Sunday, January 08, 2017

Confusions

One of the most difficult developments about fathering from the beginning is the threat that it may pose to your marriage. I have found this to be true in my own relationship which has, off an on, gone through dark times in which either I or my spouse felt we were being undermined, competed with or the object of jealousy by the other. I have to continually remind myself that this is not so, that the purpose of father involvment is not and will never be to put a mother out of her job. It is pretty clear from the available research, about the mental health of our off-spring, that growing up healthy means that both mother and father stay involved throughout their children's growing up period.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What are the chances . . .

. . . I wonder, that one of my sons would be enthusiastic enough about a man like Donald Trump to actually cast his vote for him? It would be easy, I think, to look back at the many conversations we have had about the world, the people living in the world, about stereotypes, about love, grief, hunger, acceptance. . . you name it . . . it would be easy to look at all of them and say "i'm confident my sons would not cast such a vote. But how can I be sure? The fact that 40% of the voting population in the US is ready and willing to cast their vote for a man who is quite obviously mentally ill does not mean that all of those 40% are mentally ill as well. Adolf Hitler was clearly mentally ill. But that was not the problem. The problem is that he, a greatly delusional man with a grandiosity and inferiority complex and a virtually absent lack of empathy could capture the imagination of so many Germans. Hitler, it turns out, was the drug Germans needed when he appeared on the scene. Mr. Trump apparently is the drug Americans need today.



So what should I tell my sons about their home-country where a man is attempting to rise to power who, in many ways, resembles Adolf Hitler?

What are the potent ingredients of this drug? "Potent" actually is the right word as it is a derivative of the Latin word for "power"--potentia. Mr. Trump promises power to US citizens, greatness even. He underscores this with rhetorical strategies and examples of brazenness from his own life--some delivered intentionally (like his comments about his daughter's body) some delivered unintentionally (like the recently aired video tapes of his conversation with Billy Bush). Other examples about financial coups, tax evasion, etc. all speak of the same: When I want something I get it, no matter what the cost for others. Don't we all want to be strong like that? Listen carefully inside before you say "no."

So what should I say to my sons about their home-country where everyone is a drug-addict of sorts? 

It is quite unfortunate that US citizens tend to get caught up in questions about character, often related to revelations of a sexual nature. Whether it was Clarence Thomas' issue with someone's "pubic hair" or Bill Clinton's affairs or, now, Mr. Trump's repeated statements about women--we are "disgusted" or "enticed." What we never seem to be able to do is move away from either disgust or voyeuristic enticement and see that these examples (and so many others) are always about power. In them we hear the words "I can . . . because I'm in power". This, of course, echoes in quite uncanny ways, Mr. Obama's slogan from his initial run for office "Yes, we can!" It is so very hard not to be carried away by the trance of power once we believe we have it.

So what should I say to my sons about their home-country where everyone is claiming to be powerful and nobody is willing to admit they're weak?

And speaking of sex and things sexual: It is unfortunate how riddled this country is with guilt and shame about sex, and how, at the same time, it is bursting its seams with sexual-erotic energy. How will we ever not end up paralyzed between these so diametrically opposed ways of looking at sex. And, to be sure, both sides live in all of us.

So what should I say to my sons about their home-country where being a sexual person can never be said without also feeling and expressing shame and guilt; a country where the mentioning of a pubic hair or the sexual satisfaction that stems from a vasectomy (Kenneth Bone) would make it very unlikely a person could ever be considered for political office? What should I say to them?

But what would it be like to move away from these statements, prurient revelations about our politicians' sex-lives and to focus strictly on politics. What would (have) happen(ed), I wonder, if Mrs. Clinton simply said let's forget about all the offensive things Mr. Trump has said (and will be saying) and focus instead on politics, real politics. Let's debate questions like "What should we do about global warming, how should we address the racial crisis in our country, how should we deal with the growing hunger-crisis in the US and the world, what role should we play in the crises of other nations, how about moving away from fossil-fuels, etc.?" We are surrounded by complex and difficult issues. There is so much to discuss, to lay out and understand every candidate's position. But unfortunately, we don't do it. Worse even, if Mrs. Clinton said something to dismiss Mr. Trump's comments, she would likely lose many of her female supporters. To whom is not clear, but she would lose them.

So what should I say to my sons about their home-country in which a disciplined and substantive discussion of political issues is virtually impossible and where their fellow-citizens continue to make "character and sex" the central topic of every debate?

I intentionally choose to say "Americans" rather than continue with "40% of Americans." It is unhelpful, I believe, for someone like myself (who in his first federal election since becoming a US citizen will not vote for Mr. Trump) to make this into and 'I-and-you' or 'Us-and-Them' issue. Thankfully, with Bernie Sanders, we were able to witness a second mass-appeal phenomenon appear on the political stage. Mr. Sanders, not unlike Mr. Trump, also gave voice to the largely unheard or marginalized voices of so many US citizens. Taken together the Trump and Sanders camps make up a rather large part of the US voting population. The difference between Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders is obvious--aside from their political differences--Mr. Sanders, unlike Mr. Trump, is not hungry for power. Mr. Sanders is not mentally ill.

It is easy to be angry at Mr. Trump. Such anger fuels his impulsive, often crude and aggressive remarks. What Mr. Trump needs is our compassion. It's a compassion that recognizes that all of us want power, want to be able to respond as quickly (and unthinkingly) to challenges as he does. It's a compassion with someone who has a pathological need to be seen and heard because we all share in this need. It's a a compassion for a man who can only think of one way to appeal to women, through coercion and demonstrations of power (through money and big words with no content). Because all straight men fear not being seen by a beautiful woman and think of quick ways to get their attention. It's compassion for a man whose fear of strangers is so great he can only think of building a wall to keep them out. Being afraid of people whose culture and language we don't know is residually present in all of us, no matter how enlightened we are. It's compassion for a man whose greed is familiar to all of us.

So, in a way, what I want to say to my sons is that Donald Trump is a person like all persons, a man like all men. Mr. Trump is like us. Except he is ill. And it is his illness that makes him lose all filters, all modesty, all respect for those who disagree with him. And without those filters he becomes dangerous, predatory even. I would direct my sons to this web-page, part of the Mayo-Clinic web-site:

www.mayoclinic.org/.../narcissistic-personality-disorder/.../con-20025568

I would encourage my sons to be open about both their rejection and attraction to Mr. Trump. Only such openness and honesty can bring about the healing criticism that will keep us on a path away from the kind of disaster Germany experienced in the first half of the 20th century.

I would explain to my sons that narcissism is a healthy and normal aspect of a person's ego-structure. But it can get out of hand. It has for Mr. Trump.

I would remind my sons that Mr. Trump, like all of us, once was a baby, a newborn. What, I would ask them, might have turned this baby into a man who can no longer truly love? When did it happen? When he was a toddler, a boy, pre-teen . . .?

And for those of you who wonder why I chose to write about politics in this blog, a blog that is devoted to fathering and raising children, I want to say to you that I thought about it for a long time. But the evidence that even pre-school and K/1 children are already affected by what's going on in this country comes to my home every day. We cannot turn that around. We do have to figure and discuss the way(s) in which we want to address these things with our children. No matter what their age is.




Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Pokemon Go . . . Away: Engaging with World Oblivion

Playing Frisbee in the park is not that different from playing Pokemon Go in the park. 

I admit that this statement hits a very raw nerve in me. I really don't want to accept what I still think is likely true: playing Pokemon Go (the first of its kind, I believe) does not move us any further away from the park, from nature, from interacting with others than does a frisbee. My observation is that the people, often groups, who are playing this game are quite engaged both in the game and with each other. Pokemon Go is far from being a solitary game. My observation also is that people who use the park for other recreational amusement--like frisbee, soccer, etc.--are no more engaged with each other or with the natural setting of the park than their Pokemon Go equivalents. In fact the former seem to play their sport often with clear disregard for nature, stepping on young trees, running through prairie sections, etc. And is a frisbee really any less of a virtual object than is a pokemon figure that suddenly shows up behind a tree. Is catching the frisbee any different from "zapping" such pokemon by hitting a button on a phone? I do understand that this last question will be puzzling to some. In our materially oriented world an object that can be touched (and that may hurt us when it hits us in the head) is more real than is a figure that shows up on a screen. But for 18th and 19th century philosophers that precisely was a matter of much thought and questioning. How do we know that the world around is not just completely virtual? And what does it mean to have a virtual game in an already virtual "reality?"

One issue, often an inter-generational one, seems to be the different conceptions of what constitutes play and what work. Obviously we consider a soccer-tournament like the world-cup work. We pay inordinate sums of money to the players who work for us. While we do not yet play pokemon-go players for their play, companies have begun to pay money to people who are especially talented at playing certain first-person shooter games (FSG). Is the soccer world cup really less of a virtual activity than is and FSG? In fact, if money is what makes the decisive difference between work and play and, therefore, the difference between actual and virtual, we have long lost any solid ground to stand on when drawing distinctions.

And while we cheer on our children when they begin to play a sport--soccer, baseball, basketball . . . you name it--possibly because we believe that being committed to a sport will also help them be committed to work, we do not cheer our children on when they play video-games, inside or outside, because we somehow believe that that kind of play is less about work. Rather, we think it's a waste of time.

Not all work is like the work of being a professional athlete though. In other words, not all work is play. The work of a construction worker, miner, teacher, doctor, landscaper . . . you name it . . . is not play. Some may find enjoyment in what they do, but some also don't. None of them is likely to call their work "play." Furthermore, most of them would be insulted or at least disagree, if we called their work "virtual."

Let's assume, for now, that work and play can each be both: virtual and actual. Let's further assume that from a certain perspective much work could be called virtual while much play could be called actual. If I take these assumptions to be true and ask myself "What is it I don't like about virtual games like Pokemon Go?," I come up with only one idea: I don't like to play! It's not the fact that this game is a virtual reality game that puts me off, it is that it is "play." And what annoys me about this kind of "play" is that it fosters a special kind of oblivion, not dissimilar from when the whole world turns into the Olympics, the World Cup, the Super Bowl. This, in other words, is a kind of oblivion that could happen to us in many different circumstances; not just while playing Pokemon Go or another video-game.

To the extent that Pokemon Go encourages a kind of "oblivion of the world" (which apparently it shares with many other activities both of the virtual and the actual kind) I find it to be problematic. Such activities erase differences and different behaviors we normally adopt for different environments. They make us see only one thing. So, players of this game storm around the dunes of Lake Michigan with no regard to the erosion they cause, they invade the Smithsonian as if it is just another stage for their game, etc. It is those places and institutions that have to petition to be  PokemonGo free zone. As if PokemonGo owns the world.

But, of course, the same kind of "world-oblivion" can happen when we build a pipeline from South Dakota to Illinois. We forget about the world(s) it traverses, we forget how it cuts right through them, we only see one thing: the pipeline and what it carries.

I believe we are increasingly seduced into such world-oblivion. Perhaps it is just too hard to think about the world with all its nuances, differences . . . problems and joys. This "seduction" can happen in many different ways. But to the extent we see it happening today it is possible only because of virtual media. Whether it's the news, a new movie or a virtual reality game . . . the world is brought to us by removing us from it.

This doesn't mean that all virtual activity is problematic. The work I'm doing right now, the work of pursuing and thinking through ideas, is mostly virtual (with the exception of my fingers moving across the key-board). It is the oblivion, the process by which we forget the world that exists out there, that becomes problematic and harder to tolerate. Can't we engage in the "play" of serious conversations, serious encounters with persons from places we don't yet know? Can't we engage in the "play" of travel and immersions that actually expose us to the world directly? And can't we engage with these things/people in such a way that our engagement stays open to the world at all times?

Perhaps the only difference between a group of PokemonGo players and a group of Frisbee players is that there is a tad more of a chance that I (or anyone else for that matter) could join the latter while the former seems more closed off to that possibility.

I suspect that my main objection to Pokemon Go and similar games and activities comes from a place of powerlessness to comprehend. The virtual world is closed off to me. I see it and compare it, but it remains a riddle both in its importance to younger people as well as in its functioning.

Yet, I have a suspicion that younger people play these games, learn how to play them, because the skills that it takes to play them will be increasingly useful in a world that I won't recognize anymore.