Punishment and Respect

Punishment and Respect


I’m gonna change my approach a little here, start making these things short and sweet.


So this third one of those will be on this idea here: if you punish, it instills respect. Otherwise why would they respect you? So a couple of thoughts:


Punishment is a betrayal, of communication, of love, of respect; to be punished is to have our personhood rejected and denied. Punishments happen when a more powerful person or persons has given up talking to or reasoning with us and simply treats us like an object rather than any semblance of a peer, or even a person. To my mind, this is a worst case scenario in adult relationships. At its best, it’s Mandela’s incarceration, a classic walk underground and into legend (though, let’s not forget, not a good time for him still) resulting from a considered difference of political opinion. Rest assured most of the outcomes of this everyday betrayal, punishment, are not so good. One thing at a time, though. Respect.


To my mind, punishment is the end of respect. After one punishment, maybe, after some good apology, but after a regular application of it? Talk of ‘respect’ is empty chatter, mind-boggling hubris. A half-century of post-Skinner parenting crap literature never seems to acknowledge that you can’t have discipline from punishment and respect at the same time. I’ll tell you though: you’ve got a choice, and I repeat, you might not lose trust and respect the very first time – but don’t push it twice.


Have we really forgotten how it felt when we were the kids? Really? How many of us only come to respect our parents later in life, after we’ve spent a few decades dishing it out on our own kids? How many of us never do? We weren’t born disrespecting, they earned it – and we understand them after we earn it.





Jan. 20, 2016


Rare Research Opportunity

Parenting styles don’t matter, that is what all the analyses of all the twin and adoption studies came up with. They postulated three sorts of parenting – permissive, authoritative, and authoritarian, and with that in mind and all the twin and adoption data, they found that the middle road was best.

I don’t see it that way, because for them, the middle was the middle and permissive was one direction and authority the opposite direction, when really, it’s a one directional scale. Really, the spectrum goes from no application of authority, through some (permissive), through more (authoritative), to much (authoritarian) application of authority. “Application of authority” means control and the tools for it, meaning punishment, meaning force. My point being the three “parenting styles” they postulated are increasing levels of force, and the data says a little is bad and a lot is bad, but in between is not as bad. To my mind there are other ways to interpret that pattern than that the middle amount of force simply strikes the right balance, I need to know if that’s true, balance between authority and what? Original Sin? If two out of three dosages of it are bad for you, why is the third not?

My interpretation is this: children of permissive parents fear punishment less, the deterrents fail because the child is not convinced he’ll have to pay the price, so some number more of those kids develop bad habits, find trouble. Conversely, children of authoritative parents can be any combination of damaged or bitter and angry from abuse they’ve suffered, and the rougher their parents are, the rougher some of the kids learn to be, and so perhaps more of those kids find trouble too. A multitude of abuse and corporal punishment studies will support that. But then, why the middle road? The other things don’t apply, the punishments are consistent, so the deterrents work, the child has a higher expectation of having to pay the price, and the child has a better chance of avoiding real abuse and damage, along with other things as well, probably. I think that small win for the authoritative parents represents more children trapped in impossible binds, more kids who aren’t hurting enough to really speak out, more kids we’ve fooled into taking it like a man. But the point is this.

The permissive parents’ kids still know they can and will be punished for some things, they know the adults reserve the right to do it, same as with the rougher parents, so they’re carrying the bitterness too, them, the middle-road parents’ kids, they all know that. To my mind, the force is the trouble – and the science also says individual parents don’t leave a trace, that children are raised as a group function, by other kids, with the adult rules and structures in place – the force itself is an issue, but maybe just that all kids know generally that the adults will use the authority, the force, on them is more to the point. That knowledge offends all children, irrespective of how strict or wishy washy their own caregivers are. (That will be a sticking point, of course, I imagine a lot of parents don’t acknowledge that sense of offense, and I would respectfully suggest that not understanding that feeling means there is a large blind spot in our empathy.)

Again, they say individual parents don’t leave a trace on their kids, so that must mean individual parents’ styles don’t matter either – again, by their data, and their analyses, because of the simplistic categorization of “parenting styles.” Life certainly, but their science particularly needs a control set of zero authority parents, because that is the fundamental difference, authority, punishments and force, yes or no, and then perhaps we can make sense of the floating scale of less, more and most too. They saw very little difference, again, the middle road was only a little better, their main point is none of it makes any difference at all, so really, what that means to me, because I postulate force and punishments as the operative force in these matters, is when force is present, the amount of it makes little difference. Perhaps it’s a binary condition, like the presence of some poison the smallest amount of which is enough and more makes little difference. What we need to see is if there is a difference if we remove it altogether. Now it just so happens, I know a family like that we could interview, put through some tests.

Of course, they’d have to be compensated for their time, and these people are rare, which may drive up the price . . . really, though, for a “science” that is a hundred and twenty-five years old, a chance to establish a null control, for perhaps the first time?

What price could be too high?




Jan. 16, 2016

Negative Proofs

It’s a hard row to hoe, convincing people that all punishment is harmful, Sisyphean, in fact, but the opposite, that was pretty easy: a complete lack of punishment, no dispensing of negative consequences whatsoever – has no ill effects. Punishment is not necessary for life.

You may not be ready to allow that it’s harmful – but for the lack of it to be harmful, me and my family would have to show some harm, some of the sorts of harm we all agree might result from a lack of discipline, wildness, inconsiderateness, poor boundaries, violence, opposition, poor morals – and that is just not the case.

You can’t prove a negative, but you can prove whether removing an organ kills the patient. Punishment is like our appendix, a legacy condition that can only cause trouble. It’s not a requirement for life. I’ve proved that much, and that is no small thing.

You’re welcome.




Jan. 16, 2016

Brave and Crazy

. . . brown trouser time, only I guess I never knew it.


(sorry, I don’t know how to insert a video . . . it’s only a short joke, no biggie)


When I made my decision, when I determined that it was punishment in any and all of its forms that was the problem with the world (because I’m the sort of person who feels duh, there’s a problem with the world), when I decided I would never punish my kids, ever, I must have been out of my mother-loving mind. A more educated person never could have made this mistake.

I mean, I was living the Blank Slate and the Nurture Assumption fallacies, for starters. I really believed that no part of the human character was written in the blood. I really believed that it’s how we’re treated that makes us who we are – well maybe I wouldn’t have bet my life on those things, but I always assumed they were true enough, that if how we’re treated matters at all, then we should treat each other well. Wait, that sounds like Idle at the end of ‘the Meaning of Life’ – “So that’s why I became a waiter!” I mean, adults should treat children well, and punishments aren’t good treatment. At least that’s what I decided I must have been thinking at some point afterwards, because I hadn’t really looked into any nature vs nurture stuff back then, not yet.

But I’ll admit it:

I really had no idea what I was doing. Looking back, it was an emotional thing, I just thought ‘nice’ was good and ‘mean’ was bad. I didn’t think I needed to know what to do, what parent really does, at first? I knew what not to do, and that seemed like more knowledge than anyone else had claim to . . . wow. Does that sound a little uppity, coming as it does from a man with only a pair of High School Equivalency certificates that got him into trade school? Sometimes maybe not so brave as just plain nuts. Such conviction, and I’ve since been given to understand that the basis of my philosophy has been debunked, it was all Blank Slate nonsense that drove it, stuff like the only thing that matters is how we are treated. I should hang my head and not open my ignorant gob regarding child-rearing or development ever again, right?

(I talk to people now who seem to base their gentle parenting ideas on the same basis that I had, and I cringe a little. But I also had my little epiphany, that punishment is identical to abuse except in the rationale, and that’s the difference. They are Blank Slaters still, Nurture Assumers still for the most part unless they’re professionals, who would punish (be it timeouts and such), while I would not punish and I’m presently accepting the Nurture Assumption Challenge, that is, questioning my previous assumptions. While my insight seemed oddly both revolutionary and self-evident to me, no-one else seems to get it and so I now view that too as naïve and unsupported, to some degree. I no longer expect anyone to see that one my way. I’m amazed, and I can’t believe it, but I have memorized it: this idea, punishment as abuse with an excuse, doesn’t fly.)

Having said that, sometimes a bad thesis produces the most interesting results!

I’d be humble, mortified and silent forever, if my more than two-decade philosophical faux pas here came out, showed itself to the world, how wrong I was, how on the wrong side of history I’d been, such a denier of human nature, but, apparently . . . apparently all that wrong-headed leftist science isn’t so completely wrong that anywhere it leads will mess up your kids. It led me away from power and authority, from punishment – something maybe even the worst of those commies weren’t trying for. And a good thing. Not just a one-dimensional value judgment, I hope: a good thing scientifically, like the discovery of penicillin from a sample gone bad and mouldy. I’m not sure that’s what happened there, but you know what I mean, like I’m the rock-tossing goatherd who discovered the Dead Sea scrolls. I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization of him and what happened there either, but . . . well, there it is. Ha.

I had my little epiphany, my idea, and we went with it, brave and crazy. No punishment was to be the rule, and like dominoes, everything went with it: bedtimes, mealtimes, clean house, organized life, and any sort of support in our child-rearing efforts. (The hugs and kisses tribute due to the family matriarch was not forced either – imagine the potential for hurt feelings.) If you’re not willing to force it – and that was exactly our choice, for better or worse we weren’t going to force anything – then none of the things that you want to happen but your young children don’t are going to happen. I mean they might, sometimes, but not in a dependable way. So I saw that as my choice, control or gentleness, and I can’t explain why control seemed negotiable to me when it doesn’t seem to be for most parents, but I gave it up, we gave it up. Brave and crazy, sure.

I didn’t word it this way until very recently, but here’s the bad thesis: hurt hurts and harm harms. Abuse hurts because hurt hurts, and it harms because harm harms, simple like that, and that also accounts for a lot of ‘normal’ hurt and harm because punishment is ‘normal’ hurt and harm. Simple, as opposed to the newspeak of punishment, strength from hurt and good from harm. That might be a plausible theory if we merely dispense with Ockham’s razor and not consider the obvious, simple truth of my proposition, but really, not as plausible as hurt means hurt, as the fact that words are always synonyms for themselves. Hurt hurts and harm harms, that really is about lower case abuse, meaning negative experience, like the abuse your shoes take; it’s not about ‘parenting styles’ and I would agree: it’s not about the process of child development. All that is as it should be, abuse is a different conversation, indeed. It’s just that it happens in the same places at the same times and at the hands of the same people. Apparently if you do it wrong, it’s not “parenting,” it’s abuse, and by this definition, parenting can never be a bad thing! By this definition, parenting has never been shown to affect children in a meaningful way.

So hurt hurts and harm harms, simple and true. Is that so crazy?

Hint: it’s not; we are.

It worked out great. I mean it was tough, mitigating the damage toddlers cause without dis-incentivizing it, without forcing the child to learn to control herself to adult standards, the first several years were constant legwork, exhausting. It started getting better when the girls were five or six, old enough to talk and reason, and it never got difficult again. As it turns out, if you can manage not to punish your babies and toddlers, your children will trust you and the communication will remain open and productive throughout your family life together. That was a hoped for but unexpected result for us, really amazing, better than we could have imagined. We really were making a change, though. We weren’t raised this way, it was uncharted territory, no kidding, brave, crazy and . . . lucky, I guess. Against all odds.

Again, no argument, I admit it. It was naïve, and it was irresponsible. It just wasn’t supposed to happen (ask my mother-in-law) . . .

. . . and


Eureka! Whatever that is. It’s another accidental scientific miracle, human beings, living together in relative harmony right through the teen years and into adulthood with their parents. Is that so crazy?

Happens all the time, doesn’t it?

Of course I mean the accidental huge scientific discovery, not the harmony, LOL.



Jan. 10, 2016

A Guilty Pleasure . . .

Bit of an interesting situation with my younger daughter, she’s just coming to the end of her second last term in high school. She’s turning in amazing grades, but she’s feeling the pressure, not really sure what to study in post-secondary, but she’s got plenty of work to do and she’s dropping a class, Comparative Civilizations, CompCiv, she says it’s just too much work with too little payoff, not sure what she plans to do, but probably not history or archaeology. So she’s told the teacher and her counsellor and the counsellor called me this morning.

She was baffled, first of all – my kid’s getting like, 98% in the class, and that’s not usually when kids drop things, but on closer view, that’s part of it, she’s not trying to get out of the work it takes for a C., she can’t help but go all in, and it’s not worth the stress for this elective. She’s concentrating on sciences like bio and chem. Here’s the pleasure: this counsellor wanted to hear where we stood, how we felt about it, and she was like, “So I can say that your parents feel like . . .” and I was like, “No, not really.”

It’s maybe the last time I’m gonna get to do that, maybe the last time I get to tell a teacher or someone, “She already knows how we feel, and she can do what she wants.”

Gawd, how I have loved doing that! And how I’m going to miss it! Every time I tell a teacher that it’s a little like telling some adult bully from my own childhood where to get off. I mean, I was nice about it, of course, but still, I love that feeling. Of course, I don’t trust adults. She was nice, a peaceful hippie type from her voice, but just in case she didn’t get the message, I made sure to report the entire conversation to my kid, make sure she knows that I already told the counsellor that she can do as she likes, and she can tell her that she knows I did.

All in all, pretty fun. I’m gonna miss that.




Jan. 6, 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.









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





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



Dec. 19, 2015

Other Than Every Other Kind Ever Tried . . .

. . . social science is the worst.

You know what? I’m tired of being four steps behind what’s going on in the worlds of social and brain science, really, really tired of still finding myself beating that nature versus nurture horse, an argument that’s really more of an elephant burial. That horse is dead and gone, trampled to dust and there is nothing to mark the spot where it was except memory.


I’m sure it was less than half a year ago that while reading The Blank Slate that I was forced to confess that my conception of the mind was suffering exactly the errors Pinker described, that I really wasn’t giving chemistry, biology, etc., their due, and I still unconsciously and tacitly thought of the mind as somehow magical. I could reject the soul, but it had only morphed into the magic, pure energy of the mind or something. I hadn’t thought it all the way through, clearly. I’m cured now, or at least I’ve taken the cure. On the one hand, I feel its immediate effect, and it certainly will work – but on the other, I’ve just seen how patient this disease is, so, vigilance, I guess.

All the ramifications of the work summarized in The Blank Slate are boiling over these days, and yes, it’s true: Left wing ideology has had far too firm a hand in social science generally. However, contrary to what all the talk out there about irreplicable  studies and the beating social science is taking, this isn’t news, that ideology is what drives the studies of human things, crime, child-rearing, politics, etc.

Most of those things have been the province of religious teaching and law, forever, right? That’s ideological. So let’s put this thing in perspective. Religious teaching and law is pretty static. The religious – fair to associate today’s political Right with religion, I think? – weren’t interested in social science, and if the great preponderance of social scientists were from the Left, then it’s probably true enough to say that the Right just wasn’t f@#$%^g interested. So social science just marched off towards the future and turned Left at nearly every fork in the road.

Right? I mean, correct?

So now, that’s the debate, between a science that has been left to its own devices, the checks and balances of the opposing viewpoint absent during the centuries of its development (maybe this is one major cause for the apparently widening divide between the secular and the religious generally) – and the same old static, incurious attitudes of the world’s churches (not to mention the world’s parents), now armed with the tools of medical and brain science and knee-jerk Twitter clickbait headlines. Of course the researchers in the articles rarely share the world-shattering enthusiasm of the headlines . . .

That is today’s academic scandal: headlines that say what their articles do not support, sometimes even saying the opposite. I wonder, how many times when we see “an internet search produced 10,000 articles that support X” was it only the flashy headline that did and not the text?

The point is that, just as Leftist ideologies emerged as a potential solution for the existing power structures of the church and aristocracy (remember, democracy was leftist and revolutionary against the conservative systems it replaced too), so too has the more particular Leftism of social science come into being as a counterpoint to the existing way people understood our human interactions. The existing system that the new Leftist social science would replace was religious, authoritarian and often brutal. The idea perhaps, that it was a new field of knowledge and that it somehow wasn’t ideology that drove it before, or that it doesn’t matter that it was, is bogus. The battle in this sense isn’t Left VS Truth as some might narrate it, it’s Left VS Right as always. Of course, as always, there’s not much room for truth in either camp.

From what I understand, ‘authoritarian’ is exactly the complaint levelled at the Leftist professors directing their researchers, so we should probably view that as an old problem, authority, not as an inherent failing of the Left alone. (That’s my focus, authority and force or not, there’s a meaningful way to view people and the world if you like social science.)

So yes, the political Right should keep a foot in the door of social science, get involved in the debate, provide necessary criticism and keep it from straying into dogma, it’s just that the political Right  may not have the will to do any science themselves and if they’re going to correct these wandering Lefties, they’ll need to get up to speed in the subject matter, they’ll need an opposing theory, and maybe one that’s better than ‘that’s just the way it is,’ that is to say, more detailed. It’s point by point that we (social scientists and Lefties, separately and together) have slid into an ideological compromising position, but it’s still going to have to be a point by point refutation. No scientific community is going back to the Church and rolling over to the doctrine of ‘that’s just the way it is’ anytime soon. Scientists aren’t declaring that the world is changed with the discovery of every new allele, that’s a writer’s function, and it’s there – here – where ideology has always ruled. Not a lot of academics are looking for a way to eviscerate liberal sciences, even geneticists . . . it’s cultural, this little war.

The scientists are producing some gems on the nature side of the old argument, and some folks are employing them as projectiles against social science generally, which is already hurting from no fault of anyone else’s, but there’s a too-easy mistake to make here. It looks for the world like good, secular science VS old, ideologically-tainted science, but that is a rare, PR friendly battle in a nasty old war. The general flow of this war is the world’s old guard, old money, authority structures, still the Churches, all against modernism, liberalism and against the science that supports it.

The geneticists, the scientists, they’re doing the tests, and they don’t seem to be doing it for any particular ideology today so far as we know, although it may be possible to say that the entire political spectrum has been sliding to the Right and so maybe that effect hasn’t exempted all scientists. If the gene crowd is Leftist, perhaps they are perceptually more so than in past days, but in reality probably a bit less. I mean logically, a committed Lefty’s motivations towards genetics while it’s making such gains would be comparable to the conservatives of the past’s enthusiasm for psychology anyway, but the point is, the geneticists are probably not pooling their money to fund campaigns against the psychology department, are they? Hmm. Come to think of it, maybe they are competing for the same funds . . . please don’t tell me that’s all there is to this!

The science that conflicts with the old social science, that’s how science works, point, counterpoint. The PR that’s out there about it, though?

That’s not really coming from science, at all, is it?

That’s an anti-science interest using one branch of science against the other and ultimately against secular science generally, maybe. It’s either that or it’s just the Biology department being sore winners and taking it upon themselves to finish the Psych department off once and for all.




Dec. 4th., 2015

All Right you Mothers – Part #2

So, the high school that our older daughter attended and the younger one still attends, last year, grade 12, is on my way to work and I’ve been dropping one or the other one off on my way in for . . . wow, eight years now, and the process in the school parking lot has been getting irritating.

It’s a parking lot, space to park many cars, and at that time of morning – 8:00 am, I’m late for work, always – there are still plenty of empty spaces, mostly in the row nearest the school building, and this is exactly where I pull into a spot, wish my kid a good day, tell her I love her, and let her out. Unfortunately, there’s a line-up of cars on the road in and all through the travelling lanes in the parking area, people – women, I mean. Mothers, stopping in the driving lane, not taking a spot, and letting their kids out. I drive around it when I can, to a parking space, let my daughter out, back out of the spot and carry on to work, because I’m late, as always, and I’m pissed, I can’t abide all these soccer moms in their giant cars stopping in the middle of the road.

Then, once they’ve stopped, you can see these normal teens slowly and passive-aggressively get out of the front seat, shuffle around the car, open the back or the very back to retrieve their backpacks etc., and this often after a minute’s delay where apparently nothing is moving. I suspect these normal parents are reading their normal teen some version of the Riot Act, nattering at them about something; their teens hate them, but one more lecture will probably do the trick. Apologies to everyone else in the line of cars, but this could be the one! This speech could be the one that finally reaches my teen!

Besides the one above, I drive away from this scene every morning, trying not to think this nasty thought: that women don’t give a crap about each other, about all the other parents in that line up, they will stop in the middle of the road to do their parenting, to deal with their own family and their own problems while every other parent waits for their turn. Also this – do these parents not have jobs? Are they happy to spend several minutes doing something that should take seconds because they have no-where to be? Which, of course, if that is the case for any of them, I repeat: they are not giving a crap about those of us who do have places to be.

Maybe it’s hard to back those great SUV’s up, maybe that’s why some don’t take a parking stall – but I’m sorry. In my grumpy morning commute road rage state of mind at the time, that’s all part of the ‘mother’s privilege’ too: the bloody SUV. Soccer moms and their SUVs are operating out of the same sort of attitude. They want the giant car, gets them up off the road where they can see more of what’s happening on the road, it’s for their families’ safety – and it kills visibility for those of us still driving little cars, those of us trying to create less greenhouse gas. Plus of course, the extra pollution. We, in our little cars can see less than ever, can’t see past these giant cars at all, so every time someone buys an SUV it’s an attack on the safety of those that don’t. “My family is above the traffic now, we’re safe” – and forget the rest of you, is the attitude, albeit tacit.

That is the dark side of a parent’s – a mother’s – single-minded concern for her family: the trade-off of everyone else’s comfort and safety for it. Parenting is unconscious and generally antithetical to civilization. Family concerns need to be balanced against what is good for everyone. It doesn’t have to be ‘us against the world;’ we’re making it like that. Let’s work together, help our families, help our kids, and help the world. That principle applies in many ways.

When we keep our kids away from the bad kids, we’re protecting ours, but if we are “good” families, then we’re denying those bad kids some good influences. When we arm ourselves against the bad people who may prey on us, then we’re promoting force and violence as a way to solve our problems – a lesson many people get in trouble for learning too well. When we cheat on or otherwise niggle regarding our taxes we are saving money for our families, but withholding revenue that may help feed, house, or otherwise help other families . . . all these sorts of things that we do to protect ourselves and our kids from the big bad world ultimately work to make that world bigger and badder than it might have been.

“Safety First” is one hundred percent appropriate in the face of threats to our lives. Other than that, all of our safety concerns need to be traded off against social concerns. We should be looking for ways to protect mankind generally, and we should always be trying to make our choices as far toward the socially preferable end of the scale as possible, by default. That means just looking after us ours and ourselves doesn’t cut it, morally. It needs to move from “My family is safe” – and forget the rest of you, to “My family is safe enough” – with apologies and thanks for the rest of you.

Morally speaking, I’m not interested in your faithfulness, or your strict adherence; I’m only interested in the size of your moral circle. If I and my family aren’t in yours, then of course I think you need to shape up.


October 10, 2015

All Right you Mothers – Part #1

First of all, women are oppressed second-class citizens, no argument. I’m all about the equality. Having said that . . .

Ladies, get your shit together, and just like Pink Floyd told the teachers – Hey! Leave those kids alone.

I spend a lot of time criticizing parents, and I don’t mean to be sneaking it in under the radar: mothers are the main parents. In most of the world, most of the child-rearing, and therefore most of the child-rearing mistakes are made by mothers. I suppose in places where the men have proprietorship over their women (old world cultures, sub-cultures where the law doesn’t reach, among the very rich or the very poor), we can say that mothers have no choice, there certainly are places where a lot of misguided mothering is forced upon the mothers by a brutal regime of men – but not in my life! In middle-class suburban or city life in my corner of the former First World, the west coast of Canada, for the most part, it is mothers who have control, mothers who are the autonomous rulers of the family. Men here are still children to some degree, still living in the power-shadow of their own mother; the industrial revolution has removed men from the family structure. We’re like lions now, we will be called upon to fight if there’s a war or a threat, or when the children grow beyond the mother’s ability to control them herself. Other than that, we will defer to the mother, as we always have, from our earliest days.

On a personal level, I would have been one of those minimally involved men – I still am, half the time. Honestly, I still have the weak male core-belief that my contributions to running the household are optional. I cook and clean sometimes, but it’s still sort of voluntary, and sometimes I don’t. I’m sure I would have happily taken the suburban male’s back seat position regarding parenting too, except for this idea I had, my epiphany that children should not be punished. Un-punished children would not have happened if I had left things up to my wife. In my house, it was me, the man, who stood up against potential violence, against the betrayal and disregard that punishing brings to parenting. In my mind, it was about that, about saving my kids from a lot of unconscious brutality, but I have to admit – I wasn’t excited to be that uninvolved, un-consulted father. I was, as so many young men in this First World life are, staring down the barrel of familial irrelevance.

Having seen the effect of that in my own father, as well as in the patriarch of my in-laws’ family, and knowing my constitution wasn’t matched for the alcoholism that was their answer for it, I knew that wasn’t going to sit well with me.

This whole ‘no punishment’ thing, though, this started long before I was able to articulate that fear. I never recognized my dad’s situation that way as anything he didn’t deserve, and I only thought about it in a personal context. It was getting to know my in-laws that gave me to understand that it was a situation many men have to deal with.  Or not, I guess – and that I was facing that crisis/choice also. I think the chronology speaks to any conscious need to build a rationale I may have had – but I’m willing to grant the possible overlap of interests. Much as I’d rather look at it as a pleasant surprise, some collateral repair in my life from choosing to do the right thing, that I fought a careful and prolonged battle with my still-beloved wife to implement a form of child-rearing that very few people would understand or agree with.

I felt for many years, while the girls were young and vulnerable that I was walking a wire not to piss the wife off to the point of divorce while trying to bring her around to my idea, and to this day, I can see the pain that her lack of control over things gives her. The poor girl has done what I advise in my blog, she has lost at both ends, powerless with her own mother, and then cut off from the inheritance of power she needs so bad as an adult, never permitted to enjoy the topside of our eternal parent-child power struggle. I was trying to make the same sacrifice, but I had talked myself into it already, her parents were present in her life . . . for whatever reasons, it was me driving the change and was my wife losing her parental power simultaneously with starting to see the situation of her childhood powerlessness. It was very hard on her. She would never have it any other way now, but I think young motherhood was harder on my young wife than it is for some, thanks to me. Not to mention that I was intervening and insisting on changes because the girls were here now and needed to be spared a lot of “normal” stuff now – and a lot of the “now” was before my wife had understood or agreed with the whole ‘no punishment’ (so no force, so no bedtimes, no mealtimes, no toilet training) thing. If I ever succeeded in one of these interventions, it was often only that I had complained long and loud enough that she would just capitulate.

There wasn’t mostly a meeting of minds while the girls were little. It was a pretty stressful few years, bad for me, probably worse for her. It’s been a lot better since the younger one was maybe five or six, for all of us. Having said that –

My wife is the sweetest, most passive girl I could have found. I would say nine out of ten women I’ve met during the child-rearing years of my life would not have either allowed me to make this change, either would have whooped the kids’ asses while I wasn’t around or left me and had them all to themselves, something. I know what we did, what I made happen is what was in my dear wife’s heart, and she’s been very happy with it for many years now. We have always known we were loved, all through the teen years, always the communication and the honesty has been there.

Using your power early on takes that away from you; it’s a trade no-one in my house will ever again consider, I’m happy to say. Having said that, that, to a considerable degree, is motherhood, this power trap that my wife so painfully escaped, the stage of life where at last a young mother gets to feel her own power rather than her parents’ power, at the expense of her children’s power. I’m hopeful that we have lessened the power of that cycle for our girls and that the cycle will not simply resume with them, when they have children.

I’m hoping that my beautiful wife’s suffering won’t have helped save only our girls, but their kids, and theirs, won’t have been for a blip in history, but the start of something.

So I know how I’m framing this, and it’s horrible. It’s like male/master/rational – female/slave of unconscious needs – and I’m sorry. Any psychologist will remind me that I was getting my unconscious needs met too, of course. As I say, I powered my way into a strong parental position. Also, I acknowledge that most parents will grant that she too had a rational position to argue; I don’t agree, but if it makes me seem less authoritarian, I won’t try to convince you!

Hmmm . . . 1,300 words . . . better leave off for now . . .


Oct. 8, 2015

Looking Normal, Part #1

We try so hard, you know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not so sure of that right now . . .

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

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

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