July 2022: What We Don’t Know

I am constantly amazed at what I call “the arrogance of the Zeitgeist”.  Every generation feels they have got all the answers and see things clearly now, as opposed to the “ignorant beliefs” of the past.

I often think about how surely a person in 1600 would have stated that the earth was flat and revolved around the sun, or a person in 1750 would condone slavery, or the disenfranchisement of women.   We love to talk and to teach about all the “scientific” discoveries we have made and scoff at how people of the past were wrong on these issues.   But those people proudly talked of their achievements and scoffed at the perceived ignorance of those who came before them.

If history has taught us anything, it should be that the “facts” of the present might be the targets of scoffing in the future.

When I was in my doctoral program, we were taught that “Attention Deficit Disorder” only occurred in males, and was developmentally limited (it stopped by itself with adulthood).   If I did not answer this way on my psychopathology exam, I would have been marked “wrong”.   Of course as the diagnosis became more popular, and drug companies wanted to expand their potential markets, it was later announced that girls, and adults, could have “ADD”, and therefore be potential customers.

Whatever you think of that issue, in points out how “facts” change and things we are born and die believing may be completely discredited in the future.

When I was an undergraduate I complained to the university administration about student smoking during classes.   I was literally ushered out of the President’s office as some sort of “lunatic”.  Who would even believe that people were allowed to smoke in classrooms, or on airplanes?   It was accepted, “civilized” behavior at one time, and now is inappropriate, anti-social, and illegal.

What are the things we believe and the practices we ascribe to, that people in the future will look back and be astonished about?   We haven’t figured it all out in 2022; we just have our current beliefs.   And everytime we hear someone pontificating about the “truth” of anything, let’s try to remember that “truth” changes with time.   We have the opportunity to question everything that we “believe”, and to celebrate with wonder the reality that there is infinitely more we don’t know that what we think we do know

June 2022: Domestic Violence Part 2

Even though we never actually do anything about it, it is popular in 2022 for everyone to “speak out” against domestic violence. But this is always in the context of adults being violent with each other and usually in the context of adult men perpetrating violence against adult female partners.

But what about children?

The fact that we don’t consider traditional parenting domestic violence is prima facie evidence of the fact that our society still does not consider children to human beings.

For almost 20 years, I posed a two-part question to students in an Introductory sociology class. Part one asked them if they thought it was ever OK for an adult to use physical violence to control their partner.   Part two asked them if they thought it was ever OK for parents to use physical violence to control their children. Hundreds of students over the years responded, and almost all said “never” to the first part, but more than half said “YES” to the second part.  Of course, these were American students, and America is the most violent nation on earth, but it was still eye opening to me.

Our society cannot get its’ collective head around the idea that children are entitled to the same rights as any humans. We argue against children’s rights with much of the same rhetoric that was used to deny rights to women or to people of color.

In my opinion, any outrage about the use of violence is destroyed when we accept violence against children. And I am not just talking about physical violence. The same coercive control that we now believe defines patterns of domestic violence is a cornerstone of traditional parenting.  We threaten, we intimidate, we take things away, and we yell. This is every bit as much domestic violence as the more common picture of a man hitting or controlling a woman.

The opportunity is there for all of us to realize that we cannot control any other human beings, whether they are smaller adults, or they are much smaller children.   All we can do is react, and hopefully as parents that means reacting with kindness, respect and love. Accepting that we cannot control, and substituting love and acceptance for power, is likely to key to eliminating all forms of domestic violence.


May 2022: Domestic Violence Part 1

This is the first of a two part series on domestic violence.  Each part will highlight the main victims of domestic violence:   women and children.

Being an old, white man in a world dominated by old, white men, can make it challenging to empathize with the experience of being a woman in this world. Of course I can never fully understand the experience of being female in a male dominated society, but I have had the opportunity to work with so many female victims of domestic violence through the years, and their collective wisdom and insight has helped me overcome some of that challenge.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2011-12 the average Australian man was 175.6cm tall and weighed 85.9 kilos. The average Australian woman was 161.8cm tall and weighed 71.1 kilos.   I don’t think most men ever stop to think what it would be like to live in world where half the population was almost 14cm taller than them, and weighed almost 15 kilos more than them. We men roam the streets secure that we are the physically dominant humans, and women simply do not have this luxury. As an adult, at 184cm, I have never had someone stand over me or try to intimidate me with their size. Women have this experience so regularly they may not even notice it.   Don’t ever buy into the ridiculous argument that women abusing men is as prevalent or as serious as men abusing women.

Of course, it goes even deeper than size. Little girls in our society are brought up to believe that little boys are more important than they are. Even in 2022, gender differences in parenting are incredibly prevalent, and lead to adult women who have been trained to subjugate their needs and wants to those of men.

As parents, we can mitigate against the paternalism of this society as well as try to turn the tide of domestic violence by teaching and role modeling for all of our children that violence is never acceptable. We also have the opportunity to teach all of our children that everyone is equally important regardless of gender.

April 2022: Winning

I was just reading a headline announcing the winners of the 2022 Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards,
and it struck me how ludicrous it is to compare movies and television shows to each other and try to
ascertain the “winner”. I’ve felt this before with other award shows, whether they be the Academy
Awards (Oscars), Grammy Awards or the Tony Awards (for stage performance and very significant
where I grew up in New York).

For me, there is deeper meaning in the incessant way we set up competitions for everything.
Competition is the cornerstone of capitalism. In some other economic systems, if we come across
$10 the enquiry becomes how to share it, or how to use it for the common good. In capitalism, the
only enquiry is who can get the $10; who can “win”.

As I thought more about this, I thought of how “winning” is so deeply ingrained in our psyches from
the time we are children. Traditional education, even preschool, is based on a system of
comparison and competition: who was the “best” at drawing, or at math, or at cleaning up. Young
children are given awards for winning at games, activities and sports. And of course we are a
culture obsessed with professional sports, where everything is about “winning”.

So who benefits from everything being a competition? Our capitalist society. As long as we
embrace the ridiculous fiction that some movies (or songs or theatre performances) can “win” over
others, we sustain the idea that winning is everything. And by inculcating this value in our children,
we grow perfect cogs for the capitalist wheel. Children grow up looking to “win” and equating
success in life with acquiring wealth and possessions. A spectacular system to sustain Telstra, and
Amazon, and Toyota. Not so great for living happy, peaceful lives where we are in the moment.
Not so great for developing humans who value the collective good over their own individual
achievement and acquisitions.

Of course, this provides awesome opportunities for parents to consciously pursue a different path
with their children. We can actively teach children they are infinitely valuable just because they are
themselves and that they are not “better” if they win, or “worse” if they lose.

March 2022: Perspective

My favourite podcast tells stories of lesser known or forgotten events in history. Today I was listening to it and it really got me thinking about the power of perspective.The following is not a political commentary; it is about the psychological power we have to create narratives that work for us regardless of the particular set of facts.The podcast comes from America, and the couple who host it were describing an Allied plan in World War II to destroy a Norwegian plant where the Allies thought the Nazis might be developing an atomic bomb. The hosts talked intensely about how horrific it would have been if the Nazis ever got their hands on nuclear weapons.

What would the Nazis have done with nuclear weapons that was so terrifying? Drop them on big cities? Kill hundreds of thousands of civilians? Cause genetic defects in future generations from radioactive contamination? Of course, these things DID happen, but they weren’t perpetrated by the Nazis. They were perpetrated by America. And somehow that seemed MUCH less horrific to these hosts, who of course, are Americans.

Listening to the podcast, I started thinking about how a German podcast might have talked about the dangers of America developing nuclear weapons in Germany had won the war. The reality is that both sides tried to kill as many of the “enemy” as possible. That’s how it is in war, and that’s how it’s always been. Wealthy and powerful leaders tell young people to put on outfits and slaughter young people with different outfits, and for some inexplicable reason, young people (on all sides) agree and go do it.

But the point is perspective. One person’s “horrific” event is another person’s “heroic triumph”.

This example is about countries, but the same thing is true with individuals.  We embrace a narrative that works for us, and then reject or ignore anything that doesn’t fit in our narrative.  Whether it’s a country that dropped nuclear weapons condemning another country for even thinking of developing them, or a separated parent condemning their ex for even thinking of the ex’s own best interests, we seem to be so easily stuck in our own perspective and our own narrative.

Of course, the exciting opportunity exists to recognize our narrative is only one way of “spinning” a story, which gives us the power to change our own narratives, and thereby change our lives.

February 2022: How much evidence do we need to recognize a “big lie”?

In the early 1970’s, a Stanford University psychologist named David Rosenhan was introduced to the “anti-psychiatry” movement and was inspired to devise a study.  He got together a group of 8 “pseudo-patients”, including three psychologists, a psychiatrist and a pediatrician, to present themselves at a total of 12 psychiatric hospitals complaining of auditory hallucinations. They were told to say they heard words associated with existential dread, such as “thud” , “empty” and “hollow”.  All 12 hospitals admitted the pseudo-patients and gave them diagnoses of major psychiatric disorders (11 categorized them as “schizophrenic”).  Although they all acted normally once admitted and told the staff the voices had stopped, all 12 were discharged with diagnoses. Rosenhan contended that this was evidence that psychiatry is not scientific or objective.

Not surprisingly, there was some pushback from the psychiatric establishment and efforts as recently as 2019 to discredit him (long after Rosenhan’s death in 2012).  This happens to most professionals who dare to question the “big lie” of psychiatry.

For me, the most shocking part of this is that almost 50 years later mainstream society still accepts psychiatry as “real”. Obviously, there are huge corporate and political entities who are propped up by psychiatry. It allows drug companies to make billions of dollars of profit, and it allows the mainstream to marginalize people who are different or are perceived as a threat. But where is common sense, and how many other things do we accept without question that would not stand up to objective scrutiny?

This strange era of human history is a great time for us to recognize that things often are not as they seem, and we don’t “have” to believe what we are being told unless we independently decide it resonates with us.