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Monday, February 6, 2012

3 Overcorrections

As human beings, we are an emotional sort and, as such, we tend to overcorrect.  We get invested far beyond what might be sensible or advisable, and soar to greater heights and fall to greater lows than can possible be excused.  Our passions are both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness.  And nothing makes the pending robot apocalypse more terrifying that the lack of emotion that it appears to imply.  The problem with this predisposition to overcompensate is that it often leaves us with a “solution” which is worse than the problem was to begin with.  Because we are creatures of limited and pointed perception, the grass always seems greener on the other side - and, to our own detriment, we long sometimes long only for change rather than change to particular thing (e.g. the current and failing Presidency).  I would never want to be a perfectly sensible people, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to be a little more sensible when we’re trying to repair things.  It doesn’t mean we can’t try to look a little down the road to make sure we’re not diving out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire.  And so, in the interests of making sure we’re not making things worse by fixing them, here are 3 overcorrections:

1. A Matter of Faith.  If you really want to shake your faith in humanity (even more so than a late night trip to Wal-Mart or weekend trip to Costco) you need watch MSNBC’s American Greed.  Each show details how greed, fraud and corruption turn businessmen into criminals and provides an insight into just how we’ve come to thoroughly mistrust the educated class in the country.  It used to make perfect sense: we could put our faith into the educated and wealthy, by definition, they knew better than we did and they were also trained by higher institutions, steeped in traditions of honor, duty and ethical conduct.  But the scams and scandals stopped being the exclusive purview of skeezy con-men and caricatured mobsters, and found their way into far more hallowed halls.  Before long, the curtain had been lifted and no one and nothing was sacred.  Positions of trust seemed almost a prerequisite for the modern-day fleecing, and our skepticism ultimately give way to paranoia.  But in this mistrust of the moneyed, educated and powerful, we turned to an unlikely place for guidance and inspiration: the simple, the uneducated and the downright stupid.  We longed for sound-byte explanations to complex problems, for faith in higher powers over higher education, for strength in common ignorance: and we found it.  Those who peddled trust began to peddle mistrust, and we ended up with a national epidemic of trust in those least qualified to have it.  We hold “common sense” in higher regard than actual knowledge and have generated a throng of foolish prophets who abhor facts and are masters of hateful rhetoric and alliterative catch-phrases.  We have every reason to turn away from the traditionally educated - but you can’t fix bad smart with stupid.  You fix it with smarter... stupid.  

2. A Bad Fit.  No matter how practical and advanced we become, there will always be a place for artists and artisans - it is their inspiration which will always provide the motive force behind our advancements.  But the problem with these creative sorts is their utter inability to control their innovation in any substantial way.   It’s up to us to say “too much” and/or “too far.“  And such was the case with fashion models.  These lithe creatures of the European runway kept getting taller and thinner, trading in femininity for a taught androgyny - as the creative minds tasked with guiding what we wear began to stretch the limits of our own form.  And when “heroin chic” finally created a nearly global level of disgust, we realized that “healthy body images” could not include skeletal young women who looked in more desperate need of a cheeseburger than anything nice to wear.  We looked at a nation of young women obsessed with being “skinny” to the point of starvation and other eating disorders and decided that enough was enough.  But then we started celebrating overweight as the new normal.  With euphemisms that declared that the world needed people “of all shapes and sizes” - we permitted round shapes and XXL sizes as necessary components of a healthy populous.  We gather men and women at universities and preach the acceptability of a “few extra pounds” at a time in their lives when they should be enjoying their physical prime.  Even worse, we demonize idealized human forms as “unhealthy” and demand that we believe the “plus-sized” to be just as beautiful as their slim-waisted counterparts.  Nonsense.  It’s just as certain that the fashion industry got way off track in believing that the “cracked out” look was somehow beautiful, that it is that the current “big is beautiful” prophets are simply rationalizing an increasingly lazy proletariat.  There is only one kind of healthy body image - and that’s fit.  Everything else is just excuses.    

3. Sparing the Rod.  I’ve often tried to put my finger on the moment in history where it suddenly became unacceptable to spank your children, but only come with the fact that it was completely ok when I was being raised and it’s completely criminal now.    Seriously, you’ll receive less disapproving looks for urinating in public than from physically disciplining a child in the same locale.  And on some level, I get it.  We are not the best when it comes to impulse control - and today’s spanking can quickly become tomorrow’s beating.  But, of the many anachronisms in the Bible that make it a questionable choice for a document to live your life by, there is one truism that seems to ring as true now as it did a couple thousand years ago: spare the rod and spoil the child.  Or in more modern parlance, if you don’t discipline your kids, they’re going to turn out to be assholes.  We tend to, often incorrectly, to look at children as simply miniature adults (with a predisposition towards macaroni and cheese).  No matter how often this is psychologically disproven - we still do it.  But the truth is, you can’t have a discussion about acceptable behavior with a five-year old.  Because they’re five.   Besides, if corporal punishment is so bad, how did we manage to get by with it for so long?  But because we keep moving the definition of “child abuse” to include an ever-increasing percentage of things our own parents used to do to us, we have turned to no discipline at all, and allowing kids to essentially raise themselves.  As you might expect, this has produced a generation with the least promise since average global life expectancy was somewhere around forty years.  Just because something sucks doesn’t mean it’s bad.  Take, for example, cardio - which almost universally sucks, but is really good for you.  Also, in retrospect, you can probably agree that the overwhelming majority of adversity in your life actually improved you as a person.  When your parents used to tell you that spanking you was hurting them more than it hurt you - they weren’t kidding.  Corporal punishment sucked for everyone involved - but it worked, and if you think modern discipline methods are working as well or better, I would submit that you haven’t met very many kids lately. 

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In the end, I’m just happy to see that in a nation where apathy has become the new national pastime, people are still trying to fix things (and not just wait for the government to do it).  But once we’ve got a critical mass of people willing to make a change, we ought to devote at least some of our time and resources to making sure we don’t screw it up any worse.  The danger in seeing the world as black and white is that it leads to simply prescribing the opposite of something when that something isn’t working out.  In addition to not always being right, this approach is often just plain wrong.  Big problems seldom have easy answers and when you’re lost, the right answer is almost never simply turning around and heading the opposite direction.  Sure, I can appreciate that it’s better to move in the wrong direction than not to move at all - but we ought to be certain to evaluate our solutions with the same critical eye that bore out the problem in the first place.  Otherwise, we’ll end “solving” ourselves into a much deeper hole than we started in.                


Jen and Tonic said...

True story which relates to number 3. I was at a coffee shop listening to two moms talk about how to discipline their toddlers. One mom said, "I just can't get him to listen to me. I say 'no' and he does it anyway." The other mom replied, "We don't use the word 'no' in our household because it makes kids feel like they don't have choices. Every kid needs choices." UM, NO THEY DON'T. Not only can we not spank our children, or put our children on time out, or yell at them....but now we can't even tell them NO?

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you something. My mother only spanked me twice in my childhood. And I never forgot it! Spanking is less about the physicality and more about the psychology. It's not the spank itself that is as scary as the threat of the spank. My mother kept me in line for years with the threat of a spank, and it worked until I was about 13. Spanking isn't a bad thing as long as it's done right and people don't get carried away, in fact I think it's completely necessary.


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