The Good, the Bad, and the Reality. A Better Metaphor, Part Eight.

I’ve been going on about this idea, the social meme or metaphor, what Benjamin David Steele (https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/ @MarmaladeSteele ) calls a social parasite, although that sounds like a person. It’s a solid point, though, so perhaps it should be ‘parasitic social metaphor’ or something. That’s going to have to be close enough, because it’s these parasites that have their way with labels and not the other way around. I haven’t yet gotten back and read Dawkins’ definition myself, because the concept of the parasitic meme fills an irregularly shaped hole in our knowledge perfectly and so its shape seems to reveal itself; if you get what it does, then you see what it is. I don’t see how it couldn’t be real, or at least how the parasitic metaphor isn’t one of the better metaphors we have.

So, I think I’ve beaten the consequences meme into the ground in this series, ‘A Better Metaphor’ and today I would like to concentrate on the moral kernel of it. I think the world has turned on this “good and bad” thing.

I’ve talked around it a little maybe, but I’ve tried to say that the sort of “good” an organism can have beaten into it will be a response to what a beating is and not to what the organism delivering the beating may hope he’s achieving, meaning stress and pain and a need to either avoid them or at least unload the stress after the fact. Further to that, I’m trying to paint a picture of a near-universal human adaptation, that violence at home helps to support warrior societies against their warrior neighbor societies, keeps them strong and fighting, and so, beating their children is a “good” thing, because what could be more “good” than surviving the bloodthirsty apes next door? It is my position that this was our original foray into sculpting our children, the one that worked, that this has always been our proof of the “nurture” principle. The reason the socialization researchers haven’t found their evidence is because they’re looking for something “good,” maybe prosocialization, something like that. Our theory seems to be that parents did something “good” that worked at some point in the past, so now we can’t help but believe in the positive power of “nurturing,” but that it just can’t be found anymore? No, this is the secret: we’ve switched what is generally “good” in our minds between when we started this behavioural adaptation and now.

Now this conversation can take a hard left turn.

Trouble is, it’s still what we believe, deep down: pain is good, stress is good, and a “good” person is an antisocial one.

That is the fascist manifesto.

I think it’s all our built-in manifesto, or perhaps it’s only built into our cultures, or the parasitic social meme, but that in peacetime we live in a sort of balance, and when war and/or fascism looms, the balance has been lost and a sort of a positive feedback loop results. When that violence-masking consequences meme takes over, when peaceful memes fade, then we become caught responding to all problems with a single answer, the consequences. I can’t say why it may ever not happen with this model, but it seems clear that when the problems you are trying to solve are antisociability, then bringing the consequences only makes it worse. People start to get angry, so they lash out, angering one another further, and we get the picture: it’s a race to the bottom. It’s Jacob’s Ladder, but the stuff’s in the water. But this is fascism, and this makes everything that the current administration does make sense. Antisocializing is the purpose behind all their trolling, both rhetorical and legislatively homicidal.

Pain is good, stress is good, and a “good” person is an antisocial one.

Again, true enough and important in our evolving and aboriginal situation, so we believe it, deep down. This is how the president has gotten a pass so far: the strongman, the disciplinarian, the authoritarian promises to make things “good” with exactly the meme’s meanings and he is delivering, daily. We are confused, we can’t glean his meanings, what is it we’re supposed to do differently so he stops with the threats and punitive bills? It doesn’t matter, they are using the abuse as evolution uses it, to drive us to madness, violence, and war. It is antisocialism as bare as it can be: no-one can make the sense in it. The only operative thing must be the subtext, the abuse, the fear, and the bad feelings. No matter where it comes from, if we receive stress, we must unload it somewhere, whether we want to or not, so this administration’s torments drive even the pacifists inexorably closer to madness and therefore to war.

It was indeed shocking when American evangelical Christians continued to support the now-president after the recordings of him bragging to the reporter about his casual sexual abuse came out, but there’s a lesson in it. Sure, on the face of it, sexism, plain and simple, but sexism serves antisocialization when that is the dominant social meme and not the other way about, this president clearly hates women, but there’s more – he only like white people too. If the white folks like the evangelicals want their strongman, their white warrior king to fight the brown tide, then his accusers, the women who came forward to attest to his predatory behaviour must also be punished, shunned, shamed and so antisocialized. They were abused already (all we know about them, abused by the now-president), but not abused enough, because they were trying to hurt the white warrior king’s chances for election, they were positioned against the hoped-for race war, they were peaceniks, weak links that wartime cannot afford. Abuse solves everything. As Rich Harris described among the Yanomamo (and other warrior societies, I think), boys who do not fight are tormented until they do or they die; it’s antisocial or dead in warrior societies, and either result for Forty-five’s accusers would serve the war effort better than holding their strongman to the law.

It’s not a happy story, but happy stories, like our metaphor about consequences bringing civilization, make for unhappy realities. We can hate and revile, we can call the voters who invited fascism into the light names like evil and such – I mean, it’s hard not to, same as it is for them, social groups are almost all human beings have for morality – but we need to understand what’s at work too. This isn’t just politics, or the adversarial courtroom process, I mean it is, it’s metaphors in competition – but it’s also real life. Maybe if we get a little closer to it, the truth can settle the argument.

 

Jeff

Mar. 18th., 2016

Here’s the whole series:

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2017/03/04/ast-a-better-metaphor-part-one/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2017/03/05/ast-a-better-metaphor-part-two/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2017/03/07/ast-a-better-metaphor-part-three/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2017/02/23/human-nature-or-let-me-tell-you-what-we-think-of-us/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2017/03/10/ast-a-better-metaphor-part-five/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2017/03/11/ast-a-better-metaphor-part-six-abuse/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2017/03/16/ast-a-better-metaphor-part-seven-the-abuse-truth/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2017/03/18/the-good-the-bad-and-the-reality-a-better-metaphor-part-eight/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

and a bonus nipple-twister:

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2017/02/23/ast-and-child-sexual-abuse/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

Social Groups and Racism

We are pre-wired to be racist.

That’s why it seems obvious, ‘Look at the differences, there must be differences of . . . quality, too.’ We are hardwired for it, that’s what gives it its truthiness.

I’ll be drawing a distinction soon enough: hardwired, hardcoded – it doesn’t necessarily mean objectively true. It doesn’t mean it’s not true either of course, but the point is, what it does mean is that we think it’s true. That’s what hardwired means, or specifically, that’s what something being an inherited, evolved genetic trait means.

As H. G. Wells said, ‘the past is a deep well.’ To illustrate it, he said that remains had been found to show that Peking Man (Wells was writing a long time ago) was sipping the brains out of the skulls of their enemies around the fire some 350,000 years ago. If I’ve got that wrong, I’ll be short, and I have no idea if the archaeologists have pushed fire back further into our past than that. We have a long existence that is one of nomadic and seasonal hunting and gathering, living in human family-based groups of between sixty and a hundred individuals, and that is the life that selection, ‘Natural’ or otherwise, has created us for. But don’t think about Adam and Eve, the theoretical first humans. That existence went on for millions of years and there have always been many human groups, all sharing the land and competing for its resources.

The normal course of events in that aboriginal and traditional human life, barring drought and famine, is that people breed, and the groups grow in good times, when food and water are plentiful until they reach a point where one or one of the few families in a group is so large that family resemblance begins to disappear, when there are third or fourth cousins in your village, it gets harder to know them all – and there is a split, perhaps a battle or a war, and two groups going forward, in competition, provided both survive. Again, the traditional pattern of human life since time immemorial. Jane Goodall witnessed and described at least one such splitting of the chimp group she monitored.

So the Earth has been occupied with these competing human groups for practically ever, and battles, wars, raids and the abduction of women have not been uncommon, right up to the present day.

These are the social conditions we evolved for, the social conditions we select each other for to this day. It is a normal, evolved trait to be at ease around your family tribe, up to maybe your second cousins, around few enough people that we can know them all, that we can know immediately, friend or foe. Family resemblances help for that. As do language and accent. That’s why we’re always coming up with new words, new jargon, new slang, which must be up to the minute. It differentiates us, our group from the next group, the rival, the enemy, the next village. In the dark, you use the right accent, the hippest slang – you gotta be in my group.

(For the religious: this is what the story of the Tower of Babel is all about, says Joseph Campbell, I think. The point in the Bible I think, is that the Lord cursed us with different languages so we couldn’t coordinate an assault on Him and Heaven. I guess the biologists would say that it’s a curse we put on ourselves, the price for the security it provides from our neighbor groups of humans.)

Other ways of identifying each other, who is friend and who is foe have been famously tried, the Hebrew ‘sign’ of circumcision foremost among them, but mostly it’s accomplished by selection, a group has traits it decides is distinctive and that is what they select for in that group, therefore increasing the incidence of it within their group, again, differentiating one group from another increasingly over time. Now, don’t get me wrong. No shame if you do, we are going to get to racism, and I thought for a minute that’s where this was taking me too, but prehistoric human groups in the frozen north probably didn’t select whiter and whiter partners to differentiate themselves from Africans they may have never been in contact with. Perhaps simple selection by race is a modern problem, a racial smorgasbord of potential mates is possibly an historic phenomenon, but was rarely a prehistoric one. Meaning, it is not in such a simple way that we are hardwired for racism.

Firstly, that is conscious selection, nothing necessarily hardwired about it, and second, races weren’t neighbors in the aboriginal world. With no air travel, it was a smooth transition as you walked the thousands of miles, from race to race. Plus – wife stealing, the necessary genetic shaking up, has made certain that was the case.

This is our evolved selected-for idea of a social group, of our social group: sixty to a hundred people who all share a family resemblance, an accent, an up to the minute vocabulary, and probably diet and body odours as well. Oh – and everyone in our group we see, all the time. Out of sight is out of mind – that’s natural. It’s all natural, it’s why it feels true, plus it’s evolved survival traits we’re talking about, so that’s why it feels not only true, but of life and death importance. This is something:

You pretty much have to go to university to learn this, but this is really true: social groups are what it’s all about for us. For humans, the environmental elements that have been most likely to kill us throughout that deep well of the past, throughout all of our evolution and development, are us. It’s humans that are the most difficult for us to survive, we’re our smartest enemies in the world and we have driven each other and so ourselves to dedicating ever increasing levels of resources to our brains, producing a prodigious machine. Thing is, human intelligence, homo sapiens sapiens’ massive brains evolved to sort out this life, social groups, friend or foe, and it’s what it does best. Again, though: we are a supercomputer designed to track and assess one hundred humans as relatives and all others as enemies.

It’s no wonder we’re having troubles living with one another in the millions and billions, right?

This is something we do not from our traditional, exclusionist and warlike natures. This is something we are attempting consciously, from a vision we have that comes from a different part of our brains.

“Nature,” as Katherine Hepburn’s character said so well in “The African Queen,” “is what we are here to rise above.”

 

Well that wasn’t nearly divisive enough, so here:

That is the position of the Nurturists, the true liberals, and the modern mind.

 

 

Jeff

July 18, 2016

The Cruel Irony of Deterrents

This is my favourite series right here. It’s outside the box, it’s to the point, and entertaining. Well, after the first one.

 

😉

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/06/27/irony-when-a-deterrent-becomes-a-punishment/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/10/22/law-and-order-the-irony-of-deterrents-part-2/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/11/06/the-irony-of-deterrents-part-3/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/11/27/prisons-and-bad-neighborhoods-the-irony-of-deterrents-part-4/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2015/02/02/the-carrot-and-the-stick-the-irony-of-deterrents-part-5/

 

These one are better coupled with the Irony series too, I think . . .

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/09/01/punishment-a-self-fulfilling-prophecy-and-the-roots-of-institutionalized-racism/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2015/07/12/shit-flows-downhill/

 

Thanks for reading, folks! Please, share and retweet, it’s all free. Trying to save the world here.

 

Jeff

Dec. 19, 2015

Policing at a Crossroads

. . . same crossroads all things eventually reach when they start down the road toward humanism, or just plain exist, moving like the rest of us into the future. At some point in the train robbery, you have to commit to letting go of your horse and holding on to the train. The period where you still have both options is dangerous, so safety dictates it be short. I know, sorry.

I’ll go straight to it, but it’ll take a minute still – still sorry.

I caught a headline somewhere, most likely Twitter, some person got released from a wrongful conviction, and got paid some great amount for damages, which got me thinking. Of course, the first NPLP (something I’m trying to start – Namby Pamby Liberal Pussy. Folks like me.) thought is ‘Yes! Science has saved another wrongly convicted man from police machinations!’ and yes, there could be a racial aspect to the story, I mean of course, there always could be, but the picture was of a black fellow.

Then of course, I sort of globalized the concept, like I enjoy way too much, started to wonder, if there are say, a thousand such cases in a given place during a given period, then how many of the thousand were non-criminal innocents and how many might have deserved their sentences or worse for crimes they weren’t prosecuted for and/or convicted of? I mean, surely, if the police can be known to have railroaded an innocent black man into prison, then it is probably not beneath their morals to have set some heinous, dangerous criminals up for solid wrongful convictions either.

So, the first RWN (Right Wing Nutjob, something that’s a normal epithet on a site I play on, Thoughts.com) thought following that probably is, I hope somebody is reviewing which sorts of folks they’re setting free, like trying to make sure the newly free drug-related convicts really are only that or something. And, yeah, we always hope for some local knowledge, some attention to detail. Numbers games are always error-riddled.

But for me, again, trying to globalize, trying to see the social implications of all things punishment-related, this is it here.

That second practice must have felt pretty justifiable, if the cop knew, for sure, that his target’s incarceration would make the public a good deal safer, that if in short, the end really was justification for some evil means. However, technology, humanism and morality have moved on in this case, specifically, the old setup tactics are failing now because some humanists, someone who cares, have applied DNA testing etc. and caught the police cheating.

In the long term, each generation gets treated better than the last, and they each learn to expect to be. We expect moral circles to expand, and we are viewing moral issues in a more egalitarian, more logical way with each decade as well, and one result of that process is this. We want to hold our police to the law more than we perhaps have in the past. Police forces evolved because the wealthy found their prosperity to be more stable when the King tried and punished crimes, rather than living with the endless feuding produced by the previous vendetta sort of system where families looked after offenders to their interests privately. So police came into being long before modern democracies. Now, we are taxpayers and the police don’t work for the King anymore, they work for us. So the time honoured tactic of setting a man up to please the policeman’s employers, now, looks as criminal as it always did, except worse.

Worse, because the victim is supposed to be the boss. Worse, because it’s now our moral issue, because we’re the boss. Can’t blame it on the King anymore, it’s us. Now that it is, I think we think the police are supposed to do their jobs and somehow succeed while never straying across the line of the law themselves for the very good reason that when they stray, it’s sometimes against us. I don’t imagine anyone has escaped the image of an experienced cop’s disdain for the idea, and fair enough, I get it, I do. It’s violence for violence, the experience is real, the danger is real . . . but still. As true and undeniable as that is, it’s still, I’m sorry, not that meaningful, uh . . . scientifically, yes, even for social science. Anecdotal, to be sure, but not only that. The thing is, all that is life as viewed from the past, from horseback. Our societies, and our police forces are at the choice-point now, still feeling the ongoing trauma of our authoritarian ways of the past and still trying to keep a grip on it, but we also have one hand on the train of the future, where mass media and big data are starting to show us who we really are.

So when the King’s dragoons abuse their position, it’s a moral crime, sure, but he’s the King, he’s responsible and we’re not. When our tax-funded, public police do, it’s our moral crime, we’re responsible, and in democratic societies like ours we need to do something about it. That is our job, to vote intelligently and not support evil, law and order politicians.

For the police, that is the crossroads we’re at. Yes, we have in the past turned a blind eye to some over-stepping on the part of the police, but now here we are, taxed and paying for it. Any herd of herbivores tolerates the presence of the predators, perhaps, the wildebeests live with the lions as a fact of life – but I don’t think they would if they had to pay for it too. I think this crossroads perhaps adds up to a slight change in job description for the police, an acknowledgement of the democratic nature of our society and who’s working for who.

Specifically?

What if we did let’s say, refresh our commitment to the police staying on the right side of the law themselves? We the people might try to remember that the goal, eventually, must certainly be a lawful world where at least the police aren’t criminals too. Sorry, also not very specific. Let’s just brainstorm a bit, point form.

  • It might not be going too far to suggest that police need to lose a few more fights to regain public sympathy. Personally, I reserve my concern for the people who lose the vast majority of the fights. Today, the police don’t look vulnerable enough to justify their shoot first policies. I think non-lethal weaponry in the hands of the police would go a long way towards building some public trust for the police, and for that to happen, there has to be some sense that police casualties are indeed a negotiable thing, as long as there are so many more citizen casualties. As long as the life of a single cop is supposed to be worth more than any number of citizens, we’re going to be in conflict and in that sense, police are creating social problems rather than solving them.
  • I actually like the idea of this possibly fictional ‘Ferguson Effect.’ If the police are really engaged in a sort of work slow-down action to protest the growing public scrutiny of them or to avoid getting themselves into trouble, that might be a good thing. If they are not going through a door when their only possible security is to kill those folks on the other side, maybe that’s a good thing. Personally, I can imagine that there are ways in which even gang activity and drug dealing are less offensive than state-sponsored murder of criminals. I mean, if this is the conversation?

“Hey, Police! Stop shooting unarmed alleged criminals!”

“Hey, it’s dangerous out here! Do you want policing or don’t you?”

“Yes, but murder is a crime, so it is for you too!”

“Hey, it’s my security! Do you want this crime stopped or not?”

“Yes – THIS crime, but your crime too!”

“Hey, if you haven’t got my back, I ain’t working! If it’s my life at risk, I ain’t going through any more doors. See how you like it when we’re not out there killing criminals for you.”

This adds up to an immediate threat, a pressure play, but what if maybe we call the police’s bluff, what if we stop and think about it for a minute? I say we give it a try, see how it plays out. Whatever happens, we learn something. So here’s my response:

“Good idea. Let’s see how it works out. If everything goes to Hell, we’ll make changes again, but for now, yeah. Let’s see how it pans out.”

  • We need to stop arresting people for minor crimes, period. An arrest is an action that is an escalation compared to many of the “crimes” we arrest and detain for, and as such, worse. We need to mail out invoices for fines, and we need to help the miscreants pay the fines – not arrest them and start potentially deadly fights to do it. If we are trying to lessen crime, then we need to stop justifying larger crimes – confinement, violence – by using them to stop smaller ones.

 

So, this is getting long, I’ll stop.

Long and short? As a society, as many societies, we seem to have missed the change, we seem to not have noticed that democratic governments change everything, all the ancient social institutions, and that police forces today work, literally and officially, for the people, all the people. What was police brutality in the past and used to be a private act, the King’s goons working out on His citizens, is now insubordination. Eric Garner was a member of the consortium that employs the NYPD, a citizen, and he was murdered by his own public servants. Ironically, that should offend authoritarians everywhere as well as everyone else.

It stopped being us VS them when we established our democracies, Folks, it’s all us now. Let’s deal with crime generally, not just some people’s crimes. Ours too.

 

Jeff

Nov. 23, 2015

Shit Flows Downhill

Shit Flows Downhill

. . . and payday’s Friday, the plumber’s knowledge base, as we boys mansplain it to each other. (Wow. Word had no comment for that word! Did Microsoft buy the Urban Dictionary?) Of course, I’m not here to discuss plumbing, which is a good thing: I suck at it. This for the metaphor.

You know, the king wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and dumps on the court, the cabinet all growl at their staff and slash the budgets of their least favourite departments and ultimately the people don’t get their bread.

Abuse flows downhill, is what I’m trying to say, along the lines of authority.

The family version is, Dad lords it over Mom, Mom gets a little more disciplinary with number one son, this firstborn noogies his younger sibling more than usual and the lastborn kid winds up taking it out on the dog, who then puts the run on the cat, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Plus of course, Dad is upset because of something his boss did or said, who is simply passing on directives from above . . . not ad infinitum, technically though. In theory, the buck stops at the king or ‘the shareholders.’ I don’t think in this conversation that we need to credit Dad’s or the king’s claim that he represents and works for God; I’m not weighing in on God’s existence or not here, just saying I have yet to meet the man or the king who might be on God’s mailing list. Our default position for such claims must of course be skeptical, even if we think it’s possible. Certainly most such claims are false.

Abuse follows lines of authority, it bears repeating. Just as hierarchical structures of authority make so many large cooperative efforts possible for humans, it’s this same structure makes punishment and abuse possible. Without authority, punishment is simply abuse – but without authority, abuse would simply be an unconnected bunch of fights. Winners win, losers lose, but that’s just violence. Abuse is an abuse of authority, and authority means something like ‘legitimate power,’ so abuse is violence in a more specific, organized context. Interestingly, disorganized violence we can view as natural and amoral, like what the bears do and we don’t judge harshly for it. Abuse is different.

Abuse is a crime within some sort of social order. Along with all the new things human resource pooling has brought into the world like agriculture, industry, and community care of the sick and elderly comes things like oppression, war, and abuse – new crimes for new situations.

Of course, shit flows downhill in a racial sense too.

If, God forbid, Barkley was right as well as honest when he told us that whooping their kids is what black people do (paraphrase), meaning if there is any racial difference in America as to the use or amount of use of corporal punishment, then maybe this is why, because that’s how the stuff of plumbers’ efforts flows. Because life is a pyramid and bad stuff falls down from above like a champagne fountain where people are the glasses; the ones at the upper levels hold what they can and all the rest falls to the ones below, all the bad stuff winding up at the bottom. Do I have to say who is at the bottom of our society? The poor, obviously, among which group black and brown people are over-represented here in North America.

So maybe Charles was right, maybe the stereotype, the cliché has some truth, maybe the under-classes really are rougher on their kids. I am not a racist, no “buts.” If that stereotype has any truth, and if it is in any way due to the fact that gravity operates on our waste, then that is on us, the folks at the top.

I love all things in and around social issues, I love socially-directed comedy, and I really enjoy black comics preaching about racism (Chris Rock: a black man has to fly to get to where a white man can walk!). I do worry about my own racism, because that pleasure is very specific, almost fetishist if you consider that I live in the most black-deficient place in North America. But Chris Rock, Pryor, I love those guys. Know who I can’t stand? George Lopez. I don’t suppose it’s his whole act, but unfortunately for me and George, the only few times I’ve seen him, he was going on about how his parents whooped him, how it was good for him, and how if we don’t whoop our kids they’re all going to turn out badly. All I can see in it is a brown guy, a member of an oppressed group, talking about how the answer for people is more oppression, more roughness.

I pity a person for that, knowing that their pain is too great to face – but these comics, Lopez is not the only one, many comics do that material, Eddie Murphy did – these comics are marketing their denial, and marketing corporal punishment. That is not helpful – plus it is easy to see it as a form of collaboration with the folks at the top.

Shit flows downhill, but that sort of comedy is like installing a pump in the line too, really un-called for.

Now for some really wild conjecture – in a discussion of racism! What could possibly go wrong? – regarding race, class, and corporal punishment: life is tough for the under-classes, and if the poorest folks really are rougher on their kids it isn’t from any sort of bad intention. We all think discipline is a good thing. Poorer kids are at higher risk levels for everything except being spoiled and feeling entitled, so maybe poor parents make a logical choice to be stricter, to do more of what they hope will keep their kids on the straight and narrow.

As for why it’s not working, if that’s what’s happening, I will refer you to the rest of my blogs, but suffice it to say it isn’t champagne that is flowing down on the poor from above and it isn’t champagne that poor folks have too much of and have to pass down to their children.

Jeff

July 12, 2015

Updated! Shows of Strength and Presenting a United Front

. . . are short term, things, of course, is where I’m going. It was never my plan, in raising my kids. We’re playing the long game. We are traitors and pariahs in the world of breeding couples, my wife and I; if you’re disciplining your kids, we don’t have your back. We’ll have no part of it.

Same for the police, and Team America, Team Israel, and the vengeful God of Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.

If you’ve never read me before – and the odds that you’re one of the few who have are not good! It’s not like my message is the type to go viral – you may not know that this is a pattern with me, the family and then the society, the micro and the macro, the model and the mass production. I see things as fractal, as we do in our nuclear families, so it goes in society.

In my little corner of suburban Canada, in my mainstream life of the middle and lower classes, the adults have a cartel on what is allowed for kids, over what is done and what is not. It’s public school, public play, large public markets and entertainments, and everyone knows what is expected of kids, and apparently we all know exactly how to insure that, and so we all know exactly what is expected of parents too. Of course, that means discipline and control. God forbid your kids should create any problems for me, and vice versa. We all know when a child goes bad and causes problems who is to blame; it’s the parents. Somebody isn’t with the program. Don’t they know that we are all depending on each other to maintain total control of things?

Well, we took a chance, opted out of the cartel, and guess what? Our kids aren’t causing any problems for anybody. I’m not saying it’s all of the kids – but the kids causing problems were raised in the cartel, in the group where all the adults are backing each other up, where the adults are presenting a united front. When as kids we see that dynamic, when we see that it’s a military tactic and it’s directed at us, that hurts our feelings. And when it’s total, when there is no crack in the wall presented by the authority of the adults, when no adult dares break the line and side for the kids, well then we can lose hope. Then desperation may set in.

This united front, this show of solidarity and strength, it’s authority’s answer to everything, but it’s an affront to those of us who were operating under the illusion that we were all on the same side. So it’s a shock and an insult to us when we’re kids, and the grownups who in nature would be our caregivers, the ones who would love and protect us close ranks and say, “No, kid, it’s us against you. No-one who matters, no-one with a vote is on your side.”

That is the Dark Side of Alice Miller’s famous assertion that the presence of one enlightened adult can be the difference in a child’s life. Yes, believe it or not, Dr. Miller was sugar coating it for you. She also let us all think we could undo the damage afterwards with therapy, or she did with her first couple of books anyway.

So, on to the macro part.

Not parents, but the disciplinarians for the parents, and for the children as well, the police – they also like the benefits that come from presenting a unified front, plus they too have left the role of caregiver behind in favour of the bludgeon a little too often. These latest few high profile police slayings of unarmed black people put me in mind of the Hell’s Angel’s rules of engagement as detailed by Hunter S. Thompson so long ago: if one of them has a fight with you, they all do. Plus, as Thompson learned the hard way, it doesn’t matter that they pick the fight, or that it was accidental, the result of a stupid misunderstanding. You were simply unlucky, wrong place, wrong time. All right, on with it. Here’s the point:

We think that in order to keep control of things, we need to be strong, we mustn’t show weakness. Of course this is a self-fulfilling behaviour. If we establish control with strength – read force – then strength and force it must be, forever, because you have pissed off the objects of your control. Here’s the thing though. After some time, like two seconds after the first use of your strength, things like humanity, mercy, and kindness become synonyms for weakness, and that we mustn’t show, or all is lost. That is the nature of fantasy: the fantasized consequences for imagined actions are infinite, larger than life.

Clearly, what the authorities fantasize would happen if the police punished one trigger happy cop like they do every trigger happy private citizen is total anarchy, the end of their authority and civilization as we know it. Equally clear to some of us is that is really stupid. Of course what would actually happen, is it would be the beginning of some sort of respect. Humanity we can respect. Inhumanity we only fear.

It’s not humanity or weakness that is going to drive the people to rampage, it’s the opposite of humanity and weakness nobody likes, meaning of course, what the police are doing now, the show of strength. Here, perhaps the authorities and their police can take a lesson from parents. As much as parents are the model for this huge error, as much as parents are guilty of the same authoritarian methods, there’s a difference: kids grow up. Every parent sees the growth and steady increase of their kids’ power and the waning of their own that comes with age, and a great many parents can see their mistake in dealing with it and so change their ways.

Those that change, those that add humanity to their arsenal as time does its work, those who allow their dominance to slip and replace it with a real, human relationship, if they do it in its proper time, they are able to grow old, vulnerable and weak without unreasonable fear of their children’s vengeance. Their children also benefit greatly, having a more normal transition from childhood to adulthood, the gradual move from the small world of their nuclear family into the larger world beyond the family dynamic, learning to function in society. Those that cling to their strength and to their dominance live to fear coming under their children’s power – either that, or the children simply get as far from them as possible, possibly never to return. The people in the first group, the ones who relax their grip and show their humanity, those folks are growing up, maturing in a normal arc of learning. The ones in the other group grow stodgy, bitter, fearful of change, and live alone at the mercy of their negative fantasies. Some of the children from the second group manage to grow themselves up against the odds, but many spend far too large a portion of their lives trapped in the messed up power dynamic of their nuclear families. This extra time spent frozen in childhood in that sense, this what we call arrested development.

I’ve recently gotten out the old turntable and begun listening to vinyl records again, and one of the last few I’d bought, back in the day was the first offering from Tracy Chapman, remember it? ‘Talkin’ About a Revolution?’ I listened to the whole album last week, and it was depressing. That record is twenty-five years old and it could have been written and recorded yesterday.

The police, the authorities, they are in the second group of people. They are not learning.

What needs to happen, in order to satisfy Alice Miller’s minimum requirement for a difference in the lives of the people suffering under the dysfunctional caregiving of the authorities, is again, one enlightened adult. In this case though, a particular adult, one enlightened police chief, one enlightened prosecutor,  or one enlightened mayor. That’s something that could make a difference. In a bunch of lives.

Colour Blindness and Optimism

There are a lot of comments going around the internet that sound like a sort of backlash against the Ferguson and I Can’t Breathe protests. It’s white folks taking umbrage, maybe feeling left out, like ‘who’s protesting the fact that my life sucks too?’

I think comments like that can be viewed as somewhere on a spectrum, the extreme bad end being racist, but it’s probably usually best viewed this way: a lot of white folks aren’t aware of their racism. It’s all part and parcel of the beliefs around social things – Original Sin, Nature over Nurture stuff, a pedestrian disdain for psychology and social science generally. It seems to me to be rooted in some sort of idea that despite the bad things happening in the world, still, somehow we need to see everything as being all right.

Everything is OK, we’re not screwed up or racist, we’re just dealing with the screwed up people in the poorest communities the best way and the only way possible. It’s the world that’s bad, not us.

This “colour blindness” is at it’s core, optimistic. Of course, optimism isn’t always a good thing.