Wednesday, 17 June 2015


A brief bio behind the writer here: in school I was a popular weirdo, I didn't fit in to any mould, but instead of being the introvert at the back I was usually running the show. Whatever was going on - I was usually responsible for it, but almost always managed to stay out of trouble. The Teflon teen. I was bright, probably the brightest in my year (and modest with it, not), and a total slacker. My greatest claim to fame was getting uniform done away with for the 6th form.  I then left school before I'd finished, as it were, because I had a disagreement with the headmistress. My skillsets in life are all creative. I've raised 6 kids from scratch and then because that wasn't enough, adopted a 16-year-old. They are all successful adults, and 3 of them are now excellent parents. 

When we are discussing this whole issue of slut shaming/victim blaming, it's very easy to get bogged down in details, like examples of clothing, skirt lengths, the fact that only women are held to these standards, and so on. I think we easily forget the bigger picture. That is, the idea that we tell other people what they should do. 

You may have noticed that despite our many difference, humans come in three basic types.

1. Those who are self-propelled. They don't really need management, they figure it out by themselves - drawing on the expertise of others where necessary - and therefore often become leaders. They often make the rules.

2. The masses. They wait to be told what to do. Making decisions is too much like hard work and they change their minds a lot in any case. They are easily led, and politicians love them. They only rebel en masse when things get really bad. 

3. General rule breakers. Not rebels (true rebels are #1). They would like to be leaders but lack the ability. These people don't have a mission in life, they're too stupid for that. This group includes the sociopaths, and general rabble that cause trouble for everyone else. 

Which is not to say #1 and #2 are always law-abiding, far from it. It's just that they usually have a purpose in mind.

It's widely believed that humans are not known for following rules, especially if the rules are not good rules. Especially if there's no penalty. So we make more rules. Some are just sort of....assumed.

And each of us has our own comfort zones of rules, some of which stem from upbringing/culture, and some from rationalization. Some we create ourselves, some we pick up from others.

And for everyone who breaks one of those rules, there's somebody ready to say "HEY! You broke the rules!"

Only we're often far more subtle than that. 

We call it advice. We claim that we have the best intent, we have their welfare in mind. Maybe we really mean that, but what we are actually saying is "follow the rules".

Sometimes laws lead to silly situations.

But what it all comes down to is those who feel they are on the side of "right" telling other people what they should do.

When it's a law that has been passed at whatever level, even if it's silly, ordinary people feel they have a right to become a sort of amateur policeman. 

Even when it's just a social norm, people can be amazingly uptight about it. 

I'd like to discuss hats for a bit as a prime example. Headgear. Hair coverings. Things that go on top of or over our heads. The rules about hats are complex and often silly.

Let's consider the purpose of a head covering. In winter it keeps you warm. In summer it keeps the sun off. In certain jobs it keeps hair out of the way for safety and hygiene. In some activities the hat is hard and protects your skull in the event of accidents. So it makes sense in those situations. 

However, in many situations hats are mandatory OR banned, for no reason other than long ago somebody decided it was to be that way. Tradition.

So, soldiers, police officers, bishops, orthodox Jews, Sikhs, baseball players, students on graduation day, Peruvians, country singers, jazz saxophonists, French onion sellers, British royalty, and Slash, all wear hats for no good reason other than it's expected of them. It started at some point, and sort of became unstoppable.

It can change. Nurses and waitresses used to wear hats too, when I was a kid. And some schoolchildren. In fact I wore a straw boater to my first school, and a brown beret when I joined the Brownies. Old men never went out without a hat on, no matter what the weather. Go back a bit further and everyone wore a hat outdoors. Sometimes people even wore hats indoors, but often that's frowned on. Keep up, it's complicated. 

But to this day, some people get upset, I mean really upset, if a man wears a hat to the table. You might as well show up for dinner naked, for the fuss they make. 

Not only that, you must remove your hat in church. Unless you're a woman. Then the opposite applies. HUH? And take your hat off to sing the national anthem. 

Why? Because it's TRADITION, you see. So, follow the rules, or somebody will elbow you. Violence and shame is also tradition. 

For most of these situations you won't be thrown in jail, or even thrown out the building, for getting it wrong, but I guarantee somebody will at the very least glare at you, and usually approach and "correct" you verbally. Because you should follow the tradition. Because.....because, it's tradition, that's why. It shows respect. What do you mean "WHY?"..... Don't ask stupid questions. It just does, that's all. 

But wait, this is not the silliest bit. Some of those people in group 3, those who behave badly pretty much as a matter of course, are just as likely to wear their hats "correctly", and just as likely to reprimand others for not doing so. I know this because I've experienced it so many damn times. It's a weird form of hypocrisy, but that's what it is, nevertheless. The habitual rule breaker getting all bent out of shape over a rule that doesn't even make sense. 

Because even they love to tell other people what to do. 

All our lives we hear it. You should do this. You shouldn't do that! There's no law against it, and there's no harm. But unsolicited advice on social norms flies around like a swarm of gnats. 

I am, at heart, an anarchist, so it comes as no surprise to anyone that I object to this. But I'm also not an idiot. Society has to have some sort of structure, simply because the vast majority of people fall into group #2 and need it. Without this unwritten list of rules they'd be quite lost. 

I daresay that's where it all began. Cavemen (no, I know there weren't, shh, I love my visuals). Those in the tribe who were the brightest and led the rest, knew they had to come up with some sort of system to keep things under control. Even in a family there are house rules to prevent chaos. But rules that make sense are easier both to follow and to police. 

Sane mothers have a rule for children that they only eat in certain places. In the strictest households this may be at the table, for others it's enough that they're not wandering around with it. Some parents, of the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do variety, eat all over the place but restrict the kids to the kitchen. We decided that whatever rules we chose they had to be the same for everyone. Teach by example. But not everyone does Each to their own. Not my family, not my house, not my monkeys, not my circus. 

This gets discussed, obviously, among mothers. Oh the SHOULDING that goes on in those discussions!

Let me tell you about Moms groups on the internet. If you've never visited one, you would be shocked. They are hostile places. There is nothing you've ever witnessed on religious or political debates that would equal the hostility found on internet Moms groups. And it's quite rare to find trolls there. These are just women in need of emergency pickle extraction. Totally and utterly convinced that their way is right, and not only is yours wrong, and evil, it is their born mission in life to SET YOU STRAIGHT. 

And if you don't, because they can't actually reach through the screen and slap you, they will accuse you, slander you, hound you, gang up on you, and make your experience bloody miserable. If a moderator (or sane general user) was to say "Now, now ladies, everyone is entitled to their own opinion!" they'd be told that it's not an opinion. 

And this is where we find ourselves with the should system, generally. That it's not an opinion. That it's empirically true. Obvious. Always been that way. What's wrong with you?

So, what's the result of breaking these rules? If you should and you don't, what happens? 

Cause and effect, for a start. But all too often it's not a natural chain of events. It's a human version. Cause and effect is complex when it comes to humans. I always used a "natural consequences" style of parenting, also known as "actions speak louder than words" and "he punished himself". If you refuse to put your coat on when it's raining, you'll get wet. If you are unkind to your brother he won't want to play with you. If you don't eat your dinner, you're going to be hungry later. If you don't do your homework, you'll be taking that class again next year. And so on. 

I found this to be a very successful method of teaching kids. It means they learn the hard way, but they do learn. 

Some parents talk about consequences but they aren't natural. That is to say, the consequence for not doing your homework is having the XBox taken away for a week. That is actually a punishment, i.e. removal of privileges. I'm not saying that I'm against it in principle, I'm just suggesting that it isn't true cause and effect. The effect is due to human intervention/decision. 

When you look at human behaviour, and the results of it, much of our society relies on punishment. We do this when natural cause and effect doesn't work, which is quite reasonable. Unfortunately because we are used to this system, and think it is normal, we never try anything else, and also we extend it beyond any reasonableness. 

So. Back to our cavemen. Ug steal's Og's spear. What would be the natural cause and effect? Well, there isn't one really. Og smashing Ug over the head with a bloody great big rock might be the actual consequence, but it's just retaliation. So, to avoid the entire tribe being wiped out as a result of petty theft, Chief Ig tells them all that you must not steal each other's stuff. He then has to decide what he will do if they ignore this rule. Bearing in mind that something too severe (like death) could potentially be no better than letting them fight it out. Might work as a deterrent though (but won't, never did, still doesn't). Give that a shot then. Threat of death. 

After a bit, having executed several otherwise useful tribesmen for theft, Cheif Ig has another thought. Instead of a specific threat, how about a vague threat? Bad things will happen if you steal. Only the Gods know what it is. 

A bear wanders in and eats two children. The Chief says that's the Bear God's punishment for people doing naughty things. A smart arse asks why the children got eaten, and not the people that did the naughty things. The chief has to think about that one, and comes up with some convoluted explanation, which the people accept. They tell this story a lot. 

Some people think, hmm, well I might get away with it, somebody else will get punished. So Chief Ig tells them that the Gods will do unspeakable things to them after they are dead. Forever.

And so beginneth organized religion. 

But it still didn't work. Even with the threat of eternal torture, people still did naughty things. There was only one thing for it. Ostracism. If you can't play nice, you have to leave the playground. In ancient times it was difficult if not impossible to survive without the tribe, so ostracism was a death sentence anyway. But of all the punishments ever thought up by humans, it's always been the most effective.

In modern times we have jails to serve the same purpose. Sometimes truly enlightened people try to teach prisoners to be better people, so they don't re-offend. Pity they didn't do that beforehand really. But hey let's fund prisons instead of schools....oh, no, different topic.

Where were we. Yes.

To prevent people ending up in jail, they need to be educated/raised to behave in such a way that we can all get along. The usual way to do this is to say "don't do this", "do this". It's the same as shoulding. Threats of consequences and punishments, and no real explanation of why. Sometimes there's a why and sometimes there isn't. Some laws make sense and some really don't. But we lump them all in together. So one woman gets arrested for shoplifting, and one for not mowing her lawn.

"Well, what else do you do when all other efforts to make her comply have failed?"

You could ask why, at two stages. 

Why didn't you mow your lawn? Didn't want to/couldn't. Do you need help with your lawn? Can you not afford a mower, or a lawn service? Why not? Let's fix that.You like long grass? Well, where you live it's not allowed because.....................well, it doesn't look nice. Not good enough. Try again. Risk of fire/ticks/noxious weeds/snakes. Well, that makes a bit more sense. 

Why do we insist on lawns? Um...........maybe some people would do better without one? If they like gardening they could grow something else, if they don't they could have concrete or gravel instead. 

Bit of reasonableness goes a long way. 

Unfortunately a lot of children are raised with "because I said so". Probably prepares them for the crazy rules they'll face in adult life, but nothing will ever change like that. Those in charge probably prefer it not to. Keep the masses in line. Teach them to obey from an early age. Obedience is considered a virtue, well of course it is. It saves so much time. But who likes being told what to do, especially without a good reason?

When there's a good reason to follow rules, be they written, unwritten, legal, courtesy, simple, or complex, then I find that reasonable people will often follow them. When breaking rules makes more sense than following them, sometimes even the most law-abiding  and meek person will break them. Or at least bend them. 

But somewhere in between sensible rules and stupid ones is that whole area of "we've always done it this way". More habit than anything. These are the ones that cause the most problems. Everybody knows you shouldn't shoot your boss. You don't need to be told. But get a table setting wrong AT YOUR PERIL. (And I'm actually fine with table etiquette so long as it doesn't spoil my dinner.)

Just don't tell me what I should do if it's none of your damn business. 

Or you may discover that has consequences too.

Matthew 7:1

(I'll get back to appropriate clothing late tonight, who needs sleep anyway....)

1 comment:

  1. So many things to say....
    Demand (expectation) versus Reprimand (consequence)....
    It all boils down to making mindful choices. Something few of us do, leadership role or not, in spite of the obfuscation and sleight of hand involved with religion (putting the force of compliance off on that spiritual area where, like karma, the "wrong of the past" comes back to haunt you).
    Judging and prejudice can be harmful, when left in the wrong hands.
    "Shoulding" can add to the stress and anxiety we feel in life, rather than its general appearance of ushering in form, structure and compliance... quite like the image you shared showing the difference between design and the more earthy and real experience we have with its naturally occurring bumps. The way is not always as smooth as we might imagine.
    We might expect that the sun "should" come up tomorrow...grateful that it does; imagine our surprise when it doesn't. Sigh. ~ Blessings! <3