certainly most of us do and as parents we try, but this is a fairly new bunch of ideas, childhood and parents spending a great deal of time administrating this childhood. It seems this children’s group may be the more aboriginal and evolved situation, and so it seems we learn our important lessons from one another in childhood, not so much from Ma and Pa – and we are abused, usually in the same sphere.

This makes some sense by social relatedness theory, your tribal cousins will have more leeway to abuse you for their warrior ends than your parents, who are presumed to protect their genetic progeny, not aggress against it. Interestingly, if in the industrial world, adults are taking a bigger hand in trying to direct childhoods, some of the discipline and indeed over-discipline we see would seem to indicate an ability to work around our feelings of relatedness and what it entails. I hope it’s not indicative of any sort of genetic shift, not a capability we are selecting for, but perhaps. The usual workaround we have employed, prior to adjusting our natures about it, perhaps has been simply to punt the kids back into the children’s group, send them off to school. Then the boys can teach one another to fight as always, and failing that, should it be necessary for the adults to intervene, they are unrelated professionals, also not biologically worried about hurting our kids.

In this way, we learn to fight, in this way we are harmed, scarred, and hardened for battle. Antisocialized.

There are class implications in the other sense too, rich and poor.

The kids sent the furthest, into the hands of the least caring, are the children of the richest and the poorest, aren’t they? Boarding schools in other countries for the richest and “Residential Schools” for the poorest, the north American aboriginals, sent a million miles from their families and culture. (If the phrase “Residential Schools” doesn’t register, Google it along with “Canada.”) The social science results are already in about the difference between being rich and “having problems” (generic “being antisocialized”) and being poor with problems. The rich have resources, buffers. A rich antisocialized criminal may get a friendly judge, a rehab program. A wealthy destroyed child can be hidden in the basement, whereas a poor one needs to get out there and get a job and find a whole lot more trouble.

An antisocialized would-be warrior who is poor and bound for gang life and prison perhaps, lives his life out in the subordinate social group, his antisocial crimes generally harming poor folks and not tolerated by the dominants and their police, while an antisocialized would-be warrior from a wealthy family may simply carry on his family’s predatory capitalism, even wars, and his crimes maintain his social group at the top of the order. Abuse all, inequality grows. All are abused, all are miserable – but some get to drive the bus and some do not. All are tossed into the sea; the rich can purchase water-wings.

 

Jeff

April 27th., 2019

Forgiveness VS Morality

Forgiveness is how you and I feel good, and it’s how our people never have to worry about goodness. I know the Hallmark/Psychology Today definition of forgiveness. It’s something like acceptance, at least acceptance is the component I agree about, it’s the good part, and the folk part of the theory is that we can have no peace without it – and you know what, bare-bones like that, if we say, no value judgments attached, I’ll agree also. But because all things can be judged this way, I will say: your sense of peace in this matter, while it may signify an alignment between your life and your predispositions, is only as objectively good as those predispositions, and when we find peace by accepting terrible crimes we are terrible people. If morality is defined by an attempt to lessen crime with punishments and deterrents, then forgiveness is morality’s very opposite, and the peace we feel is the freedom from the tension of moral strivings, acceptance of the world as it is, warts – and war – and all. And child abuse.

I sort of get we forgive a soldier, we ask them to murder, we already know they represent us, like it or not. But if the victims of extreme child abuse also need peace, eventually? The way we talk about it, the victim’s peace is on the other side of a wall and that wall is allowing whatever happened, albeit after the fact, so in what looks to me like a simple logical equation, a victim’s path to peace goes through accepting the crimes visited upon them, as though it were all fine and necessary if it had perhaps happened to someone else.

Which, of course, Chinatown calculation, game theory, Mafia-style logic, these days dragged into the sunlight for all to see and fear, is that’s how you win, by allowing your guys to do anything, anything at all. Those who will not use the carpet bombs or the landmines, or some plague are going to lose to those who will, if the police are bound by the law, the gangsters will win every time. So, forgive. It’s what Jesus would do for the war effort, isn’t it? Again, aside from that last ironic headbutt, it’s all very logical and if I wrapped it up here, I’d be one more evil evo-boy crowing macho from his bunker, this is what I was made for! All fine and good, can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs.

Again, if it were happening to someone else.

Of course it’s not just someone else. If it were just someone else, we wouldn’t have people to forgive personally, we wouldn’t have been taught to forgive, pretty much each and every last one of us.

Perhaps we think of forgiveness as the opposite of punishment, the opposite of retribution, and in a sense it is – but that does not indicate an inverse relationship between the two in a group or a society, it’s a direct one. The more rules there are means more things to punish and more things to forgive. The more punishments handed out, the stricter and more punitive the society, the more we must forgive the punishers; punishing is all fine and necessary. Of course the first person we ever have to forgive, and sometimes the last, is Mom or Dad, and the first crime we ever forgive is usually child abuse.

Well she is only three years old, and that’s a real fine way to start.

That’s badly out of context, but I can’t stop listening to Led Zeppelin these days.

But if she can forgive that, whatever it was, she is going to be a fearsome hominid. You want her on your side, because she will do anything, anything at all. Now blink once, she’s your mom, and you had better forgive her, because with that history, you don’t want her to be thinking of you as one of her problems.

Basically, I’ll believe there are peaceful religions when I see a peaceful society, but if my local church is going to forgive me no matter what I do, where is the pressure to behave? What selective forces are going to restrict crime, violence, and war when all is forgiven? It would seem that the idea of the Church as an opiate, pacifying the masses was a scientific blunder, that it is exactly the Church’s gift of forgiveness and acceptance of the warrior and warrior society that enables violence and chaos by restricting the society’s ability to punish and control its own worst elements. Again, too easy to see and say in Twenty-Nineteen, look what the evangelicals can apparently forgive.

We could forgive a little less, is all I’m saying.

 

Jeff

April 2nd., 2019