I Need a Literary Agent

I want to write a popular science sort of a book.

I’m in the market for a literary agent with some social science background.

I have this idea, but it’s sort of between genres and I think I need help developing it before I could even know who to try to sell it to. It’ll be along the lines of the Nurture Assumption, that sort of subject matter, if you’re familiar with that . . . any thoughts?

A perusal of the last several entries in this blog will also give you the subject matter, but the groping in those blogs has produced an unexpected, full blown socialization theory and maybe more. You’d never guess from all my previous writing where it’s brought me.

Anything would help . . .

 

thank you all in advance

 

Jeff

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Punishment as Bullying

The world runs on authority, on force. The army, the police, schools, corporate hierarchies, parenting, parenting, parenting. Family structure. Punishment and discipline is a system by where we control unwanted behaviour by force, and punishment, which, punishment is defined as dishing out unpleasantness to the misbehavers in order to motivate them to change their ways.

 

This is pretty much a definition of bullying. The bully punishes the victim. The bully justifies this punishment by listing the victims’ misbehaviours, or the victims’ families’, or race’s, or faith’s misbehaviours.

 

This is punishing behaviour, this is bullies doing what adults do, doing what the police do, I mean the bully’s behavior is very close to that, closer than any of us would like to think. I’m saying the bully feels he is doing what he sees around him, that in the parlance of some schools of psychology, the bully is getting his power back, after some authority figure has taken his power from him.

 

So, parents and schools going to the bully kids and telling them to stop is a joke to these kids. They see it as just more ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ which it is. I, for one, would love to see someone ask the kids if I’m right about that. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the kids. Better yet, we need a mole, someone who can infiltrate the kids’ group and get a real answer. They don’t trust us.

 

Parents don’t think they are bullying. We have a consensus about what is acceptable punishing behavior, and we really cannot seem to draw parallels with what we see as our legitimate punishments and other similar behaviours. If we can’t, if we won’t see how bullying is an extension, an extrapolation of our punishing ways, then there is very little hope that any of our conversation about bullying, any of our attempts to combat it will get any traction, very little hope of our ever solving a problem if we refuse to understand it in the first place. Surely, someone has noticed that speeches that don’t acknowledge this difficult truth have not had any dramatic effect on the bullying phenomenon? I think any approach that doesn’t include this idea would be considered empty and hopeless, at least to any group that lives under threat or reality of punishment – like our kids.

 

Long and short, if we adults don’t stop ‘bullying’ kids everywhere, we will never stop their bullying, that should be obvious. I don’t know why it isn’t.

 

Many nations have outlawed corporal punishment, in Canada, we are in the process of outlawing it, and I can see the next step, that we will someday realize that the damage caused by punishing behaviours generally outweigh any benefit, and when we all stop anything like bullying, so will our kids. Until then, we will fight this bullying thing in vain, fighting fire with fire, and modeling it and propagating it as we do.

 

So now, there will be programs, task forces, plans and research, all government money spent to figure out this embarrassing problem, and if we don’t try to stop people from the use of punishment – corporal and otherwise – on our kids at home and everywhere else, we are wasting all those resources. And that is a sad, cruel joke, one that the adults don’t understand, and only our kids are laughing about. Not in a good way.

 

Jeff

 

Jan. 22, 2016

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.

 

 

Jeff

 

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?

 

Jeff

 

Jan. 16, 2016

Mom’s Such a Martyr – Parental Sacrifice and the Six Year Challenge

 

One of my many differences with people in the parenting groups and with the prevailing climate in the gentle parenting movement is around sacrifice, around parents looking after themselves as well as their kids, because it’s important to model self-love and care, and because we figure happy, less stressed-out parents will have more success with their efforts to make the gentle change in their parenting. All this and more, and it’s obvious, impossible to deny in theory . . .

LOL. Of course I’m kidding!

My contrariness is not easily intimidated. I don’t know if you, the postulated reader realize it, but I’m kind of living on the edge here, when I start these sorts of rants, often the subject of my critique is something apparently unassailable like this. This is a high wire act in my mind, unconventional thinking, and it’s not easy. But with every new aspect of my study here, I’m gaining confidence and I don’t think I’m going mad. Fooling myself that I’m winning any points in these arguments doesn’t seem overly difficult or complex, which tells me I’m not so far diverged from the reality of things. Of course, for a curmudgeon, this is where the fun is. So to it, then.

This generation’s allergy to parental notions of sacrifice has some strange roots. The image of the sacrificing Mom is that of the Nineteen-fifties middle America, thing, Dad off at work and Mom at home, a slave to the house, the laundry, the kids, and of course Dad, and Mom lives out her life never doing a thing for herself, a martyr for the family. That, yes, a horrible standard for Mom, working twenty-four seven and the most hardworking of Dads not working those hours at all, home time being largely off-time for Dad. This is a situation at which to rebel, and when I was young, it was Women’s’ Lib, the women’s’ liberation movement, or more generally known then as today, feminism, that broke the spell and let us all know that this sacrifice was neither ‘its own reward’ or the model anyone should set their daughters up for.

All right and proper, not strange, I know, but here it is: was that also not the time and culture that beat the crap out of their kids, out of our parents, us and our friends? (I’m fifty-five as of this writing.) I know, right, parenting blogs and feminist blogs and never the twain shall meet, but, folks, it’s all one world out there. Our martyrs passed on their second-class citizen status and associated abuse to us, right? I know, many acted as protectors, shielding us from our more violent fathers, but really, in that demographic, who raised the kids? All I’m saying is, I get it, that culture of “sacrifice” was bad, that model needs to go, for both feminist and – childist – reasons, no argument for that larger thing: that whole culture needs to change, absolutely.

But (and here come the comments), was the sacrifice really the problem in it?

If it seems to be, I think it’s only because of its close ties to abuse, that Mom’s sacrifice means she allowed herself and therefore us to be abused. Does the feminist movement want to say that Mom was complicit in her own and her children’s’ abuse, that is, is Mom’s shared guilt what they want to shine a light on, or should we not just keep the parenting talk focussed on abuse? Abuse is the real scourge here, focussing on sacrifice is oddly misogynist when we’re talking about abuse or parenting, it’s a form of victim blaming – as though there are impersonal, automatic cycles of abuse with lives of their own, but these martyr women, they’re making a choice in it, like they’re the only ones who are. It just smells off to me. Mom may have done it as an adult, but abuse is still abuse, even if we seem to volunteer for it. It’s the driving force in the dark side of our parents’ and grandparents’ parenting and Stockholm Syndrome in itself is a reaction, not a cause. All I’m saying is, Ladies, mothers, feminists and those who are both especially, yes, no-one should model that, that was some misguided sacrifice indeed.

To give the devil and the dark side it’s due, though, some bullshit in the name of a virtue is not a new thing in the world, and many a callous abuser has beaten his chest and cried about his “sacrifice.”  As Dark Side as I can ever be: is the flip side of ‘happy parents are gentle parents’ an ultimatum: ‘Call me out on my bullshit and I will beat the tar out of this kid?’ Misreads and abuse exist for everything, including sacrifice; it doesn’t mean things can’t ever be the good, proper versions sometimes. Sacrifice was our mothers’ and grandmothers’ immediate personal problem, their battle, and maybe still many ladies’ battle today, and solving it saves women, absolutely. Suggesting that fighting this battle somehow saves children, and that the two groups, women and children (read adults and children) can never be in conflict, that one’s gains can never negatively impact the other, however, isn’t right and it’s not helpful. Your fight for freedom was and is against the men, the adults. It’s still OK to sacrifice a little for your kids.

How sacrifice hurts us as children is only one of the many, many ways abuse hurts us. Let’s keep our eye on the prize.

So. ‘One of my many differences.’

I don’t mind some sacrifice. Yes, I’m a cultural Christian, and while that doesn’t mean I agree with the sacrifice of human beings in the literal sense, nailed to trees, I do think sacrifice is, at least in it’s better forms, a good thing, a moral act. In fact, it’s a big part of my planned cure for abuse and punishment in the world. In it’s most practical, generational terms, what I’m advising is that some punished and also possibly abused generation swallow that pain and find a way not to repeat, in fact to sacrifice what they see as a “normal, happy life,” live with the pain and troubles their childhoods left them with and keep their fucking hands off of their own kids, even if they think “raising their kids right” will make themselves feel better. That is gonna feel like some sacrifice, I won’t lie to you.

I felt it, believe me.

I can’t imagine how many times I’ve told the half-joke that I sometimes wish I had beat my second daughter up at least once, just so that during all the frustrating times with her afterward, I could have just closed my eyes for a second and treasured the memory. Man, it would be nice, once in a man’s life to bark an order and see it swiftly carried out. That is an immediate gratification I have rarely enjoyed, believe me. I have fantasies of personal power, my worldview tells me we all do, and I have happily (usually happily) sacrificed getting the payoff those fantasies promise.

In practical terms in a slightly shorter time frame, I would say the sacrifice of our inheritance of parental power needed to last until my younger daughter was old enough to talk and reason with, old enough to understand things, and as I remember it, she was five or six. She was born a full three and one-third years after our older one, so the difficult years, where we manually did everything we might want to train our kids to control themselves for, were then over before ten years had elapsed from the first one’s birth. I mean, ten years into our life as parents, we never had another cause to consider punishing. This when the teen years were still before us, and they aren’t anymore. We sacrificed, and it paid, sorry if that sounds ironically old fashioned.

We sacrificed a lot, all the other things, besides the sense of parental power I will save for another post, but there was a lot of work, and we had opted out of much of normal life around normal families, we sacrificed the support normal parents get from each other. Not kidding, it was a lot, but again: for six years after the birth of your last child, then it’s payoff time. Not kidding about that either.

 

 

Conclusions

 

That old model of family life, yes, that was bad, let’s do away with that, but let’s also make sure we’re fighting the real devil here, not some victim proxy. Mom’s sacrifice didn’t help, but abuse and force, these are the issues that shape us, negative things like these. Sacrifice is still a moral tool, with a legitimate existence. Do we imagine that in harsh, unforgiving nature, sacrifice on the part of parents is not a survival adaptation for the young and so for the species?

Having said that, part of what was wrong with the model of Mom’s martyrdom is that it never ends, the payout is never made. They thought the payout was our success and our happiness – but again: they whooped our asses while they said that to themselves, so that payout maybe never came either, right? Sacrifice for nothing really isn’t, in hindsight. What I’m offering you here is old-time, tried and true sacrifice, hard work for actual results.

Face that Mom and Dad were and all your friends and colleagues are wrong about the benefits of any sort of punishing, and hold back your punitive urges until your kids are six years old. Make that sacrifice and see what happens. And don’t get me wrong, be nice to yourselves, that part is true, it will be easier if you’re getting breaks. If, however, when it gets hard, and you can’t help but feel you’re somehow repeating Mom’s errors, over-sacrificing, I promise you, six years. Six years of feeling like something of a fool, six years of letting your kids get away with stuff you never would have gotten away with, six years of feeling like your inner child has lost a fucking lottery, and after that the hard part is behind you – a decade or two earlier than it was when our parents parented us, if you recall. For my wife and I, it meant it was that long before it ever got any easier for many of the parents around us, and neither the strictest ones nor the least so were immune, which, BTW, fits the social science study data.

Some sacrifice is a good thing, sometimes.

 

Jeff

Jan. 16, 2016

#SixYearChallenge

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.

Jeff

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 . . .

Jeff

Oct. 8, 2015

Surviving Steven Pinker – Abuse with an Excuse and the Blank Slate

Surviving Steven Pinker – Abuse with an Excuse and the Blank Slate

I’ve said many times that some folks could do with a better version of atheism, that the species of atheism I so often encounter online is weak and it’s the one the Church is happy to contend with. Having said that, even so, even though I thought I was already there waiting for folks to catch up, I must confess: the Blank Slate, Steven Pinker’s thorough dissection of residual spirituality in intellectual and scientific thinking, has busted me, uncovered some leftover magical thinking in me too. Specifically, I’m having to face that I was still subscribing to some version of the Ghost in the Machine (the idea that while our bodies have been shown to be physical things, subject to biology and evolution, we still imagine a soul, a spirit, or a “mind” as a magical, non-physical thing). I still wasn’t quite seeing thought and feeling, our complex inner life as resulting from the processes of the machine. I think I was denying the ghost, but I hadn’t yet re-assigned its functions to the machine – and maybe that’s the main failing Steven was addressing, maybe a lot of us go that far and no farther along that line of reasoning.

Maybe we all want to cling to that idea, spirituality. After all, life as a machine, or as a component in the Big Machine, doesn’t seem to us to fulfill all the needs our complex inner life has. It’s understandable, especially because the idea of the ghost may actually be an evolved thought, the built-in way we understand the difference between living and non-living things, between dead and only sleeping people. At some point in our evolution, that idea was probably a revolution, a new level of understanding. But all that was in a different world, the world where our development took place is not the world most of us inhabit today.

This is a strange sort of plagiarism, I’m mostly just sharing Pinker’s book with you here, getting the idea out there. I must say, though, while Pinker made a solid case, my efforts at supporting his case in the preceding paragraph are my own. He didn’t say anything about the effect of or the cause of our first inklings of the idea of the invisible spirit that we naturally think is behind the appearances of life. He simply made a case that we do tend to think in those terms, and for natural reasons. He’s making a case for genes and evolution in this book, and for the cultural effects of false, primitive ideas – but not so much the effects of them in the deep past, more just through the latest century or two.

I don’t purport to have explained The Blank Slate here, proved it or anything; for that, I strongly recommend the book. It’s probably the best non-fiction thing I ever read, I actually stayed thrilled all the way through. Learning can be fun and Nature/Nurture questions are very close to my heart – so buy your own. My copy will be kept for reference.

Moving on.

I once wrote a post or two, “Hearing What You Don’t Want to Hear,” in which I bragged that at this advanced age, almost 55, I was still willing to risk hearing opposing points of view, that I was still trying to escape the trap of Confirmation Bias.

https://neighsayersotherstuff.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/hearing-what-you-dont-want-to-hear/

https://neighsayersotherstuff.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/tearing-skeptic-magazine-a-new-one/

(not crucial to this post, the point’s been made . . . )

At that time it was about a Skeptic article regarding the objective reality of the existence (or not) of Jesus, which honestly, is only a tangential pursuit of mine.

The Blank Slate appeared to threaten my main cause – a damning critique of the use of punishment in child-rearing and elsewhere – I was pretty terrified to read it. Before I even began it, I already knew how my intellect, education, and access to intellectuals stacked up against Pinker’s. If Steven invalidated me, then invalid, incorrect and irrelevant I would indeed be, in my own estimation as well as in everyone else’s. Nevertheless, fearlessly, or rather with a strong faith in my ability to rationalize anything, I read it anyway. Let the chips fall where they may; if my cause didn’t survive, then it didn’t deserve to.

Still, tough to say after being on this train of thought for some thirty years. Worryable, to use a word coined by Jagger regarding Richards’ arrest and trial in Canada. Scary.

But I read it, and while my fears weren’t calmed through most of it, the joy of learning, and learning from as bright a light as Pinker, and about my favourite subject, made it a pleasure. As it turned out, “Children” was the second last chapter, so, non-fiction it may be, but he kept me in suspense almost until the very end. With that end, I shouldn’t probably have worried. First, he let me and anyone else who worries about abuse off the hook by exempting abuse from the discussion. As regards child-rearing, the disciplines of the study of Human Nature concern themselves with personalities, with traits – not with damage.

Spoiler Alert!

It was scary, though. He spent a lot of time refuting that a child’s personality is in any way under its parents’ control. Again, it was in terms of personality, and relative intelligence, but he basically pointed out that, other than providing a safe environment or not, parents have zero influence on their kids after conception. This, from some good theoretical science and a whole lot of adoption/sibling/twin studies and analyses:

First of all, intelligence and testable traits are somewhere between 40% and 50% heritable, genetic;

Individual, random stimulus (individual, personal experience, perhaps the meme that it’s not our problems but our reaction to them that make people what they are, really, still unknown factors) accounts for 50% of traits;

Common environment –shared households and parents – show almost no effect whatsoever! Pinker suggests that he’s being generous when he allows it to claim a large part of the remaining 10% of the pie.

A big part of the explanation of the parental inability to influence children is that kids learn their values and strategies from their peers, other kids. It’s certainly fair to say that the phenomenon Pinker is debunking is epitomized by the idea of increasing your kids’ intelligence by playing Mozart to her in vitro. It must be, because he said it.

I think what he’s said is that there is no way to make your child smarter than his genes, and no way to direct our children’s interest or capacity for what we hope they’ll do.

This seems to be the upshot of combining what I thought before and what The Blank Slate makes clear: the negative power of parenting (the destructive power of abuse) has no positive correlate. There isn’t a way to ‘enhance’ our children, only a myriad of ways to damage them. And the next thought that follows is this: if we have no power to improve the next generation of people, and only the power to hurt, then maybe that kills any sort of ‘greater good’ talk used to justify punishment of children, at all. Perhaps, with no up-side to punishing, no possible improvement, what I’ve always held to be true really is: only the down-side, only the damage matters. Maybe if our only function for our kids is safety and protection, then we need to practice it against ourselves a little more.

Perhaps, just like Steven says in the book, an honest look at the facts, free of magical thinking, will actually provide real life reasons why our morality is important, and why our moral sphere tends to expand, to be more inclusive. If our myths leave our kids out of the circle, maybe science and honesty will bring them back in.

For that bit of hope, Dr. Pinker, I thank you. Seriously.

In my personal life I recently witnessed an ongoing unfolding tragedy that would seem to bear out the idea, that positive influences have only a tiny fraction of the power of negative ones – possibly due to the simple fact that positive influences can’t be beaten into us, that backing positive influences up with force turns them into negative ones. We all enjoy hearing stories where a positive influence saves a kid, of course, but those stories are that good because of their relative rarity. If that was what we all saw most days, those stories wouldn’t be quite so satisfying.

That is a sad, sad state of affairs, isn’t it?

Again, my function, what passes for my talent, is only to help see the problems, the problems as they really are, in the hopes that eventually a solution might be found. Apologies, I know this was a real quickie. The conclusions here definitely want to be expanded, looked into a lot more closely.

Of course, I hope to do that. Sometime. Of course, I’m nobody, a tradesman. If anybody smart would like to pick this up, well . . . that’d be great . . .

😉

Jeff

August 31st., 2015

Oh yeah – Five Stars, for sure!

Somebody mind telling me who beat it out for the Pulitzer?

Tactics, or What Works

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

So this second one of those will be on this idea here: if you don’t punish, what are your strategies? What works for you? So a couple of thoughts:

What does “works,” mean, first? I think the question usually means something specific, is that right, how do you feed them, how do you get them in the car, what to do if they’re covered in excrement and won’t get in the tub? Well, those are valid questions, and no waiting, you got me. I have no guaranteed way to get them dressed and off to daycare, at least none I would recommend and none everybody doesn’t already know.

Frankly, it drove us a little crazy too, my wife and I were raised in families where kids got whooped and our input wasn’t often requested. We invented it, this No Punishment of Any Sort thing, at least in our lives, but losing half the disputes with our toddlers and seeing what we “let our kids do and get away with,” surprise, that wasn’t easy for us, just as many folks might imagine it wouldn’t be.   OK, we saw it once, and we reverse-engineered it. Credit to you, Yvonne and Gord, but sorry – no royalties. Not greedy, and not a legal issue – there simply are no royalties! This stuff is free. J

I mean, we missed things, late for Christmas dinner at Grandma’s, we lost things, dishes, toy, electronics, things were damaged and destroyed, carpets – the younger girl teethed on the backs of our teak dining room chairs . . . they’re all just things, I know, furnishings, my mother in-law’s feelings. We were lucky, nothing important got hurt.  😉

If you can commit to no punishment of any sort – I write elsewhere and soon will again on the “any sort” part. Short version: nothing we might do to them because they won’t like it, which is a good definition for punishment – if you commit to that, then your only options are the loving ones, the patient ones, the ones that don’t always work. Specifically, we talked endlessly, we distracted, we may have even bribed – and we failed, and stuff got broken and we rarely kept to any schedule we had planned. We said “Yes” to the kids whenever possible and less yes to ourselves and the world of grownups generally. Some old-time sacrifice? Maybe, but only for the first five years, and sacrifice in the best sense, the kind with a long term payoff.

Admittedly, we tried harder and probably made more mistakes (meaning that once or twice we did something that worked) for things like work and doctors’ appointments than for other things, but even those things didn’t always go the way we or Grandma or our employers might have wanted. This because, sorry to say, what “works” in some examples, especially where safety is an issue, is OK, but something that “works” all the time, something guaranteed, well that requires punishment because if your decisions are hard-line, then soft-line methods will not achieve them. Still, even so, it’s only guaranteed in the short term.

Honestly, just as they say punishments and corporal punishments are short term solutions but increase long term social problems including misbehaviour, so equally and oppositely is not punishing not a short term solution, but a long term one.

Since my girls could talk and converse, maybe at five years of age, neither of them have given us a reason why even a good side of normal North American family might ever feel the need to punish them. Those first several years were high-energy times, however, and many things, carpets, etc., were damaged or destroyed, I want impress upon you that I’m not lying to you, not trying to sell you something that works in the short term, it sure didn’t. Sure did in the long term, though, at least all through the years from five to twenty.

Jeff

July 19, 2015

“It Teaches Them to Listen”

“It Teaches Them to Listen”

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

So this first one of those will be on this idea here: that a pat on the bum reinforces what we’re asking or telling a kid to do, that a smack is supposed to improve a child’s hearing. So a couple of thoughts:

Will anyone who’s done it say that it worked, that their kid learned to listen after the first pat, maybe the second, or the tenth? (Consider that if we only did it a few times, we probably wouldn’t feel we have to justify it, because rationalizations are for ongoing situations more than one-off mistakes. If I patted my kid’s bum once or twice, I might be more willing to say it was a mistake, not have to justify it.)

It teaches the exact opposite. Put yourself in the child’s place. If Mom is going to go upside of your head or your backside when she really means it – then why would a kid ever listen? Clearly, words are meaningless, powerless things, when Mom or Dad are serious, they’ll use more than words. So that becomes the measure of when we have to listen to our caregivers: words are just noise. When we are actually supposed to listen, they’ll make us feel it.

Spankings teach that talk is cheap. If you want communication, don’t destroy it with violence, no matter how mild.

And when you meet someone who doesn’t hear you when you talk and won’t listen until you stand up and get physical? That’s not “life,” and it’s not “human nature.” That’s that pat on the bum.

Jeff

July 18, 2015