Saturday, March 8, 2014

Monday Morning QBing Parents and Other Things

The post I am about to link to is wrong on so many levels.

Brace yourself.

 Let's start at the top.

There are some things you tell your kids and some things you ask. Telling makes it affirmative. Asking makes it optional.  Coddling comes from the latter–and parents who coddle their kids incessantly are entirely insufferable.
So, we're starting off with how asking your children is actually coddling. Real parents - parents who want their children to succeed and be good adults - order their children around rather than asking them. That's a way to get an independent thinker!

My mind: Okay are you stupid? The proper thing to say is, “Hey Buddy, give it back.” You don’t ask if hecan. Of course he can. But chances aren’t he won’t. Clearly your kid is not responding to your passive parenting. Duh.
Parent mode: I have never, ever given an "order"  that my child ignored.

Oh wait, no. That happens. All the time. This man ordering his child to give the truck back wouldn't have magically made him do the right thing; it would just be a way for his child to be defiant rather than simply take one of two options given. And we all know: teaching children that defiance is the norm is totally cool.

At this point, we are approaching 45 seconds, maybe a minute. I’m done. 
Oh no! A whole minute of time! What will your child, or you, do with this amount of time stolen from you by this insolent, coddled child?

As a stay at home parent, I know that minutes count. Every minute of my day is codified into -

- wait, no. That's stupid. Spending a few minutes learning that other human beings sometimes will not do the thing we want, right this second, is actually valuable time. Learning effective ways to deal with that is something humans do.

I kneel down and physically take the car from precious little Sean’s hands, while saying, “We are going to give that back now.” I hand it to Emmett and we resume playing. I’m furious though.
I'm glad we're teaching our children that when we have a problem, momma will swoop in and solve it for them. That's building a generation of responsible, confident, assertive adults that way.

Do you see how ridiculous this scenario is? We have become a culture of coddlers. So many parents take the path of least resistance when it comes to child rearing. Your kids are acting up? Hand them your phone. Your kid doesn’t want to share their pile of French fries (on a playdate)? Have the other parent order a new batch, even though that kid will never finish his. It’s ludicrous.
...and instead we want to teach our children, by our example, that being impatient and letting mom or dad remove every problem is the way to go.

I will post the next scenario in its entiredy:

Two days later, at a different playground, Fia and Emmett climbed up to a double slide. The kind where you can sit side-by-side. One slide was empty; the other had a little girl around 18 months on it. Fia sat down on the empty one next to her.
“Come on Emmett, slide next to me,” she said.
“He will Fia, we just have to let this little girl go down first,” I explained.
I look at the father who looks at his daughter.
“What do you think sweetie? Do you want to go down?” he asks.
Silence. More silence.
Emmett is on the top, once again, waiting patiently.
“Hmmm honey? What do you think?” he asks. Again.
My mind: Are you f–king kidding me?Silence again. More silence. And more.
Fia: “Mom, when can Emmett come with me?”
Me: “When this little girl goes down. What do you think?” I say, turning to the little girl.
Blank stare from girl while I fantasize about shoving her father off of the nearby jungle gyms.
I turn to the father: “Is she going to go down the slide?”
Father: “I’m not sure. I think she just wants to sit here.”
Me=dumbfounded. Speechless. Um, okay, so you are going to let her monopolize the slide? Are you an ape? What are you trying to teach your kid? And what about my kid who actually wants to use the slide your daughter is meditating on.
I want this to hang in the air here. A child was sitting on a slide for a couple minutes, ruining her childrens' (adorable) plans for a whole...2 minutes?

Look, lady. I'm a parent too. I know that two minutes get shat down the drain - literally, in many cases - all day long. The time isn't a big deal. The kid can sit there and warm up to idea of going down the slide on her own, and your children will not die because they can't both go down the slide together right now.

This woman is livid because a little girl didn't want to go down a slide, and her father didn't physically remove her from the slide. I guess choke-slamming her down the slide would have been acceptable too.

I can’t believe I didn’t say something directly to him. I should have. Instead I told Fia to go on down her slide and that we will find another place where she and Emmett can do something together. I said it loudly but that’s not good enough. I should have told him his behavior and “parenting”  was inexcusable.
I think maybe you not saying something was a nascent instinct to not completely embarrass yourself in front of another grown-ass adult. Proving that class and politeness was not firmly ingrained in you, though, you modeled passive-aggressive rudeness to your children. Great job, lady; when someone pisses you off, the proper answer is to make an oblique, sarcastic comment at them. You're raising great kids. I want you to raise my kid!

No, I don't.

Parenting is not easy. So if you sign up, then do the f–king work it entails to not produce overly whiny, cowardly, and/or bratty kids who aren’t taught the basic etiquette of society. the irony lost on anyone here? Let's go over it.

- Overly whiny: This entire blog post is one gigantic whine to the entire internet.
- Cowardly: Like when you went to that parent you thought was being rude to you and spoke up about it, right? Oh wait no, you went home and typed up a nasty blog post about them instead. That's super brave.
- Bratty: Does it strike anyone else as bratty to want all the toys and all the playground equipment to be available to them right now because I want it?

Bottom line: It’s not Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s: You Tell, Don’t Ask. Got it?
Lady, when did this blog post start being about military strategy about how to handle homosexuals in the army? Are you trying to be clever? Because you're failing.

And no, I don't got it. I don't take advice from stupid, cowardly brats.

Also, I laughed and laughed and laughed at this:

The helicopter needs to crash and we need to press the restart button on proper parenting.

OK, all done. She's an a-hole, right?

No. She's not.

In reality, "fearless feisty momma" is just another mom. She was probably woken up at oh-dark-thirty for some reason or another, took care of her kids, went back to bed and got woken up at 0530 to start the day. Had to do all sorts of things and was in a shitty mood when the above incidents happened.

I've been in this mood before. Sometimes I am having my coffee and I am at the park and I want to shank the first person to get in my way. I'm sure FFM is just another parent having a rough day (or rough week, or rough month - yes we've all had them) and needed to blow off some steam.

One thing I think is absolutely, absolutely horrible though is to be critical and nitpicky of another parent. It's rude. As a professional courtesy, and as someone who has had my share of hard days, I try to extend understanding and gentleness. FFM is not a bad momma. I'm fairly certain, in fact, that she's a loving and caring person and is doing her best to raise responsible adults. I think she misspoke here though, and was incredibly rude to some strangers because their parenting style is a little different from her's.

That's not okay, and she should stop.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Christian Campus

We all know what Churches are, but how many know the concept of the campus?

Here's my completely unofficial definition. A campus is congregation's attempt to become a one-stop center for their community, tending to every aspect of the body and mind. They include schools, childcare, adult classrooms to increase individual knowledge in both dogma and offer a variety of services (such as marriage counseling, singles groups, parenting classes, etc.,) gathering places and (often) a gym or other related area. This, of course, in addition to the actual church, which is often quite large in order to support these other activities.

This is an expression of something I feel is an important integration. Philosophy isn't some isolated, academic subject; its purpose is to help men live on earth and its implementation is felt in everything we do. In attempting to spread that philosophy one must seek to care for both mind and body; soul and muscle.

So I visited one of the better local campuses. It has a variety of services for the faithful (and simply those visiting.) One of the things I liked about it from an evangelistic standpoint is its openness - in my wanderings I was allowed to move about freely, with friendly staff occasionally asking if they could help me but not making me feel unwelcome or interrogated.

I actually went there because its rainy and cold today, and the church has an indoor playground open to the public whenever the school isn't using it. When the school needed it I collected my daughter and we went exploring. Over the next little while I'll go into a bunch of different topics but I thought the whole idea of a campus catering to the body and mind is a valid one I wish we saw in a lot more areas other than religion.

The campus itself is beautiful and no expense was spared in building it. There are varying thoughts on this, which I'll get into at another time. A beautiful fountain is seen here at the main entrance.

Which leads into the interior of the campus, laid out as a great hall with the various services offered. A helpful map is posted at several points within the hall, including the entrance. Its also available as a handout, pictured here:

The entire green area is a dedicated children's area. Not all of it is open to the public (some of it is youth ministry or schooling where understandably letting random visitors walk around is not allowed) but the aforementioned playground is whenever not in use by the schools is open to the public.

So in this series I'm going to talk about anything that comes to mind about this particular thing. First I am going to take a segue into how people actually change their belief systems in practice, why that is and how I think modern churches cater to these facts expertly in trying to get people to change their belief systems drastically - often more drastically than the irreligious believe. But I wanted to start with an overview of what I mean when I say that these people try to cater to the body and mind.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Libtards, Teabaggers and other stuff

So, I'm sure you've heard it before. Libtard, teabagger - those and other hateful words get flung around with alarming regularity in what passes for political discourse today. I find it really fascinating, as I have friends on both sides of the aisle, at various points in the aisle. None of them are stupid or irrational.

So, I've talked about narratives before. I'm going to talk about them a lot in this blog, because its a useful tool into understanding how this sort of thing happens and perpetuates. We have a tendency to only listen and befriend people who agree with us, and it creates an echo-chamber of reinforcement for our opinions. It also allows for another neat little trick that we play on ourselves that's given rise to terms like teabaggers and libtards.

So, the stories that attract our attention are often the most egregious examples of wrongheaded thinking on "the other side." Conversely, when "our side" (whichever side we've taken, with whatever reservations we have on taking that side) does something wrong, we tend to groan, roll our eyes and perhaps have a discussion about how dumb this or that was. We have interesting, lively discussions about improvement. We do not (or at least most do not) attack with the same passion as we do people on the opposing team.

So, combine the two above facts and we have an interesting phenomenon. Our side looks to be a flawed but improvable and perfectible band of people fighting for fundamentally good values - for people broadly liberal, those values tend to be a more open society, equality and opportunity. For people broadly on the right, the values can be economic freedom, individual liberty and...wait a minute, those sound a lot alike don't they?

(I'm leaving out socialcons and democrat sycophants in this equation because they're obnoxious, ruin everything and everyone hates them. Hannity and Shultz basically make everything awful. Sorry guys.)

There's an interesting point. The values both sides say they are pursuing have a lot in common. We can argue outcomes all day - and we ought - but it should be of interest that the general values people claim to be advancing tend to be similar if not identical.

Anyway, while your side looks like a flawed one struggling towards the proper ideals, the other side, because you have no friends who believe in it and you are provided with (frequent, and blatant, no matter which side you're on) examples of just how awful some people on the other side are, and you don't see people on the other side getting too loud about how awful the people on their own side are, you assume that they're a monolithic, evil entity.

So, here we go. Monolithic evil vs nuanced, flawed and improvable leads to another interesting factoid: reasonable people on both sides stop talking to each other and start talking to each other. Which is to say, they treat each individual like the monolithic evil entity they've made up in their heads. Every right-leaning person becomes that irritating idiot who claims that women's vaginas exude some anti-rape phermone that prevents them from getting pregnant. Every left-leaning person becomes that guy who claims no government program can do any wrong or that thinks anyone who works in a private business is immediately an evil villain.

So that's all easy, so its easy to understand why it's done, and the mechanics of how it's done. The problem is that it's just not factually accurate.

Let me take a break and assure you: tea party folk, there are liberals out there interested in reforming broken things, discarding things that just plain don't work and think for themselves rather than just go lockstep with whatever democrat party pundits tell them to. And liberals: there are tea party folk who don't want to inspect your vagina and don't think that teh homoz are the gravest threat to this country.

It won't bring everyone together on everything, but the actual amount of movement in the right direction that can be done virtually off the bat would probably surprise people.

The thing I find interesting, though, is how both political parties benefit immensely from this state of affairs. I think there's a large swath of people on both sides who are not particularly attached to huge government programs on the left, and on the right who aren't particularly attached to having federal vagina inspectors and killing all illegal immigrants and placing their heads at the border to serve as a warning on the right. They never talk to each other though because they are talking to the devils they have invented in their heads, and fit anyone they run into, into these narratives.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Purpose of Churches

Churches serve an interesting purpose.

Saddleback Church is a fundamentalist baptist church situated in beautiful southern California. It serves its community - about 20,000 weekly visitors - in a variety of ways. Practical moral advice, childcare, various community activities.

I grew up in a religious household, and before I found Objectivism I was actually going to be a preacher. I'm always surprised at the number of Objectivists who don't understand that very few churches (and none of the ones with prospects for growth) pound the bible every week and concentrate on theology. Preachers make their bread giving people practical advice informed by Christian ethics. Sometimes the advice is quite good - especially given that culturally many people lack a decent moral compass to begin with, leaving them somewhat adrift.

That's actually a vital function in a community, one that I think is very much needed regardless of the religion (or lack thereof) involved.

Anyway, back to Saddleback. Did you know that most people who go to Saddleback didn't start off as fundamentalist baptists? In fact Saddleback gears itself specifically to the "unchurched" and has a truly astounding conversion rate. So it begs the question: how does Saddleback (and other churches like it) get people to go from middle-of-the-road folks, with some good philosophy, some bad, into fairly fundamentalist Christians?

The answer, from my studies of churches, is actually kind of surprising. Pastors books will tell you that people are most open to a conversion of their belief systems during times of turmoil or transition. Moving out of your parents' home, going bankrupt, divorce, imprisonment - these are times when people have cause to reflect and ask themselves if they really have things right. Sometimes the answer is an affirmative, but other times the person begins to seek out the truth on their own. That is when Churches get new converts, typically.

The process of conversion is rarely intellectual, as well. People in general are much more comfortable evaluating a belief system by its results - in the case relevant to them, the community they are being urged to join and the practicable advice given during sermons. If both of these appear to be healthy and improve their happiness, then they adopt the belief systems that go along with this.

Here's a hypothetical example: James just got divorced from his wife. He's lonely and unhappy. He sees a brochure advertising a local church using the language of a welcoming, warm family. He goes there and  sees many smiling faces, is warmly welcomed by the congregation and made to feel at home. The pastor has a great sermon about picking up the pieces of your life after a great tragedy that really sticks with him; it gives him hope for his future and even has some practicable tips for starting that moving on that he is so desperate to do. He comes back week after week and, after a few months, formally converts and is baptized into the church.

Notice that there are no discussions of theology, no demands for proof of the existence of God and really no critical discussion of the dogma of the church itself; the dogma is absorbed slowly through integration within the community rather than accepted as a whole through argument. People in general are willing to accept belief systems that they believe are bringing them happiness with a fairly uncritical eye. This is how a fundamentalist is actually made and is closer to how many people change their belief systems in general. Over the next few weeks I'll be writing out the implications for these observations for the spread of Objectivism and in cultural activism more generally, but this post lays out the basic observations that got me started along this train of thought.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why I Detest Steve Jobs

So, I've never really liked Steve Jobs. I don't really detest him because I don't really care enough to call it that, but it makes for a more interesting post title than "I have a lukewarm distaste for Steve Jobs," so here we are.

Okay, I'll qualify that. I didn't like Steve Jobs the second I started reading about his management style, which was a few years ago. I'm a management nerd, and I love to play with and talk about effective management stuff. Steve Jobs always rubbed me the wrong way - reports (both from media and from people I have talked to who have interacted with him and worked at Apple) that he was very rude, unprofessional and generally a spotlight hog. He was, no doubt, a singular genius who lead Apple out of the wilderness - but given that both good and bad people have done that, I'm going to say that I'll still root for the managers who do it the right way over the bad.

What annoys me about Jobs, though, is that he's the flavor-of-the-week management style to emulate for many. Let's get one thing straight: Jobs was a genius who succeeded despite, not because of, his management style. Being rude, throwing hissy fits and in general being a fairly intolerable person to work with are not what got the things Jobs got done, done. Jobs did do some good in the industry, but as far as lessons to take away from, "be a singular genius combining vision for tech, style and good UI in an industry lacking those things" is a non-teachable lesson.

I never bought an iphone, in part because I think they're too much money for what you get, but also because I would rather not have money I shell out for a convenience item go to promote the idea that being an asshole is a good managerial strategy, which Steve Jobs was the posterboy for.

I'll be very interested to see how Apple does in the next 5-10 years, as there is a pattern businesses have of falling apart when run by geniuses, and the genius leaves. Was reading a book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap...And Others Don't and it put it this way:

In contrast to the good-to-great companies, which built deep and strong executive teams, many of the comparison companies followed a "genius with a thousand helpers" model. In this model, the company is a platform for the talents of an extraordinary individual. In these cases, the towering genius, the primary driving force in the company's success, is a great asset - as long as the genius sticks around. The geniuses seldom built great management teams, for the simple reason that they don't need one, and often don't want one. If you're a genius, you don't need a Wells Fargo-caliber management team of people who could run their own shows elsewhere. No, you just need an army of good soldiers who can help implement your great ideas. However, when the genius leaves, the helpers are often lost. Or, worse, they try to mimic their predecessor with bold, visionary moves (trying to act like a genius, without being a genius) that prove unsuccessful.

And that kind of segues into a bit of management philosophy I've been thinking about. I've been looking at several men called "great" through history, of late Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, and I noticed something interesting: they were all really enthusiastic talent scouts.

Alexander's generals all proved fairly competent kings, and Genghis was a known talent scout, going so far as to have a man who nearly killed him offered a job as general. And I see this repeated in good, enduring companies; good leaders build a foundation of greatness by getting the most talented individuals they can in their management teams and building them up. You don't get the best talent by abusing them; they'll go off and work somewhere else, because they can, and "working on the best company in this business" is only worth so many temper tantrums and insults.

I think truly great companies last. They aren't flashes in the pan and they aren't the product of one man's singular genius; or rather, if they are, the genius is in laying a foundation for sustained greatness.

I'll get into this more later, because I'd prefer to keep these posts of readable length, but let's put that here as a starting point.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Evasion and Narratives

For my non-Objectivist audience, this might be a bit of a weird post to read. I'll give some background here.

"Evasion" is one of the more dire charges Objectivists frequently level at one another, or at random passerby who do not agree with them. Evasion is a type of willful mental error - not the lack of knowledge, but the willful disregard of that knowledge for whatever reason. Evasion is all seven deadly sins rolled into one, for Objectivists - it represents a desire to live in opposition to reality, and thus makes the person doing the evading potentially dangerous to those around them as they seek to avoid the rightful consequences of their reality-defying beliefs.

Typically, one will see it used when the author's (obviously flawless and perfectly logical) argument is rejected by the person he is trying to convince; having exhausted all of his or her abilities are persuasion yet not having changed the target's mind, the target is dubbed an evader, obviously out to ignore reality for some nefarious purposes.

I'm going to stop here because I figure someone will, eventually, read this and charge me with being against moral judgement. So I'll say right here: I'm not - evil actions are evil, harmful to our values and should be identified that way. It is okay to judge someone's actions as evil, as it is okay to judge them as evil - but I like this Nathaniel Brandon quote:

"Nobody was led to virtue by being told he was a scoundrel."

in one particular; at the point you're telling someone that, you're lashing out rather than communicating.

I actually like Hank Rearden, who is held up as an exemplar of ruthless justice, as an example of this. He judges his family corrupt, evil, and willing to attempt to play any feelings they have for him to keep him 'in the world' in exchange for short extensions of their lives. He does not, at any time, get up and declare "You are all evil! I denounce you!" He simply rises, and leaves, and when asked a question on his way out he answers it quietly. At the point at which you have concluded a person is truly corrupt, truly evil, the proper response isn't some hysterical declaration of that evil, but to simply remove yourself from that person's influence and move on with your life.

This isn't simply applicable in cases of total corruption, either. It can happen in cases where someone is struggling with bad aspects of their personality - from mental disorders, drug addictions, or simply trying habits or bad philosophy they have not excised from their lives - where one can say "I do not know whether you will win this battle or not; but I have no more desire to fight it with you." That is also a perfectly acceptable (if often tragic, on both sides) way to break off relations with someone. You aren't obligated to stand by anyone, even if they are trying to improve themselves, and the burden of helping someone through such a major transition in their lives is not a light one. It is suited to dear friends, pastors and close family, but often casual acquaintances will back away from it, understandably so.

Evasion has been sticking in my head of late, though, as symptomatic of a problem I see in Objectivism: when something is not understood, it is assumed to be evil, more often than not. When one cannot see why someone would do or think a certain way, they are declared evaders, often loudly and to their faces (or to the faces of other people.)

In reality, very often our approaches are wrong, or we are attacking the wrong ideas from the wrong angle.

Again, if you want nothing to do with a person, that's perfectly fine. The follow is advice for people who wish to change minds, whether those of their much-loved friends or from the standpoint of a cultural activist.

Wrong ideas often come in intertwined clusters - narratives - that stubbornly resist blunt attempts to undo them. We frustrate ourselves attacking the incorrect idea head-on, but often we are tugging at the middle of the knot. The key is to find the loose end - the bit of the narrative that sticks out of the knot and can be tugged out - and that takes time. It cannot be accomplished in the space of a single conversation, and especially not an adversarial debate (at least not with most people.)

To think of wrong ideas as a cluster that must be unwound, that a person is trapped in, is both more accurate and promotes the empathy required to change minds.

So is evasion as common as we see it hurled around? I don't think so. Thinking back on my short life, I can think of only one person I would charge with that most horrible sin. I have yet to - and never will - inform this person of the fact that they are an evader; in truth when I came to this conclusion I was overcome with a profound, quiet sadness that stayed with me for several days. But I felt no desire to condemn; only to remove myself from their presence, and move on with my life.

Evasion is a dire charge. I think it is often hurled out of confusion, fear or frustration rather than as a rational conclusion come to with the proper deliberation. If we are to change minds, we must understand the anatomy of bad ideas and the skills at unwinding them, which are often counterintuitive. That will be for future posts, but I wanted to point out ineffective action here and point the way towards effective actions.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Things My Daughter Teaches Me 1

This will almost certainly be an ongoing series.

Some people are born fearless.

I hesitate to say "everyone is born fearless" because I don't have a large sample size. But Cora knows no fear. Not an ounce. I have seen her tackle things I was sure she would avoid, just because she was so young and small, and she just plows on through, sometimes with a little help from me but often with me simply hanging over her, paying attention and ready to catch her if she falls.

The most worrisome moment as a parent so far was Cora climbing a set of stairs that was just this side of a ladder, not missing a step, to the top, and then running off and playing when she got to the top. She never noticed that she was quite high up.

She is quite aware of pain. She has fallen, scraped herself, etc., just as much as any toddler. I try not to save her from the common scrapes and bumps, and she seems to figure out when she has to be careful pretty quickly, and extrapolate that out when she's doing something actually dangerous enough that I have to be right there, hands hanging over her.

She just doesn't ever display any sort of fear, more than a handful of times since she was born. Everything is a curiosity, and no task seems too dangerous in her estimation. The end result has been some very thrilling times as I try to stick to my plan I made before she was born, to let her explore without limitations unless she was about to hurt herself or someone else, and to simply be ready to catch her if she does something that might hurt her if she makes a mistake (ie climbing concrete stairs.) She does that every day and seems eager to try anything new.

So, sometimes we are blessed with fearless children.