The Bad, the Ugly, and the Good

This page written circa 15 February, 2003.

Back in a 1999 essay I cited a humerous epithet that stood displayed in a favourite student watering hole. It divided the populace into three groups. Perhaps not as succinctly, this essay identifies three similarly-related bins.

Having and raising kids produces many lines of thought unthunk by non-parents, as any parent will tell. I want to describe another mental phenomenon; I should be very happy to hear if any other readers experienced the same thing. Living with Merinda has caused me to recall crystal-clear images from my youth, accompanied by very adult reflections on them. It is like I am watching myself as a 4 or 5-year old, from a few feet away, but feeling the emotion I recall myself feeling as that kid.

There is a book---I think it is "I'm OK, You're OK"---that starts with a plea that the book be read strictly chronologically, because it starts with physiology, develops psychology, and finishes with deep philosophy, and the latter would look far-fetched without the basis beforehand. A psychology book presenting a model of the human mind, it starts with the description of a purely physiological effect that promoted the author to embark of the line of reasoning that lead to the model. The model, though well worth reading, is irrelevant to this discussion; it is the physiological effect I want to recall. During exposed brain surgery, precise mechanical interference caused (fully concious) patients to report "video-replay-like" memories. The same interference would cause the exact same memory to replay over and over. In some cases the memory was one the patient could not recall ever before having, though it was consistent with remembered history. It is as if there are detailed memories stored in the brain but not in the part of the brain that the concious mind accesses.

So raising kids is like brain surgery for me. Merinda has become very selfish of late, corresponding I suppose to the surgeon vigorously wiggling some long probe stuck through my gray matter. I recall being much more selfish circa 6 years of age, I have this memory of myself... well, I was doing everything possible to hurt my mother for not doing whatever it was I wanted. I hoped I had the resources to force my will. The useful lesson is that I can expect Merinda to get better. I hope.

The other thing I have noticed again and again from watching the kids---often Merinda developing antisocial desires---is that inadequate adults are simply ones that still have some view or desire that is infantile, in the literal meaning of that word, or perhaps there is something or many things that they have never learnt. They have failed to "mature". I talk to or read of some turkey and think "Merinda might think like you" or "I know teenagers who have learnt better than that".

Now I hated the word maturity when I was a kid. My mother liked to use it, and to me it labelled something she was holding up but that I could not have by definition: Maturity was some understanding adults had that kids did not. That was a very unfair usage, precluding my appreciation of whatever was under discussion. I might not have either understood or sympathised, but I would like to have had the chance, to have it explained. Analysed from my current understanding, I reckon it might have been simple even when I was a kid to explain the view of the mature as arising from different value judgements or a better understanding of how homo sapiens reacts. I might not have accepted the explanation or even understood it, but my mother might have laid out her reasons. One of the triggered memories that I had not had for ages was some occasion when my mother picked me up and said something to the effect of "I don't think you will understand but I will tell you anyway", and I did not understand, but I got the idea that she did. That approach must eventually have been replaced with the maturity line.

To return to global issues, a major problem with the world has to be that the people who are in charge are not always the best people for their jobs. I have observed before that people in charge seem to be chosen on the basis of what they believe themselves capable of doing rather than their actual ability. An over-inflated self-opinion, a fearless handshake and a practiced smile are as good as broad ability if you want to be a CEO, a politician, etc. Douglas Adams's solution to this problem was to recommend that "under no circumstances should anyone who wants the job be allowed to have it". As filters go it might work, but it is impractical and ultimately imperfect as well. By the way, I do not have a better one, and the world obviously does not either.

Speaking of the seriously over-inflated, consider groups like "New American Century" who advocate that the USA lead the world via foreign policy, meaning assume control of the known solar system, a modern version of Genghis Khan. Americans can have all this for investing a mere 4% of GDP! One might pay no more attention to these guys than to the The Knights Party (KKK) or Libertarian National Socialist Green Party (Nazis) except that they have a whole lot more money behind them because there is a whole lot more to gain. The KKK are down to selling T-shirts. The problem with all these three is that they are thinking backwards---they have already got conclusions, and they are looking for a way to reach that conclusion.

These Khanists actually believe that security for Americans would be best achieved by taking control of the world rather than through assuming a more balanced, less offensive stance. OK, maybe some of them are more motivated by greed, but I do believe that most Americans who support George W actually believe that his approach is the best for America, and good for the rest of the world too. Maybe Bush believes it. The greed angle is logical, if not morally popular, the delusion simply misguided, blinkered, narrow thinking.

If we accept that achievement and ability are not well connected, then there will be people in control who are capable, balanced achievers, and some who are dangerous. Amongst my close acquaintances I have a clear example of each end of the spectrum.

In one bin are people whose achievements are matched by their abilities---the good. In another bin are people who stopped maturing somewhere along the line, who stopped learning anything except how to achieve, which they do through a kind of shallow, rat-like, empirical collecting of stances that work---the ugly. Lastly there is a (big) bin of people who cannot spot the difference between examples of the other sorts, or who are not in a position to do anything about it. These people have thought patterns reminiscent of teenagers, brains that got stuck somewhere and stopped growing wiser with the passing of time. This is bad.

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