Subscribe by Email

Sunday, December 27, 2015

My Non-Coercive "Potty Training" Story

The Short Version:

One day when Anders was a little over two-years-old, I noticed that he could take his pants down all by himself. So I asked him if he wanted to use the toilet instead of peeing and pooping in his diaper. He said, "No." I said, "Okay." (And I meant it.)

Three months later I noticed that he could take his pants down and pull them back up, so I asked again and this time he said, "Yes!" And I said, "Cool! Let's do it!"

The next day, I stopped putting diapers on him. He successfully climbed onto and pooped and peed into the (adult) toilet in the bathroom from that moment on. He had pee accidents maybe 3 to 5 times a day for the first three days. And that was it. Potty training was done.

It was surreal. I could not believe it was that easy.

The Long Version:

It was that easy for four months, and then Anders and I traveled to five different locations over the course of the three months before he turned three, and he had so many accidents while traveling that I put him back in diapers.

When he was three and life settled down again, I asked him if he wanted to use the toilet again, and again he said, "Yes!" and again there were only a few accidents for three days and then none. Still no poop accident ever. Again it was that easy.

But, as books about potty training will tell you, the "potty trained" child has a lot of accidents.

As a three-year-old Anders used the toilet most of the time, even while we were traveling he was able to maintain his skill of using the toilet well enough for me to leave him out of diapers and just always have a change of clothes with me. But I learned that there would be accidents at airports, on planes, on long car rides where he fell asleep, at very stimulating places like the mall, etc. Also, as a three-year-old, Anders always climbed onto and squatted on the toilet seat rather than sit on it. But he preferred to go to the bathroom outside--which makes perfect sense as it is a lot easier.

As a four-year-old Anders sits on the toilet, which saddens me a little--though the toilet seat is a lot cleaner now that his feet aren't always on it. But he still has accidents if he gets too engrossed in whatever he is doing to stop. He no longer needs diapers for long car rides or airport days.

He did end up having two poop accidents--those are The Worst. Pretty sure I cried both times. (And told him repeatedly that it wasn't his fault and accidents happen, but that I just really wasn't having an easy time.)

Before We "Potty Trained":

I talked to Anders about pee and poop from the time he was born, saying "You're peeing!" when he was peeing and and "You're pooping!" when he was pooping. I showed him dirty wipes and dirty diapers. I also put him in cloth diapers, so he would make the connection between what was happening in his body and feeling wet. (I used plastic diapers for traveling though.)

From the age of eighteen-months on, he had plenty of naked time outside. At first it was hard/weird for him to go pee or poop without having his diaper on. There was a week or so of pee all over his legs and poop just falling out of his butt while he learned to stop and squat, but he caught on pretty fast and soon enjoyed his naked time. This definitely contributed to how easy his "potty training" was. Wasn't I grossed out to let him poop in the back yard? Not really. Cleaning up toddler poop in the back yard with a little doggie bag is no different from cleaning up after a dog. Way better (to me) than dumping out and then cleaning those kid toilets.

I read two books about elimination communication with infants and decided it was not for me. Partly because I was not interested in baby-wearing, but mostly because I had no desire for Anders to pee and poop all over me until I learned his signals. And I didn't want to be with him every minute of the day. I did the RIE thing where we talk during diaper changes and he would raise his butt for me and straighten his legs to help me change his diaper--and I enjoyed our time together. He breastfed (and was uninterested in any food at all) until he was ten or eleven months old--so his poops were not smelly or even that gross.

I did play around with early potty training. I bought him an infant toilet and at around ten months he would crawl to his little toilet when he had to poop, and I would take his diaper off, and he would poop in his little toilet and I would clean it up. This went on for about about a month, then we went traveling for three months... and we were back to diapers--and I was much happier. It was more work for me to stop what I was doing, take off his diaper, wait while he got himself situated on the toilet, wait while he pooped, clean up his poopy butt, and then clean up his poopy toilet than it was for me to just change a poopy diaper. Cloth diaper poopy butts are a breeze, moist and easy to clean, not sticky like plastic-diaper poopy butts. So after that experience I got rid of the infant toilet and decided to wait to potty train until he was able to walk to the bathroom on his own and take his pants down and up on his own!

Here is a story from a reader about her experience--even more successful than mine!

"Eldon always wanted to be naked and we just didn't really care if he peed on the laminate or hardwood floors. He'll be two next week and hasn't had a wet diaper in weeks. We even flew for a long weekend and he had one wet diaper - he took his diaper off and peed onto it instead of peeing on the carpet haha. That also includes overnight - he's been dry overnight for at least 6 weeks and now happily sleeps naked. I actually was opposed to EC at first because I didn't want to "sit him" on the toilet because that was disrespectful of his body. But he chose nudity and we just always talked about peeing or pooping. I've cleaned up my share of messes, but with zero prodding or pushing my not-quite 2 year-old has (I can't even say this without cringing) "potty trained" himself."

Saturday, December 19, 2015

What I Do About Christmas, Presents, and the Santa Lie

I have been getting a lot of emails about Christmas and specifically about how to deal with two things: presents and the Santa story.

Naturally, I cannot tell you what will enrich your life the most, but I can tell you what I do and why.

Before I buy into any tradition, I like to know what I am buying into. And though I don't recall the details of my research into the Christmas holiday, (I read four or five books on this about ten years ago), I do remember--

Our farming ancestors, in the north where it mattered, celebrated the winter solstice because it was the end of darkness and the return of the light. There are many lovely myths about this, but my favorite is the one in which the solstice celebration is a wedding--the marriage of Easter, the goddess of light and brith, to the god of darkness and death. (The holiday we still celebrate around the spring equinox, Easter, is of course her birthday celebration.)

When agricultural religions were supplanted by war religions (religions that generate Us vs Them myths) the Solstice festival of light turned into Christmas, Hanukkah, and Ramadan. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Ramadan are ancient solstice celebrations reappropriated--for the Christians, Easter became Mary, the light became Jesus, and the myth of the reason for celebration creates an us and them.

Because all three of these religions, though they have many wise and wonderful things to teach about life, are war-making religions, I am not all that into any of the above holidays. (If this subject interests you read anything by Joseph Campbell.)

So, I celebrate the solstice. But--

The solstice is a lovely holiday to celebrate if you live in the far north where the whole dark/light thing feels real. In Northern California where I grew up, it always felt rather silly. In Los Angeles where I lived for the last ten years, it felt even sillier. And in Nicaragua, well, I can't even bring myself to pretend.

In Nicaragua I want a rain festival, a firefly festival, a mango festival, maybe even a mosquito-hating festival, or a jungle festival, but a festival celebrating the end of darkness when it's eighty degrees all year and the sun sets at 7pm all year... it just doesn't work.

And I don't mind. Traditions are easy to invent and easy to let go of for me. I see culture as something that is ever evolving and the more in touch with reality I can be, the more fluid, the quicker I can change in accordance to what I am truly needing. I think this way because--

What we think of as ancient traditions are never very ancient. Every time I research a holiday (or birthday celebrations or marriage celebrations) I marvel at how new these things that we do are. Santa, Christmas presents for everyone--we are led to believe that these are ancient, that our ancestors have done these things for a thousand years. This is not the case.

The Victorians invented Santa and the whole lie-to-kids thing. 4 generations of parents who lie. That's it! The Victorians also invented the kids getting presents thing! Before then, the only people who got presents at Christmas were the poor!

The "original" present given at Christmas was actually food so, back to agricultural people living in Northern Europe: The harvest was in and had been in for months. Now it was the darkest time of the year; everything was frozen; little work could be done outside; it was time to slaughter the cows and other animals that would not survive the winter or that the family could not afford to feed all winter, and so--a feast! A feast for days and days before the lean times set in. A feast because it was freezing, and it was dark all day anyway, so everyone may as well stay inside and sing and dance. A feast because they weren't getting enough sun and needed some cheering up!

In the middle ages the Christmas feasts were funded by the wealthy and the poor benefitted, but the arrangement was very friendly. Kind of like in the television show Entourage. One rich dude lives in a big house with all of his servants, and those servants were largely his best friends. They weren't the "lowly" servants of later years. And they weren't servants as we imagine them. It wasn't "go fetch me a glass of water!" It was more like: whoever had the best social skills, whoever knew the most people, whoever could keep the peace on the farm, whoever could keep the peace with the neighbors, that dude was considered the MVP of the house. He was the "big man." He was often a skilled warrior, but most often he had great social skills and farming smarts. "Big men" of the middle ages would not live very long if they were jerks. The "big men" of the middle ages had successful farms because they were smart and responsible--they were natural leaders. Less smart, responsible, and capable people looked to them for advice and leadership and were happy to work for them. If the big man started to suck, he lost his entourage. So there was a household with 30 people in it--farmers, cooks, a lawyer, a blacksmith, a boat maker, and the owner of the house, the big man, who, worked all year long with his servants, but was considered the leader and traveled to law-making meetings in nearby large cities when they took place. These big men later became "lords" and "kings." But the first lords and kings were not much wealthier than those who served them. (See the history section of my bibliography page for where I am getting this from.)

As time went on the wealthy started to see themselves as superior to those they bossed around. They didn't want to hang out with their entourage anymore and especially they didn't want to breed with them. Or, worse, have their children hang out with them and end up breeding with them. Thus the upstairs/downstairs arrangements began. Many of the entourage were told to stay in their own tiny shacks out on the farm instead of moving into the big house. Now there were lords and peasants more similar to the stories we have heard. The feasts of Christmas continued, but not really. Now they were forced. A day the rich lord was forced to hang out with and pretend he respected his peasants. The feasts were more like a show, a show of "goodwill" between the rich and poor.

Years went by and the rich started to dislike the poor so much, that they didn't even want to pretend to party with them. Solution: the wealthy started giving cash presents. "No feast this year guys. Why don't all of you take a few pence and go have your own party?!"

Odin, who flies through the air in a sleigh (or was it cart?), was the god of hospitality who could be celebrated by inviting everyone over for a party. Now he was Saint Nick, Santa--the man who gave presents (food and money) to the poor instead.

And so on Christmas, the rich played the role of the benevolent benefactor who "enjoyed" providing for their "grateful" poor. Perhaps for some this honestly reflected what was going on, but for many of the rich, the poor were never quite grateful enough, and for many of the poor, the rich were never quite generous enough.

The poor who had accepted their station and had come to see themselves as destined to be poor, as incapable, felt a little grateful, but mostly they hid their shame from themselves with feelings of entitlement. They told themselves they deserved the gifts, that they were entitled to be taken care of, that the social custom of "noblesse oblige" is right. (Noblesse oblige is the ritual act in which the wealthy and capable admit their guilt for being wealthy and capable.)

Christmas presents, for many of the poor, were about justice, about taxing the rich, about power. Similar to Halloween candy, behind all the games of pretend joyful giving and receiving was the threat: "Give us a treat or we will do a trick on you." The rich gave the gifts (food and money), recognizing the power of the poor (their servants) to rob and murder them if they weren't benevolent enough. They played their role--joyfully giving, happy to be robbed, so that for one more year they would be left alone.

As the wealth gap between the rich and poor grew, the rich learned that by playing the role of the kind, generous benefactor they could buy the right to be treated differently than others, to be treated with more reverence, more respect... like royalty. The problems of the rich back then were similar to those of movie stars. They "love" their fans, and want to be kind to them and please them so that their fans continue to love and support them, but they don't actually want to hang out. And after years of special treatment, they may actually think they are better than their fans. It certainly seems that way since they can do things and get away with things that regular people never could.

In the 1600's a new kind of poor person took over the scene--the poor person who didn't want to be poor, who had self-esteem, and knew the rich were no better than he was. These poor people largely moved to America. In early America many people didn't accept gifts. They were proud of their ability to survive on their own. "Ha! You thought I was a peasant and needed your leadership! Actually, I can do it on my own just fine, thank you very much!" They were almost obsessed with not "owing" anything to anyone.

By refusing gifts they were refusing enslavement. Many early American rejected Noblesse Oblige, and instead demanded self-responsibility and equal treatment. As soon as someone gave them a present, they gave one right back; the American custom was an immediate obligation to reciprocate. And if they couldn't reciprocate, because of large wealth differences, they refused the present. "No thank you. I cannot accept it," meant "I refuse to owe you, to be owned by you" and "We will be treated the same." This is what Ma teaches Laura in the Little House books. (Also, it should be noted that this custom wasn't limited to America, and plenty of Americans at the time did accept gifts as well, and I am sure this type of poor person existed all along, see the note at the bottom.)

Then came the Victorians and a new kind of poor person came into existence: children. Previously rich children gave gifts to poor children on Christmas; they did not receive. But now these children were removed from life and meaningful work and trapped in their houses or at school and placated with toys and gifts constantly. Christmas was just one more way to distract them from their new enslavement.

Pretty soon all the adults in America were benevolent benefactors on Christmas giving to their enslaved children and threatening them with coal if they weren't good little slaves. (It wasn't a clean cut, of course. The Victorians didn't invent random things out of thin air. These new traditions had been developing for quite some time before they went mainstream in Victorian times.)

Children weren't the only recipients of the new family Christmas of course, just the focus, the excuse. First the rich wanted the poor out of their houses for the Christmas parties, now they wanted them out of the town square as well. "Stay home, hang out with your family," was the message. "Your children need you! Go home!" Holidays before the Victorians were about adults having fun with their friends and children watched or joined. Now holidays are about how adults can provide fun for captive children. Slaves require slave-masters.

The best myth (it seems) for enslaving Americans is the myth of the benevolent, kind, loving authority, much more insidious and harder to catch than the more brutal, clear power that existed in Europe. Santa isn't that scary. Like a policeman from the 50's. But the truth is, if you think the person in power isn't scary, you're not paying attention. (Discipline and Punish by Foucault is a great book on this.) In many places in Europe Christmas still (kind of) knows what it is--it's more like Halloween or a Carnival. Scary creatures roam the streets threatening to do harm to those not "being good." This is about power. Trick or treat. All year it's the rich who are in power. On Halloween or Christmas or Carnival--the power shifts to those who have nothing to lose. Now it's time for the rich to be afraid.

Which brings us to Christmas as we know it in today: gorgeous decorations, tasty food, family, presents for children from a mysterious magical authority, and generosity with everyone, especially the poor. And beauty. In America Christmas is about beautiful, benevolent power. In Europe Christmas is a lot uglier. But in either place, no one is really thinking about why. It's just the tradition.

I am all in favor of the decor and the food. I am in favor of the family if you are giddy with excitement at the thought of spending a fortune in time and money to spend a few days with them, because I am not in favor of the family aspect if it is experienced as a "duty." I am not in favor of lying to children or gifts from magical authority figures. I am also not in favor of a celebration of "generosity" since it's a big lie. A holiday in favor of human capacity to have compassion for one another, yes. A holiday about NVC, sure. But "generosity" is just noblesse oblige, trick or treat, so well-packaged that we don't even realize it.


Before I get to presents from Santa, let's talk Christmas presents at all: giving on a prescribed day instead of according to authentic desire, pretending to be grateful for things we didn't actually want, white lies, re-gifting, wearing sweaters to Grandma's we don't actually like, entitlement to them if x really loves us, sadness that x doesn't know us as well as we thought, wishing people who can't afford it would stop spending their money on us and save it instead, wanting to "win" at presents, the stress of the shopping, the stress of the spending, the stress of the wrapping, wondering if x really liked it, patting ourselves on the back for being such good, benevolent, generous givers, never feeling appreciated enough, spending more than we meant to, January bills, wondering if the charity money is helping or hurting the beggars...

Presents are lovely looking under the tree--but trees are lovely looking without the presents under them too. And for me, the positives just don't outweigh the negatives.

When I was a poor kid desperate for presents, I was incapable of creating an authentic relationship with those who gave me the nicest gifts. I just wanted to please them, so they would keep giving me nice presents! I was bought and paid for. Gifts taught me how to think like a beggar or a slave, to be owned, to be inauthentic. Was I a special case or do gifts teach children to have controlling, manipulative relationships instead of respectful ones?

The public indoctrination school system killed the entrepreneurial American, so today we are almost all the poor who feel entitled to our holiday bonuses, especially from those we perceive as rich. It would never occur to us that all the holiday bonuses are a hardship on the rich, that they are often not giving to us because they want to.  We tell ourselves they can afford it, so that we can continue on in our entitlement. We forget that the richer you are, the more people you employ, and the bigger the cost of December. Perhaps December is not a strain for say, Oprah, but... really? I bet her December bill is in the millions. 

Even if December is not a strain for Oprah, it's still inauthentic. Giving a holiday bonus to your employee who really knocked your socks off this year and added real value to your life feels good. Giving a bonus to everyone you happen to employ, even those you simply don't have time to fire because training a new person is such a time-drain, doesn't. Giving a bonus because if you don't you are a jerk... is just the same old threat.

The middle class (who cannot afford it) tries so hard to be like the upper class that they tax themselves on Christmas. Once upon a time only the very wealthy had hairdressers. Now we all do (except the very poor). Now middle class people who can barely afford to get nice haircuts are supposed to get presents for their hairdresser, who makes the same amount of money that they do. They are supposed to tip their postman who makes more than they do! Simply because he is in a "service" position. This is blind tradition following.

Was Christmas morning really fun? Or do we think it was because we have been programmed to? Are people truly happy to spend their time and money on all these presents? Can they really afford it? Do children really love it or is the reality that children spend Christmas morning squabbling and comparing presents and crying because it's not what they really wanted, or because brother must be loved more because his presents are better? Do parents really feel like benevolent lords or do they actually feel tired and broke and unappreciated?

The peasants are never grateful enough and the lords are never generous enough.... Yet we all pretend.

Imagine refusing all gifts and bonuses because whether you mean to or not, they make you behave differently toward the giver--freebies are never really free. Imagine taking full responsibility for getting your needs met. Imagine teaching our children to refuse to be bought and to take full responsibility for getting their needs met, that if they want something, they should go out and earn it, not put it on a list and sit around and wait. And not hope that some magical authority will bestow it upon them if they are good enough. Not giving gifts to one another declares that we are equals and that both of us are capable of getting our needs met.

Of course, the responsibility to earn what you want instead of beg for it requires the freedom to do so--freedom from the slavery that is school would be necessary for kids.

There's the other side of gift-giving too, the authentic side. Humans do love expressing their love to those they love with gifts. And I love those gifts! Real gifts feel wonderful--stumbling across something perfect for someone you truly love and surprising them with it, when you want to express how you feel for someone and have the time and money to search high and low for the perfect expression of that love, when you are giving because you genuinely want to meet someone else's needs, not because you have to, not because it makes you good, not because you have been threatened (internally or externally), not because it is a certain day of the year.

Authentic gift giving would never feel like your job, your role, a game, or a chore. It would never feel like winning or conquering. There would be no attempt at control behind the gift, just an expression of love. I am fairly sure it would never happen on a prescribed day of the year, but it could be argued that having a holiday that reminds us to express our love to the people we value is fine, until it turns into a job. It's one thing to set a goal for yourself to, once-a-year, buy something nice for people you appreciate, but it is quite another thing for those people to develop an expectation and to feel unloved if no gift comes their way. 

Moreover, if we take a moment to pause and come into reality, if we gave gifts in the present, if we moved into our perceptual brain while giving and receiving to just honestly perceive what was happening... I think we may learn that even when it comes to authentic gift giving, we feel loved, but the actual gift is not wanted. It is an economic law: If someone is going to spend $100 on me, I will do the best job of buying what I actually want.

If I have self-esteem. Let's not forget that women have been socialized from birth to be bought, to see themselves as objects only worth what people will pay for them. Receiving presents make us feel feminine, worthwhile. If our husband doesn't buy us presents... we must be worthless!

Presents often don't meet the needs of the receiver. They meet the needs of the giver--and it's important for the giver to remember that. We all experience the desire to express appreciation to those we value. We all experience the desire to make a valuable contribution to the lives of those we love. But let's be clear here: We are setting out to meet our own needs. People have said to me, "I want to appreciate you somehow in some tangible way. It would mean a lot to me if you would allow me to give you something. What could I buy you that you would most enjoy?" I love that kind of self-aware gift!


So when it comes to Santa: My son knows that that guy dressed in red is Santa, also called Odin and Saint Nick, which is a story about a man who lived a long time ago who gave money to beggars at Christmas. "I don't support giving money to beggars," I tell my son, "so I don't celebrate this man. But many people love beggars and slaves and will do everything they can to make you want to be one. Especially if you are a kid. When the Vikings celebrated Santa, he was called Odin, and he was the god of hospitality and mead. The Vikings celebrated him by inviting people over for dinner. That is what I like to do!"

My friend Dave Scotese pointed out to me the creepiness of Santa, that as parents we are supposed to give to our children as a magical benevolent authority (is Santa a government stand-in?) rather than ourselves. Our children spend Christmas morning grateful to the generosity of "Santa" rather than their mom and dad.

I read some of the emails I got to Anders and asked him what he thought. He thinks parents should not lie to their kids. Even if the grandparents really really want them to.

An interesting note on Santa is that Anders loved knowing about the Santa lie when he was three and four. He loved it when adults tried to convince him that Santa was real. He would howl with laughter. As a five-year-old Anders decided that he wanted to pretend that Santa (or Odin) was real, so that year for the Solstice we bought stuff for our stockings. Anders must have filled (and unfilled) the stockings a dozen times. Then I hid them for a few days before the solstice. Anders and I left cookies and a beer for Odin, and I got up in the middle of the night and laid out the stockings and a few presents I had been hiding from Anders's aunts. Well, Anders was quite delighted in the morning. So delighted he wanted to do it again for many more nights. So, even though he knew it was me and knew it was all pretend, the joy of waking up to surprises was everything a parent wants on Christmas morning!

More on how I celebrate:

At my house for the solstice, we turn off all the lights so we can experience the natural darkness fall. We use only candle light or Christmas lights. We spend the entire day cooking a feast to enjoy with friends. If we are in Nicaragua we light sparklers. And we hang out. We do not exchange gifts. Some gifts arrive from relatives, and I hand them over to Anders--but very few.

As Anders gets older, I am sure he will want to have the Santa experience one year. I was a nanny for a lot of Jewish kids, and they all need one year with a stocking. That's fine. We can go all out and do it properly in Europe with snow too! I love totally buying into a foreign cultural experience!

As Anders gets older we can keep talking about a way to celebrate the solstice that is meaningful to him and me and his father. We are nimble and flexible, not bound by a fantasy of tradition, and totally open to suggestions. Perhaps we will celebrate the Solstice with a festival that involves very interesting discussions and explorations about power and powerlessness, equality and inequality, control/war and peace/respect in human relationships and in society.

In the mean time we go all out for birthdays--that is the individualist holiday I can totally get behind. But I am still wary of presents. I don't stop other people from buying them. But I make sure Anders gets things he actually wants (from his wish list), and I always encourage people to put money in his bank account instead.

For a couple years I needed my husband to "spoil" me on Christmas--to make up for what I felt deprived of as a kid. He graciously complied and... now I don't even need the holiday at all. And if I ever feel that need again, and he is willing to comply or one year Anders really wants to be showered with presents... sure! My goal is only ever to be honest with myself, so that I can get my real needs met and not just fall into the zombie trap.

In conclusion:

When I was a teenager I worked hard and enjoyed spending lavishly on my family at Christmas. Then I read Atlas Shrugged and realized that I was Hank Reardon. Spending lavishly on my family was only fun when I thought it made me good. When I realized that it didn't, that I was supporting my own destroyers, both financially and intellectually by the acceptance of my "duties" to them, I was free. I think of this because so many people my age tend to spend Christmas in (voluntary but miserable) servitude to their children and their aging parents. I feel so sad seeing it! "You are free!" I want to shout! You do not have to spend lavishly on your family--in time or money.

*I need to write an entire post about the disrespect of older generations to the younger, and this paragraph is going to be a little bitchy because the stories I have heard from some of you shock me! Grandparents exist to be of service to their grandchildren. Biologically speaking, humans would not live so long unless the older generation contributed to the survival of the current generation being raised. Today, it seems that the older generations rob from their own grandchildren or great-grandchildren, taking the time and money of their parents, making demands on their parents, hindering them, refusing to give up the throne. Family matriarch and patriarch, please! Your place is to be wise woman and wise man, helper to the new warrior king and queen fighting out the battle of life for the survival of their children. Any parent insisting that their children maintain the Santa lie or continue to spank or whatever it is... I applaud everyone who wants to use NVC to try to stay connected with them. Personally, I don't think I could tolerate it for a second. I will feast with people who make my heart sing! And I will see my family when I genuinely want to for a non-holiday when there are no "shoulds" involved in the visit.

So, solutions for those of you struggling with presents and the Santa lie--I have none to offer! But maybe watch closely and try to get in touch with all the real feelings and needs of your experience this year. What do you really need from the Christmas holiday and are those needs getting met? Can you get those needs met without attempting to control other people? Can they be met in an authentic way? If you love shopping for presents--do it!!!! Have fun! If you don't--skip it! If you don't want to lie to your kids about Santa--don't! And don't let your parents either. Most grandparents will be happier to have you visit and do it your way than not have you visit at all.

Laura Ingles Wilder believed in Santa as a little girl. Her parents lied to her--and whipped her--and she loved them anyway. Relationships can "handle" a lot and still provide enough value to each party to keep it going. Not saying we should start lying to one another and whipping our children, just saying if you loved Santa and your family loves Santa and the idea of your kid believing that gifts come from a magical authority figure and not their family that loves them--go for it. Meet your needs! As long as you are honest with yourself and your kids don't mind, as long as you feel your way and tell them the truth when they want the truth, and keep monitoring your relationship... I can imagine this could work out. What makes us upset is not that other people cannot meet our needs sometimes, it's that they don't try or explain, that they are self-involved and not truly seeing us.

Two Last Notes:

Those who fled their rulers and established America weren't actually the first wise peasants/farmers/men with self-esteem who fled. In the 1000's and 1100's, when the kings in Scandinavia were first establishing what it meant for one man to be a king and another to be his peasant, a whole hoard of people moved to Iceland and made a law that no royalty would ever be established there. Thus existed for 200 years what some consider to be the most peaceful and free (anarchistic) society that ever existed. (See Viking Age Iceland.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Historical Accuracy on Television

Dear Hollywood Writers Who Think They are Being Historically Accurate,

1. Basic Economics: Wealth cannot be stolen before it is created. For there to be silver to steal in the first place, societies MUST be thriving and peaceful. I am so frustrated with these constant bands of raiders always stealing and pillaging every impoverished-looking town they come across. If life had been anything like it is being portrayed, society could not have existed. Nothing could have been built. Nothing made beautiful. Without peace, without respect for personal property, no one makes wealth and there is nothing to steal. Why would anyone fighting for their survival bother with having silver cups if they had to keep them hidden and the cups brought danger to them? The fact that there WAS anything to steal, the fact that populations increased and spread (slowly), shows that for most people most of the time there had to be some confidence that they would get to keep the the products of their labor. There had to be peace and thriving most of the time.

2. Tribal Life: People could not have killed whomever they wanted with reckless abandon as they do on Vikings or The Last Kingdom or Outander. There are serious repercussions to the choice to kill your neighbor--his family. And his family's family. Anarchy doesn't mean you can just run around killing people on a whim. There is a great book, The Lifeways of Hunter Gatherers, that explains well how measured and practical hunter-gatherers (human beings) are/were about going to war as in--they worked very hard to avoid it, because with so few people in each group, with so few people living on your farm or in your tribe to get the work of survival done, you will not survive if you lose even 3 of them. Villages worked very hard to keep the peace and keep a fight between two men just that--a fight between those two men. It was very hard to raise an army, to convince others to risk their lives for your cause. 

3. Hierarchy: It is the constant bowing to authority in these shows that bothers me the most. In my studies of the history of childrearing and Viking history--Viking Age Iceland is a great resource for this subject--hierarchy as we know it didn't exist for most of human history. Farmers--free men--don't bow to other men easily. They don't pay taxes on their land to a "king" easily. It took centuries of slowly changing the society to create the ideas of hierarchy we have now. The invention of hierarchy, how free men first began to pay taxes to a man who called himself "king" fascinates me, and that is why I have studied so much of the Viking era. So first of all: bullies got themselves killed. You couldn't be a "big mean bad guy" and accumulate that much more wealth than your cohorts unless you wanted to die. The first kings were natural leaders, men with very good social skills who did an excellent job of keeping the peace in their villages. They were looked to as wise men, not war lords--though they were often great fighters, they didn't want to fight. Duh. And they were busy farming most of the year. They didn't have hoards of peasants around them fetching them a glass of water and bowing. Not that it mattered much because the difference between a very wealthy king and a peasant back then was often whether you owned a cow and had fresh milk or not (and how many people liked you and sought you out for advice and would have your back if someone upset you). The first "lords" or "big men" lived in a home with a successful farm that was thriving and a community of about 20 people who lived in his house with him. That's right. There wasn't some great hall where the king lived and peasants in poverty around him. This was a tribe and everyone shared and leaders changed often based on who was most respected/popular at the moment. Similarly with children. Until children were "taught their place" in the 1500's and later, they were just young people. Children like doing what they are told about as much as adults do--which is say... I am so sick of this authority-reflex always portrayed on television! It didn't exist!!! (In the way they portray it.)

4. Most men had long hair until the Victorians. It was their religious ethic that demanded men abandon caring about their physical appearance, and show how little they cared by wearing their hair short.

5. Viking men were not sexist in the way Hollywood screenwriters imagine they are. Women were considered smaller and weaker than men (because in reality they are!), they were less useful in battle (and they needed to mind the children) but they were not useless in battle and they were not treated as if they were stupid until much much later. It's very hard to imagine their lives but easier for me living in rural Nicaragua: most of the time you must work for your survival, most of the time most women of fighting age had children to be caring for and often nursing as they nursed until four or five years old--they could not travel to political meetings, could not be gone on a hunt. It was PRACTICAL. And it was nothing to be ashamed of. Women's skills were highly valued and a man who could not get a wife would not have a very pleasant life. I am also very interested to understand how women allowed themselves to be turned into property--again this had to happen over centuries. On a farm the fight for survival requires the whole team and anyone not pulling their weight is let go of--women pulled their weight.

6. Viking men were not religious in the way Hollywood screenwriters make them. Their gods were very human, kind of like famous people whose lives we follow. They were not worshipped the way Christians worship their god--there was no bowing and groveling to them.

Anyway, I have a lot more studying of this time period to do before I have a true theory of how people behaved but one thing I know so far is that from what I have read, they did not behave like this.

Note on Raising Anders Without TV

Anders and I are at the Weston A Price annual conference this weekend. This conference has a "kids track," not overly impressive, but enjoyable enough that Anders has been happy to go and good enough that I am okay with him going.

Last night when I returned from the adult-only banquet dinner to pick him up, the kids were not dancing (as I had been told they would be doing) but watching Wall-E. This is the first cartoon movie Anders has ever seen. They were about two minutes in when I arrived. Anders wasn't ready to go yet, so I sat to watch with him. We watched about ten more minutes, and then he said he was ready to go, and we left.

What I found interesting is that Wall-E got hurt a lot, but Anders didn't laugh. The other children did-they howled with laughter every time Wall-E got hurt. Anders noticed this as well and started to learn when to laugh--always a few seconds behind the other kids but making a clear effort to join in. By the time we left he had pretty much gotten the hang of when to laugh, but I am not sure he actually thought it was funny.

There is no conclusion I can make from this, but I do find it interesting. I would be curious to know if other parents who don't have televisions have noticed a similar trend?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What I Do Instead of Using the Television as a Babysitter in "Emergencies"

There is no doubt that sometimes I need a break and desperately want a distraction for Anders, something that will occupy him for at least an hour. Instead of a horrific television show or worse, a Disney movie, in these "emergencies" I use home videos.

Long ago I started making this playlist for Anders and now, if I need a break, he has a good 90 minutes of memories to watch! I absolutely love this solution to a classic parent problem.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Do I Have the Right to Write About My Son?

A reader (maybe?) recently Facebook messaged me the following: "Please don't take this the wrong way.... I just wonder if there will be a spate of lawsuits in about a decade, when these kids grow up and see that their parents violated their privacy on a daily basis in a semi-public, digitally persistent forum. I have a few friends that have written frequently about their kids, some in non-flattering ways, and I've wondered. Looking over your posts, I see far, far more about Anders than I do about you, which is why I started thinking about it this way. I don't know you, and I certainly mean no offense. I just thought it would be good food for thought, an interesting topic for discussion w.r.t. liberty and individual sovereignty. Carry on."

Here is my response: Only time will tell in regards to lawsuits and other parents and their children--but I don't really think in this way nor do I think that thinking in terms of "rights" and "wrongs" is helpful when it comes to human relationships. These are highly abstract ideas that should only be dealt with in the context of a concrete (situation). Human relationships happen in the concrete and in the present, not in the abstract, and they are ever changing as the people and their needs change. To abstract about human relationships is to participate in the system of control that I am against and that I do not think is heathy--this language you use is Control Language which leads to various forms of Statism.

How I think about it: It IS very important to me that I maintain a respectful relationship with my son, Anders, in fact little is more important to me in my life. Thus far he has been very into and supportive of my/our Facebook page, and his YouTube channel (which he does consider his). He also thus far loves my mission of teaching people how to have more respectful relationships with their children. Though there are some pretty tragic posts that I have seen on Facebook in which parents shame or embarrass their children or even make fun of them (and I have unfriended people who do so) this is not the kind of post I post. 

However, should he change his mind at some point about what aspects of his life he is comfortable with me (or both of us) sharing, I will of course seek a solution in which we can both get our needs met. As I said above, his needs at very important to me! My needs--to share my life and my area of expertise--are also valid. Given our track record so far, I expect we will find a satisfactory way for both of us to get our needs met. Though I can see Anders getting more controlling about his "image" as he gets older, I do not think it will be anything compared to a child who attends public school.

I have read a lot of the parenting literature and find it seriously lacking in concrete examples. This is why I try to remedy this in my own writing.

Moreover, I am greatly saddened by Rue Kream's silence about her children as they got older and their silence about their experience of their childhood. Ditto with the girl raised by that guy who wrote Summerhill. We all want to know how it worked out--for both the parent and the child! What did they learn? What would they do differently and the same?

I can only hope that Anders and I will be different. I hope he writes a book one day about what it was like to be raised this way. When he was younger he used to say that he was going to write books like his mom when he grew up, but then he found out how much I make compared to his dad.... I cannot control the future. What I can do is continue to seek a respectful and mutually enjoyable relationship with my very favorite young man in the entire world.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Canker Sores Cured by Magnesium & Calcium

Personal health note: during our kitchen construction I got sick of eating out and opted instead for meal delivery. I chose Paleo Delivers since paleo is the closest thing I could get to the Weston A Price diet with meal delivery. I ate the Paleo Delivers meals for 3 months and definitely felt a decline in my health but was very busy and figured I would get healthier again when I got to Nicaragua--the meal delivery was just too convenient for me to give up.

Right around month 3 I noticed my teeth looking a ridged and thinner than usual and I broke out in canker sores all over my mouth--they would last around 5 days each and the minute one healed another one started somewhere else. I have never had a canker sore before so this was crazy!

I researched canker sores and because the drug-store topical cure had magnesium in it I had a sudden realization: the Paleo Diet doesn't provide the dairy vitamins and minerals. I knew better than this! I should have been supplementing the whole time!

Anyway, I made a bet that by adding homemade raw milk kefir back into my diet, it would cure my teeth and mouth issues. Since I was likely very deficient, I also bought the New Chapter Calcium and Magnesium supplement.

Canker sores and teeth ridges were gone the in one day.

A Review of Kumon's Reading Program

Anders did the first 3 units (300 pages) of the Kumon reading program and I want to toss them so… here are the things I noted about the program:

1. I found it disturbing that concepts are just tossed out there in a pretty disconnected way. For example, the first 12 words introduced are: fish, cat, mouse, dog, sun, cloud, car, house, corn, tree, cake, and apple. Why not do all foods? Or start with the family--mom, dad, brother, sister, baby, dog? Or all animals? Disconnection is not how the human brain learns best.

2. I don't like it that corn and cake are in the first twelve words. Throughout the Kumon program there is quite a bit of pictures of candy, hot dogs, french fries, pizza--lots and lots of junk food. Super annoying.

3. I find it strange that the words "mom" and "dad" are not among the first 50 words the kids are introduced to. It makes me buy-in to the school-is-trying-to-destroy-the-family conspiracy.

4. I find it strange that among the first 50 words are the words "king" and "queen," depicted as black people but dressed as a European king and queen would have been dressed long ago. Again with the disconnect. If we are trying to teach our children about life… why are these concepts being introduced in this confusing false-to-life way?

5. Among the first 160 people depicted in the pictures there are 92 males and 68 females. There were 142 dark skinned people and 18 fair skinned people. There were no blond women and only one blond man and he was in the background of a picture featuring a dark skinned person. Not understanding the social agenda here.

*Level 3A: "I drink grape juice." Is one of the sentences they must learn. We changed it to "I don't drink grape juice." We also changed "I eat my cereal with a spoon" to "I don't eat cereal."

I don't care for the Kumon reading program at all and don't care enough to look into this more. The first thousand people would be more significant as a mini-study--perhaps it all equals out or reflects the true distribution of people in the world. No idea. Either way, the Hooked on Phonics program is far better (Anders prefers it as well) so that is what we will use from now on!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Privilege: This Idea Has Got To Go

I recently succumbed to a quiz on Facebook that let me know that I am "not privileged" because I was born into poverty, and I am female. But I am "privileged" to be white, heterosexual, educated, happy to be female, and to not feel ashamed of or oppressed by my (lack of) religion.

This idea has got go. Let me explain--

Privilege means "special treatment." Academia has decided that to be a "normal" member of a given society necessarily means to be "treated better" than those who are "not normal."

In one sense academia is absolutely correct: of course it is easier to be "the norm" than it is to be different. Take something as benign as height. I am a woman who is almost six feet tall. This means I was teased a lot in elementary school. It means I am taller than 75% of men in this country--I did not enjoy the "privilege" of a large dating pool when I was younger. This means I "feel oppressed" every time I go shopping because the waistline of almost all shirts and dresses hit me at my breasts. It means if I want to wear heels I will be taller than every man at the party and sometimes even mistaken for a man. It means I had to get used to be stared at. It means the first thing anyone ever says to me at a bar is something about my height. It means that feeling comfortable in any standard seat--cars, busses, trains, planes--is a hopeless dream. It means that all kitchens, bathrooms, and showers will require me to hurt my back to use them. And that the only bed long enough for me to be comfortable in costs a fortune and doesn't fit in most bedrooms.

Yet no one wants to hear about how hard it is to be tall, so back to my point:

I went to Scandinavia once, and it was Heaven. I was finally the norm. I actually didn't even realize how uncomfortable (physically) the short-norm is here in Los Angeles until I went there. It sucks being a tall person living in a world designed for short people. Short people don't know how lucky they are! Not because it's inherently better to be short, but simply because in this society at this time it's more comfortable to be short because that is the average, norm, standard, etc.

Should short people feel guilty about this? Should they try to make it up to me? And: would it be accurate to describe them as "privileged?"

I think this would be a misuse of the word "privileged." I think "normal for our society" or "standard" or "average" or "mainstream" would be more clear. Academia uses "privileged" instead to" evoke awareness." But by "evoking awareness" they actually mean "You Should Feel Guilt."

The problem with inflicting guilt on those who are normal in some way is obvious: Who gets to decide which areas of normal are a privilege and which areas are not? Today, it is a "privilege" to be wealthy, white, heterosexual, and Christian. But it is not considered a "privilege" to be short, to eat the Standard American Diet, to follow Standard American Medical Dogma, to be a member of a Dominant Political Party, to feel seen and understood when watching Mainstream Television, to follow Mainstream Parenting Practices,  or to communicate in Standard American Judgement-Speak.

Why not?

I have never felt as oppressed for being female as I have for being super tall. Yet being female is what I get to complain about. Being from a poor background made my life a lot harder, but not nearly as hard as eating the WAPF diet. It's legal for me to work super hard to try to change social classes. It's not legal for me to eat how I want to. And despite my high quality education, people think of parents like me (who unschool their children and don't vaccinate them) as abusive. Because of my political views (Libertarian) I have FBI agents show up at my meetups and follow my social media. It is definitely scary to be openly homosexual in some places in this country. But it is also quite scary to be openly Libertarian.

And you know what--I know quite a few wealthy, white, heterosexual, Christian men who are not be able to eat what they want to because it is illegal, who suffer intense oppression for their political views, who feel physically uncomfortable all the time because of their size, who are shamed and despised by society for not raising their children in a mainstream way, who live in fear of CPS showing up at their door, who are considered weird for not wanting to sleep with 100 women, who feel angry, oppressed, and unfairly treated by their society. Is it possible that the "privilege" invented by academia is based on a subjective experience that no one gets to fully escape?

Is there really a guy so average that he has never felt judged or oppressed by his society in his entire life? Because I've never met that guy. Everyone I have ever gotten to know, once I know him well enough, turns out to have a freak flag of some kind.

I would like to suggest the following:

1. In any human group there will always be an infinite number of ways people can be categorized.
2. In every category there will be a bell curve--a norm.
3. Norms are always in flux, always changing.
4. The current Norms--and those people who represent them--are not the enemy. 
4. The enemy is and always will be: the oppression of those who are not the norm, the minority of any given bell curve.
5. Everyone is a minority in some way.
6. The smallest minority, the minority everyone should fight for, is not the categorization of the day, but the individual. The oppression we should all fight is the oppression of the individual. The respect we should all demand is the respect for the individual. Not a given category.
7. Focusing on the category du jour doesn't unite, it divides. It doesn't lead to peace, it leads to war. Regulation, force, condemnation, guilt--these all lead to war.
8. The road to peace is changing our focus, from the "who is the bigger victim" contest, to a discussion of what we are needing in this moment--which is usually the freedom to be ourselves.
9. The road to peace is clarity, honestly, and vulnerability. When I am feeling angry about some perceived oppression, the way for me to connect with my oppressor is not self-righteous indignation, but the truth of my experience, which is usually: "I feel so lonely." When I see a movie with not a single intelligent female in it. When no one in my social class understands me. When I wander the aisles of grocery stores starving and there is literally nothing I want to buy. When I see condemnation or disgust on your face--I feel so sad, so lonely, and so scared. At first I think I want to fight my oppressors, to hit them, to make them suffer as I have suffered … but the truth is I just want them to have compassion for me, for how hard it has been, how hard it will be to be different. The great news is that feeling different and lonely are universal human emotions that everyone can empathize with. 
10. Individualism is the answer. Not compassion for my gender, but compassion for the person in front of you, not compassion for my economic class, but compassion for person in front of you, not compassion for "what it must be like to be x," but compassion for the individual in front of you.

This is how our brains work. A category of people is abstract. Compassion felt for an abstraction is not real compassion but abstract compassion, hypothetical compassion. Real compassion, felt compassion caused by our mirror neurons, the compassion that leads to peace can only happen when humans perceive the person in front of them--and we can only perceive, focus on, and get mirror neurons for one person at a time--one REAL person.

We were all raised in school to feel compassion hypothetically. I would like to suggest that this is not the way.

The other day I had to listen to my friend tell me that the government needs to "nudge" me to make the "right" decisions. I had two choices, I could say: "I feel so scared when I hear you say that you want to force me to do what you think is good for me instead of letting me decide for myself. I feel so scared." Or I could say, "I will fight you to the death for my right to make 'bad' decisions, you evil oppressive scum!"

Which one of these roads will lead to connection, mirror neurons, compassion, respect, and peace?


-My brother, who is 6'8" spent many years being angry that the first thing anyone ever said to him was about his height. I took a different approach, choosing instead to see the constant comments about my height as an attempt to connect with me. My height is not the norm. It would be silly for me to pretend otherwise and sad for me to get angry at people who don't know just how many people comment on my height every day. I read an article on Facebook recently in which a black girl expresses a similar wish, that she could get through a week without someone commenting on her race. I imagine redheads are equally bored with comments about their hair. But anger at everyone who accidentally points out that you are not the norm in some way is not the solution. 

-I can hear the academically brainwashed (who I have just alienated with that judgement:) saying, but some norms lead to unfair social advantages?!! Those born to wealth do have an unfair advantage! Tall people have an unfair social advantage even if they suffer physically! First of all, tall men maybe, but at least in my experience--there are plenty of potential male employers out there who have no desire to hire a woman taller than they are. 

-Again: stop categorizing. Focus on the individual. If you focus on the individual as a whole, we all have our advantages and our disadvantages. It is only when you name a category that one of us can be a winner and the other a loser. Look at whole people. If you look at a whole person you will find that no one has it that easy. We all have our struggles. We have all experienced pain.

-I am not suggesting that "Life is fair." Nor am I suggesting that "Life is not fair." Any abstract statement should only be made in a certain context, so I could say, "Life is fair in death. We all die." Or I could say, "Life is unfair in its very nature. Humans tend to value fairness. Mother Nature doesn't."

-Humans are so obsessed with this abstract idea of fairness that many cultures invented an afterlife that would finally make things fair! Common sense: There is no way to make life fair (please YouTube Harrison Bergeron). Like I have argued before--if wealthy people should pay a penalty for the advantages wealth provides, pretty people should have to pay a penalty for their faces and strong people should have to pay a penalty for their athleticism. Where does it stop? This obsession with fairness? And who gets to decide what is the best advantage to have and what advantage is not important? You cannot decide for me. This has to be an individual decision based on individual experiences and values. Wealth is an advantage for some children; it is a disadvantage for others. Abstractions should not be made outside of a context.

-When we communicate honestly about envying someone who we think got lucky in some way, we find that all people are … people. Imperfect. Struggling. When we say, "Man, you are so lucky you were born to wealth. You should feel really guilty." They cannot reply honestly. They are not allowed to complain. They are not allowed to feel what they feel, to be real, honest, and human. They cannot connect with us. If we were really in touch with what was really going on, we might say, "Oh man I envy you for being born into such wealth!" He can connect with that, he knows what envy feels like, and he can say honestly, "Well ... I had a lot of money, but a miserable childhood. In fact, I'm still miserable. I've been envying you this whole time because you of your close relationship with your family and how happy you seem!"

-We cannot make life fair. I wrote a blog post about this before--

-Though I disagree with Kohlberg, I do agree that Level 7 moral thinkers (the highest level of morality) give up on fairness and focus on compassion. Read NonViolent Communication!

-What should we do about how unfairly mother nature confers her advantages? Nothing. Because to "fix" it requires playing God, punishing some for their so-called advantages and rewarding others for their so-called disadvantages. This creates a society of people who all want to be disadvantaged. It creates a society of people who feel punished for what was not their fault--and for what is good about them. It creates a victim mentality and a war mentality instead of a connecting and compassionate mentality. 

-But that is a utilitarian argument. What should we do about unfairness? We should never act on an abstraction that isn't contextualized. Once there is an actual context--which means individuals--we can decide the best way to get our needs met. But in the abstract, we deal with hypothetical people. This doesn't work.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Positive Psychology, Stoicism, and the Fruitless Pursuit of Happiness

Recently my husband asked me to explain to him why I am not a stoic. This post is my answer. Though I am excited to do this post (because I love organizing my thoughts), I think it's only fair to warn my reader that I do not consider myself an expert in either positive psychology or stoicism. I do know enough about them, however, to know that they contradict my understanding of epistemology and neuroscience.

Both positive psychology and stoicism I summarize thus: Repress your negative emotions! Repress them I say! But I don't mean repress. Repression is bad. But seriously, repress. I'm not advocating denial here but... look for the good and don't examine the bad!

Both of these psychological systems begin with the premise: The Point of Life is To Be Happy.

There is a major problem with this premise. If happiness is my highest value, if I decide that today my goal is just to feel happy, the quickest and surest way to achieve that goal is drugs. If this is the path I take, then my life will be: Moments of "happiness" while I do my drugs followed by days of drudgery while I do what it takes (for my physical survival) to get to my next day off in which I can do drugs. My life is: drudgery and drugs.

But let's say I chose no drugs. I try to pursue "healthy" happiness. It still doesn't work. How often does one pursue an evening of happiness only to find that it doesn't actually make one happy? How often does one find happiness while doing some random task that one thought would suck? Now my life is: Happiness is so frustrating! So elusive! Such a hard master! I need more control! More control over this elusive god! If I can just get enough control, then I will win! (This is the conclusions reached by the positive psych folk and the stoics.)

The problem is the premise. The pursuit of an emotion as the goal of life. To quote myself (from my book): "Most people begin with the assumption that emotions are primary, they seek ways to control and influence their emotional states. But our emotions let us know how we are doing; they help point us in the right direction; they let us know what is working and what needs our attention. Our strong emotions tell us: Pay attention to this! If we listen, our emotions can be great aids in the pursuit of our values. But attempting to manipulate them, like attempting to command what we see or hear, is just refusing to acknowledge reality. It doesn’t change reality and does not serve us." Emotions give us information and energy. They are tools for us to use. They are not neither good nor bad. They are not punishments and rewards for our behavior.

I do not pursue happiness. Happiness is what happens when I am busy pursing my values successfully. But I will only experience happiness if I check-in, if I come into the present and perceive. My consciousness has two primary modes: abstracting and perceiving. When I am abstracting successfully, I may experience flow. I sit down to write and eight hours disappear. I have no idea where they went, but I think I was happy. Perhaps if I had paused for a moment and checked-in with myself (perceived) I would have noticed that I felt happy, but I didn't. Any feeling can only be experienced when you pause and check-in (perceive). Most psychologies and religions attempt to teach this one very valuable skill: stop abstracting and start perceiving. Come into the present. Check-in with yourself.

When I pause at this exact moment I note: I feel very happy. I am full, rested, my body feels good, I hear my son chatting away cutely in the background, my home is tidy and beautiful, and the view outside my window is delightful. Hmmm... I also notice the sounds of traffic which I don't like, and I notice that I am thirsty. I will go back to ignoring the world around me and disappear into my writing again, my abstract brain, but I should really get a drink of water because that little ping, that little unmet need, is going to decrease my overall happiness.

Though the background emotion going on right now for me is happiness, I do not claim to feel it unless I focus on it. As soon as I get back to work, the truth is, I am not feeling anything. My subconscious is storing emotional information for sure, but since I am not focusing on it, it stays subconscious--it is just information. I would argue that I spend most of my life not actually feeling anything. And that's okay. I'm busy doing. For me, feelings are tools, information, they help me direct my actions to meeting my needs and values. But the emotion itself is not the need or the value.

There are times when I seem to pursue emotions. I find that I am drawn to sad music or a sad movie. Why? Why would I seek sadness? Because my subconscious is trying to get my attention, and I am ignoring it. Because that is the background emotion going on for me whether I have come into the present to realize it or not. Because there has been a build up of information now that needs to be felt/perceived. By feeling the sadness that I have been ignoring, I can release it. If I focus on it and figure out why I was sad, then I can understand it and make different choices.

Our strong emotions give us information and energy. That is their purpose. Emotions are not causeless. They evolved to be part of us because the SERVE us. No one is arguing that positive emotions don't serve us--they're fun. But if negative emotions didn't serve us, they wouldn't exist.

Negative emotions provide us with a great deal of energy to change our lives. Repression, numbing, and drugs enable us to live lives we couldn't otherwise live. Most of us have been repressing since childhood. We have never lived a life we wanted to live. We have never lived sustainably with ourselves. We have been taught to put off resting, to put off perception, to put off processing, to put off fun. We have been trained to stay in our abstract brains. Usually, by adulthood, there is so much sadness and anger that has been repressed that coming into the present is quite unpleasant. So we don't. We work (in our abstract brains) and then come home and numb. This is the life I described above in which people "pursue happiness": drudgery--or at best nonexistence--at work, while we await our next drug binge at home--which is more nonexistence. If this is your life--why live? You just want to not exist, so what are you doing?!

Those who advocate positive psychology and stoicism have a tendency to write about human emotions as the behaviorists do: we are dogs or rats and can be trained to be some way or another. "You can train your brain to be happier! Happiness is just a habit!" They say. Emotions are only habits to the extent that we are not being conscious or present. People who focus on consciousness, presence, and perception don't need to "program habits" or worry about "habits" much at all. (For more on this read Nathaniel Branden's The Art of Living Consciously.)

"What you focus on expands! Never focus on anything negative!" They say. But you have to focus on your negative feelings in order to bring them into your conscious awareness, so you can gather the information you need to make different choices. Once you are done gathering the information, the emotion disappears. Unless the problem you need to solve is a major one, then the emotion will expand exponentially--propelling you to change your life. Pain will give you the energy you need to change your life.

But what about depression? That keeps people in bed! Exactly. Depressing your emotions--refusing to feel your pain--will be so exhausting that you have to stay in bed. Stop de-pressing whatever it is you need to feel, start writhing in pain or anger or sadness, and pretty soon you will be up and about fixing the problem. (And by pretty soon I mean quite possibly two to five years depending on how long you have been repressing.)

That's what our intense negative emotions are for: they make us make better choices for our lives. If we don't feel them, if we numb out, repress, or drug out, we won't change our lives. Part of me is like: cool.  I like the Matrix. Drudgery and drugs has worked for this long. Why change now? But the other part of me knows that's just fear. And I used to be really afraid of pain. But now, eh, it's just pain.

I am so sorry to be the bearer of bad news, for those of you who got very excited by the promises of positive psychology and stoicism, but all you can do is train your brain to repress a ton of information that would have served you. Negative emotions are not bad! And neither are negative dispositions.

Many psychologists want us to make sure our kids are Happy All The Time because that way their Happiness Set Point will be set to Very Happy. This is crap. An optimistic disposition is genetic and, though it is a fine disposition, it is no better than having a pessimistic disposition. Common sense: If pessimistic dispositions were bad for our survival, they would not exist. There is a great lecture available on iTunes University called "In Defense of Pessimism" which explains that pessimistic people are just as happy, just as successful, and just was healthy as optimistic people. They just have different strengths. In An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth Chris Hadfield says that extreme pessimists are the only kind of people who should be astronauts--because the skill of ruminating on every little thing that may go wrong is a GREAT skill. Pessimistic ruminators are the safest, most detail-oriented people. There are many other professions in which the skill of being able to think of everything that may go wrong is of the utmost importance.

A few hundred years ago Big Religion switched its stance from saying that unhappiness (suffering) was a sign of piousness to saying that happiness was a sign of piousness (a reward from God for being Good). Unhappiness became a stigma, something that only happens to sinners. Pessimistic people became social pariahs and everyone quickly learned to have a "public persona." From the 1800's on all Americans had to exude absolute cheerfulness at all times to prove to their neighbors that they were good Christians. And… nothing has changed. Except that today we defend this fake cheerfulness using pseudoscience. Anyone who looks into the research will find decades of psychologists attempting to change pessimistic people into optimistic people and finding that it cannot actually be done. Pessimistic people cannot be saved--though they can learn to be fake. Sadly, the very thing that would have been their super power is the thing they were taught to be ashamed of and keep hidden.

One last note: we live a in a society in which happiness is a major aspect of relationship control. No one will follow your advice unless you are Perfectly Happy. No one wants to be your friend unless you seem happy and successful. (Lol, I mean people won't befriend you to use you unless you have what they want….) It's horrifying for people to research the lives of their heroes--Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden--and find that they are taking advice from people who claimed they were The Happiest People on Earth but… the proof isn't there. Alcoholism, fear of driving, loneliness and alienation, disappointment, inflexibility, angry demeanors, meanness, infidelity, repeated divorce--these are not signs of happiness!

Today the people who sell happiness to us are careful to have perfect public personas. But I worked for a lot of them. People who, to the outside world, seem perfect, happy, wealthy, and wise. It was my job to make their children as good at faking it as the parents were. One set of parents were so anxious about whether or not I would succeed, they bought drugs for a particularly important social engagement. If I failed to make the kids act like perfect, happy, angels the plan was to drug them! Almost everyone I worked for was on drugs--drugs to sleep, drugs to wake up, drugs to get through the day, drugs to deal with particularly stressful days. I came away from a decade working for the top .001% thinking: How horrible to be them!

I don't tend to believe anyone who claims to be happy (outside of a moment). They are either trying to sell me something or they are in total denial. And I know all about that because I've been there and done that. If you follow this blog you know I spent a great deal of my life being fake-happy because Good Girls are happy. At the time I had no idea that I was being fake. I thought I was disciplined, and I also thought I was happy. But the happiness was very tied to goodness, to better-than-other-people-ness. A major clue that we are repressing a part of ourselves is when we passionately hate something in other people. I look back, and I see so clearly how I hated and stayed far away from (or tried to fix) anyone remotely negative or unhappy. If you are truly happy, you let other people be.

And more importantly, people who are honestly happy and not repression-happy know it and are honest about it. They are clear that it is momentary. They admit freely that they don't always feel that way because to be honestly happy means that they feel. Which means feeling the entire spectrum of emotions.

Happiness--all feelings--can only be felt when we are in our perceptual brain. If we want to feel more happiness, we must come into the present more often. But there's a catch: coming into the present more often means we will feel more things, not just happiness. Which is why anyone--or any psychology book--that tries to promise you more pleasure without more pain… is just snake oil.

Happiness is great, I love feeling happy, but at the same time, it's not that important to me. I am far more interested in difficult intellectual problems, in creating beauty, and in people I love. These things matter to me. My feelings are just information and sources of energy that help me with the pursuit of my goals in regards to what actually matters to me.

For those of you who know more about positive psychology and stoicism than I do--have I misunderstood these ideas? Do I need to do more research?

A final note: What I have written here is what I understand based on Objectivist epistemology in which information (consciousness of reality) is valued above all. I love this epistemology, and it is the only epistemology I have encountered that makes sense without contradictions. But I think it is important to note (as I mentioned above) I do not believe the champions of this system of thought--Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden--were particularly happy people. Brilliant, yes. Happy… no. But nothing in my research has led me to conclude that those who search for truth will find happiness (I am thinking of Joseph Cambell's stuff here. Jesus and Buddha found enlightenment not happiness). According to Darrin McMahon, author of Happiness: A History, consciousness and acceptance of our emotions is one way humans at different times and in different places have dealt with "the more-happiness problem". Drugs are another way--and a valid way. Drugs as the only form of true happiness available to human beings has been supported as an idea by more than one great philosopher--Schopenhaur being one of them. Many philosophers throughout the ages have also decided that repression and rejection of all emotion is the best way to go. So, as much as I am content with my own relationship to happiness, with Objectivism, I am not claiming that it is The Happiness Maximizing Route.

Ugh, one more note: I have a hunch that positive psychology and stoicism as psychological ideals, arrive in cultures where people feel powerless over their external world. For example, the best defense of positive psychology I have read (which still didn't convert me) was Victor Frakyl's book about surviving in a concentration camp. In such a place there is no other power except over yourself, no other goal you can accomplish except the goal of controlling your emotions, no other way to experience joy. If happiness is found in our perceptual reality there is none in an ugly, miserable world. If happiness is found abstractly from accomplishing an intrinsically motivated goal, there are none one can accomplish as a slave. Which leaves abstract escape as the only way. Repression of perceptual reality, and making the goal one can accomplish controlling the abstract self.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Using the 4th of July to Advance Libertarian Politics :)

I have always found it hard to be a Libertarian on the 4th of July. For a couple years I celebrated by wearing black and staying home. But that just made the holiday even less fun. Now I think the 4th of July is the perfect day of the year for me to indulge in my control-seeking desires--known in popular culture as the benevolent goal of "changing the world." That's what this post is about, not how to make the 4th less offensive or personally meaningful, but how I envision using this day to advance my political agenda. Fun!

The lesson from history: don't repress current (sinful) holidays, just take them over, making sure your new and improved version of the holiday is even more fun and meaningful than the current one.

At some point in the Little House books, Laura and her family celebrate the 4th of July by gathering in town and, in unison with the other townsfolk, reciting the Declaration of Independence. It was something that all Americans knew in its entirety at the time--memorization being a huge part of education and something people did at home for fun as well; even three-year-olds had things memorized. After the Declaration, the townsfolk recited other important freedom-oriented speeches from history, like the Gettysburg Address, and then men who had fought in various wars told their tales before their town.

Reciting things in unison feels meaningful. DOing feels meaningful. Standing around and watching (a fireworks display, for example) feels less meaningful.

I imagine a group of energetic, fun-loving Libertarians could get together at any 4th of July gathering place and start reciting (in a group) things like the Declaration and the Gettysburg Address. They could get quite a crowd--especially if they were in costume and boisterous. People in the crowd could be handed small copies of the recitations so they could join in as well. I imagine Americans in their party mood would eat it up. Follow that performance with the Bill of Rights and Francisco's "Money is the Root of All Good" and the crowd might not even realize what they are reciting….

Or, another outlet for politically active Libertarians that pertains to this subject: According to Antifragile author Nassim Taleb one of the most freedom-fostering things that happens in Switzerland is that people identify with being from their hometown instead of their country. This helps keep their government small. Their national day is celebrated a little, but nothing compared to the celebrations seen when each town celebrates its special day, usually its founding day. Libertarians can advance their political agenda simply by fostering hometown pride in whatever town they are living. Imagine if Libertarians were in charge of the founding-day celebrations in every town. Because most people will feel more meaning in celebrating the actual town where they live as opposed to their country, these celebrations would most likely get bigger every year.

Or we could go the other way and rant about how offensive the 4th of July is for Native Americans and start a Humanity One People celebration, perhaps on June 21 (the 4th of July celebration being suspiciously similar to old summer solstice celebrations). The socialists in favor of a One World Government would totally get behind that one, and actually if we don't start it soon, they probably will. It's a fantasy to think that if we started that holiday we could control it, but, maybe for decade would could seriously influence it.

That being said, nothing in neuroscience or epistemology has led me to believe it is really possible for humans to be One People. Or rather: It is possible for our brains to rationally accept the Objectivist ideal of judging individuals and to act upon that ideal to the best of our ability. But it is not possible to suppress our subconscious statistician from dividing people into groups. Skin colors and cultures are irrelevant. If those cease to exist--thanks to major One World Fascist market, education, and media control--our subconscious will group by style of dress, career, how people wear their hair, food choices--it doesn't matter. Categorization is simply What Our Brains Do. Better to plan for it than to pretend we can overcome it with enough rationality. And the minute the top-down control ends people will return to major differentiation. (This is part of the newish field of Group Socialization Theory: If the government ceased to exist right now it is highly likely that each town would develop its own identity to such an extent that in 100 years there would be dialects so different from one another they would barely be the same language. Most likely the internet would drive most people to learn English, but human culture plus freedom evolves so fast, it would be hard to predict how different places would become. I used to think that culture was dead, that we killed it, and it is gone forever and all we can do is put on funny costumes from hundreds of years ago and talk about crazy shit people used to believe. But now I think the minute humans take back their freedom, culture will spring up again--special ways of dressing, piercing, tattooing, eating, rearing children, dancing, etc.)

Anyway, I like the idea of Libertarians being involved in celebrating and having parties and fun since the rest of the time we are the angry folk complaining!

Happy Fourth!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

I Never Read to My Son. Yet He Can Read. And He's Only 3.

My three-and-a-half year old can read. He can sound out simple three letter words. This is SO exciting for me! Partly because I'm his mom, and it's just frigging exciting. But also because I rejected the behaviorist parental script that instructed me to read to him. I feel like I just got away with something BIG.

As a baby, I never read a single book to Anders. Someone gave him one of those cloth baby books, and I did leave it in his room with all his other toys. He chewed on it periodically, but I never sat him on my lap and read it to him, and I never once saw him leaf through it like a book. But I did see him, once he could crawl, get his hands on my books and stare at them as he saw me do.

As a one-year-old he owned two books: that little cloth one and one called Baby Faces that featured photos of babies feeling different things like sad, mad, and tired. I read that photo book to him on airplanes (less than a dozen times total throughout the whole year). Anders continued to play at reading with my books. By this age his play reading also involved having a pen or highlighter in his hand and making little scribbles in the books (just as he had seen me do).

As a two-year-old he had about a dozen books on subjects in which he had shown interest: animals and machines. No story books though. The dozen books he owned were books that showed only photographs of real life with words beneath the photographs. I never read those books to him though as that would have been very boring (and philosophically horrific) for me. As before, he continued to play at reading with my books.

All this time I did read to him from the book I was reading if he asked me to. I read a lot. I always had a book in my purse. When we went somewhere, like the park, he would play, and I would read. When we went to the store, and he wanted to play in the car before getting into his carseat, I would read while I waited for him. He would often see me reading in the morning and evening as well. About once a week he would climb onto my lap, and I would read aloud to him whatever I happened to be reading at the time. We still do this. I am reading a book on death right now, and I read him a paragraph of it last night about which he commented, "How interesting!"

Also, I never shoved the alphabet down his throat. He never owned clothes with letters all over them. He never owned puzzles or dishes or placemats or rugs or toys that featured the alphabet. He didn't and doesn't to this day own a single thing, not even a decoration, with the alphabet on it. He never watched any Sesame Street or any of those other shows that claim to teach kids to read. He knows none of the children's songs that involve the alphabet either--or any children's songs for that matter.

When he turned three I read to him his first story books: Where the Red Fern Grows, and all of the Little House books. He loved these books, and so did I. They did have some pictures, but very few. I did edit the books a little, so that the characters modeled communication skills I support.

When Anders was three I asked him if he wanted to learn to read. He said, "No." I said, "Okay. Maybe when you are older!" Three months later I asked him again if he wanted to learn to read and he said, "Yes!" So I got the Hooked on Phonics program for pre-schoolers and we started learning letter sounds. I did not teach him letter names as that is highly confusing, and there is no point. The purpose of the ABC song is not reading but alphabetizing. One does not need to learn to alphabetize until one is using a dictionary and conceptualizing alphabetical order--maybe age seven.

I did not do anything gimicky to make learning letter sounds fun. I did not do a letter for a whole a week or give letters personalities or faces (like in Ron Paul's reading curriculum). Hooked on Phonics was the simple program I was looking for--though I would have liked it to be even more simple with fewer colors and distractions. Anders usually learned one letter each day we worked on them, and we usually worked on them five days a week. Learning a letter rarely took more than five minutes. Within three or four months Anders had learned all his upper case and lower case letters and finished the entire program except for the six horrible story books that came with the program that I did not read to him--one of the books was pure propaganda for cereal and another for corn.

Anyway, after we finishing the Hooked on Phonics program for preschoolers, I bought the next one--Hooked on Phonics for kindergarteners. That is the program we are doing now in which he sounds out simple three letter words. Our current program came with about thirty little books for him to read. All have anthropomorphic animals, but since he is very clear on reality at this point, I'm okay with it. Moreover, we talk about it. Because he has not grown up with any exposure to anthropomorphic animals, he thinks the idea of a cat speaking English or driving a car is absolutely hilarious.

If Anders had chosen to not learn how to read until he was seven or even eleven I would have been okay with it, but it would have surprised me. My hypothesis was that the number one thing I could do to encourage my son to read was not reading to him, but rather, reading. Just by being myself and doing what I consider enjoyable, I modeled a behavior that my son decided to acquire.

But he's only three. He may decide to take a break on learning to read while he focuses on mastering some other skill. He may take a break for years. He may be able to read, but chose not to. He may be able to read, but be a terrible reader. And of course he could be reading right now not because of any behavior I modeled, but because it is in his DNA, i.e. it could be nature and not nurture.

Also, I don't want to make it sound like I buy into the "kids must be readers!!!!" ideal. Anders's reading is an exciting result in my parenting experiment and an exciting milestone for me as a parent. But I am not trying to make him "a reader." I think many parents think reading is the cause rather than the effect of an active mind. Though I would agree reading can contribute to having an active mind, I think it can only contribute if the mind is already active.

-A while back I read some interesting accounts of teachers from the 1800's complaining that picture books were making it impossible to teach children to read. "The kids stare at the pictures instead of the words!" the teachers wrote into newspapers.
-When I worked with kids I read to them a lot and found it to be very unsatisfying. Babies just wanted to eat the books. Toddlers memorized ridiculous nonsense and, worse, received parental approval for spouting ridiculous nonsense. Preschoolers internalized terrible ideas about life like magical-thinking and control-oriented relationships. So not only did I find reading to children to be unsatisfying because of the behavior it produced in the children, I found almost all kids books to be philosophically horrific and simply not fun for me.

-Before I got the Hooked on Phonics program I tried the Kumon program which I found even more horrific in terms of propaganda. I will do an entire post about in the future.
-I did get Anders one alphabet toy--magnets--so he could feel the letters with his fingers. I got rid of them after a month as they made my kitchen ugly, and I just didn't think it was necessary.
-Anders has two Montessori letter games on our iPad that he plays on airplanes, which is to say, not often.
-I did read Anders thirty or so versions of The Three Little Pigs and The Little Red Hen while I was researching these stories for myself when he was a little over three. So he did get to hear some picture books.
-The Hooked on Phonics program instructed me to teach the ABC song, and when Anders was very good at the letter sounds, I decided it wouldn't hurt, so I taught it to him. This turned out to be a terrible idea. He loved the song, of course, but it took us about three weeks to recover from its confusing influence i.e. he still says "pee" sometimes instead of "puh" when he is trying to sound out a word.