Critique of “Do Parents Really Matter”

Here’s Brian’s article.


And here’s my response, Q & A style:


Do parents really matter?

Everything we thought we knew about how personality is formed is wrong


Brian Boutwell

14 Jun 2017

Jeff in blue, in italics.

Here’s an experiment. I wanted to read this article through, and maybe critique it if it really was something in my crosshairs, but I had that first answer below immediately, so then it occurred that that was the way to tackle it, point by point, logical step by step, in real time, during my first read, see where Brian takes me.

Brian in black, in Georgia.

Parenting does not have a large impact on how children turn out.

I’m sorry, I’m gonna stop you right there. How is that possibly true when some parents have killed their children, beaten them to death? Is “bad stuff” exempt from your science? May I guess? The dead ones are deemed not to have turned out at all and therefore don’t meet study criteria?

An incendiary claim, to be sure, but if you can bear with me until the close of this article I think I might be able to persuade you — or at the very least chip away at your certainty about parental influence.

 . . . this I imagine, for the right and lofty goal of convincing parents that their abuse doesn’t work anyway, that they can give it up? That is a takeaway worth trying to create. Kudos.

First, what if later today the phone were to ring and the voice at the other end informed you that you have an identical twin. You would have lived your entire life up to that point not realising that you had a clone. The bearer of this news says arrangements have been made to reunite you with your long-lost sibling. In something of a daze, you assent, realising as you hang up that you’ve just agreed to meet a perfect stranger.


There was a time when separating identical twins at birth, while infrequent, did happen thanks to the harsh nature of adoption systems. One of the people who helped reunite many of them was the great psychologist Thomas Bouchard. I first read about Professor Bouchard’s work, wonderfully described by the psychologist Nancy Segal, when I was a graduate student. I still think about it often. What would it be like to live a large chunk of my life not knowing that I had a twin, and then meet him as an adult? Would our conversations ever go beyond polite small talk about the weather, sport or current events?


I’m sure similar thoughts went through the minds of the people in Bouchard’s study, and yet person after person realised — happily, I suspect — that they had a lot in common with the image of themselves sitting across the table. Their characters were often remarkably in step, as were their intellects, their behaviours, even their hobbies and eccentricities. The similarities often ran deep, cutting to the bone of their beliefs and their morality.


Our intuition sometimes seems to testify against the work of Bouchard and his team.

There’s a world of dialogue available here: are we sure that voice is our intuition? Have brain scans shown the intuition lobe to light up when people fixate on the power of nurture? (I have a new idea about where that voice comes from, please ask.) And ‘against the work?’ You mean against the conclusions they’re hearing from the work, right?

The emphasis on nurture dictates that identical twins, reared apart and reunited later in life, should not be all that similar.

I’ve heard it that way many times, but “the emphasis” doesn’t require that we think nurture has the lion’s share of the power – only that we know that it’s the only power we have for influence, however small it is. IRL, once you have your children, the genetics of the matter have been settled, and nurture is all we have left. So, sure, we exaggerate our influence, but the “importance” of our ability to nurture is irrelevant. If we think we have a single percent of influence, we are obliged to attempt it. With that reality check, you sound a little like you’re suggesting we abdicate all responsibility for teaching our children: we already know how little power we have, we are using all our energy to leverage any small chance we have to influence – and you’re here telling us, no, don’t bother doing what we can, it’s not enough anyway . . . again, that’s what it can sound like if it’s not this: you can’t influence them, so stop beating them.

Because if I am beating my children, and you tell me what I do doesn’t matter, then I want to agree, don’t I? And guess what else? Ninety-five percent of Americans are. Corporal punishment hasn’t dried up and blown away, so one step more brutal: are you telling parents who “spank” that what they do doesn’t matter? This is your mission in life? I tell you, if you do not clarify this, you are tacitly supporting the existing system, corporal punishment. This is why I’ve felt obliged to fight you.


And yet they are. Contrastingly, adopted children who share no distinguishing DNA with one another but are raised together should be quite similar.

It bears repeating, if yours did, I guess: parents don’t think nurture is where the most power is, they only know that it’s the only little power they have. If the families of these separated twins raised the twins to be normal, reasonably happy people, they wouldn’t be hurt to know they turned out identical, they, like all parents would just be happy their kids didn’t wind up in prison or mental institutions.


Yet they are not, and this poses some problems for traditional ideas about how parents shape children.

Mostly for the authors of parenting books, I imagine.

It’s not just Bouchard’s work that suggests parents have less influence than we think. Decades of research into behavioural genetics — twin studies, family studies and the adoption and identical-twin stories I have already mentioned — all point in the same direction. The shared environment, the experiences that create similarities between siblings raised together — the part of the environment that most often captures parenting influences — are all secondary when it comes to personality, behaviour or intelligence. What’s more, my own work as a criminologist, and that of my colleagues, has revealed the same pattern of findings when applied to violence, antisocial behaviour and crime.

OK, up to this point I’ve kept my answers in the old world, within your conversation, to some degree, but to answer this, we may have to leave your world and enter mine. In my world, nurture has more power, but in my world, parenting is not a purely positive influence: beatings have power. Abuse is where the power of “nurturing” is, and where the evidence is that parenting damned well does matter. Unfortunately, as per your main point, parents all seem to think they have this power and the obligation to use it, so there is no control group for parental abuse. Who wasn’t punished, who wasn’t spanked, whose parents didn’t believe this?

A note regarding corporal punishment: it’s a dodge. If a child misbehaves and we decide to spank him, that’s corporal punishment, the pain is the penalty. If, however, a child misbehaves and we decide he must do the dishes for his error, and he refuses, and an argument ensues and a fight results to impose the dishes penalty, and the child gets hit (not for the original offense, but for this new insubordination, I guess), then that is technically not “corporal punishment” (at least of the first offense). I respectfully suggest to all concerned that the child’s biology doesn’t appreciate the difference.

The upshot here, is of course, is abuse not a part of “ . . . the shared environment, the experiences that create similarities between siblings raised together — the part of the environment that most often captures parenting influences”?

It is my contention that it is indeed abuse that proves the power of “nurturing,” and that this is the reason for our “nurture assumption,” because when we beat a child, especially regularly, we see changes. Again, for a perfectly normal, moral and intelligent person to say, “parenting doesn’t matter” can only mean that parenting is defined as abuse free, which – epic fail, I’m sorry. This mistake on the part of a century’s socialization researchers is a classic. We think it’s here, so we’re looking here. A century later, parental influence doesn’t exist because we didn’t find it here, the only place we ever looked. And biology, in the form of one Brian Boutwell among others, has apparently accepted this mistake.

No blame, there is a strong, perhaps species wide self deception in place. We made this difficult for ourselves on purpose: nurture/child abuse is a protected behaviour. We aren’t supposed to see it.


This apparent puzzle (which is something of a scientific heresy) becomes clearer if we accept that genetic factors play an important role in making us who we are. Yes, the environment matters, but not just the environment that the child experiences in the home. The environment in this sense is far more nebulous and hard to nail down — behavioural geneticists call it the ‘non-shared’ environment and it includes anything that causes two siblings to be different from each other.

It is indeed hard to nail down, and it’s a point that they certainly hadn’t nailed it down during the twin studies, where it seems the different homes were supposed to be different environments, but along no particular vector, in some unknown, “families are all different” way that really had no detail, it was a black boxing exercise.


And I really mean anything. The psychologist Steven Pinker puts it this way: ‘A cosmic ray mutates a stretch of DNA, a neurotransmitter zigs instead of zags, the growth cone of an axon goes left instead of right, and one identical twin’s brain might gel into a slightly different configuration from the other’s.’ In other words, we should not presume that random chance plays a vanishingly small role in making us the people that we are today.


Beyond the randomness of life, we already have a window on to what parts of culture children are swayed by. Both Pinker and the psychologist Judith Rich Harris remind us that the children of immigrants adopt and speak with the accent and language of their peers. The movies people watch, the music we listen to, and much else that we’d put under the general heading of ‘culture’ are deeply affected by our peers. What else would you expect, really? Wanting and needing to fit in is not just a passing phase of childhood. To some extent, it’s essential for living.


So ‘the environment’ does play a role in shaping who we are, but it’s not ‘the environment’ in merely the conventional sense of how your folks parent you and your siblings.

The children’s peer group changes nothing regarding abuse. Allowing the children to abuse one another counts as parental abuse and/or neglect. The children’s stress is not smaller because it’s the older kids who will beat him into conformity rather than the parents. In fact, gene theory says the children have less reason not to finish him off, whereas the parents may think about their genes.


All of this is indicative of something deeper — an aspect which is less arcane and more relevant to daily life. A great many pundits, advice givers, and professional psychologists have spent decades being wrong about why people turn out the way they do.

 . . . and I have found it. Not “why they turn out the way they do” in terms of small differences, the twins who shared flushing the toilet before and after, these sorts of traits, but I’m pretty sure I’ve found your “something deeper,” the real mystery that these problematically powerless questions are trying to get at. Again, a protected behaviour, so within its logic, we can’t pose the right questions to crack the code; I came to it the long way around, very much by accident. Turns out it’s analogous to dark matter, invisible (that “nurture” means beatings and that “good people” means warriors, this, the core of what I call Antisocialization Theory, is sort of invisible), but comprising ninety percent of the matter in the universe. Ninety percent of our abuse is non-statutory and so invisible, and ninety percent of our social lives are lived in both halves of the causal realm around it, we abuse, and we are hurt, abused creatures, nine times more than we are happy, healthy ones. This is the ratio R. D. Laing was pointing us to when he said that “the disaster has already happened.”

When we start to see how the dark matter of generic, non-statutory abuse distorts and bends what we can see, the visible light in the universe, when we factor all that dark matter in, we will see our calculations making ten times more sense.


A child is not a blank canvas.

No, but the child is what it is, the point is what we paint and how we attempt to paint it, despite whether there was already a picture there or not. Not being “a blank canvass” hasn’t saved any kids their beatings, has it? The religious don’t think Blank Slate, doesn’t stop them. Biologists don’t think Blank Slate – has it stopped you? (I know your complaint. Blank Slaters are indeed guilty of child abuse, being one didn’t save kids either, and some of the abuse was in trying to eradicate some built-in natural thing because of the BS idea, but this is one of the ways the conversation needs to change to deal with the negative reality of what “nurture” really has been.)

How many books have been written about the way people should and should not parent their children? How many approaches have been suggested by experts who are not really in a position to know? Yes, they may hold advanced degrees, but the truth is that the advice they offer tends to ignore the genetic influences that we now know to be at work. The studies that identify those influences often find that parenting — unless it is actually malign — has very little impact on how children turn out. The huge ‘parenting advice’ industry is largely bunkum.

OK, so there it is, the exemption, “ . . . unless it is actually (malicious) . . . “

So, you do get that, it’s maybe you’re just a positive guy, you assume that malignancy is rare or something. It is getting more so, and that is terrific (also per Pinker), but that is putting the aboriginal truth of this situation further out of view: rare now is not meaningful as to why it never has been rare before, not useful in understanding just what this behaviour really is that we’re hoping to escape.


What does this mean for you if you’re a parent wanting to know how to raise a happy, well-adjusted child? I generally loathe parenting advice columns, so that is not what is on offer here. I can sympathise with the idea that having a child brings with it a host of responsibilities that are exciting but also terrifying.


At this point, I would turn again to the psychologist Judith Rich Harris, who authored the definitive book on this subject. Harris writes: ‘We may not hold their tomorrows in our hands but we surely hold their todays, and we have the power to make their todays very miserable.’


Pinker, meanwhile, makes the point that it should be enough for us to remember that our children are human beings, worthy of the same ethical treatment we give to our friends, other relatives, and even to strangers. So protect your children, provide for them, be good to them, and make memories with them. Apart from that, don’t expect to have very much say in how they turn out.

Hey, that’s getting better, Brian! You gave ‘em the hint. I can’t help but wonder if you’ve been reading me, or if for some other reason you felt you needed to do more than the Rockwell version after the first one of these that I saw. Whatever, you’re trending in a direction I can approve of, well done.

As for parenting advice, I agree, but I think I have a solid reason now. Parents should keep in mind that discipline makes warriors and out of work warriors are what we call criminals.


June 15th., 2017

Consequences. The “Mimic Meme.”

I’m searching for a term, and I must apologize to any readers who have suffered through this with me: Dawkins’ “meme” is not it, that’s only part of the concept I require. Sorry to admit this, but I finally looked it up yesterday: Dawkins’, Blackmore’s, Dennett’s memes are simply ideas and such imbued with a life of their own with us as their environment. It’s about transmission and propagation, the suggestion being that ideas and such can be viewed as propagating themselves, and the analogy is with genes, and how our genes propagate themselves. If anything, what I am trying to articulate actually runs counter to that. If I’ve been impossible to understand it’s because I’ve made a terrible error by misappropriating the “meme” concept. My “meme” will show us to be the active agent in its transmission – even if we don’t know it. But the concept I need to give a name to is something like a “mimic meme,” a successful, dominant wolf meme that propagates itself in the guise of a sheep.
The “consequences” parenting social construct is certainly a dominant meme, nearly universal. It’s the idea that we can alter minds and behaviour with punishments, and that we must, or at least should, that it’s “how we learn.” Wait, too soon, too specific. A simple example of the mimic meme:
. . . researching . . .
Stop that or you’ll go blind? Wait, what’s the real reason? *
Ah. Maybe in other religious injunctions, like pork.
It’s not kosher or halal to eat pork, and one is to understand that some patriarch delivered the law direct from God, and so, many people in the Abrahamic traditions don’t eat pork (or other things), based on their religion, so maybe “God’s people don’t eat pork” is the meme that stops them – but we think there’s a real world reason too, the one that the religious injunction is situated on top of, when I was young it was worms, trichinosis. I’ve since read somewhere that the shade on pigs was government libel and slander, that nations have no use for pigs, they can’t be managed and used as easily as goats or sheep, that pigs were private, poor peoples’ livestock and the campaign against them was part of a (an Egyptian) government promotion of more industry friendly animals during their massive foreign labour building projects. These are all memes, and the truth of the matter may be none of them, but it shows the idea, a cover rationale – authority, God says, or identity, God’s people don’t – that has the effect of keeping pork out of mouths, and a real-world effect, people not getting worms, sheep taking over the world, that results from it.
Does that work?
Now that must be a known thing, certainly that story is a known one, so the concept must have a name already, right? If anyone knows it, please, remind me. It’s something like evolutionary convergence, isn’t it, where memes take completely different paths to produce the same effect? I need the word to say that these memes are true and these ones are merely expedient. I think the relativism around these ideas has all memes as expedient and truth as an irrelevant ideal, but we still need a word to differentiate the ones we’ve seen through from the ones we have not yet pierced.
I think maybe “mimic meme,” for now, pending my future education.
Or maybe I’m coining the term right now, in real time. I keep thinking I’m decades behind in all this, but as this latest error shows, sometimes I’m giving academia too much credit; I thought Dawkins’ meme was something more complicated than it really is, I assumed he was way ahead of me. As it really, is, the “meme” idea is now a no brainer, a basic building block of understanding the world. So, for all I know, the mimic meme really did need naming, I mean if the basic “meme” did. I keep letting my low self esteem get in the way of my low esteem of everyone else, but logically, just because I’m slow doesn’t mean everyone else isn’t too. Maybe the world really is in such a pitiable state that a nobody like me can have something to contribute.
So. On the off chance, here’s the mimic meme concept: sometimes we have a bogus story to explain our behaviour that is unrelated to the behaviour’s actual function, and as long as the behaviour is maintained, so is the function, despite our ignorance of what is really going on, of what in the function is meaningful. Read your Bible, remain worm free.
Ha! Now they’re coming up for me, and if “because I said so” isn’t the model for all of the mimic memes to follow, then . . . well, of course, “because I said so” isn’t what we’re supposed to learn about touching the stove or stepping into the street, of course it isn’t the real “reason” not to do those things, but it’s intended to have the same effect as the real reasons, namely keeping us away from the stove and the street. That’s a mimic meme for kids, I guess, because it’s one we learn our way out of as we grow up, or mostly, anyways.
But the consequences mimic meme, that’s one we don’t apparently grow out of.
It’s at the heart of what I’ve labelled Antisocialization Theory, my grand unification theory of abuse. Here it is again, one iteration of the text of the consequences mimic meme:
We can alter minds and behaviour with punishments, and we must, or at least we should, that it’s “how we learn.”
One observable effect of this meme is that humans beat their children, in an organized and social way. (Oh, shut up, we do too. At least we have been doing, for a long time. If there are epigenetic changes in response to abuse, and there are, then abuse has been around for a long time, it’s in our genome.)
The true function – “bio meme?” I can’t start that yet, can I? – would have some same effect, that we beat our children “regularly,” as per the old political trap/joke, in this case. All that remains to dissect this entire mimic is the true function of these beatings, in evolutionary terms – and what other kind are there – the reproductive advantage to our genes. This answer I deem to have been hidden to date, rendered invisible by the mimic meme sometime in our past. The trick of the mimic meme is to make it so . . . you can’t get there from here.
But you can get there from psychology, from social science.
Come over to the office, stretch out on the couch, and tell me: how did zees beatings make you feel?
Ah! That was it, the very instant, did you feel it? That was the moment in time when social science first had the creeping thought to stop playing coy, stop running for real and see what happens when that dirty boy, biology, catches her. I fancy that I, like Einstein, have reconciled two incompatible lines of thought, that I can see convergence, where social science and its subjects have their place in the biosphere and geneticists don’t need to avoid talk of the agency of entire organisms.
Back to Earth, or almost, social science has some pretty robust data regarding statutory abuse, and much of it includes parentage too: the documented effects and costs of child abuse appear to be safe from the attacks of the geneticists, at least from the attacks I’ve read, and I think we can pretty much agree: the parental/caregiver effects that we do see and see the science to match them with are the effects of abuse, of what we term the damages of abuse, all of the varieties, physical, emotional, cognitive, etc., etc. There are things that look bad about this “damages of abuse” meme also, and I have written and will continue to point out the things that look bad from my particular point of view about it, but we can just face this, can’t we: you beat a human child, especially regularly, and social science has established that there will be effects. More later, this is huge, but this is what we need to carry across our cognitive dissonance back to the social/biological conversation we’re having about the consequences mimic meme: documented effects of child-beating, which have always been, since Gershoff, Durrant, et al., increased incidence of: developmental problems, cognitive problems (poor grades in school), addictions, violence, crime, self harm, and all manner of disorders.
There is a confound, that what is “statutory” is not peer reviewed science, but it’s also clear that more children are beaten than there are parents busted for it. In a discussion of science, we all need to know we’re talking about biology when we say “beatings” and not law, that it’s a physical definition of “beating” I’m using and not some higher-level abstraction about it, including the threshold required for action by the law. The truth behind these statistics is better than the statistics can ever be. So now, again, the reproductive advantage gained from this human behaviour, from these clearly “negative social effects?”
Here I will respectfully suggest that “increased incidence of violence’’ is only a bad thing for your enemies generally, and that this is where the advantage is to be found: not so much in the mate market as on the battlefield.
This increase played out most tellingly in our species’ developing situation, with our little human or proto-human troop in sometimes violent competition with the neighbors, and plays out forever in our aboriginal, hunter gatherer groups and today in our larger, more complex ones. From long experience, and I hope not to insult anyone, but I feel the need to stop and remind us all at this point that we’ve said nothing new, nothing extraordinary here, in fact nothing controversial. This is all still in the realms of ‘everyone knows’ and ‘scientists know.’ Let’s recap.
1. We all know the “consequences” meme, humans raise their kids with it
2. The meme has us all hitting our kids (maybe until now)
3. Hitting kids has known effects, among which are antisocial behaviours, violence, and crime
4. Persistent, selected for behaviours (meaning, humans hitting their kids, documented since at least the Bronze Age) should have a net reproductive advantage, or be tied to one
5. There is a majority consensus among scientists that something in that scenario, our long, aboriginal group competitions was what created our outsized craniums and all that goes with it
I imagine the ways in which “aggression” gives organisms a reproductive advantage are well documented, so that I shouldn’t have to show how “an increased incidence” of it (by any other name) would bring an “increased incidence” of its advantages. Suffice to say, we have probably not out-competed the rest of the apes by being nicer than them, and deep roots of war or not, there have been battles and many lines have not survived. Never mind the apes, there are at least five human species that have disappeared just in the last fifty thousand years, and those are only the ones where we’ve found the bodies. And yes, for the biologists, it does suggest a tournament sort of mindset, groups in competition, driving one another to be stronger, by any and all means. Including, and this is the central thing here: creating abuse where there was none in order to leverage our epigenetic response to it. The deep roots of war thing is not a given, it is an option that we exercise.
I’m not sure anyone has considered this piece of the puzzle, our conscious, very much active role in creating our own natures in this way.
I’ve seen it the other way around, war causing stress, causing an horrific documented rise in abuse of all sorts, parental included – as though something other than humanity were imposing this war business on us, as though culture created Man, as though the causality in it all were exactly backwards, as though the chicken came before the egg. Which, by the way, is not a riddle to a biologist, to someone who believes in evolution, someone who knows that there weren’t always chickens.
It seems self evident to me, that the increased violence and antisocial feelings and behaviour are the most likely relevant effects that the consequences mimic meme supports and camouflages by having us beat our children “to teach them manners.” To point out the disparity, what the mimic meme means, note that if one beating doesn’t create the manners we wanted, and if ten doesn’t either, then our consequences don’t work to teach manners – but to keep trying is not pointless, not to the true function. The kid may never say his ‘please and thank you’s, but if you persist, the true function will be accomplished, at least at a far greater frequency than the false one. **
Again, the true function being to produce antisocial feelings, much of what we WEIRD folks today think of as our damage, the negative outcomes we associate with abuse. To understand it, we need to imagine our evolving proto-human and aboriginal situation, the one we evolved in and for, before we found a way to live among thousands and millions of strangers in relative safety. I found the clue in The Nurture Assumption, something Harris had gleaned regarding primitive warrior societies, that while making her point about the children’s group being the relevant social group, where society is taught and learned, she told of how passive boys are teased and goaded to fight, to the point of being killed if they never do fight back. Aboriginal warrior society groups are small, and all the men are warriors, there are no resources for slackers. Violence is always the cure for a lack of it, and fight or die as a passive kid will have to do, there are no slackers and the tribe is strong.
That’s not the consequences meme in action, but it proves the point that abuse is how you make a soldier of a human who isn’t one, or enough of one, and that is antisocialization. It works straight up like that too, it doesn’t require self deceptions or unconsciousness, it only requires the beatings. The mimic meme, that just prevents us from stopping it even when our goals have changed, keeps the behaviour safe from tampering by our fickle, conscious minds. (Probably for the solid reason that just because my family, my group sees it and decides to stop – and I did in fact – doesn’t mean the neighbors all had the same insight at once. This would amount to a lethal meme mutation, perhaps.)
I am imagining that our goals are changing, have changed, at least most of ours. I think it’s time, since many of our goals are moving already, to examine in what realm and direction it is we are hoping to move. I know my personal parenting goals changed long before I had worked out what the “normal” parenting practises were in support of. I offer this insight, my view, for knowledge, for posterity, not because I have a plan for us, not because I think we should change what we’re doing now, but just to put it out there, get it into our heads, and maybe in small ways, maybe a little more often we start to remember that abuse in any measure is to make us soldiers in some measure, and that it really isn’t necessary to show a kid how the toilet works.
Maybe when we see the horribly antisocial act of some criminal, we can stop imagining that society did not nearly intentionally mandate that the criminal and all of us be antisocial to some degree, and consider that rather than that our parenting and social efforts upon them have failed, that our conflicting efforts to antisocialize them have simply succeeded too well. I’m sure a case can be made for the selection of berserkers, that until we WEIRDs took over, they had their place in our aboriginal societies, in our warrior cultures.
When a better meme inhabits our minds, things will begin to make sense. I imagine, if the idea can even get started (it’s probably a lethal mutation, so possibly unlikely), then we’ll have a better idea what to do about it in another generation or two.
I feel I’d be somehow lying to us all if I don’t address this about it, the non-viable mutation aspect.
This stuff is dangerous.
I’m not a hundred percent sure of this, but the existence of this pervasive meme suggests it’s something that we at least think is mission critical, that our child-beating behaviour is something we have set up and then built this protective cover over, because it’s a survival mechanism, one we at least think we shouldn’t have access to, like we think elected officials shouldn’t have the power to change voting laws. Any human group who thinks to stop doing it is at dire risk from the neighbors who have not, we think, so the human groups who are still here to talk about it have locked that door and lost the key. Forbidden fruit, this sort of self-knowledge? Perhaps. Again, an obfuscating meme that protects a behaviour that controls for aggression – and this is what I’m trying to describe – there is some lifetime achievement Darwin hubris award for the fellow who messes that up, isn’t there?
OK, fine. I’ll do it.
Hold my beer.

June 7th., 2017
* I guess biology does offer one. We say “stop that or you’ll go blind,” and if any of us do stop, then even more young ladies get pregnant, maybe.
** insert a rapidly growing list of epigenetic effects that function based in adversity of environment in childhood, and the general idea of genetics and epigenetics somewhere in here. I’ve considered it as a given.

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.