Unsolicited child rearing advice, and Bernie Sanders as savior – THIS IS NOT A TEST #57 (transcript)

Published February 27, 2016

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Hello ladies and gentlemen and those of you somewhere in between. It is I, Michael Phillips, the Sheriff of Nothingham, the dean of deconstruction, the Capo di tutt’i capi of confusion, and this – well, THIS IS NOT A TEST. I am none of those things, of course, and I am all of them, just like you. I’m going to attempt to speak in a modulated tone of voice this week, I’m not going to shout and gesticulate. I will behave like the professional that you deserve. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Every few weeks I think, I have to stop yelling the entire podcast, but then I get going and it just comes out that way. But let’s do this now. Let’s try it and see what happens. Let’s be dignified, for Christ’s sake. It’s funny that “for Christ’s sake” is almost like cursing, when it means – well sounds to me like it means, “for the sake of Christ,” which you think religious types would appreciate. I guess the heathens have stolen that from them and turned it into something vile. Just like we’re stealing everything from them, right? Infringing on their rights at every turn. Sure. Where, exactly is that happening? Okay, that’s for another time, that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. Get on track, mjp, stop going down those back alleys. okay, okay.

What we are here to talk about is probably just as offensive to an equally large group of people, though I’m not trying to offend anyone. I don’t have to try, it comes naturally. Right? Isn’t that the joke? Or not the joke? I tried to think of a way to talk about this that wouldn’t bother anyone, then after some time it dawned on me that wasn’t possible, and also, something that doesn’t bother anyone is kind of worthless, isn’t it? That’s he point I’m going to try to make anyway. Maybe I’ll just keep talking about what I intend to talk about rather than actually talking about it. What if I just intro-ed something for half an hour, then said, “Okay, goodbye!” Well, some people think that’s what I do anyway. “There’s no structure, mjp!” But there is structure, you just have to be open to a different kind of structure. This is nothing but a trip inside my head, and that should be a disturbing enough journey for anyone. It is for me. But let’s throw caution to the wind and forge forward, like David Livingstone civilizing the dark continent, like Leif Eriksson with those animal horns on his hat, like Marco Polo “discovering” societies older than his own, just like those guys we forge ever forward, fearlessly, foolishly. Destroying everything in our path. Okay.

I’m often annoyed by – well, as you might gather if you listen regularly I’m annoyed by many things, but one of those things is the child-proofing of the world. The warnings, the special lids and locks, the god damned rubber mats under playground equipment. The dumbing down of everything to the point where it can’t offend or confuse the average Mormon second grader. It bugs me. What happened to the world being for adults, with adult conversations and entertainment, and adult places, and kids sticking with their own in whatever world they happen to carve out for themselves? More and more now you see parents whose lives revolve around their kids and who think that yours should too. Who think it’s your responsibility to tiptoe around their precious, genius children the way they do. As they lead their kids by the hand through the world dressed as fairies or llamas, asking them if they’re okay every five minutes, checking in to make sure they are comfortable and happy at all times. Indulging them. Catering to them and defending them and chauffeuring them and being their butlers and maids. As the child occupies the throne and becomes a tyrant. What else could they become? The other day I heard a big ruckus in the lobby outside the office where I work. Somebody walked in and I said, “What the hell’s happening out there?” He said, “Oh, it’s a mother pretending to be excited by her kid’s game of Minecraft.” Are you kidding? It sounded like the finish line at the Daytona 500 out there. Like the Beatles had just resurrected and walked in.

And the whole costume thing is especially confounding to me. When I started to see it I just assumed the kids were on their way to a party or something. But no, sometimes the kids, they just want to dress up as – you know, whatever – for the day, and the parents say, okay, no problem, it’s perfectly cool to go to the grocery store and the eye doctor dressed like a tiger. Why not. And the weirdo part of me says, why not indeed. Let your freak flag fly, you little bastards. But the small, normal part of me says, what the fuck is that? And what does it mean for that kid when they become older and want to wear a Robin Hood costume to their senior prom? Or dress like Snow White for a job interview? Honestly, if I was hiring for a position and someone came in dressed like Snow White I’d probably hire them, just to throw a monkey wrench into the office, but most people, I think, might not. It isn’t even so much the wearing of the costume, we’re all wearing costumes anyway, it’s the indulging of the child, it’s letting them set the rules and make the decisions. It may be fine for you and your life, but you and your child also live in my world, in everyone’s world.

And lest you think I’m just a childless malcontent – well, I assure you that I am a childless malcontent, by choice – but I’m also the oldest of five kids, my youngest sister being 12 years younger, and, not for nothing, I also raised a kid, a fine young boy, from the age of 8 to 16, so I’ve done my time changing diapers and picking up 14 year olds from the police station. I haven’t spent my entire life on the outside looking in, and I don’t think I irreparably damaged any of them. And I was a child myself, don’t you know. Once long ago in a land far, far away. I never wore a fairy costume to school or laid on the floor playing with my mother or father, not the way kids play with their parents today. My parents were doing adult things, and if I bugged them too much they yelled at me to go outside and play. Whether it was 100 degrees, 25 below zero, pouring rain or a blizzard – it didn’t matter. Go outside! They were two different worlds, the adult world and the kid world, and it was fine. It was the way things were, and hundreds of millions of us grew up that way and weren’t terribly damaged by it. By that part of life anyway.

What that did most of the time, being told to go away, was send me toward my room, where I listened to music and discovered, or made, my own world, a world separate from the adults that were running everything else. Where I became interested in things that they didn’t know anything about. If your parents are always playing with you, always occupying your time, when does that happen? Can it happen? When do you become yourself, I wonder. When do you get into your own head, and away from the things that parent is putting into it? When do you become an individual? That’s a lot of questions, but this is all about questions, isn’t it. What’s right or what works, what’s best for those kids out there. Or what’s not so good, like home schooling kids, which is also just another way to make them little copies of yourself. “I don’t like the big wide world, so I’ll teach my kids that it’s bad and dangerous and that I – and my lord and savior – have all the answers they’ll ever need.” Man, think about that. Who does that? You have to think you’re pretty great to think that you already know everything your kids ever have to know. What a trap for those kids. What a way to cripple them.

So I have to ask myself if coddling children and arranging their worlds so they feel better about themselves and never run into any adversity is natural. Now I’m 100% sure that from the child’s standpoint, being catered to is a pretty sweet deal. It’s every kid’s dream. But what’s the end result of that? From what I can see, it’s a massive swarm of spoiled pricks who don’t really understand how the world works. I see that in passing every day walking around out in the world, and I see it at work. It’s kind of an epidemic problem in the workplace, so much so that older people – and by older I mean anyone over 30 or 40 – have to go through special training to teach them how to deal with the kids that they have to work next to. The older people have to learn how to praise and reward the younger ones adequately, how to make them happy. It would be funny if the thought of an entire world full of such creatures in 20 or 30 or 40 years wasn’t so terrifying. We’re in the middle of a generation where half of the kids don’t learn to drive because they can press a button on their phone and someone will come right to them, wherever they are, and drive them wherever they want to go, and mom’s credit card pays for it. And the other half, the ones that are driving them, think driving a car is some kind of special skill, and they can make a living with. And maybe they can. Until those Google self-driving cars hit the road.

So I ask myself another thing – how are children supposed to be raised? How are human children supposed to grow and learn and get ready to break off from the family and live independently? I mean going way back in human history, not just the past couple hundred years. 2 or 300 years ago you stayed with your family and worked doing whatever your parents did so the family wouldn’t starve. You just worked and lived in the same place all your life and that was it. I guess it was really only in the last hundred years or so that going out on your own became a thing. When I was a teenager everyone I knew was chomping at the bit to get away from their families. I left when I was 17. Most of my friends soon after. Few of them went back, none of them lived with their parents into their 20s. When someone did that we thought they were weird or defective. But like I said, that’s a pretty recent thing, as far as human history is concerned, and now that it seems to be ending, maybe it’s really my generation and the few generations before me that are the freaks and outliers.

But what if we go back more than 2 or 300 hundred years. What if we go back a thousand years. How long do you think children were coddled and catered to a thousand years ago? I’d hazard a guess that it wasn’t very long. The day you took your first steps they probably started teaching you how to survive by knocking you down and making you crawl back up again. And as soon as you were old enough to work a bow and arrow or a spear or a club they probably put you to work getting food. I don’t know. I guess I’m thinking about it from the boy child’s point of view. As soon as the girls could walk they probably started grooming them to make more babies and learn how to serve the men, which is probably a worse fate. Sounds kind of grim, doesn’t it? Now that I talk about it. But those are the generations that survived and multiplied and paved the way for us. Whatever they did is what allowed humans to survive and evolve. Can you imagine a bunch of typical 20 year olds now teaching a kid to do anything survival related? Unless you live in a really dangerous neighborhood, the answer is most likely, “No I can’t.”

So what’s the world going to look like when everyone has an innate sense of entitlement, needs constant reassurance of their specialness and doesn’t know how to do anything but work emojis really well? When they all grow up and we all die, who is going to treat them like kings and queens when everyone is a king or queen? Will humanity survive that kind of thing? Well of course it will, because I’m mainly talking about America and Canada and Europe. More scrappy or populated places like India or China have the same problem with the wealthier parts of their populations, I’m sure, but it’s on a much smaller scale overall, compared to the population as a whole. So what’s going to happen? Well in 200 years we’ll all be speaking Chinese. Or the language of whoever comes out of this stew on top. It isn’t going to be us though. Us meaning Americans. I don’t see how it could be. I don’t see us raising a generation that can do anything but make artisinal ketchup and photograph themselves putting it on everything that they eat. And it isn’t their fault that they’re lame, it’s yours. You parents.

When we hold children too closely and try to influence everything about their lives we’re just imprinting our own biases and prejudices and fears onto them. And not coincidentally, teaching them not to question anything. When what we probably should be doing, if we want them to be smart and capable and independent, is teaching them to question everything. Even what we tell them. When I was doing my part in raising that nine year old, I told him what I thought about things all the time, but I also told him that other people didn’t necessarily agree with me. That there is more than one side to everything. That did two things, it allowed him to discount what I said, to disagree with me, and it made room for him to come up with his own ideas and outlook on things. It allowed him to be right about what he thought about things, but also to be able to back up his outlook with reasonable arguments or beliefs. He learned that because I let him question me, and I explained my point of view.

Now I didn’t sit down and ponder what was the best way to talk to him, I’m not that clever or profound. It just happened the way it happened. If he had been a different kid, maybe it would have been a different kind of communication, I don’t know, I just went with what seemed right, and somehow it worked. I also said, “I don’t know,” when I didn’t know something, which sounds obvious, but it seems to be really quite rare. I don’t think I ever heard my parents say “I don’t know” about anything. But I suppose we all come to the realization that maybe we’re right and our parents are wrong eventually, even if our parents are constantly telling us what’s right according to them. Maybe especially if they’re doing that. Most of the kids will come to that conclusion, and some will just accept everything they’re told, which makes them less open to changing their minds in the future. But it seems to me that the ability to change your mind or your viewpoint without feeling like that’s “losing” somehow is a pretty valuable thing to be able to do. If you can only give your kid one thing, give them that. For the sake of the rest of the world.

But I get it, when you’re responsible for a kid it’s exhausting to have them question everything you say. It’s a lot easier to answer their questions by saying, “Because I said so.” Which is something I heard a thousand times. Or ten thousand times. “Because I said so,” it didn’t make any sense to me, even as a little kid. Because you said so? Very unsatisfying, isn’t it. Well, you look up to your parents, and you want to believe them, but when they say shit like that you can’t help but see that that’s really not an answer to anything. Because someone told you to do it, you do it? That’s not really what we want a kid to think, but every time you tell them “because I said so,” that’s exactly what you’re making them think. That it’s their job to blindly follow. To obey, like good pilgrims or the kids in Jonestown.

I don’t know, man, this is some heavy shit, now that we’re into it, isn’t it. Molding the minds of children. Very few of us really think about what that means though, or what we’re doing. We’re too selfish, as most humans are. We just want a little peace, and a questioning kid – or a house full of questioning kids – is a full time job. But if you think about things like racism and bigotry, where do those come from? They come from your surroundings, your parents, the people you look up to. If you put two very different kids from different cultures or parts of the world together without any preconceived notions about each other, I don’t think racism is a thing they’d naturally come up with. They would see a difference, but if no one told them that difference made the other person bad or lesser in some way, I don’t think they’d get to that place themselves. Just like they wouldn’t get to a Christian or Hindu or Rastafarian “god” if you didn’t put it into their heads.

And there’s still so much racism – when I was younger I thought that racism would naturally disappear as people lived together more, rubbed elbows, you know, got to know each other and realized, oh yeah, I guess we’re all the same. We all want the same things. Naive I was, since racism isn’t going anywhere. Will it ever? I don’t know. I don’t hold out a lot of hope. If it starts with your parents, if it’s planted there by them, anyone now, what with the Internet and Fox news, they can have that racism reinforced and validated every day. The can celebrate their ignorance and be told it’s a virtue. And if that’s all you choose to see, you can easily think that’s the way the world is, and if enough people think that way and believe that, then that is the way the world really is. It becomes that. And that goes for every other weird bias you put into your kid’s head. If they’re likely to believe you, they will be able to find reinforcement for that belief somewhere. And maybe eventually dangerously exaggerated versions of that belief.

The reality is there probably isn’t a perfect way to raise children. My point wasn’t really to talk about raising children anyway, because it’s none of my business how you raise your children. What I meant to talk about was how fucked up it is that adults have to live in a world that’s attempting to sanitize everything in a misguided attempt to “protect” children. Protect them from what? Seeing things that are going to make them ask you questions? That’s what’s really behind these parents who want you to sanitize your world for their children. They don’t want to have to answer questions about the things that you’re doing. They don’t want to answer those questions because they don’t have any answers to those questions and they don’t want their kids to think there’s anything that they don’t know, or that there is any world view except their own. That’s what I wanted to talk about, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be today. I guess that was God’s plan for us today. Divine intervention kept me from my point. Well, there it is. It’s all the same bag of tamales anyway. Mmm, tamales…

Okay, well, as long as we’re here together, I just wanted to point something out to all of you “feel the Bern” types out there. All of you who believe that Bernie Sanders is some kind of outsider political anarchist who has arrived to free you, to free the nation and lead us to Valhalla. For you Norse types. Don’t forget that your pal Bernie is a professional politician. For more than 35 years now. If you like his radical ideas – that shouldn’t really be radical, but here we are – if you like those, you have to ask yourself why he hasn’t been able to implement any of them in those more than 35 years he’s been a professional politician. The answer to that, of course, is the rest of the politicians won’t let him. And if you think that will change if he was to become president, I have two words for you: Barack Obama. He’s had seven years and of all the big change ideas he talked about before he was elected, none have come to pass. Zero. We have universal health care now, yes, barely, but the push for that started decades before he became president. So go ahead, elect Bernie Sanders. It won’t make a god damned bit of difference in anyone’s life.

The only outsider in this Thunderdome cage match of imbeciles, the only one who isn’t a professional politician is a subnormal racist lunatic reality TV dude who panders to the darkest corners of the rotten, dusty beliefs of a lot of people. A guy whose parents coddled him. Ha, I don’t know that, maybe they did. Just saying, you don’t get to be like that without someone telling you how great you are when you’re young. Or how worthless you are. Either one of those can build a Donald Trumpenstein. So we’re back to what we’re always back to, which is business as usual. The president is a figurehead. If you want to change something, get rid of Congress and the House of Representatives. Better yet, get rid of Wall Street and everything it stands for. Or don’t. I don’t care, you won’t find me at the polls on election day. I’d rather go find a plate of tamales or wash my dog. It will do more good than voting in another president. They’re all the same.

People have the power, yeah. Patti and Fred “Sonic” Smith sang that back in the 80s, didn’t they? Or early 90s. And people do have the power, but we’re afraid to use it. Terrified to exercise any control. Or as Joe Strummer said, “All the power in the hands of the people rich enough to buy it, while we walk the streets, too chicken to even try it.” He also said, in the different song, but in the same cadence, “You got the future shining like a piece of gold, but I swear as we get closer, it looks more like a lump of coal.” Which is a tad more pessimistic than Patti and Fred’s song, but it’s proving to be more realistic, isn’t it. But we can always look forward to the Oscars TV show, right? I won’t be watching that either, but if you want my Oscar wrap-up, you can listen to the 10th show I did here, the 2015 Oscar ceremony wrap up. The names of the movies will be different, but everything else will be exactly the same.

Hey, does anyone remember chirpwatch? Well it continues. There is no end in sight. It’s incredible. Like everything else about my wonderful neighbors 10 feet east of the kitchen. 10 feet east of where I stand now talking to you, or at least where I have been talking to you, because now it’s time to go. If you’re not doing anything, drop by next time and see what’s bubbling on the stove. See ya later.