Manipulation

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we cannot be manipulated. That people who are taken in by cults are gullible or stupid. However, all of us are manipulated each and every day of our lives. Conditioning begins the moment we are born into a certain culture, a certain family, a certain language. Businesses thrive on how simple it is to get us to buy things. Usually things we do not need. Even if we are starving, we might choose to pay for “not food”. This video by Theramin Trees is an excellent introduction to the idea that EVEN YOU might be manipulated. 

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Predators are a public health issue

Who were The Computers?

Socializing over lunch. From left to right, Barbara Paulson, Vickie Wang and Helen Ling. (Credit: JPL)
I have found truth to be malleable in the hands of historians. Writing people out of history or rewriting history so important people are deleted or even replaced with preferred characters seems not uncommon. While some people might have heard of the first programmer ever (Lady Ada Lovelace), the names of the six females who started modern US programming were conveniently hidden from the public. So were their images. In fact, the idea that they were models posing in front of the ENIAC was encouraged. Not until Kathleen Kleiman went searching for female role-models in computer programming did the world get to hear about these six “Computers”: Kay McNulty, Jean Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman.
Any person who differed from the idea of a white male persona were hidden from public mention and public viewing. Many “Computers” who were part of launching NASA’s manned rockets flights, were denied recognition.
The US were far from alone in this regards. British, names like Kathleen Booth or Stephanie Shirley, have probably not been heard of.
It is important that we realize that information will be kept from the public if it suits the purposes of the majority within any field or in any country.

Being human

How do you people stay sane?

When you walk down a street in your hometown or city, or along a corridor on whatever station you visit, how do you stay sane when you see a fellow sentient being who is homeless and hungry, and in need of sanitation and fresh clothes, food and a warm bed, things that you get to enjoy? How do you stay sane when you hear about your neighbor having lost their job, and they’re mired in debt, unable to pay their bills, when you have plenty to spare? How do you stay sane whenever you see an injured stray dog who needs a trip to the nearest vet, with no owner in sight and no one else but you aware of his pain and his plight?

How, meioa, do you and your viewers stay sane when there are so many things you can do to make this universe a better place, day by day, step by step, kindness by kindness, instead of just sitting there complaining about its awful state? How can you and your viewers stay sane whenever you stay silent on matters of social injustice, oppression, and bigotry?

Johnson, J. (2014). Damnation. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 318-319).

Equality: Raising our children

Illustrasjon: Eivind Gulliksen


I came across this wonderful article by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that expresses many of my thoughts on how we might raise children to equality. I realize parents can only do so much by themselves, but those first few years when parents have an almost godlike status for their children lay an important foundation when dealing with others. Both men and women need to let go of their preconceived ideas of what the other should do/be. The entire article can be found at the above link.

… I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.

The second tool is a question: can you reverse X and get the same results?

For example: many people believe that a woman’s feminist response to a husband’s infidelity should be to leave. But I think staying can also be a feminist choice, depending on the context. If Chudi sleeps with another woman and you forgive him, would the same be true if you slept with another man? If the answer is yes then your choosing to forgive him can be a feminist choice because it is not shaped by a gender inequality. Sadly, the reality in most marriages is that the answer to that question would often be no, and the reason would be gender-based – that absurd idea of ‘men will be men.’

Here are my suggestions:

Reject the idea of motherhood and work as mutually exclusive

1. First Suggestion: Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that. The pioneering American journalist Marlene Sanders once said to a younger journalist, “Never apologize for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child.”

You don’t even have to love your job; you can merely love what your job does for you – the confidence and self-fulfillment that come with doing and earning. Reject the idea of motherhood and work as mutually exclusive. Our mothers worked full time while we were growing up, and we turned out well – at least you did, the jury is still out on me.

when there is true equality, resentment does not exist.

It doesn’t surprise me that your sister-in-law says you should be a ‘traditional’ mother and stay home, that Chudi can afford not to have a ‘double income’ family.

People will selectively use ‘tradition’ to justify anything. Tell her that a double-income family is actually the true Igbo tradition because in pre-colonial times, mothers farmed and traded. And then please ignore her; there are more important things to think about.

In these coming weeks of early motherhood, be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Expect to be helped. There is no such thing as a Superwoman. Parenting is about practice – and love. (I do wish though that ‘parent’ had not been turned into a verb, which I think is the root of the middle-class phenomenon of ‘parenting’ as one endless, anxious journey of guilt).

Give yourself room to fail. A new mother does not necessarily know how to calm a crying baby. Don’t assume that you should know everything. Look things up on the Internet, read books, ask older parents, or just do trial and error. Let your focus be on remaining a full person. Take time for yourself. Nurture your own needs.

Please do not think of it as ‘doing it all.’ Our culture lauds the idea of women who are able to ‘do it all’ but does not question the premise of that praise. I have no interest in the debate about women ‘doing it all’ because it is a debate that assumes that care-giving and domestic work are exclusively female domains, an idea that I strongly reject. Domestic work and care-giving should be gender-neutral, and we should be asking not whether a woman can ‘do it all’ but how best to support parents in their dual duties at work and at home.

2. Second Suggestion: Do it together. Remember in primary school we learnt that a verb was a ‘doing’ word? Well, a father is as much a verb as a mother. Chudi should do everything that biology allows – which is everything but breastfeeding. Sometimes mothers, so conditioned to be all and do all, are complicit in diminishing the role of fathers. You might think that Chudi will not bathe her exactly as you’d like, that he might not wipe her bum as perfectly as you do. But so what? What is the worst that can happen? She won’t die at the hands of her father. So look away, arrest your perfectionism, still your socially-conditioned sense of duty. Share childcare equally. ‘Equally’ of course depends on you both. It does not have to mean a literal fifty-fifty or a day-by-day score-keeping but you’ll know when the child-care work is equally shared. You’ll know by your lack of resentment. Because when there is true equality, resentment does not exist.

And please reject the language of help. Chudi is not ‘helping’ you by caring for his child. He is doing what he should. When we say fathers are ‘helping,’ we are suggesting that childcare is a mother’s territory, into which fathers valiantly venture. It is not. Can you imagine how many more people today would be happier, more stable, better contributors to the world, if only their fathers had been actively present in their childhood? And never say that Chudi is ‘babysitting’ – people who babysit are people for whom the baby is not a primary responsibility.

‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.

Chudi does not deserve any special gratitude or praise, nor do you – you both made the choice to bring a child into the world, and the responsibility for that child belongs equally to you both. It would be different if you were a single mother, whether by circumstance or choice, because ‘doing it together’ would then not be an option. But you should not be a ‘single mother’ unless you are truly a single mother.

My friend Nwabu once told me that, because his wife left when his kids were young, he became ‘Mr. Mom,’ by which he meant that he did the daily care-giving. But he was not being a ‘Mr. Mom,’ he was simply being a dad.

3. Third Suggestion: Teach her that ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should do or not do something “because you are a girl.”

“The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina.”

‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.

I remember being told as a child to ‘bend down properly while sweeping, like a girl.’ Which meant that sweeping was about being female. I wish I had been told simply ‘bend down and sweep properly because you’ll clean the floor better.’ And I wish my brothers had been told the same thing.

There have been recent Nigerian social media debates about women and cooking, about how wives have to cook for husbands. It is funny, in the way that sad things are funny, that in 2016 we are still talking about cooking as some kind of ‘marriageability test’ for women.

The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina. Cooking is learned. Cooking – domestic work in general – is a life skill that both men and women should ideally have. It is also a skill that can elude both men and women.

We also need to question the idea of marriage as a prize to women, because that is the basis of these absurd debates. If we stop conditioning women to see marriage as a prize, then we would have fewer debates about a wife needing to cook in order to earn that prize.

If we don’t place the straitjacket of gender roles on young children we give them space to reach their full potential.

It is interesting to me how early the world starts to invent gender roles. Yesterday I went to a children’s shop to buy Chizalum an outfit. In the girls’ section were pale phenomena in washed-out shades of pink. I disliked them. The boys’ section had outfits in vibrant shades of blue. Because I think blue will be adorable against her brown skin – and photograph better – I bought one. At the check out counter, the cashier said mine was the perfect present for the new boy. I said it was for a baby girl. She looked horrified. “Blue for a girl?”

I cannot help but wonder about the clever marketing person who invented this pink-blue binary. There was also a ‘gender neutral’ section, with its array of bloodless grays. ‘Gender neutral’ is silly because it is premised on the idea of male being blue and female being pink and ‘gender neutral’ being its own category. Why not just have baby clothes organized by age and displayed in all colors? The bodies of male and female infants are similar, after all.

I looked at the toy section, also arranged by gender. Toys for boys are mostly active, and involve some sort of ‘doing’ – trains, cars – and toys for girls are mostly ‘passive’ and are overwhelmingly dolls. I was struck by how early our culture starts to form the ideas of what a boy should be and what a girl should be.

she noticed that the mothers of baby girls were very restraining, constantly telling the girls ‘don’t touch’ or ‘stop and be nice,’ and she noticed that the baby boys were encouraged to explore more and were not restrained as much and were almost never told to ‘be nice.’

Did I ever tell you about going to a US mall with a seven-year-old Nigerian girl and her mother? She saw a toy helicopter, one of those things that fly by wireless remote control, and she was fascinated and asked for one. “No,” her mother said. “You have your dolls.” And she responded, “Mummy, is it only doll I will play with?”

I have never forgotten that. Her mother meant well, obviously. She was well-versed in the ideas of gender roles – that girls play with dolls and boys with cars. I wonder now, wistfully, if the little girl would have turned out to be a revolutionary engineer, had she been given a chance to explore that helicopter.

If we don’t place the straitjacket of gender roles on young children we give them space to reach their full potential. Please see Chizalum as an individual. Not as a girl who should be a certain way. See her weaknesses and her strengths in an individual way. Do not measure her on a scale of what a girl should be. Measure her on a scale of being the best version of herself.

Instead of gender roles, teach her self-reliance. Tell her that it is important to be able to do for herself and fend for herself. Teach her to try and fix physical things when they break.

A young woman once told me that she had for years behaved ‘like a boy’ – she liked football and was bored by dresses – until her mother forced her to stop her ‘boyish’ interests and she is now grateful to her mother for helping her start behaving like a girl. The story made me sad. I wondered what parts of herself she had needed to silence and stifle, and I wondered about what her spirit had lost, because what she called ‘behaving like a boy’ was simply that she was behaving like herself.

Another acquaintance once told me that when she took her one-year-old son to a baby play group, where babies had been brought by their mothers, she noticed that the mothers of baby girls were very restraining, constantly telling the girls ‘don’t touch’ or ‘stop and be nice,’ and she noticed that the baby boys were encouraged to explore more and were not restrained as much and were almost never told to ‘be nice.’ Her theory is that parents unconsciously start very early to teach girls how to be, that baby girls are given more rules and less room and baby boys more room and fewer rules.

Gender roles are so deeply conditioned in us that we will often follow them even when they chafe against our true desires, our needs, our wellbeing. They are very difficult to unlearn, and so it is important to try and make sure that Chizalum rejects them from the beginning. Instead of gender roles, teach her self-reliance. Tell her that it is important to be able to do for herself and fend for herself. Teach her to try and fix physical things when they break. We are quick to assume girls can’t do many things. Let her try. Buy her toys like blocks and trains – and dolls, too, if you want to…..

The rest of the article may be read on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s FB page

Farting: popular topic throughout history

In 1781 Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels that includes the following quote:

Permit me then humbly to propose one of that sort for your consideration, and through you, if you approve it, for the serious Enquiry of learned Physicians, Chemists, &c. of this enlightened Age.

It is universally well known, That in digesting our common Food, there is created or produced in the Bowels of human Creatures, a great Quantity of Wind.

That the permitting this Air to escape and mix with the Atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid Smell that accompanies it.

That all well-bred People therefore, to avoid giving such Offence, forcibly restrain the Efforts of Nature to discharge that Wind.

That so retain’d contrary to Nature, it not only gives frequently great present Pain, but occasions future Diseases, such as habitual Cholics, Ruptures, Tympanies, &c. often destructive of  the Constitution, & sometimes of Life itself.

Were it not for the odiously offensive Smell accompanying such Escapes, polite People would probably be under no more Restraint in discharging such Wind in Company, than they are in spitting, or in blowing their Noses.

My Prize Question therefore should be, To discover some Drug wholesome & not disagreable, to be mix’d with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreable as Perfumes.

Fart jokes are found in most cultures. The oldest fart joke is apparently from as long ago as ca. 1900 BC in Sumeria (Iraq).

“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.” (Reuters)

The Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Japanese, and Old Egyptians joked about flatulence. I do not understand all of them, but their intended public tend to think that such humour is funny.

 

Eating Disorders

Only if you have suffered from the disease can you understand the extent to which food takes over your life. Someone I love dearly struggles with Anorexia – a nasty disease.

The ways to an eating disorder are many. Aspies are some of the people particularly at risk for such behaviour. Sometimes the eating disorder is the only control we have over what can feel like a chaotic and confusing life. We are certainly not the only ones who struggle with things like Anorexia, Bulemia, Overfeeding, Extreme eating routines and so on. Once you are caught in that prison, it is difficult to get out and like Baird says in her poem, people around you may end up making it even more difficult to escape.

The death of a friend

A second is all it takes to go from living to dead. Getting there may be a journey of years of suffering. Other times a person remains healthy up until one dies.

This week I attended the funeral of a good friend. A few weeks before that my friend was diagnosed with acute liver cancer and told she had weeks left to live. By the time I found out, she had less than four days left of her life. Death held no fears for my friend. For her, this was a long-awaited moment. Just shy of eight years previously, her husband died (also from cancer). She missed him quite a bit and believed that she would join him in the spirit world. They were both Mormons, and Mormons believe in eternal marriage and families.

She and her husband were two of the kindest people I have ever known. Both were quietly engaged in making the world a better place for their families and others. I had gotten to know her well some years before, back when I was an active Mormon. She was one of my Visiting Teachers, i.e. two women who are responsible for the well-being of the female members in their district. We enjoyed getting to know each other. When her husband was going through his long and painful dying I was able to “be there” for her. Once I dropped out of the church, she/we kept in contact, and I had last heard from her a short while before she died.

At her funeral, a grandchild described my friend as one of the invisible ones. One of those who is kind without expecting acknowledgement or praise. I wept at her funeral and will miss this woman who lived her life according to the Golden rule:

“One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” and “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.” (Anthony Flew)

Propaganda, another name for PR

Any person who thinks that they come from a background without propaganda must be blind or deaf. Perhaps they find fault with the word “propaganda”. PR is another word that is used when public relation people want to convince us of their message. “All they want to do is to bring us information”.

Propaganda usually holds elements of truth interweaved with lies or exaggerations. Politicians seem to favour adjusting statistics to fit their party programs. Historians may tell stories about the “good” (winners of wars) and the “bad” (losers of wars). Scientists can interpret their findings to fit their world-views. Religious leaders threaten dire spiritual consequences unless people part with their money. And we fall for this propaganda.

All we have to do is open our eyes to see it. Take something like GMOs. Now there’s a kettle constantly boiling over for yay- and nay-sayers. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms (large and small). The nay-sayers would have us believe that GMO’s will destroy us and the world around us while the yay-sayers would have us believe that they will save the Earth (meaning humanity) from being destroyed. Reality is somewhere between those extremes.

Ever since humans settled down we have been genetically modifying ourselves and our environments. We have modified many prey animals to the extent that they accept living in our vicinity until we slaughter and eat them. Even predators have been modified to want to lend us helping paws during hunts or be protectors in return for companionship and food. In many cases humans have ended up modifying the animals to such a degree that they have problems with respiratory systems or need cesareans to reproduce. We have done the same thing with plants and experimented until the original versions have nothing to do with what we use today.

What GMOs do is significantly speed up that process. Perhaps that is what frightens people so much. What used to take a good many years, may now be done in a fraction of the time. Personally, I’m fine with GMO’s as long as they do not result in regulations that make it impossible for others to produce products the old-fashioned way. I certainly eat GMO foods and have plants that must be the product of serious experimentation (or perhaps faulty gardening – my thumbs are not exactly green). There may be “evil” scientists planning on making life worse for us by tinkering. However, accidental mistakes are more likely. In fact, I find myself wondering why people believe some of the messages anti-GMO factions preach. That is not to say that there aren’t problems with intentional genetic engineering.

Most propaganda suffers from the same forms of misleading. We need to look beyond the message they want us to hear and dig into what lies behind them. If someone is trying to use scare-tactics or make something seem too good to be true, then we should probably watch out.

When it comes to propaganda horror stories, anti-vaccine people take the prize. It is difficult to phantom the number of people who continue to spread the idea that we should stop vaccinating our children. They claim that vaccines are more dangerous than the disease being vaccinated against. In this case propaganda has killed people by bringing back diseases, such as polio and measles (both deadly). What I would like to do to such people is definitely not considered politically correct.

If you don’t think there is propaganda in your social arenas, you should look again.

Eternal youth

If we could understand how the Axelotl salamander regenerates body parts, perhaps eternal youth would be in our grasp. Or not. Most likely we will destroy them first. Fascinating creature.