Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Chamber of Drunken First Impulse

The Canadian Senate wants to make it illegal to spank your children. By repealing section 43 of the Criminal Code, which expressly allows it, they would make spanking a matter of simple assault. That is, a felony.

All the relevant experts seem to agree:

The Canadian Paediatric Society: “The Psychosocial Paediatrics Committee of the Canadian Paediatric Society has carefully reviewed the available research in the controversial area of disciplinary spanking. …The research that is available supports the position that spanking and other forms of physical punishment are associated with negative child outcomes.”

American Academy of Paediatrics: “Corporal punishment is of limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects. … The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults. Spanking has been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, more substance abuse, and increased risk of crime and violence when used with older children and adolescents.”

England's Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Royal College of Psychiatrists: "We believe it is both wrong and impracticable to seek to define acceptable forms of corporal punishment of children. Such an exercise is unjust. Hitting children is a lesson in bad behaviour.”

UNESCO: “To discipline or punish through physical harm is clearly a violation of the most basic of human rights. Research on corporal punishment has found it to be counterproductive and relatively ineffective, as well as dangerous and harmful to physical, psychological and social well being.”

And yet—it is not really all the experts. On the other side, one could cite the Book of Proverbs:

“He who spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)

“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)

“Punish him with the rod
and save his soul from death.” (Proverbs 23:14)

“The rod of correction imparts wisdom,
but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)

So we are really faced with a choice. For the religious, it is a choice between the authority of God, and that of man. For this reason alone, freedom of conscience requires that we not outlaw spanking. But even for those of us who are non-religious, it is a quandary. Who are you going to trust: the current experts, or the wisdom of the ages?

The answer to my mind is obvious: trust the wisdom of ages. Is it really likely, after all, that all of our ancestors up to a generation ago were idiots? No. Do we really have any better information, or a better way of knowing, than they did? No.

Those who worship at the altar of science, as opposed to scientists, may disagree. They may claim that empirical science is this better way of knowing.

And it is, for matters touching on the physical, that is, the sensory realm. But can it give us any greater insight into the hearts of men than our grandfathers had? No; by its nature, it cannot.

Upon the great and obvious fallacy that it can, much harm has been done: including the doctrines of Social Darwinism, Communism, Fascism, feminism, free love, and Freudian psychotherapy.

But don’t just take my word for it. Let’s examine the arguments against spanking in detail.

We cannot claim that it harms a child physically—if it did, it is already assault by the criminal code. Indeed, the blows are applied to the buttocks—the one part of the body best cushioned from blows. Spanking hardly even hurts—some, I hear, actually indulge in it for pleasure. We have gotten pretty sentimental if we find this level of “violence” intolerable.

The arguments are rather that it causes psychological or moral harm. This is interesting--because it is in direct contradiction to the wisdom of the ages, which holds that not spanking is the moral danger. And it is in exactly this sphere, the moral and spiritual, that science is least equipped to know.

The Canadian Paediatric Society’s explanation that it is “associated with negative child outcomes” is too vague to be useful—except that the notion that human behaviours can be classified simply into “positive” and “negative,” like electric charges, bodes very poorly for a true understanding of human nature. Is it possible for value-neutral science to determine what human values are “positive,” and which “negative”? It is not.

The American Paediatric Society is more specific: it claims, firstly, that spanking causes people to be angrier as adults.

This claim specifically goes against the wisdom of the ages. The I Ching, for example, observes that “through oppression, one learns to lessen rancour”—suffering, and even unjust suffering, reduces anger, rather than increasing it. The Beatitudes imply the same.
But note the phrasing: “the more anger they report as adults.” From this we can well imagine the sort of study that was done. Adults who showed or reported a good deal of anger were asked if they were spanked a lot as children. This was perhaps even contrasted to a control group that did not show or report much anger.

But what this is likely to measure is whether the adults were still angry at being spanked, still nursing the memories, not whether they were spanked more often. And those predisposed to anger will naturally be more likely to still be angry. Proving absolutely nothing.

The same objection applies to a study of adults who hit their spouse or have marital difficulties. And to those “more likely to spank their own children.” Moreover, this last objection is tautological—it assumes spanking is bad, in order to “prove” it is bad. I would imagine adults taught woodworking by their fathers are more likely to teach their children woodworking. Does this prove woodworking is wrong?

And there is another problem with the logic here. “Spanking has also been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, etc.” Post hoc, ergo proper hoc: it is surely at least as likely that such adolescents are spanked for their bad behaviour, as that their bad behaviour is because of the spanking. Otherwise, this becomes an argument against police, prisons, and even hospitals as well.

Such is the simple-minded folly of the social sciences—the thing being observed is not passive and objective, but quite aware of being observed, and much smarter than any experiment.

The American Psychological Association argues that spanking is liable to lower self-esteem. And this is surely true. This seems to be its main point—it doesn’t hurt much, but is ignominious. The problem is, the APA thinks this is a bad thing. All religions point out that self-esteem is a bad thing. Hitler had lots of it. Bullies have it in truckloads.

The Royal College of Paediatrics gets credit at least for plain speech. They make no attempt to justify their stand in pseudo-scientific terms, but just call it “bad behaviour.” Again, assuming what they claim to prove.

UNESCO does not appeal only to pseudo-science, but also to the philosophical doctrine of human rights. If all humans are equal, it is surely just as wrong to force a child to do anything against his will as to force an adult.

But wait a minute. We do force adults. We actually do have a police system and a prison system for them. It follows that it is perfectly proper to discipline children as well.

Moreover, there are serious practical problems with any human rights-based objection to using force against a child. For, logically, that would mean any and all other alternate forms of discipline are also violations of his or her human rights. So would forcing him or her to wear a seatbelt, or to get an immunization, or to eat his broccoli.

UNESCO does bring up one new argument: that spanking is “counter-productive and relatively ineffective.” Of course, the statement is nonsense: if a thing is counter-productive, it is completely, not relatively, ineffective. We are not dealing with sharp minds here. But it is possible to tease out an argument: that other forms of discipline might work better than spanking.

First, if so, so what? This does not argue for an elimination of spanking. It might still be most useful in a specific situation.

Second, it is unlikely that UNESCO actually has access to any studies of scientific value that demonstrate this. This is because there are no studies of any scientific value that demonstrate this. The CPS is honest about it: “The existing research is not in the form of double-blind, randomized controlled trials, as such studies would be impossible to conduct. Moreover, no modern ethics committee is likely to approve research that involves violence against children.”

In other words, the scientific community assumes prior to all evidence that spanking is wrong. And it has produced no evidence that it is.

But third, and perhaps most importantly, let’s consider UNESCO’s assumption that it knows what it means for spanking “to work.” What is spanking supposed to do?

With its blinkered, simple-minded view, psychology seems to think it is just about controlling behaviour. If so, then, arguably, other techniques, like reasoning to a child, could work better.

But this is not what the wisdom of ages claimed. The effect of spanking was not about curbing one specific behaviour, but was to “teach a lesson.” To teach wisdom, the opposite of folly. And, indeed, to “save his soul from death.”

These are no trivial benefits.

Parents also used to deliberately scare their children. They used to warn them of the bogeyman. This, like spanking, seems to be present in all cultures, though the bogeyman’s identity tends to shift. In Korea, a tiger was supposed to come and eat the noisy child. In the Philippines, the Moors will kidnap him.

And, interestingly, kids seem to be fascinated by this idea. It is the same fascination that attaches to dinosaurs, or dragons, or the fierce animals at the zoo. To a definite point, kids love being scared.

What they are getting from this, perhaps, is an emotional education. They are learning, harmlessly, how to deal with fear. The whole point of spanking, accordingly, may be that it is frightening in prospect, but turns out not to hurt much at all. By going through this lesson, children may learn to grapple with their imaginations, face their fears, deal with physical pain, and, if warranted, persist in spite of it.

What are we doing if we refuse them this education?

It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Most Unkindest Cut of All

This scientific study shows pretty clearly that, whatever else it might accomplish, male circumcision achieves precisely the effect commonly charged against female circumcision—or, as the politically correct insist it be called, “female genital mutilation.” It reduces one’s sensitivity during the sex act. As far as we can tell, the parallel is exact.

And this illustrates the extreme sexism of our society. For female “genital mutilation” is extremely rare, and considered a violation of human rights so basic that no concept of cultural differences can allow it. Male “circumcision,” by contrast, is extremely common—more than 60% of all North American males have been circumcised. It is not considered a violation of anyone’s rights; it is not considered morally wrong.

The very same act that is intolerable when done to a woman is perfectly okay when done to a man. How could discrimination become more extreme?

The Lesbian Holocaust

The falsification of history proceeds apace. As George Orwell explained ruefully, “He who controls the present, controls the past.” Germany is planning a monument in Berlin to all the homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis. The original plan was to show an eternal film loop of two men kissing. Lesbians, however, objected to their exclusion, so now a film of two men kissing will alternate with one of two women kissing.

Were homosexuals persecuted under the Nazis? Arguably, but probably only in the same sense they were persecuted at the same time in Britain, France, or the US. Homosexuality was illegal in Germany, as it was in most other nations of the world. The Nazis did not introduce this law; they inherited it. Moreover, a high proportion of the Nazi upper ranks were themselves apparently homosexual.

Were lesbians persecuted under the Nazis? Not at all. Lesbianism was never illegal in Nazi Germany.

How much further can one go than this, when it comes to the falsification of the historical record? How must real surviving victims of the Holocaust feel?

Pave It to Save it

A major culprit in global warming has now been isolated: composting. Worms apparently fart gases 290 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

It's all the environmentalists' fault.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Get Ready for It...

I want to say this quickly, so you can still say you heard it here first: in the near future, everyone will be a cartoon.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Tony Blair to Convert

A measure of the prejudice there still is against Catholics in English-speaking culture. (Indeed, the anti-Catholic prejudice is growing). There is apparently no bar to a foreign citizen acting as a representative of the US government—Tony Blair is being considered for such a role. It is, on the other hand, still illegal for a Catholic to be the Prime Minister of Britain.

Tony Blair to become Catholic after stepping down

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bloomberg's Run

The impending presidential candidacy of Michael Bloomberg at first seems odd. Consider the frontrunners of either established party: Hillary Clinton, a moderate New York senator; Rudy Giuliani, a moderate former New York mayor. Is there really room or need for another moderate New York mayor? How does it improve the voters’ choice, either ideologically or geographically?

And yet… it seems more and more likely, as I have long thought, that Hillary Clinton is not going to win her party’s nomination. In the very long presidential race, she has already grown stale. Democrats get bored quickly, and almost always kill off the front runner. I thought originally that John Edwards would be the beneficiary of this, but I was not reckoning on the shortened primary season. We now have something like a national primary. This will favour established names and candidates with charisma on camera. Edwards’great strength in the past has been retail politics—the same speech before many small audiences. This tilts the game to Obama.

On the Republican side, the long season may hurt Giuliani, and help Fred Thompson. Thompson will be strong, with his media savvy, in a big nationwide primary. The Republicans rarely coalesce around a moderate; they usually nominate someone running toward the right in his own party. I’d give either of them even money at this point.

So perhaps the likelier matchup is Fred Thompson, Barack Obama, and Michael Bloomberg.

And this lineup does give Bloomberg some scope.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Virginia is for Lovers, but Denmark is for Pigs

My eyes idly fell of late on a page of the DK World Almanac.

Denmark, apparently, is the world's leading exporter of pork.

But isn't that interesting? Little Denmark, small and highly urbanized, manages not only to feed its own dense population, but to export more excess than anyone, even much larger nations.

It follows that the rest of us have huge untapped agricultural capacity. The world, in food terms, is relatively empty of humans—we could feed lots more. Depending on crop choice, we could feed everyone alive adequately from Indiana alone. Indeed, there seems no connection at all between national wealth and the amount of arable cropland per capita: the bottom ten nations in the world in this regard include Japan, Switzerland, Kuwait, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Iceland. Nor should there be—the world long ago industrialized, and human intelligence and labour long ago replaced land as the basis of wealth. Denmark's huge hog supply probably has most to do with their dense population of skilled and able farmers.

Unluckily for Canada, along with most of the developed world: we have stopped making people.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

William James Sidis

Have you ever heard of William James Sidis? Probably not, although once he was rather famous. A child prodigy, he is believed to have had the highest IQ ever known. He is as well known, though, for being a failure—an example of the notion that promise in youth does not always mean success in age. After graduating from Harvard at age 16, in the early years of the 20th century, he left a professorship at Rice University to take low-level clerical jobs. He never showed up in the news again, but for one arrest at a political rally, and a lawsuit against a magazine that carried a story on him.

He notably rates a mention by the psychiatrist character in the movie Good Will Hunting, as an example of what can happen to an especially bright kid who is not taken well in hand by a knowledgeable psychologist. He is, in sum, Exhibit A for the enduring conviction among the merely average in intelligent that the very intelligent need help from normal folks to find their way.

The idea, of course, is absurd on the face of it. I suspect it is something the rest of us have a psychic need to believe, for the sake of our own self esteem. It protects us from the unpleasant admission that we are not, in the end, ourselves the most intelligent being in the universe.

It may also involve a certain element of revenge: we want the chance to control those more intelligent than ourselves, so we can protect ourselves from their competition, and perhaps indeed do them some harm.

This myth is extremely damaging to the highly intelligent; it is also extremely damaging to the rest of us, in the end, as it limits what the extremely intelligent can do in terms, for example, of making a better world.

In fact, Sidis set out very consciously and explicitly to create for himself “the perfect life.” Being very intelligent, he had a much better idea of what this might entail than most of the rest of us. He realized, from early experience, that being famous was a great burden, and so he went out of his way, having become inadvertently famous, to court obscurity. For example, he sued magazines or newspapers that published stories on him, for invasion of privacy. Other very intelligent people, especially those who have found fame young, have learned the same lesson and attempted similar things: J.D. Salinger comes to mind.

In order to do this, of course, he had to stop doing anything particularly remarkable. At least under his own name. Hence his “failure” –what looks like failure to the less intelligent was, for him, his greatest success.

He realized that being rich was a useless distraction—a simple truth demonstrated often in studies--and so why would he seek wealth?

He realized too that jobs in academics are not very comfortable for the very intelligent—something Einstein too pointed out. Someone very intelligent, with original ideas, is necessarily threatening to other academics. He is in the lions’ den, with the very type of people, jealous of their own claims to intellect, who would most want to control and harm him. And so he left his professorship, and academics, altogether.

Far better to find a job involving simple math, where by natural intelligence you can complete your daily tasks to your employer's satisfaction, yet leave most of your time to think freely. It is a trick picked up by most bright kids at school: you spend most of your time waiting for the other kids to catch up to you on the assigned task, so you daydream on your own projects. What Einstein more politely called “thought experiments.”

So Sidis, the great “failure,” laboured in obscurity. We now know that, all the time, he was writing, and even publishing, but not under his own name. He left a trunkful of manuscripts.

Albert Einstein was not quite as bright. Nevertheless, by his own admission, he did his best work in the Swiss patent office—he was able to polish off the days official business within a couple of hours, and have the rest of his time free for his thought experiments. When he took an academic position—perhaps for the sake of his family obligations--his productive life was more or less over.

The life Sidis chose is very like the life of a monk. In the West, we think of this partly as a sacrifice. Buddhists are perhaps more frank. They claim it is simply the best available life in this world—the most serene, the most joyful. The perfect life.

The moral of the story is simply this: the rest of us must leave the very intelligent alone to live their own lives as they see fit. They know infinitely better than we what they want and need.

Indeed, if we have any common sense at all, we should be seeking to imitate them.

All of this is inspired by the tentative diagnosis of my son with ADHD—giftedness reinvented as an incurable disease.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

My Six-Year-Old Lunatic

Ah, the joys of parenting. Last week, one week short of his sixth birthday, my son's kindergarten teachers called us in. They suspect he has ADHD—Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Welcome to the wacky, upside down world of psychology. Being a concerned parent, I looked it up on the Web.

It runs out that that ADHD is “not what people think it is.” Just like all other known mental illnesses. Which is to say, it is not what the experts thought it was five years ago. Five years from now, it will be something quite different again.

You probably thought ADHD was a childhood concern. Nope. It is now also an adult complaint. I know. I took the tests online. I have it too.

You probably thought ADHD was an inability to pay attention to what one is doing. Nope. One of its characteristics is now “hyperattention”--the ability to pay much closer attention to a chosen subject than is normal, to the exclusion of all others. No attention deficit involved.

You probably thought it involved hyperactivity? No; not necessarily. Sufferers can appear “phlegmatic.”

So what is this thing? At least, it's a disorder, right?

Maybe. But if so, it’s a strange one. When I chatted with co-workers at this high-tech college about the diagnosis, two of the brightest fellow faculty I know revealed they and other members of their families have the same diagnosis: ADHD. Digging on the net, I learn that Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Richard Branston, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Ludwig von Beethoven, Jim Carrey, Lewis Carroll, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, Galileo, Georg Handel, Ernest Hemingway, Dustin Hoffman, John and Robert Kennedy, John Lennon, Abraham Lincoln, Wolfgang Mozart, Napoleon Bonaparte, Sir Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Pablo Picasso, John D. Rockefeller, August Rodin, Babe Ruth, George Bernard Shaw, Steven Spielberg, Leo Tolstoy, Vincent van Gogh, Jules Verne, Woodrow Wilson, Orville and Wilbur Wright, W.B. Yeats, et al, all also had the distinct symptoms of ADHD. I also learned that, on average, those diagnosed with ADHD have IQs 20 points higher than the general population. That is precisely the difference between average and superior intelligence.

Yes, ADHD is a real thing, and it makes life difficult in many ways. I was struck, reading through the literature, at accurately on some measures it described not just my son, but me. Things I had been trying to convince people of my entire life: like that I cannot safely drive a car. That I must carry a bag wherever I go, or I will forget things. Why my desk and room are always a mess, and I am hopeless at doing things around the house. Why I find it exhausting or even unbearable to be in a large group of people for long. My son and I do indeed have great problems staying alert to what is going on around us in such circumstances.

But this is not because we lack the ability to pay attention; nor is it because we are too lazy to. It is because we are paying close attention to something else, that those around us seem essentially unaware of.

It is the world of ideas.

And these other things, like persistent mosquitoes, keep interrupting our thoughts.

Psychology as we know it is built on a foundation of fallacies. The most pertinent one here is the delusion that the average is the ideal; that anything “abnormal” is inferior. This is obviously wrong. Among other things, it enforces conformity, mediocrity, and discrimination against minorities.

Unfortunately, when someone has an IQ more than 15 points higher than our own, we lose the ability to recognize their intelligence. It is enough ahead of ours that we can no longer follow their reasoning. We are as likely to think they act as they do because they are stupid, or insane.

Beyond the fairly trivial, the problems caused by ADHD are almost entirely problems in communicating with whose who do not have ADHD. And a “solution” that involves shutting down one's brain with Ritalin or some other chemical does not seem entirely satisfactory. It loses more than it could possibly gain.

It looks like I have some hard slogging years of child advocacy ahead of me.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Shot Clergyman in the Back in Bed--But It Was His Fault

Here's a good indication of the relative value of men and women in our society.

1 male lifetime = 60 days of a woman's precious time.

Men living in North America or Britain had better keep that in mind if they ever run afoul of a woman.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

They Call This a Consensus?

Interesting piece on global warming from the National Post.

Also interesting: Christopher Hitchen's brother rebuts him on atheism. Surprisingly, the brother seems to write as well as Christopher himself does.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Human Wrongs

Two items in the “Americas” section of the local paper remind me of how mad things have become in North America. One reports a class action suit launched by a female GE executive against that company, claiming “gender discrimination” against women in pay and promotion. The other reports a class action suit launched by a lesbian against the online dating service eHarmony for not offering their services to gays.

The two may very well win their suits; their lawyers are obviously betting they will. Yet their claims are obviously without merit. Quite simply, in a free market, without government interference, discrimination is not possible. If one company underpays a certain class of worker, the next company immediately gains a competitive advantage by not doing so—and so hiring and retaining better workers. For the individual worker, if GE is underpaying, the solution is simple: get another job. Similarly, if a company chooses not to serve a given market, and it is an economically viable one, quite simply, another company will emerge to do so. If not, a sane person does not sue; he seizes the business opportunity for himself, and makes pots of money.

Unless, of course, there is a better business opportunity in a lawsuit.

A discrimination lawsuit is only viable, in other words, if there is no real discrimination present. The lawsuit is the discrimination.

The only way discrimination can happen is if government intervenes on behalf of one group or another, preventing competition. This is exactly what these lawsuits do: they enforce discrimination in favour of women and homosexuals, and against men and heterosexuals. Indeed, this is so even if these particular suits fail, because the potential need to fight them, at considerable expense, itself distorts business decisions.

Compounding the insanity is the fact that these lawsuits are supposedly being fought on grounds of “human rights,” while in fact violating human rights. Not just by promoting discrimination; but by preventing individuals and corporations from exercising free choice in whom they hire and whom they serve and how they run their business. This is a violation of property rights, in the first instance. In the case of the gay dating service, there is a direct threat to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience as well: many, including all but one of the great world religions, believe homosexual sex is immoral. Nevertheless, the lawsuit obliges a business’s owners (and their employees) to aid and abet it, despite their personal beliefs.

This is just what human rights codes are supposed to prevent. They have been perverted into their opposite.