New Walks, New Talks: Tetrapods and The Gospel of Judas

14 09 2013
Continuing the retrieval of essays lost from the now-defunct Culture Kitchen site:
Submitted by JJ Ross on 7 April, 2006

What a week for trying to walk, talk, learn and think at the same time!

First, our 10-year-old son is listening to NPR in the car when he’s riveted by news of an important fossil discovery linking fish and land creatures, a so-called tetrapod, lifeforms that left the water to walk on land.

He isn’t interested in the news or politics, although he just
discovered Stephen Colbert and gets some of the comedy. He likes the
split screen where the contradictory wisecracks are on the right as
Stephen pontificates on the left. It reminds him of the wisecracking
moose commentary on the Brother Bear DVD.

But yesterday in the car, he suddenly wanted us to turn it up, so
he could hear all about the new fossil link. That was the first really
interesting “news” worth hearing, he proclaimed, but there wasn’t enough
to the story. (He actually said this, exactly that way, pronouncing
judgment like a seasoned media critic.)
Intense investigation ensues when we can get online, after which my little boy, who has never been made to think about anything, hugs me with a goofy grin and says, “Hello, my fellow tetrapod!”

Need I mention his reaction isn’t typical? – this news isn’t universally received as joyful revelation by the creationism-ID crowd currently in the middle of Lent.

The next day, our local university’s oceanography expert Doron Nof makes international news for his scholarly suggestion that Jesus could have left land to walk on water without violating science – if some of that water was in solid form, as ice sheets. Global warming backs up the plausibility of this as revelation rather than ridicule, but faithful in the media ridicule the idea of ice in a desert lake. (THAT’s the part they have trouble believing??)

“Nof and his co-authors are nonbelievers, but he denied they set out to debunk the walking-on-water story.
‘This is just what we say could have happened,’ Nof said. ‘How that fits into an individual’s system of beliefs, I don’t know.’”

He’s getting death threats every three minutes on average.

. . . a research professor of New Testament studies at the Dallas Theological Seminary, lightheartedly dismissed the idea . . .”Almost all the nature miracles are challenged in one degree or another. It’s usually a world-view issue about what someone thinks is possible. . .”
One e-mailer called him ”the most stupid person on the planet” and then closed by wishing that he ”go to hell where you belong.”

Do you want ice in that hell? What’s that you say? It’s easy to believe a literal hell that contradicts all science but impossible to imagine one with ice in it? It’s easier to believe God on earth if he DOESN’T follow the rules you believe he created for its operation, than if he DOES? Then why are the rules important in the first place, why are they absolute commandments, oh never mind, to my mind there’s no mind at all behind such unthinking, certainly not any divine one.

And now, my 16-year-old homeschooling college student of literature, musical theatre and comparative religion is thrilled to hear that the Gospel of Judas Iscariot has been discovered after 1700 years underground, in which she reads validation of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, believing it reveals that Judas was faithful dupe rather than unfaithful renegade, and that Jesus as revolutionary leader understood much more about worldly matters such as politics and psychology than previous gospels suggest or Christian literalists will allow.

So does this week confirm or contradict the canon of our received “knowledge” to date, and have our minds evolved sufficiently to comprehend even the Known, never mind the Unknown?

“The debate is not over whether the manuscript is genuine — on this the scholars agree. Instead, the controversy is over its relevance. . .”

To think is to differ.
~ Clarence Darrow

Butler Shaffer who teaches about thinking and differing at the Southwestern University School of Law, writes today:

. . .Let us imagine that we are intelligent, rational beings, and that
someone makes an allegedly factual statement, the truth or falsity of
which is subject to the marshaling of evidence. How ought we to approach
such a statement, particularly if it conflicts with some
firmly-established, strongly-held belief of ours? Would we not insist
that this person substantiate his or her position with facts? Would we
not have sufficient confidence in our mental capacities to be able to
deal with an unpleasant or erroneous opinion? At the same time, would we
not – as intelligent persons – want to know whether that statement was true?

Then isn’t our paramount need to teach thinking that transcends one’s own values? What do we believe, what do we know, what can we do, about whether our schools and universities are up to the task of developing our intellectual capacities to think beyond what we think we know?

Harvard’s senior director of federal and state relations, Kevin Casey, said that he had “hoped and assumed�? that the commission would not ultimately endorse the suggestion to mandate standardized testing.
Casey said that American higher education is “the envy of the world.�?
“Part of it is because of the limited level of direct intrusion into curriculum by the government,�? he said.

Whew, no standardized curriculum, no standard answers – there must be an explosion of new discoveries and a lot of free-thinking in American higher education!

. . . most academics do not deny that there is a progressive, liberal bias in academe. . .
And while liberals may be more numerous, argues Schrecker, a professor of history at Yeshiva University in New York, that does not necessarily mean they are more powerful. “Progressive academe is like the ninth ward of New Orleans before the levees break – neither secure nor particularly safe. It’s one of the few areas left with some kind of progressive culture.” . . .Mark Smith, the director of government relations for the professor’s union, the American Association of University Professors, says that these broadsides vary according to the political climate.

The thinking lessons I take from this lecture-length column are not perhaps those the author intends. Progressive thought is failing to carry the day even in its own bastion, liberal academe? The culture now made up of college-educated thinkers has turned against what they were taught? And all these “envy of the world” university minds we charge with thinking for us all, define themselves as progressive but just cluster-flock into predictable subcultured comfort zones, rather than evolving to walk in radically different new ways through water, land, space, time and media — to seek and find, report, see and hear “news” differently than ever before?

How Sisyphean and slavish.

Dig a hole, fill it in, dig a hole . . .push that rock, tote that bale. Then eat your liver all over again. (oh, that last wasn’t Sisyphus, was it? but never mind, I earned my liberal education from a public bastion of progressive thought, so I needn’t feel constrained by the intellectual rigors of critical thought or knowledge larger than my own values.)

I had professors sure they were God or at least a god. The word gospel means “good news” but is this newly discovered gospel good news to teachers or students, of science or faith?

Here Jesus is said to entrust Judas with special knowledge and ask him to betray him to the Roman authorities. By doing so, he tells Judas, “you will exceed” the other disciples.

“You will be cursed by the other generations, and you will come to rule over them,” Jesus confides to Judas in the document, which was made public at a news conference at the National Geographic Society in Washington.

Maybe radically progressive academics could make room in their own culture of belief to learn from a new Jesus demonstrably smart about people and rules of power (Clint Eastwood as reluctant renegade in the movie Absolute Power or maybe In the Line of Fire – “I know things about people�? . . .)

Could they learn from it the hard reality of evolving, to break the surface of their college confines, leave their habituated underwater schooling for safety, and walk as individuals throughout the land breathing with lungs adapted to the atmosphere of their times, to someday rule over an authentically progressive culture?

In any case, my unschooled kids are thrilled this week with what they found to think about, thanks to some scholarly and independent thinkers walking independently on new ground while exercising unfamiliar limbs, without a thought for whichever school of thought claimed the power to keep them underwater in perpetuity, swimming as dictated by the construed greater good of their peer group.

So, if I just can keep them out of “progressive academe” at least until my own slapdash socio-demographic acculturation is better overcome by the example of their genuine learning –
maybe, just maybe, they’ll construct for themselves a truly progressive, truly independent education, and maybe someday that education will help them (and those of us who become their disciples) scientifically beget some miraculous future “tetrapod culture” in which all inhabitants sport fins, gills, limbs, opposable thumbs, curiosity, self-awareness, compassion and brainpower to spare, an evolved species in the perfect culture, capable of making connections and purposeful movement through all media, dimensions and disciplines as a new collective consciousness, for good instead of evil, amen. (Sounds like heaven!)

Which I believe, but cannot prove through science or academics, would put our current state of being to shame, no matter what miracles and revelations we found to think about this week.





WIMBLEDON WIDGET WOES: Intelligent Individuals OutRank Factory Robots!

7 07 2013

Submitted by JJ Ross on 10 July 2006

So Standardized School is the opposite of World-Class Education,
not its divine incarnation?
Good then.
Let’s hear no more about the necessary sacrifice of consigning all children to one-dimensional forehand factories for high-priced, high-stakes stamping into quality-controlled widgets, by has-been and never-were corporate charismatics and labor union drones.

Do you know what words of advice inspire the greatest players in the world as they enter Centre Court for Wimbledon, to show what they know and can do?

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same”-
“If” by Rudyard Kipling.

IF we inscribed this on every standardized test booklet for every child our Congressional Coaches promise never to leave behind languishing in the locker room, IF we took it to heart ourselves, then we still might not win ‘em all but maybe we could stop feeling like such losers?

I’ve long called test score mania (in both triumph and disaster) the two-edged sword, but “two-edged imposter” could work even better, might at least shut up the most rigid standard skunks — clever fellow Kipling.

Nurturing Intelligence on Any Surface
By SELENA ROBERTS

Surface players are out. Deep thinking is in. And yet, the nuance is
lost on an American system still leaning on production-line academies to
spit out the next mechanical marvel.

In one illuminating championship weekend, Nadal and Justine
Henin-Hardenne, two French Open champions, applied their creative minds and willful versatility to grass and ended up in the finals. . .
underscor[ing] the learned skill of adaptation…

Versatility isn’t a talent, but a desire to extend ability.

Where did Nadal find this spirit of court innovation?
Not at an American academy. Nadal’s parents resisted that siren’s song. He stayed close to home… far from the Nick Bollettieri-style compounds in Florida.

Instead, Nadal grew up with dimension, was raised a chameleon… Nadal applied his eagerness to learn and adjust as he decoded the subtleties of grass during Wimbledon.

Such court awareness isn’t a virtue of American tennis academies. And the forehand factories are not the answer to the country’s talent deficit. But in a desperate attempt to do something, anything, about the vacuum, the United States Tennis Association announced last week that it would house a new program to produce stars at the Evert Tennis Academy
in Boca Raton, Fla.

“We’ve got to do everything,” Patrick McEnroe, the United States DavisCup coach, said during a U.S.T.A. news conference. “We can’t sit there and say, ‘Hey, someone makes better widgets now, so we should forget how good we can make our widgets.’ “

The widget player is the problem, though. The numbing baseline games, the one-dimensional plans, the mechanical style, these characteristics will only send Americans down the rankings. Nuance has to be a part of the U.S.T.A. program at the Evert Academy if it is to succeed at producing players as resourceful as they are robotic. . .

Intelligence isn’t manufactured, but nurtured. None of the Wimbledon finalists — men or women — came directly from an American academy…
Welcome to the Federer Era, in which there is little room for shallow, superficial tennis.

Both literally and metaphorically, I blew out my knee a few years back — which hasn’t killed my intelligence or interest in either tennis or education, just my active play and coaching. Call me the Stephen Hawking of the School Universe and I’ll take it as high praise.

So I serve up a few (factory-unapproved!) ideas to stir individual imaginations toward world-class game plans here:

Public school protectionism is sorry public protection…

I think our kids need to learn differently and do differently, SO much better than we did and so far past school. Someday soon they’ll replace us as thinkers, caregivers, problem-solvers, diplomats, designers, and story-tellers. [and Grand Slam champions, natch]

I believe preparing ourselves to prepare them, will require new learning and creative cultural-political change on our part first, changes for which the lessons of our grandparents (as interpreted through our own schooling) didn’t prepare us that well, either.

And highly fit, highly intelligent, willfully versatile players tend to find fun games to play in strange places, like:

Most kids won’t become pro sports stars; obviously the only proper public response to this terrible problem is to force all potential pro athletes to acquire standardized academic skills in public school . . .
[one NYT] columnist proposes we declare that individuals paid for sports work are interchangeable cogs to be shuffled randomly and paid by schedule regardless of individual initiative, effort or performance (like schoolteachers, because THAT’S worked so well??)

and

… what’s gone wrong between school and education — we’ve institutionalized thinking and learning and productive work, and lost the individuals we meant to inspire and empower in the process.

or maybe

Are we …obsessed with trying to look and feel smart for each other, neglecting and perhaps unable to actually BE smart and DO smart?

[We face] stupidity both cultural and critical, a telescoping of intellect and imagination into a one-dimensional reflective surface…
the standard-narrowed, uncertainty-fearing, control-freakish Culture of School works in the opposite direction from open science cultures that celebrate real smarts.
If critical thinking is brain food, school is anorexia.

As a seriously balding if not quite doddering Royal Prince grinned indulgently and stood by quietly to honor her, newly crowned first-time Wimbledon Champion Amelie Mauresmo held aloft for all the world to see the Venus Rose trophy, engraved with the names of every ladies champion to claim its fame since before the turn of the century (oops, that’s obsolete isn’t it, I’m getting old myself, I mean the one BEFORE last, you know, rolling over from the 1800s?)

The Whole Game has changed so much over 120 years–were racquets made of wood then, or whittled whale bone, oh dear, not raw human flesh like the 11th century monks?? –that surely those early (almost accidental by comparison) greats would urge us to explore and adapt new ways of winning, rather than foolishly try to replicate skills and strategies from a different era.

We can’t legislate exactly which intelligent and creative kids will become our new world champions, or why or how. Whether we forbid their changes and sanction their styles or not, all we really can count upon them for is one way or another, to leave all us fans and armchair brandishers awestruck at their feet.

May they know the past without bowing to it, dominate the present without destroying it, and invent the future they can imagine, without giving any pontifications of our past-expiration expertise more than an indulgent grin.

Pat the Prince on his balding pate and play ball!
I just can’t WAIT to see what happens next . . .





HOME Is Nowhere Dense!

22 06 2013
Originally submitted to Liza Sabater’s Culture Kitchen by JJ Ross on 7 January, 2006
Accountability | Books | Creative Class | Culture | Education | Homeschooling | Language | Liberalism | Life | Memes | Parenting | Science | Think Tanks

HOME-omorphism – continuous transformation. Homeschoolers, especially classic liberals and libertarians, would be drawn to this in droves, wouldn’t you think?

And by definition, home-omorphism happens with one-to-one correspondence! How much better could it get?

What do you do, the polite stranger in the market would ask – oh, we’re heavily into homeomorphism, I would say, our facial expressions and body language transforming continuously and enigmatically right in front of her, as she gapes. Let’s go play chess, I would then say to my child, in affectionate one-to-one correspondence. Right after the opera and ballet, corresponding child would answer, to my happy assent. More gaping.

Continuous transformation is the best part of homeschooling for Thinking Parents, why I personally love how my family lives homeschooling as continuous transformation – it’s like never having to graduate and leave college! We’re still there, baby, delving into everything all at the same time, meeting minds, burning through the library and the midnight oil discovering something new and stunning every day, including the most RADICAL words and ideas, setting our own pace and schedule, world by the tail, hoping our support holds out, lounging on the lawns, alternating between the organic homegrown and the cafeteria candy counter . . .

For example – do you know the full name Fletcher Christian gave his half-Tahitian son on Pitcairn Island after mutinying on the Bounty? This is not a state standard for history credit and no one cares if you answer first, or ever. But I am Red Hat and AARP-eligible (not a member, just eligible, that’s a clever essayist device to tell you I am in my second-half century of life, not your usual omnivorous college student sucking the marrow out of every moment) and I learned this only yesterday, reading aloud in the car with my two unschooled children, 15 and 10, in a science book we heard being discussed on NPR’s Science Friday and then went straight to the bookstore to find. Like a treasure. Why? Because we COULD – and because we wanted to, couldn’t think of anything we’d rather do than find out more about the Power of Story continuously transforming around that historical mutiny – which as it turns out, it does.

p.s. – I wasn’t driving while reading, our homeschooling is no threat to society! We sat in a parking lot for almost an hour, unable to stop reading, and when it was time for dance, the kids groaned – not because they don’t love dancing, but because they were loving the story of the moment too. Fully engaged in their own lives for their own reasons –

Oh, and if you want to know the answer to our little trivia question or why its power of story so fascinated us, you’re gonna need a little home-omorphism of your own. I’m not telling!

But here’s something I will tell about, something else liberals and libertarians might want to know about the infinite wonder that is homeschoo-, I mean, home-omorphism. Continuous home transformation that manages to “preserve distances” has its own fancy word (isometry?) so in my home, we specialize in that – no boundary raiders and boobs trampling through OUR homeomorphism! Military recruiters and marketers and pushers of everything pursuing our kids, self-serving lobbies playing poker with our inalienable human rights, schoolfolk telling us they know best, heck, homeschoolers are just like everyone else – don’t we ALL need to do a better job of preserving distance, even in our home-omorphism, but at least we’re worlds better protected from invasion and tyranny than the publicly schooled families I know, who might as well just sign one all-purpose permission slip the first day of government preschool: “Here. You take ‘em.”

Our admirable and continuously transforming (thus itself homeomorphic?) democracy needs to do a much better job of preserving distances, for all of us – these days we’re more citizens of a demographic than of a democracy. Surely there’s a rightful distance to preserve between democracy and demographi-garchy – or if there isn’t, there oughta be!

Homeschool home-omorphism is a very smart radical fringe in my view, one with the best fighting chance of “individual self-determination within preserved distance.” Whereas school looks a lot like surrender to me, more undemocratic servitude than democratic preservation of private distances.

So in education politics, we always come down to: what DO we teach our children, so they can best preserve and protect their own freedoms?

I read somewhere that con-serving and pre-serving can’t be liberal even when it comes to liber-ty, still thinking about that, sounds too simplistic to me. Maybe I’ll get my always-college-like Thinking Kids to help me figure it out, study the power of story, better synthesize the principles we want to live by and figure out where we fit — besides fitting perfectly into our home-omorphing of course.

What if we ALL did that, in our own private families, with one-to-one correspondence — freely see “fit” however we see fit? – instead of the squeeze play between religious literalists and NCLB defining our every value and purpose on this earth, labeling our every lesson and defining our every thought and expression, about everything, with a test every Thursday? Praise the lord, pass the ammunition, and sprinkle on some more of that continuous transformation!

And oh, I saved the best argument for liberal homeschooling for last – because we got interested in math the other day, I can tell you something else NCLB standardizers may not want to you or your kids to know: “perfect” home-omorphism earns a special label, that should be the name of a classic 60s rock band, if it isn’t already -
Nowhere Dense!

http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Homeomorphism.html
http://mathworld.wolfram.com/NowhereDense.html

Note to lifelong union loyalists steeled to write off anything (even liberal) homeschoolers might say: Mr. Christian’s Christian name for his one-to-one corresponding son is hidden somewhere in this blog. If you’re a homeomorph at heart, you’ll go looking and maybe learn something about yourself as well as history – if not, we now return you to your regularly scheduled public programming.





Teaching Our Girls to Dance

1 09 2012
Something else from my old Culture Kitchen blog, original post from March 2006 and some additional comments and updates later, retrieved from the Wayback Machine:

************************

Talk about the dance of planned parenthood — I’ve known two families through their adoption of baby daughters from China.

Adopted in China, Seeking Identity in America
Most of the children are younger than 10, and an organized subculture has developed around them, complete with play groups, tours of China and online support groups.
Molly and Qiu Meng represent the leading edge of this coming-of-age population, adopted just after the laws changed and long before such placements became popular, even fashionable. . .

The first was an older couple, financially and professionally well-off in their second marriage and wanting to be a family with children. They went through a Catholic adoption process and asked us to write a formal recommendation for their application, assessing the qualities we believed would make them good parents.

Although my family left the immediate neighborhood while the daughter they’d named Amber was still a toddler, we see them out and about, at the grocery store, park or credit union. Today she is a gawky, grinning ‘tween, strikingly similar in age, culture, cadence and affinities — for Harry Potter and chess — to our Florida-born son. The two obvious differences between them, race and sex, seem irrelevant.

The second family was younger, a physician and his philanthropist wife who had four children the usual way but only one a girl, excited about adding another. Baby Lydia soon began dance classes with her doting big sister. It took her a long time to say much, but at six she’s a regular chatterbox.

In both cases, I got to see the whole “planned parenthood” process play out, from the initial exploration of the idea, the decision-making and then preparations for the arduous trip itself — halfway around the globe to a foreign land where the officials literally holding your family’s future in their hands don’t speak your language and are communist to boot (you think our bureaucrats are hard to deal with??) and home again wrung out emotionally and physically, trapped over the ocean on an airplane as brand-new mom to a disrupted infant you didn’t make, don’t know and can’t even nurse to comfort or feed, and then the ever-after of adjustments and growth within family relationships, including all the questions about how much or how little to emphasize the child’s country and culture of origin.

Such planned parents by choice generally impress me with their healthy, open attitudes and beliefs, a wish to balance, embrace, discover, celebrate, blend and include rather than to define, delimit, or (that disingenuous codeword) to “clarify” racial differences and identity.

The busy mom of five determinedly made time late at night to read Mao’s Last Dancer, a culturally shocking and saturated memoir she later loaned to me and shared with other dancer moms, in a sort of cultural ripple effect:

“Chosen on the basis of his physique alone, Li Cunxin was taken from his family and sent to the city for rigorous training. What follows is the story of how a small, terrified, lonely boy became one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world.”

In turn I’ve ripple-recommended the book to planning and thinking parents as a dance metaphor for lessons that have nothing to do with ballet . . .

I noticed that even the names these families chose were blended, able to honor more than one tradition at the same time rather than set them against one another in “forced choice” competition — the first names Amber and Lydia sound solidly American-English, but their middle names are not only Chinese but carefully refer to each girl’s particular regional heritage within that country.

Those are positives that make me feel like dancing.

But I’m also feeling helpless, thinking it’s ironic and especially wrong for tens of thousands of Chinese girls to be displaced by repressive culture and government policies just because they are girls instead of boys, and then after we adopt them as daughters of America and lovingly raise them to be beautiful, brilliant, accomplished young women ready for college admission — they will be systematically disadvantaged all over again in OUR system and culture, just because they are girls instead of boys.

. . . the standards for admission to today’s most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men.

. . .Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.

What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options? And what messages are we sending young women . . .

More culture of dance? — girls as a group are better dancers (students) than boys, like it more, but still must wait to be asked, held back by the less-willling and able boys? How many girls finally become frustrated enough to just dance alone or with each other, forget about waiting for the boys to catch up? Seems to me girls already adept at the dance of cultural change will not wait long and will be right not to, that they’ll tend instead to make over their identity once again and never mind those trying to engineer their differences into some standardized social configuration.

Will our nation’s cultures and creeds, our empowered parents and our world-renowned educational institutions, merely keep up our stylized minuet as we go right on fancying ourselves the belles of the cultural ball, uniquely superior to all those backward places where geography and demographics are destiny?

David Brooks has me believing we just might:

Bush hit all the high notes of the American creed, while not dwelling much on the intricacies and stubbornness of foreign cultures.
. . . many Republicans have lost patience with Bush’s high-minded creedal statements. . . (and) efforts to transform patterns of behavior, and come to believe that we shouldn’t exaggerate how much we can change. . .

Republican sentiment seems to be shifting away from the idea that the United States is a universal nation, where immigrants come from across the world to work, rise and join in the pursuit of happiness. Now Republican rhetoric emphasizes how alien immigrant culture is . . .how much disorder and strain their presence creates. . . from believing that culture is nothing, to believing that culture is everything — from idealism to fatalism in the blink of an eye.

**************************

More reason not be dancing in the streets about our cultural superiority in “From classroom to tar pits?” by Marion Brady:

James McGregor, an American businessman who has lived in China for 15 years, says Chinese leaders monitor the United States. It has led them, he says, to “admire, fear and pity” us, the “pity” coming from their belief that America is a country in decline. . .

Why, they wonder, when we’re digging ever deeper the hole they think we’re in, are we so caught up in what they see as trivia — arguing about where to hang the Ten Commandments, preoccupied by homosexuality, fixating on news about murdered or missing pretty white females, legislating steroid use in sports, punishing flag burners — getting all emotional about issues they see as only marginally or not at all related to what they believe is America’s long-term well-being and continued power?

We may not agree with the Chinese leaders, or may think they should be putting their own house in order rather than inspecting ours, but they raise some important questions for Americans in general and educators in particular.

I doubt we’ll meet those challenges. However, if there’s hope, it probably lies with the kids. . .

And more with how they think than how they test.

**************************
Then in June 2009 I followed up on Snook with:  Teaching Our Girls (Boys Too) to Dance With Democracy





Did I Mention Liza’s Culture Kitchen Seems to Be Gone?

30 07 2012

. . .so gradually I am using the Wayback machine to bring up my old essays there, when the need arises to link them in some discussion or other; posting a version here gives me a link that can work without said magic machine. Today it was a conversation at Radical Unschooling about whether to “lie” to children by telling them about Santa . . .

Is this the way the world ends, not with a lie believed — but truth disbelieved?

January 2006

Submitted by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
Abuse of Belief Junior – the Home Game
Blogging with Lorraine about truth and lies, and whether we have the wisdom to know the difference, I commented that moms understand how children construct meaning that is both truth and lie, or to be more accurate, meaning for which the labels “truth” or “lie” have little or no meaning!

. . .just ask a child who ate the last cookie, or why his dog suddenly has a bald patch and where are the scissors?! The answers will depend (most passionately!) on what the child believes you may believe, and what he or she WANTS to believe, and not much on evidence, objectivity or looming jurisprudence.

Then this morning, I came across a book review of “Real Kids: Creating Meaning in Everyday Life” in which Susan L. Engel apparently pleads with us to be at least as interested in the ways that children think, their thought processing if you will, as we are in their outcomes or achievements.

(And JJ pleads with citizens everywhere to reject the lie that society’s Job One is to label the natural thinking processes of children as some unnatural problem or other, the better to impose years of professional intervention in the name of national security and all that is holy.)

Engel argues that children’s play
and storytelling provide clear evidence that children’s thinking is not a simplified version of adult thinking, but rather reflects a qualitatively different way of interacting with the world — a way of interacting in which the boundaries between fantasy and reality are highly permeable.

To which a liberally educated British dad now living here and homeschooling his own, added a snatch of T.S. Eliot — “humankind cannot bear very much reality” — and some pithy comments:

I think that anybody looking around after 9/11 has to agree that “the boundaries between fantasy and reality are highly permeable” for all of us. To give other examples, there’s the drive to impose Intelligent Design and the Strict Construction[ist] approach to the Constitution — two attempts to deny change and progress by imposing an arbitrary barrier.

So I’m beginning to think this could be the cultural conversation of our times.

Although speaking just for my own truth, before I could muster much scholarly attention for the Constitution today, I was as usual seduced by a powerful whiff of story, wafting my way from Eliot’s own “highly permeable boundaries between fantasy and reality.”

Was he American poet or British poet, I mused. Off to check.

Aha, both are factual but neither is true alone — these facts are dependent on each other for their truth, either is misleading stated as absolute and isolated fact. Was he a poet? Yes, BUT also schoolmaster and professor as much as brilliant artist — what does that inconvenient complexity do to the falsely dichotomous “truth” that

those who can, do;
those who can’t teach;
those who can’t teach, teach teachers?

[More snarling, never mind me - I come from a long line of professors, teachers and omnivorous intellectuals with extremely porous boundaries between fantasy and reality, not to mention between thinking and breathing.]

Summing up the power of story in today’s lesson, then, it seems likely to be true of Eliot that we don’t know much of what’s true about Eliot, not even supposedly simple facts of the type with which we love to fill reference books and test mental mechanics in schools everywhere.

“Never compromising either with the public or indeed with language itself, he has followed his belief that poetry should aim at a representation of the complexities of modern civilization in language and that such representation necessarily leads to difficult poetry.”

So like a child’s mental constructs, lots of what we’re unsure we understand about Eliot is because he didn’t plant it in neatly labeled little standard rows of true-false and multiple choice, controlled to the nth degree by social common denominators and heavy pesticide applications.

Time Magazine in 1988 said Eliot “produced a body of work — poetry, criticism, plays — that permanently rearranged the cultural landscapes of his native and adopted lands. Exactly how he created himself and his era remains something of a mystery, the topic of continuing debate.”

And it is certainly true (but will you believe me? You’ll have to take my word for all this, unless Smoking Gun is having a VERY slow day) that I laughed aloud upon reading this puzzled yet gamely authoritative declaration, explaining what we know about what we don’t know:

It is rather difficult to find much information on T. S. Eliot, which is quite hard to understand, considering the profound impact he had on American and English literature. However, it can be explained that since Eliot was a very private man and also forbade in his will an official biography, the dearth of information on Eliot is justifiable.

Is this the way the world ends, not with a lie believed but truth disbelieved?

**************************************

That essay was called “Junior” because I’d written an adult version about truth and lies a few days before, as had fellow blogger Lorraine as referenced in the first paragraph. Here’s that adult essay, introduced by the fuller comment I’d made to Lorraine and quoted above, which I guess we can now consider all part and parcel:

As moms, we know children construct meaning from events as they go along, in ways that depend on who they are talking to – just ask a child who ate the last cookie, or why his dog suddenly has a bald patch and where are the scissors?! The answers will depend (most passionately!) on what the child believes you may believe, and what he or she WANTS to believe, and not much on evidence, objectivity or looming jurisprudence.

Men — well, husbands at least — are like this. They quite truly believe we’d rather have a lie we can believe, than a truth we (and they) would all prefer to downplay. (Ah, there’s a thread for more thought – downplaying and playing up truth.) Our girlfriends are like this too. They temper their truths and calibrate their lies with astonishing sensitivity and responsiveness to their surroundings and relationships. I have been told lies with far more true love and uplifting beauty in them than the clearest, most factual honesty for my own good — haven’t you?

Which gets me thinking: whenever some purist or literalist rejects the relevance of interdependent environments, circumstance, backstory and relationships, how much actual meaning can any “truth” they muster possibly claim, and where would it come from?

January 2006

Submitted by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
Abuse of Belief – Truth, Lies and Videoscape
Talk about Power of Story! Literally *and* figuratively.

This week the news includes a provocative book about true believers versus doubtful thinkers, confessions and confrontations, legalized academic cheating, even a new lawsuit about God-given truth as fraud. Who is manipulating innocent masses, and with what lies? Can cheating and conspiracy to defraud ever serve the larger cause of truth?

What do we really owe people we believe are getting conned?

With James Frey versus Oprah as only the latest public chapter in this powerful story, we’re being forced on every front to face our ambivalence about truth and lies and how we confuse them to our own detriment — is my blogging either, neither or both? I feel a headache coming on, and that’s both truth and lie — so maybe it’s not surprising that now the Bible itself is legally challenged as fraudulent memoir rather than historical fact and redemptive truth, thereby duping those desperate to believe.

A righteously indignant Maureen Dowd labels Oprah the saint, Frey the sinner, his bestselling book “bunk” and our President no better than Frey, that he too defrauded us and the wages of his sin are death, not redemption.

She does this with a straight, Pulitzer-Prize winning face, omitting equally true facts of her lying news colleague Jayson Blair, and her venerable publication’s contradictory roles in the Wilson-Plame-Miller circle of cynicism — fact-stacking for dramatic effect, self-interested stonewalling and hype, and general manipulation of its public powers — which together left us with no one to believe about any of it.

Note to the New York Times, and to public and private eyes and spies everywhere: whatever competitive lying that whole mess turns out to have been about, don’t expect us to “believe” that any of YOU believed in our right to the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. (Sadly, even the guy on the white horse of truth, whom I liked and admired, apparently had rules and codes he believed in more than unexpurgated, unspun facts and truth.)

So our belief in academic and intellectual accountability is manipulated everywhere, in public and private acts big and small. Prominent historians such as Stephen Ambrose come under fire for fraud. Scientists defraud research journals. Teachers cheat with standardized testing, pandering to our need to believe they represent facts and truth and critical thinking. Charities cheat with money entrusted to them for making the world a better place, child protection employees falsify reports with tragic results, ad nauseum.

Thus we’re all too familiar with belief issues when it comes to public stories from textbooks to memoirs, politics and news. The new twist is religious issues as fraud.
Intelligent Design versus evolution. Catholic Church child abuse scandals, with institutional lying for generations to cover it all up.

(Isn’t Maureen Dowd a good Catholic girl? Hmm . . . she is right in the
middle of ALL of this, isn’t she? I may need to learn more about her,
connections keep popping up . . .didn’t she just publish her own somewhat dubious nonfiction memoirs?)

We lie to our friends and lovers, and whether we get caught or not, maybe personal lies aren’t different when it comes to the larger harm — Excalibur’s Merlin darkly warns his brash and ethically challenged warrior-disciple that “when a man lies, he murders some part of the world.”

Oscar Wilde said our supposedly harmless lie about telling the truth, the one we teach our kids about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, reflects how truth-worshipping our lying culture is, a point reiterated this week by Jerry Stahl:

” . . .The anecdote, Wilde noted, perfectly exemplifies the American psyche: all about honesty, and completely contrived.
Now, as then, we are a people grown fat on fabrication. The truth is just another artificial flavor . . .”

We scream for a little (head)chopping in the name of truth now and again, ho-hum, makes great fiction for the news and publishing industries, but all we can come up with
as society-wide solution — seriously?? — is re-labeling the other guy’s truth? And alternately defending and confessing our own lies while continuing to teach them to our kids? What good is that?

No wonder public schools are dysfunctional and public education an oxymoron. There IS no truth we can
agree on objectively, to teach kids. And the truth is we know it and won’t fix it.

Wilde again:

. . . tired of the intelligent person whose reminiscences are always based upon memory, whose statements are invariably limited by probability . . . Society sooner or later must return to its lost leader, the cultured and fascinating liar.


Catholic leaders claim The Da Vinci Code is
manipulation of belief
, fraud for profit, harmful lies we must warn the world to reject.
Now comes the titillating and, one supposes, quite predictable reverse play, the
crowning glory of the news and belief cycle (whoops, not to be redundant!) — historical Christianity itself challenged as fraud, with the courts as the objective Standard of Truth.

It’s being called “abuse of popular belief” by the plaintiff.
Can we even call these stories about the stories actual news — or is it closer to sensationalized fiction in service of larger redemptive “truth?” Words seldom fail me, let’s see, where’s the connected Power of Story in all this . . . yeah, “ abuse of popular belief” is a keeper.

I think it’s time we add it to our mandatory graduation standards — if we can find anyone qualified to teach the course.





Coffee Pots, Cameras and Other Words That Start With “C” Like Capital and Capitol

10 01 2012

Washing up the coffee pot this morning, I mused about a good friend complimenting a couple of pots we shared over the holidays.

She returned to a grueling work schedule last week as most folks no doubt did, and had stopped in at a Starbucks for fortification during the latest cold snap. Expecting a little bit of holiday magic I suppose, she ordered up the same brand I’d served her — Cafe Verona. It disappointed her.

She later called to complain it had “tasted like ass!”

Why?

Same beans, same label, bigger and better equipment although I do have a built-in grinder that sounds like a jet engine revving for takeoff, plus Starbucks bean baristas are pros unlike moi, with training at making coffee that I’ve never sought or even thought about trying to match. I don’t take any particular pride of identity in my coffee — to me it’s a caffeine delivery medium, period. I take it hot and black and serve it that way too, unless lobbied by a special guest for special frills.

Aha! It hit me as I carefully washed out not just the pot but all the coffeemaker’s disassembled parts . . .

Could it be a question of “clean optics?”

Like camera lenses! Scrupulously clean optics are the secret to photography, or so I was taught by several fine photographers who tried to help me get the most from some fancy lenses I enthusiastically swapped out on my Nikkormat back in the 70s.

Good light and a good eye count, too. But even the best of both can’t compensate for the lack of squeaky-clean optics so that good light can pour through pure and true, where a good eye can make the most of it.

Coffeemaker cleaning is the same deal, I’ve learned (the hard way.) When oils from the coffee beans smear across even a little part of the mechanism and carry over into future production, the end product may indeed taste like ass.

Oh, it’s all very well to tout the beans and the roasting, the cost and the care with which the mechanism was created and is manipulated in the creative process. But clean optics are the key even though no one can see the difference. You can taste it.

I finished washing the pot and all the little parts, probably with even more care than usual.

Then I sat down with the last cup of coffee I’d saved from the pot before washing up, to watch the oiliest and most rancid governor in my personal half-century of Florida experience, giving his “state of the state” address to the oiliest and most rancid Legislative congregation of rich and selfish Capitol Capitalists assembled in my painfully experienced memory.

This is a fine state with good light and good mechanisms full of hardworking, vigorous and creative people.

That tastes more and more like ass.





Pregnant Woman Maced by Riot Police and Miscarries — Serve and Protect?

23 11 2011

UPDATE July 2013: a small measure of justice?

In some places the police were unbelievably violent in their quest to silence the Occupiers. Oakland, California was one of those places. . .This week the U.S. district court in San Francisco awarded a group of 12 protesters one million dollars after they sued the department for police brutality. The dollar amounts vary, with some protesters getting $20,000 and another getting as much as $500,000. . .

The settlement was a step in the right direction for the police department and it was a victory for the movement. The actions of law enforcement officials towards the Occupy protesters across the country were atrocious. Last year the University of California Davis offered each of the students who were pepper sprayed at close range by campus police $30,000…The monetary awards are small but at least they are an acknowledgement. The way the Occupy movement was silenced was a disgrace.

***************************************

What does it mean for armed authoritarian police in riot gear to “serve and protect” — and who is being protected from whom, for what, under what Authority? Are Thinking Citizens ready for this debate, finally?

Pregnant woman miscarries after being sprayed with pepper spray

What follows are comments JJ is making in an effort to marshal moral principle that might transcend a conservative man’s flinging his own authoritarian feces about, all while claiming to be a multicultural minority himself and more compassionate as proven by charitable donations than “liberals.”

About miscarriage following pepper spray, he said without a trace of self-mocking:

unlike many leftists, we believe in law and order and contesting within the system and established norms, and put our lives on the line fighting for it, and unlike anarchists and their fellow travelers, we dont worship killers of cops, judges and soldiers and dont automatically blame everything on police brutality.

That’s what got me trawled/trolled into the conversation, starting with a quote intended to describe the Authority Personality he seemed to fit and drawing a retort from him that he agreed with Fromm but “it goes both ways” (??):

“. . .the individual’s goal must be to become his own authority; i.e. to have a consciousness in moral issues, conviction in questions of intellect, and fidelity in emotional matters. However, the individual can only have such an inner authority if he has matured enough to understand the world with reason and love.

The development of these characteristics is the basis for one’s own authority and therefore the basis for political democracy.” — Erich Fromm, 1957, “The Authoritarian Personality”

If the “it” that goes both ways, is maturing in reason and love (so that we can transcend animal authority and become Real Boys and Girls) then certainly I agree.

Pregnant women are a very specialized “minority” btw. Even those of us who have been one know primarily how to live as NOT one, because it can’t last long. It might be interesting for us to think about that.

First, no one is born that way or stays that way, although Mrs. Duggar comes close.. ;-)

And second, the whole community has a stake in pregnant women, both literally and emotionally: she biologically holds the power within her own body (corpor-al personhood?) to bring forth life and continue the human race, yet to do it, she becomes at her most vulnerable, and is often mistreated for it both by authoritarian individuals and authoritarian society’s rules, laws and cultural hierarchies.

Pregnant women — would it help to rebrand them as citizen creators? — tend to be stunned/shocked/struck (all violent weaponized police control concepts, think about THAT!) by just how dramatically their status change brings out the “authoritarian” in personalities! People get proprietary, want to touch us and tell us what to do and not do, where to be or not be, what to ingest or not, etc etc etc. They call it protection the same way cities and campuses are claiming police violence against peaceful citizens is protection. The same way America’s war-waging is called the defense department . . .

We could have our own reasonable and loving mature debate on, say,

RESOLVED: This culture is more authoritarian toward citizen creators and their corpor-al personhood than toward job creators and corporate personhood.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers