Outpost of Humanity

There have been certain thoughts on my mind. I’ve been focused on the issue of who I want to be in terms of what I do with my time and how I relate to others. To phrase it in the negative, I don’t want to waste time and promote frustration for myself or others.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we humans tend to consciously focus on that which matters the least. We are easily drawn in and distracted. Those in power understand this and use it to create political conflicts and charades to manipulate us. Sadly, the distance between Hollywood and the District of Columbia is nearly non-existent within the public mind. Americans worry about the division of church and state or business and state when what they should be worried most about is the division of entertainment and state, the nexus of spectacle and propaganda. I’m looking at you, mainstream media.

A notion I’ve had is that maybe politics, as with economics, is more of a result than a cause (until recent times, few would have ever seriously considered politics and economics as the primary cause of much of anything; even as late as the 19th century, public debate about such things was often thought of as unseemly). We focus on what is easy to see, which is to say the paradigm that defines our society and so dominates our minds. Politics and economics are ways of simplistically framing what in reality is complex. We don’t know how to deal with the complex reality, confusing and discomforting as it is, and so we mostly ignore it. Besides, politics and economics makes for a more entertaining narrative that plays well on mass media.

It’s like the joke about the man looking for car keys under a streetlamp. When asked if he lost his car keys by the streetlamp, he explains he lost them elsewhere but the lighting is better there. Still, people will go on looking under that streetlamp, no matter what anybody else says. There is no point in arguing about it. Just wish them well on their fool’s errand. I guess we all have to keep ourselves preoccupied somehow.

Here is an even more basic point. It appears that rationality and facts have almost nothing to do with much of anything that has any significance, outside of the precise constraints of particular activities such as scientific research or philosophical analysis. I’m specifically thinking of the abovementioned frames of politics and economics. Rationality must operate within a frame, but it can’t precede the act of framing. That is as true for the political left as for the political right, as true for me as for the rest of humanity. Critical thinking is not what centrally motivates people and not what, on those rare occasions, allows for genuine change. Our ability to think well based on valid info is important in society and is a useful as a tool, but it isn’t what drives human behavior.

By the time an issue gets framed as politics or economics, it is already beyond the point of much influence and improvement. Arguing about such things won’t change anything. Even activism by itself won’t change anything. They are results and not causes. Or at best, they are tools and not the hand that wields the tool nor the mind that determines its use. I’m no longer in the mood to bash my head against the brick wall of public debate. It’s not about feeling superior. Rather, it’s about focusing on what matters.

I barely know what motivates myself and I’m not likely to figure out what makes other people tick. It’s not a lack of curiosity on my part, not a lack of effort in trying to understand. This isn’t to say I plan on ending my obsessive focus on human nature and society. But I realize that focusing on politics, economics, etc doesn’t make me happy or anyone else happy either, much less making the world a better place. It seems like the wrong way to look at things, distracting us from the possibilities of genuine insight and understanding, the point of leverage where the world might be moved. These dominant frames can’t give us the inspiration and vision that is necessary for profound change, the only game that interests me in these times when profound change is desperately needed.

There is another avenue of thought I’ve been following. To find what intrigues and interests you is one of the most important things in the world. Without it, even the best life can feel without meaning or purpose. And with it, even the worst can be tolerable. It’s having something of value to focus upon, to look toward with hope and excitement, to give life direction.

I doubt politics or economics plays this role for anyone. What we care about is always beyond that superficial level. The inspiring pamphleteers of the American Revolution weren’t offering mere political change and economic ideas but an entirely new vision of humanity and society. Some of the American founders even admitted that their own official activities bored them. They’d rather have pursued other interests—to have read edifying books, done scientific research, invented something of value, contributed to their communities, spent more time with their families, or whatever. Something like politics (or economics) was a means, not an end. But too often it gets portrayed as an end, a purpose it is ill-suited to serve.

We spend too little time getting clear in our hearts and minds what it is we want. We use words and throw out ideals while rarely wrestling with what they mean. To shift our focus would require a soul-searching far beyond any election campaigning, political activism, career development, financial investment strategy, or whatever. That isn’t to argue for apathy and disinterest, much less cynicism and fatalism. Let me point to some real world examples. You can hear the kind of deeper engagement in the words of someone like Martin Luther King jr or, upon his death, the speech given by Robert F. Kennedy jr. Sometime really listen to speeches like that, feel the resonance of emotion beyond words.

When politics matters the most is when it stops being about politics, when our shared humanity peeks through. In brief moments of stark human reality, as in tank man on Tiananmen Square, our minds are brought up short and a space opens up for something new. Then the emptiness of ideological rhetoric and campaign slogans becomes painfully apparent. And we ache for something more.

Yet I realize that what I present here is not what you’ll see on the mainstream media, not what you’ll hear from any politician or pundit, not what your career guidance counselor or financial adviser is going to offer. I suspect most people would understand what I’m saying, at least on some level, but it’s not what we normally talk about in our society. It touches a raw nerve. In writing these words, I might not be telling most people what they want to hear. I’m offering no comforting rationalizations, no easy narrative, no plausible deniability. Instead, I’m suggesting people think for themselves and to do so as honestly as possible.

I’ve only come to this view myself after a lifetime of struggle. It comes easy for no one, to question and wonder this deeply. But once one has come to such a view, what does one do with it? All I know to do is to give voice to it, as best I can, however limited my audience. I have no desire to try to force anyone to understand. This is my view and my voice. Others will understand it, maybe even embrace it and find common bond in it or they won’t. My only purpose is to open up a quiet space amidst the rattling noise and flashing lights. All who can meet me as equals in this understanding are welcome. As for those who see it differently, they are free to go elsewhere on the free market of opinions.

I know that I’m a freak, according to mainstream society. I know there are those who don’t understand my views and don’t agree. That is fine. I’ll leave them alone, if they leave me alone. But here in my space, I will let my freak flag fly. It might even turn out that there are more freaks than some have assumed, which is to say maybe people like me are more normal than those in power would like to let on. One day the silenced majority might find its collective voice. We all might be surprised when we finally hear what they have to say.

Until then, I’ll go on doing my own thing in my own way, here at this outpost of humanity.

29 thoughts on “Outpost of Humanity

    • Maybe. But behind my passion(s) is a primary motivation. It takes me in many directions and I don’t always know what to do with it. As time goes on, it does become ever more clear and I find myself narrowing down my focus. I’ve had to figure it out, as the society around me hasn’t been much help.

  1. I think I really get this one, B. My big recent “discovery” is one thing that you have covered with the general statements here about what drives human behaviour and the lack of productivity that we bring to the issues as framed. (OK, it was the physical punishment of children. After much thought and many years I have come to the conclusion, that although there is something the practice does, changes it makes to the kids – us – it isn’t what we say it does or what we think it does, it’s just something nearly all humans do, and even when we’ve all forgotten why and are just making up new reasons why with every generation. I fear this line of thought will take me to where a similar sort of function will be found with paedophilia, that it’s something humans – many, many humans – do, meaning it’s a “normal” human trait, as it is with our nearest primate cousins, the chimps and bonobos.) My big thing is one of many for you.

    • An intriguing line of thought. But few will want to follow you down this rabbit hole. In heading in that direction, one is definitely treading on uncomfortable ground. It is not politically correct and socially acceptable thinking.

      Within human nature, there exists much that we’d rather not acknowledge. What are we to do with it? This is dangerous knowledge, opening up questions to which there may not be any good answers, not yet. But if we don’t try to understand, shoving our heads up our own asses our of fear isn’t a more useful response.

      If certain behaviors are deemed morally wrong and harmful, ignoring them won’t change the behaviors nor make what motivates them go away. I figure it is better to know than not. In embracing ignorance, all we get is fatalism and cynicism. Then unconscious frames remain the default, in which our thinking is trapped.

      That is what occurs to me. I’m not sure that is where your own thoughts lead you. My post here wasn’t directly touching on the issues that you normally focus on.

      • basically, the framing of punishment in child-rearing is that you can be more permissive, more authoritarian, or “just right” in the middle, three levels or frequencies of punishments is the public menu. The sense is that “just right” in the middle is normal, and “permissive” is to err in one direction while “authoritarian” is to err in the other, which really skews the view of a thing that really is a linear scale from some control and punishment in the permissive area, more in the middle (“authoritative”), and more yet with the authoritarian types. That spin wouldn’t be so much by itself, I know, but the other part of it is that a state of no control or punishment is even postulated. So first, the mid-grade entry in the scale of parental roughness is shown front and centre with errors in both directions and that would seem to deny that it’s punishments or force that is the measure of the scale. If it were that simple, when more is seen as worse (Authoritarian), then less (Permissive) should appear as better, but no. This “middle best” idea would seem to indicate a counter force and a balance – but no such counter force is posited in the studies or the analyses. That would seem to indicate a conclusion that no-one questions despite serious reasoning flaws.

        And second, no zero-control of the only operative force they were ostensibly trying to measure! Fair enough in practice, no such un-punished children exist – but they posited quarks and the Higgs-Bosun before they proved them, didn’t they? It needs to be accounted for in a theory.

        As you perhaps observed in this, a lot of energy goes into framing these things – far more than into our theoretical frameworks, sometimes. Psychology truly deserves the beating the biologists are giving it. Not that they’re right either, but, Man. There has been no functional science applied to parenting whatsoever.

        • ” . . . but no such counter force is posited in the studies or the analyses.”

          of course that can’t be true of everyone ever – but it’s true of the Home Edition, it’s what has made it into parenting literature and pop psychology.

        • I like your thinking here. I’d have to chew on it a bit. This is an area I’ve never directly thought much about. It’s always been a issue tangentially related to other interests of mine. Even parenting in general has never been a main focus for me, as I’m not a parent. I hadn’t considered the framing of studies in this area. But I think I get what you’re talking about.

          • In this context, I’m referring to ‘framing’ in the broadest possible meaning. The main and most general definition of framing is that it implies the use of language, whether as unintentional bias or intentional rhetoric. Related to that, it can also imply ‘ideological’ worldview, such as social conditions, cultural assumptions, scientific paradigm, or whatever.

            To get more technical, it involves the central role that metaphor plays in human communication, cognition, and perception—and hence the influence on behavior, how people act and what they choose. Two major popularizers of metaphorical framing are George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Going into much more depth is Julian Jaynes and the Jaynesian theorists, such as Brian McVeigh who also references Lakoff and Johnson.

            Just for a sense of completeness, I could throw in the leftist views of Louis Althusser, specifically his theory of ideology as it relates to society. He writes that ideology is “a system of the ideas and representations (images, myths, ideas or concepts, according to the case) which dominate the mind of a man or a social group”. It basically means a worldview that offers an imagined relationship to the world.

            To put it simply, framing is what shapes, limits, or even determines various aspects of one’s mindset and thought. Obviously, this involves the larger culture and society we are part of. And it has clear implications for science, both in terms of formulating hypotheses and designing research to test them. This would be a direct factor in Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts and scientific revolutions.

            I hope that is helpful.

          • My last comment probably is just complicating things. That was my more intellectual answer. Just some background info. But it wasn’t what was on my mind in my original response to you, where I wrote: “Then unconscious frames remain the default, in which our thinking is trapped.”

            In that sentence, I was using the notion of ‘frames’ in a very very very general way. My meaning was as basic as it comes. I’m sure you got the gist of it.

            Framing itself is a metaphor. As with a picture or a door, it’s about what gives form and boundary to our thinking. So, unconscious frames are simply the biases and assumptions that aren’t noticed. And until they are noticed, they can’t be questioned or changed—thus our thinking as ‘trapped’ (yet another metaphor).

          • This was bothering me. I feel like I still didn’t give you a good answer. You said you were looking for examples. And I gave you no examples. My original comment was quite general with no specifics in mind. But an example occurs to me, specifically an example about parenting.

            I mentioned George Lakoff. He wrote a book, Moral Politics, which is about parenting as a metaphorical frame for society and politics. How we think about family is, according to him, inseparable from our views of so much else. Parenting as metaphor is an example of framing. It’s specifically a moral frame. There are underlying values and attitudes built into each moral frame. It’s not something most normally think about rationally, even on the rare occasion when it is thought about at all.

            There is another way to look at Lakoff’s view. His own thought falls into a particular framing. It might relate to your “three levels or frequencies of punishments”. He does discuss spanking. But what a reviewer observed is how limiting the frame is in some ways. Lakoff talks about two basic models nuclear family structure. What he doesn’t do is mention how historically unusual is the nuclear family and mention the various other models that have existed and continue to exist, even in the US. It seems that something maybe important is being left out. An entirely different model, for example, is the continuum concept. I don’t see how it fits into Lakoff’s theory. I’m not sure.

            The point is that is a particular framing. It is relevant because whatever biases Lakoff might have they are biases most Americans share and maybe most Westerners as well. Other biases might go even deeper, shared by most modern people, Western and otherwise. Metaphors are in all of our language and thought, as they are built into how our minds function. We can’t escape them. Even in trying to analyze metaphors we inevitably fall back on metaphor.

            This kind of thing has been on my mind lately. I often feel we get stuck in less-than-useful ways of framing, the campaign season demonstrating this clearly. There is something truly powerful about framing for the reason that it tends to obscure our ability to think about framing itself. It mostly operates outside of consciousness and is extremely difficult to grab hold of. I sense this relates to my continuing thoughts about such things as symbolic conflation and dissociation. Whatever it is, there is something strange and often frustrating going on with human nature.

            It’s part of why I like studying other societies, ancient and/or non-Western, for it shakes one’s thinking loose from normal frames. We should never underestimate the power any of this has over us. And we shouldn’t think that we’re personally immune.

            Was that a more helpful answer? Without going into complexities, it might be the best I can do. I’m sure you already know the directions my thought goes in.


          • In your “just looking for examples,” was there a particular kind of example you were looking for?

            I came across an interesting example, sort of related to your thinking. It’s about how metaphorical framing of a social issue like crime powerfully influences what people support as a public policy response to it. If the social issue under study was instead about child behavior and parenting style, the results would probably be similar. The next step would be to study how this does or does not alter actual behavior.


            “First, Thibodeau and Boroditsky asked 1,482 students to read one of two reports about crime in the City of Addison. Later, they had to suggest solutions for the problem. In the first report, crime was described as a “wild beast preying on the city” and “lurking in neighbourhoods”. After reading these words, 75% of the students put forward solutions that involved enforcement or punishment, such as calling in the National Guard or building more jails. Only 25% suggested social reforms such as fixing the economy, improving education or providing better health care

            “The second report was exactly the same, except it described crime as a “virus infecting the city” and “plaguing” neighbourhoods. After reading this version, only 56% opted for more enforcement, while 44% suggested social reforms. The metaphors affected how the students saw the problem, and how they proposed to fix it.”

            And this impact was largely unconscious.

            “And very few of them realised what was going on. The two reports both contained the same “shocking” statistics about Addison’s crime rates. When Thibodeau and Boroditsky asked the students to say which bits of text had most influenced their decisions, the vast majority circled the numbers. Only 3% noted the metaphors.”

            The immediate framing of the issue was apparently more powerful than even the ideological framing individuals brought to the issue.

            “So metaphors can influence opinions and choices, but how strong are their effects really? At the end of their experiments, Thibodeau and Boroditsky asked the students to state their gender and political affiliation. As you might expect, men and Republicans were more likely to emphasise enforcement, while women and Democrats leant towards social reforms. But these factors only created differences of around 8 to 9 percentage points. The metaphors, on the other hand, created shifts of between 18 to 22 percentage points!”

          • That last example was a very practical demonstration of metaphorical framing. It can change people’s thinking to such an extent that it changes what conclusions they make and what positions they support. But the kind of framing that interests me the most is that which dominates the thinking of an entire society, the cultural and scientific paradigms, and so isn’t as easily changed. My ponderings recently have pushed to that deeper level.

            Julian Jaynes and related thinkers have for that reason gotten most of my attention. It’s hard to come up with a simple example, though. It’s not any one thing. According to Jaynes, our very consciousness that is used to think about metaphors is itself built on metaphors. We need to understand consciousness in the process of understanding how we think and how we get trapped in metaphorical frames. So, how we frame the issues of the mind will shape our own mind and determine our views of the mind in general. That’s a real humdinger!

            It isn’t mere philosophy of mind. There are real world consequences. I’m often reminded of why the Enlightenment Age was so influential and led to so many revolutions. It was first and foremost a revolution of the mind. The greatest new idea was simply that everyone had a mind. Prior to that, many assumed peasants and slaves were essentially mindless, more like animals than humans. To claim everyone had a mind that was basically the same as anyone else meant to destabilize the entire social order. In Jaynesian terms, it was the full emergence of the metaphor of interior space as a supposedly universal human trait and hence as a radically equalizing force.

            The kind of mind we collectively envision leads to a particular social order and particular cultural biases. We should be careful what we think — easier said than done.

            In case you’re curious, here are a few links about such things and some quotes from Jaynes:


            “If understanding a thing is arriving at a familiarizing metaphor for it, then we can see that there always will be a difficulty in understanding consciousness. For it should be immediately apparent that there is not and cannot be anything in our immediate experience that is like immediate experience itself.”

            “We have said that consciousness is an operation rather than a thing, a repository, or a function. It operates by way of analogy, by way of constructing an analog space with an analog ‘I’ that can observe that space, and move metaphorically in it. It operates on any reactivity, excerpts relevant aspects, narratizes and conciliates them together in a metaphorical space where such meanings can be manipulated like things in space.”

            “It is by metaphor that language grows. The common reply to the question ‘What is it?’ is, when the reply is difficult or the experience unique, ‘Well, it is like —.’”

            “The most fascinating property of language is its capacity to make metaphors. But what an understatement! For metaphor is not a mere extra trick of language, as it is so often slighted in the old schoolbooks on composition; it is the very constitutive ground of language. I am using metaphor here in its most general sense: the use of a term for one thing to describe another because of some kind of similarity between them or between their relations to other things. There are thus always two terms in a metaphor, the thing to be described, which I shall call the metaphrand, and the thing or relation used to elucidate it, which I shall call the metaphier. A metaphor is always a known metaphier operating on a less known metaphrand. I have coined these hybrid terms simply to echo multiplication where a multiplier operates on a multiplicand.”

            “It is not always obvious that metaphor has played this all-important function. But this is because the concrete metaphiers become hidden in phonemic change, leaving the words to exist on their own. Even such an unmetaphorical-sounding word as the verb ‘to be’ was generated from a metaphor. It comes from the Sanskrit bhu, “to grow, or make grow,” while the English forms ‘am’ and ‘is’ have evolved from the same root as the Sanskrit asmi, “to breathe.” It is something of a lovely surprise that the irregular conjugation of our most nondescript verb is thus a record of a time when man had no independent word for ‘existence’ and could only say that something ‘grows’ or that it “breathes.” Of course we are not conscious that the concept of being is thus generated from a metaphor about growing and breathing. Abstract words are ancient coins whose concrete images in the busy give-and-take of talk have worn away with use.”

      • I think quite often, positive touch, love and support is posited as the opposing force, but it’s not clear that in reality, the roughest parents aren’t also the most demanding of love and kisses or that the permissive parents aren’t just lazy and give out hugs and kisses in the same reduced frequency as they do spankings. It’s complex, of course.

    • Did you notice this new book? I haven’t read, but it could be interesting.

      The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children
      by Alison Gopnik

      “Caring deeply about our children is part of what makes us human. Yet the thing we call “parenting” is a surprisingly new invention. In the past thirty years, the concept of parenting and the multibillion dollar industry surrounding it have transformed child care into obsessive, controlling, and goal-oriented labor intended to create a particular kind of child and therefore a particular kind of adult. In The Gardener and the Carpenter, the pioneering developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik argues that the familiar twenty-first-century picture of parents and children is profoundly wrong–it’s not just based on bad science, it’s bad for kids and parents, too.

      “Drawing on the study of human evolution and her own cutting-edge scientific research into how children learn, Gopnik shows that although caring for children is profoundly important, it is not a matter of shaping them to turn out a particular way. Children are designed to be messy and unpredictable, playful and imaginative, and to be very different both from their parents and from each other. The variability and flexibility of childhood lets them innovate, create, and survive in an unpredictable world. “Parenting” won’t make children learn—but caring parents let children learn by creating a secure, loving environment.”

      • oh, yeah. I’ve absorbed all of that and I’m carrying on with the debate. That really was the point of Rich-Harris’s book, the Nurture Assumption, and it’s true as far as it goes, but all of that talk misses the point. The point is abuse, what parents do that is important, is abuse – or not, of course. Also, protect their kids from others’ abuse – or not, of course. All these biologists are saying this ‘parenting doesn’t matter’ line, and again, true in the context they deliver it in, framed as they have framed it – but they have exempted abuse from the conversation. The basic logic fail is this, I think: bad parenting is parenting too, but somehow, they’re only looking at benign, teaching sort of stimuli and saying it doesn’t have an effect. They’ve set up a conversation where “abuse” and “parenting” are opposites – whereas in reality, they travel together. Thanks for bringing it up, this is the perfect example of the framing problem you described, as it applies to my train of thought.

        • I’m not sure where Gopnik is in this debate. I haven’t read anything by her, as far as I know.

          I can’t say whether or not she is arguing that parenting doesn’t matter. It’s maybe more of an argument of what kind of parenting matters, such that the aggressively overbearing and self-consciously demanding parenting isn’t particularly normal and healthy. But that is just interjecting my own thoughts. Another popular book was the Continuum Concept that generally fits in here and it definitely wasn’t an argument against parenting, even though the author described a society where overt intentional parenting was seemingly non-existent.

          I’m not even sure Rich-Harris ever stated that parenting doesn’t matter at all, just that it matters less than some would prefer or rather that other things matter even more. My takeaway from it is that parenting primarily matters to the extent that the social environment the parent chooses (or doesn’t choose) reinforces or undermines their parenting. The social environment is probably more powerful than parenting—the influence of hundreds of peers and authority figures versus the influence of two parents.

          That isn’t to say that parents don’t sometimes have the freedom to remove their children from certain social environments and put them in other social environments. The parent can’t always directly stop someone from being abusive to their kid, even as they often can take their kid out of the situation where that abusive person lives, works, teaches, or whatever (assuming they have the wealth, opportunities, etc to do so). Research does show, for example, that poor kids adopted into wealthier families do better than their siblings who remained in poverty—both a change in parents and in social environment.

          It’s how multiple issues overlap. No factor exists in isolation. Part of the problem here, as you say, would be framing. What factors are emphasized and how they are defined can alter the results, analysis, and conclusions. Even if direct parental influence is severely limited by larger societal factors, that doesn’t mean parents are entirely helpless and the child a mere victim of fate. By focusing on what does matter, parents can magnify the real influence they do have, even if that primarily means focusing on the decision of where to live, what school to send a kid to, and such.

          It’s like Amish parents choosing to keep their kids in Amish communities, raising them in Amish churches, and sending them to Amish schools. Are the Amish parents really having that much direct influence or is their influence only indirect through the Amish social environment they chose? Does it matter? I suppose it does, as compared to an Amish family that found themselves for some strange reason living in a suburb and their kids being bused far away to a public school, in which case they’d quickly find that their parenting was of a lot less influence in competition with all the other influences. The thing is few Amish parents would choose such a social environment, and that is the key element.

          To study the actual influence of environment, it would require studying kids whose parents had no choice of where they lived or sent their kids to school. This would include parents too poor to move or to choose which school their kid went to, as most private schools would be unaffordable. But then poverty becomes another factor with correlated factors that need to be controlled for, a not easy task.

          Controlled studies in human society are nearly non-existent, except maybe in an authoritarian society that could force controls onto populations. If we could have such an authoritarian scientific experiment forcing Amish families to live in various non-Amish social environments that were carefully controlled, how much influence would their parenting style have and how many generations would that influence last? These are the kinds of experiments we can’t do on humans.

          It’s interesting to think about. But it’s hard to find good data.

          • oh sure, of course I don’t know her either, the upside of what you’ve got here from her sounds cool. What I was complaining about is a sense I get across multiple sources of that, that first we exempt abuse from parenting and then say parents can’t affect kids.


            we’re about equally up to speed on the subject I think, it’s just that I find the new stuff not so new, not so different.

            But the whole conversation, do parents shape kids or not is going to look very silly very soon, a nonsensical question. We keep having ideas:

            maybe in the old world, you were just what God made you, “Nature” reading

            post enlightenment social science says the world made you, “Nurture” reading

            Christian parents hear that and say God made you bad so parents made you good

            Genetics says your genes made you

            Modern biology says genetics made half of you and environment the other half

            (Christian parents hear that and say God made you bad so parents made you good)

            Rich-Harris comes along and says No, parents, the children’r group culture made the environmental half of you

            (as though the culture making the creature wasn’t the first thing debunked by brain science)

            I’m starting to think the question isn’t sane (in the logical sense) . . .

            we don’t mind challenges, do we? Well, you. I don’t mind this singular one.

        • I wanted to pull out one thing you said:

          “The basic logic fail is this, I think: bad parenting is parenting too, but somehow, they’re only looking at benign, teaching sort of stimuli and saying it doesn’t have an effect. They’ve set up a conversation where “abuse” and “parenting” are opposites – whereas in reality, they travel together.”

          I entirely agree with that. The same thing could be said about “environment” and “parenting”. In reality, nothing is ever separated into tidy categories. Both parents and children exist in environments. Even abuse isn’t limited to parents. Entire environments can be abusive. The parents themselves might experience abuse while at work, from police, etc. How do those larger factors of abuse get controlled for? They probably don’t.

          • that really is the framing problem, right? Man, this Pinker book basically states that we re-frame stuff all the time, are pouring WATER into the glass or are we filling the GLASS with water, which thing are we talking about, water or glass, in the same simple action. I suppose it gets tricky with complexity.

        • In its simplest form, it’s the type of thing that makes for great headlines and book titles. But I’m not sure how many serious researchers, theoreticians, and other experts would actually argue for the extreme form. Most arguments, like most of reality, doesn’t exist at the extremes.

          That is the problem when issues are politicized and opposing positions are then caricatured in their most extreme form. It makes for entertaining debate and spectacle. But it’s not particularly helpful in furthering common understanding of complex issues.

          • true – but this is exactly the level at which this info sort of thrives. It’s the simplified, watered down or sensationalized Home Edition version of science that touches parenting that I’m fighting, exactly the abuse of the data by lesser minds that is what parents are such easy prey for. A thread I got involved in on a sneaky sort of rightwing site tweeted regularly by Pinker (don’t love the dude politically) had a bunch of these follower types in a big mutual admiration society sort of a conversation and while I was arguing with them, some person with the same, albeit common name as Rich-Harris’ head prof came on to support me and call the biologists or biology students on the thread morons. But that thread was titled Parenting Doesn’t Matter – clickbait, as you say. But that is a Trump-like rallying cry for folks.

          • I know. Popular parenting books don’t exist as part of sophisticated debates in academia and scientific conferences. Parenting ends up being one of those battlefields in the culture wars. But these days it’s hard to know exactly what the battle is about and who is fighting it for what agenda.

            It reminds me of something Corey Robin discusses. Conservatives of the reactionary persuasion are interested in power and hierarchy. But their main concern is the private sphere where power and hierarchy are enforced most directly and experienced most personally.

            Political debate about parenting isn’t really about parenting. This goes right into my own previous theorizing about symbolic conflation. I’ve made the point many times that political debate about abortion isn’t really about abortion.

            These end up being symbolic issues, ways of talking about other things in obscure ways. The actual issues that are of greatest concern are hidden. The ability to influence and persuade comes from how this operates on the unconscious mind. The framing intentionally muddies the water and misdirects attention, a sleight-of-mind trick.

            The purpose is to make actual debate impossible, to send potential critics running around in circles chasing red herrings.

          • About the right-wing site, that sounds common. I’m not sure it matters much the particular idea or viewpoint is being spouted.

            Another thing I got from reading Corey Robin is that reactionaries can use almost anything toward their agenda and will regularly borrow from their enemies’ playbook. The consistency in their arguments isn’t so much in the substance as in the style and the purpose to which it’s being used, the often veiled motivation that even the typical reactionary might not be self-aware enough to discern in themselves.

            For a time, I hung out in the human biodiversity (HBD) blogosphere. They tend to be race realists, although the theory’s originator had the precise opposite intention, to disprove race realism. I don’t know how the reactionaries somehow ended up taking over the theory, but it is one of those belief systems that has become solely identified with reactionaries at this point. Along with race realism, they flirt with genetic determinism, even as they typically deny it.

            Some HBDers are smarter than others. The most well known and respected of them is hbdchick. I actually like her. She is clearly intelligent and it’s a shame that she wastes here intellectual abilities on sub-par thinking. A less impressive HBDer is JayMan. He is a mixed race guy who obviously thinks he can separate himself from what he perceives as inferior blacks, his hope being that his partial European genetics will save him or something.

            JayMan is a father, but he also is a philosophical pessimist (i.e., he doesn’t believe in free will). So, he wants to believe he has no influence on his own child. I guess he doesn’t want to take any blame, in case his child turns out just like him. He has referenced Judith Rich Harris in support of his own views. This is odd as Harris argues for environmental influences as against genetic determinism, pretty much the opposite view of HBD, but JayMan sees it as useful to invoke her argument against parenting.

            It’s a strange maneuver. He is using an argument that undermines his own position in order to use it as a defense against critics or whatever. There is no consistency in this, except to the degree it is a defense of other issues. Consistency is irrelevant. The purpose isn’t to present airtight logic and indisputable facts. Rather, the purpose is persuasion, by any means necessary. It is the promotion of a worldview and the agenda is political, although the politics are kept in the background where they are safe from being challenged.

            None of it is meant to be thought about too carefully and deeply.

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