atheism, christians, education, health care, justice, Mormonism and other forms of child abuse, religion, religious right, Things We Should Know, willful blindness to absurd extremes

The Ultimate Responsibility

I am not a parent. It’s not that I didn’t want to be, I love children, and they seem to tolerate me well enough; events in my life have thus far prevented me from being a father. Which, of course, does not preclude it from happening in the future, and as time marches on, I have come to realize that I will in all likelihood become a ‘step’ to an older child or children, perhaps even adult children. I look forward to whatever life brings in that regard – I feel like I would have something to offer in terms of support, love, and guidance should the opportunity present itself.

I have great admiration for my close friends who are parents – you know who you are, and you know I admire you for persevering when times inevitably got tough and for producing incredibly intelligent and just thoroughly fantastic kids. Some of you have faced incredible hardship and adversity and still managed to bring up some resilient and loving children. You are the reason I feel like the future is in safe hands – your children will grow up to be independent, thoughtful adults who grew up to be just like you. Take that, Harry Chapin.

As proud as I am to know some amazing parents, and I know there are many more, I am still incredibly pained to hear of incidents like this. It is completely heartbreaking that parents would follow the pseudo-religious, Spanish Inquisition-like parenting style described in this abhorrent book.

book cover

As the article describes, some of the techniques advocated include:

  • Using plastic tubing to beat children, since it hurts a lot but leaves fewer marks to alert authorities
  • Wearing the plastic tubing around the parent’s neck as a constant reminder to obey
  • “Swatting” babies as young as six months old with instruments such as “a 12-inch willowy branch,” thinner plastic tubing or a wooden spoon
  • “Blanket training” babies by hitting them with an instrument if they try to crawl off a blanket on the floor
  • Beating older children with rulers, paddles, belts and larger tree branches
  • “Training” children with pain before they even disobey, in order to teach total obedience
  • Giving cold water baths, putting children outside in cold weather and withholding meals as discipline
  • Hosing off children who have potty training accidents
  • Inflicting punishment until a child is “without breath to complain.”

That children have died is horrifying, although frankly not surprising. A childhood should be a time of joy and learning about the world, it should never resemble a reign of terror. Any “parent” who decides this type of parenting is acceptable is not fit to lead a child into the world.

The fact that it is couched in religious overtones is not in the least surprising. Not only do some of the faithful adhere to the above child torture techniques (I’m the first to admit that not all do, however), some will also refuse medical treatment for their children on religious grounds. The only way we have to prevent abuse like this is to remove faith-based exemptions based on religious belief when a child’s health is at stake. Prayer in all its forms and manifestations have never, ever been proven to be effective in treating illness of any kind, and medical science has been proven unequivocally effective in saving lives, preventing infant mortality, and relieving suffering. Some of the cases listed here are absolutely horrifying. There is no excuse that could justify denying a child a chance at life simply because a parent believes illness is a test or part of a divine plan. Listen up, sunshine, if there were a deity, he created doctors and health care professionals as well as your weak-willed, deluded self. Get in the internal-combustion tool of satan horseless carriage and get your unfortunate spawn to the hospital. If you are lucky, the child will live – if we’re lucky, you’ll never see them again.

I realize I am not going to change anyone’s mind if they choose to follow an abusive religious creed, but if enough of us express our outrage at these types of abuses, perhaps the ruling classes will dilute the opiate just enough to prevent this from happening – even once. Religion, as a phenomenon of human behaviour, should never play a role in determining social or legal responsibility for anything. Marriage is not a religious ceremony, it is a legal one sanctioned by the state – they just let guys in weird dresses officiate. Voting is not a religious duty, it is a social one. I have no objection to religious faith as a private expression of a need for security or a need to feel special or to feel part of a community; however, when you start making decisions on other people’s behalf – what they can or cannot do or say or wear or who they can love – then, I object in the strongest possible terms. This applies to the act of parenting as well. If we value our children and want them to be responsible adults, let them choose to follow or not follow whatever creed works for them. When it comes to a child’s heath, however, your duty as a caregiver always supersedes any doctrine; the need to keep a child alive and to ease their suffering and seek a cure from sources that are proven to be effective is and always should be the moral imperative, not service to some imaginary, insecure dictator.

Religion be damned, if you’ll pardon the expression.

education, evolution, Lighter Things, running, science, Uncategorized

Full Esteem Ahead

This morning, as I was making my way through my email, I caught a short news item in Academica Top Ten about a school in Calgary discontinuing awards and competitions based on the work of Alfie Kohn, an author who writes about child behaviour and parenting. The theory is that, “awards eventually lose their lustre to students who get them while often hurting the self esteem and pride of those who don’t get a certificate.” In essence, if I understand the idea correctly, when someone excels, rewarding them makes them complacent, and if they fail to excel, they suffer loss of self-esteem and pride; therefore, competition shouldn’t take place at all.

With all due respect, that’s total crap, in my opinion.

As usual, George Carlin said it best:

Now, all of this stupid nonsense that children have been so crippled by has grown out of something called the “self-esteem movement.” The self-esteem movement began around 1970, and I’m happy to say it has been a complete failure. Studies have repeatedly shown that having high self-esteem does not improve grades, does not improve career achievement, it does not even lower the use of alcohol, and most certainly does not reduce the incidence of violence of any sort, because as it turns out, extremely aggressive, violent people think very highly of themselves. Imagine that; sociopaths have high self-esteem. Who’da thunk? – From “Life is Worth Losing” (2006)

The self-esteem movement has led to such ridiculous acts as not having winners or losers in games – everyone is special! The problem arises once we realize that if everyone is special, then nobody is. To me, that sounds like a psychological theory created by wimpy scientists that always lost at sports and secretly harbored a grudge for many years until they could start influencing educational policy. Admittedly, this is somewhat of a generalization; I apologize to any athletic scientists out there (all three of you).

What bothers me about the self-esteem movement comes down to two key things: I have learned more from my failures than my successes; and some people are better at some things than others – that’s the nature of humanity.

The reason my Dad was an absolutely brilliant parent (whether he actually knew it or not) was that when the time came to give me advice, he shared his own experiences with me, then gave me the freedom to make whatever decision I felt was right. He trusted me enough that he knew I’d make the right decision, or if I didn’t, that I’d learn from having made the wrong one. It was the freedom to decide, and in truth, the freedom to fail, that made his guidance so valuable. Honestly, I’ve screwed up more times than I care to admit, including one massive failure in the field of marriage; even that experience has value if I manage to walk away having learned from the experience and changed my behaviour to adapt and try to prevent the same mistake from happening again. I certainly don’t rule out getting married again, I just won’t go about it in the same way. I learned, and at the risk of using a sickening cliche: I grew.

Of course, failure in this context isn’t the same as failure in sports, so let me use another example: I started running just over a year ago, and during that time, I’ve run several races – mostly 5K, but I have one 10K under my belt as well, and I consider that to be my maximum racing distance. Just my personal choice. I don’t enter these races with any expectation of winning – I generally finish about halfway through the pack for my age group, and I do keep track of my time for some races, with an eye to improving and getting faster as I do more of them. There are clearly winners of these races, and there are the rest of us who do not and will never win, but that doesn’t take away from my enjoyment and pride at having participated. Realistically, I am competing with myself – striving for personal best. This is the first time in my life that I have undertaken athletic activity in any sustained way, with the exception of doing some fencing a few years ago (which I also thoroughly enjoyed and failed to excel at), as during my childhood I was incredibly uncoordinated and generally somewhat overweight, so any such endeavor was doomed to fail. However, despite the lack of a `Mr. Congeniality` medal at the end of the soccer game or whatever, I survived and became a (somewhat) functional adult. In fact, I think I benefited more from losing that I would have from winning.

Losing with grace is sometimes more difficult than winning with it. What it does is it teaches perspective, and teaches you that yes, there are people better than you at certain things, and that`s not unexpected given that little thing we call evolution. Human beings come in many varieties, and some would be better adapted to chasing down a gazelle than others; when that was the means of survival, the ones who couldn`t were less likely to procreate. Now, however, there are a greater number of options as to how you win bread or bring home bacon or what have you – those people who kick the hell out of the ball may not be those who are good at manufacturing or selling said balls, or speculating on how many balls will get kicked; that`s the skill and talent the rest of us have, and some people can be scary good at all of these. Losing is learning about yourself and how you relate to the world; in that way, `losing`is in no way the same as `failing` – losing is not crossing the finish line first, but failing is not taking that experience and making it into a positive learning experience.

the difficulty that arises when someone is literally unable to fail because they are cocooned in a bubble wrap of `self-esteem`is that they don`t learn the coping skills necessary to make loss meaningful, because they don`t experience it. The child who is unable to lose becomes an adolescent and an adult who is baffled by the fact that they cannot realistically expect to be rewarded for everything they do – and yet they do expect it. I have been fortunate not to experience it myself, but I have friends who teach in post-secondary education who constantly encounter students with huge egos and unbelievable feelings of entitlement – self-esteem has, for these individuals, whooshed right past `confidence`and careened madly into `arrogance`. In the same way I can`t ask someone to hand me a zarf if they have no idea what it is, they are unable to recognize the true value of failing and trying again because they`ve never had to.


A zarf. Don`t say I never learned you nothin`. 

Eliminating the possibility of losing also takes away the ability to potentially excel, and both of these are critical in the development of a real, whole, genuine and might I add empathetic individual adult. We have been far too focused on not making kids sad and not nearly focused enough to see the long-term effects of character building experiences on the adults they eventually become. We take away the ability to stand out, and we actively deny the process that in the broadest sense makes us human in the first place.

Anyway, I`ve never been a parent, and the odds against my becoming one grow greater every day, so I can only speak from my own experience and knowledge – which makes me a lot more like my Dad than I ever realized, now that I think about it.

And that`s rather awesome, actually. Thanks, Dad, for letting me make mistakes. I think I`m better for it.

christians, Conservatives, creationism, culture, education, evolution, media, politics, racism, religion, religious right, Republicans, Things We Should Know, Uncategorized

It’s Not the End of the World

His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.

-George Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”

To those of you thoughtful (or at least conscious) enough to recognize the process described above, you probably have asked the same question I have: How do people who, for the most part, seem outwardly rational and functioning members of society, believe some of the political or religious ideology that has been spoon-fed to them? Many of the ideas espoused by extremists of all stripes are demonstrably false, so how can people go on believing them?

As far back as 1956, behavioural scientists have published studies dealing with this question – that year, Leon Festinger published When Prophecy Fails, a book that described the reactions of individuals faced with the by now quite common phenomenon of the world continuing on without ending. The individuals were members of an apocalyptic cult who had given away all of their belongings and waited upon the figurative mountaintop for the end of the world, which never came. How did these people deal with the fact that their beliefs, and the actions that followed their beliefs, had been proven unequivocally incorrect? Surprisingly, the cult members’ beliefs intensified, and they began proselytizing even more fervently.

This phenomenon was described by Festinger and his co-investigators as a type of cognitive dissonance, which occurs under specific circumstances:

1. The belief must be held with deep conviction and be relevant to the believer’s actions or behavior.

2. The belief must have produced actions that are difficult to undo.

3. The belief must be sufficiently specific and concerned with the real world such that it can be clearly disconfirmed.

4. The disconfirmatory evidence must be recognized by the believer.

5. The believer must have social support from other believers.

So to create the increased fervor, the members of the group must actually recognize that the evidence is against them. The social support of the other believers is crucial to the continuance of faith in what has clearly been disproven.

So, let’s apply this to those that myself and other authors here on the ‘Kog often find ourselves at odds with: Tea Partiers, religious fanatics, Conservatives, conservatives (note size of ‘c’), climate/evolution/science deniers, racists, alt med zealots, and so on. Our frustration in large part comes not from the fact that people have a particular belief; that’s their right in a democracy and none of us would have it any other way. The frustration arises (for me, at least) from the individuals’ dogged adherence to beliefs and customs that have been clearly shown through evidence to be non-productive, simply false, or even patently absurd – no amount of discussion or clarification will budge them from their metaphoric hilltops. As long as they have the security of knowing that others share their beliefs, they can cover themselves in that fact as with a warm blanket and weather any storms we may visit upon them.

Kinda makes you think, don’t it? Considering this over the past few days, I have recognized my own tendency to dig my heels in and push when encountering opposition; recognized also my quite literal anger at people who refuse to change their minds despite whatever evidence I may bring to bear. I have realized that I will quite clearly never change their minds or cause them to alter their behaviour one bit, just as their arguments won’t change me in the least. Engaging with the zealot on his own terms requires you to become a zealot, to attack the individual and react emotionally to the ‘ignorance’ you must crusade against. I have personally seen this in myself, and walked away grumbling from my computer, my day ruined by my ideological opposite number who has drawn me into reacting emotionally.

But, no more – evidence is evidence, and truth is truth despite some people’s objections to it. Some acts are just and some are unjust, and some ideologies deserve the time and energy that can be committed to teaching and learning different perspectives… And some, as much as my brain craves closure and victory, are not. The secret to creating and maintaining an online persona that carries some weight and the appearance of validity, as I see it, is recognizing the difference. Some people cannot and will not be convinced, so wasting the effort to try is folly. So, I shall no longer feed the trolls. I expect my blood pressure will be better overall as a result.

If you are so motivated, I’d love to hear some discussion of your experiences in the comments. I want this to be the start of a great conversation, not the end.

christians, creationism, education, evolution, favourite person, religion, religious right, Sites of Interest, Things We Should Know

The (R)Evolution Will Not Be Televised…

150 years ago today, Charles Darwin published one of the truly seminal and historic works in the history of mankind: On the Origin of Species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.

A mouthful to be sure, but, despite opposition from dogmatic demagogues, the work has served as the basis for our understanding of the development of all life on Earth, humanity included.

Who da man? You da man.

I wanted to take the opportunity to remind folk of the anniversary, and to re-post the link to all of Darwin’s work online.  Despite the pathetic attempts by a has-been celebrity to distribute edited versions of the book, it is an uncomfortable truth that these delusional religious fanatics need to accept: Evolution is a fact. Let’s hope that adherence to religious dogma has ceased to be a ‘positive attribute’ for survival purposes, and that we can successfully breed it out of the human species. Let’s lose the superfluous hallucinations and find our true humanity – 150 years after it was first described to us.

Better late than never.

Note: Apologies to Briguy for borrowing the brackets.:)

creationism, education, evolution, favourite person, science, Sites of Interest, Things We Should Know

“Ardi”: No Longer Missing

My friends, it is a good day when the ludicrous ramblings of demagogues are undone by the spirit of scientific exploration. I’d like to introduce your friend and mine, “Ardi”:


Ardi is a specimen of Ardipithecus ramidus, who walked the Earth over a million years before Lucy, who herself lived about 3.2 million years ago. She is, in simplest terms, the common ancestor of humans and apes, or, even more importantly, the ‘missing link’ that was a supposed weakness of evolutionary theory.

From the online National Geographic article:

Announced at joint press conferences in Washington, D.C., and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the analysis of the Ardipithecus ramidus bones will be published in a collection of papers tomorrow in a special edition of the journal Science, along with an avalanche of supporting materials published online.

“This find is far more important than Lucy,” said Alan Walker, a paleontologist from Pennsylvania State University who was not part of the research. “It shows that the last common ancestor with chimps didn’t look like a chimp, or a human, or some funny thing in between.”

This is an historic find with broad significance to the study of human biology and history. To its credit, the New York Times does lead its Science section with this, but it deserves a lot more attention.

Strike another of the unscientific arguments against evolution. Take that, Kirk Cameron!

Canadian politics, culture, education, entertainment, general silliness, Inflaming rednecks for fun and profit, Lighter Things, media, United States

Canada: Switching Sides in the “War on Terror”?

An interesting item in the Globe & Mail this morning about a realistic training exercise that is designed to illustrate the conditions Canadian soldiers endure in Afghanistan, and highlight the good works they are doing there.  The exercise will include explosions and simulated wounded civilians.

All fine and dandy, except for the fact that this exercise, explosions and all, is taking place in the middle of Washington, D.C.


Not pictured: hysterical idiots, bricks being shat

Given the panicked reaction of New York residents when an Air Force One photo-op was carried out over that city, I’m thinking there will be some brick-shitting going on in the nation’s capital. Sure, you can give the public plenty of notice, but it’s obvious from any daily disruption like a traffic tie-up that not everyone bothers to pay attention to notices of that sort.

Rather than a training exercise, we should put this down as a reminder of 1812 – the last time we actually scared the Americans.

Update September 23, 2009: Mock battle cancelled. Nobody lets us have any fun.

culture, education, favourite person, justice, media, minority rights, politics, racism, Things We Should Know, United States

I Have a Dream…


August 28, 1963.


This is an audio recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving the “I Have a Dream” speech during the Civil Rights rally on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Not much I can add, except that I urge everyone to keep the dream alive, every day.

Source: Internet Archive.