This Is Today’s Test

I really hate that we’re even having this conversation because it’s so damn stupid, but no one is disrespecting the flag. That’s just a bald faced lie. Kneeling is not a gesture of disrespect. It’s a prayerful, reverent position. If Kapernick had said he was kneeling as an act of patriotic fervor, no one except the Jehovah’s witnesses and the Mennonites would have objected. But he’s kneeling to protest a pattern of violence by the state against citizens, particularly black citizens.

Let’s drill down to brass tacks about this issue. A 12 year old child named Tamir Rice was deliberately shot on sight, without warning, while playing in a park by the police. And nothing happened. His mom got some money because that’s all anyone cares to give her. The local cops ridicule her, sometimes openly. They knowingly lied about her son and what happened. They did not provide immediate first aid for Tamir’s wounds. They made his sister watch her 12 year brother dying on the ground while locked in the back of a squad car, after a full grown man tackled her to stop her from reaching him. They didn’t even follow their own rules. The local DA was forced by protests to convene a grand jury which he threw so flagrantly and deliberately that details of the proceedings were leaked to the public – something which simply does not happen with grand juries. Grand juries do not leak. From front to back, this case is as egregiously unjust and cruel as it is possible to be.

And, by all appearances, a lot of Americans are cool with that. They’ll repeat easily disproven lies smearing a 12 year old child before dealing with the obvious problem Kapernick and other athletes are protesting. To them, the most important thing is that we all agree that there is most certainly not a problem and further, that we are not allowed to talk openly about the problem outside of a few well-worn bromides that have always sufficed before. Unfortunately, there are people with really loud voices and a lot of power who fall into the category of people who just don’t give a shit about a 12 year old kid in a supposed “ghetto” that they won’t even drive through but know everything about. Where a 12 year old child was playing when he was shot by the police, no wilding gang members being available to do the job, apparently. The people who think like this are assholes. These are the people who need to be identified and kept away from positions of power and influence. Because they are literally sociopaths who are a danger to the rest of us.

So here’s what’s happening right now; as I warned y’all a couple of years back we’re going to be having a little test. And apparently God put Kapernick in charge of administering this part of it. The particular question we need to answer for this part of the test is simple:

What is more important to you: living in a country where it’s unthinkable for a 12 year old kid to be shot by a police officer while playing at the park or following protocol for interacting with national symbols?

That’s all you have to answer: which one matters more? A human being or the flag? Justice or a song? Will you kneel for justice and real human lives or will you refuse to on account of mere symbols? That’s the choice you get to make. It’s an easy enough question to answer. Which is more important – humans or symbols and protocols. Sociopaths will make one choice. Decent human beings will make another. So make your choice. What matters more to you? At the end of the day, what sort of person do you turn out to be? Choose. Let us all know. We’re watching.

Advertisements

Sadly, Being Nice Rarely Changes Things

While I’m usually pretty nice and well behaved here on my blog, it has happened a time or two in real life and on social media that I have been criticized for being too harsh, too dramatic and too provocative. The way I communicate has been called vulgar, bombastic, hateful, angry and divisive. More than one person has tried to plead with me (or shame me) to tone it down. Typically they claim that no one will listen to me because I’m alienating people. Clearly, I have not found these arguments or criticisms particularly persuasive.

To demonstrate why, take a look at these fascinating charts:

No automatic alt text available.

Between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of white people claiming that we have done enough to give blacks equal rights vs those who say that more needs to be done remained stable. Most white people had declared mission accomplished. But by 2015, the positions had completely reversed with most white people suddenly deciding that we needed to do more to give blacks equal rights. What happened? Well, Black Lives Matters happened. Conflict happened. Protests happened. Arguments happened. Roads were blocked, events were disrupted, people shouted and refused to back down. A few even set shit on fire.

Much like me, BLM was criticized for being too harsh, too dramatic, too provocative. They were called vulgar, bombastic, hateful, angry and divisive. They were told that all they were doing was alienating people.  Right wing media engage in a demonic smear campaign against them to make J. Edgar Hoover do a jig in his grave. The leaders of BLM, however, had studied the history of non-violent social change and they knew better than to give the calls to simmer down and be nice any credence. And for all the criticism and complaints, people’s eyes started to open and their minds began to change. Their denial became less sustainable. In a very short amount of time, opinions flipped quite dramatically.

You see, the idea that we can get people to change their minds about important issues, come out of denial and recognize the error of their ways through civility and dialogue sounds high minded and reasonable. Except reality doesn’t actually work like that. It could, if people were better at listening, less defensive and less invested in victim blaming. But they’re not.

Which is why it is both good and necessary that we have some people who are willing to be obnoxious, piss everyone off and refuse to back down. People who are willing to have people think that they’re a jerk and talk shit about them and say nasty things to them. And while not everyone can or should be that sort of person, I am quite happy to be one of those people at this moment in history. I get that at any given moment. I have a fair number of people mad at, disgusted by or appalled at me. That’s OK. I’m a mom; it’s not a novel experience for me.

A Bunch of Noah’s in Nashville

Do you know what I don’t like doing? Arguing with conservative Christians. I used to do it. But it’s pointless. Sometimes someone is so many different kinds of wrong that it’s hard to know where to start. And why bother? Arguments have been made, the sides staked out and scripts provided to all involved. It’s just the same conversations over and over again. As is so often the case when it comes to controversies grounded in scripture, we tend to come down to two fairly plausible readings of the text. As much as we want to argue over minutia and details, when you get right down to it, we’re just picking the interpretations which seem right to us. Which means all we’re doing is using the scripture to reflect our own hearts.

Sometimes what’s in our hearts is ugly. Like the recent appallingly timed release of an anti-LGBT statement by an appalling list of right wing charlatans who use the fear of God and man as a weapon to maintain control over much of the white American church. (If you are fortunate enough not to be in the loop about these things, it’s called the Nashville Statement. Google.) Now, not only am I openly biased about this statement, but I haven’t even read it. I’ve just read what other people who are appalled by it have said about it. That’s how flagrantly biased, unfair, bigoted and close minded I am.

Except I’m totally not. I haven’t read it because, again, what for? It’s not like we don’t already know the script they’re working from and it’s not like a bunch of “leaders” who long ago lost my respect are entitled to the time and brainpower it will take for me to read it. But because of the prominence and proximity to power which the signers hold as well as the fact that these morons thought we needed to hear them formally recite their opinions – AGAIN – about other people’s genitalia while we’re in the midst of several human, ecological, political and social catastrophes, it’s a thing people are talking about.

So, to start off with, contrary to what these jokers claim, the bible is not nearly as clear as they’ve made it out to be when it comes to LGBT people’s genital pairings. There’s an excellent case to be made that the bible passages which forbid homosexual activity have been completely misunderstood and misrepresented. If you’re not familiar with it, here are some good places to start looking. And here. And here.

But even in the absence of a scholarly case for LGBT acceptance, scripture provides us with ample room and cover for re-examining the old prohibitions against homosexuality. Go back to Noah. In Christian lore, Noah is held up as a righteous man who obeys God’s commands without question. A hero of the bible who saved life on the planet. The Jewish people, however, have tended to see things differently. In their eyes, Noah is not particularly admirable and, despite being a literal forbearer to the Jewish people, according to the text, has not been accorded the honor of being recognized as a Jew at all. The reason? Because he obeyed God’s commands without questions. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, certainly no liberal, explains this Jewish perspective of Noah thusly:

The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man “in his generation.” He was only a righteous man compared to the others who were far worse than he.

Now, why wasn’t he righteous? Because righteousness is all about what you do for your fellow man. And Noah does NOTHING for his fellow man. He doesn’t care, he has no compassion. He executes God’s commandment to the letter. So when God says “I’m going to kill everybody,” Noah says, “will you save my skin? Oh, I get an Ark? Okay, fine.” . . .

[Noah] failed in the greatest mission of all. He failed to protect human life. And failed to fight with God when he wanted to take human life. He refuses to wrestle with God. . . God says “everyone will die” and Noah says nothing. But this is not what God wants. God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity! He does not want the obedient man of belief. He wants the defiant man of faith.

It isn’t until Abraham, when God says “we have the rainbow and I promise not to destroy everyone, but I will destroy these two cities Sodom and Gomorah,” Abraham does something audacious. He says “will the judge of the entire Earth not practice justice?” He lifts his fists to heaven! He raises a cudgel to Heaven! This made him the first Jew. A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience. [Source]

Jesus was a Jew in the tradition of Abraham, not Noah. We see it in his proclamation that “the sabbath was made for the man, not the man for the sabbath”. That is to say, the rules do not take precedence over human beings and their needs. It’s up to the rules to serve human needs, not the other way around. This idea is further re-enforced in Acts 10 where God tells Peter to stop dividing between clean and unclean. Those rules which had been put in place long ago for the Jewish people would no longer define what was acceptable and unacceptable. Real Jews wrestled with God in defense of their fellow man. And going forward, Christians would no longer bind people to the rules which had previously defined everything Peter knew about right and wrong, good and bad, clean and unclean.

The fact of the matter is that those who continue to declare homosexuality unclean, forbidden and a violation of Christian morality are like Noah. They are obedient, but fail at the most basic requirements of caring for human life. Regardless of our understanding of what God has declared his intention or desire to be, LGBT people have made it clear, in word and deed, that they are being deeply hurt by the teaching that their innate sexual inclinations are defective and acting on them an affront to God. The traditional teachings regarding human sexuality have resulted in suicides, addictions, destroyed families, people being cast out of communities, mental health problems and intense rejection and hostility for LGBT people. So even if we believe that it is, in fact, clear that God condemns homosexuality, that is not a good enough reason to continue promoting a teaching which is hurting the people who are subject to it.

Jesus told us, flat out, that we can judge a thing by its fruit. The fruit of the teaching against LGBT people has been consistently bad. To ignore this because we believe that the teaching was handed down by God doesn’t actually honor God. As 1 John 4:20 says, if we don’t love the human beings who we can see, we CANNOT love God who we cannot see. Insisting on feeding people fruit that poisons them is not love. Saying that the fruit that poisons them is from God and must be eaten for our own good only makes it worse. Pointing to the very rare person who is able to tolerate the fruit without being obviously poisoned by it does absolutely nothing to help those who the fruit would kill. God’s ways bring life, not death.

At the end of the day, we do have a choice to make. It’s much the same choice that Noah and Abraham had to make. Do we just go along with what we’ve heard God has said he desires, or do we push back in order to defend our fellow man from destruction? The writers of the Nashville Statement have chosen the path of Noah; they will accept the salvation of being right for themselves while others continue to perish. I and many others are choosing the more faithful option of refusing to continue imposing death, suffering and rejection on LGBT people in God’s name. And I am not remotely worried that God will condemn or reject me for following in the footsteps of father Abraham.

Social Justice, Prophetic Voice Memes

My brain won’t write today, so I made memes. I’m thinking of doing more of these pairing social justice issues with prophetic words of scripture, so if you have suggestions put them in the comments and I’ll see what I can come up with.

blm-peacedapl

If you’d like to share these (please), just right click on them and chose “save image as”.

Do You Think They’d Let Me Pet Their Unicorns If I Asked?

Many Trump supporters literally voted for a person who exists only in their head.

I first realized that there was something strange going on with Trump and his supporters during the primaries when a seemingly normal man I’m connected to on Facebook shared a Trump ad saying, “this is amazing! Wow. If everyone saw this, Trump would win in a landslide. Finally, someone who gets it.” (Or something like that, I’m working from memory.) So I watched the ad. All it was was Trump making declarative statements like “I’m going to make America great again. I’m going to create so many great jobs. Defeat terrorism. Stop crime. Balance the budget. Etc, etc, etc”. And that was it. Just Trump listing things that would happen if he was elected. No explanation, no context, no nothing.

Normally I have quite a knack for seeing things through other people’s eyes, but I was at a complete loss. What in the world did this guy think he was looking at? Was he under the impression that other politicians were campaigning on making America terrible, handing it over to terrorists, destroying the economy and increasing crime?

My suspicion is that Trump has triggered deep, deep authoritarian programming in people who are susceptible to it. Some of this comes from his strange manner of speech. But my sense is that once this authoritarian programming is triggered, it pretty well puts people into a child-like trusting state of the sort that they experienced as children growing up in an authoritarian setting. (Researchers have found that Trump supporters tend to have strong authoritarian impulses which typically result from growing up with authoritarian parents.)

But whatever is going on here, it’s just bizarre. Maybe the zombie apocalypse is real. Because these people are not in their right minds.

Going High When They Go Low Isn’t How You Win; You Gotta Fight to Win

fight-to-winLiberals don’t know how to talk to or appeal to conservatives. And for whatever reason, they refuse to learn. Probably because they’re good Americans and in the words of that great American sage and cartoon character, Ed Wuncler, “We’re American. We don’t quit just because we’re wrong. We keep doing the wrong thing until it turns out right.”

There’s an interesting interview with cognitive linguist George Lakoff going around in which he discussed this problem. His thesis, essentially, is that it’s not so much policy differences that make Liberals so unappealing to conservatives. It’s that Liberals have erroneous ideas about how to win people over while Republicans have it down to an art form. He argues, and has been arguing for decades now, that Republicans are masters of messaging and framing while Democrats prefer to work from facts, idea and reason.

Basically, Republicans understand how people think about the world in real life because they approach politics from the perspective of marketing and communications. Most people reason from their emotions, their values and their worldview with facts, ideas and reason serving primarily to shore up what they already believe. If a fact, idea or reason doesn’t fit with their values, worldview or emotions, it will be dismissed or explained away because to do otherwise would require adjusting if not completely overturning the mental framework they depend on to function. Which is a much bigger upheaval than the simple admission of error and adjustment of opinion which liberals assume would be the response to encountering information which conflicts with current beliefs.

Liberals on the other hand, tend to rely on academic ideas about how people should think. The problem, of course, is that how we think things should work, generally has little effect on how they actually do work. It’s always going to be more effective to start with how things actually work and try influence change from that point of reality than it is to simply stand on how you think things should work and demand that everyone move to where you are. The Democratic insistence on working from facts, ideas and reason without learning the nitty gritty of messaging and framing which would allow them to show how their policies fit into or build on existing conservative worldviews dooms them to failure over and over again.

Probably the most glaring example of this failure on the part of liberals has to do with liberal’s unwillingness to fight. Somehow liberals seem to have decided that they are above fighting and they eschew it whenever possible in favor of trying to persuade or when persuasion fails, regrouping to try again. No where was this on more vivid display than during the aftermath of the election. Obviously, the election was close. And there were reports of serious discrepancies between exit polls and election results of the sort which are known to be possible indicators of fraud. And how did the DNC respond? They didn’t. It fell to Jill Stein to raise the money necessary to demand a recall in effected states. When it came time to execute the actual recounts, the RNC had lawyers crawling everywhere, challenging ballots and processes left and right while the DNC’s presence was barely visible.

After the recounts, there was still the hope that the electoral college might save us. Protecting the country from a foolish mob electing a despot is literally one of the reasons the founding fathers created the electoral college. We all know that if the roles were reversed, the Republicans would have mounted a coordinated, well funded campaign and media blitz to convince the electoral college to give the election to the winner of the popular vote. They would have been working it from any and every angle they could think of, no matter how outlandish. The DNC, however, did essentially nothing. Told us to accept that an apparently racist, unhinged, authoritarian con-artist would be running the country and move on for the sake of unity. What fight there was on that front came from private citizens and social media.

Not only is the unwillingness to fight bad strategy, it absolutely guarantees that conservatives will prefer voting for a dirty sock over a liberal. At least the sock has the temerity to raise a stink. Conservatives tend to place a very high value on community and loyalty. Part of that sense of community and loyalty knowing that someone’s got my back and will go to battle for me if need be. Someone who won’t even fight for themselves can’t possibly be trusted to fight for someone else. Liberals don’t know how to fight and they don’t want to fight. They seem to have eschewed fighting as somehow beneath them. They seem to have conflated fighting with “going low” and they want to be known for “going high”. But going high is NOT synonymous with refusing to fight.

The fear that liberals have – and I’ve gotten some of this pushback myself – is that by fighting we make ourselves no better than the belligerents who went to figurative war with Obama after he was elected. We’ll be seen as sore losers, they say. They worry that we’ll alienate people. And all of that is pure and utter rubbish.

From the conservative perspective, if you won’t fight, you can’t be trusted to defend. If you won’t fight, you’re not committed. If you won’t fight, you don’t really have confidence in what you’re saying. If you won’t fight, you’re not a person who can be trusted much less followed.

And yes, when you fight, you will be chided for being rude, for being stubborn, for sowing conflict. You will be accused of being a sore loser. You will be told that you’re alienating people and hurting your own cause. You will be told that you’re being unreasonable and pushy and unfair. You will be mocked and ridiculed and called names and told that you smell bad and your mother dresses you funny. Because that’s what fighting looks like; you put your truth out, people push back and see if they can get your to back down. So you double down, stand your ground and do exactly what your opponent tells you you must not do. In a fight you have to be indefatigable and creative and confidently certain as all get out. It’s a fight, not a prayer circle.

And here’s the thing about conservatives; by and large, they mean to be good people. They want to do right by people. They in no way intend to cause harm. And they want pretty much the same things that liberals want for themselves and our country. The problem is that on one side, you have this dishonest, manipulative, untrustworthy party who, by any reasonable measure, seeks power rather than the best interest of the American people. But they’ll fight you tooth and nail. They’ll wage a war on you that you aren’t even participating in and win three battles in the time it takes for you to learn chords to kumbaya or construct your next argument. They don’t care if their enemies get mad and say mean things about them. They’ll just use that as a badge of honor and a weapon to wield.

And whether liberals like it or not, whether they think it’s the way it should be or not, the reality is that fighting works. A lot of people simply feel safer throwing their support behind people who they can trust to fight for them in the face of threat over someone who may be right all the time, but don’t even have the wherewithal to fight for their own ideas and their own share of the power. It’s much easier to change the way people think by working with current reality than by just demanding that they change, after all.

So that’s the kind-of bad news for a lot of liberals. If they really want to win and have a shot at offering a serious counterweight to the unAmerican right wing radicals who have taken over our country, they’re going to have to learn to fight. They’re going to have to learn to absorb the blows, the criticism, the rejection, the accusations and nastiness that are part and parcel of fighting without shifting, moving or bending. They’re going to have to learn to dish it as well as they take it. And that’s damn uncomfortable for a lot of us.

A lot of people associate open conflict and the intense battles of a fight with those who are abusive, dishonest, manipulative and cruel. But you can be plenty abusive, dishonest, manipulative and cruel without fighting. It’s not the fighting that’s the problem. You don’t have to fight dirty, be dishonest, dehumanizing or even particularly harmful to fight. You just need to fight clever, judicious and strong. Because the good news is that if we fight, we’re going to win. The other side leans so heavily on dishonesty, cruelty and manipulation because what they’re fighting for is bullshit. Behind that strong, take-no-prisoners, fight to the death front, there’s not really much there that anyone actually wants.

On the issues, once you strip off the liberal label, the American people agree with us. They just can’t trust us or take us or any of our policies seriously. What good is having great policy goals if you don’t have the gumption to fight to enact them anyways? So we’ve got to step up and fight because if we don’t, we’re abandoning ourselves, our country and our neighbors to an abusive, dishonest, manipulative and cruel movement ruled by a racist, unhinged con-artist. If that’s not worth fighting over, I don’t know what is.

To All the Good, Decent People Supporting Donald Trump

16143192_1277634628970695_4412907211557642267_nTo all the Trump supporters who feel that the negative, nasty reaction you’re on the receiving end of from the left is unfair, here’s the thing that I don’t think some of y’all understand. There are bad people in this world. Really, really bad people. There are people who are just hateful. There are people who believe terrible things about innocent people merely on the basis of appearance, religion, opinion or whatever and would do those people harm if they could.

Not everyone means the best. Not everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. It’s not a majority of people who are terrible people. Not even close. But it’s not an insignificant number of people either. Those people are dangerous. They can and have destroyed individuals, families, organizations, communities and, when given enough power, entire countries. They do not care if they are an unpopular minority, if they can get their hands on some power, they are going to use it in ways that harm people.

Even if Trump’s not one of those people (and based on the evidence, I find that assertion doubtful), the fact still remains that he – and you – have shown a willingness to play alongside and empower really terrible people. And that’s scary for a lot of us. That’s what we are reacting to. And of course we’re going to fight tooth and nail against anything that further emboldens or empowers such people.

I am 100% confident that most people who voted for Trump are not terrible people and I’m sure it feels uncomfortable and unfair to be receiving so much blowback, especially given the options we had to choose from. But if y’all don’t take some responsibility for the fact that you and Trump have shown a willingness to play alongside and empower really terrible people who do not play by rules and do not have any real regard for the rest of us, you don’t get to be upset that you’re being caught in the crossfire. It’s what happens when you’re a corn snake in a copperhead den.

At this point it really is up to y’all to reach out to bridge the gap. You’re going to have to make the effort to see what things look like to those of us who are scared shitless to have a white nationalist as the president’s closest adviser. To see things from the perspective of those of us who worry about the consequences of decades of pure, raw hatred being directed towards so-called libraturds, feminazis, sjw’s, intellectuals and others who the rest of us know as neighbors and fellow countrymen.

During and after the election, at least a bajillion think pieces were written saying that we need to understand the concerns of Trump supporters, but I have seen zero, zip, nada, nunka, zilch talk of Trump supporters trying to understand the concerns of those of us who believe that Trump is going to destroy our country, take our way of life with it and potentially cost a lot of people their lives in the process. Relationships are a two way street. And from what I can see, the effort to make peace, empathize and understand is running one way and has been for quite some time. I’m done with it. Either the subjects of all those think pieces are going to take some responsibility for mending the divide or we are going to be in conflict. And I’m going to be belligerent about it. And I’m going to be relentless. And so are millions of other people.

If you don’t like the conflict, if it makes you uncomfortable and bewildered, then do something about it. Instead of dismissing people out of hand, denying their concerns and ridiculing them, how about you actually try to understand? Resist the urge to respond with a stock answer, to fall back on “s/he did it first/worst/to” or an attempt to find hypocrisy. Learn to absorb the blow from time to time when something you feel is unfair is said or you don’t like our tone or language rather than melting down and withdrawing – you’re an adult too, you can do that. Give those you disagree with some credit rather than assuming the worst about them. How about you assume that our concerns are genuine and not just attempts to dominate over you?  Maybe assume that there are really valid reasons that things look so different to those who disagree with you instead of writing off as media, ideology and what-not. Instead of just standing on your belief that you are right and those who disagree with you are wrong, how about you make the effort to actually engage in order to understand? We deserve it just as much as you do.

What Every Parent Needs To Know About Spanking

If you’re ever at a loss for how to piss a lot of people off in one fell swoop, criticize parents for spanking. That will do it every time. I don’t exactly understand it, but there are a lot of people who are really, really attached to the idea that spanking is a good thing and no amount of research, data or reasoning will convince them otherwise. Because “I was spanked and I turned out OK!”*

I should say upfront that I’m not an anti-spanking purist. I have swatted a child on the bum a time or two myself and don’t anticipate that being what they end up seeking counseling for. However, over the last couple of decades we’ve learned an enormous amount about how our neural system operates that we were not aware of before. And whatever your current ideas about spanking are, we now know things that our parents and grandparents didn’t about the design of the human body which every parent should be aware of before they decide to use spanking as a discipline method with their children.

The first thing you need to know is that when you spank a child, you trigger their autonomic fight or flight reaction. It’s automatic and the child has no control over it. You can train them to suppress signs of this neurological state such as crying, pulling away or facial expressions of distress, but the underlying physiological reaction will remain the same. The thing to understand about the fight or flight response is that it is the same whether you’re facing off with a deadly viper or a large adult with a belt in hand. Whether you think that a fight or flight response is an appropriate reaction to spanking or not makes not one whit of difference. It’s the way our fearfully and wonderfully made neurological system works and is not under a child’s control.

What happens in a fight or flight state is that our bodies are flooded with stress hormones which increase respiration and heart rates. We often begin to sweat. Hormones stimulate energy to be released to the muscles. When a person’s fight or flight response has been triggered, their hippocampus – the part of their brain responsible for rational thought, decision making and learning – is no longer fully connected to the rest of the brain. The primitive, reptilian part of the brain takes over, allowing us to take in more information through our senses and respond quickly, without having to stop and think. All of this is designed to give us the best chance of surviving in a dangerous situation.

This fight or flight response is programmed and we do not control it. And it activates just the same regardless of the threat being faced is real or not. The fact that you’re spanking a child and not trying to hunt and eat them doesn’t make a great deal of difference to your child’s neurological system, which is, like the rest of their body, more delicate and less fully developed than in an adult. So although it’s likely not your intention, when you threaten or spank your child, you are putting them into a neurological state designed to protect them in the event of a saber tooth lion attack. Which may not actually be the relationship dynamic you want to foster.

But even if you are one of those parents who believe that making your child afraid of you is a good thing, there’s the practical implication of sending your child into a fight or flight state to consider. As I mentioned above, one of the things that happens in this state is that the thinking, learning, reasoning part of your brain goes off line. Obviously this is completely counter-productive for parents hoping to teach a child something. To the extent that you are teaching them, you are creating an aversion response. So the child may develop an aversion to whatever it is which triggered the punishment but it will not actually teach them anything deeper than that.

The other problem is that triggering this fight or flight response excessively will cause the response to be activated more easily. Which makes sense on two levels. One is that because of brain plasticity, every time you activate a specific neural pathway, you make it stronger. The stronger a neural pathways is, the more easily the brain defaults to it. And if you’re living in an environment in which your life is regularly endangered, responding to danger quickly gives you the best chance of survival. But when it’s a parent triggering this response, this adjustment is maladaptive. Children who experience it are going to be more fearful, more anxious, more hyper-vigilant, etc. If it’s happening often enough or over a long enough period of time, a process called kindling starts in which the neural pathways become so excitable that they will engage even in the absence of any perceived threat. All of this increases the likelyhood that the child will go on to suffer from disorders like anxiety, OCD and depression because their brains slip into fight or flight mode too easily.

Those people who advocate to spank until the child is fully compliant and repentant, as certain “Christian” teachers claim should be the end result of a spanking, are actually engaging the next step of the body’s autonomic response to danger: collapse/freeze. Collapse is what happens after the fight or flight response fails to resolve the dangerous situation. You see this in animals when they are cornered by a predator and they respond by playing dead. The collapse response is meant to be a deterrent (most predators won’t eat already dead animals). It also provides some psychic protection to the animal from the experience of being cornered and eaten.

The way collapse works in the body is this: as I mentioned above, when in a fight or flight state, our body is flooded with hormones which cause a surge of energy. When we cross over to collapse, the body essentially turns off its responsiveness to those hormones and shuts the system down. At this point, the hypocampus as well as the parts of the brain responsible for memory creation are almost fully disengaged. Cellular metabolism and responsiveness to hormonal signals slows. The child is working on auto pilot. This is a normal, protective response designed to protect us from traumatic situations. Dealing with your own parents isn’t supposed to be a traumatic situation. Even if the kid’s mouthed off first.

If collapse works and the danger passes, the body then sets about returning its neurological system to a normal state. Remember, a collapse state is characterized by the disengagement of significant parts of the brain which now need to be brought back online. There’s also the issue of all those energy producing hormones and the energy itself which are still coursing through the body. And at the cellular level, metabolic functioning is greatly reduced in a collapse state as the brain has signaled the muscles not to use the excessive energy created in the fight or flight state.So all that energy needs to be discharged, mental focus needs to be regained, and normal cellular functioning needs to resume.

In animals this neurological reset process looks like shaking, running in circles, jumping around and engage in other behaviors to work off the energy producing hormones created in the fight or flight state. In humans, this discharge will often look like sobbing hysterically, shaking, moving, screaming, throwing or slamming objects and doing other things that parents generally don’t let their children do after a spanking. This means that the child’s nervous system never has the chance to return to a normal state. Stress hormones remain in their bloodstream long after the event has passed, focusing and learning takes more effort and cellular use of energy and response to hormonal signals remains muted.

As is the case when a child’s fight or flight response is triggered excessively, when a child is pushed to the point of collapse, that strengthens the neural pathways responsible for executing the collapse state, causing it to happen more quickly in response to lower and lower levels of stimulation. Children who are brought to the point of collapse repeatedly may enter into a persistent state of collapse where all of their reactions are muted and they are no longer fully engaging with the world around them. Parents who discipline this way will often believe that because their children are quiet, compliant and still, these are signs that the “discipline” is working. Children who experience this are at high risk for Complex (Developmental) PTSD and dissociative disorders.

Now, some of you are protesting that this all sounds rather alarmist and cataclysmic in light of the fact that we’re talking about spanking a child. It’s not like parents are holding their children over a pit of hungry hyenas and threatening to drop them in or beating them with baseball bats, after all. (Hopefully) But we must not forget that just like children’s bodies are more delicate than adults and require special care, their nervous system are also more delicate and require special care.

At any rate, like I said, I’m not an anti-spanking purist. I have swatted my kids on the bum now and again. But people who are strong proponents of spanking generally don’t understand what it is they are actually doing to their children. Yes, you can get a quiet, compliant, still child by spanking if that’s your goal. However it comes at the cost of doing often permanent damage to this amazing nervous system which God gave us. There are many, many other discipline methods that parents can use to actually teach their children, help them develop self-control and proper behavior without running the risk of messing up the functioning of their neurology.

If you are a parent who would like to learn about alternatives to spanking, below is a list of resources compiled by Tricia Wilson that you can use:

Websites

Books

  • Conscious Discipline by BeckyBailey, https://consciousdiscipline.com/?sT…
  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish https://goo.gl/9U9cHl
  • Scream Free Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Hal Runkel https://goo.gl/gW6SVB
  • Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm, and Collected by Susan Stiffelman goo.gl/qnCOeK
  • Parenting With Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids by Susan Stiffelman goo.gl/Mc7VTx
  • Unconditional Parenting: Moving From Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn goo.gl/n57O2D
  • Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Laura Markham goo.gl/RwPgFM
  • Heaven on Earth by Sharifa Oppenheimer goo.gl/8YYK6m
  • Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing Our Children From Birth to Seven by Barbara Patterson and Pamela Bradley goo.gl/BLJfMU
  • Time In When Time Out Doesn’t Work by Jean Illsey Clarke goo.gl/Z4OAqj
  • Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers by Deborah McNamara and Gordon Neufeld goo.gl/z7DOsY
  • 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan goo.gl/k30E45
  • The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis goo.gl/WecbdJ
  • No Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson goo.gl/HYYROi
  • Parenting From the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive by Daniel Siegel goo.gl/3QAITW
  • Playful Parenting: An Exciting New Approach to Raising Children That Will Help You Nurture Close Connections, Solve Behavior Problems, and Encourage Confidence by Lawrence Cohen goo.gl/lUibDP
  • The No-Cry Discipline Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Good Behaviour Without Whining, Tantrums, and Tears by Elizabeth Pantley goo.gl/FK0tPb

*My 21 year old son has the perfect snarky response to the people who the “I turned out OK” argument in favor of spanking: “you think it’s ok for full grown adults to hit small children. Clearly you didn’t turn out that ok.”

 

Let’s Get This Thing Started

In any conflict, it’s important to keep up with what’s going on with the other side. But between social media and the extreme unpleasantness of dealing with the radical right, a lot of people are in a bubble where they aren’t hearing the conversations taking place among those who are on “the other side”. While I totally understand the impulse to cocoon and support it when necessary for peace of mind and mental health reasons, I do try to stay in contact with people who are on the other side of this conflict we’ve got going on between the radical right and the rest of us. Mostly so I can keep up with what they are saying and what rhetorical tools they are passing around.

Understanding the rhetoric coming from the other side is important. We are in a position in this country where a radicalized right wing minority of people who reject American values now wield enormous power and have taken over our government. One of the reasons they have been able to do this is they have mastered the art of rhetoric and manipulation in ways that decent people have a hard time responding to.

The problem, it seems to me, is that we all tend to have an unconscious assumption that other people are basically like us. So normal people assume that if we are discussing matters of politics, the person we’re talking with is concerned with facts, reason, morality, right and wrong and the like. We assume that it is normative to be seeking what is right, good, true and beneficial and that our ideas about what is right, good, true and beneficial will be supported by and adjust to reflect facts, logic and reality. Then we’re confused that we can’t get through to the radical right.

What most of us have failed to understand is that for people on the radical right, everything is based on power. The radical right is still dealing with the world through the lens of “us vs them”*. As such, for the radical right, principles, facts, reason and the like have their place, but are subordinate to the need to obtain power. For the “us vs them” mind, you either dominate or are dominated. The thinking is that as important as any particular principle involved may be, without power, those principles are just ideas and not lived reality. So obtaining power is the first, necessary precursor to securing a world in which matters of principle, morality and logic even matter. In this perspective, it is right and moral to do ensure that your people – your “us” – dominate instead of being dominated. That is how the good is secured and given room to be exercised.

To make matters worse, the radical right, like everyone else, is working from the assumption that everyone is like them. They assume that we are all attempting to gain power and dominate. Which is really, I believe, what has made conversation so impossible. We speak from the bottom of our hearts and all they hear is someone trying to establish the high ground for themselves. We point to things like research or the work of intellectuals and all they see is us attempting to leverage power against them. We’re trying to get through to someone and all they see is us trying to establish dominance over them. It makes engaging on the substance next to impossible and often incredibly painful for the person who is genuinely trying to share their heart, their concerns and their knowledge as a way of creating mutual understanding.

Obviously, I believe that we are better than simply playing games of dominance. I think that the “us vs them” mentality writ large is incredibly destructive and ultimately immoral. But let’s face it, right this moment, this is the radical right’s world. Despite holding ideas and pushing policies which by and large the majority of Americans do not support the radical right has been able to dictate our public discourse and is now in control of our government. So, while I believe that the “us vs them” mentality is inferior and destructive, that’s the game we’re playing now. And we’re going to have to learn to engage in their game, using their rules, before things get any further out of control.

Although it goes against our instincts and ideas about how things should work, once we understand this it becomes clear that engaging in their game using their rules puts us at a distinct advantage. The radical right is accustomed to their opponents taking the high road and refusing to stoop to their level, so these people aren’t used to being on the receiving end of the sort of garbage they heap out on everyone around them. They can dish it, but they can’t take it. They think that they are incredibly good at this game, and they are. But they’ve also been working without much opposition. They aren’t used to playing defense or matching wits with someone who is as good at the game as they are.

Further, the radical right is markedly dishonest. The world does not work the way they claim it does and reality does not back them up. It doesn’t matter much to them because they’ve been able to use their power games to create a pretty durable illusion of reality. Those of us who oppose them, however, don’t have to rely on illusions. We can be entirely honest while playing the power game and reality will back us up. We may need to stoop to their level in term of style – being rude, manipulative and unbending. But we do not need to stoop to their level in terms of actual issues of right and wrong, truth and lies and the like.

The thing is that the “us vs them” mentality has its basis in reality. Sometimes there are very real conflicts in which we find ourselves needing to stand in opposition to a hostile “they”. This is the situation we find ourselves in here with regards to the radical right. There are those who would criticize me for defaulting to the language and paradigm of “us vs them” while criticizing the radical right for their “us vs them” approach. However what I am proposing is that we play their game, according to the rules that they have established with the end goal of making it not work for them. Right now, the power game is working for them. But once we turn the power game against them, engaging according to our rules – the ones where reality, facts, logic, morality and the like determine our course – will become much more appealing. Because while they’re on top right this very moment, the power game isn’t actually one they can win once those of us who oppose them engage fully in it.

I’m going to be writing this afternoon about effective ways of turning some of the bullying language which the radical right has popularized against them. I’ll also be addressing various accusations that they use to marginalize, dismiss and dominate over the voices of decency going forward. And I’ll be looking at the narratives they use and explaining how to undermine and discredit them. If you have a particular tactic, narrative or issue that you’d like to see me address, you can leave a comment, send me a message on facebook or use the contact form under the About tab above to send an email and I will get to it as I am able.

* If you are interested in the topic, I published a deeper examination of the issue of “us vs them” mentality and it’s alternative – what I call “just us” – at A New Day Dawning last fall. The essay’s called The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution: Us vs Them Or Just Us.