Friday, July 25, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Horror Stories

It’s probably not the spooky supernatural variety to which he is referring but rather the slight-of-hand, illusion-based brand which tricks the audience into believing something happened or is happening but in reality it really isn’t… and never did… much like the ‘fish-to-men’ theory of evolution which is being thrust onto the innocent minds of a generation of victims of the worst form of child abuse to hit humanity.
PPSIMMONS "Science or Child Abuse? New Evolution Book Geared to Preschoolers Teaches Children They Evolved from Fish!"
About half a lifetime ago, I met a little boy. He was one of a number of siblings, few of whom shared a father. His mother loved babies. Toddlers, she was okay with. Children, she had no time for. When the father of her youngest child came to take his son for a while, she refused to allow him to take the child - unless he also took the little boy with him. Eventually, the state took her children, including the baby, away from her. She was, of course, remorseful, and promised, every time there was a family event, that she would come and spend time with the little boy. In the four -plus years that I knew the little boy, he became more acquainted with my mother, than I became with his. He met my mother once.

Around the same time, I met a little girl. She told me a story about how her neighbors shuttled her from house to house, via ground-floor windows and back doors, while her foster father tore up the neighborhood looking for her. He, you see, wanted to fool around a bit, and wasn't used to being denied. She told me this in the matter-of-fact way that a child might describe what had happened at school the day before. Enough time had passed that she was fuzzy on the details. By the time she related the story to me, it had been two, maybe three years since the events in question. When I met her, she wasn't yet nine.

Months pass. There are more children and more stories. One child was debated for intake. According to her case file, her mother, unemployed and desperate for money to supply her drug habit, sold the girl to men for sex. The reason her intake was debated was that the facility took in children from four to thirteen. The child wasn't quite old enough yet.

Three stories. Three out of I don't remember how many. Even at the time, several of them began to blend into an undifferentiated mass of pain, horror and sorrow. At first, I worked to be the a good clinician's assistant. I listened carefully, and was attentive to each child's tone, affect and body language. Once I had time, I would carefully write down what they had told me, and deliver it to the social workers, thinking that it would help in each child's therapy. I learned, fairly quickly, that these stories were well known. Those children who told them usually did so as a form of sympathy-seeking. All of the new people heard them. At first, I was too much the good clinician to respond emotionally. By the time I was able to set aside my clinical detachment, I was too jaded. When child-care workers from different facilities got together, a Misery Poker by Proxy game would nearly always ensue, with everyone vying to tell the most heart-rending story. The first time I encountered this phenomenon, I was horrified. The second time, I was sure I had a winning hand.

In a way, I envy this "PPSimmons" person. It must be nice, to live in a world where "the worst form of child abuse to hit humanity" consists of nothing more than teaching them that all terrestrial life evolved from creatures that lived in the oceans. I know of any number of children who would gladly live in a world where teaching them that the Genesis story is not literally true rates as the worst that adults would ever do to them. Even as an adult it seems immeasurably better than the world we have now, punctuated as it is with rare, horrific events that scar everyone they touch.

So I find myself hoping that they can stay in the world that their beliefs have created for them. The truth may set you free, but when it turns you out into the cold and dark, you realize that, sometimes, being set free isn't all it's cracked up to be.

P.S.: I get that PPSimmons is being intentionally hyperbolic - it would be ridiculous beyond all reason for him to suggest, say, that children be removed from their homes because a parent taught them evolution. And in a way, that's the issue. The casual belittling of horrific events simply so that he mock people with whom he has a sincere, but ultimately trivial, disagreement.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Acceptable Losses

On three separate occasions in my adult life I have looked into a woman's eyes, and been utterly surprised to find her looking back at me in what I can only describe as abject terror. I had done something that, when I did it, struck me as completely innocuous, let alone nonthreatening. But a moment later I realized that I had, without intending to, placed another human being at fear for her life. Or worse. On several other occasions, I have intimidated or worried someone without meaning to. Nothing major. There was no perceived threat of imminent violence. Just a unintended, if unintentional, reminder that I was bigger than they, stronger than they and apparently, ready, willing and able to use that against them. It's one of those things that always lives in the back of my mind, because it generates a certain sensitivity to where I am, and who might be inhabiting that space with me - whether I know it or not.

I mention this in the context of a Rolling Stone article about the growing popularity of gun clubs for women. Now, this being Rolling Stone, the piece has a distinct leftward tilt to it. But that's okay. Everyone has their biases, and when people (or publications) wear them on their sleeves, they're easy to correct for. Now, I'm something off a firearms buff myself, although I don't indulge myself very often, so I'm all for it. If women want to spend their time shooting, let them. There are worse things that people could be doing. What worries me is the strain of social media reaction to the article that celebrates this as a wonderful blow struck in the name of women's rights. To paraphrase: Nature made the genders, but Sam Colt made them equal.

I understand the impulse to see a firearm as a means of evening the odds against someone bigger and stronger than yourself. As someone who believes in winning much more than I believe in fair fights, I understand the appeal of firearms simply as a means of making sure that your still around to believe in winning. But I also understand the risks that this line of thinking presents. It's fairly easy for me to imagine that the terrified look that I'd accidentally triggered in someone being the last thing that I ever saw.

One of the women that I know owns a handgun, given to her by her father, and I'm glad she has it. I know as well as anyone that when seconds count, the police are only minutes away, and I'd rather that she was able to defend herself. (I'm less than pleased with the fact that she seems to have zero interest in learning how to use it well, but she doesn't answer to me in such things, so I don't hound her.) But when she was having mental health issues, and I and some of the other people close to her realized that a weapon in the home was a liability. When I told her, "You're not in a good place right now, and it's a bad idea for you to keep a gun right now; you need to let me have it," I imagined for a moment the coroner listing my Cause of Death as "Poor choice of words." People are right when they point out that it doesn't matter how big or strong you are when the other person has a gun. But to that I'd add that sometimes, it doesn't matter how well-intentioned you are, either. You can be shot just as dead.

None of this changes one simple fact - my chances of being shot by a woman; lover, acquaintance or stranger, that I've unintentionally frightened half to death are vanishingly small, and made even more so by the fact that I live alone (and so don't have to contend with what might be the most "likely" scenario, being shot by a jumpy significant other). So slim that it's really worth making the trade off for them having an increased ability to defend themselves against people who are more deliberately scary. But it's worth keeping in mind that it's not zero. When the authors of the Second Amendment wrote it, they understood that the simple fact that they were establishing a right to the public availability of deadly force meant that some number of people would be shot whom no-one ever intended. Pretending that we've somehow risen above that is unwise.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Engines of Success

It was mentioned to me that some 60% of people in the United States believe that hard work and effort are the keys to success. It came up in the context of people being taken advantage of by unscrupulous politicians, who use their belief in the power of hard work against them. The degree to which hard work is a reliable indicator of one's degree of success is subject of constant debate, mainly because for most people "hard work" and "success" are something akin to "pornography" - something they can't define, but that they know on sight.

In my own experience, simply working hard at something, regardless of the amount of effort expended, is not considered "success." It's simply hard work. And that's where opportunity comes in. Opportunity is the engine that turns hard work into success. But not all engines are created equally. Some are built for speed, some are built for fuel efficiency, some are built for hauling heavy loads and some? Well, some simply aren't as good as others. Just as efficiency is not evenly distributed among mechanical engines, efficiency is not evenly distributed in opportunities - some grant much better economy than others. (And isn't that the point - to get as much productivity out of a given amount of work as possible?)

Simply assuming that as long as someone "worked hard enough" (something which is usually only determined in hindsight) that an opportunity of sufficient efficiency to raise them to a certain level of relative affluence will come along is, frankly, lazy. It's how we get out of actually needing to understand enough about people and situations to accurately evaluate them. But it's also a means of attempting to control the world, because it means that we don't have to think about the fact that some opportunities are going to be more productive than others - we simply assume that what we get out will be some fixed multiple of what we put in, and that is that. But that's an assumption with consequences.