Raising a Human Being

I’m in no position to tell you how to raise your kids, only how my wife and I raised ours. Since our daughter was very small, my wife was determined that she would always feel seen for who she was. I agreed. I taught my daughter all my enthusiasms, but did not cling to any expectations of who she should be. I allowed her to be my teacher.

Our daughter has done very well. In high school she was an accomplished dancer and actress and top student, and she’s now halfway into her first semester at a college that appears to suit her.

There’s nothing more tedious than having someone boast to you about their kids, and that’s not my intention. Even if it were, my daughter’s success would reflect scant credit on me. My wife was far more attentive day-to-day in her care, and even she would agree that through sheer luck our job has been easy.

So I’m not so interested in the question of what I did that was right but what I did that wasn’t wrong, a question that I mulled over this past weekend as we made the five-hour trip to our daughter’s school for parents weekend. Coincidentally, I had started reading a book on my Kindle that touched on the issue of how parents alienate kids from themselves, Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway.

Aside from the occasional gender-political aside that struck me as odd and wrong, I found this book to live up to the hype and the honors it’s received, namely the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards, among others. It’s short, and critics cite this as a flaw, but I found it appropriate.
The book explores a strong metaphor that deserves focused attention: namely, a person’s selfhood as a fantasy world that uniquely suits them.

It’s an obvious idea, lying in plain sight. I’ve said many times over the years that I write to create a world I can live in. I’ve been obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons since I was an adolescent, and I’ve been striving to understand and return to the beginner’s mind that I had when I first encountered the game and it set my world, at least briefly, into an ordered beauty I’d scarcely guessed at before.

Rather than a single fantasy world, McGuire posits a fantasy multiverse based on the same Cartesian-landscape graph as the Dungeons & Dragons Outer Planes, with Virtue and Wickedness standing in for Good and Evil, and Nonsense and Logic for Chaos and Law. (I did my own similar exercise in fantasy-multiverse topology here: What World Do You Live In?) Various children can be drawn into fantasy worlds that are sympatico with their personality, and each experience’s their fantasy world as a paradise, notwithstanding that it might be hellish for the natives: one’s fantasy world suits their temperament and aptitudes; it gives them a perfectly tailored sense of purpose and belonging. When children are forced back into the mundane world, they pine for what they’ve lost, but one fantasy-world expatriate masquerading as a mental-health worker has created a boarding school where the children can share their experience of exile and maybe even return to what they invariably consider their true home.

The children share more than just an experience of having lived in a magical world: they also grew up under the shadow of parental expectations. They were not seen for who they were, and so the real world is for them colored by those expectations and the self-alienation they represent. (The fantasy-world metaphor also implies fixation and self-absorption that I would guess the author will further explore in sequels.)

This is one of the truest fantasy books I’ve read in a long time. Exile and alienation from our own ideal world is the condition of every human being. As I said in my post on Jung and the Self, our entire universe is a projection of our unique expression of the human genome. We are all adjacent universes, joined tenuously by our ability to conceptualize shared ideals (in the sense of ultimate, unattainable horizons of abstraction) and form fleeting bridges across the gaps of our experience and essential selves. Our heaven can easily be another’s hell, and the heavy burden of a parent is to strive to see a child for who they are, to love even what we do not really, and ultimately can’t, understand, and not to infect them with what we might need them to be.

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Defusing a Bomb with Phenomenology

Here is one of my favorite scenes from John Carpenter’s Dark Star. As I said in my last post, solipsism is identifying the ego with God. If the tech had explained to the bomb the Jungian concept of the Self versus the Ego, maybe this would have gone differently.

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The Jungian Self and God

I’ve started a Facebook group for discussing psychology and social media, to explore my thesis that social media has precipitated a crisis of persona management and that it’s a very hazardous tool. The following post I made to the group really concerns my broader reflections on Jung’s claim that Christ is a symbol of the Self. I thought this was one of my better posts, but it got no play at all:

Persona, Ego, Self, and the Locus of God. The Persona is the archetype of the various masks we wear to represent ourselves to other people. A consistent self-presentation is so vital to functioning in groups that the Persona is a significant mode of the psyche, fixed by evolution, and is there organizing our experience whether we’re conscious of it or not. The Ego, on the other hand, is the center of awareness, and the Persona can shield the Ego, help represent the Ego, or eclipse and stunt the Ego, which is the condition of Persona inflation, or identification. All the archetypes threaten to subsume a weak Ego.

The Self is neither Persona nor Ego. The Self is Everything set in proper order. It is a mode of the entire psyche setting all the archetypes in dynamic balance. Its symbol, according to Jung, is the mandala. The Self, like the Tao, comprises your entire multiverse: conscious, unconscious, the material universe, heaven, and hell. Jung said that Christ was a symbol of the Self. For Christians, therefore, the Self is God.

There are several potential loci for God as I see it. There is the externalized supernatural God who is situated in a perfected idealized realm apart from humanity; there is God as the Ego, that is, the God of the solipsist; and then there is God as immanent from the Self.

Consider that there is nothing outside your experience, except theoretically, and that perforce your world is represented to you through your own psyche, which for all its collective aspects is a unique expression of the genome. Your multiverse is not quite like anyone else’s. And so must it be with God. “God is your own Self” is a far different proposition from “God is the Ego.” The Ego is not the locus of Meaning organizing the entire psyche; it is just the surface tip of the vast subterranean mountain of your unconscious. Where is God? From the Jungian perspective, God is in you, the larger you that represents everything ordered to the Good. The monotheistic religious system is an attempt to recognize and give voice to the Self. There is a bit of a problem, though: because you are a unique instantiation of the genome — and even identical twins are differentiated by experience — at some point the road you walk toward the Self is one you have to take alone.

You avoid inflation, narcissism, and solipsism by subordinating the Ego to the Self. Unlike the other, fractional archetypes, the Self will not betray your veneration. However, all the archetypes, even the Self, will make you a generic function of the instincts if you become identified with them, say by acting like a dogmatic partisan on Facebook.

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Rules for Logical Argument

I’m keeping this post to link to from any argument space that I control, like my Facebook wall. I prefer to argue in an objective mode, even if the subject is religion, aesthetics, or politics. I wholly reject the proposition that all categorical statements are political.

This is what I expect from all participants:

1. Clarify any special terms you are using. Do not proceed to argue until you agree on the meaning of your words.

2. Do not use logical fallacies, which includes argument against identity, explicit or coded in buzzwords like “mansplain” or “femsplain.”

3. Do not tell other people what they think or feel. As a procedural necessity, everyone must be treated as an authority over their own experience.

4. If the argument gets heated, have each person summarize the other’s point and gain their acceptance of the interpretation before moving on.

5. If you are asked if you are arguing from a certain premise, give an unequivocal answer, no prevaricating with “It’s more complicated than that” if the question must have a yes-or-no answer. You can qualify your position, but at some point, you must also commit to a premise in order to argue at all.

6. Don’t indulge in sarcasm when countering someone’s points.

7. Take the most charitable interpretation of your opponent’s statements that you can.

8. Do not ask or expect other people to do your own research for you. “Google it” is not a valid rejoinder to a request for evidence.

General Observations:

Just as in a trial it is incumbent on the prosecution to build their case, in an argument the person advancing the proposition must supply their own evidence. People hate to be exposed as wrong, so asking them to supply evidence against their position is tantamount to asking the defense to support the prosecution’s case.

Instead of calling someone out on an obscure logical fallacy, say, “That’s not an argument,” and only elaborate if necessary. (Nod to Jack Raynard on this latter idea.) Character assassination is the genetic fallacy. You cannot win a rational argument with moral superiority. It doesn’t matter if your opponent is literally the Devil.

Charitable interpretation, even charitable inference beyond the literal words, demonstrates both your cleverness and reasonableness. People will think you’re either disingenuous or not very bright if you miss alternate valid interpretations to win points in an argument.

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Civilized Argument Online

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been involved in a private Facebook group that has sought to bring ideological opponents together to discuss contentious issues. I was part of the moderating staff for a few months, and I gave input on the guidelines. Whereas the founder’s primary interest has been in building the group and inviting quality members, I’ve been more interested in seeing if his experiment could succeed and be translated into a system that anyone could use. I’ve reached the conclusion that the experiment is largely a success, and that we can radically improve our online dialog.

Continue reading

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When identity politics trumps all

In a recent Facebook thread on identity politics, I made the following contribution, with some redaction here.

I see a dozen online memes an hour speaking to Trump’s “misogyny” and “racism.” These terms have suffered scope creep. They no longer refer to an avowed attitude of racial or gender superiority. Now they apply to people’s actions. So why shouldn’t they? After all, if someone uses racist language or targets a minority group for discrimination or exploitation, they probably hold racist attitudes; if a man takes sexual liberties with a woman, he probably holds women in contempt. Anyone who objects to judging people to be racist or sexist based on their actions is probably racist or sexist themselves. Continue reading

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Do Dungeon Masters roll magic dice?

Tony Daniel at Baen commissioned this article from me. I’d been thinking about the role of self-deception in both creating and appreciating stories.

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