Pure Human

Adults can teach them so much, but we can learn from them as well.

When I’m given the opportunity, I prefer playing with kids.

Watching Dad fight his way back from another broken back, clawing at life itself trying to delay the onset of the inevitable is both heart-wrenching and inspiring.

When I’m playing with kids, I wonder what they’ll be doing in their last years of life.  Will they have the resources to assist them?  Will they be given the same kind of fortitude necessary to fight their last battle to the bitter end?

I always treat kids with a great deal of respect.  Try to understand them, play with them at their level, with generous doses of extra fun.  I act silly, because they seem to enjoy seeing an adult doing silly things.  Things like puffy cheeks, moving tongues, cross-eyes, making coins disappear, rolling in the dirt.

At least they think I’m an adult.  Most adults consider me a giant kid.

But kids are the purest form of human on this planet.  At their age, they can absorb massive amounts of information many times that of an older person.  Their minds are only just starting to model the world around them, and I enjoy helping them form those models so that they are robust, with a small dose of magic for fun.

The only prejudices they carry are those they’ve already learned from parents and peers.  Gender preferences, aversion to spice or dirt, even playing with their food can be formed before they are the ripe old age of one.  Too bad.  The great wild world is already being closed off for them.

But watching those prejudices, and carefully playing at their edges is also part of the fun.  Teaching kids to be skeptics should be part of everyone’s curriculum.

Of course, playing with gravity is already on the syllabus.  It’s one of the first items for every baby who sits in a high chair.  And it’s one of my favorites as well.  Try it now, go ahead, just drop something for fun.

The kids represent our future, they are the ones who will take over as we fade away.  These pure humans will be slowly trained, constrained, contaminated both mentally and physically, and then finally make their way into the wild where they have to prove their economic and social worth.  That’s a lot of stress to put on someone.  By the time they make it through, they just aren’t the same person as when they started out.

We battle the forces of darkness for their sake, not ours.  Dad doesn’t realize it, but his battle is also their battle, tomorrow.  It’s up to you and me to connect the dots, and learn from my Dad in order to help them.

So, enjoy life, play with the kids, and always,

Remember the children.

They are why we fight to survive today.

Foster Parenting for Fun and Profit

Want to drive a social biologist crazy?  Look them in the eye and ask them to explain “altruism” in 25 words or less.  It’s fun to watch them stammer and melt.  Have a drink handy, they’ll need it.

Altruism means helping others even though it hurts you.  It’s love in its most extended form, because sometimes those you help aren’t related to you.  Heck, you may never even meet them.  They might not even be alive yet!  I call this long-distance altruism.

People who practice long-distance altruism are the kind of people who believe that being good today has great effects on all of society down the road.  An economist could argue that this is ultimately selfish, because if you are part of society this means that you or your offspring will ultimately profit.  Economists are big on selfishness.

I’ve recently met several people who are very active foster parents.  In one case he and his wife had 4 of their own children, have adopted four others (youngest is only 12), and have fostered over 20.  Incredible dedication and investment on their part.  Yet they are not revered by society, heck we hardly even notice them.  And there is a tragically large backlog of children of all ages who need a safe haven from their current conditions.  Foster parents are in short supply.  What are we to do?  From the perspective of a great nation that staunchly believes in profit,

Let’s open up the profit gates!  Let’s calculate the cost to society for abusing and tormenting children today, because tomorrow they may have to be retaught, or worse, simply caught and put away.  Let’s pay these wonderful people a significant fraction of what we think the long term cost is, and let them use the money as they see fit.  Of course there will be oversight, but let’s bring this out in the open!  Let’s have a reality show featuring the best and worst of these foster homes.  Let’s make it a competition of sorts.  Why not?  We’re a competitive society, let’s see if it can’t be entertaining?  After all, if we enjoy watching families swap their wives, what’s wrong with swapping out a few kids?

Not enough praise can be given to today’s foster parents.  They do it for themselves, with only a small amount of help from the government.  But as a society we leave them alone, and as a result many children “fall through the cracks.”

Anyone want to join me in patching up the cracks?

 

Altruism, for fun and profit

July is a great month for birthdays; birthdays of Democracy, that is.

The US of A was effectively born at the beginning of the month, and the next great democratic experiment was born in the middle.  That second country was France, and we here in the US owe the French a bit of a debt for our birthday.  They were sort of a midwife, helping us into the world.

From there our paths quickly split; France got an emperor and had lots of middle age nonsense to deal with.  Even today they are pretty big on letting the central government decide everything (not always a bad idea) while here in the US we try to go to the other extreme.  Keep decision making local, because many times it’s the person closest to the problem that knows what to do, and how best to do it (also not always a bad idea).

Another way the US and France differed back then is what we consider the best motivation.  The US went the way of laissez faire – free enterprise.  The French pretty much stayed back in the middle ages, telling people what to do and letting them grow into their professions through family associations or apprenticeships.  The fact that today’s France fully embraces the idea of profit and risk means that they also think it’s a good idea to run a society.  Let’s make money!  That get’s a whole lot of us motivated.

But there’s a lot of things that go on in our society that don’t really lend themselves to this whole “making money” thing.  Like giving women the vote.  Or trying to prevent child abuse.  Or cutting back on residential drug use.  Or reducing our carbon footprint.  So what’s a good modern society to do?

Let’s get creative!  It is one of the best things in our nation that we are allowed to get creative.  And it’s about time all citizens start exercising that right.  Tomorrow, I’m going to exercise my right and see if we can’t take a behavior that is very hard, very much in demand, and yet imposes a heavy load upon those who perform it.  Foster parenting.

Got any ideas?  Let’s hear them!

 

Unleash your child

Don’t you hate it when you see parents toting their children through a park while tethering them to a leash?  At least I do.

Did you know there’s a good chance that you are doing the same thing?  Yes, the same thing.  Except the leash is inside you, and that child is your inner child.

Yesterday I wrote about how kids can ask the funniest questions about our world.  Why this, and how come that.  You were once that same child.

There’s a good chance that you were also treated like other children, told to wait, told to never mind, and told that it was just the way it was.  There’s another good chance that you hid your inner optimism, curiosity, and enthusiasm from your parts all the way till you went away to college.  There you allowed it to express itself again in new ways.

You probably took courses like English, or Psychology, or even Philosophy, in an attempt to get a better understanding about our world; your world; yourself.

It didn’t work, did it?

Faced with the pressures of family, reality, economy, and survival, you have grown the way almost everyone else has grown – into a common sense individual who no longer asks silly questions.

But that child is still a part of you.  Look inside.  Don’t you still wonder where sneezes come from?  Why we sleep?  Why baby bunnies are so cute?  Why their tails are white and round?  Or why their poop is so tiny, round, and black?

Let your child out.  Ask questions.  It’s the only way we’re going to get out of this mess.

 

 

Listen to the Children

Don’t kids say the darndest things?  Sometimes it makes us laugh so much.

Funny thing about laughing.  It usually wipes our minds clean of what other meaning there may have been underlying their innocent statements.

The questions that children ask about the world usually come about after they have thought deeply about a subject.  The entire universe is new to them, and like all young, they want to understand it to survive and succeed.  So they ask us, their mentoring adults, for advice.

When they ask a question it usually reveals what their underlying thinking is about that subject.  We can tease out how the world works inside their heads.  We can figure out where their logic is going wrong, or if they are getting the wrong impression about an object or subject.

We can also use those questions as an opportunity to lead them, guide them, entice them into a greater world of learning and wonder.  We can use it as an opportunity to help them grow and improve.

Sadly, I overhear many parents doing exactly the opposite to their children.  “Don’t ask me that,” they say.  “Just because,” they say.  Or worse yet, “because I say so” they say.  The child knows they were wrong, but is no wiser.  And the worst part is that whatever curiosity and energy they may have had to delve into the subject more deeply has been thwarted.  The children turn away from their parts and the world around them and instead play with their video games.

Know any children?  Try encouraging them – by listening.  They might surprise you.

 

Silencing your Genes

Suicide, a willful decision a living entity makes to end their own life.  The very word elicits a shudder from every normal person, and for those who have been touched by it, a deep feeling of sadness.  But to study and understand people, society, and life in general, we must move beyond our personal feelings and think about what suicide means.

Suicide means that someone, something, that is alive chooses to not be alive.  What happens when a soldier chooses to participate in a dangerous mission and never returns?  We call such missions suicide missions because that is what they represent.  What happens when an organization is disbanded?  In a sense, while it is together, that organization is alive.  Suddenly it no longer exists, whether through bankruptcy, ineptitude, or some other form of life-altering event.  What happens if someone decides that they never want to have children?  In this sense, their ‘life’ as represented by their genes will cease to exist.  Their unique genetic signature will die, because it is only through offspring that such information is preserved.

In all these cases, a choice has been made in which ‘death’ may not be in the form that we are most familiar.  That soldier’s suicide mission may not result in physical death, but a mental collapse from which there is no recovery.  That business that was purchased by another no longer exists in the same form, even though its products and name may continue.  And that person who is capable of reproduction has decided, willfully, to not have children.  Though their body may live to a ripe old age, their genes will not be passed on.  This is genetic death.

Choosing not to reproduce is a choice.  It deals with the same forces of life and death for the individual as it does for the family.  There are great joys that come with creating a new human being.  And there are great pains as well.  Our Western Civilization has seen a great reduction in reproduction, possibly because the apparent cost of children is rising while the benefits are decreasing.

Balancing great forces of life within ourselves, and making a choice.  As unbiased students of behavior, we should be impartial and non-judgemental.  But we should acknowledge at least one bias;

Life is nice.

 

Time Travel Forward

Ranging through time has allowed us to see that children have it much better than they used to.  They aren’t treated like property, and have a much better chance of living to adulthood than they did a thousand years ago.  Even only a hundred years ago.  Getting away with murder is pretty much a thing of the distant past, as far as children are concerned.

And then there’s physical abuse.  Our society is getting better at finding out those people who are hurting their own children.  If you’re an anti-government fundamentalist who believes your home is your castle and you are the lord, tough.  A child is not property, and the rest of us hope that your child becomes a productive and happy member of society.  You may have created that child, but the rest of us are going to be working with him, meeting him for lunch, and maybe even marrying him.  It’s in our best interest to make sure you don’t deliver damaged goods to the rest of us.

And here’s where it gets interesting.  Because our time machine has shown us that parents can be tricky.  When murdering children got unpopular, parents simply sold their children off as apprentices or slaves.  And now that physical abuse is going out of style, those same parents (though born hundreds of years later) are turning to more subtle, less physical means of abuse.

I know of a young lady who is carrying some extra weight.  She’s young, and she’s had a tough childhood because her parents are idiots.  But the real issue for her is that her father is making his love (and financial support) conditional upon her losing weight.

To her credit, she has a good attitude (at least to me) and is making some effort at losing weight.  But she is also having to bear this handicap bestowed upon her by her father.  For the rest of her life she will think that it’s normal to play these tricks upon children, possibly her own children, in order to make them do what she wants.  Or worse, these psychological abuses will hurt her chances of having her own happy life.

We don’t know, and can’t, yet.  All I know is that this form of parenting is considered acceptable in our day and age.  Perhaps someday the father would be found guilty of abuse and stopped.  I hope so.  Perhaps we can use our time machine to make the world better for my young friend.

Except it only goes forward at one speed.

Normal.

 

Time travel gone right

Time traveling with you last week took us back into the dark ages where children were property, and their deaths went unnoticed.  One tragic reason I failed to mention was the fact that so many young women also died with them in childbirth.  Or that other medical complications, or illnesses they couldn’t understand would claim that same child within its first few years.  There was a good reason why parents couldn’t be too emotionally invested in their kids; there was a good chance they would be gone.

Today it’s different.  We can time travel to periods where we see children granted a bit more respect, but treated horribly.  The dawn of the industrial revolution is a great example.  Charles Dickens did a great job of depicting the hell on earth those children suffered through.  But what sort of emotional scars did those experiences leave?

We can only guess.  Jumping back to our own time, we now understand the importance of a good childhood upon adult behavior.  Abuse in its most gross form isn’t tolerated in our society, but back then it was probably tolerated.  But how many children today are being abused, physically, without recourse? without support? and without hope of rescue?  We don’t know.  We only know such things still occur because some of the victims eventually build up the courage to step forward.

Our time machine tells us that, someday, we will be protecting our children even more so than today.  In that sense we are going in the right direction.  But when will that happen?

Soon, right?

 

Time travel gone wrong

Understanding our behavior is not a task for the weak of heart.  In order to know what makes mankind tick, we have to peel away all the protective layers in order to get at the innermost mechanism.  And when we peer back in time, as we will in a few moments, we have to know that we might not like what we see.  We can’t let that scare us, because we are tough!  And the answers are going to be worth it.

The other reason we have to reach back in time is because that’s going to let us get a better understanding of where we are today, and where we might be tomorrow.  Time is like that, it allows us to see how things develop.  Grand time scales allow us to see our development on the largest scale, so that we can make even better predictions into the future.

Our first stop, ancient cultures about 4,000 years ago, such as: Egyptians, Babylonians, Sumerians, Harappan.  Dust yourself off and take a look around.  These are some of our earliest cultures, a time when gods ruled the land and monsters were real.  There was no understanding of health, and if a child was born unwanted, it would perish or be given away.  If that child was born deformed, it suffered until it died.  If the parents were merciful, they would kill it themselves.  This was not a bad thing, this was how people acted.  Children were plentiful, they were personal property, and they were expendable.

Next stop, only a few hundred years before the present.  Watch your step, and wear your mask.  We are somewhere in Europe, and the air is filled with smoke, because the industrial revolution is in full swing.  Take look inside that factory there.  See all the small hands busy at those machines?  Children.  Working long hours for meager pay.  By today’s standards this is cruel punishment, even for adults.  But here in this factory, they are happy to be earning pennies to take home to their families.  The good news is that if a child dies here, their parents may get a bit extra.  But the even better news is that the owner of the factory does not (technically) “own” the child.  He can’t walk over to a random kid and kill them.  Nor can the parents.  Society has matured to the point where those who murder children are considered criminals.  It’s alright to work them to death, and there is no such thing as abuse, but outright killing is frowned upon.

Step back into our contraption and take your mask off.  Yes, we’re back in our civilized and enlightened society.  I’m sure the air is perfectly safe.  And yes, children are also safe, in the historical sense.  It’s a very serious crime here to kill children, any children.  For one thing, kids are less plentiful than they used to be.  Another is that parents tend to love them more than they used to.  And there’s also that whole thing about educating them as an investment in the future.

You might point out, and rightly so, that there are still some cultures even in the present that don’t treat their children as well.  Some of the more radical and less mature cultures, we have heard, are killing and selling their girls, while also using some as fodder for their wars.  It’s true.  But overall children are at much less risk for getting murdered.

That’s time travel for you.  It allows us to see great trends quickly.

But what other trends are there?

Time will tell.

 

Time Travel

Reading is fun.  It expands our lives, putting us into the mind of the writer, seeing her world, thinking her thoughts.

Reading is time travel.  The technology of writing and translation allows us to inhabit the mind of someone who lived long ago.  The people and events she describes are long gone, the actors dead.  Yet they live as inked thoughts, springing to life as our eyes light upon the page.  My favorites are the works of Homer (any translation is good, but Fagels has done a brilliant job) and many of the translated fragments we have from ancient Egypt.  I’m skipping through Miriam Lichtheim’s “Ancient Egyptian Literature” at the moment.

One of the fun things about time traveling like this is that we realize there are so many behaviors that are similar to what we do today.  Is this so strange?  Are we not the same people?  Men chasing women, thinking of them as property to be mounted.  People in power looking for even greater glory, or being bested by an underling using intrigue and guile.  The excitement and gore of war, and the joy of feasts.

There is also a dark side to time travel; we can see how people are not quite the same.  For instance, women were treated more roughly than today.  Captured people became slaves.  Life was cheap, so that murder was considered acceptable.  And the darkest side of all is the treatment of children, for they were considered something less valuable than even a slave.

We don’t time travel as much as we used to, there is so much other fantasy and fiction to keep us occupied.  Even entertainment having the trappings of history is mostly concerned with sex and gore, sure to get great ratings.  But the true beauty of visiting a long-dead soul are learning to see the world through their eyes.

I’m going to talk time-travel over the next few weeks, but this trip is going to be on the dark side.  Be ready to look at people who committed atrocities thousands of years ago, yet were considered good people.  Through them, we will see that there are people even today that we consider good, who will someday be known to be committing atrocities.

Time travel.  Not for the weak of heart.

See you next week.