Sunday, December 27, 2009

An open letter to lazy, obnoxious parents at McDonald's

I accept that going to McDonalds means going to a place where kids are free to be rather kidlike. Doesn't really bother me that much, because as a parent I understand that kids aren't perfect little angels all the time. But just because you chose to take your spawn to McDonalds, doesn't mean they are free to do anything and everything while you sit on your lazy ass - refusing to be bothered by your nasty little issue.

It is especially fucking obnoxious when your spawn are several inches taller than the max height and still they play - trampling children who are much smaller, much younger and far better behaved. It is one thing when they are running up to help a smaller sibling, it is quite another when they are trying their best to destroy the play structure, climbing around the outside of it, hanging from the bar and kicking their feet (as well as small children who are passing) and running down very small children in their haste to get through the structure. Control your fucking vile monsters please and keep the larger ones off the fucking play structure.

My children and the other small children have a right to play on these structures (and park play structures as well) without being shoved around, trampled and knocked off by your moldering pile of uterine fucking waste. My eight year old and even my two year old are better behaved and will continue to be better behaved, than your shit eating waste of oxygen. Why? Because I fucking parent and our personal issues aside, so does my children's mother. You, on the other hand, aren't fit to raise a fucking dog. My eight year old should be allowed to play and have fun, instead of having to protect his baby brother and other small children who get in the way of your mistakes.

If you can't control your children, keep them locked in a closet. McDonald's is most certainly not the appropriate place for them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Driving, Snow and Bloody Teeth

So Friday we drove down to TN to pick up the boys. Planning well, we left early enough and were making good enough time to get there early and start back - thus splitting the trip up into two parts. Unfortunately, that is not how it worked out - though it is good we got going early and made good time. When we were close to the highest elevation of I-75, it started snowing - big fat snow that plopped onto the windshield, rather than drifting gently down. Given this is southern KY/northern TN, folks aren't right familiar with driving in this and that, coupled with a semi broken down meant it took us nearly three hours to get about twenty five miles. We made it and picked up the boys, but spent the night where I usually stay when I go down to visit the boys.

And then there was snow - lots of snow, almost the entire drive home there was snow, though it wasn't snowing much anymore. The roads were pretty well clear until we got into MI and even then it wasn't too bad. All in all a wondrous thing, because the boys love the snow.

Then we went sledding yesterday - thankfully, leaving youngest with the grandparents. Eldest and I had a lot of fun and look forward to the next trip, with one major snag - the tooth incident. Did you know that if it is dealt with quickly enough, permanent teeth can be put back in? I didn't, until the tooth incident.

We went a little ways downhill, when we noticed that the rope was caught under the sled. We stopped and went to take the sled uphill. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that eldest had put the rope in his mouth and was biting on the rope, when I gave the sled a kick and one of his relatively new front teeth came out of his mouth with the rope. One emergency oral surgery later and the tooth is back in - with a pretty good prognosis for no problems with it in the future, given it is still developing.

Hell of a way to learn the lesson about why papa always says not to use our teeth inappropriately. Not to mention a rather expensive one. But all in all, I think eldest is pretty certainly not going to be trying to open bottles and the like with his teeth any more...And papa will be a little more careful about kicking things that are relatively close to the face...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nietzche, Kierkegaard and Russell: The Human Condition

For the final essay in my philosophy class, we were asked to decide who ultimately best described the human condition - Neitzche, Kierkegaard or Bertrand Russel. This essay turns out rather circular, because I was rather uncertain about how I felt about it. I spent about forty minutes writing this off the top of my head - I didn't edit it in class, I am not about to edit it here. That would bloody well be cheating...

I would also like to clarify that I do not mean anything disparaging by my comments about "the masses." I don't think there is anything the least bit wrong with caring more about living life, than about what meaning there might be in it all - or what
Truth might be, or if it even exists. Honestly, I am often of the mind that not giving a shit would really be preferable to never shutting this bloody damned thing down sometimes. Even with meds, my brain is going full tilt almost all the time - in some ways, cannabis was far more effective at slowing things down. Unfortunately, it also made it rather harder to think properly about things that I need to be able to think about...So it goes and so it is - and without further ado or banal babbling...

It is hard to say that any of these three truly described the human condition, if the human
condition is measured by the life experience of the majority of humans. For most the human condition is to toil as we must to garner material needs that sustain and as much luxury as can be afforded after those needs are met. Through the toil, most just want to do what they must and take their leisure time as just that – leisure. Most people do not want to think much about Truth, the mind or the abstractions that make up human existence.

I also think it is rather arrogant to assume that the dogmatism of those who never travel the
region of liberating doubt is an arrogant dogmatism. While there are certainly those who own an
incredibly arrogant dogmatism, most people engage in a very humble dogmatism, a meek and gentle dogmatism that stems from understanding they accept from others. They do not presume to know but accept the knowing from those who are engaged in the arrogant dogmatism of which Russell speaks. Accepting knowledge from people who claim to know doesn't make the person accepting it arrogant, it makes them quite human.

Throughout the history of our species, since the earliest development of rudimentary culture the
human condition has been to toil, humbly accepting the guidance of those who claim to know and
doing what we must. If left with enough to survive – sometimes when left with less, humans humbly accept the leadership they are given. Given enough discontent and leaders willing to rise up from the humble masses to engage the masses in revolt, the humble masses will change leaders – but even there, the heart of revolution, the masses are humbly accepting the orders of new leaders.

In short, the human condition is the will and striving to survive in the best comfort possible,
dreaming dreams of the young that change to simple desires as one ages. The general human condition simply does not care about philosophy or engage in much consideration of abstractions. The human condition has neither the energy or concern.

But then there is the human condition of thoughtful people. People who are not content to
accept knowledge or dogmatic certainty. For these I think that all three men are correct. The human condition of the thoughtful is to desperately seek for Truth in the face of uncertainty, to accept that such truth may not be found and to be the best they can be by their own regard. It is also to consider and sometimes accept that the truth may be that which is arational, even irrational. Finally, I think that the ultimate joy to be found is the awe and wonder of the child. The acceptance of liberating doubt, is the joy of seeing what is familiar, through the lens of doubt – in essence seeing them for the first time, every time.

What is better than the beauty of the world made fresh and new with every glance. Considering
the mundane in the light of accepting that while Truth may exist, while it is possible that humans may one day find there are no more horizons to delve – it will not happen in my lifetime and therefor my life can be filled with awe and wonder at the mysteries left to consider, the vistas left to explore.

I think that in the final tally, the human condition is all of this. The humble masses who toil and
seek to survive, who accept knowledge, know things for themselves. They also know doubt, for there is ever uncertainty about things that might be considered. And they know wonder, largely stemming from that doubt. At the same time, thoughtful people are not bereft of dogma, some arrogant and some plain – fed them by those who know what they do not know. Accepting there are vistas left to explore, there are those that are and for which they know.

In the end we are, all of us, human. Contradictory, contrary and paradoxical. Each and every
one of us has these characteristics described by Nietzche, Kierkegaard and Russel, in various measures. There is no way to claim that one of these men understood the human condition better than another, because each of them described aspects of the human condition that no person can avoid. What they described is absolutely what it means to be human and likely what it will always mean to be human.

I would just add to this, I am not nearly as humble as I should be most of the time. I too often take myself too seriously and tend to be an all too arrogant motherfucker. I have nothing but the more profound respect for those who are actually humble and arrogantly like to mock those who are more arrogant than I am - reveling in my superior ability at humble grace...(in case you didn't realize - that last line was sarcasm)

Transphobia and Homophobia: Communicating Fear as Hatred

And this would be my communications paper...Here it is formatted, with reference pages...

Defining Transphobia and Homophobia

Basic definitions for trans, and homophobias are really quite simple. Phobia comes from the Greek word “phobos,” meaning an intense fear of. In the field of modern psychology, phobias refer to an intense, abnormal or irrational fear of something (Stedman's, 2009). So transphobia refers to an intense, irrational fear of trangendered people, while homophobia refers to an intense, irrational fear of homosexual people. It is especially important to note that these fears are irrational. Transphobia and homophobia do not describe someone who is afraid of transpersons or homosexual persons because they were somehow victimized by a person or people who fit one of those categories.

It is also important to define the impact of transphobia and homophobia. At their worse, transphobia and homophobia lead to violent confrontations and even murder. Short of the very worse, transphobia and homophobia can lend themselves to feelings of isolation, anger, depression and self-loathing (Gordon & Meyer, 2007; Hill & Willoughby, 2005). At the extreme, these feelings are responsible for a significantly higher rates of suicide among LGT1 people (Hill & Willoughby, 2005).

A Fear of Differences
A primary motivator for transphobia and homophobia, is basic xenophobia, or fear of people who are different from oneself (Gordon & Meyer, 2007; Hill & Willoughby, 2005). The more significant the perceived differences, the more intense the phobic expression can become. It could be as simple as choosing not to engage in an interpersonal relationship with someone, or as intense as lashing out in violence against the person with the perceived differences. Quite often, the more intense forms of phobic expression require the phobic person to dehumanize the target of their phobic expression based on the substance of the perceived difference. They will ignore everything else that defines a person, focusing entirely on that one factor.

The xenophobia factor alone, is particularly intense with regards to sexuality, gender expression and religion. These tend to be less about superiority, fostering a more passionate response to the differences alone. With regards to gender expression and sexuality, men tend to have a much more aggressive, impassioned response than women (Nagoshi et al., 2008). While women with authoritarian or fundamentalist religious tendencies tend to have a negative response to homosexuality and transgenderism, they do not tend to feel the same threat to their own identity that men seem to experience.

Fear of Introspection or Transference
Men generally seem to find the mere existence of people who do not fit within a relatively strict gender construct a threat to their own gender and even sexual identity (Patel et al., 1995). Far more than women, men seem to consider the gender and sexual identities of others, especially other men or male borns2, in the context of their own lives. They engage in a sort of transference that forces them to perceive the sexual identities of other men and sometimes women, as a clear and definite threat to their own personal identity. Women do not seem as prone to this type of identity threat, likely due to a general tendency towards empathy. Rather than perceiving transgendered women borns as a threat, they are far more likely to perceive their gender identity as a betrayal (Nagoshi et al., 2008).

Men are not always guilty of this response, any more than women are always immune to it. This tendency is generally more prevalent with men, because of the nature of men to avoid addressing their feelings or psychological well being (Levant & McMillan, 2005; Fischer & Good, 1997). Because men tend to be less capable and even afraid to address their feelings and mental health, being forced to consider gender and sexuality from a non-traditional archetypal perspective often garners an aggressive response.

Measuring Transphobia and Homophobia

Because of the nature of transphobic and homophobic expressions and their impact on transgendered people and homosexual people, it is important to try to understand not just what trans and homophobia is, but also how strong these tendencies can be and how they can manifest. It is very easy to define what these phobic expressions are and where they come from. It is not as easy to define the real world impact of these expressions. To understand that impact and attempt to change the negative consequences of transphobic and homophobic expressions, it is necessary to measure and even categorize transphobic and homophobic responses.

Types of trans and homo phobic expression
There are two major types of phobic expressions. These actually relate to the treatment of all outgroups3 and are basic categories of measurement (Gordon & Meyer, 2007). There is the more overtly bigoted and even hostile phobic expressions who are identified simply as overt transphobes, and/or homophobes. Then there are people who engage in latent phobic expression. These expressions are almost entirely unconscious, engaged in by people who do not consider themselves phobic or bigoted. An example would be expressing surprise at being exposed to a homosexual male who tends to express themselves in a traditionally masculine fashion. Another would be referring to a transgendered person by their birth sex, even after they have asked that you not do so. Or simply treating a gay or transgendered friend a little differently than you would treat other friends, based on their sexual or gender identity (Wentling, 2007).

Depth of Phobic Tendencies
The depth of phobic tendencies is a little more complicated. The more overt bigotry ultimately tends to be more superficial. Overt bigotry is generally based entirely in xenophobic tendencies. While it is difficult to change those attitudes, regular exposure to people who have that trait that is so feared will generally slowly change that attitude. The problem lies with the latent bigotry and phobic tendencies. These tend to be very deep seated and as they are unconscious, those who have them are usually entirely unaware that they even have them (Hill & Willoughby, 2005).

Latent phobic expressions have a fundamental basis in cultural and social conditioning. Rather than being based so firmly in a traditional fear response, they are vestigial reactions to people who have factors that traditionally garner a specific response socially. Because the basis for the response is shaped by social conditioning, rather than conscious fear and prejudice, it is harder for people to even be aware of their phobic expressions. It is also harder for people to understand that the simple fact that these expressions are the result of social conditioning, does not mean they are any less bigoted for their lack of conscious expression (Wentling, 2007; Lindsey, 2005; Hill & Willoughby, 2005). They most certainly are. Latent phobic expressions are no less hostile and no less damaging for reflecting social and cultural norms. The easy use of such expressions reflects both the privilege and sense of social superiority of the speaker. When someone expresses surprise, for example, at being exposed to a homosexual male who doesn't fit the effeminate stereotypical gay man, they are essentially expressing the belief that being a homosexual is all that defines a gay person. That somehow homosexuals are not defined by all of the innumerable labels that define every person, that their sexual identity is the only label that means anything.

Ending Transphobia and Homophobia: Deconstructing Gender

Transphobia and homophobia are largely based in archetypal social gender constructs (Lindsey, 2005; Nagoshi et al., 2008). The stronger any person, man or women, identifies to traditional gender constructs, the more likely they are to have transphobic and homophobic tendencies and the more intense they will be (Gordon & Meyer, 2007; Nagoshi et al., 2008). The blatant gender nonconformity of transgenderede persons and the perceived gender nonconformity of homosexuals are perceived as a threat and/or a betrayal of the traditional gender norms. Gender norms that are so important to, intrinsically a part of some people that the mere existence of people who fall outside those roles, is perceived as a threat to their identity.

Even people who do not fit firmly within traditional gender constructs are nonetheless shaped by those constructs (Berger, Levant and McMillan, 2005; Nagoshi et al, 2008). Those constructs are a fundamental aspect of culture and society. Because of this, they are also a fundamental part of individuals within culture and society, even perversely, transgendered and homosexual people. The decisions people make and the way that they treat others are fundamentally grounded in a patriarchal worldview, driven by traditional gender constructs (Berger, Levant & McMillan, 2005; Wentling, 2007).

The abuses these gender constructs perpetuate are not only foisted upon transgendered people and homosexual people either. Traditional gender constructs are also damaging to men and women who live within their confines (Berger, Levant & McMillan, 2005; Tremblay & L'heureux, 2005). They are inherently abusive, due to their natural inclination for staying strictly within specific confines.

The solution for these problems is obviously to deconstruct gender stereotypes. This is not to suggest that men should not follow traditional masculine gender roles and women should not follow traditional feminine gender roles. Rather, it means that society as a whole learns to accept people who do not fit within those confines. It means accepting that there is nothing inherent to being a man or being a women. It means deciding that an individual should not choose a course of action based on their sex, but rather base those decisions on what they want as an individual.

Following this course, it would seem impossible for transphobic and homophobic behaviors to be sustained. The additional benefits would likely be a similar lessening of misogynistic and sexist behaviors, as well as improved mental and emotional health for men. Strict gender conformity does not seem to provide any benefit, while it seems to sustain a lot of destructive and unhealthy behaviors and tendencies. Deconstructing gender seems an obvious solution.

1Lesbians, Gays and Trangendered persons

2Male borns and women borns implies someone who was born male or female but who later chooses to identify as either the opposite sex, or as neither male nor female.

3Outgroups are people who are in some sort of minority, whether it be based on ethnicity, skin color, national origin, religion or any other cultural trait. Outgroups are inherently social constructs.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dissent: Debate v Dehumanizing

There are a lot of people who seem to have the mistaken impression that characterizing people they disagree with as something they are not equals debate. Or more to the point, characterizing people as less than they are. People who believe that dehumanizing their opponents is a legitimate tactic of debate. They turn them into "others" who lack characteristics that are fairly critical to being a functional, reasonable member of society.

Take the person I recently had to ban from commenting. Apparently he thinks that I cut him off because I am afraid to debate him. Someone who likes to make references to "you atheists." Who believes, or claims to believe that atheists lack compassion, love and morality. Someone who cannot comment on the topic of a post, without engaging in dehumanizing rhetoric that disparages atheists - as though all anyone who identifies as such is, is an atheist. The only label - the only defining characteristic that matters to him, is the label of non-believer, of atheist.

The irony of this person, is that he refuses to actually debate, instead engaging in all sorts of denigrations. He decries "those" atheists refusal to debate, claiming that this is somehow proof of the superiority of his position, while all he does is spew hateful bile - pretending that this hate somehow equals debate.

Don't get me wrong. I am no supporter of religion. I haven't even the slightest compunction about ripping into religion, liberal, moderate or extreme. I have absolutely no use for it and absolutely believe that the destruction wrought by religion is not even close to balanced by the good that religion does. Sometime soon I am going to write about an issue that my lovely Juniper and I were discussing, about the "virtue" of not being virtuous. Good works done with strings attached are not all that particularly "good." Sure, they benefit people - but what does that say about the person providing that benefit. They aren't doing it because it is the right thing to do, they are doing it to get something out of it. I realize that this is not limited to religious people - people providing charity for purely secular reasons usually have ulterior motives - but that is something for a later post.

Bottom line, I am pretty much against religion.

There is a difference between me and this person who was recently banned. I don't just label people by their religious inclinations. I recognize that their faith is just one label, one aspect of the person. I recognize that there are a great many wonderful people, who just happen to be religious. I also recognize that there are a lot of really shitty people who also happen to be atheists. I recognize that atheist is just one of many labels that make the person.

I recognize that there are things specific to atheism that some theists want to debate - I am more than happy to debate about it. If you really believe that morality, for example, is impossible without a god to shape it, I am all about having the discussion. I write about morality a lot and there is a whole hell of a lot of room to argue with me, as I have a fairly controversial stance on it. While I happen to think I am right and that my position is sound, I am not so arrogant as to assume that I assume there is no possible way I could be wrong.

The irony of the argument of he who was banned, is that he was generalizing my position on morality to all atheists. The problem with that, is that while there are certainly atheists who agree with me, there are a great many more who do not. Even more interesting, there are theists who agree with my position on morality and moral relativism.

And this phenom is true of a great many label versus label sort of issues. There are a lot of things that I tend to agree with many liberals about. There are also things that I tend to agree with a lot of conservatives about. I love, for example, going to Ed's blog, because I get to argue with people on different threads at the same time. Though I have had little time for it lately, I love to argue with someone about something over on that thread, while shredding someone else's argument with them on another. I am fairly certain there is not a single person I interact with on a regular basis, who I do not have a single, significant difference of opinion with.

And there are people I generally disagree with on things - including theists, who I love to spend time with. There are authors who support political positions I am pretty fundamentally opposed to, who I never the less love to read. That is not to say that there aren't people who support things that I find so very repugnant, that I cannot stand to be around them. Oh, there most certainly are. There are ideological positions that are so far beyond the pale, that I just can't muster anything but scorn and derision. But those are few and far between.

Seriously folks, I am all about lively dissent and discourse here. I have opened my front page to dissenting views and would love to do so again. I am all about having lively, even heated debates here. What I will not accept, is the dehumanization of people who choose to engage in discussions here. That kind of language will not be fucking tolerated - period. Argue - meaning if you disagree, tell me or someone else why you disagree and why you are right. Talking about "them" and "people like you" and "you ____" is not debate or argument - rather, it is fucking bullshit and I will delete that kind of shit out of hand. If all you have is hateful bile - I don't care how much you pretty it up, hate is hate - you are not welcome here.

Though if you drop those kinds of comments (or emails) I totally reserve to right to turn it into a post and rip your bigoted, hateful fucking bullshit to shreds.

Adolescents and Addiction

This is my paper on adolescents and addiction. The paper in format with bibliography is available here. I will try to get the next post about talking to kids about drugs up over the next few days. I will also be posting my communications paper on genderism and homophobia, probably tomorrow.

According to the 2008 National Survey of Drug Use and Health, a full 9.3% of youths between the ages of 12 and 17 were current illicit drug users (SAMSHA, 2009). According to the same report the rate of binge drinking in the same age group, was 8.8%, a rate that climbs to 17.2% of 16 and 17 year olds (SAMSHA, 2009). This rate of current illicit drug use indicates a very serious problem in youth today, especially when taken in the context that there is an increasing problem with drug use initiation starting as young as ten years old. Binge drinking is generally considered substance abuse, regular binge drinking is a sign that a given individual is very likely addicted to alcohol.

Substance use in this age group may be correlated with an orientation towards risk taking, arrests, less education, pregnancy and long term substance abuse problems. Even worse, substance use at this age increases the likelihood of psychopathology and stunted neurological development (Lopez, Schwartz, Campo & Pantin, 2008). Although not all adolescent substance use will qualify as addiction, it very often leads to addiction later in life. Regular adolescent substance use often does qualify as addiction.

Defining Addiction
Put very basically, addiction is the habitual use of a substance or engaging in a behavior that causes a certain level of harm and which the addict cannot control. That is not a very satisfactory definition however, because it is very vague and ultimately fails to address the understanding that not all addiction is the same (Denning, Little & Glickman, 2004; Dodes, 2003; Khantzian & Albanese, 2008). Although this paper is focusing on substance abuse and addiction, some addictions are not substance based. Some addictions result from unrelated neurological disorders, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression and quite commonly attention deficit disorders. Other addictions are the result of a neurochemical propensity for addiction. Still others are simply the result of crisis. This is just a small number of reasons addictions happen. With all of these different causes, it is unreasonable to assume that there is one solution.

Dr. Dodes notes that “Addictions are in the mainstream of the human condition (Dodes, 2003, p. 185). Indeed Dr. Dodes asserts that the major difference between addictions and normal human compulsions is the harm and degree of harm caused by the compulsion. Dr. Khantzian and Dr. Albanese assert that the core of most addictions is a desire to self-medicate. They make a very strong case to support the notion that people use substances to compensate for unpleasant feelings, emotions or life situations (Khantzian & Albanese, 2008). Harm reduction pioneer, Dr. Denning with Little and Glickman asserts that there are many reasons people develop what they prefer to call “substance use problems.” They understand that not all substance use is the same and not all of it is abuse or addiction. Most importantly, they believe that the necessary approach is largely determined by the individual (Denning et al.,2004).

Adolescence involves many other factors that have a significant effect on addiction and substance abuse and treatment. With youth comes the developing brain and a lot more mental plasticity. This age range is also the time when many neurological disorders tend to surface. Finally, adolescence is also a time of hormonal changes
that often result in a great deal of emotional and physical distress. When the general life changes of being a teenager are factored in, adolescence significantly complicates an already complicated mental illness (Griswold, Aranoff, Kernan & Khan, 2008).

Adolescent Substance Abuse
Normative Use
According to the detailed tables of the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 39% of adolescents will have used an illicit drug and 60% will have used alcohol (SAMHSA, 2008). It is clear that not all youth who try illicit drugs and alcohol become regular users or substance abusers. Most adolescents who use substances either use it once or rarely. While no substance use among children and adolescents is safe, it is important to recognize that most youth who try illicit drugs or alcohol will not become habitual substance

There are many dangers to non-regular drug use among children and adolescents. Intoxication often leads to impaired judgment and increased risk taking. The most common risks include attempting to drive under the influence and unsafe sexual behavior which in turn can lead to pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted infections (Wood, Drolet, Fertro, Synovitz & Wood, 2002). Another risk is that youth who use drugs infrequently will increase substance use either during adolescents or in adulthood (Lopez et al., 2008). There is also a significant risk that their substance use will escalate into increasingly risky substances. Finally, there is also the risk of death through overdose, allergic reaction or in the case of single
standard doses of MDMA, by mechanisms we simply don't understand at this time (Kaye, Darke & Duflou, 2009).

Dangerous Use and Abuse
By age 17, 4.6% of youths will have a substance use disorder involving illicit drugs, while 4.9% will have a substance abuse disorder involving alcohol. A full 60-75% of child and adolescent substance abusers will also be diagnosed with another mental disorder (Griswald et al., 2008; SAMHSA, 2008). It is also important to note
that while there is some crossover between illicit drug addiction and alcohol addiction, it is minimal. When the crossover is taken out of the equation 7.6% of youth, 17 and under have or have had substance use disorders (SAMHSA, 2008). To put this in context, in a group of 500 17 year old adolescents, it is very likely that 38 of those kids have experience with substance abuse disorders.

Although figures have gone down significantly since the late 1990s, they have gone down from a significant spike that started in the 1980s (SAMHSA, 2009). There is little indication that there will be a significant drop in substance abuse among youth any time soon. More importantly, the most recent fad in illicit drug use among
children and adolescents is the use of pharmaceuticals (Wood et al., 2002). The use of pharmaceuticals is particularly dangerous, because even youth who have expressed a refusal to use other illicit drugs are often willing to try pharmaceuticals in a recreational context (SAMHSA, 2009). Another serious problem is heroin use, which saw a spike in use from .5% in 1995, to steady out at 1.6% in 2001 (Hopfer, Kurhi, Crowley & Hooks, 2002) and changing little with a rate of 1.5% in 2007 and 2008(SAMHSA, 2008).

Both heroin and recreational pharmaceutical use are particularly dangerous. The potency of heroin is extremely unreliable, which creates an elevated risk of overdose leading hospitalization and death (Merscham, Leeuwen & McGuire, 2009; Hopfer et al., 2002). The danger of pharmaceutical use and abuse, is that pharmaceuticals are usually mixed with other pharmaceuticals and sometimes alcohol
(SAMHSA, 2009). This is particularly dangerous because even if it is a child's first time, the wrong combination can cause serious injury and death. Another significant problem with pharmaceuticals, is that their use is likely more prevalent among children who are not considered “at risk” than any other drug except for alcohol (Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman & Schulenberg, 2009).

Risk Factors
There are many factors that can determine whether a child is at an elevated
risk for substance use disorders. The primary factor is often described as peer pressure, but this is not an accurate description of the actual social pressures involved in initiating substance use. For most substances, the actual peer pressure is to stay away from drugs (Johnston et al., 2009; NIDA, 2003; Wood et al., 2002). Other factors that significantly elevate the risk of substance use and abuse among children and adolescents include socioeconomic status, parental involvement, parental substance use issues, parental abuse, early aggressive behavior and comorbidity (Callaghan, Tavares, Taylor & Veldhuizen, 2007; NIDA, 2003).

Social Pressure
Although general peer pressure seems to be moving in the direction of pressure not to use illicit drugs and even alcohol, it is important to explore the role that social pressures play in child and adolescent drug use. Because the general direction of peer pressure actively discourages illicit drug use, it may be causing some backlash among kids who feel they have been alienated from their general peer group (Griswald et al,, 2008; Dodes, 2003). Adolescents often feel a compulsion to rebel against not only their parents, but against people who ignore them, harass them or whom they perceive are against them in some way (Denning et al., 2004). This creates an inverse sort of peer pressure, directly countering the general
pressure not to use illicit drugs and/or alcohol. While this alone may not initiate substance use, there is more to the equation of social pressure.

Young people who feel like outcasts, tend to congregate with other kids who are like them. Many of the reasons that kids become outcast are factors that also put them at an elevated risk for substance use disorders (Denning et al., 2004; Khantzian & Albanese, 2008), creating a conjunction of elevated risk and inverse social pressure. Thus in an of itself, being a social outcast becomes a significant
risk factor. Kids who have no other elevated risk factors, who become social outcasts are at an elevated risk for that reason alone.

There are other social pressures that come into play. As kids get older, whether they have elevating risk factors or not, become increasingly likely to use alcohol. It is highly available and many children and adolescents witness their parents drinking alcohol, whether the parents drink a lot or are moderate drinkers. Thus while there may still be a general pressure to avoid illicit drugs, as children age the general peer pressure to avoid alcohol fades and often reverses into pressure to drink (Johnston et al,. 2009; SAMHSA, 2008; SAMHSA, 2009).

There is also often peer pressure involved in the abuse of pharmaceutical medications. This is complicated by many children not really perceiving recreational pharmaceutical drug use as being similar to other recreational drug use and abuse (Johnston et al,. 2009). Children and adolescents who sincerely believe that recreational drug use is bad, have no compunctions against the recreational use of pharmaceuticals. Worse, the younger a child is, the more likely it becomes that their initial drug use will be pharmaceuticals. In 2008, more than 5.4% of children ages 12-13 reported having engaged in the recreational use of pharmaceuticals.
Breaking the drug classes down, 5.4% reported using psychotheraputic drugs, 4.5% reported using pain relievers and almost 1% reported using stimulants (SAMHSA, 2008).

There is a great deal of evidence to support the assertion that people with attention deficit disorders are significantly more likely to become substance abusers, than the general population. The comorbidity of ADHD and substance abuse is estimated between 30% and 50% (Gordon, Trulak & Troncale, 2004). While there is no significant difference in the rates of alcohol abuse, persons with ADHD are at significantly higher risk for abusing other drugs and other drugs plus alcohol. The rates of lifetime substance use disorders among persons with ADHD is 52%, compared to persons without ADHD at 27% (Biederman et al, 1995).

The comorbidity of substance use disorders and mood disorders is also very common. About 70% of people diagnosed with bipolar, for example, are tobacco users (NIDA, 2008). An National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism sponsored study found a 40% comorbidity of mood disorders, among people who sought treatment for a substance use disorder (Grant et al., 2004). Though there are still a lot of
questions to be answered about the relationship between substance use disorders and mood disorders, there is no question that mood disorders significantly increase the risk of substance abuse and addiction.

In aggregate, it is estimated that there is somewhere between a 60% and 70% comorbidity between adolescent substance use disorders and other mental illness (Griswold, 2008). While there are some questions about potential misdiagnosis due to comorbidity, the statistics are too significant to be ignored. There is no doubt that there is an extremely significant correlation between substance abuse disorders and other mental disorders.

Parents and family play a very important role in determining whether a child or adolescent will develop a substance use disorder. Parents have a profound impact on their children. Many neurological disorders have a very strong familial connection, especially ADHD (Biederman et al., 2008), which is a major risk factor. The children
of parents with substance use disorders often develop substance use disorders themselves (SAMHSA, 2008). Children and adolescents from families that are economically disadvantaged have an elevated risk for substance use disorders (NIDA, 2003). Children and adolescents who do not have much interaction with their parents also have an elevated risk for substance use disorders (Denning et al., 2004;
Dodes, 2003; Johnston et al., 2009; Khantzian & Albanese, 2008; NIDA, 2003).

There are many ideas about preventing juvenile substance use disorders. Public service announcements, parental education, peer counseling, large scale local and national government programs in public schools, school assemblies, “scared straight” programs that introduce at risk youth to prisoners, and myriad after school programs. A significant problem with all of these measures, is that there is little evidence to support the efficacy of most of these preventative measures. The studies that have been done would suggest that certain changes to current approaches might be warranted.

Nixon, Mansfield and Thoms did a study of public service announcements that suggested that providing instructional materials for in class activities following the viewing of videos would likely increase the efficacy. While their study was limited in scope, it was more intensive than many studies into the efficacy of substance use prevention measures. They also suggested that targeting youth with specific risk factors and public service announcements that were culturally specific would likely increase the effectiveness of such materials (Nixon, Mansfield & Thoms, 2008).

There is evidence that would suggest that culture specific substance use prevention measures might reduce the incidence of substance use disorders. Developing and implementing prevention programs for the classroom that are specified for the cultures represented, would expose children and adolescents to a variety of programs, while also responding to culturally specific substance use trends (NIDA, 2003).

There is also evidence that peer counseling programs can be an effective preventative tool. Programs that include mentoring are likely to be even more effective, as they discourage adolescent mentors from engaging in behaviors that they are trying to discourage younger children from engaging in. Evidence would suggest that adolescents are significantly more likely to listen to information
about substance use and sexuality that comes from their peers, than when it comes from teachers (Whiston & Sexton, 1998).

Parents are an extremely important component to the treatment of juvenile substance use disorders. Children and adolescents with substance use problems are especially vulnerable and need a lot of support from their family and community. Family counseling is especially important, as is parental sobriety. The development of a
substance use free peer group is also very important (Griswold, 2008). It is also important to approach the situation realistically and understand that while sobriety is the ultimate goal, a harm reduction approach is not inappropriate. Complete sobriety may not happen overnight, especially if acute dependence is a factor.
Substance use disorders are often a chronic condition and in recognizing that, an implicit goal of reduction (Ie. Using only at specific times) and management may be the best short term goal (Bukstein et al., 2005; Denning et al., 2004).

Given the significant level of comorbidity, an intensive psychological assessment should be done as early in the intervention process as possible (Dodes, 2003; Griswold, 2008; Khantzian & Albanese, 2008). There is an elevated risk for suicide or other extreme responses to the intervention process (Denning et al., 2004). There is also the possibility that medication will be indicated and with certain disorders, such as bipolar type one. Abstinence from the substance of abuse may trigger an acute response without a pharmaceutical alternative (Khantzian & Albanese, 2008). In such cases there may be very little time in which to make an assessment and determine whether psychopharmacology may be appropriate (Griswald, 2008).

Unfortunately, there are many different types of addiction and substance abuse, each presenting its own unique challenges. Once the intervention has been initiated it is up to the juvenile's doctor, therapist and family to decide on the best course of action (Denning et al., 2004). It is up the the parent's, the child or adolescent
and the professionals to develop a set of goals that the child must stick to. Failure to meet specific goals must be explained by the child or adolescent and appropriate actions must be taken (Dodes, 2002; Khantzian & Albanese, 2008). If the juvenile is on medication, the medication must be closely monitored by parents (Griswald, 2008).

The most important consideration for dealing with an addict or substance abuser, is that they are still a human being. Compassion and empathy are a critical component to recovery. Disrespect and dehumanizing will not help recovery progress. Recovery does not happen because of concepts such as “tough love,”it sometimes happens in spite of those methods (Denning et al., 2004; Dodes, 2002; Khantzian & Albanese, 2008). It is important to remember that a child or adolescent with a substance use disorder is still a child.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Talking to Kids about Substance Use and Abuse: Who and When

After mentioning some very disturbing statistics a couple posts ago, I would like to address ways that discussion might go and when it might be a good time to have it. Contrary to comments on that post, I am not suggesting you have it with the infants. But depending on various risk factors, I would suggest that it is hard to start too early. I have discussed this before and will probably do so again. The big difference between the last time I discussed this and now, is not the content of the discussion but that I now have evidence to support assertions I will make. I am only going to start this now, because I would like to post the paper I just wrote before I go into too much depth and I am waiting until I know it was graded to do that.

I think the first and most important issue to discuss, is that of what it is appropriate to talk about, with whom and when. I will start with who.

There are a remarkable number of parents out there who believe that they don't need to have this discussion with their child, because their child would never dream of using drugs. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I suggest that there are a lot of parents out there who have buried children they thought would never use drugs. While there are factors that elevate the risk that specific children are more likely to engage in substance use at a rather young age, that doesn't mean children who do not have those risk factors are immune. More importantly, there are risk factors you may not be aware your child has.

There are a lot of neurological issues that come up, that you may not be aware your child has. Your child may have friends who use drugs that you aren't aware of - your child might not even be aware of yet. A particular substance may be making the rounds at you child's school - this happens from time to time. A drug becomes particularly prevalent and is available at a very low price. It is there and because so many kids are using it, it becomes vogue to do so. It is also quite possible that your child is not nearly as open with you as you think s/he is. Your child may be something of a social outcast and you don't even know it - and that is a significant risk factor.

More importantly, as I mentioned in my last drug use post, there are substances that transcend normative risk factors. Pharmaceuticals are huge these days and kids don't necessarily have to raid the medicine cabinet at home. With a lot of children on psych meds (most commonly abused, more than a percentage point or two over pain killers) they can just quit taking their pills, save them up and trade some with another kid who has done the same and take some of both - or more, if they let another kids or so join the fun. I will grant that they usually get a little older before they add alcohol to the mix, but this is behavior that more than 5% of children age 12-13 have at least tried. At least 3% of kids in that age range are abusing pharmaceuticals. What the National Survey on Drug use and Health doesn't say, is that a significant percentage of 9-10 year olds are also trying this. By the time they are old enough that they are more likely to use alcohol, the percentage of kids playing with pharmaceuticals is above the 40% mark.

To be totally clear and rather harsh about it, it is critically important that you discuss pharmaceuticals with your kids. The wrong combination can cause serious problems, even death. Throw some alcohol into the mix and there is an even stronger likelihood that you will go to wake up your child, only to find them stiff and cold and very, very dead. I doubt the thought that this child was a very good kid is going to be much comfort at that point. And no, the fact that your child might well engage in really stupid drug use doesn't make them any less a good kid. It just might make them dead though...

The next question, now that I hope we are clear that all kids should have this conversation with their parents, is when. My own attitude is to start young and never stop. Latch onto opportunities as they present themselves. Don't be preachy and don't be too intense or regular with it. When they are very small, just use their own insatiable curiosity. If you are a drinker, tell them about what you are doing. See something on tee vee, use that as a starting point. As they get a little older, make a point of sitting down with them once in a while, specifically to talk about drugs and drug use. When they get towards 11, 12, 13 - ask them about it. Let them guide the conversation. Talk about it a little bit more often, but not too often.

Most importantly, make sure they know that they can ask you anything they want to know about. Make it clear to them that you would be happy to honestly and openly discuss topics that are important to them - sex, drugs, relationships. Encourage them to develop a habit of talking to you about things that are bothering them when they are young, because that will make it infinitely more likely that when they are confronted with choices like using drugs, they will be inclined to talk to you about it. Also keep in mind that the best time to talk about drugs initially, is before they ever start. Don't assume that they will wait to talk to you - make it clear that there are dangers and that they need to understand those dangers. Also, accept that they may come to you and tell you someone offered them something or another - you can ask, but don't push them for a name. Yes, it would be ideal to know - but they aren't going to tell you if they aren't going to tell you and pushing them will be a detriment to the development of that trust.

As they become teens, make sure you have laid the groundwork already. If you have done your part early on, trust them to come to you with questions. Make sure that you have discussed the specifics - the dangers of various substances and the like - I am going to write another post about how those discussions might sound. If they seem to be depressed, ask them how they are feeling - is there anything wrong that they might want to talk about. If not with you, then with someone else that you trust and they trust. It may well be that they aren't going to be as interested or comfortable talking to you at that point - let it go and encourage them to talk to someone who is trustworthy. About the best you can do is to make it clear you are available and open to them.

Whatever you do, do not lie - we will go into this more tomorrow, but this one is important. Never. Never ever lie to them. If they ask you something about your past that you aren't comfortable talking about (assuming it is age appropriate), my first suggestion would be to get over it and just tell them what they want to know. But shy of that, if you aren't willing to answer, then honestly tell them that. Don't tell them you never did something you did - just tell them that you aren't comfortable talking about that.

Unless of course you have or have had a substance use disorder. At that point all bets are off. Your child has a major risk factor and you absolutely have to make that clear to them. Forget about your pride and all that bullshit. Suck it up and spill it, because your child absolutely must know that you have a problem and that because of that, they are far more likely to have similar problems if they engage in drug use. The thing is, you have an almost magical power at your disposal, one that makes it exponentially less likely your child will have this problem. You tell them they have an elevated risk and you tell them why. Do that and it is exponentially less likely that your child will initiate drug use. This applies to most risk factors, but is considerably more poignant when it comes to owning up to your own issues with substance use.

I am not just pushing shit in your general direction, that I am afraid to do myself. I have had myriad substance abuse problems and will be dealing with them until the day I die. My oldest son has a lot of very significant risk factors besides the substance abuse issues of his dad. My youngest will probably not be too far off his brother's risk factors. We have talked about it before and we will continue to talk about it, my soon to be eight year old son and I.

No, it isn't easy. It is just critically necessary, because I love my boys.

Friday, December 11, 2009

ZDENNY Is Banned *Updated*

Zdenny is no longer welcome here. If he has any respect for anyone else, he will refrain from commenting any more. But given my experience with him here and elsewhere, he does not.

So I would ask my wonderful readers, if you happen to see a comment from him before I manage to delete it, please refrain from responding. Be assured that as soon as I am aware he has commented, it will be deleted. Thank you all for cooperating in this, as I have no desire to see his comments about "you atheists" or "Christianity is superior to atheism." Especially when it has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Lest anyone be confused about my motivation, I want to be clear that I welcome dissenting views. I also welcome people of faith, any faith or none. What I do not welcome in someone who wants to turn any and every conversation into a conversation about religion. I will not tolerate any commentors who decide to turn any and every conversation as an opportunity to argue about their pet topic. I write plenty enough about religion to keep it in those threads. If your pet topic isn't be written about enough, email me and I will try to satisfy your need to argue - or resurrect an old thread. Just don't be a dick and hijack any old thread to air your bullshit.

And while I am on the topic of comments, for the last time, if you want to be anonymous that is fine. Just please sign some sort of identifier to your post so we can differentiate. If people insist on posting anon, without actually providing some sort of identity to differentiate comments, I will turn off the ability to post anon. I like leaving it open, because if you want to post anon or anon from your normal identifier, you don't have to register a new ID. I want to make it easy for people to drop anon comments. But I also like being able to differentiate and not have to keep track of different anons in a thread - or figure out if they even *are* different.

Dangerous Tropes: "I Can Do and Be Anything I Want"

Most of my generation was raised on this trite bit of nonsense and a lot of us really believe it. "You can be anything you want to be." "You can do anything you want to do, if you really work at it." "Where there's a will, there's a way." "I've got high hopes..."

Human beings are extremely versatile and resilient. We are very capable of being a great many things, every one of us. Nearly everyone has a variety of skills to draw from and a variety of innate intellectual talents with which to develop those skills. But my innate intellectual talents are not universal, neither are yours. An artist may not have the raw analytical talent necessary for experimental design. A scientist may not have the engineering talents necessary for affecting repairs on a car or their home. An engineer may not have the abstract creative capacity needed to write poetry, or a good novel. While we humans are versatile, we are not, any of us, infinitely capable of doing absolutely anything that might strike our fancy. And not everyone has the physical capacity to be this sort of athlete or that.

Now this may grate against the social conditioning of many people who grew up with the feel good tropes of the seventies and eighties, a legacy that still haunts many of our schools today. I am sure that the claim that we cannot, in point of fact, be whatever we might want to be is offensive to some. Having grown up with it, it goes dead against my own socialization to express it. There is a rather big problem though - it's true. We are not all the same and we do not all have the same abilities. About the best that can be said, is that most of us are rather drawn to follow our innate abilities - to do what we are good at.

The problem is that when we happen to pick on something that we just don't have the talent for, we often feel that our inability to succeed is a moral failing. That we just didn't try hard enough. It is so firmly ingrained into our psyche that we often cannot comprehend, cannot accept that there is any reason except our own laziness or insufficient will that we could fail. Even when reality is pointed out, there is often a part of us that truly believes our failure was a moral deficiency on our part. I mean come on, everybody knows that if you want it enough, you can totally make it happen. Except when you can't. At which point it is all your fault, for not wanting it desperately enough.

There is a very serious consequence to this mentality, when we try something and fail. Because we perceive that failure as a moral failing, it becomes rather easy to decide that we just don't want to try anymore - especially if we fail more than once. Conditioning can be crippling, even to people who have never shown signs of neurological disorders. Losing faith in oneself do very absolutely can and sometimes does break people. People commit suicide or slip into severe depression for a lot less than perceiving themselves a complete failure, unable manage that mythical, "what I wanted to be."

Then there is the very dangerous cousin, "you just need to think your way out of it, think your way past it." Like many people with neurological disorders, I have heard this one numerous times in my life, from many different people. Bad enough to hear it from family or friends who really don't understand or accept problems they cannot see. I would love to see damn near every psychotherapist who utters those words, or words to that effect, stripped of their licenses. Should they manage to kill a client with that kind of bullshit, I would love to see them prosecuted for it - and telling a severely depressed client, "you just need to think your way out of it," can be and sometimes is fatal.

Essentially telling someone who is severely depressed that it is their fault they are feeling this way, is a great way to send them into a major spiral. It is not uncommon for such spirals to bottom out into such despair that trying to continue to that next breath is inconceivable. And have no doubt, if you have never experienced it - there are times for a lot of people with neurological issues, especially those with mood disorders, when every breath is a struggle - a miserable eternity that you know it going to be repeated over...and over...and over again.

Loved ones do not make it any easier, when they try to push someone through this. It just isn't that simple. But when someone who is a licensed professional, someone who is trusted as a supposed expert on neurological issues does it, it is like telling them that this person who is trusting them to help them struggle through it is a failure. That it is their fault they are feeling like this. That if they really wanted to get better, they magically would be better. That is, to be clear, not likely what the therapist is trying to say. At least I should fucking hope not - though there are some ridiculously ignorant jackasses out there. But that is exactly what the client hears.

Lets think about getting past bullshit tropes that hurt people. Lets be realistic with our kids the way that the adults in the lives of my generation were not with us.

No, you can't be anything and everything you might want to be. You have innate talents that if you work hard to foster, will allow you to be good at what you really can do. If you work extra specially hard to foster those talents, you can even be great at what you do - though that doesn't always happen because life isn't always fair. And it is totally ok if you need some help along the way - all of us do really. It's just that some of us have brains that sometimes work against us. If you need medication to make it, that's ok. Getting cognitive therapy along with the meds is even better. No, you don't have to just think your way through it, because that is not how it works - unless you happen to have a very mild neurological issue.

Another thing to consider...A lot of substance abusers do so because they have failed too many times...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Time for that chat with the kids about drugs...

Here are some statistics to scare the crap out of the parents out there. These are statistics for kids between the ages of 12 and 17. The figures come from the 2008 National Survey of Drug Use and Health. If you read nothing else of this post, please read the last couple of paragraphs. And please consider having a talk with your kids about drugs.

Seriously, this is critically important.

More than 60% have tried alcohol.
More than 47% have tries illicit drugs.
4.9% have experienced substance abuse problems with alcohol.
4.6% have experienced substance abuse problems with illicit drugs.
There is only a 1.9% crossover, so a full 7.6% of these kids have experienced substance abuse issues altogether.

In regards to the illicit drug use, there is a lot of crossover.
3.4% = Cannabis, 1.2% (est.) = other traditional illicit drugs.

The more frightening statistic is the abuse of pharmaceuticals, which is becoming one of the most serious youth drug problems today. An estimated 3% have abuse issues with pharmaceuticals. But that is just abuse, the estimates for kids in that age group to have tried/sometimes use pharmaceuticals are more than 40%. In context with other sources I have been reading, this is often in combination with alcohol and almost always includes mixing pharmaceuticals.

It doesn't matter if it is the first time a kid has tried this out. The right combination of pharmaceuticals, or mix of pharmaceuticals and alcohol = a dead kid.

I would also point out that initiation is getting younger and younger. We're talking 10 or 11 years old, sometimes younger. And the younger the child, the more likely it is that they will be trying pharmaceuticals. The other thing that is important about this pharmaceutical problem, is that there is far less correlation with traditional risk factors. Poverty, drug abusing parents and even an expressed distaste for illicit "street" drugs are not nearly as relevant with pharmaceuticals as they are with street drugs and alcohol.

A good time for that talk, would be when you next see your kids. Don't wait until they are preteens or teens - that could well be too late. If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the prospect, this is a great resource and I am going to post a longer discussion about this when I actually finish my paper.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health: finally found it and damn it is scary

Linked in my top post now, in case you wanted to check it out...

I could really use some help from some of my addiction friends. I have tried search string after search string, trying to find the statistics for older children and adolescents (ages 12-17) who have tried illicit drugs, alcohol or tobacco, but who don't or didn't use them. I know that is part of the damned survey, but I cannot find figures anydamnedwhere.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Kant's Rigid Moral Frame in Practice

In comments on my last post, everyone's favorite hater of atheists, Zdenny, was kind enough to express his distaste for non-rigid moral framing. He expressed the opinion that the reason atheists would not care for Kant's model for morality, was because we want to be able to do whatever we please. Aside from showing an abysmal ignorance - to be clear, a willful abysmal ignorance about athiests, it also shows a rather abysmal ignorance of Kant's model for morality. Unless of course he really does agree with Kant, in which case he follows a dogmatic form of Christianity that is patently unfamiliar to me.

Kant believed that any use of another person, was inherently immoral. One of the universal axioms he believed is absolute, is lying. No matter what the circumstances lying is inherently immoral and unacceptable. The facts of a given scenario are irrelevant, one should never lie.

An example that was discussed by Kant, was a scenario in which a friend is being sought by someone who wants to kill them. Said friend flees into a house to hide, while you are in front of the house. The person who wants to kill them comes and asks you if they are in the house. According to Kant, you cannot reasonably lie to that person. Because you cannot know for sure that the friend has stayed in the house to hide, you cannot say "no, s/he is not in the house," because that may well put the would be killer to searching outside where he may find the friend. The only reasonable response, not knowing for sure what the friend has actually done is to tell the would be killer you do not know.

So lets translate Kant's response to real historical situations. Situations in which Christians were quite thankfully not inclined to follow Kant's model for morality.

Some abolitionists of the nineteenth century created underground railroads to help escaped slaves find their way to safety, in territories where they would be welcomed to freedom. At many points these underground railroads were located in places where law enforcement was very keen on returning escaped slaves to the south, often to brutal beatings and sometimes hanging. Even in places that had a more neutral attitude, there were bands of bounty hunters who were often times rather brutal in their attempts to infiltrate underground railroads and cut off these pipelines. A great many of the abolitionists involved in these efforts were Christians who believed it was their God-given duty to lie and misdirect slavers and slave bounty hunters. No few of them were inclined to lie about their abolitionist beliefs, to draw attention away from their roles in the railroad. In a few recorded cases, people involved with the railroad actually infiltrated bands of bounty hunters seeking escaped slaves, so as to more effectively misdirect.

In Nazi Germany, when people had become more fully aware of what the Nazi's were doing to the Jews, a lot of people became involved in trying to get the Jews out of Germany safely. Like the underground slave railroad, they were hidden in houses and moved in secrecy, until they were safely out of Nazi controlled territories. And like the slave railroad, there were many times when people hiding and moving the Jews were questioned about it and many times they told lies to misdirect the Nazis. A great many of the people involved in this effort, like those involved with the slave railroad, were Christians. No few of them became rather vocal and ardent supporters of the pogrom, so that like the abolitionists, they could direct attention away from their attempts to save the lives of as many Jews as possible.

In both of these cases, not only were Christians involved in lying outright to misdirect, something that Kant would consider immoral in itself, there were a great many Christians who would live a lie in public, to draw attention away from themselves and their activities. And the interesting thing about this is, they have biblical examples from which to justify their actions. Early Christians were not very well accepted. Being a Christian meant risking imprisonment and even death. Early Christian leaders had to sneak about, to visit many of the cities they visited to minister to the local, hidden Christian populations. I daresay there were a great many hosts of Christian leaders who had to outright lie to guards, when they came to the door looking for said leaders. And while the early Christians may not have been terribly inclined to live an outright lie, they were certainly very keen on not admitting to their beliefs.

I could go on and on with this. There are numerous examples throughout history, of Christians lying to protect people. There were Christians who did so during the rise of Protestantism. There were Christians who did so when Martin Luther was calling for the slaughter of Jews. There were Christians who did so when churches schismed and violence was to follow. There were even Protestant Christians who lied to protect Catholic Christians and Catholic Christians who like to protect Protestant Christians in Ireland, in particular and a lot of other places where violence between the two groups was rife.

So ZDenny, while I am not a believer in universal moral axioms, not buying into Kant's model for morality, or that of the utilitarians, does not equal not buying into universal moral axioms. The moral framework of Christianity has traditionally understood that there are times when the consequences outweigh the intent. That the moral thing to do is to do what it takes to save lives and show others what Christian charity and love is really all about. When you support the rigidity of Kant, you are denigrating the memories of Christians from the time of Jesus to the present. You are denigrating the memories of Christians who risked and in innumerable cases sacrificed their lives for what they believed was the right way for Christians to live and to be a living witness for Christ.

When you support the rigidity of Kant, you are no different than the Sadducees and Pharisees who put their religion before their god.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ethics and Objective Reality: Kant and the Utilitarians

My most recent essay for philosophy class. The assignment was to explain the views of Kant and the utilitarians in regards to morality and explain our preference.

Kant basically believed that ethics and morality were completely objective
and categorical imperatives. He believed that the facts of a given situation and the consequences of a given action were irrelevant to morality. The only imperative was the notion that using people, including oneself was immoral. That if an action is immoral or wrong in any given situation, no matter who might be involved in a given situation, then that action is universally and always immoral. He also believed that the intent was the thing. If your intention is to commit an immoral or unethical act, then the outcome is irrelevant – you have acted unethically.

The utilitarians, on the other hand, believed that the consequences of an action are all that matters. In their case, the intent is irrelevant, it is the outcome that atters. They also believe that morality is that which produces the greatest good, or the greatest number of people. Quantitative and qualitative pleasures, whether they are physical or intellectual are a moral good. Denying people those pleasures is immoral. Ensuring that as many people as possible have those pleasures is a moral good.

If forced to choose between just these two models for morality, I would have to say that the utilitarians make the most sense. Kant was just too rigid and stolid. The notion that one can ignore the consequences of a given action, in determining whether it is moral or not is absurd. While the utilitarian conception is rather rigid as well, it doesn't completely ignore the facts of a given situation. There is room to try to determine what the most positive outcome for the most people might be, when determining a course of action in a given situation. If one must ignore the facts, ignore the outcome, then there is truly nothing moral about a given decision.

Of course the problem with the utilitarian model is that it to is too rigid. If a conception of morality is to have any value whatever, then it must be as an arbitrator for competing factions of the mind. A personal moral frame, developed by ones experience of life, the influence of their culture and constantly being questioned and reexamined at every turn, is the only conception of morality that can have any value. If morality is not the ultimate intrapersonal governor of one's actions, then it is nothing more than dogma with external enforcement. If, on the other hand, morality is internalized and owned by the individual, questioned by the individual and reexamined with every internal conflict, then morality becomes a profoundly powerful governor of an individual's actions and decisions.

Dogma simply doesn't provide the force of will that is necessary to reasonably force one to do what it right. Dogma cannot force someone to make the right decision, when no external enforcement mechanisms can be applied. For example, if one wants to enjoy a particular food item and they are certain they can get away with stealing it from the home of someone they know is away from home, but they cannot afford to buy it themselves, dogma is far less likely to cause them to decide that it would be wrong to steal it. A moral frame that they have absolute ownership of, on the other hand, is far more able to force them to refrain from stealing that item. If they believe it is wrong, because that is what they have determined to be true through due consideration of their experience in life and of their culture, then they simply cannot steal that food – even without any external enforcement mechanism to keep their behavior in check.

The only moral absolute that makes any sense at all, that creates an outcome of any value, is that morality must be determined by the individual through due consideration of their life experience and their cultural experience.