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

Policing at a Crossroads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


So, this is getting long, I’ll stop.

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

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



Nov. 23, 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.

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.



(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 . . .



August 31st., 2015

Oh yeah – Five Stars, for sure!

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

Getting Carried Away – Punishment Psychosis

Getting Carried Away – Punishment Psychosis

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these mass shooters are punishing their victims.

It’s NOT a new thing, and it’s not remotely anything different than what we all do, what we all approve of, violence as a response to things we don’t like.

They learned it at home.

We all agree with their basic premise: we should hurt people who do stuff we don’t like.

Because that’s supposed to straighten them out, as if our punishing stimulus is the only stimulus, as if nothing else in the world has any bearing on what people do, as if we’re all living in one of Skinner’s boxes. Manson, Brevik, probably all of these idiots, they have such an unconscious, un-formed idea of what they’re doing – those two apparently thought the spark of their violence would ignite the whole world in race violence – that it betrays a kind of blindness, a sort of blind faith in the power of violent punishment, that all they thought they had to do was begin and some sort of chain reaction was going to start the race war that cures the world of whatever they don’t like. This seems to be the fantasy of the mass shooters, one violent act of punishment and the world is changed. This is perhaps what may be referred to as Punishment Psychosis, when this fantasy takes over your life.

I repeat: we agree with this idea. Punishing what we don’t like is supposed to change the world for the better.

Yes it is, and we agree! Well – YOU do. I’ve seen through it, I’m working that poisoned insane logic out of my system, but trust me, I spend a lot of time online and in person fighting what I have determined to be a terrible scourge, the practices of punishing. Almost no-one doesn’t think we shouldn’t hurt people to make them do what we want; in positive wording, almost EVERYONE thinks hurting people to make them do what you want is the way to live.

It’s not. It’s really, really not, and we’d all agree if the only example is these mass shooters, but we’re corrupted. We get our own payoffs, we get things to go our own way in this system, so we can’t or won’t admit the connection when we see the obvious logical extreme versions of it in the news. Repeat: obvious. Really, really obvious that murder is nearly always a punishment, yet somehow that fact is irrelevant, and I find myself baffled, echoing the Aboriginal view of the environment.

How are basic truths somehow irrelevant?

How is it that the basic, obvious motive for the mass shooters – punishment – somehow not a part of our attempt to solve the issue? It’s because punishment is ubiquitous, invisible. It’s something we do, actively, it’s not something that happens by itself, yet we can’t factor it in to anything, we can’t imagine it as an option, we can’t imagine taking it out of our equations as a factor.

OK, look. I know you see this as quixotic and stupid, I know the point I’m making looks like this: people get poisoned, and poison one another, and that’s all because we all eat. If we didn’t eat, we couldn’t be poisoned, what’s the point? You gotta eat. If that seems a good objection to you, I respectfully submit that you’ve given the game away, suggest that you have maybe just proved my point, if you can equate punishing with eating: you think punishment is like food, we can’t live without it.

That’s just not true, despite that we all think it.

My wife and I raised our kids without using punishment once, and my girls did not grow up wild and amoral. They are moral and brilliant, and if they do anything wrong, it’s never anything punitive or violent. Because that’s just crazy when it’s supposed to be for a good reason, let alone when it goes pear-shaped.

My model, my hypothesis predicts this: that this phenomenon, angry mass shooters, is not going to change and it’s not going to end, because the prime driver, punishment, has something like Diplomatic Immunity. It isn’t going to improve because of ideas about gun control, because in the Punishment Culture, or the Punishment Cult, the tools of violence are held on the ‘solutions’ side of the ledger. If we could change that, then real change could be possible. But until we do change that, this thing isn’t going away.

Because the basic thing happening there? You LIKE it.

Life is Hard

Life is Hard

I’ll prove it to you. I mean, logically, rhetorically; I don’t aspire to be the agent of any more pain or difficulty for you. If I have been in the past, maybe move on, this one won’t be better for that, probably.

It’s just this, that some of the things that are our options in life are very hard things indeed. Still, options they are and they do get their share of hits, which is the proof I’m offering. If some of these things are possibly as good or better than our circumstances when the choice is required, then our situation is hard all around, and it means that quality of life before these hard choices – life at home for kids and teens, life without prospects for adults, etc. –  wasn’t so different.

On a personal level, I was shocked when I saw some kids in my extended family running away from home and prostituting, and it was a part of the puzzle of my cause when I realized that homelessness and sexual slavery seemed to be a viable option to these kids over staying at home fighting with their parents and staying in school. Sure, teenagers are too stupid to be afraid, but the numbers are there. That isn’t our countries’ smallest industry by any means. List all the reasons you like, street life and prostitution is a real option in the minds of millions of North American teens. If they’re all just that stupid, then sure, teenagers are dumb –

–        But of course it’s not all of them, is it? Of course it happens to smart kids and wealthy kids too. I’m not saying all these teens are making an informed choice. I’m just saying that the hand of the free market has judged that in some percentage of teens, an attitude of ‘anything is better than this’ prevails. Teens are voting with their feet. They may be stupid and wrong, but we raised these idiots.

Oops. Preaching aside, the point is, when that is an option, life must be hard.

Other examples come to mind:

  • Battle, war, nuclear war. It’s a hard life that makes war such a regular option and where nuclear war can be seriously considered and planned for. Plus, like Churchill said, I’ll paraphrase, ‘of course there are worse things than war. Dishonour is worse than war. Slavery is worse than war.’ It’s a real option, which means peace is not, apparently, because if it were it would be no contest. Life is tough when peace is not even an option. On an individual level, soldiering is a hard, dangerous choice, and for many, it’s their last option among others that include homelessness, crime and or incarceration. For some, I imagine it’s the same as the teen choice above, it’s a way out of the nuclear home.
  • Suicide. Again, say what you want about their reasons and choices, the numbers are there. It becomes an option for far too many when their lives become intolerable, and it has a nasty way of working to become their only option. Of course, this was an easy one, every suicide has the aspect of an indictment. But still, when that is among your best options, and again, far too many . . .
  • Cheating. Lying. Stealing. Along with divorce, along with death by addictions, situations no-one wants from their youth. When you can live with a bad reputation, when being mistrusted is as good as it gets, that signifies a depressing choice at some point, the lesser of two particularly smelly evils.

I guess I’ve said it. Really, for me, of course it’s about the runaway teens, about kids, and you probably know I see it as a fractal thing, that if big life, the life of nations sucks so hard that mutually assured destruction is an actual option, then that possibility derives from individual lives sucking so hard that military service is an option. When kids run away, to the streets or the army, they’re voting with their feet, against their parents and caregivers and maybe their judgment comes from their pre-verbal times, as it seems to in teens, but still.

So I’m just trying to give that a voice, just saying, this is what ‘Life is Hard’ means to me. I don’t think it’s a rule, that life is hard, but it certainly is the present state of affairs.


August 21, 2015

Authority is the Problem, Part #2

Authority is the Problem, Part #2


       Here’s Part #1:


although it’s not really related . . .

Really this Sandra Bland thing, feels like the final straw, I’m sure these last few weeks’ body count of people who die in police custody will be for many people, the very last possible straw.

Don’t let it be, folks.

I know it’s horrible, and depressing, but if it’s what it looks like? If it’s as bad as it looks? Because what it looks like is that individual policemen all over America are making examples of black people, driving it home for blacks and everyone else watching exactly who kills who in this society. Just when a sane person might imagine some shame, Hell even chagrin, on the part of America’s police, no, same answer as always, the club, the gun, the authority. They just keep doubling down and they never seem to run out of chips. That’s what it looks like: gang style intimidation. It’s like the American jihadists shooting soldiers for “the self-proclaimed Islamic State,” individual nut case cops acting as representatives for policemen generally, all on their own. Maybe we can’t show affiliation, but their interests are all leaning in the same direction.

If it’s that? If it’s that, and it is, then our fear and obedience may be the first goal of these examples, but don’t let it get you down either, because our sadness, depression and apathy serves their goals too. Be happy when you can, and maybe be angry if you feel the apathy creeping in. Certainly don’t let the apparent hopelessness keep you out of the voting booth. Somebody needs to vote against these Law and Order sister-sleepers. These swine are selling that employment-killing criminal records and prison sentences – which only create poverty and crime – are supposed to somehow be something we all want. Of course they sell that, because that really is good business, selling social improvement while destroying families and communities, creating the need and expanding their market with every poisonous thing out of their mouths.

Looking at you, Stephen Harper.

Authority is the original, world-warping scam.

Seriously. It’s sold to us like the American Dream. ‘Sure you’re not enjoying it now, while you’re bottoming for the authority,’ they say. ‘But you’ll get some too. Some day you can top!’ Nobody likes it when they’re being pushed around by authority, but give somebody some authority of their own – let them reproduce, for example, let them become parents – and now, they’re invested, now they’ve bought in, and they’ll tell you: ‘we need authority. Without it, there would be chaos.’

It’s a scam, and we’re all getting a piece of the action or we’d hate it. The thing is, though, just because everybody’s in on it, that doesn’t make it right. It only makes it a universal wrong.