Archive for July, 2007


Chaos and/or Community

July 31, 2007

There’s an interesting post over at Cryptogon where Kevin is warning people of the potential dangers of post collapse living, talking about militias, warlords and armed children and teenagers. I don’t disagree that this is one of the potential outcomes of a crash but I do disagree that it is the only way things will turn out. 

It’s really important not to go into the crash thinking that it’s going to be mayhem and that you’ll need to be heavily armed to survive. It might be mayhem and you might need to be heavily armed but it would be profoundly stupid to be prepared for only this eventuality.  What terrifies me most about that approach is the self-fulfilling prophesy aspect of it. I want to know where all the people are who think like this so I can go somewhere else. 

Don’t get me wrong I think the point of view Kevin presents is useful and well argued, and I also think that people who are getting a bit starry-eyed about the re-birth of community should definitely take it on board but I think he also sets up a straw man by referring to new-age gatherings and charkas and auras as the counter to his argument. 

Reading M Scott Peck recently he pointed out that real truths have a paradoxical quality about them and that misleading ‘truths’ are very one-sided. This definitely looks like one of those cases. I think it’s bad advice to offer people a single vision, no matter how well worked out. 

If you want advice on what the future may hold and you only want to read one essay then Ran’s Fall Down Six Times  is the place to go – it contains 6 different predictions and the reader is left with a much more complex understanding of what the future may hold and knows that they will have to use their judgement (which is now much better informed) to survive. If you’ve only got one side of the story, as seductive as it may be, it can be a bit prescriptive and you’ll be left clinging to a plan of the future that goes one way while reality goes another. 

Anyway, in an attempt to paint a big picture I’m going to provide some links to stories of how people pulled together, in a very old fashioned way, in time of disaster. It’s the way people always have, and the way they always, will respond in times of crisis. AND here’s the main point again, these are not predictions of the future – they are stories that will inform your ability to cope with and plan for the future. It’s wide open baby. 


Here’s some of the text of an interview I did with Joe Polasicher. Joe is an Austrian born, New Zealand based permaculturist who was a child in Austria after WW2. He talks about that but also about a visit to a shantytown in South America where he discovered people feeding themselves from very small but highly complex stacked systems in tiny courtyards. It also has other useful links including to the original radio interview and this other posting about the same stories.  

Here’s a radio interview of Geoff Lawton, another permaculturist. 

He went to Iraq a couple of years back and discovered a town where the local people were keeping their infrastructure running by means of their own ingenuity. Again, I’m not saying the stories of mayhem in Iraq are somehow misleading, only that both chaos and community are happening as a response to their problems. Here also, are links to a Ran Prieur essay, scroll to the bottom to find some text about this interview. 

Here’s something else I wrote about the issue of post-crash strategy that I just rediscovered.  

Here’s Ran’s lesson’s learned from Katrina

Here’s what I think is the best article about the untold story of Hurricane Katrina. But also: how people comandeered a bus, how people formed into tribes,   and how soldiers threw bottles at people during the crisis in New Orleans. 

And lastly, in Ran’s archives, a guest post from Patricia. I don’t know how to link halfway down a page so go there and scroll down to November 22. Here’s the first paragraph though; 

So, I was following links around, and I see this conversation about survival in the suburbs — and it made me depressed. What’s wrong with these people? Not one of them is thinking about working on having a local community in place now, so that in the event of any trouble, the people in your neighborhood will work together and help and protect one another. Not one of them!


The last thing I want to say is that instead of trying to create security with the end of a gun the best way to protect your food is to make so much food that you can afford to give it away.  It’s a great way to make friends who will help look after you later on if it comes to that. It’s a big ask to try to get your entire district set up to produce an abundance of food but it’s my aim around here. I’ m not sure how much I can achieve but anything will be an improvement on sitting here with my tins of spam and boxes of ammo. So here’s the last link – to a town in Ireland that is setting the pace in community-wide preparedness.


Hold on to Your Kids

July 28, 2007

I’m reading Hold on to Your Kids by Gordon Neufield and Gabor Mate. Ostensibly about how to parent children it points to an issue that seems capable of bringing about a total societal failure – if it hasn’t already. 

I’ve always been suspicious when people complain how each new generation of teenagers and young adults is worse than the last, in some ways my view is justified because those sort of statements have an element of washing a person’s hands of the problem but Hold on to Your Kids is showing me that there is an awful lot of truth behind it as well. 

The basic thesis is that parenting is a lot easier and flows a lot more naturally when a child is properly attached to their parents. They say big problems arise when a child becomes peer-oriented and that we are seeing this more and more amongst our teens but even amongst children as young as seven. 

The book is referred to a lot on the Continuum Concept list and I was interested in it because it discussed the issue of how poor parenting (read; excessive discipline or control) could destroy attachment with the result that parenting would become a lot more difficult. It does indeed do this but what has really grabbed my attention at the moment is the discussion of what happens after the attachment is broken and a child changes from being parent oriented to become peer oriented. 

Gordon Neufield says that the attachment between parents and their children has a double purpose of making it easier for a parent to handle the immense difficulties of parenting and it ensures that the child stays oriented on the parent who’s behaviour they model and who’s cues they follow. It also ensures that the child never strays far from the parent so making it easier for them to look out for their child, and that the child is instinctively wary of strangers (people who they are not attached to) and likely to reject or ignore them in some way. 

What happens when a child becomes peer oriented is that they start to seek the company of their peers and to reject the parents, all as a natural part of their attachment instincts. They no longer place any value in what their parents think and will probably actively dislike anything to do with their parents or their values or tastes. 

The authors go on to say that the normal transmission of culture from generation to generation is short circuited by this phenomena and that instead of the children learning their parent’s values (which are usually not picked up until adolescence) they pick up on the values of their peers. More  specifically they pick up on the values of whoever the dominant members of their peer group may be, regardless of the character of that person. 

Worse still the biggest influence on them now becomes whatever is being fed to their peer group via the mass-media in the form of pop icons, meaning that at the crucial point in their lives when they are cementing their values in place they are effectively being parented by Britney Spears. 

So all those fears about the state of the new generation are true – they really are a scary bunch. Quite what is going to happen to society when they achieve a measure of power as adults is hard to predict but it doesn’t look good. 

To look back to my generation I can see that a lot of people did sort themselves out and became functioning members of society, however we can be a pretty unforgiving and un-empathetic bunch. I find it easier to look at the generation before mine, the baby boomers, where we see a narcissistic bunch of people fixated on staying youthful and divesting themselves of their responsibilities at an age when they are supposed to be fulfilling the roles of elders. According to Gordon Neufield no one actually wants them to be elders but they could at least try. 

The boomers may be scorned by me and many others but at least the hippy culture they came from, while hopelessly shallow, did champion ideas of peace, love and brotherhood. Presumably my generation will be much worse and that we will likely achieve total societal failure at the hands of the generation who are currently receiving their values direct from the music videos of MTV. 


The other possibility is that they will eventually become responsible workers when the need for money to survive becomes an issue, they’ll toe the line in a grumbling sort of way but they will also be the sort of easily-led, soft-willed individuals that the powers-that-be really like to see forming the bulk of society’s herd. 

Anyway, I thoroughly recommend the book, it has introduced me to a new, much deeper understanding about the relationship between parent and child and I’m looking forward to learning how to prevent the imminent implosion of western society.


Unconditional Parenting DVD

July 27, 2007

We just got a copy of the Alfie Kohn DVD ‘Unconditional Parenting’. There’s a book by the same name but we got the DVD because we like the idea that we can easily hand it to other people and they won’t need to worry about wading through a heavy tome (I haven’t seen the actual book) and especially we can give it to people who are suspicious of our approach to parenting. Karen has given it a friend already. 

The reason it’s good to give to those who doubt our sanity (but surely you believe in consequences Aaron?) is that Kohn’s work is backed up with some serious research, he repeatedly refers to studies throughout his talk and the whole thing probably feels quite safe to conventional people. Apart, that is, from the fact that he has an American accent which can be an issue for people around these parts. 

Alfie Kohn shows that punishing children is a primary indicator for children who will later go off the rails and also that calling it consequences, or logical consequences or even explaining the punishment first doesn’t make a difference to the child who just feels hurt by their parent’s actions. 

More importantly though he says that shifting to reward based parenting is not the answer either. People tend to see rewards or punishment as being opposites but in fact, says Alfie they are merely different sides of the same coin. 

Both rewards and punishment lead to self centeredness in children – it leads them to think; “What do I have to do and what might happen to me if I don’t?” (punishment) or “What do I have to do and what do I get if I do?” (reward) It totally distracts a child from noticing, for instance, that their sibling is currently upset because of something they did. 

Both approaches disconnect children from their inherent ability to know right from wrong and will likely turn them into the sort of people who only do the right thing because they think they will get in trouble if they don’t. 

Alife also has strong criticism of praise. He argues (backed up by studies of course) that external praise disconnects the child from their own inner motivations and they become less interested in doing the thing for which they get praise – be it drawing pictures, helping round the house or being nice toward the little sister. This doesn’t mean they won’t do these things but it does mean they won’t do them if you aren’t there to hand them a sparkly dinosaur sticker.  Follow this link and click on the “Five Reasons to Stop Saying ‘Good Job!'” article to read more about this. 

This praise issue was discussed on a NZ unschooling list recently, one mother said her son at age five went to school for five weeks (by his own choice) and even after that short time he came back addicted to praise. He insisted on getting a sticker reward for everything he did. His mother refused and instead gave him a big box full of stickers. Even then he still wanted her to actually give them to him. She held firm and insisted that he could give them to himself – and it still took several months for it to wear off! 

We hadn’t even realised we were doing much praise at our house but it soon became apparent that the kids want it from us when we tried to stop. Our oldest one insisted on knowing what we thought of her paintings and would follow Karen around badgering for a comment until she got one. We are struggling to come up with a solution because by now any positive comment will used to feed the need for praise, even statements that lack any judgement in them. We don’t want to go cold turkey because giving no comment at all is hardly natural and is kind of like withdrawing love so our plan is to just muddle through like everything else we do. 

Speaking of love withdrawal, Alfie says that’s what time-outs are – they’re time out from the mother or father’s love – and here we all are thinking it’s a much nicer alternative to physical punishment. Actually it’s a much more effective alternative to physical punishment  – and that should set off alarm bells too. 

Someone once made the comment that we shouldn’t need scientific evidence to encourage us to treat out children in a loving way and it’s a worrying sign of the state our society that we do but nonetheless it’s nice to have something like this on the shelf just in case. 

Rating: Five Stars (with shiny glitter).



July 26, 2007

Quite by coincidence, when Ran’s new posting about his teeth appeared I was sitting here with a numb face having just got back from getting 5 new fillings in my teeth. There’s no holistic dentist near here so I went to the local one and asked for the white fillings thanks.

To be honest I despair about my teeth, when I left school I had no fillings but ever since then I can’t go to the dentist without getting more put in. This time I set a new record. Five in one go, in a marathon 2 hour session. The dentist shook my hand at the end.

For some reason I had this powerful sense of dread before going, which is why I had put it off for so long, the feeling gradually subsided while I was there but it didn’t help matters at the start. To make matters worse my jaw seized up at one point and I could barely open it. I was trying hard to focus on something else (I was estimating the length of my finger nails by sense of touch at the time) and had my eyes closed, when I realised that the dentist and his assistant were laughing, I became aware that my mouth had closed up and the assistant couldn’t get the sucker thing out. I hadn’t noticed previously because my entire mouth was numb and I couldn’t feel what she was doing. I could only hear the tool clattering against my teeth.

I’ve decided to fast today in an attempt to mitigate against the mercury that has no doubt flooded through my body since they removed an old amalgam filling in the process. I’m not sure how effective it will be but the whole family is away today so it’s an ideal time anyway.

As for what’s going to happen when lights turn out and the dentist can’t get painkillers any more I hate to think. To be honest this is probably my biggest fear of post-crash life. I know there is a native plant called Kawakawa which Maori used as a painkiller plus there is the option of getting bombed out of my tree before going for post apocalypse dental care but really I would prefer to just have good teeth.

And yes, I know about the Palaeolithic diet. Weston Price came to New Zealand, collected up a bunch of Maori skulls (don’t ask me how) and worked out that pre-European Maori had dental cavities at a rate of one in one thousand. I’m pretty sure I could live with that.

I congratulate people who have made this change to their life and I’d love to hear from anyone who has successfully put an end to dental problems this way, but I have a young family and other priorities. Making any kind of change is difficult but one like this is near impossible, especially as I doubt that I could convince the others to give up grain-based foods and I know we couldn’t afford it.

Additionally, food is a comfort device – some would say a necessary comfort for civilisation – and I imagine that until the temptation is removed there will be minimal chance of this happening for us.

Damn, I can still feel them aching…


Stupid Stupid Stupid Scientists (an objective assessment of what they can teach us about raising kids)

July 22, 2007

Warning: Contains some ranting.I keep seeing the phrase ‘development of empathy’ used in a way that implies that empathy starts off at a ‘zero’ level in a child and gradually builds up as they get older. A possible conclusion you might reach from this is that the people who say this have never met any children – except that there are too many people who say it. They’re so wrong that I would suggest to them that really we need be more concerned about the loss of empathy that seems to occur across a person’s life span in this culture than how to develop it inthe young.
I’m sure every parent reading this can think of a hundred ways that their children have displayed empathy. I’ve found an article by the American Psychological Association summarising the science in this area and basically I’m going to tear it to shreds – but in a fair and balanced kind of way.

First problem; it’s called “What Makes Kids Care”.

Stupid! You can’t make anyone care, you can only LET them care. Trying to force a person to care will almost always have the opposite result.

To be fair to the article the use of the word ‘make’ is so ingrained in our culture that we don’t usually notice it – but then that’s the problem isn’t it? We can only ever conceive of getting something to happen in our culture by using an element of force – or if we’re advanced, trickery.

The news is not all bad about our scientists though, they are beginning to cotton on to this empathy in children idea.

Researchers used to believe that a sense of real caring about others came as people grow into adulthood. But now studies are finding that children can show signs of empathy and concern from a very early age.
For example, a study by psychologists Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, Ph.D., Marian Radke-Yarrow, Ph.D., and Robert King, Ph.D. observed children whose parents were hurt somehow — either physically (e.g. father having a bad headache) or emotionally (e.g. mother received bad news and was crying). They discovered that even very young children had a pretty well-developed sense of empathy.

So now they have real evidence that even young children have a pretty well developed sense of empathy.

Stupid!! The evidence exists in every child that was ever born. You’d have to surmise that scientists lack any kind of useful people skills (including the ability to empathise) if it’s taken them several centuries of research to uncover the easily observable fact that children do in fact have empathetic skills.

Next comes the What Can Parents Do? section. To their credit they have bought up the issue of modelling and it’s supreme importance in the scheme of things but…

They also want you to praise your child for showing empathy.

Stupid! Other scientific research has shown that praising a child for any task or action replaces their already existing intrinsic motivation with ex-trinsic motivation and basically they lose interest in doing whatever it is you have praised them for. They will still do it of course, but only if you are around to praise them for it.

Next they deal with Effects of the Outside World. This includes advice about monitoring TV and movies which is undoubtedly a good idea. Unfortunately it also advises parents to give their kids books to read that ‘promote compassionate behaviour’ and to educate them about famous altruists by taking them to museums.

Huh? Alright, it’s not stupid but it is very, very lame. If that’s the best way we’ve got for getting to our kids then we’ve already lost.

The article ends on a good note by pointing out that none of the approaches they’ve suggested will work unless there is a pre-existing ‘indestructible link between parent and child’.

But then they don’t tell us how to make the link indestructible.

They’ve just mentioned the most important aspect of bringing up an emotionally healthy child and then they drop the ball and forget to mention specifics.

The truth is they probably don’t know. Since we’re not allowed to mention co-sleeping, long term breastfeeding, non-coercive parenting, home schooling or the idea of picking up a crying baby in the mainstream there is little chance they were going to go there. The concept of non-coercive parenting, which all those issues contribute to, is probably the most dangerous concept of all to the establishment since they rely on parents beginning the work of breaking in children and disconnecting them emotionally from other people. In actual fact society in it’s current state couldn’t exist unless efforts were made to destroy empathy in children.

The reason the article mentioned this disconnect issue but couldn’t go anywhere useful with it is, as discussed in Disciplined Minds, that the professionals and scientists consulted in this article will be incapable of coming up with anything that will produce a healthy child unless it doesn’t conflict with the first priority of meeting the needs of the people who run our society.

Another irony in this is that we hold scientists up to be the most priestly members of our society. They’re people we go to for advice and yet they aren’t allowed to use empathy or people skills in their work. In fact they often display a very poor ability to cope with social situations themselves. How on earth are they going to tell us anything really useful, like how to be happy and fulfilled? Or how to build connections between people and how to build genuine community?

The only ‘scientist’ I’ve found who knows how to build community, M Scott Peck, learned his stuff by combining science and religion – to howls of outrage on both sides I might add – but not from normal people, who buy his books in droves.

The other problem with scientists (And I’ll have more to say about this issue later) is that their position at the top of the tree and the corresponding arrogance that comes with it only serves to further compound their blindness of what’s important

It should be no surprise though, that in civilisation we should revere the very worst state of the human condition. Cold emotionless scientists serve ‘growth’ and ‘progress’ very well, but they are unlikely to do anything good for us normal people.


saving the world

July 18, 2007

I’ve given up trying to help people and I’ve given up trying to save the world,  instead I’m just going to do my own thing and hopefully a few people will be interested. I’ve learned that people don’t want to be helped. And I’ve learned that the world doesn’t want to be saved.

I’ve also learned that maybe trying to help everyone else is a substitute for something else. And I’ve learned that that it’s a good way to disconnect from people, to turn them off. I guess I was lucky to start doing a radio show, that way I could talk about the issues the concerned me and the people who wanted to listen could do so and the people who didn’t could just switch off and everyone was happy. (I say everyone but there was this one guy who kept ringing up and demanding that I play music instead of interviews…).

I don’t know if I ever converted anyone like I intended to. I know I changed a few minds about a few issues but whether anyone had a wholesale mind shift like I did the day a guy in Canada handed me a Noam Chomsky book, I don’t know. It’s what my ego wants of course.

Lately I’ve concluded that rather than trying to change a lot of the world a little bit I could change a little bit of the world a lot. More specifically I could change the world of my friends and family a whole lot by changing myself. (Easily done by shutting up and listening).

You might think that if I’d figured that out I’d be doing well but somehow it doesn’t feel that way. Like my radio show the readers of this blog can turn me off whenever they want but if you were to experience my views in person you’d be in for quite a different experience. It doesn’t help that my father (and main role model throughout childhood) was a school principal and prefers to address people rather than talk to them, or that I am quite excited by some of the issues I wish to discuss but really no one deserves a badgering about an unknown issue like I can do. These days I tend to swing the other way and say nothing at all and am then quite nervous when I do speak up which is hardly any better.

Karen is much better about this, she doesn’t try to tell her friends anything but when they are having a serious conversation and one of them admits that they don’t feel like being so hard on their kids, or so rigid with their baby schedule she is able to encourage them to listen to their instincts. It’s much nicer and very effective to affirm someone else’s instinct like that – especially when they are in an environment that discourages the loving instinct just letting someone know they’re not alone is a powerful thing.

This ties in to what I’ve been reading in The Different Drum. The chaotic second stage of the community building process outlined by Scott Peck is often characterised by people trying to force help on each other. Really it’s an attempt to create community by eradicating the differences between people. Unfortunately true community doesn’t arrive until people stop doing this and start to accept their differences. Outside of a community building workshop people can just walk away or be obstinate but just like a primitive villager has no where else to go people in Scott Peck’s workshops have committed themselves to staying the distance so eventually they learn from it, empty themselves and move on into a true state of community. True community is also characterised by the fact the people become good at listening.

Scott Peck says we areunableto stay in commuity because our old habits of seperating ourslves from other people will come back in unguarded moments. I wonder how many generation it will take to lose that tendency.

It also ties in to some of the man stuff I wrote about a few posts back;

…I’d like to be engaged and really listen to people who talk to me but it seems to require such a lot of energy to do that – to be specific it seems to require a lot of emotional energy which I just don’t have.

Probably the emotional energy thing is a part of our problem. If we’re being honest though another part is that we shouldn’t have to bother with unimportant people when, as men, we have so many other important things to do…

I wonder how much space, time and ego-death I’ll need before I am ready to just listen to people.


Video Games

July 17, 2007

I was just reading an old copy of the New Zealand Listener and was surprised to learn something very insightful. I’m pretty sure it was an accident because not only does the Listener sets the limits in New Zealand for acceptable leftism but the author in question, Russel Brown is a case study in what happens to the integrity of a radical young person as they pursue a career in journalism. His column is almost not worth reading anymore but read it I did.It started off rehashing the old ‘are video games turning our kids into murderous zombies?’ debate with quotes from an Utne Reader article pointing out that the average IQ has continued to rise while an entire generation of gamers has been produced. It also pointed out that the murder rate has declined in the same time. So far, so respectable liberal.

But then, apparently unwittingly, Russell dropped this little bombshell;

Whether you find the content of video games inoffensive or grotesque… their structure teaches players that the best course of action is always to accept the system and work to succeed within it

I’m not particularly excited about video games and haven’t paid much attention to either Ran’s or Jason’s thoughts on the matter but I don’t remember seeing anything like this. (It’s times like this that Jason usually pops up waving a link but I’ll press on).

The article then goes into yes-but mode. And rightfully so, as it points out that there is plenty of opportunity for hacking and modifications and that these considerably increase interest in the video games in question.

As usual it’s hard to know whether the sum total of experiences here comes out on the side of training people to stay within the system or training people to hack the system but it could be something worth considering for anyone building a game to teach about the perils of civilisation.