Monday, December 19, 2005

(**) The End of Faith by Sam Harris

Being areligious and a skeptic, I’m already totally unfaithful (as most of my friends are fond of saying!), so this book really didn’t change my outlook on much. If , however, you are faithful, and consider yourself as a citizen of the 21st century possessing an open mind, then you will really have some things to think about it after reading this. The book has some very persuasive arguments and thoughts, and is an indictment on faith in all of its forms. Just in time for Christmas!

Respect for other faiths or for the views of non-believers is not an attitude that God endorses… The central tenet of every religious tradition is that all others are mere repositories of error or, at best, dangerously incomplete. Intolerance is thus intrinsic to every creed. Once a person believes – really believes – that certain ideas can lead to eternal happiness, or to its antithesis, he cannot tolerate the possibility that the people he loves might be led astray by the blandishments of unbelievers. Certainly about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one. P13

As long as a Christian believes that only his baptized brethren will be saved on the Day of Judgment, he cannot possibly respect the beliefs of others, for he knows that the flames of hell have been stoked by these very ideas and await their adherents even now. Muslims and Jews generally take the same arrogant view of their own enterprises and have spent millennia passionately reiterating the errors of other faiths. P15

The doctrines of modern religions are no more tenable than those which, for lack of adherents, were cast upon the scrap heap of mythology millennia ago; for there is no more evidence to justify a belief in the literal existence of Yahweh or Satan than there was to keep Zeus perched upon his mountain throne or Poseidon churning the seas. P16

35% of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of the Creator of the universe. Another 48% believe that it is the inspired word of the same – still inerrant, though of its passages must be interpreted symbolically before their truth can be brought to light. Only 17% of us remain to doubt that a personal God, in his infinite wisdom, is likely to have authored this text… Some 46% of Americans take a literalist view of creation. This means that 120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer. P17

Moderates of every faith are obliged to loosely interpret or simply ignore much of their canons in the interests of living in the modern world. No doubt an obscure truth of economics is at work here: societies appear to become considerably less productive whenever large numbers of people stop making widgets and begin killing their customers and creditors for heresy. P17

One look at Deuteronomy reveals that God has something very specific in mind should your daughter return from yoga class advocating worship of Krishna: ‘If your brother, son, daughter, or spouse, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying ‘Let us go and serve other gods’, unknown to you and your ancestors before you, gods of the people surrounding you, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent, you must not listen to him; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death. You must stone him to death since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God… Deuteronomy 13:7-11’ p18

Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accepts its every incredible claim about the universe and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever. P19

From those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist. He is, in all likelihood, going to wind up in hell with the rest of the unbelievers. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything critical to be said about religious literalism. The moderates can’t say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; they can’t even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All they can say is that they don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on them. P20

Imagine that we could revive a well educated Christian of the 14th century. The man would prove to be a total ignoramus, except on matters of faith. His beliefs about geography, astronomy, and medicine would embarrass even a child, but he would know more or less everything there is to know about God… There are 2 explanations for this: either we perfected our religious understanding of the world a millennium ago – while our knowledge on all other fronts was hopelessly inchoate – or religion, being the mere maintenance of dogma, is one area of discourse that doesn’t admit progress… If religion addresses a genuine sphere of understanding and human necessity, then it should be susceptible to progress; its doctrines should become more useful, rather than less. Progress in religion, as in other fields, would have to be a matter of present inquiry, not the mere reiteration of past doctrine. P22

What if all our knowledge of the world were suddenly to disappear? Our books and computers are still here, but we can’t make heads or tails of their contents. We have even forgotten how to drive our cars and brush our teeth. What knowledge would we want to reclaim first? Well, there’s that business about growing food and building shelter that we would want to get reacquainted with. We would want to relearn how to use and repair many of our machines. Learning to understand spoken and written language would also be a top priority. When in this process of reclaiming our humanity will it be important to know that Jesus was born of a virgin? Or that he was resurrected? And how would we relearn these ‘truths’, if they are indeed true? By reading the Bible? Our tour of the shelves will deliver similar pearls from antiquity… Whom shall we give top billing in our resurrected world? Yahweh or Shiva?… And what will we think of those curious people who being proclaiming that one of our books is distinct from all others in that it was actually written by the Creator?… The point is most of what we currently hold sacred is not sacred for any reason other than that it was thought sacred yesterday. Surely, if we could create the world anew, the practice of organizing our lives around untestable propositions found in ancient literature – to say nothing of killing and dying for them – would be impossible to justify. What stops us from finding it impossible now? P24
This is a priceless gem. Harris needs to extend the argument a bit further to nail the point conclusively. In relearning all that we have lost, we will rediscover the truths of the universe – gravity, electromagnetism, DNA, nuclear physics, etc. Why? Because these things are true in all places and at all times. We will not however relearn the same religions because they are not ‘truths’ that are universal – true in all places at all times. They are not even history in the sense that that they can be pieced together from existing archaelogical evidence.

Young women were stripped and raped in broad daylight, then set on fire… A pregnant woman’s belly was slit open, her fetus raised skyward on the tip of a sword and then tossed onto one of the fires that blazed across the city. This is not an account of the Middle Ages… It is from the winter of 2002 and describes violence between Indian Hindus and Muslims. P27

Economic advantages and education, in and of themselves, are insufficient remedies for the causes of religious violence. If a person believes that the eternal happiness of his children is put in peril by the mere presence of unbelievers in the world, and if such people happen to be making the policies under which he and his children must live, the potential for violence imposed by his beliefs seems unlikely to dissipate. P32

Imagine a future where our descendants murder each other over rival interpretations of Star Wars or Windows 98. Could anything – anything – be more ridiculous? And yet, this would be no more ridiculous than the world we are living in. p36

In our next presidential election, an actor who reads the Bible would almost certainly defeat a rocket scientist who does not. Could there be any clearer indication that we are allowing unreason and otherworldliness to govern our affairs? P39

The Bible, it seems certain, was the work of sand strewn men and women who though the earth was flat and for whom the wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology. To rely on such a document as the basis for our worldview is to repudiate 2000 years of civilizing insights… p45

In 2002, the religious police of Mecca prevented paramedics and firefighters from rescuing scores of teenage girls trapped in a burning buildling. Why? Because the girls were not wearing the traditional head covering that Koranic law requires. 14 girls died, and 50 were injured and disfigured permanently. P46

Physicist Martin Rees “We are entering an era where a single person can, by one clandestine act, cause millions of deaths or render a city uninhabitable for years…” Given the power of our technology we can see at a glance that aspiring matyrs will not make good neighbors in the future. We have simply lost the right to our myths and to our mythic identities. P48

Let’s say that I believe God exists, and some impertinent person asks me ‘Why?’. This question invites – indeed, demands – an answer of the form ‘I believe God exists because…’ I can’t say ‘I believe God exists because it is prudent to do so’ (as Pascal did). Nor can I say things like ‘I believe in God because it makes me feel good.’ The fact that I would feel good if there was a God does not give me the slightest reason to believe that one exists… To believe that God exists is to believe that I stand in some relation to his existence such that his existence is itself the reason for my belief… In this way, religious beliefs, to be beliefs about the way the world is, must be evidentiary in spirit as any other… As long as religious propositions purport to be about the way the world is – God can actually hear your prayers – they must stand in relation to the world, and to our other beliefs about it. P63

If a little supportive evidence emerges, the faithful prove as attentive to data as the damned. This demonstrates that faith is nothing more than a willingness to await evidence. It is the search for knowledge on the installment plan: believe now, live an untestable hypothesis until your dying day, and you will [may] discover that you were right [or wrong]. But in any other sphere of life, a belief is a check that everyone insists upon cashing this side of the grave… Religious beliefs are not born of any examination of the world, or the world of their experience. They are in Karl Popper’s sense ‘unfalsifiable’. P66

It appears that even the Holocaust did not lead most Jews to doubt the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent God. If having ½ your people systematically delivered to the furnace does not count as evidence against the notion that an all powerful God is looking out for your interests, it seems reasonable that nothing could. P67

How does the mullah know that the Koran is the verbatim word of God? The only answer to be given in any language that does not make a mockery of the word ‘know’ is – he doesn’t. p67

Pentecostals belief: In an effort to demonstrate both their faith in the literal word of the Bible and its truth, they take up serpents (see Mark 16:18) and drink any deadly thing (generally strychnine) and test prophecy (it shall not hurt them) to their heart’s content. Some of them die in the process of course, as did their founder (snake bite) – proof we can be sure, not of the weakness of their faith, but of the efficacy of rattlesnake poison. P69

It takes a certain kind of person to believe what no one else believes. To be ruled by ideas for which you have no evidence is generally a sign that something is seriously wrong with your mind. Clearly there is sanity in numbers… And so, while religious people are not generally mad, their core beliefs absolutely are… This leaves billions of us believing what no sane person could believe on his own. P72

We could imagine a scenario in which we would credence to the pope’s visions (or to our own). If Jesus came saying things like ‘The Vatican Library has exactly 37,226 books’ and he turned out to be right, we would then begin to feel that we were, at the very least, in dialog with someone who had something to say about the way the world is. Given a sufficient number of verifiable statements, plucked from the ethers of papal vision, we could begin speaking seriously about any further claims Jesus might make. P77

[Upgrading your furniture. Consider the Spanish Chair, circa 1400 from the Inquisition Collection]: You may be bound to a bench, with a cauldron filled with mice placed upsidedown upon your bare addomen. With the requisite application of heat to the iron, the mice will being to burrow into your belly in search of an exit. P80 [Mice are sold separately.]

Whenever a man imagines that he need only believe the truth of a proposition, without evidence – that unbelievers will go to hell - he become capable of anything. P85

The men of the Fore tribe [of New Guinea] hunted down men they believed to be sorcerers and killed them in reprisal. The hunters used a specialized attack; they ruptured their kidneys, crushed their genitals, broke their thigh bones with stone axes, bit into their necks, tore out their tracheas, jammed bamboo splinters into their veins to bleed them.
The horrible comedy of ignorance achieves a rare moment of transparency: the Fore were merely responding to an epidemic of Kuru – a fatal brain infection – brought on not by sorcery but by their own religious observance of eating the bodies and brains of their dead. P89 [Um, are you going to finish that?]

The Catholic church did not officially condemn the use of torture [and inquisition] until the bull of Pope Pius VII in 1816. p92 Better late than never.

There is no telling what our world would be like had some great kingdom of Reason emerged at the time of the Crusades and pacified the credulous multitudes of Europe and the Middle East. We might have had modern democracy and the Internet by 1600. p109

The penalty for apostasy [changing your religion in this case from Islam] is death. We would do well to linger over this fact for a moment, because it is the black pearl of intolerance that no liberal exegesis will every fully digest. Within the house of Islam, the penalty for learning too much about the world is death. If a 21st century Muslim loses his faith, though he may have been a Muslim for only a single hour, the normative response, everywhere under Islam is to kill him… This explains why there did not appear to be a single reasonable Muslim living on Earth when Khomeni put a bounty on the head of Salmon Rushdie. P116

Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the markings of a thoroughgoing cult of death. P123

At this point in history, give most Muslims the freedom to vote, and they will freely vote to tear out their political freedoms by the root. We should not for a moment lose sight of the possibility that they would curtail our freedoms as well, if they only had the power to do so. P132

Ask yourself, what are the chances that the Palestinians would show the same restraint in killing Jews if the Jews were a powerless minority living under their occupation and disposed to acts of suicidal terrorism? It would be no more likely than Muhammad’s flying to heaven on a winged horse. P135

Not all societies have the same degree of moral wealth. Many things contribute to such an endowment. Political and economic stability, literacy, a modicum of social equality – where such things are lacking, people tend to find many compelling reasons to treat one another rather badly… To say of another culture that it lags a 150 years behind our own in social development is a terrible criticism indeed, given how far we’ve come in that time. Now imagine the benighted Americans of 1863 coming to possess chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. This is more or less the situation we confront in much of the developing world. P144

Nothing in Noam Chomsky’s account acknowledges the difference between intending to kill a child and inadvertently killing a child in an attempt to capture or kill an avowed child murderer. In both cases a child has died, and in both cases it is a tragedy. But the ethical status of the perpetrators could hardly be more distinct. P146

The ability to pull money straight out of the ground has led Arab governments to be entirely unresponsive to the concerns of their people. Not needing to collect taxes is highly corrupting of state power. ‘If there is one great cause of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, it is the total failure of political institutions in the Arab world.’ Perhaps, but the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is only a problem because the fundamentals of Islam are a problem. A rise of Jain fundamentalism would endanger no one. P148

We should look upon modern despotism as hostage crises. Kim Jong Il has 30M hostages. Saddam had 25M. The clerics in Iran have 70M more. It doesn’t matter that many hostages have been so brainwashed that they will fight their would-be liberators to the death. They are held prisoner twice over – by tyranny and by their own ignorance. The developed world must come to their rescue. P151

Fundamental Christians support Israel because they believe that the rebuilding of Solomon’s temple – will usher in both the Second Coming and the final destruction of the Jews. P153

[Be afraid, very afraid.] The more Christian a country is the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral… I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian, death is no big deal. Intentionally killing an innocent person is a big deal: it is a grave sin, which causes one to lose his soul. But losing this life, in exchange for the next?… For the non-believer, on the the other hand, to deprive a man of his life is to end his existence. What a horrible act!.. The governement carries the sword as the ‘Minister of God’ to ‘execute wrath’ upon the evildoer. – Your honorable Justice of the United States Supreme Court – Antonin Scalia p157

Scalia supports the use of capital punishment even in cases where the defendant is acknowledged to be mentally retarded. He also upholds the state sodomy laws. P158
Oral and anal sex between consenting adults remains a criminal offense in 13 states. 4 of these prohibit these acts between same sex couples, and therefore prohibit homosexuality. The other 9 ban these acts for everyone. P160

The total cost of our drug laws – including the loss of potential tax revenue by failing to regulate the sale – could easily be in excess of $100 billion each year. Our war on drugs consumes an estimated 50% of the trial time of our courts and full time energies of over 400,000 police officers. These are resources that might otherwise be used to fight violent crime and terrorism. P163

Anyone who believes God is watching us from beyond the stars will feel that punishing peaceful men and women for their private pleasures is perfectly reasonable… Our war on sin is so outrageously unwise as to almost defy rational comment. How have we grown so blind to our deeper interests? And how have we managed to enact such policies with so little substantive debate? [I’ll tell you how, just the same way the Patriot act got passed. That’s how.] p164

We now find ourselves living in a world in which college educated politicians will hurl impediments in the way of research because they are concerned with the fate of a single cell… They believe that even a human zygote should be accorded all the protections of a fully developed human being. Such a cell, after all, has the potential to become a fully developed human being. But given our advances in biology and cloning, as much can be said of almost every cell in the human body. By the measure of a cell’s potential, whenever the president scratches his nose he is now engaged in a diabolical culling of souls. P166

Of course the point of which we fully acquire our humanity, our capacity to suffer, remains open to question. But anyone who would dogmatically insist that these traits must arise coincident with the moment of conception has nothing to contribute, apart from his ignorance, to this debate. P167

One of the greatest sources of pleasure in 16th century Paris was cat burning. They would gather dozens of cats in a net, hoist them high into the air from a special bundle onto a bonfire. The assembled spectators ‘shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized.’ P170

The fact that our ethical intuitions have their roots in biology reveals that our efforts to ground ethics in religious conceptions of ‘moral duty’ are misguided… We simply do not need religious ideas to motivate us to live ethical lives. Once we begin thinking seriously about happiness and suffering, we find that our religious traditions are no more reliable on questions of ethics than they have been on scientific questions generally. P172 [Read The Moral Animal by Robert Wright if you care to disagree with this statement.]

The anthropocentrism that is intrinsic to every faith can’t help appearing impossibly quaint – and therefore impossible – given what we know about the natural world. Biological truths are simply not commensurate with a designer God, or even a good one. The perverse wonder of evolution is this: the very mechanisms that create beauty and diversity guarantee monstrosity and death… It is worth remembering that if God created the world and all things in it, he created smallpox, plague, filariasis. Any person who intentionally loosed such horrors upon the earth would be ground to dust for this crimes. P172

The notion of moral community resolves many paradoxes of human behavior. How is it, after all, that a Nazi guard could return each day from his labors at the crematoria and be a loving father to his children? The answer is surprisingly straightforward: the Jews he spent the day with torturing and killing were not objects of his moral concern… As we have seen, religion is one of the great limiters of moral identity, since most believers differentiate themselves, in moral terms, from those who do not share their faith. P176

What will be our criterion for humanness? DNA? Shall a single cell take precedence over a herd of elephants?… If people are more important to us than Orangutans because they can articulate their interests, why aren’t more articulate people more important still? And what about those people with aphasia? It would seem that we have just excluded them from our moral community. Find an orangutan that can complain about his family in Borneo, and he may well displace a person or two from our lifeboat. P178

No one is ever really right about what he believes; he can only point to a community of peers who believe likewise… Convictions of this sort go by the name of ‘relativism’… There is a more sophisticated version of this line of thinking that is not so easily dispatched. It generally goes by the name of pragmatism… The pragmatist’s basic premise is that, try as we might, the currency of our ideas can’t be placed on the gold std of correspondence with reality as it is… Beliefs are simply tools for making one’s way in the world… For the pragmatist, the utility of a belief trumps all other concerns, even the concern for coherence. If a literal reading of the Bible works for you on Sunday, while agnosticism is better suited to Mondays at the office, there is no reason to about the resulting contradictions in your worldview. P179

In philosophical terms, pragmatism can be directly opposed to realism. For the realist, our statements about the world will be true or false not merely in virtue of how they function amid the welter of our other beliefs, but because reality simply is a certain way, independent of our thoughts… To be an ethical realist [and you know who you are] is to believe that in ethics, as in physics, there are truths waiting to be discovered – and thus we can be right or wrong in our beliefs about them. P181

It is quite conceivable that everyone might agree and yet be wrong about the way the world is. It is also conceivable that a single person might be right in the face of unanimous opposition. From a realist point of view, it is possible for a single person to have a monopoly on the truth. P182

Many of our deliverances of reason don’t seem reasonable at 1st glance. When asked how thick a piece of newspaper would be if one could fold it upon itself 100 times, most of us imagine something about the thickness of a brick. A little arithmetic reveals that such an object would be as thick as the known universe. P183

From the point of view of evolution, the best thing a person can do with his life is have as many children as possible. As Stephen Pinker observes, if we really took a gene’s eye view of the world “men would line up outside sperm banks and women would pray to have their eggs harvested and given to infertile couples.” P186

It appears that such restraint in the use of torture can’t be reconciled with our willingness to wage war in the 1st place. What after all is collateral damage but the inadvertent torture of innocent men, women, and children? …It is curious that the torture of Osama Bin Laden himself could be expected to provoke convulsions of conscience among our leaders, the unintended but perfectly foreseeable, and therefore accepted, slaughter of children does not… Its seems obvious that the misapplication of torture should be far less troubling to us than collateral damage: there are, after all, no infants interned at Guantanamo Bay. P194

A biological rationale is not hard to find [for why we are squeamish or reluctant to kill someone up close and personal, but killing in en masse doesn’t provoke such a response], as millions of years on the African veldt could not possibly have selected for an ability to make emotional sense of 21st century horror. P195

If you think that the equivalence between torture and collateral damage does not hold, because torture is up close and personal while stray bombs aren’t, you stand convicted on a failure of imagination on at least 2 counts: The disparity of the dissociation between what is most harmful and what is most shocking. Killing people at a distance is easier, but perhaps it should not be that much easier. Second, imagine an ideal ‘torture pill’. A drug that would deliver both the instruments of torture and the instrument of their utter concealment. The action of the pill would be to produce transitory paralysis and transitory misery of a kind no human being would willingly submit to a 2nd time. Imagine how we torturers would feel if, after giving this pill to captive terrorists, each lay down for what appeared to be an hour’s nap only to arise and immediately confess everything he knows about the workings of his organization. Might we not call it a truth pill in the end? P197

The full moon appearing on the horizon is no bigger than the full moon when it appears overhead, but it looks bigger, for reasons that are still obscure to neuroscientists. P200

Gandhi’s nonviolence can be applied only to limited range of human conflict. We would do well to reflect on Gandhi’s remedy for the Holocaust : he believed Jews should have committed mass suicide. P202

The problem with religion is that it blends the truth so thoroughly with the venom of unreason. Take Christianity as an example: it is not enough that Jesus was a man who transformed himself to such a degree that the Sermon on the Mount could be his heart’s confession. He also had to be the Son of God, born of a virgin, and destined to return to earth trailing clouds of glory. The effect of such dogma is to place the example of Jesus forever out of reach. His teaching ceases to be a set of empirical claims about the linkage between ethics and spiritual insight and instead becomes a gratuitous, and rather gruesome, fairy tale. P204

What could possibly cause billions of human beings to reconsider their religious beliefs? And yet it is obvious that an utter revolution in our thinking could be accomplished in a single generation: if parents and teachers would merely give honest answers to the questions of every child. P224

Consider it: every person you have ever met, every person you will pass on the street today, is going to die. Living long enough, each will suffer the loss of his friends and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would anyone want to be anything but kind to them in the meantime? P226

The universe is shot through with mystery. The very fact of its being, and of our own, is a mystery absolute, and the only miracle worthy of the name… No myths need be embraced for us to commune with the profundity of our circumstance. No personal God need be worshiped for us to live in awe at the beauty and immensity of creation… The days of our religious identities are clearly numbered. Whether the days of civilization itself are numbered would seem to depend, rather too much on how soon we realize this. P227

As Bertrand Russell observed, even if we were to grant that one of our religions must be correct in its every particular, given the number of conflicting views on offer, every believer should expect damnation on mere probabilistic grounds. P233

For a remarkably elegant demonstration of the incoherency of the Bible, I recommend Burr’s Self Contradictions of the Bible (1860). In it, Burr presents 144 propositions – all neatly opposed by their antithesis: God is seen and heard/God is invisible and cannot be heard, etc. – all with supporting quotations. P244

Saturday, December 03, 2005

(***) Lessons of History by Will Durant

Lessons of History by Will Durant

Bear in mind that this book was written in 1968 and will remain timeless. True to the title, history can teach us much about the future. Just read the excerpts and compare them to what has unfolded in recent history to discover how prescient Durant was. This short tome is a must read for all.

Freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies. Leave men free, and their natural inequalities will multiply almost geometrically… To check the growth of inequality, liberty must be sacrificed, as in Communism. Even when repressed, inequality grows; only the man who is below average in economic ability desires equality; those who are conscious of superior ability desire freedom; and in the end superior ability has its way… Utopias of equality are biologically doomed, and the best that one can hope for is an approximate equality of legal justice and educational opportunity. A society in which all potential abilities are allowed to develop and function will have the survival advantage in the competition of groups. [Durant was betting that laissez faire capitalism would triumph over Communism.] This competition becomes more severe as the destruction of distance intensifies the confrontation of states. [This sentence foreshadows the pains of globalization. Just think about US software programmers competing with Indians because the internet and telecommunications have broken the borders between these 2 countries.] p21

By and large the poor have the same impulses as the rich, with only less opportunity or skill to implement them. Nothing is clearer in history than the adoption by successful rebels of the methods they were accustomed to condemn in the forces they deposed. P34

In the hunting stage a man had to be ready to chase and fight and kill. When he had a caught his prey he ate to the cubic capacity of his stomach, being uncertain when he might eat again; insecurity is the mother of greed, and cruelty is the memory of a time when the test of survival was the ability to kill. Presumably the death rate in men was higher than in women… Pugnacity, brutality, greed, and sexual readiness were advantages in the struggle for existence. Probably every vice [today] was once a virtue. P38

There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion. France, the US, and some other modern nations have divorced their governments from the church, but they have had the help of religion in keeping social order… The state may wink at the restoration of supernatural beliefs as an aid in quieting discontent. ‘As long as there is poverty there will be gods.’ P51 [Is Durant predicting the rise of the religious right and the political power granted to it.]

“The men who can manage men manage men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all.” P54 [Tell your children to grow up to become bankers. History will be on their side of success.]

1000s of Romans [under Diocletian], to escape the taxgatherer, fled over the frontiers to seek refuge among barbarians. Seeking to check this elusive mobility, and to facilitate regulation and taxation, the government issued decrees binding the peasant to his field and the worker to his shop until all his debts and taxes had been paid. In this and other ways medieval serfdom began. P61

Chinese leaders, circa 1080 AD, argued that human corruptibility and incompetence make governmental control of industry impracticable, and that the best economy is a laissez-faire system that relies on the natural impulses of men. P63 [700 years before Adam Smith, the Chinese figured it out. Unfortunately, Mao didn’t read his history books.]

Communism [was born and forged in Russia from] a war economy. Perhaps it survives through continued fear of war [remember this was written in 1968 during the Cold War]; given a generation of peace it would presumably be eroded by the nature of man. P67 [Could Durant be any more accurate in this prediction? Precisely a generation, 21 years, later, the Berlin wall came down, and Communism died at the hands of a generation that indeed had never faced war.]

It was of no use to talk about ‘States’ rights’ [in the nascent US] when the economy was ignoring state boundaries and could only be regulated by some central authority. Today international government is developing as industry, commerce, and finance override frontiers and take international forms. P68 [Durant hints of the coming of globalization and agencies like the WTO to help regulate global trade, hastening the erosion of national sovereignty.]

Most governments have been oligarchies – ruled by a minority, chosen either by birth, as in aristocracies, or by a religious organization, as in theocracies, or by wealth, as in democracies. It is unnatural for a majority to rule, for a majority can seldom be organized for united and specific action, and a minority can. P70

Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence… Education must spread, but intelligence is perpetually retarded by the fertility of the simple. P78

Though men cannot be equal, their access to education and opportunity can be made more nearly equal. The rights of man are not rights to office and power, but the rights of entry into every avenue that may nourish and test a man’s fitness for office and power. P79

In the last 3,421 [upto 1968] of recorded history only 268 have seen no war. P81 [The past 37 years have not been improved this track record at: Vietnam, Afghanistan/Soviets, Gulf War, Afghanistan/US, Iraq, etc.]

When the states of Europe freed themselves from papal overlordship and protection, each state encouraged nationalism as a supplement to its army and navy. If it foresaw conflict with any particular country it fomented, in its people, hatred of that country, and formulated catchwords to bring that hatred to a lethal point; meanwhile it stressed its love of peace. P82 [Care to remember the ‘Axis of Evil’ speech Bush made after 9/11?]

Perhaps we should first define what progress means to us. If it means increase in happiness its case is lost almost at first sight. Our capacity for fretting is endless, and no matter how many difficulties we surmount, how many ideals we realize, we shall always find an excuse for being magnificently miserable…We shall here define progress as the increasing control of the environment by life. It is a test that may hold for the lowliest organism as well as for man. P98

If the prolongation of life indicates better control of the environment, then the tables of mortality proclaim the advance of man. P99

Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again. So our finest contemporary achievement is our unprecedented expenditure of wealth and toil in the provision of higher education for all. P101

Consider education not as the painful accumulation of facts and dates and reigns, nor merely the necessary preparation of the individual to earn his keep in the world, but as the transmission of our mental, moral, technical, and aesthetic heritage as fully as possible to as many as possible, for the enlargement of man’s understanding, control, embellishment, and enjoyment of life. P101

If progress is real despite our whining, it is not because we are born healthier, better, or wiser than infants were in the past, but because we are born to a richer heritage, born on a higher level of that pedestal which the accumulation of knowledge and art raises as the ground and support of our being. The heritage rises, and man rises in proportion as he receives it. P102

[Feel better about studying and paying attention to your history know?]

(**) The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain

The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain

  • Paleolithic people ate no dairy food. Imagine how difficult it would be to milk a wild animal, even if you could somehow manage to catch one.

  • Paleolithic people hardly ever ate cereal grains. For most ancient people, grains were considered starvation food at best.

  • They didn’t salt their food

  • The only refined sugar they ate was honey, when they were lucky enough to find it.

  • Wild, lean animal protein intake was quite high by modern standards, while carbohydrate consumption was much lower [Atkins’ like].

  • All carbs came from nonstarchy wild fruits and vegetables. The fiber intake was much higher than the typical modern diet.

  • Major fats were healthful, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and Omega 3 fats. P10

Scientists found that the people who ate the most fruits and vegetables had the greatest bone mineral densities and the strongest bones… What about calcium?…The main factor that determines calcium loss is yet another kind of balance – acid/base balance. If you diet has high levels of acid, you’ll lose more calcium in your urine; if you eat more alkaline foods, you’ll retain more calcium… Diets rich in fruits and vegetables (these are alkaline foods) significantly reduce urinary calcium loss in a study of 459 men and women… Cereals, dairy products ,legumes, meat, fish, eggs produce net acid loads in the body. The worst offenders are hard cheeses, which are rich sources of calcium. Unless you get enough fruits and vegetables, eating these acid rich foods will actually promote bone loss. P16

Our ancestors spent much of their time outdoors, and they manufactured all the vitamin D they needed from the sun’s natural rays. Today, many of us get insufficient sunlight exposure to synthesize optimal levels of vitamin D… We would all do well to incorporate some of the StoneAge lifestyle and make sure to get some daily sunshine. P28

In Paleolithic times, starchy foods weren’t also salty… Sweet foods were never also fatty. And fatty foods were almost never also starchy. P34 Today we have potato chips, ice cream, and donuts. These are fake foods; not naturally occurring combinations of starch, fat, and sugar.

We can only tolerate a certain amount of protein at a time – about 200 to 300g per day. Too much protein makes us nauseated, causes diarrhea, and eventually can kill us. This is why our ancestors needed to eat fat along with lean meat, or they needed to supplement the lean meat with carbohydrate from plant foods. Early explorers and frontiersmen knew this too. They were painfully aware of the toxic effect of too much lean protein; they called the illness ‘rabbit starvation’… Rabbits and squirrels are 83% protein and 17% fat; a mule deer is 40% protein, 60% fat. If you ate nothing but squirrel, you would rapidly exceed the body’s protein ceiling. On the other hand, if you only had deer to eat, you’d be doing fine. You would not develop protein toxicity… This is why Paleolithic hunters risked their lives hunting larger animals. P40

One of the great dietary myths in the Western world is that whole grains and legumes are healthful. The truth is that these foods are marginal at best… They weren’t part of the Paleo diet. Almost all cereal grains were eaten whole or were so crudely milled that nearly the entire grain remained intact… which meant a more moderate rise in blood sugar level… Even whole wheat bread made from flour ground by steel roller mills does the same thing to your blood [as most processed non-whole grain flours] because the flour particle size is uniformly small – so it’s virtually no different from white flour. P46

During the digestive process, your body breaks down food into its basic components – carbs, fats, proteins – and turns them into energy it can use. To get the energy from the food, the body must spend some of its own energy… In order for the body to obtain energy from protein, it must give up 3 times more energy than it needs for either fat or carbs. What this means is that protein boosts your metabolism and causes you to lose weight more rapidly than the same caloric amounts of fat or carbohydrate… Studies show that a high protein increased total energy expenditures by 12% (220 calories) compared to a calorically matched high carb diet. Think about it. You don’t have to cut calories one bit. You can lose 20 to 30 pounds in a year with no change in caloric quantity of food you eat or even change your exercise habits. P64

Saturday, November 26, 2005

(****) The Nurture Assumption by Judith Harris

I first heard about this theory after reading the Blank Slate by Stephen Pinker, where he dedicates an entire chapter to this topic. I found the arguments compelling and convincing. This book was a landmark, as Judith Harris is not a member of academia, but she’s razor sharp and knows her stuff. The book is enlightening, witty and revealing. Judith lets it all hang out. If you are a parent, this is must on your reading list. If you think your parent’s behavior screwed you up, think again. This book will change the way you think about child rearing and child development, and may help you understand yourself as well.

Always reward children, and they will develop lifelong habits, or will they?
Research in the 1970’s has shown that you can get children to paint lots of pictures simply by rewarding them with candy or gold stars…[However] as soon as they were discontinued, the children stopped painting pictures. They painted fewer pictures, once they were no longer being rewarded [probably because they were painting many solely for the reward!], than children who had never gotten any rewards. P6

Are you turning into your dad? Children will grow up to imitate their parents
The fact is children cannot learn how to behave by imitating their parents, because most of the things they see their parents doing – making messes, bossing other people around, driving cars, lighting matches, coming and going as they please, and lots of other things that look like fun to people who are not allowed to do them – are prohibited to children. From the child’s point of view, socialization in the early years consists mainly of learning that you’re not supposed to behave like your parents. P11 Perhaps you’re turning into your dad, because of the simple fact that you’re 50% of the your dad genetically. Which also means that you’re turning into your mother as well.

The apple falls close to the tree after all
It is possible for heredity to account for 100% of the resemblance between parent and offspring even though it accounts for 50% of the variation among the offspring. Not clear? Let me try again, using an example from another species – a vegetable, species this time. Plant some corn, pick an ear from each plant, taste it,.. and save a cob from each plant to use for seed and next year plant the seeds. You will find that the seeds from the plants that produced sweeter corn grow into plants that also produce, on the avg, sweeter corn – in other words, there will be a correlation between the parent corn’s sweetness and the offspring corn’s sweetness. That correlation is entirely due to heredity: the genes the offspring received from the parent account for 100% of the resemblance between them. But the genes account for only about ½ the variation in the sweetness of the offspring corn, because other factors such as soil, water and sunshine will also play a role… On average pleasant, competent parents tend to have pleasant, competent kids. But that doesn’t prove that parents have any influence – other than genetic – on how their children turn out. P24

Don’t forget to hug and kiss your ugly kids too!
A common generalization says that children who are hugged are more likely to be nice, children that are beaten are more likely to be unpleasant. Turn that statement around and you get one that is equally as plausible: nice children are more likely to be hugged, unpleasant children are more likely to be beaten. Do the hugs cause the children’s niceness, or is the children’s niceness the reason why they are hugged? Or are both true?… In standard socialization studies there is no way to distinguish these alternative explanations, there is no way to tell the causes from the effects. P28

And don’t forget to punish the pretty ones!
Researchers have found that children’s cuteness or homeliness has a measurable effect on how their parents treat them… A mother is, on average, more attentive to her baby if the baby is cute that if the baby is homely (cuteness was rated by independent judges). Although all the babies in this study were well cared for, the cute babies were looked at more, played with more, and given more affection than the homely ones… People are not as nice to homely children as they are to pretty ones. If they do something wrong, they are punished more harshly than pretty ones. If they don’t do anything wrong, people are quicker to think that they did. Homely children and pretty children have different experiences. They grow up in different environments [even in the same house]. P29

Carbon copies
Identical twins reared in the same house are not nearly as alike as you would expect them to be. Given how similar reared apart identical twins are, you probably think that the reared together ones must be as alike as two copies of your annual Christmas letter. In fact, they are no more alike than identical twins separated at infancy and reared in different homes… I am talking about identical twins. These people are so alike in appearance that you have trouble telling them apart, but give them a personality test and they will check off different answers. The correlation of personality traits is only 50% for identical twins reared in the same house [and the same for those separated]. P34 [So what affect, if any, is the shared home environment and parents having on these twins then? It seems that you will become different, but only just so, whether you live with your identical sibling or not.] Any differences between [identical twins] have to be environmental [since they share 100% of the same genes]. The similarities can be genetic, environmental or a combination of the two. P35

Mom and Dad and the home aren’t so critical after all
Are adopted children more like their adoptive parents or more like their biological parents? People who share genes should be more alike than people who don’t, and people who shared a childhood environment should be more alike. From these 2 premises we can generate predictions. If risibility is entirely genetic, we would expect to find that identical twins are very similar and that it doesn’t make any difference whether they were reared together or apart. If risibility is entirely environmental, we would expect to find that reared-together twins, siblings, and adoptive siblings are equally alike in risibility. Finally, if risibility is due to a combination of heredity and environment – certainly the best bet – we’d expect to find that people who share genes are somewhat alike, people who were reared in the same house are somewhat alike, and people who share both genes and environment are the most alike. Sounds logical? Guess again… What we actually found is None of the Above… People who share genes are more alike in personality than people who don’t [so the notion that personality is partially genetic has been proven]. It was the premise about sharing an environment that didn’t seem to be working properly. Study after study was showing that pairs of people who grew up in the same home were not noticeably more alike than pairs who grew up in different homes. P35-6

More evidence
The data showed that growing up in the same home, being reared by the same parents, had little or no effect on the adult personalities of siblings. Reared together siblings are alike in personality only to the degree that they are alike genetically… There are no leftover similarities for the shared environment to explain… For IQ as for personality, the correlation between adult adoptees reared in the same home hovers around zero. P37

Even more evidence – are you seeing a pattern yet?
[From landmark 1983 paper by Eleanor Macoby and John Martin] The findings imply strongly that there is very little impact of the physical environment that parents provide for children and very little impact of parental characteristics that must be essentially the same for all children in a family: for example education, or the quality of the relationship between the spouses. Indeed, the implications are either that parental behaviors have no effect, or that the only effective aspects of parenting must vary greatly from one child to the other within the same family. P38

Regarding that last statement about ‘aspects of parenting must vary greatly’. Does it make any sense to say that what matters is whether Mom loved you best, if it doesn’t matter whether Mom was home or at work, married or single, gay or straight? P52

No reason to have nice, tidy, big house full of art and healthy food after all. Poor fat slobs rejoice!
In other words, most of the things that were believed to have important effects on children turn out not to have important effects on them. If the parents work or don’t work, read or don’t read, drink or don’t drink, fight or don’t fight, stay married or don’t stay married – all these ‘must be essentially the same for all children in a family’ and therefore all appear to have very little impact on the children [lasting impacts on their personalities and intelligence, not their present moods or feelings!] Similarly, if the physical environment of the home is an apartment or a farmhouse, spacious or crowded, messy or tidy, full of art and tofu or auto parts and twinkies – all these too, ‘must be essentially the same for all children in a family’ and therefore appear to have ‘very little impact’. P39

You were always Mom’s favorite!
How do we know that Mom didn’t love you best because you were better to begin with? Are you smart because you were labeled the brain or were you labeled because you were smart? If parents treat each of their children differently, are they responding to the differences among their children or are they causing them?… We need to find a reason why a parent might behave differently toward 2 children that can’t be attributed to genetic differences between them. [Something like birth order for example.] p40

First borns are conservative, and Second borns are rebellious, everyone knows that!
A huge study of 7,582 college age residents of Zurich were given a series of 12 personality trait tests… Among the subjects coming from 2 child families, there were no significant differences between the 1st and 2nd born in any of the measured personality traits… The researchers, Cecile Ernst and Jules Angst, also reviewed all birth orderb studies from 1946 to 1980 published anywhere in the world. First of all, they found most of the studies were irredeemably flawed. In most cases the researchers failed to take into account differences in family size and socioeconomic status. [As for the ones that were left?] What did they find? No consistent birth order effects personality. P42-3 [So birth order makes no difference on your personality, and the nurture assumption takes another hit.]

Yeah, but I know of someone whose parents…
Of course, if we look at one particular person [yourself, someone you know perhaps], it’s easy to come up with a story about how the home environment (the critical demanding mother, the ineffectual father) shaped the child’s personality and produced the messed up grownup we see today. That kind of post-hoc speculation – unprovable – is the stock in trade of biographers [and people who dispute this theory]. P46

What about parenting style? Can that affect your kids personality?
In 1967, Diana Baumrind defined 3 contrasting styles of parenting – Authoritarian, Permissive and Authoritative. I have always found these terms confusing, so I will call them Too Hard, Too Soft and Just Right…Middle class American of European descent try to use the Just Right parenting style, because that is the style currently approved by their culture. If they don’t use it, it’s because they have problems or the kid does. If they have problems, it could be because they have disadvantageous personality characteristics that they can pass on to their kids genetically. If the kid has problems – a difficult temperament for example, the Just Right style might not work and the parents may switch to the Too Hard method. So among European-Americans, parents who use a Too Hard style are more likely to be the ones with problem kids. This is exactly what researchers find. In other ethnic groups – notably Asian and African Americans – cultural norms differ. Chinese Americans use the Too Hard style not because their kids are difficult, but because that’s the style favored by their culture. Among Asian and African Americans, therefore, parents who use a Too Hard style should not be more likely to have problem kids. Again, this is exactly what the researchers find. P49 [So the style doesn’t matter nor affect your child’s personality.]

What about day-care? Isn’t it much better to have Mom spend time with you?
Do infants suffer long term detriments from early nonmaternal care? Recent studies have demonstrated that the answer is no. Even the variation in quality of care makes less difference than you might think: ‘The surprising conclusion from the research is that variation in the quality of care proves to have little or no impact on most children’s development.’ P50

Every child should be raised by a mother and a father, not just a single mother.
A recent study looked at 3 kinds of families that are without a biological father – single mothers, lesbian mothers, and those children created by artificial insemination. The children of these mothers were well adjusted and well behaved – in fact, their adjustment was above average and the researchers found no differences among them. The ones without fathers were doing as well as the ones with fathers. P51

Is your life like a fairy tale or a movie?
Like Cinderella, most children have at least two distinct environments: home and the world outside home. Each has its own rules of behavior, its own punishments and payoffs… Children – even preschoolers – are remarkably good at switching from one personality to another. Perhaps they can do this more easily than older people. Have you ever listened to a couple of 4 year olds playing house [including all the various roles: Mommy, baby, big sister, director, producer, screenwriter]? P58

Once a baby always a baby. Try the mouse that roared.
There was no evidence of individual differences in sibling interactions carrying over into peer interactions…Even the 2nd born child, who has experienced years in a subordinate role with an older sibling, can step into a dominant role with a peer. P60

First, do no harm. Good advice not only for doctors, but for parents as well.
Some psychologists believe that severe abuse in childhood can lead to multiple personality disorder… The connections between the mental tanks [where each child has at least 2 – home and the world outside home] are broken, or never get formed, and each personality accumulates its own memories and fails to share them with the others. [This is just a theory.] p67

And you think you had it bad as a kid?
In parts of the world where people still live in traditional ways, no [language] lessons are given and parents generally do very little conversing with their babies and toddlers – they consider learning the language the child’s job, not the parents’… This is not unreasonable. After all, young children plainly can’t understand a word you say. So why waste your breath in soliloquies? P69

There once was this old Greek king…
There is an old Greek story about a king who wanted to know what language children would speak if left to their own devices [with no one to speak with them and no speech to hear.] Would it shock you to learn that in the US there are 1000s of children being reared like that? No it is not some [sadistic] experiment. These are babies born to profoundly deaf parents… 90% of these babies have normal hearing. These babies miss out on some of the experiences we consider crucial to normal development. No one comes running when they scream in terror or in pain. No one encourages their coos or makes a big deal out their mamas and dadas… Despite the fact that they didn’t learn any language from their parents, they became fluent speakers of English. P70

The nail that sticks up, is hammered the hardest.
The motivation to keep the home life from leaking out is stronger than the motivation to keep the outside world from leaking in, and it is especially strong in those who have an inkling that their homes might be abnormal in some way. If their mother drinks, their parents throw things at each other, or their father is an invalid, kids don’t want anyone to know about it. The child of immigrants might avoid inviting friends over to play. The kid whose parents are wealthier than their neighbors may be as anxious to keep it a secret as the kid whose parents are poorer: what they hate is being different from their peers. P71

Spy vs Spy
Getting information from friends and classmates can be tricky. Mutual efforts by a pair of children to find out about the other’s family often fail because both children fear they have something to hide… But children have a clever way of getting around this problem: they play House. In the game, children can cooperatively develop an idea of what a normal family is like and at the same time limit their risks. P71

Out of sight, out of mind
You are right that parents have effects on their children, but what evidence do you have that these effects persist when the parents aren’t around? The child who acts obnoxious in the presence of her parents may be demure enough before her classmates and teachers… If observations are made outside the home, away from parents, the differences between the offspring of divorced and nondivorced parents get much smaller or go away entirely. P75

A classic case of child abuse if they ever saw one.
Until quite recently in evolutionary time our ancestors made their living by hunting and gathering, and a hunter-gatherer baby was probably never left alone unless it was being abandoned… Even today, babies in most parts of the world sleep in the same room, often in the same bed, with their mothers… Mayan mothers when told that US babies are commonly put to bed in a separate room were appalled… They regarded the practice as tantamount to child neglect. P81

Gosh, its great to have you back from the office so soon Dad.
Things got better for European and American children during the 19th century. When men began to work at jobs away from the home for much of the day, the home became a private place – a haven from the world – instead of a place of business. The family came to be seen as a unit held together by mutual affection rather than by economic considerations… With men working outside the home, women were increasingly seen as having the role of attending to the family’s needs. P83

The 2 of you get along or else! Don’t make come down and straighten things out!
Parents in our society try so hard to get their children to love each other and what they get is constant squabbling. Parents in traditional societies make no effort to get their children to love each other and it happens as a matter of course. There are 2 reasons for this: 1st in traditional societies there isn’t much to fight over. The custom of giving all the attention to the baby is hard on the child who has just been deposed, but it means that all the children (but the baby) are in the same boat. They don’t compete for the parents attention because it doesn’t work. Nor do they compete for toys, because there aren’t any. They play with sticks and pebbles and leaves, and there are plenty of those to go around. 2nd, it is natural for older children to dominate younger ones. Because non-traditional parents feel that their children should be equal, they try to keep the older one from dominating the younger one, and as a consequence the older ends up resenting the younger one. Only by putting their might on the young one’s side can parents prevent domination by the elder, and this makes it look, to the elder, like the parents are favoring the younger one. P93

Can’t we all just get along? No, we can’t really.
Many people believe that children have to be taught how to hate… Hating the members of other groups is part of human and chimpanzee nature. What children have to be taught is how not to hate. We are born xenophobic. P112

What on earth would make that child act that way?
I can think of 4 reasons why it would not be in an offspring’s best long term interests to allow itself to be overly influenced by its parents.
  1. A predisposition to only learn from its parents would prevent the offspring from picking up useful innovations introduced by other members of its community. Since young animals are more likely to come up with useful innovations it is to an offspring’s advantage to learn from its peers as well as from its elders. What it learns from its peers is also likely to be more timely and better suited to the current conditions.

  2. If parents had the power to influence their children by environmental means as well as genetically, the children would be too similar to the parents and too similar too each other…

  3. It wouldn’t make evolutionary sense to design children to be programmed by their parents because children can’t count on having parents… Among the Yanomamo of the Amazon, the likelihood that a child of ten will still be living with both biological parents is only 33%… If children required parents in order to learn what they have to learn [like many other mammals], losing a parent would have been a death sentence.

  4. What’s best for the parents isn’t necessarily best for the children. Take for example weaning. A mother may want to wean her child in order to get ready for the next baby, but the child wants to be nursed as long as possible… Human children often begin to act babyish again after a younger sibling is born [my daughter was 95% potty trained when our second daughter was born. She was in diapers for over 6 months after the birth.] p120

Why? I’ll tell you why, because I said so. That’s why.
The offspring’s best policy is to watch out for its own interests while trying to remain on good terms with its parents… When the parent imposes an arbitrary system of reinforcement in order to manipulate the offspring into acting against its own best interests, natural selection will favor offspring that resist such schedules of reinforcement. P121 So you’re kids have Charles Darwin on their side when they disagree with you.

Remember that one day you won’t be here for them.
The lives of hunter gatherer children depended more on their group’s survival than on their parents’, because even if their parents died they had a chance of surviving if their group did. Their best hope of success was to become a valuable group member as quickly and convincingly as possible… Their future prospects depended, not on making their parents love them, but on getting along with the other members of the group – in particular, the members of their own generation, the people with whom they would spend the rest of their lives. P122 And the people with whom they would have to compete with for resources and mates.

You don’t need language to think
The Whorfian hypothesis [that the way we cut up the world into categories is entirely arbitrary, and that pinning a name on a category is what causes our brains to pigeonhole things.] predicts that babies and animals can’t categorize because they don’t have words for the categories. This prediction has been soundly disconfirmed. Pigeonholing turns out to be so easy that even a pigeon can do it… A pigeon taught to peck at one button when shown a picture of a cow, another when shown a picture of a car, can apply this training to cows and cars it never saw before. P130

Big hairy, bulging monsters!
Children don’t perceive adults as people like themselves, not if there are any other children around to make the distinction clear. To a child, an adult might as well be a member of another species. Grownups know everything, and can do whatever they want. Their bodies are enormously big and strong and hairy, and they bulge out in add places… Different creatures entirely. P144

Just because he’s nice to you, don’t doesn’t mean he’s nice to me.
The one convincing result that has come out of the attachment research is that children’s relationships are, to a large extent, independent of each other. Toddlers who are securely attached to their mothers are not necessarily securely attached to their fathers, and vice versa. Children who are securely attached to their caregivers at the day care center are not necessarily securely attached to their mothers, and vice versa. Security attachment does not reside in the child, it resides in the child’s relationships. The child’s mind holds not just one working model, but many of them – one for each relationship. P152

Monkey see, monkey do
Monkeys reared with mothers but without peers are happy enough in infancy but have serious problems later on, when they are caged with other monkeys… The peerless ones show no disposition to play together, and are abnormal in their social behavior. P154

The way we were
The belief in playmates is held around the world. But before societies became industrialized and urbanized it was rare for a young child to have others of the same age to play with. In tribal and small villages, the young child graduates from her mother’s lap into a play group of children with a range of ages, and she starts off as the youngest one in the goup… If there are enough children in the vicinity, the older ones go off and form their own groups… The older children [many of them related to each other as siblings, cousins, young uncles and aunts] are responsible for the younger ones – it is they, to a large extent, who teach the younger ones how to behave and how to play the local games. Their instruction is not gentle – teasing and ridicule are prevalent, as is the use of force – and it is not based on reasoning… And yet fights and serious aggression are uncommon… Perhaps children fight more when adults are present because they know they can count on the adults to stop them… Children in traditional societies also learn language in the play group. They don’t learn it from their parents because their parents don’t talk to them much. Older children simplify their speech a bit when talking to younger ones, but they don’t provide the kind of language instruction that parents give their toddlers in our society – the question asking, the patient rephrasing of the learner’s poorly phrased statement, the smile and pat when is said well… [Nevertheless] they all become competent users of the language that is spoken in their community. And they all become socialized. P160

When children imitate their parents [or adults] they don’t do it blindly: they are careful about it. They do it only when they think the parent is behaving normally, the way other people in their society behave. They become conscious of such things at a surprisingly early age. P164

Children’s groups operate by the majority rules rule: whoever comes to the group with behavior that is different from the majority is the one who has to change… For children, socialization is largely an unconscious process. P169

Identification with a group and acceptance or rejection by the group, do leave permanent marks on the personality… Researchers found that peer acceptance or rejection was associated with ‘overall life status adjustment’ in adulthood; having or not having a friend in grade school was not. P171

The fancier aspects of human groupness [a kid thinking of herself as a ‘kid’ and thinking of herself as a ‘girl’] do not come into play until middle childhood – the elementary school years. That is when the most important things happen. It is when children get socialized for keeps and when permanent changes are made in their personalities… During middle childhood, children become more alike to their peers of the same sex. They learn how to behave in public – to not hit (girls) or not cry (boys), to act polite to grownups (girls) but not too polite (boys)… The new behaviors become habitual – internalized – and eventually part of their public personality. It is the personality that the child adopts when they are not at home. It is the one that will develop into the adult personality. P176

Which children do the other members of the group pay attention to? Which ones do they look at when they’re not sure what to do? Someone who is high in the attention structure has privileges only dreamed of by the lower downs. He or she can be an innovator. The penalties for being different are mainly imposed on those in the middle and lower ranks of the attention structure. Those on top don’t have to imitate anyone: they’re the imitates. P178

Children who are unpopular with their peers tend to have low self-esteem, and I think the feelings of insecurity never go away entirely – they last a lifetime. You have been tried by a jury of your peers and you have been found wanting. You never get over that. P179

Short children, especially boys, tend to have low status among their peers. There is no reason, other than size, why these children should be rejected by their peers, and parents are more protective of smaller children. And yet short children are considerably more likely than tall ones to suffer from low self esteem and a host of other psychological problems… A researcher followed 2 groups of boys – slow and fast maturers – into adulthood. The slow maturers were small for their age growing up, but they eventually caught up; as adults they were only a ½ inch shorter on average. But the difference in personality persisted. The early maturers tended to be poised and self-confident. The late maturers were less sure of themselves, more prone to touchiness and attention seeking… p180

In parts of the world where mixed age play groups still exist, issues of size and status aren’t so important. A child starts out being the youngest and smallest, and gradually moves up in the ranks… Children in urbanized societies don’t get to run this gamut of experience. At home they remain the oldest/youngest among their siblings. In school, if they are lucky, at the top of the totem pole, or unlucky, at the bottom. P180

Somewhere around the age of 7 or 8, children start comparing themselves to their peers in a way they hadn’t done before. Ask a bunch of little boys in nursery school “Who’s the toughest boy?” and they’ll all jump up and shout ‘Me! Me!’. At 8 they are wiser. They’ll point to the biggest boy in the room. P180

Fortunately we get to choose which group to compare ourselves to. A 4th grader can consider himself tough if he’s tougher than most of the other 4th graders. He doesn’t have to compare himself to the 5th graders. If he discovers that he is not the toughest in 4th grade, there are plenty of other niches he can try out for. Class clown for example. Middle childhood is when children get typecast into roles that might last them the rest of their lives. They choose or get nominated or are forced into them by others. When it happens the characteristics a child starts out with tend to become exaggerated. The funny child gets funnier, the brainy child gets brainer. P181

Researchers have found that children’s attitudes toward schoolwork change if they switch from one group to another over the course of a school year. If a child moves into a clique of academic achievers, her attitude toward schoolwork is likely to improve; if she moves out of it, her attitude gets worse… The changes measured couldn’t have been due to changes in intelligence or parent’s attitudes, since neither is likely to reverse direction over the course of a single school year. P182

When an immigrants’ child joins a peer group of ordinary non-ethnic Americans, the parents’ culture is lost very quickly. The old culture is lost in a single generation as soon as a family moves away from the Chinatown or Latino neighborhood to an area where they are no longer surrounded by people of the same national background. What makes this appear gradual [to sociologists] is that families don’t all move away at the same time. Some go as soon as they can afford to, others wait a generation or two… The last aspects of the old culture to disappear are the things that are done only at home. Styles of cooking may survive for several generations. Children do not ordinarily learn cook in the presence of their peers. P191

When in Rome, do as the Romans.
For children it’s more than that: when in Rome, they become Romans. Even if their parents happen to be British or Chinese. When the culture outside the home differs from the culture inside it, the outside culture wins. P193

Hear no evil…
What makes deaf culture unique is that it can’t be passed down from the parents to children. A large majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents who know nothing about the world of the Deaf. And a large majority of the children born to deaf parents can hear, and these children become members of the hearing world. And yet the Deaf have a robust culture… They have their own rules of behavior, their own beliefs and attitudes. The profoundly deaf children of hearing parents get their behaviors and beliefs in the same place they get their language: in the schools for deaf children. Where else could they get them? Not from their homes…p194

You’ve been sentenced to serve 18 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
A child’s goal is not to become a successful adult, any more than a prisoner’s goal is to become a successful guard. A child’s goal is to be a successful child… Within a prison there are 2 different social categories: prisoners and guards… Because the guards have power over them, prisoners try to keep on reasonably good terms with their guards. But what really matters to most the prisoners is how they are regarded by fellow prisoners. They are aware that, sooner or later, they will probably become free people like the guards. But that is in the hazy future. Right now they are involved with the day to day job of getting along as a prisoner… Like other groups, prisoners have their culture – a culture that persists over time even though individuals keep coming and going… How do prisoners learn to be prisoners? One way is by making mistakes: the guards will punish them if they break any of the guard’s rules, and other prisoners will mock or shun or attack them if they break any of the prisoner’s rules. But for those who are observant and keep on their toes, it is possible to become a successful prisoner without ever getting negative feedback: they can learn by watching others. They cannot learn [the culture] by imitating the guards, but they can learn by imitating other prisoners. Let me hasten to add that childhood differs from imprisonment in important ways. Most children lead pleasanter and happier lives than prisoners. And children love many of the people who watch over them, and their feelings are reciprocated. P198

Wanna see my stash?
There is a rule in most nursery schools against bringing toys or treats from home… The children attempted to evade this rule by bringing small objects that they could conceal in their pockets… While playing, a child often would show his ‘stashed loot’ to a playmate and carefully share the forbidden object w/o catching the teacher’s attention… Showing the hidden object turned an act of personal defiance into an expression of groupness – us kids against the grownups – and made if much more fun. Mocking or evading adult authority seem to be universal in children’s groups. Each new generation of kids discovers the strategies on its own, but some traditions are passed along from older kids…

Same as it ever was
If present day school children were wafted back to any previous century they would probably find themselves more at home with the games being played than with any other social custom. Researchers found English schoolchildren still playing games that date back to Roman times. P200

Monkey see, monkey do
Cultures can be changed or formed from scratch, in a single generation. Young creatures are more likely than older ones to be innovators and to be receptive to new ideas. It was a 4 year old female Japanese macaque monkey named Imo who invented a new way of separating grains of wheat from sand. Imo threw the wheat into the ocean: it floated, the sand sank. Imo’s playmates copied her and soon the whole troop – all but its oldest members – had learned to cast their wheat upon the water. Another cultural innovation followed, begun a by 2 year old female named Ego. Ego introduced swimming to her peer group, and before long all the young monkeys were splashing in the surf and diving underwater for seaweed. Most of the adults didn’t cotton to this new sport, but little by little they died off, and swimming in the ocean became part of the culture these Japanese macaques. P202

Keep a stiff upper lip old chap
Upper class British men closely resembled – in behavior, attitudes and accent – their fathers. And yet their fathers had practically nothing to do with their upbringing. The rule that children should be seen but not heard wasn’t enough for the British. ‘The true Britishman, said Sir Anthony Glyn, feels that children should not be seen either. A lecture each holiday on fortitude, fitness and trying hard at games is almost all the parental contact needed.’… At the prep schools to which British aristocrats send their sons, there is a children’s culture that is passed down… Before the invention of TV the kids at those schools had little contact with the adult culture; what went on in the world outside the school had little impact on them… Each new cohort of kids was much like the last one; the culture continued almost unchanged while generations of kids passed through it. The reason the sons were so much like their fathers was that they had both been socialized in the same way and in the same place. The sons took their along with them as they grew up, just as their fathers had before them. P204 Sir Glyn’s boring holiday lectures were all for naught I’m afraid.

Peer pressure, parental style.
Parents don’t like to be different from their friends and neighbors in the way they rear their kids. They worry about it. And the kids sense this vulnerability and are quick to put it to their advantage. “None of the other kids have to phone home.” “All the other guys are getting new Nikes.” Though parents scoff at these transparent ploys, they are not completely immune to them… The reason parents are doing this terrible [female genital mutilation] to their daughter – jeopardizing her life and health, her ability to have children – is that everyone else is doing it. Their friends and their neighbors, their siblings and cousins, are doing the same to their daughters. They risk the scorn of all these people if they don’t go along with the practice. They risk being stuck with a daughter whom no one will marry because, according to their culture, nice girls don’t have clitorises… People rear their children the way their friends and neighbors are doing it, not the way their parents did it, and this is true not only in media-ridden societies like our own [Don’t believe it, did you ever have a ‘play date’ growing up? Did you walk to school, elementary school? Try letting your kid do that today without getting calls from child protective services.] When anthropologists studied a primitive African tribe, their custom was to force-feed millet gruel to an infant by holding its nose so that it would have suck in the stuff in order to take a breath. When the tribes were revisited 20 years later, this ‘risky and wasteful way of feeding’ was no longer being used – all the mothers had switched to feeding millet gruel out of plastic bottles with rubber nipples… P207

Puzzled in New Jersey
In some African-American communities it has been so long since anyone nursed a baby that members of the younger generation are sometimes unaware that it is possible to feed a baby that way. A NJ director for helping economically disadvantaged mothers reported “I’ve had women say to me, ‘Oh, you mean you can actually get milk out of there?’”p208

TV – the village idiot.
In traditional societies there is no privacy and children are exposed from infancy on to aspects of life that we, in developed societies, try to protect them from: birth and death, gore and gossip, sex and violence. There is, I assure you, as much sex and violence in traditional societies as there is in our own. The difference is that in our own society most real-life scenes of sex and violence take place behind closed doors. So instead of learning about such things by watching their neighbors, today’s children watch TV. TV has become their window on society, their village square… Preventing an individual child from watching TV would not protect that child against its influence, because TV’s impact is not on the individual child – it is on the group. P211

The fact that children are like parents isn’t informative: it could be heredity, it could be environment, who knows? But the fact that children are like their friends’ parents is very informative: it can only be environment. And since most kids don’t spend a whole lot of time with their friends’ parents, the environmental influence must be coming to them by way of their friends. It is delivered by the peer group. P212

The most important years for group socialization are the years of 6 to 12. During that time, children in our society spend much of their free time with peers of their own sex. They are socialized not just as children but as girls and boys. This gendered socialization is not simply a consequence of spending time with other members of one’s sex or even of liking the members of one’s sex better: it is a consequence of self-categorization. A girl categorizes herself as a girl, and she gets her idea about how to behave from the data she and her group have collected. They’ve been collecting the data since the day they were born. P226

Children may categorize themselves as members of groups that reject them. You don’t have to be liked by the members of your social category in order to feel that you are one of them. You don’t even have to like them. [Think of those folks who are anatomically male, but feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body. Their social category is not the other boys, but rather the girls. And you really can’t expect them to be welcomed with open arms into the girl’s group, can you?] p228

Boys will be boys. But why?
3 year olds in a lab strewn with toys were mixed into groups. Girls and boys were equally friendly when paired with a member of their own sex, but a disquieting asymmetry appeared when a girl was paired with a boy. The girl instead of playing with her partner often became the onlooker. ‘Girls frequently stood on the sidelines and let the boys monopolize the toys.’… These things are happening at an age when there is hardly any difference in size or strength between the avg girl and avg boy. Perhaps this is why little girls start avoiding little boys: it is not as much fun to play with people who don’t listen to your suggestions and who grab your toys without even asking. But soon little boys are also avoiding little girls, perhaps because it is more fun to play with people who want to do exciting things rather than dumb things like changing dolls’ diapers. P229

Were you tomboy too?
It is unusual for a girl to be accepted into a boy’s game. Most of the girls who play games with boys do it in the neighborhood play groups, not in school. Neighborhoods offer fewer potential companions than schoolyards, so the children can’t be as selective; this provides a handy excuse for the children who don’t want to be as selective. In any event, neighborhood play groups often contain both sexes and a range of ages. The mixture of sexes is what makes it possible for so many women – more than 50% - to say that they were tomboys in their youth and played with boys. P230

When the group distinctions are salient, hostility between groups is most likely to emerge. Pressures on children to avoid showing any signs of friendliness to members of the opposite sex are most intense in the parts of the school where adults keep a low profile… Adult influence increases the amount of friendly interaction. It is the kids themselves, not the grownups, who initiate and maintain the segregation of the sexes. P230

I think groupness is stronger in males for evolutionary reason: it is the males – larger and more muscular than females, able to run faster, and freer in adulthood to take physical risks because they don’t get pregnant and don’t have babies to lug around – who join their fellows to defend the group and to launch attacks on other groups. Intergroup warfare was part of the environment in which our species evolved, and anything that gave us an edge over our adversaries was worth a bit of extra work for that little Y chromosome. The games boys like to play – the world over – are very good preparation for warfare. P231

Boy’s groups tend to be hierarchical. There is a leader and he tells the others what to do. Boys vie with each other for status. They refrain from showing weakness. They don’t ask for directions because they don’t want anyone to know they’re lost. Girl’s relationships tend to be close and exclusive, though not necessarily lasting. Girls are less likely to show hostility directly; they get back at their enemies by attempting to turn friends against them. Leadership in a girl’s group has its hazards: it can get you a reputation for being bossy. Girls don’t believe in bossing their friends around – they believe in cooperation and taking turns. P234

Girls and boys are more alike in behavior in places where they are too few in number to form separate groups, because in those places they categorize themselves as kids. They are alike because the are socialized in the same peer group. The exaggerated sex differences we see today among children in our own society may indeed be a creation of our culture: it was the invention of agriculture, only 10,000 years ago, that made it possible for us to provide children with so many potential playmates. A bit of advice to parents who want to rear androgynous children: join a nomadic hunter gatherer group. P236

2 things that affect how a person feels about herself are status and mood. If her status in her group is low and there is nothing she can do to improve it, her self-esteem goes down. Her self-esteem also goes down if she’s depressed. From early adolescence on, females are twice as likely as males to become clinically depressed. P238

To children in school, the most important people in the classroom are the other children. It is their status among their peers that matters most to them – that makes the schoolday tolerable or turns it into a living hell. A large part of the teacher’s power resides in her ability to put individual children in the spotlight. She can, if she is so inclined, hold up a child to public ridicule or public envy. But a teacher can much more than that… Teachers have power and responsibility because they are in control of an entire group of children. They can influence the attitudes and behaviors of the entire group. And they exert this influence where it is likely to have long-term effects: in the world outside the home, the world where children will spend their adult lives. P241

The kids who have a poor attitude toward school simply do not do as much brainwork as the kids who think school is important. They don’t have a poor attitude toward themselves – just toward school. They don’t have, as a rule, low self-esteem. Self-esteem is a function of status within the group. People judge themselves on the basis of how they compare with the other members of their own group. P243

American children tend to learn more in classrooms that have fewer children. The reason may be that it is easier for the teacher to make a smaller class a united group. The kids are less likely to divide up into contrasting groups with contrasting attitudes toward schoolwork if there aren’t very many of them. P249

Black kids who do well academically are pressured by their peers not to work so hard. They are failing to conform to the norms of their group: they are ‘acting white’. These kids do not get their anti-school attitudes from their parents. Parents of all racial and ethnic groups think education is important and hold high expectations for their children’s academic success… German researchers found no difference in IQ between children of white fathers and black fathers who were US service men, and who had German (white of course) mothers. These were black kids who couldn’t have a group of their own because there weren’t enough of them in any one school. They may have been rejected by their white schoolmates, but evidently that didn’t give them the idea that reading is unimportant or that school sucks. P250-1

In contexts where gender is less salient, girls and women do better in science and math. Women’s colleges produce a disproportionate number of outstanding female scientists. The women at these colleges live in the same society as the rest of us, but they are less likely to categorize themselves as women and less likely to contrast themselves with men. P252

Most programs like HeadStart have only temporary effects on the children, and some have no measurable effects at all. Interestingly enough, the ones that have no measurable effects tend to all be those that try to change the parents’ behavior (they may however reduce the incidence of child abuse). But they have no noticeable effect on how the children behave when they are not home or on how they do in school. The programs that get the parents involved produce no better results than the ones that leave the parents out. This is just what group socialization theory would predict. P253

Bilingual programs have been, in the words of one knowledgeable critic ‘a dismal failure’. Group socialization theory can explain why these programs fail. They fail because they create a group of children with different norms – norms that permit them not to speak English, or not to speak it well. The fact that their teachers might speak grammatical, unaccented English is not enough. In the schools for the deaf, it’s not the teachers who cause the children with a good bit of hearing to stop talking. Most of the teachers in those schools can hear. P256

A child born to college educated parents is going to have a view of the relevance of education – of the normalness of spending the 1st quarter of your life working your butt off in school – than one born to high school dropouts. The children will bring these attitudes with them to the peer group and if their attitudes are shared by the majority of their peers they will retain them. The atmosphere in the classroom is likely to be pro-reading in a school that serves homogeneous neighborhood where all the homes are full of books. It’s likely to be, so what? Who cares? In a school that serves both kinds of neighborhoods it is likely that the children split up into groups with contrasting cultures [This happened at my HS. A magnet school for gifted children (mainly from upper middle class, college educated parents) collocated on an inner city campus with lower income students.] And now perhaps you can see why it might not work to send a large number of kids from low-income neighborhoods to a private or parochial school. They might form a group of their won and retain the attitudes and behaviors they brought with them to the school. p260

The neighborhood environment has effects during childhood because primary schools tend to be small and to serve homogeneous populations. One of the reasons these effects fade in adolescence is that high schools tend to be large. Even if the population it serves is homogeneous, the larger enrollment permits the students to form more social categories and to divide up in more ways… Once these groups form, whatever characteristics they started out with are exaggerated by group contrast effects. Group contrast effects work like a teeter totter: when someone goes up, someone else goes down. The avg outcome is worse than neutral because it’s so much easier to go down than up. Once kids have split up into groups it is extremely difficult to put them back together again. It’s better to discourage them from splitting up in the first place… One way to do this is to make them as homogeneous as possible. That is why girls do better in math and science in all-girl schools, and why all black colleges put out a disproportionate number of the nation’s talented black scientists and mathematicians. It is why school uniforms work. I would be very interested in the outcome of an experiment to put primary school girls and boys into identical unisex uniforms. Another way is to create new groups that cross cut the other ones. It means giving kids harmless ways to split up – classroom1 vs. classroom 2 instead of girls vs. boys, poor vs. rich, smart vs. dumb, etc… If a child can’t categorize herself as a girl, or a dummy, or poor, she might do so simply as a member of classroom 1. If all else fails, a surefire way to uniting people is to provide them with a common enemy. P263

I believe a teacher’s job is not to emphasize the cultural differences among the students (that can be done at home by the parents) but to downplay them. A teacher’s job is to unite students by giving them a common goal. P263

Human chidren have a peculiar pattern of growth that is not seen in most other mammals. They grow very rapidly in the 1st 3 years, and then growth slows down, and remains slow for about a decade… It as though nature is trying to keep children children for as long as possible, and then as soon as the purposes of childhood have been fulfilled, propel them into adulthood as rapidly as possible [via adolescence], thus shortening the period of uncertainty in which they are neither fish nor fowl. P271

Evolution provided us with 2 reason to love our young children: because they carry our genes and because they’re little and cute. Evolution gave us only 1 reason to love our teenage children: because they carry our genes. Once they balloon to adult size and their sweat gets that gamy smell – adolescents no longer evoke our nurturing instinct. P273

When teenagers have an age group of their own, hostility between teenagers and adults can emerge. Does emerge. It is mutual. The hostility is most visible when groupness is salient, because it is groupness that causes it. When groupness is not salient, it is perfectly possible for teenagers to have warm relationships with adults. Now you can see why teenagers are so annoyed when adults take over their styles of dress or speech – and why they are forced to invent new ones. They have attained adult size and shape, but they don’t want to be mistaken for grownups. They need ways of signaling their group identity and loyalty to the other members of their group… The unspoken question that teenagers are constantly asking each other is: Are you one of us or one of them? Prove it by showing you don’t care about their rules. Prove it by doing something – smoke a joint, get a tattoo, get a hole through your nose is even better – that will mark you irrevocably as one of us. P273

Children are not the changers of culture: they are still learning the ropes and are not sufficiently independent. Adults are not changers of culture: they are maintainers of the status quo. The changers of culture are people in their teens and 20’s who have an age group of their own. Groupness motivates them to be different from the generation of their parents… They adopt different behaviors and philosophies; they invent new words and adornments. Indeed many of these are not improvements. P275

Kids are often forced together into social groups they would rather not belong to. No one chooses to be a brain. The kids pinned down with that label are those who are not athletic or popular enough to get into one of the groups that have higher status. Perhaps braininess is not an asset because kids who do well in school are seen as turncoats: too much under the influence of them, the parents and the teachers.

The kids in adolescent peer groups are similar to begin with; groupness causes them to become more similar to each other and to contrast themselves with the members of other groups. The brains get brainier, the nerds get nerdier, and the delinquents get into real trouble. P278

Trouble is far more likely to occur when teenagers become members of groups with goals and values very different from those of their parents. The teenager who gets in with the ‘bad crowd’ is not going to have a very serene home life. Teenagers who are members of nice peer groups tend to get along well with their parents. Psychologists use this as evidence of parental influence- that parents who use the right kind of child rearing style have nice kids, and parents that use the wrong style have teenagers that are not influenced by them [but is it really?] Perhaps, the correct view is that both groups of teenagers are equally influenced by their peers, [and the teenager’s behavior is what is influencing the parents to get along or not get along.] p279

Up in smoke.
Research has shown that the best predictor of whether a teenager will become a smoker is whether her friends smoke. This is a better predictor than whether her parents smoke. Teenagers who smoke are also more likely to engage other kinds of ‘problem behavior’: to drink, to use illegal drugs, to become sexually active at an early age, to cut classes, to dropout, to break laws. They belong to peer groups in which such behaviors are considered normal. P281

Psychologist: You should be kind to Johnny. He comes from a broken home.
Teacher: I’m not surprised. Johnny could break any home.
Children who are obnoxious at home are not necessarily obnoxious outside the home. Johnny may be obnoxious everywhere he goes, but fortunately such kids are uncommon…because the social context within the home, where the rearing goes on, is very different from the social context outside the home, where the socializing goes on. P296

Care for a rotten Danish?
The increase in criminality among Danish adoptees reared in criminal homes was found only for a minority of the subjects in the study: those who grew up in or around Copenhagen. In small towns and rural areas, an adoptee reared in a criminal home was no more likely to become a criminal than one reared by honest adoptive parents. It wasn’t the criminal adoptive parents who made the biological son of criminals into a criminal: it was the neighborhood in which they reared him… If their own parents are criminals, their friends’ parents may also be inclined in that direction. The children bring to the peer group the attitudes and behaviors they learned at home, and if these attitudes and behaviors are similar, in all probability the peer group will retain them. P298

I’m willing to bet my life that my dad can kick your dad’s ass.
Even today, among Ache Indians of Paraguay, when a man dies in fight, the other villagers often kill his children, even when the children have a living mother… Overall, Ache children whose fathers die suffer a death rate more than 10% higher than children whose fathers remain alive. P300 So even if pop lives, my chances are just 10% better than if he got knocked off, them ain’t good odds.

Hey single moms, what kind of father is the best father for your kids? A dead one.
Do children with father with fathers turn out better in the long run than children w/o fathers? And if they do turn out better, is it because they had a father? Most people think so…If this were true than a lot of things you’d think would matter turn out not to matter. The presence of a stepfather in the home doesn’t improve the kids chances at all. Nor does contact with the biological father outside the home: “Studies based on large nationally representative surveys indicate that frequent father contact has no detectable benefits for children.”… The fatherless one who are better off – and this is curious too – are the ones whose father have died. “Children who grow up with widowed mothers fare better than children in other types of single parent families.” P302

When the biological father is living but not living with his kids, you have a family situation that is statistically associated with unfavorable outcomes for the kids. Let me show you how it might be possible to account for this without reference to the children’s experience in the home or to the quality of parenting they receive there. Most single mothers are poor. ½ of all homes headed by women are below the poverty line. The loss of income impacts the kids in several ways. For one thing, it can affect their status in the peer group… But by far the most important thing that money can do for kids is to determine the neighborhood they grow up in and the school they attend… Poverty forces many single mothers to rear their children in neighborhoods where there many other single mothers and where there are high rates of unemployment, school dropout, teen pregnancy, and crime. P304

It’s the neighborhood stupid!
It’s the neighborhood, not the family. If you look at kids within a given neighborhood, the presence or absence of a father doesn’t make much difference… Adolescent males in this sample [254 black families in the Northeast] who lived in single mother households did not differ from youth living in other family constellations in their alcohol and substance use, delinquency, school dropout, or psychological distress. P304

Moving is rough on kids. Kids who have been moved around a lot – whether or not they have a father – are more likely to be rejected by their peers; they have more behavioral problems and more academic problems than those who have stayed put. Researchers have found that change of residences could account for more than ½ of the increased risk of high school dropout, teen births, and idleness among adolescents being reared without fathers… Changes in residence jeopardize a kid’s standing in the peer group and interfere with socialization because it’s difficult to adapt to group norms when the norms keep changing. P305

If the parents’ presence or absence in the home or the relationship between them – quarreling constantly or writing each other little love notes – had any lasting effect on the kids, we should see it in the behavioral genetic data, and we do not. More precisely, if the parents’ presence or absence had any lasting effect on the kids, it must have been different effect for each kid. Unfortunately, this doesn’t bolster the position of folks who say ‘Parents need to be informed about the possible consequences to their children of a decision to live apart.” What consequences? If you can’t say what the consequences are – if living apart makes one child shyer and the other bolder, or makes one laugh more, and the other laugh less, and if there are no overall trends - what were you planning to inform them about? P307

A twin study of 1500 pairs of adult identical and fraternal twins analyzed their and their parent’s marital histories. The divorce rate was 19% among the twins whose parents had remained married. Among those whose parents divorced, the chances of divorce were considerably higher – 29%. The chances were just as high – 30% - for those with a divorced fraternal twin, and they were higher still for those with a divorced identical twin – 45%. The analysis churned out that: about ½ of the variation could be attributed to genes shared with twins or parents. The other ½ was due to environmental causes. But none of the variation could be blamed on the home the twins grew up in. Any similarities could be fully accounted by the genes they share. Their shared experience, at the same time – they are twins – of parental harmony or conflict, parental togetherness or apartness, had no detectable effect. P308

Don’t look for a divorce gene. Look instead for traits that increase the risk of almost any kind of unfavorable outcome in life. Traits that make people harder to get along with – aggressiveness, insensitivity; traits that increase the chances that they will make unwise decisions – impulsiveness, easily bored. Does that list sound familiar? It is similar to the list often found in criminals… A group of researchers discovered what predicted conduct disorder in children was not parental divorce but parental personality: parents with antisocial personality were more likely to have children with conduct disorder… People with personality problems are difficult to live with so they’re more likely to get divorced; the same people are more likely to have difficult kids. P309

Divorce is bad for children in several ways. 1st, it comes w/a heavy financial penalty: the children usually experience a severe decline in std of living. Their financial status will determine where they live. 2nd, it’s bad because they often have to move to a new residence. 3rd, it increases the risk of physical abuse. 4th, it’s bad because it disrupts their personal relationships.

Long-term modifications of personality and ingrained patterns of social behavior are handled by the groupness dept of the mind. The dept that oversees relationships doesn’t produce long-term modifications of personality, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. In our thoughts and emotions, the relationship dept is much closer to the surface – much more accessible to the conscious mind – than the dept that produces long-term modifications. Relationships can dominate our moment-moment feelings and actions and leave residues in our memories like stacks of old love letters in the attic…p310

When life at home is disrupted, the child’s behavior at home is of course disrupted, and so are the emotions associated with the home… If the researchers want to find out how the child’s life outside the home is affected by the parents’ divorce, they will have to collect their data outside the home… What they fill find, judging from the behavioral genetic data I mentioned earlier, is that parental divorce has no lasting effects on the way children behave when they’re not at home, and no lasting effects on their personalities. P311

If you have occasionally lost your temper and hit your children, it is unlikely that you’ve caused them any lasting harm. On the other hand, it is possible that you’ve harmed your relationship with them. If you have been unjust and they are old enough to realize it, they will think less of you… But it isn’t that they will think less of you that professional advice givers warn you against hitting them. The trouble with hitting children, they tell you, is that it will make them more aggressive… The evidence indicates that being spanked at home does not make kids more aggressive when they’re not at home. P312

Why would a parent abuse a child? One reason might be mental illness… Probably only a minority of abusing parents are mentally ill. But it is likely that many more have personality characteristics that by now will sound familiar. People who are aggressive, impulsive, quick to anger, easily bored, insensitive to the feelings of others, and not very good at managing their own affairs are unlikely to be good at managing their children’s. The unlucky offspring of such people are dealt a double whammy: a miserable home life, and a genetic endowment that decreases their chances of success in the outside world. P315

For older children a stable peer group may be more important than a stable family life. The theory behind foster care is that kids need families. By trying to provide them with families – trying in some cases, over and over again – well meaning agencies rob them of peers. P317

Even in middle class neighborhoods there are delinquent peer groups. Some kids join these groups because they have been rejected by the other groups; some join them out of choice. Kids identify with a group because they feel it consists of others like me. The parents think the group is having a bad influence on their kid, and they may be right, because the whatever the members have in common tends to be exaggerated by their influence on each other and by contrast effects with other groups. But the influence is mutual and the kids had a lot in common to begin with. Is it the parent’s fault when a teenager becomes a member of such a peer group? [They are not at fault when it comes to parenting sytle – Too Soft, Too Hard, or Just Right has not effect.] p319

New Zealand researchers gave personality tests to 1000 young people and found certain traits were good predictors of risky behavior: those who are impulsive, quick to anger, aren’t afraid of danger, and seek excitement, are more likely to drink too much, drive too fast, and engage in risky sex. These same people also tend to have difficulty establishing and maintaining close personal relationships… These disadvantageous personality traits are heritable to about 50% of the variation among individuals. And the traits show up early: researchers were able to see signs of them when their subjects were only 3 years old. P324

Identical twins are separated in infancy; they grew up in different adoptive homes. One became a concert pianist. The other can’t play a note. [Try to guess which one.] Since both have the same genes, the disparity must be due to a difference in their environments. Sure enough, one of the adoptive mothers was a music teacher who gave piano lessons in her home. The parents of the other twin were not musical at all. Only it was the nonmusical parents who produced the concert pianist! P328

Children also learn things at home that they don’t bring to the peer group, and these may be retained even if they are different from what their peers learned. [Remember the cooking example?] Some things just don’t come up in the context of the peer group. This is true nowadays of religion. Unless they attend a religious school, practicing religion is something children don’t do with their peers: they do it with their parents. That is why parents still have some power to their kids their religion. Parents have some power to impart any aspect of their culture that involves things done in the home… Children learn how to play the piano at home. They learn what it’s like to be a doctor or why it’s best to be a Democrat or how to wrap a corn husk around a tamale. What they don’t learn at home is how to behave in public and what sort of people they are. These are things they learn in the peer group. P330

In precolonial China, if a man committed a serious crime, his whole family – parents, children, siblings – were executed along with him. The idea is that the whole family shares the responsibility. P331

Out of its familiar territory the family draws together and becomes a group. The little rivalries between siblings evaporate. But the respite is temporary. As soon as the parents and children are alone together again, groupness wanes and rivalry waxes. They revert to being a bunch of individuals- each with his own agenda, her own patch of turf to defend. Mom he’s putting his foot on my side! P331

The evidence indicates that within the family niche picking or typecasting leaves no permanent marks on the personality. One of the ways children get typecast is by birth order: the oldest child is seen by his parents as more responsible, sensitive, and dependent that his younger siblings; he’s seen by his siblings as being bossy. But consistent differences that depend on birth order generally don’t show up in personality tests given to adults. Nor do researchers find consistent differences in personality between only children and children w/siblings. P332

If it were up to me, I would take the risk that my child might be rejected and put her into the best school I could find – a school with smart, hard-working kids. A school were no one makes fun of the one who reads books and makes A’s.

Unfortunately, your power to influence your children’s friendships shrinks as they get larger. With little children, parents have almost complete control over who their friends are. But once they turn ten, all bets are off. If you forbid an older child to see her friends, and if she is the kind of kid who is attracted to the kind of friends you don’t want her to see, there’s a good chance she’ll them behind your back and lie about it. And lying quickly becomes a habit, if it isn’t already. P337

Feeling very good about yourself may be counterproductive. The problem is that people with high self-esteem tend to think they are invulnerable. There is a theory that violence is caused by low self esteem but a recent review concludes the opposite: ‘Violence appears to be most commonly a result of threatened egotism – that is highly favorable views of self that are disputed by some person or circumstance.’ P339

Parents can’t prevent their children from being typecast in negative ways in the peer group. However, they can make it a little less likely to happen. They do have some control over the way their children look, and their goal should be to make them look as normal and as attractive as possible, because looks do count. Normal means dressing the child in the same kind of clothing the other kids are wearing. Attractive means things like dermatologists for the kid with bad skin, and orthodontists for the one whose teeth came in crooked. And plastic surgery for any serious sort of facial anomaly. Children don’t want to be different, and for good reason: oddness is not considered a virtue in the peer group. Even giving a kid a weird or silly name can put him at a disadvantage. P341

Nature gets us do what she wants us to do by making it pleasurable for us to do it. If parenting were hard work, do you think chimps would bother? Parents are meant to enjoy parenting. If you are not enjoying it, maybe you’re working too hard. P345

Nature doesn’t give a damn about fairness. Big males dominate smaller males. Males beat up females. Young animals do the same to younger ones. This unpretty pattern is preserved intact in traditional societies. It is very old. Our current obsession with fairness and niceness is very new. P345

In traditional societies parents are not pals. They are not playmates. The idea that should have to entertain their children is bizarre to these people. They would fall down laughing if you tried to tell them about ‘quality time’. P345

Older siblings are allowed – indeed, are expected – to dominate their younger siblings. It is natural for older kids to dominate younger ones, and in traditional societies no effort is made to prevent it, because there is not so much concern about equality and fairness [in this context. And additionally, he who is young, will become the eldest eventually. So in a way it is somewhat fair because everyone will progress through all stages and eventually will get their turn in the sun.] p346

If the peer group’s culture differs from the parents’, the peer group’s always wins. The child of immigrant parents invariably learns the language of her peers [without an accent], and favors it over the language of her parents. It becomes her native language. P358

The dept of the brain that keeps track of relationships is accessible to the conscious mind. The dept of the brain that adapts your behavior to that of your group is no less important but it is less accessible to consciousness. A lot of its work goes on at an automatic level, like the muscle movements that enable you to pick up the glass… The process I have been talking about in this book generally go on below the level of consciousness… These things can be brought into consciousness but that’s not where they live. In this book, I have been talking about things that children do w/o noticing them, w/o having to exert conscious effort. It leaves the tops of their minds free to do other things. P361

Gold std of social studies is large (at least 1000 people), randomized, and double-blinded, and the researchers have no financial stake in the outcome.

According to group socialization theory it is the influence of the peer group, not the influence of friends, that has long-term effects on personality… Although having the same friends can server as an indicator of shared peer group membership (because kids who are friends are usually members of the same peer group), it is an imperfect indicator (because kids who are not friends can nonetheless belong to the same peer group).

Group socialization theory makes a strong prediction about learned behavior: behavior acquired outside the home may leak into the home, but that reverse will not occur… When a child brings friends home from school and is playing with them at home, whose rules of behavior does he follow, his parents’ or his peers’? When a father takes a teenage daughter to a restaurant and invites a few of her friends to come along, does he see her behaving in way that is unfamiliar to him? When parents visit the school, their children are pleased and embarrassed, but do they revert to behaving the way they behave at home? What does a boy do when he skins his knee in the presence of both his mother and his peers: does he cry as he would with his mother, or act tough as he would with his peers? [Go out and prove this theory for yourself if you still have any doubts.] p388