One Improved Unit

    One Improved Unit –

  • Addiction vs. Fascination

    Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).

    December 2018: I read this essay and added commentary for Editor’s Break 123 of the EVC podcast.

    The word “addiction” is sorely overused in our society. Any time someone spends in an inordinate amount of time on something, those who are annoyed by it will call it an “addiction” and proceed to, in one way or another, shame the person. This seems foolish.

    I believe that addiction is a real thing, that people can form physical or mental dependencies on particular substances or activities, the removal which can cause adverse effects. But it doesn’t follow that every time someone is into something, they are addicted. Here’s a better non-stigmatizing word to use: fascination.

    I listen to a lot of podcasts, not because I am addicted to podcast listening, but because so many podcasts are fascinating to me, and I have time to listen. (I used to read a lot more than I do now, also.) My son plays a lot of video games, not because he is addicted to video gaming, but because so many video games are fascinating to him, and he has time to play them. My daughter makes a lot of YouTube videos, not because she is addicted to producing videos, but because producing videos fascinates her, and she has time to do it.

    Before disrespecting people’s fascinations by labeling them an addiction, determine whether they are just something that fascinates them more than whatever else they could be spending their time doing. I don’t think that the problem of addiction should be considered unless this fascination is having the effect of causing the person to shirk legitimate responsibility, leading toward self-destruction.

    There are so many fascinating things in this world. When a person has the time and resources to devote to them, that can be a very beautiful thing. Imagine if the world’s greatest inventors, philosophers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and artists, in every field, were shamed as having an addiction to their craft. Sometimes we let our preferences about how other people should spend their time blind us to the wonder that they are engaged with.

  • Prosperity: Maybe Not What I Thought It Meant

    Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).

    January 2019: I read this essay and added commentary for Episode 264 of the Everything Voluntary podcast.

    I’ve always thought of “prosperity” as having an abundance of material wealth, and that seems to be consistent with popular usage. However, my thinking here has been going through some changes lately.

    Etymologically, it has meant such things as, “cause to succeed, render happy” and “agreeable to one’s wishes” and “tending to bring success”. Perhaps the idea that prosperity should be linked to material wealth is of modern, capitalistic creation. I no longer think it necessarily has much to do with material wealth, rather, to have prosperity is to have all of your needs, material, physical, emotional, psychological, et cetera, sufficiently met.

    When I think of the most prosperous people ever having lived in this world, I think of our primal ancestors. My current suspicion is that the agricultural revolution was a giant mistake in terms of maintaining human prosperity. Hunter-gatherers had their share of challenges, no doubt, but I don’t think meeting all of their various needs day-to-day was one of them.

    To my understanding, they weren’t traumatized as children, they didn’t perform back-breaking labor, everyone assisted everyone else, community was important, and leisure time was abundant. If I had to pick a time to live among the history of our species, I don’t think I would pick any time after the advent of agriculture.

    The industrial revolution has been a corrective to this mistake in various ways, but practices like the nuclear family household, disrespecting children’s primal need for play and everpresent curiosity, welfare dependency, the diminishing of community, the destruction of savings via inflationary monetary policy, poor food pyramid-based dieting and stationary lifestyle, the military-industrial complex, and much more, keep humanity from returning to its natural level of prosperous living.

    I could be totally wrong about all of this, but I don’t think so.

  • White People Should Call Each Other “Nigga”

    Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).

    Okay, bear with me. I have no doubt what I’ve been thinking alot about lately is controversial, if not totally taboo. Alright so, growing up around all white people (Mormon Utah) meant my only experience with black people and black culture was through pop culture. Movies, TV shows, music videos, sporting events, et cetera, and I mostly saw black people calling each other and, well, everyone else, “nigga”, all the time.

    They did it, do it, so smooth like, it just rolls off the tongue. My impression was that it was a very cool thing to do. Aside from movies like Glory and documentaries about slavery, black people were typically portrayed as always having a good time. They wore nice clothes and shoes, gave each other high fives, were great at sports and very athletic. Blackness was coolness.

    Even in the hood, black people would have phat rides or stacks of bills or shiny pieces, selling drugs or turning tricks, and what not. It was all very different than what my life was about, and all very “badass”. Seriously, being black was/is just a very cool thing in my view. When I would encounter a black person, I just wanted to stop and observe, to see what they were like in real life, to absorb some of their cool. It was a bit of a novelty. My first trip to Chicago with my wife (then girlfriend), we drove through a black neighborhood on our way in and I had major culture shock. I just wanted to take it all in. To watch them playing basketball like I’d seen on TV, or to yell from their windows down to the street, or walk around with a boombox on their shoulder blasting something hip-hop.

    My secret desire was to be accepted by them on a level where I could speak their language and say everything they said. To make jokes, and have laughs, and to call each other and others “nigga”. That was just so freaking cool to me. Of course, that could never happen. I was always told that word was forbidden, that it was incredibly racist to use it as a white person. Even thinking it was sinful.

    It’s their word, and by virtue of the legacy of slavery, it’s only their word, and we can’t have it. But goddamn it’s so cool!

    Here’s the controversial part: what if white people said “nigga” as casually as black people? I must admit, I’m envious. They have a word that’s fun and smooth and I can’t have it. “Cracka” or “honky” just doesn’t have anywhere the same ring to it. I’ve told my kids they can say “beaner” and “spick” since they’re half-latino, but even those fall short on coolness and smoothness.

    I’m a big believer in the idea that people give words their power. If “fuck” is said often by a three-year-old (which in my house, it is) then it loses its power. It’s just a fun thing to say, and when used non-playfully, it just doesn’t have as much bite. And isn’t that a good thing? Don’t we disarm pricks just a little bit by softening the meaning of the words they want to use against us?

    Wouldn’t we disarm racist pricks by removing the power of racial slurs? Maybe if everyone used “nigga” as often and as playfully and casually as black people did, it wouldn’t have nearly as much bite as it does in the employ of racists. Am I wrong? “Fuck” has much less bite in our house than it used to due to our casual use of it. It’s still a bit low-brow, no doubt, but for those okay with low-brow language, it’s just a fun word. I can’t call my kids “little fuckers” out of anger like my father could, because it doesn’t mean the same thing. When my dad used it, I knew he meant business. When I use it, it takes the air out of my anger sails, so to speak. It’s ineffective.

    Isn’t making “nigger” and “faggot” and “cunt” and every other slur ineffective the goal? If so, then isn’t everyone using them playfully the best way to do that?

  • The Deviousness of “Have To”

    Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).

    “Have to” is one of those phrases that I only began thinking critically about when we travelled further along our unschooling journey. A major theme in radical unschooling is the removal of rules and obligations, and replaced with principles and choices. “Have to” often implies unchosen obligations, and can be, but is not always, incompatible with respecting your children’s autonomy and preferences.

    “Have to” is an awkward pairing, called a “quasimodal” in the English language. I wrote in 2014 that whenever I encounter “have to” I mentally switch it to “have an obligation to”. I think this is often what is meant by “have to”, but not always. Digging deeper, this use often masks other valid uses, and does so in a devious way. Let me show you.

    Here are at least three versions of “have to” that each have conceptual utility:

    Have an obligation to…

    Have a desire to…

    Have a need to…

    Here are some examples of each of these uses as it concerns the parent/child dynamic:

    Sweety, you have to get dressed if you want go play at your friend’s house.

    Darling, you have to brush your teeth before bed.

    Buddy, you have to turn off the computer before we can leave for soccer practice.

    If you are wondering which version of “have to” goes where, that was intentional. Actually, each version fits each of these sentences, and they will make sense, though the conceptual meaning will change. Let me demonstrate with the first sentence:

    Sweety, you have [an obligation] to get dressed if you want to go play at your friend’s house. The obligation is there due to the friend’s parents’ requirement of wearing clothes at their house or the parent’s own requirement for wearing clothing outside the house.

    Sweety, you have [a desire] to get dressed if you want to go play at your friend’s house. The desire to get dressed is secondary to the desire to play at the friend’s house or go outside, where which wearing clothing is required by one or the other parent.

    Sweety, you have [a need] to get dressed if you want to go play at your friend’s house. The need is there due to the clothing requirement obligation, but also because wearing clothing in our society and for our species is a general need. 

    There are similar reasons for each version of “have to” for the other two example sentences. Obligations, needs, and desires are separate but often related concepts. The deviousness is present when the needs and desires are the parent’s, but obligation for the child is implied.

    Let me clarify this using the second example sentence:

    Darling, you have [an obligation to satisfy both your health need and my financial need] to brush your teeth before bed.

    The child has a health need and the parent has a financial need to protect the child’s teeth, so “have to” allows the parent to say both “have a need to” and “have an obligation to” simultaneously, and thus the implication is clear: you must brush your teeth, or else. The “or else” implication could mean “or else your teeth will suffer and ultimately cause you pain,” or it could just as easily be inferred as “or else I will make you suffer and/or cause you pain.”

    “Have to” used in these mixed ways are often enforced with threats of punishment, implied or made explicit. If this is the context in which “have to” is usually implied, then it has become shorthand for “have an obligation to, or else”. “Have to” then becomes something that parents dedicated to replacing rules and obligations with principles and choices must be very cautious of.

    Personally, when “have to” is soon to roll off my tongue, I perform a quick filter in my mind, passing my entire sentence through each version listed above, ie. have an obligation to, have a desire to, and have a need to. Once I figure out which of these I really mean, I then break it apart critically with the goal of presenting principles and choices instead of rules and obligations, and never threats of punishment. It becomes a discussion and a negotiation with my children much like it would other adults, rather than commands and control.

    I hope this analysis proves useful to other parents who have decided to respect their children’s autonomy and preferences by living by principles and choices instead of rules and obligations. One final note: this analysis is not limited to the parent/child dynamic, but can also be helpful in the realm of politics.

  • She Spat, Then I Spat

    Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).

    My three-year-old is full of life and has a great, fresh sense of humor. Her favorite word, if you ask her, is “fuck!” She uses it quite often, much to the delight of myself and her older siblings.

    Some of her favorite phrases are, “fuck’n’roll!”, “fuckaroni and cheese!”, and as of a few days ago her, “what the heck are you talking about?” has transformed into, “what the fuck are you talking about?”, always delivered with a smile and a gleam in her eye. (Alright, I helped her improve that last one, *snicker*.)

    A few weeks ago, she started spitting. This doesn’t seem uncommon for little kids. They eventually discover the process and she found some joy in it. So much so, that she thought she’d share it with me, and spit right on my face.

    I could have turned sour, and angry, and yelled at her, or slapped her, or spanked her, or put her in time-out, or some such other form of punishment to “teach” her that spitting on people’s faces is “wrong”.

    But I didn’t do any of that, not even the turning sour or angry bit.

    Rather, I playfully spit back, right on her face. What did she do?

    She took stock, and then let out a giggle! And then spat on my face again.

    I performed in kind. Then her again. Then me. Then her. Then me.

    Then she stopped. Both of our faces covered in each others’ spittle. Just dripping with it.

    She was done giggling, and was now wiping it off with a slight look of disgust, realizing her mistake.

    She hasn’t spit on my face, or anyone else’s face, since.

    I’d say the “problem” has been solved. It didn’t require any negativity or fear or shame. All it took was some playfulness, and she eventually realized that spitting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She satiated her curiosity (which is all it was in the first place), and moved on with her life.

    Every “misbehavior” we see in children can be solved in playful ways. Punishments are never required, and always lead to unintended consequences, much to the detriment of the child, their associates, and the rest of society.

    I stopped foolishly using punishment in the way I parent going on seven years now. If you feel like improving your relationship with your children and solving behavioral problems, let me know. I’m happy to help!

  • “Zombies” and the Uncanny Valley

    Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).

    Are you familiar with “the uncanny valley“? The uncanny valley is a metaphor for the space that must be crossed to make artificial constructs appear non-artificial, particularly artificial human-appearing constructs to look really human.

    For whatever evolutionary reasons, humans are very good at noticing when something is not quite right while looking at what is supposed to be another human. This is the great challenge by creators of animated humans and human-appearing robotics. As close as they’ve gotten to date, there’s always something not quite right about either the placement or movement of various human features, such as the eyes or mouth.

    Will imaginative creators ever, finally, cross the uncanny valley? Perhaps, but perhaps not. In any event, its a real phenomenon that we humans can tell when something is trying to pass as human. Personally, the feeling that is produced in me of what I’m viewing failing to cross the uncanny valley is annoyance. I feel annoyed to some degree that the attempt has failed. I much prefer animation and robotics that are obviously cartoonish and not trying to be realistic. Those sit better with me.

    Why am I talking about the uncanny valley? Well, it occurred to me quite recently that this same phenomenon is at work when we see other people using their smartphones and tablets.

    Standing up or sitting down, holding something close to our faces, head slightly bowed, and not moving much for extended periods of time is a seemingly unnatural position for human beings to take. There’s something not quite right about it. From their perspective, they are actively and purposefully engaged in reading or watching or playing, but from a third party’s perspective, it’s inhuman.

    It’s reached a point where you’ll often hear people in person and in media call people doing this “zombies”. It’s quite fashionable these days to jump on that bandwagon, at least as it concerns other people. I think it’s all perfectly compatible with how we feel about it. We find, or at least I find it just a bit annoying, for the same uncanny valley reasons. Yet when I’m engaged in such a way, I’m not annoyed at all. I’m purposefully engaged in something.

    We excuse ourselves because we know what we are doing on our devices, but we still find other people positioned in this and related ways annoying, and can’t help but express that annoyance. I know my children are engaged, yet seeing them on the couch looking like “zombies” bothers me. Staring at a television is also inhuman, hence, “zombies”.

    But people aren’t zombies. They are choosing in those moments to engage in certain activities to relieve felt uneasiness. That’s what all purposeful human action is. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s totally healthy, in my opinion, despite how third parties feel about it.

    Just wait until our screens are in our eyeballs and people everywhere are standing around looking forward completely still, since everything is being controlled by their minds. You think its uncanny now…

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