Sunday, December 21, 2014


Over the last few days I’ve been playing with categories in an almost careless way so as to break up some assumptions and maybe even invent some new ones.  This is what I’ve got laid out so far:  

1.  Genetically controlled behavior with “domesticated” creatures being now recognized as due in part to specific molecular mutations that made survival success contingent on relating to humans.  This exposes the animals to human cultural mutations that might not be helpful to the animals after all: either using animals like machines or making them play human emotional roles.  Central Park carriage horses or dogs in purses.  Horses with ODD are good for rodeo bucking events which is arguably an adaptation of human to animal.

2.  Clinically derived theories about two kinds of “aggression,” one based in the “hot”, “hard-wired” synapses that support freeze/flight/fight reactions to threats (RADI) and the other based on the learned conviction that in a hostile environment, one must use any means necessary -- including plotting and pre-empting -- in order to personally survive (PIP).

3.  Categories used for diagnosis in the elaborate medical-style codes of the psych people, including one of two “aggressive” syndromes that is called ODD for Obstinate Defiance Disorder.  Many of these categories are so close together that they’re hard to distinguish.  (Check out Reactive Attachment Disorder.)  There are many versions of these code systems, depending on the culture -- that is, the German system is not the same as the American system because “normal” is described in different world views in the first place.

4.  These definitions are related to the concept of survival (the basic drive of all animals) and must split the difference between what is important for the survival of the individual as opposed to the survival of the group.  Many dynamics and scenarios apply here.  One of intense concern right now is behavior related to Ebola: some individuals are willingly risking themselves while others flee; groups react similarly, some denying and some coping.  The overall context, which is expressed in economics, is being radically changed at the expense of individual, group, and planetary responses.  These will cause cultural shifts.

Long ago I read a teaching/managing book that was about “why people don’t learn.”  It reflected on different KINDS of causes.  I don’t have the book anymore but these elements are what I remember.

1.  The capacity to perform the task is not there in the specific individual.  Men don’t get pregnant, no matter how hard you try to impregnate them.  

2.  Though the person could learn the skill with special help, that’s not present.  The runner must have legs and if he is an amputee, he will need prosthetics or wheels.

Beethoven, but is that a piano?

3.  Specific instrumentation is needed but not present.  What is Beethoven without a piano?  He can function after hearing loss -- if he has a good memory associating actions with synapses, but he needs a keyboard in order to play.

4.  Focused instruction must be supplied.  People play instruments by ear, but at some level will need exploration of possibilities and, if they are relating to an audience, education considering other people’s ears.

5.  Actions need to be received, understood, and supported with attention.  Human behavior is always a matter of reciprocity.  Disregard, misunderstanding, punishment rather than appreciation, will not end behavior if it reinforces contempt.  But “anything goes” doesn’t lead to successful actions either, except by chance or if the individual has his own code and feedback loops.  And it can also cause contempt, to say nothing of confusion.

So now, another way of asking why do people do bad things?

First, what’s considered bad and who defines it and why?  Defecating in public is accepted in India, they say.  (A problem just being addressed now.)  In this country defecating or urination by children is considered “harmless” by some people who will let a small child pee in, say, a parking lot.  Men urinate much more freely than women.  (There are not pissoirs in Paris for women, are there?)  Dogs go where they will, but try to use other people's places to keep their own yards clean.

This is bad for aesthetic reasons (it stinks) and for health reasons, but done anyway because it is more convenient, or because there are no proper facilities, or because of poverty that will keep street people out of indoor bathrooms, or because of pay toilets (I remember them and was impressed by the idea of pay toilets not based on entry, but on exit -- if you don’t feed the right coins into the mechanism, you’re trapped.) or because no one wants to clean public toilets.  It creates special “low” classes.

There’s another dimension which is based partly on the presumed privacy and separation of the sexes and partly on association of elimination with sexuality.  Both the product and the act can become sexualized.  Or the sequestration traditional for the act can become a conveniently secret place for illicit or violent behavior.

There’s a strange cultural shift now towards using baby words (poo) for the old Anglo-saxon offensive words (shit) and towards unisex bathrooms in spite of an opposite push towards gender-appropriate bathrooms and gender-appropriate proportions between the two kinds of bathroom because it takes a longer time for females to pee (a word my mother forbade) and lines can become so long for women that they desperately use male facilities.  Then there is the need for accommodations for people in wheelchairs and for children.  

Most confusing of all, there are now people who are changing genders so that they look one way, but need appliances that are another way, and might not fit the cultural assumption of who belongs.  I used to alarm other women when I wore my animal control deputy sheriff uniform into bathrooms because the assumption was that such a role was male.  At seminary there were never enough female bathrooms because the assumption was that the only female who would be on the premises would be the secretary.  

This discussion is helpful as an example because it involves gender differences and age differences, which are exceptionally likely to change in the way the culture looks at them and then prompt changes in the built environment or legal standards in order to respond to the needs.  Race is another issue.  A certain amount of Obstinacy, Defiance, and cold plotting goes into changing the situation, as well as episodes of emotional and possibly over-the-top behavior.  To some people this is sinful, breaking the rules, and to others it is evil, pointing to violence and sexual transgression.  

It's clear that the world is constantly shifting in many ways and that attempts to suppress and control -- either the shifts themselves or the response to the shifts -- are forces for stability in the best interpretation.  But if the response is disproportionate (an Obama word -- a concept he defends and a good description of the way some sections of our culture react to him) then it can become immoral and inhuman, like the black boy electrocuted for beating to death two white women though he was so small that in the electric chair he had to sit on a phone book

A person accused of Obstinate Defiance might be a terrorist (Is there anything more defiant than self-destruction?  I would say yes -- the forcible prevention of self-destruction.) or might be a child in a state of uproar because of abuse or because they are pressed to do something they can’t or because they are prevented from doing something they really NEED to do.  Some people look out at a world of boxes with labels and don’t see any place where they are named, much less fit into any system of pigeonholes, which is the basic premise of much bureaucracy.  A friend of mine was consulted by a teenager who trusted him and needed to know whether he were schizophrenic, because maybe he fit into that box.  Is such a box helpful or an anchor around his neck in a world that requires us to swim?

A human being has a life of a certain length, which is unpredictable.  Whatever tends towards survival should not destroy the quality of that life just for the sake of longevity.  Nor should it diminish the lives of others.  Those principles don’t need to be codified in laws -- they can guide us through our reflections.  As for the “mad dogs” among human animals, no code nor punishment nor classification will help.  But far more often they are on the authority end rather than the defiant end of the equation.  This is because power protects them from the winnowing of  time -- for a while.  Sooner or later Cheney's Obstinate Defiance will cut him down.


This link is to a wise reflection by a judge in Calgary who has dealt with aboriginal people -- a different worldview -- for many years and has learned from it.

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