Random Friday Musings

I was planning to write a Books to Savor post sharing a good read I’d come across recently, and I may still get to that later today, but in the meantime, I’m in the mood to share some random things going on in my brain bucket today.

Here they are, in no particular order…

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- Our little Dot is a pretty dang obedient dog and a sweetheart…except in one area. She is nearly uncontrollable when it comes to barking at the neighbors, gardeners, and any other being that commits the grave sin of existing anywhere near our house without express permission. Because our house is rented, we can’t fence her in properly so she’s free to wander, which was fine when we didn’t have neighbors. But after the flooding in Bangkok prompted people to start moving up to Chiang Mai, we suddenly have neighbors. Neighbors who like to have visitors. So you can imagine how many times a day we have to yell at her and chase after her. Dot doesn’t respond well to negative reinforcement. It only makes her more stubborn and recalcitrant (or worse, she gives us this look like we’ve totally failed her), which makes it really difficult to teach her NOT to bark because it’s kind of ridiculous to only be able to praise a dog when it doesn’t bark.

It’s hard to get completely mad at her because it comes from a protective instinct and she’s only doing what she thinks is her job. But since I got pregnant, her protective instinct has been elevated from day job to High Calling, which is both sweet and utterly obnoxious. So after trying every other thing we could think of or find through copious online research, we’ve decided to try a shock collar on her. It makes me feel incredibly guilty and worried, especially given her usual response to negative reinforcement and I really didn’t want to break her relationship of trust with us. But…after just a few days with it, I have to say…

IT WORKS.

Toby has worked carefully with her in using it and keeps it on the lowest possible setting, so that it’s more a sensation than an actual jolt. But the part I really appreciate about it is that you can press a button, via remote control, to emit a little warning beep before resorting to the shock. He only had to use the shock on her twice before she learned to stop barking, come right back to us and sit down, at which point we envelop her in praise and treats. Now that little warning beep is pretty much all she needs to get her to stop barking and come home. And she doesn’t seem to be exhibiting any signs of feeling upset or hurt by us or the collar (maybe because it’s done by remote control, so the connection isn’t clear to her?). So as long as the warning beep is all it takes to get her to obey when we tell her to stop barking and come home, I think I can slowly get behind using this thing, though I still hope there might be a day we won’t have to use it at all.

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- Sometimes, I get really tired of how debate is handled with political stuff. Almost every day in my Facebook feed, there is something about how people are shooting people up in America and we need to do something about keeping slaughter machines out of the hands of crazy folk and why do we only care about people dying when it’s a bomb and not a gun AND/OR something about how we need to cling to our guns and freedoms, and clearly not having an AK-47 = tyranny, and because one person managed to use a gun successfully it’s a good idea for everyone to have easy access to them. The media, which exists to sell itself (and these days, doesn’t even pretend to care more about sharing real policy information than entertainment), THRIVES on this kind of conflict, pushing wedges where really there aren’t any. The truth is, on most policy issues, most people are pretty moderate (which, turns out is kind of a reasonable place to be, hey?). But the way we talk about these issues is like two echo chambers existing side by side, rather than actually communicating. Which is really sad because it makes it impossible to advance the conversation. I’m tired of hearing the same old drumbeats on either side. I’m tired of people painting each other as crazy and stupid when they clearly haven’t listened to what the other really wants. And here’s a hint: you’re not listening to people if you’re spending the entire time trying to figure out how to prove that they’re wrong and you’re smarter.

Here’s two things I wish people would think about more. 1) If you think the answer to a policy problem (especially a controversial one) is really fucking simple, then you’re probably not looking at it carefully enough. 2) You’re not contributing to an effective solution if you can’t hear or address the concerns of those who disagree with you. Be opinionated all you want. Having strong opinions is good. Being engaged in the world around you is good. But it’s still not actually helpful to assume your opinion is the only one worth having and to only want to hear other people tell you that you’re right.

The really worrisome part is that perpetuating these divisions make people really, REALLY angry, and I fear that not only does it not contribute to good policy, but that it makes people really hate each other, dehumanize each other, and makes it seem okay to be more violent with each other, so that it is no longer possible to reach each other with words. People begin see no other recourse than weaponry.

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- Something else I’ve been thinking about lately is that it can be a challenge learning how to adjust to a parent who is aging. I think part of growing up is dealing with the disillusionment that comes when you realize your beloved parent isn’t quite the superhero you thought they were when you were 5, but alongside that comes the beautiful part of getting to know them as they are, which can make you love them more deeply and more expansively, and can add wonderful new dimensions to the relationship.

Sometimes, though, it is a challenge when you’re confronted with a parent whose age has turned them into someone they didn’t use to be, especially if some qualities you admired have been replaced by something you don’t. I recently realized that, when you factor in time with a relationship, part of loving someone means letting go of them as they once were and finding love and acceptance for who they are now. Sometimes, the change is so drastic you have to find new ways to connect with them, demonstrate love, and support and encourage them. It’s like you almost have to build a new relationship. It’s not easy. But realizing that brought me a long way closer to making it okay.

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- Today I’m baking 5-minute artisan bread. The dough has been resting in the fridge for two days, and I’m anxious to see how it turns out. I’ve made it a few times before, but for some unknown reason (changes in humidity/weather? different flour used?), it comes out differently every single time. So it’s like a surprise every time. We’ll see how well it works today!

So that should probably have made up three posts instead of one. Thanks for indulging me! Tell me, what’s been on your mind lately?

Emotion in the Public Sphere

I just heard (yet another) fantastic discussion on NPR on the US’s use of torture as an interrogation technique. The commentator, who argued that torture is not justified and punishment should lay on the heads of the top policymakers who sanctioned the abuses in the first place, (I’m sorry I missed his name, I only caught 10 minutes of the segment) was very erudite and polite in his arguments and gracious in receiving criticism. In the spirit of full disclosure, I agree whole-heartedly with his arguments. The commentary which follows addresses things his critics have called in to say and I wish to take issue with these comments, not because I disagree with their argument, but because I find fault with the presentation of their arguments—or the reasons they provided. If someone had called in using emotion in the same way to support the commentator’s argument, I would find fault with that as well.

Argument #1: “I’m sick and tired of you Europeans coming here and criticizing America.”
So the commentator had a British accent, but as he so eloquently pointed out, he too has a stake in the issue. His family is fully American, he was there on 9-11, people he knew died in the 9-11 attacks, etc., etc. The point is: don’t assume that because you know one bit about a person that you know what their entire life has been.
But more than that, 9-11, the War on Terror, wars abroad and American responses are global issues. We are not some backwater country living in isolation. Our actions (as a global leader, if you will) have global effects. We’re not talking about some domestic issue like the death penalty or legalizing abortions. We’re talking about issues that have repercussions and consequences worldwide. Other countries have a stake in these issues as well, and therefore have a right to participate in the discussion, even if we don’t like what they have to say.

Argument #2: “Where is your anger?”, implying that if you were truly angry you’d agree torture is necessary. But since you’re a cold SOB, your point of view is invalid.
Commentator’s response: He is deeply angry but also passionate about the values that America and democracies in general uphold. He argues we must stick to our values because it is our values that sets us apart from the terrorists. It’s the fact that we have a judicial system instead of beheadings that makes America great and resorting to the other side’s tactics reduces us.
Hear, hear I say! But I would like to add to that and question the caller. When has anger ever led to wise decisions? We do stupid things, things we regret, when we are angry. When have you ever heard of anger leading to wisdom? (Except by way of a mistake and lesson learned.)
[As a side note, it always amazes me that some of the very same people who will argue until they're blue in the face that America is great because of the liberties it provides are also the very people who are so quick to abandon those liberties whenever it suits them—in this case, presumably because they're angry. But maybe I am wrong? Maybe they believe in liberty but not equality? Or maybe they just think the principles sound good in the abstract, but don't believe in them in real life.]

Argument #3: “Even presented with evidence that torture doesn’t work and has negative consequences, I still think we should engage in torture. Because I have family fighting over there and that’s just how I feel.”
The commentator said he respected this woman’s viewpoint and thanked her for airing her views. But I take umbrage at this kind of argument. I will say that there are valid reasons for her viewpoint even if she didn’t express them and even if I may disagree with them at the end of the day. But I take issue with the notion that in discourse people can fall back on their emotions as a substitute for reasoned argumentation. Don’t get me wrong. I believe emotions DO have a role in public discourse. They help mobilize and inspire people in ways that logic and reason perhaps cannot. They demonstrate intensity in ways that hard facts or numbers cannot. Very few people can argue completely without some emotion, and I don’t think people or their viewpoints should be excluded because they are emotional. But I disagree entirely when people resort to their emotions because their arguments are flawed and they let emotions supercede reasoned debate.

I understand this woman’s point of view and have had to think long and hard about the justifications for torture before finally coming to my decision on where I stand. But instead of arguing she supports the use of torture just because that’s the way she feels, I think the more appropriate response would be for her to examine her feelings on the subject and figure out why, even presented with evidence that torture tactics are not only useless but harmful, she feels they are justified. Is she seeking revenge? Does she think that even if 99% of the time it doesn’t work, innocent people are tortured, and it causes the growth of more terrorism, that the 1% of the time it might work is worth all the risk involved? If so, why? Is there something else going on? Is there a better way to address her core concerns? If that is really her root viewpoint, she should learn to express that. If not, maybe her reaction is just knee-jerk and should be re-examined.

So, issue of torture aside, what role should emotion play in public discourse? Can there be guidelines for its use? When is the use of emotion in an argument or discussion helpful, and when does it obfuscate the point? Are there points where emotion can actually hinder good policy making?

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