The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil – a 2007 talk by Philip G. Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Stanford University:

Zimbardo’s latest book, The Lucifer Effect, attempts to understand how good people do evil deeds. His talk outlines his involvement as expert witness for the defense team of one of the military police officers responsible at Abu Ghraib, and also provides a rich history of psychological research into the kind of behavior transformations evident in Iraq. First, Zimbardo presents a slideshow of Abu Ghraib abominations, including some digital photos that were not widely distributed by the media. Then he digs deep into the archives for a horrifically illustrated tour of experiments that make a persuasive case that certain, predictable situations corrupt people into wielding power in a destructive way.

He describes Stanley Milgram’s 1963 Yale-based research demonstrating that people will behave sadistically when confronted by “an authority in a lab coat.” A vast majority of the subjects delivered what they were told were dangerous electric shocks to a learner in another room, to the point of apparently killing the other person. Researchers skeptical of his results replicated them. This time, professors demanded that students shock real puppies standing on electrified grills. Zimbardo’s own prison experiment turned an ordinary group of young men into power-hungry “guards,” humiliating equally ordinary “prisoners” in the basement of Stanford’s psychology building. The descent into barbarity was so rapid that Zimbardo had to cancel the experiment after a few days.

The recipe for behavior change isn’t complicated. “All evil begins with a big lie,” says Zimbardo, whether it’s a claim to be following the word of God, or the need to stamp out political opposition. A seemingly insignificant step follows, with successive small actions, presented as essential by an apparently just authority figure. The situation presents others complying with the same rules, perhaps protesting, but following along all the same. If the victims are anonymous or dehumanized somehow, all the better. And exiting the situation is extremely difficult.

Abu Ghraib fit this type of situation to a T, says Zimbardo. The guards, never trained for their work helping military interrogators, worked 12-hour shifts, 40 days without a break, in chaotic, filthy conditions, facing 1,000 foreign prisoners, and hostile fire from the neighborhood. They operated in extreme stress, under orders to impose fear on their prisoners. Zimbardo believes the outcome was perfectly predictable, and while never absolving these soldiers of personal responsibility, believes justice won’t be done until “the people who created the situation go on trial as well: George Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George Bush.”

“Summertime and the living’s easy…”

Music explains so much more than mere words can. Can’t take it too literally, but you mold a song into your own interpretation. Maybe linked to the first time you remember hearing it or maybe you comprehend yourself as similar in a way to the singer or the one sang about.  Doesn’t matter since we can’t see into one another’s minds to view how it takes shapes. We can’t help but perceive a song in our own unique way, and that’s an amazing fact of life.

To me, the part that resonates deeply and has since my late teen years, both in and out of relationships, is:

…  Evil. Come to tell you that she’s evil. Most definitely.

Evil. Ornery, scandalous, and evil. Most definitely.

The tension is getting harder. I’d like to hold her head under water.

Me and my girl, we got a relationship. Mmmhmmm, my girl, we got a relationship. …

… Summertime, and the living’s easy …

Those lyrics have always left me a little sad and disturbed. It’s one interpretation of events, and I won’t claim to know what all was actually going on between Bradley and his wife back then. That’s their business. But we all interpret it as we will at any given point in time. Our understandings of things, hopefully, evolve over time. Personal example time…

But first on to another great tune:

When I decided to marry my (since 2004 ex-)husband, we felt very much in love. We were also very young (18 and 19). Married after dating for 20 months. Ate each other up. Transitioned and transitioned, as to be expected of young people. Both made mistakes, and both had shit working against us throughout that time. Stressful times. We were financially fucked up right out the gate. Then we turned on one another. Got nasty. After 4 years of being together, we split up and never saw one another again. Completely quit talking for years too. Divorced without direct communication (and I paid for it through a paralegal service — cost about $750 — he refused to sign the document drafted because it included debts he personally borrowed from my grandparents, which he wound up never repaying even a cent of — seriously uncool).

I was mad as hell at him for a long time about that and more. Together we drowned in debt and made stupid decisions and basically wound up driving one another nuts like stir-crazy cats. Just screwed that whole thing up. For a long time I talked about him like he was a dick. Until it began creeping into my conscious thoughts more and more how I’d messed up too, and significantly. After several years of silence between us, I reached out to him on facebook (back when I was on there) and got his phone number. Gave him a call and spoke my truth about what I had done, saying nothing about his possible blame. I did this because my own conscience was killing me — we had wronged one another, but I had been responsible for a number of severe wrongs my own self, and I only have control over myself. So that’s where it stemmed from, and he accepted my gesture in the hippyish-sort of way he’d became since we’d separated.

Sometimes it still bugs me a little that he didn’t feel the desire to apologize for his part, but ah well. He did grant me forgiveness and claimed he’d never held a grudge, though I know that isn’t true. He told me of a genuinely good woman he’d dated after me and how his bitterness toward me wound up jeopardizing their relationship. He admitted he mistreated her. My role in that saddened and troubled me.

A year went by before I called him again, this time to report the unfortunate news of my Papa’s passing. They didn’t get along too well, but they had heart for one another, sorta, kinda. So I let him know, and he expressed his condolences. If there’s one thing true it’s that my Papa is an unforgettable character, known best for being a cantankerous asshole.  lol

The point is my ex-husband and I went from love and utter fascination with one another, bonding like orphans over our life experiences, to increasing competitiveness, to outright hostility and aggressive power plays, to disgust and contempt, to silence, and then eventually to accepting the past for what it is and burying the hatchet. And I am forever glad that we did and that I took the opportunity to apologize for the pain that I caused during our short marriage. My conscience definitely did need that, and he was kind in receiving it. I’m sure he wasn’t my fan, but we finally established a sense of peace so as to let it go. That was important. Because then, about a year and a half later, my ex-husband died. I talk about it because I’m still processing it. Papa died in summer of 2011; ex-husband died in fall of 2012. My Papa suffered for a year and a half in pain before dying of cancer; my ex thankfully died very suddenly and likely before pain registered, so say the reports.

And life moves on. On and on it tumbles. Where it stops, nobody knows. Nobody promised us rose gardens apparently.

Is it reasonable to admit that a part of me is slightly envious of my ex-husband having gone out with such suddenness and likely lack of suffering? And prior to his accident, he’d created a new life for himself, working in a bar/restaurant as he always enjoyed, and made a lot of new friends. I’m happy that he had that as his last bit of time in life. But I still hope when I die that I too can go out as suddenly and without months of suffering. It’s all true, so I’m stating it. Why? Because I can and I feel like it.

Life comes with curious ups and downs. Been in a relationship the last 2.5 years that just ended recently. Sad affair. The details of it are our business. Just is what it is.

Hip-deep in Busch Light tonight. Had what seemed like a good idea for a video earlier, but the handycam and I couldn’t seem to cooperate with one another. ‘Tis happens, more often than not.

Bad habits die hard…

21st-Century Schizoid Americans

[The video for King Crimson’s 1969 performance of “21st Century Schizoid Man” was removed on youtube, damn it all to Hades.]

Amazing song. It became a favorite almost immediately after stumbling across it on Pandora 2 or 3 years back.

Want to marvel more at the talent that goes into creating a sexy piece of music like that? See this “Premiata Forneria Marconi” cover of it:

Blows the mind. Daaammmn. What artistry, nothing like the techno-pop auto-tuned crap churned out today.

Every once in a blue moon I just like to chill with this song, run it through 2-3 times, let it sink in. This song’s peculiarity grabbed me right away. And then you look at the lyrics, and it’s sobering poetry:

Cat’s foot iron claw
Neuro-surgeons scream for more
At paranoia’s poison door.
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Blood rack barbed wire
Politicians’ funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Death seed blind man’s greed
Poets’ starving children bleed
Nothing he’s got he really needs
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Right on. I get it. This is one of those songs worth us 21st-century schizoids meditating on from time to time. But maybe that would actually lead to more mindless nihilism (as opposed to conscious and principle-guided nihilism I suppose, having now listened to others’ arguments drawing a distinction).

And maybe what I typically think of when I use the word “nihilist” in an insulting fashion are people who are so deep in apathy that they no longer care what they believe in. They choose not to think that far ahead, or they reassure themselves and others that the future will simply sort itself out. Technology and scientific research are bound to pave the way to universal happiness, don’t ya know? Because they don’t really believe in anything, they turn their attention to everyday life and willingly become consumed by mindless entertainment with little to no educational value at a time when we really need to be paying closer attention to what’s going on around us all.

Because we’ve dropped the reins. Who’s running this show? Still placing faith in the invisible hand of the market? This is not a pure capitalistic economy in the U.S., not by a long shot. And our economy is fusing with our political institutions, or, more accurately, it’s buying out its seats and positions with campaign contributions and lobbyist bribes.

And who do we imagine is responsible for this? It’s not as if it came about through an act of God, if by that we mean the deliberate workings of a supernatural force or being. No, it’s the vast majority of people on earth’s fault — WE THE 99%.

Now, I was born at the beginning of the ’80s, and of course life in the U.S. has been bullshit for a long time before then. It’s been bullshit since WWI. It’s been bullshit since the Civil War. Might’ve been bullshit right out the gate, but who knows? None of us were there. The documents passed down tend to be those of famous and influential people of a given time, not opinion polls collecting data on what average folks had to say about things. Gotta keep it in perspective.

And it’s inquiries like these that are schizoid in their own right.  Ha  High abstract thinking requires a bit of unsanity, to quickly paraphrase the message discussed in a recent video by Professor Anton:

I appreciate the way he thinks, mild in manner and all.

Back to “21st-Century Schizoid Man”…

So, how did we let this happen? How did we let modern life become what it is? Well, one thing humans did is placed a tremendous amount of faith in science and technology to deliver an impressive future we’d enjoy. As noted above, we assumed the market would somehow bring this about (though much scientific research isn’t determined by public input or purchasing power, but rather through political allocations we trust elected officials and appointed persons to carry out responsibly on our behalf — and how has that worked out for us?). Humans tend to choose entertainment over seemingly abstract duties and responsibilities, and plenty are overworked and lack time to devote to taxing inquiries. We’re kept so busy with trying to figure out how to navigate in modern life, and our social lives have become infinitely complicated now that we come into contact with so many varied people on a regular basis.

Every temptation under the sun exists today and can be had for the right price. In a sense, we in the U.S. do live in a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. That chips away from people’s orientation toward commitment, honesty, dignity, practicality, intuition, imagination, thrift, and heart. We’re a bunch of kids in a candy store, and it’s not a secret. Nothing feels truly off-limits. What does dignity even mean today when everything’s for sale, including most of our souls? Can we even grasp which way is up? What might that look like? What fundamentals continue to truly matter in this day and age?

Is this what nihilism means to some people? To be stripped of everything you thought you believed in and then try to reconstruct a narrative that may be more convenient or perhaps tailored according to principles we individually define for ourselves? Sounds nice in theory, but how many of us possess the willpower, fortitude, and well-developed conscience to properly direct our lives in an honestly productive fashion? How many want to do so beyond keeping up appearances? Today’s “sin” seems to lie in not keeping up appearances and thereby setting others at unease.

How much faith do I have in us? Aggregately? Not much. In select individuals? Plenty. In myself? I don’t know. The game has warped me. We humans are not infinitely malleable and our environments play such a major role in molding us; life in today’s concrete jungle and all that spins off from that is creating a specially challenging situation to contend with.

We must be in hell

It’s been a rough month.

Have a little bit of time left this evening to unwind before heading to bed. Actually it’s already too late, but dammit, I just need a little time to myself. Been so busy lately and under the weather.

Thank God there’s always music. Just randomly wandering through my music playlists…

[…]

Keep your children from doing wrong

Cuz you know damn well they’ll go to hell

[…]

Some say that hell is below us

But I say it’s right by my side.

Evil in the morning, evil in the evening

You know damn well that we all must be in hell

That was Nina Simone singing “Go to Hell.” It’s the sort of song that grows on ya quickly. It succinctly and briefly puts into words what I feel is true as well: that the hell to be concerned most with is the one we’re creating right here on earth.

An afterlife is beyond me. No one can say for certain, because those who know for certain aren’t here to tell. And that’s fine. The only worry I have with such an idea is the fear of being reincarnated. lol  But whatever. I heard or read recently someone saying that if that were the case, wouldn’t the best goal be to create a life worth living, a life we’d be proud to repeat? Sounds nice in theory at least. I’d be satisfied with us simply not co-creating hell on earth, however we might get around that.

Brings me back to pondering on the idea of attempting to create order (as through a bureaucracy) actually leading to greater disorder than expected, which I believe was discussed by Rick Roderick when talking about Marcuse (posted a few posts back on here). Makes me wonder if the inverse isn’t true as well, that when we back off on attempting to micro-manage everything and allow communities to be what they will and be molded by the individuals that reside there, that this chaotic arrangement might actually lead to greater order across the board. Perhaps a few basic principles deserve to be universally respected to maintain what peace is possible, but the fewer the better. People have to want such a way of life to work, and without concerted effort on the part of individuals choosing to live in accordance with a better way, all attempts will be undermined again and again.

But there’s no way to get everybody on the same page. Again, the fewer principles to be universally respected, the better chance for widespread compliance. And no, there’s no point adding “thou shalt not kill” to that short list, because people do kill and sometimes it’s even justifiable. If people’s hands are tied too tightly, they won’t go along with it. But before exploring what few universal principles might be worthy of adopting, we need to outline the ultimate objective they are meant to serve, which I believe is to allow the greatest amount of freedom for all balanced against the call for justice.

In what I’m envisioning here, more detailed mandates, codes, and laws would necessarily vary and be broken down to the community level where they have a chance of being enforced and where public compassion and individual mercy has the power to remain involved in social processes. But on the macro level, keep it simple, stupid. Because at that scope very little can be enforced without a heavy top-down, centralized approach to governing the masses, so the masses must ultimately be responsible for governing themselves, which obviously boils down to communities, then families and kin, then the individuals. I see no other way to keep from living in some form of a Nanny State.

But of course this says nothing about how to get out of our current predicament which is closing us in whether we like it or not. And perhaps nearly everything I come up with is little more than pipe dreams.

Back to music.

Moving on to one of my all-time favorite songs:

Switching genres to accommodate another favorite of mine, “Blood, Milk & Sky,” paired with some cool fractal imagery:

Middle of the night thoughts on power, enslavement, domestication, and what isn’t working

I created this blog project as a space to share info and ideas I’m picking up along the way. Here’s one such video deserving to be promoted:

There’s tons of stuff I’d like to share, from videos to documentaries to book excerpts to links of interest. For several years I kept another blog to store stuff like that, and the goal was (and occasionally still is) to mine through that and pull what strikes me as particularly relevant or interesting out and drag it here. Little by little I am doing so.

But … part of me just isn’t sure how much it gives a damn anymore. Rather, let me say this. It’s not that I don’t care tremendously about what’s happening to my country and also around the world, what’s going on with us socially and psychologically, how laws are being turned against us as instruments of oppression, how the habitats we’ve created are proving toxic and our species is completely out of balance with the rest of nature. All of that matters to me. But I don’t know what to do.

Arguing for the sake of arguing winds up sounding like chatter piled on chatter. So I’m taking time to look within and see if I can gel these things together into a more cohesive and coherent narrative for my own self. Because these aren’t matters that can be tackled purely through legal means. The problem appears to boil down to slavery and humans’ propensity for winding up in it ever since the dawn of civilizations. We as a species can’t seem to maintain the reins for directing our own lives. We’re prone to follow leaders claiming to know the best way forward. We’re prone to get into frenzies and lose sight of what we’re actually aiming for and what we’re trying to support. We fall in the same traps again and again, highly predictably, hence how a few have risen to power — they study us and then exploit our weaknesses and proclivities.

What’s worse is we like to help them, particularly when it comes to policing one another in accordance with standards handed down by the few. We utilize the laws already working against us all to compete with and attempt to dominate one another. We allow fear-mongerers to pander to our insecurities without questioning what underlying motives may be at work.

We, aggregately, are not critical or skeptical enough toward the reality human beings have helped construct. We speak as though the laws of man are no more malleable than the laws of nature, as if taxation is as unavoidable as death. But what are we being taxed for? Who or what ultimately benefits the most from collecting portions of our income? Us? No. We know this, and yet we act as if it’s impolite to bring it up. Might unsettle someone. Might stimulate an argument. Might disrupt our antidepressant-riddled lives.

And that’s about the point where I started giving less of a damn. Because most folks don’t seem to care all that much. So long as they have clean stores and restaurants to frequent and relatively reliable cars to drive and comfortable homes to retreat to, whadda they care? See, it appears most folks are content with being domesticated to the point of resembling housepets — well-groomed, well-fed, worried with getting enough physical exercise, settled into daily routines. That’s what a lot of people want. And I’ve been thinking on this long and hard.

Who am I to obstruct people from doing what it is they want? Even if their idealized paradise looks to me like hell on earth, what could I do to change their minds? Work to shove another law down their throats (which they’ll only attempt to counter)? Arguing with them incessantly and getting tripped up continuously on what amounts to trivial details has grown old with me. Been there and done that. What now? Stand around holding up signs that get ignored? Keep sending letters to congresspeople who aren’t responsive, especially when you represent what appears to them a tiny minority interest? Keep voting and praying?

I don’t know. Seems like we need a better strategy, and that likely involves learning to live without expecting a whole lot of positive change in the foreseeable future. Because, as a nation-state,we’re in big trouble, and that’s not going to turn around anytime soon. And as a people, we are lost. What some see as order, I experience as chaos. The whole deal looks topsy-turvy from where I sit. And for many years I’ve been angry and seriously unhappy with the developments.

So what can we do? What power does any one of us possess? We have the power to resist through our lifestyles and choices. We have the right to fight back where able. We have the power to continue trying to engage with one another in an effort to relate and hopefully establish more common ground. We can vote, however much that matters anymore. We can study and read and turn off our televisions and learn to think more for our own selves. We can work toward providing incentives for others to want to work with us, namely by not unfairly attacking and insulting one another (difficult as that sometimes is). We can work to become better than this modern-day slavery is trying to twist us into.

But can we resist following our own base natures? I ask this as someone who struggles with my own. And I don’t yet know the answer. It’s an ongoing ‘spiritual’ conundrum and crisis in will, and none of us are alone in confronting this. Age-old problem of living as a human being. Because unlike the housepets, we comprehend far more about our world and exert great influence in altering it. We are not trapped indoors, thwarted by our lack of opposable thumbs, rendered at the mercy of someone else to provide for our needs, dependent on appeals to emotion in an effort to manipulate to get what we want — we are men and women, and as such we are co-creators of shared realities. We are not powerless, though so many of us feel that we are. We’re currently trapped in a cage of illusions.

Watching and reacting to Stefan Molyneux’s “How We Are Broken”

Stefan Molyneux’s video titled “How We Are Broken”:

Let me begin by stating I didn’t realize Stefan was sick until seeing this, and my heart goes out to him and his family. That’s a very troubling state of affairs to have to contend with, yet he still finds time to share his thoughts with all of us. That shows determination. [Edit in 2016: Do note that this guy turns out to be “sick” in more ways than that. I am no longer a fan of Stefan Molyneux and have been turned off on his material for a couple years now. He goes way beyond reason that I can back on so many levels that it has become extremely difficult for me to take him seriously. Just noting that since I’ve decided to let this post remain public. Watch enough of his content and see for yourselves. And look up Tru Shibes on YT while you’re at it for illuminating excerpts, then go to his original videos in question to place it in greater context.]

Pausing at 5:59, a thought that leapt to mind while he was talking relates with the story of Jesus. A few years ago I watched or read something where there was talk of the story of turning the other cheek being misunderstood in modern times. Now, I won’t defend this claim one way or another, but I found it very interesting that it was proposed that by turning the other cheek, rather than this being a purely submissive gesture, it was intended to allow aggressors to defile themselves. The claim was that back in the day there was a taboo over using the left hand while conducting certain activities, and doing so showed oneself to be base and primitive and basically uncivilized by standards of that society.

My immediate question upon hearing that claim was what if the aggressor backhands you with their right hand? Which likely would’ve been the case in a society where using the left hand for that sort of thing would be viewed by others as degrading your own self. According to some sources, it was common to backhand someone deemed to be a lesser, like a slave or child or wife, and that hitting with a closed fist was reserved for fights between equals.

What’s interesting here is the difference in context and how much that shifts the meaning of the message, at least in this one teaching. Also, let me say that I see there is much within the Bible that contradicts other parts or that appears barbaric compared against standards of today; plus, what’s been included and excluded from the Bible and how often it’s been altered over time — all of that undermines the reliability of that text in making sense of the context in which it was written originally. We’d have to learn to read Hebrew and become scholars of the Bible ourselves in order to gain a deeper understanding of the historical and social context during the rise of Judaism and then of Christianity. The inquiry remains quite obscure despite so much talk over it, and most of us base our opinions on what we’ve read in King James or newer versions of the Bible or on the claims of others going off limited information themselves. Common as it is for people to speak as if it’s granted that we know well enough about people 2,000-4,000 years ago, the reality is we do not. To delve deep into these religions and how they’ve transformed over time would literally require scholarly devotion.

So, going with my limited, unscholarly knowledge on the subject, I’ve read that such taboos did exist in first-century Palestine. And when we consider the passage in question, along with similar others, taking into consideration views from people who have investigated older versions of biblical scripture, the message seems quite clearly to not be asking us to submit to violent rule, per se, but rather to respond in a way that is neither passive nor violently retaliatory. Excerpts from a writer who discusses this can be found here (not that I’ve read more from this author than these excerpts, nor do I agree 100% with his position as stated — it’s offered as interesting food for thought).

Just felt like sharing that. Carrying on in listening to Stefan.

Children are born rational? Lost me on that one.

Parents pass their beliefs on to their children. That’s the way parenting tends to operate, though some do a better job of passing on quality principles, whereas others use religion and tales of fire and brimstone to command obedience for its own sake. But to say that parents do not possess the right to raise their young to share in their worldview is false, and this creates a tricky situation. I don’t know where the lines should be drawn, but I do know that outsiders, even the majority, do not reserve the right to dictate to all parents how they must raise their children. When we start talking like that, we forfeit any real notion of freedom. Now, I may agree that we can attempt to impress on one another when we do not agree with teaching and parenting methods, but can a reasonable person assert that children should be protected from enduring religious upbringings? What about healthy spiritual beliefs being handed down to children? Where could the line be drawn here? Are children to ONLY be raised in accordance with what’s scientifically-tested and child psychologist-approved?

See, as much as my own upbringing turned me away from wanting to have kids, it’s talk like that that weirded me out the rest of the way. Rights. How might we go about determining these rights are being violated, and then how might we react? Send in CPS and social workers to remove the children from their homes, even where physical abuse or neglect isn’t present? See, that’s where Stefan’s views really break with my own, and I can see the tyranny behind his message, regardless of what he may be envisioning. I understand his desire to protect children from unnecessary suffering and mistreatment, but it takes a leap of faith to believe public resources stepping in will much improve the situation in many cases. I understand he considers himself an anarchist who takes serious issue with our government, wanting to see it done away with altogether, but then who will then be made responsible for protecting children’s welfare? Will enough law enforcement remain intact to tackle this issue or will corporations step up to the task? And what does it mean to be free if the outside world has the ability to determine for you what is and isn’t taught to your own young children?

It’s a sticky debate, because we obviously do step in when abuse and neglect is reported, and perhaps that’s the right action (though sending kids off to foster care, where they face a higher risk of sexual abuse, comes with a host of problems all unto itself). But when it comes to teachings, words and ideas, religious or otherwise, can we claim it proper for adults to police each others’ “crazy shit”? When it comes to raising children, he argues the answer is yes, but I wonder how that could be enforced within a setup where all use of force is recognized as wrong.

In fact, I don’t comprehend his vision of a completely non-violent, non-forceful society and individuals therein. That strikes me as so non-human at its core, and I presume the means of achieving such a societal goal will require altering people severely in an attempt to fit this idealized mold. Because we’re prone toward violence and irrationality at times, and we do pass along our beliefs, whether right or wrong. How else do you get around this reality? How do we do away with all irrationality while retaining our humanity?

And how might we effectively deal with psychopathy and sociopathy without any use of force? I get that he’s hoping through changing our ways that we will create fewer psychopaths and sociopaths, but this assumes that all such ways of being are due to abuse or neglect, and that isn’t always the case. What about in cases of organic brain damage brought about through an accident? What about the child who’s abandoned during their fragile formative years by a parent who dies? (In that latter case, I actually know someone like that who was very young, maybe 3 or 4, when his mother suffered a brain aneurism while caring for him at home one day and died in his presence. It was hours before his father returned home from work to discover the situation. His father was never abusive, yet this boy grew up to become a pyromaniac and then a kleptomaniac, landing him in Boystown during his teenage years. I met him in his 30s and learned of the carnage he had done to everyone in his family and to his ex-wives and his children. Yet he was never a victim of abuse or neglect and had many opportunities afforded to him that he squandered, preferring instead to live as a predator on others. Just pointing out that even the best intentions don’t always produce a positive outcome, we being unable to control all possible variables. This man is a criminal, through and through, and always will be until someday he is stopped. That will require force. I’m not sure how to get around that.)

There’s a point where idealism loses me. I have trouble seeing as bad all that’s lumped into his categorization — to me there are so many shades of gray to where I’m careful to not paint all aggression or all forms of violence or even all existent forms of government as wrong and bad and needing to be completely done away with. It all depends, though I can see where philosophical guidance here is of the utmost importance. It’s just a matter of what philosophies we adopt and follow.

Personally, I cannot imagine a life free of every single form of coercion or force, and I’m not so sure I’d want to. But at the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter. The future is coming regardless of what I or anyone else happens to think, and it looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better. That’s enough to say tonight.

“What Do Children Owe Abusive Parents?” (plus my Sunday afternoon thoughts on this topic)

This is Stefan Molyneux’s radio program on the topic “What Do Children Owe Abusive Parents?”:

Good topic that doesn’t come up very often. Few care to talk about it, and when they do, it’s frequently framed in terms of the grown child needing to forgive their parents and still provide for their care as they age. Arguments like that have bugged me so much, because truly, as the article Stefan was reading points out, there comes a time when we need to take care of our own selves and not risk being sucked back in to an unhealthy dynamic.

This is how I approach my mother now that she’s interested in sending text messages after nearly two decades of us barely speaking and very rarely seeing one another. And I’ve been given plenty of grief from others who don’t know the situation yet righteously declare that I SHOULD forgive her, I SHOULD work toward making amends despite her showing little interest in doing so over the years, that I should excuse her lies and unwillingness to take responsibility for her actions and just love her regardless.

Several times I did try going back to her, and every time she made me regret it by being rude and selfish like always. Back in 2009 I did sit down and write her an email outlining how I feel about her treatment toward me, and it was met with her typical denials and claims of not remembering this or that. My mother can change her story more than anyone I’ve ever met, and comes across as if she actually believes each contradictory tale, like she’s able to convince herself and rewrite history accordingly. But I was there and I grew up under the nonsense and haven’t forgotten. Each time she blows off my concerns or attempts to rewrite history to forever frame herself as the ultimate victim of everybody else, she makes it clear that no reconciliation is possible or worth pursuing.

Yet people on the outside, most of whom have never met her, still felt the need to tell me that I am now creating the problem by being selfish in keeping myself away from my mother. I am now the culprit who’s no better than her because I harbor resentment and pain that I can’t let go of. Ugh. People have said some downright nasty things to me on this subject, and again, these are relative strangers who may know me a little but who don’t know my mother. They’re operating under the assumption that a mother’s love is unconditional and always well-intending. But that’s not reality — that’s a mere fantasy people feed themselves in order to have something to believe in.

It was only a few weeks ago when I last listened to an older woman talk about how much disdain she has for this world and the people in it, stopping short of criticizing mothers’ love for their young, that being the one exception in this life that she personally appreciated. I did interject to say that even that isn’t perfect, which seemed to annoy her slightly. She serves as yet another example of people who willingly pull the wool over their eyes and tell themselves that a mother’s love is the last refuge in a world gone mad. But what if that mother’s love was absent? What refuge was there then? That question invites hostility from some folks, so I’ve learned to be careful treading there, preferring to not have to hear how out of line I am for suggesting that a mother’s love isn’t always pure and sacrificial and whole-hearted. Frankly, such talk makes me queasy.

Some mothers don’t care much about their young, and that’s a sad fact of life. Some mothers care more about positioning themselves financially than making sure their kids are properly cared for. Some mothers seem willing to forget they even have a child if they see him or her as a hindrance to them getting what they want. Some mothers throw their own kids under the train so as to save themselves. And some mothers choose favorites among their young, putting far more time and energy into those fathered by the new man in their lives, turning over to relatives the kids born out of wedlock from a time back before. Some mothers behave competitively with their young daughters, seeing them as rivals for attention, which can ultimately lead to tossing them out in order to punish them for the sin of making her feel jealous. Some of them laugh gleefully at the sight of their child’s pain and confusion, and rather than aim to protect them, they offer their young up to the wolves to be done with however they like.

My own mother wasn’t the worst of the worst, but she’s certainly an odd duck who formed serious resentment toward me soon after I was born. Of all the memories I have to reflect back on that pertain to her, more often than not I listened to her criticism of me, her laughter at my anguish, her dismissal of my need for her, and her complete ignorance of my own life story unfolding and her central role in it. She encouraged others to see me as “bad” and troubled as well, though always mindful of keeping the heat off herself in terms of responsibility as a parent. I came up understanding that I was a consequence of her frustration with her own upbringing and that I reminded her of a past she’d prefer to forget.

I grew up wondering why she hadn’t opted for an abortion when it appeared so obvious that she resented my existence. Her answer to that was that she wanted someone to love her unconditionally. And she got that, but it turned out to not be enough. I, forever the painful reminder than her life didn’t go as she’d hoped. I, the fatherless child who didn’t get along well with her husband and didn’t fit into the dream she envisioned for herself and her new family going forward. I, the remnant from a past better rejected and forgotten.

Just so happened that I also turned out to be flesh and blood rather than a figment of her imagination that she could turn on and off at will. And I grew into an angry, resentful young person who wound up making a lot of unsavory choices that she’s still in the dark about and doesn’t want to know. The sadness seeped deep into my soul and has never left me, not even as I now embark on my 30s. Melodramatic as it might seem to onlookers, I still can’t help but feel as if my existence is a problem.

I know, people will say that it’s time to get over it, time to move on, time to let it go, time to put on my big girl britches and accept that this is the way life goes sometimes. And I feel that I’ve done a lot of work on this throughout my 20s and am in a much better headspace at this point in life. Soon after turning 21 I moved farther away and created a life for myself without any of my family present to see me struggle. Worked through college and completed a bachelor’s degree, in part to prove to myself that I am capable of accomplishing something. Made my own money so as not to wind up at their mercy begging for a dime. Met a few people who turned out to be good friends over time, and thank God for them — they really saved me more than they will ever know, providing me with much-needed friendship and love that has radically altered my life and outlook. Seven years ago I moved farther away, and 5 years ago I created my own little business to sustain myself, which I continue to work at. Life is better. Even my stepdad and I learned to communicate and to treat one another like family after he and my mom divorced a little over a decade ago.

But still, there’s this feeling of being a waste, a problem, of living on borrowed time, and I can’t seem to ever shake it. People make it sound like you grow up and everything changes, as if a little age is all that’s necessary to set things right, but that’s delusional thinking. Pain can stick with you inside your heart, and I’m not sure how one removes it once it’s become fused in there from such a young age. One upside to this is it forces me to think deeply on how I’m perpetuating problems myself, even without meaning to, and what role I have in breaking cycles such as the one I grew up experiencing. This life has taught me the value of love and honest friendship, just as it’s also taught me about how wickedness beckons those who are hurting inside and wishing for a release or for someone to take it out on.

The past can’t be changed, and not all relationships can be salvaged, not even those between parents and their children. They say we grow to a point where we must pick up the reins to our own lives and direct this ship in moving forward, and this is true. But does it involve forgiveness? I can’t stand what Oprah and her ilk have done to the meaning of that word. Try as I have over the years, I am unable to forgive or forget. But at least the rage died down and I no longer feel something must be done to right past wrongs. Because there’s nothing that can be done, not at this stage in the game.

A couple years ago I took my boyfriend two hours away to visit my mother without giving her prior notice, fearing she wouldn’t see me if she knew I was coming. That was the first time she and I sat down in the same room together in … probably a decade or more. She behaved decently, and we agreed to communicate by text message afterward, and that’s all the contact we’ve had since. She’s never in all the years I’ve been away attempted to come visit me anywhere I’ve lived. She hasn’t picked up the phone and called me since the year 2001, and even then it was only to berate me because her marriage was failing once again. She doesn’t ask me what I’ve been up to or if I’m happy or how life has treated me. Nothing. Normally she just rambles a bit about her own day-to-day living and that’s about it. Might occasionally mention something my brother is up to. And that’s the extent of our relationship.

In the past I’ve told my brother that I won’t be helping out in caring for our mother as she ages. He didn’t seem to like that idea, but then again, he and I couldn’t have been raised more separately. He was afforded a life very different than my own, so it is up to him if he feels the need to someday provide for her. As I’ve explained to him, my (maternal) grandparents were the ones who made the sacrifices on my behalf and they were the ones who took me in when I had nowhere else to go and was being threatened with being warded to the state. I’ve committed to them, now having experienced my Papa passing away, with a part of my heart remaining standing at his bedside, and I’ll continue to do my best for my Grandma. Because they loved me, imperfect as they might’ve been — they sincerely loved me. What goes around comes around. It takes love to generate more love. Those who’ve loved me I am indebted to. Those who did not and who instead made life harder than was necessary because they wanted someone to blame or to make fun of — those people can remain going their own way. I may miss them, but that’s just the childish instinct within us all that calls out for our mothers — it can’t be helped.

What can be helped are the choices I make in my own life, in terms of whom I surround myself with and where I focus my energy. That’s my power, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to listen to anymore from people aiming to shame those of us who came up experiencing upbringings that don’t fit with their ideals. Didn’t fit with my ideal either, but such is life. What more can be done? At this point we try to pick up the pieces and do what we can to create a new life with value and meaning, one in which we do matter and where relationships are reciprocal and where we remind one another often, through actions and words, that we love each other.

Come a long way and still have a lot farther to go, but at least now there’s some sunshine and a greater sense of belonging. Everyone needs to feel they belong somewhere. I’ve created a new family of my choosing over time which includes my friends and select family members, and this is much better. I won’t pretend everything is rosy and that I’ve fully arrived, because it isn’t true. I continue to struggle with accepting real intimate bonds, and I’m having to relearn ways of coping since what I relied on for many years there turned out to be self-destructive. I continue battling impulsive behaviors and aggressive tendencies. But at least there appears now to be some light at the end of the tunnel. All is not lost.

Thoughts on American criminality

Just a thought. What do you suppose a “criminal” is? A law-breaker, yes, but why? Because they won’t conform to standards written into law. And why is that? Because they’re all simply a bunch of thugs?

Well, I think there are a few reasons as to why. One important one is that there are too damned many laws on the books criminalizing so much of our behavior to where undoubtedly we all break laws and likely routinely. Misdemeanors maybe, but still. The point is it’s difficult living tightly restricted, and it triggers rebellious instincts in some of us.

Which leads me to the second reason which is that it is my belief that some of us are wilder than others, and by that I’m talking in terms of being “primitive” vs. properly domesticated by the new standards being set. It asks of us to be completely nonviolent and even hold back on displays of affection. It asks of us to accept employment conditions that are weird and not in most people’s best interest outside of the immediate concern with earning an income. What’s deemed acceptable and legal labor is another matter riddled with contradictions.

We’re asked to live as wage and debt slaves, to entertain ourselves through life, to think positive thoughts about the future, to trust two political parties that are obviously out of control, to trust that lawmakers have our collective best interest at heart (despite them not even reading what they’re signing into law), to believe that science from here on out will solve all of life’s problems and mysteries and that machines are preferable to human labor due to efficiency given the top priority. We’re asked to accept so much bullshit, and for what?

Some buck back. Some live under the radar so much as they are able. Some prefer not to have the IRS all up in their business (and those who need the IRS up in theirs are major corporations who are given the green light to pay the lowest percentages). Some are just tired of this society and all of its games and hogwash, and they just want to live out their days unplugged from as much of it as possible. I can’t blame them.

Then there’s the people who actually deserve to be labeled as criminals, and they include murderers (without warranted cause as in the case of self-defense), rapists, child molesters, thieves (but even there we get into some gray area over what constitutes private property in all cases, because we live in a time when biological material is being patented by major corporations charging a fortune for access to needed information; also a time when wealthy individuals and major corporations have the ability to buy up huge amounts of land and dictate how its resources are used, even when the resource in question is water — they claim ownership of it — and THEN they go far enough to pressure lawmakers to pass restrictions on residents collecting rainwater).

But anyway, I digress. Other criminals include pyramid schemers and corporate crooks (white-collar criminals rob people of FAR more money than all black-market-level thieves combined), those who seriously abuse and use others, arsonists, bribe-accepting politicians, embezzlers, and who else am I forgetting? Basically people who demonstrate a complete lack of regard for being responsible for seriously harming others. How that’s being defined and carried out today though is a far cry from what would be suitable and sustainable.

Now nearly anyone can wind up labeled a criminal, without even knowing it. And some people just accept that this is the way life goes and that all laws shouldn’t be followed, because not all laws are created equal. How much respect do we really have for the fool who abides by laws that work against his well-being? Or the laws that aim to determine his or her private and personal affairs? Or the laws that tell us what we can or cannot do with our own bodies? We realize law-makers can be wrong.

It’s kinda like being labeled as poor — over time you grow used to it and it no longer seems all that degrading. Who’s a criminal? According to how shit’s set up today, we all are. And personally, I don’t grasp the big pull toward being more law-abiding, because right about now is when our resistance is needed. Unless you’re interested in more bullshit. Because that’s what’s coming. More restrictions, more laws, more rules, more governance, more micro-managing, and more hostility and resentment as a result. Sound like fun to all of you?

Apparently most folks don’t mind, or at least they’re more worried about escaping negative consequences than stepping up or truly going their own way. If “your own way” is the same way as the status quo, does it make sense to claim it as your own?

There are dangerous criminals out here in society, that’s a given, but we see law enforcement efforts being directed toward busting people for growing weed in their basements and for older teenagers dating younger teenagers. Really people? That’s why we deserve to be taxed as much as we are? That and to fund neverending war.

Why do I even tease myself with believing people are interested in regaining the reins here?

Time for bed.