What is an Adult Human? / Biology Law Psychology Culture

Photo from Duke Health – group of 10-13 year olds. Biologically, they are adults. Legally they are not. Culturally? Psychologically? Big Questions.

Biological adulthood Wikipedia

Historically and cross-culturally, adulthood has been determined primarily by the start of puberty (the appearance of secondary sex characteristics such as menstruation in women, ejaculation in men, and pubic hair in both sexes). In the past, a person usually moved from the status of child directly to the status of adult, often with this shift being marked by some type of coming-of-age test or ceremony.[1]

After the social construct of adolescence was created, adulthood split into two forms: biological adulthood and social adulthood. Thus, there are now two primary forms of adults: biological adults (people who have attained reproductive ability, are fertile, or who evidence secondary sex characteristics) and social adults (people who are recognized by their culture or law as being adults). Depending on the context, adult can indicate either definition.

Although few or no established dictionaries provide a definition for the two word term biological adult, the first definition of adult in multiple dictionaries includes “the stage of the life cycle of an animal after reproductive capacity has been attained”.[2][3] Thus, the base definition of the word adult is the period beginning at physical sexual maturity, which occurs sometime after the onset of puberty. Although this is the primary definition of the base word “adult”, the term is also frequently used to refer to social adults. The two-word term biological adult stresses or clarifies that the original definition, based on physical maturity, is being used.

In humans, puberty on average begins around 10–11 years of age for girls and 11–12 years of age for boys, though this will vary from person to person. For girls, puberty begins around 10 or 11 years of age and ends around age 16. Boys enter puberty later than girls – usually around 12 years of age and it lasts until around age 16 or 17 (Or in rare cases 18 and a half).[4][5]

There seems to be disagreement on the attainment of adulthood: is it at the start or completion of puberty?

More from Duke Health: https://www.dukehealth.org/blog/when-puberty-too-early

When Is Puberty Too Early?

October 01, 2013

Early Puberty in Girls

For girls, puberty is generally considered to be too early if it begins at age seven or eight. African-American and Hispanic girls tend to start puberty slightly earlier than Caucasian girls. The average age of pubertal onset in girls is 10-and-a-half years old, but it ranges from seven to 13 years old. The average age of menarche is 12-and-a-half to 13 years of age. The whole process of puberty should take three to four years.

Rapidly progressing puberty — start to finish in less than two years — can be a concern as well because it can be due to an endocrine disorder

Early Puberty in Boys

For boys, puberty is generally considered too early before the age of nine years. In boys, onset of puberty is from nine to 14 years, but on average starts at 11-and-a-half to 12 years old. The whole process of puberty should take three to four years. Rapidly progressing puberty can also be a concern in males

Preventing Early Puberty

While genetic factors play a role in the early onset of puberty, parents can help delay the environmental causes of early puberty. Preventive measures include:

  • Encourage your child to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid exposure to exogenous hormones like estrogen, testosterone, DHEA, androstenedione that may be found in creams/gels, hair treatments, medications, and nutritional supplements. (And who knows where else these powerful hormones are being used and entering environmental systems)

 Psychological Adulthood? 

Here is where we encounter the perils of “socially constructed” opinion about human development: What a mess!

Psychological development

Written By: The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica

Psychological development, the development of human beings’ cognitive, emotional, intellectual, and social capabilities and functioning over the course of the life span, from infancy through old age. It is the subject matter of the discipline known as developmental psychology. Child psychology was the traditional focus of research, but since the mid-20th century much has been learned about infancy and adulthood as well. A brief treatment of psychological development follows. For full treatment, see human behaviour.

Infancy is the period between birth and the acquisition of language one to two years later.

Childhood is the second major phase in human development, childhood, extends from one or two years of age until the onset of adolescence at age 12 or 13.

Adolescence Physically, adolescence begins with the onset of puberty at 12 or 13 and culminates at age 19 or 20 in adulthood.

Hmmm…. a discrepancy of 7-8 YEARS between biological and psychological demarcation for the beginning of adulthood, that is, IF adulthood is the onset of puberty. IF it’s the completion of puberty – the discrepancy is more like 4-5 years.

But! We now have a serious problem: the socially constructed stage called adolescence, interferes with, and contradicts, the biological transition from pre-reproductive childhood, to reproductive adult with no clear transition at all. The result is chaos in education, legal jurisdiction, sex-reproduction-parenting, health, nutrition and behavioral expectations!

Adulthood is a period of optimum mental functioning when the individual’s intellectual, emotional, and social capabilities are at their peak to meet the demands of career, marriage, and children. Some psychologists delineate various periods and transitions in early to middle adulthood that involve crises or reassessments of one’s life and result in decisions regarding new commitments or goals. During the middle 30s people develop a sense of time limitation, and previous behaviour patterns or beliefs may be given up in favour of new ones.

Wow! Just how does a person between the ages of 10-20 years old negotiate this bizarre disconnect between a developmental paradigm “invented” by psychologists, and the physical reality of the human body?

One might expect individual cultures to “help” with this vital transition… 

Cultural Adulthood? 

How the American legal system defines adult status is a crucial cultural factor.  

Adult: A person who by virtue of attaining a certain age, generally eighteen, is regarded in the eyes of the law as being able to manage his or her own affairs.

Wow! Highly optimistic and unrealistic in American culture, which overwhelmingly advocates for the indefinite postponement of adulthood… 

Note that American education does little to nothing to prepare children, adolescents, and now “emerging adults” (a new category of underdeveloped Homo sapiens that is MEASURED BY the subjective “feeling” of being adult) for these sudden legal and financial facts of life.  This dithering over adult status is the “privilege” of the wealth classes; poor and minority children too often become “instant adults” – in a jail cell.  

The age specified by law, called the legal age of majority, indicates that a person acquires full legal capacity to be bound by various documents, such as contracts and deeds, that he or she makes with others and to commit other legal acts such as voting in elections and entering marriage. The age at which a person becomes an adult varies from state to state and often varies within a state, depending upon the nature of the action taken by the person. Thus, a person wishing to obtain a license to operate a motor vehicle may be considered an adult at age sixteen, but may not reach adulthood until age eighteen for purposes of marriage, or age twenty-one for purposes of purchasing intoxicating liquors.

Anyone who has not reached the age of adulthood is legally considered an infant. (!! Really?) West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Morning Thoughts / “$$$$ research” that proves “the obvious”

Headache: Reading research on brain development in childhood; what is “normal” and what is “not”.

(Hint: “normal” is the state of tolerating brain damage because it adapts one to high stress human social environments and unhealthy “deprived” physical environments. Those individuals who become “sickened” by conditions that harm living things are defective, like smoke alarms that actually respond to smoke!)

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I’m not “picking on” these specific people: this article is merely one of thousands that disclose a severe problem – billions of $$$ being spent to “research the obvious” and so little is spent on real preventive help for children and families. It’s SO FRUSTRATING for an Asperger: the neurotypical limitation of “letting things get screwed up” and only then “coming up with” some kind of “technical fix” that too often merely compounds suffering with new unintended consequences – Dig that hole deeper and deeper, is the prime directive for neurotypicals.  

Effects of Early Life Stress on Cognitive and Affective Function: An Integrated Review of Human Literature

The brilliant conclusion? Childhood abuse, neglect and trauma f**k with living things. Brilliant?

No, repetition of the OBVIOUS pattern:   

The goal of all this research? To somehow “fix” screwed up brains using high-tech engineering to “repair” what’s broken. Not brilliant! The neurotypical pattern is to perpetuate the social structures and toxic environments that damage human beings; let the damage occur, and then send out “recall notices” to come in and have your brain repaired (or further messed up).

The actual “thinking” behind NT behavior is dumb. The illusion that “technical breakthroughs solve problems” is so short-sighted and disproven by social history. Another obvious failure of NT insight into the incredible gap between narcissistic self-assessment and the lack of competency in practical, preventative action. 

Do we want people to be healthy and happy?  Or do we  want people to be f**k’d up? It’s a simple question. 

 

 

A Cheery Look at Childhood in Western Cultures / PSYCHOHISTORY

Lloyd deMause, pronounced de-Moss is an American social thinker known for his work in the field of psychohistory. Wikipedia

Born: September 19, 1931 (age 86), Detroit, MI Education: Columbia University

FOUNDATIONS OF
PSYCHOHISTORY
by LLOYD DEMAUSE

The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken. The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused. It is our task here to see how much of this childhood history can be recaptured from the evidence that remains to us.

That this pattern has not previously been noticed by historians is because serious history has long been considered a record of public not private events. Historians have concentrated so much on the noisy sand-box of history, with its fantastic castles and magnificent battles, that they have generally ignored what is going on in the homes around the playground. And where historians usually look to the sandbox battles of yesterday for the causes of those of today, we instead ask how each generation of parents and children creates those issues which are later acted out in the arena of public life.

At first glance, this lack of interest in the lives of children seems odd. Historians have been traditionally committed to explaining continuity and change over time, and ever since Plato it has been known that child-hood is a key to this understanding. The importance of parent-child relations for social change was hardly discovered by Freud; St. Augustine’s cry, “Give me other mothers and I will give you another world,” has been echoed by major thinkers for fifteen centuries without affecting historical writing. Since Freud, of course, our view of childhood has acquired a new dimension, and in the past half century the study of childhood has become routine for the psychologist, the sociologist, and the anthropologist. It is only beginning for the historian. Such determined avoidance requires an explanation.

Full PDF: http://psychohistory.com/books/foundations-of-psychohistory/chapter-1-the-evolution-of-childhood/

 

Self-mythologizing / Homo sapiens NT strikes again

Every once in awhile, I like to check in with neurotypical “pop science” versions of WHO WE ARE – narcissism knows no limits. 

From SLATE.com

Science / The state of the universe. (Not too pompous!)
Jan. 29 2013

Why Are We the Last Apes Standing?

There’s a misconception among a lot of us Homo sapiens that we and our direct ancestors are the only humans ever to have walked the planet. It turns out that the emergence of our kind isn’t nearly that simple. The whole story of human evolution is messy, and the more we look into the matter, the messier it becomes.

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Before we go into this “messy” NT mythology – the author: His website is www.chipwalter.com

Welcome!

At last you have made your way to the website of Chip Walter. (Try to control your excitement.) If you’re a curious person – and your discovery of this site attests that you are – then you’ve arrived at the right place. Go ahead, browse…

Chip is a journalist, author, filmmaker and former CNN Bureau Chief. He has written four books, all of them, one way or another, explorations of human creativity, human nature and human curiosity. (That should be a warning: shameless BS to follow)

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Paleoanthropologists have discovered as many as 27 different human species (the experts tend to debate where to draw the line between groups). These hominids diverged after our lineage split from a common ancestor we shared with chimpanzees 7 million years ago, give or take a few hundred millennia.

Many of these species crossed paths, competed, and mated. Populations ebbed and flowed in tight little tribes, at first on the expanding savannahs of Africa, later throughout Europe, Asia, and all the way to Indonesia. Just 100,000 years ago, there were several human species sharing the planet, possibly more: Neanderthals in Europe and West Asia, the mysterious Denisovan people of Siberia, the recently discovered Red Deer Cave people living in southern China, Homo floresiensis (the Hobbits of Indonesia), and other yet unknown descendants of Homo erectus who left indications that they were around (the DNA of specialized body lice, to be specific). And, of course, there was our kind, Homo sapiens sapiens (the wise, wise ones), still living in Africa, not yet having departed the mother continent. At most, each species consisted of a few tens of thousands of people hanging on by their battered fingernails. Somehow, out of all of these struggles, our particular brand of human emerged as the sole survivor and then went on, rather rapidly, to materially rearrange the world.

If there once were so many other human species wandering the planet, why are we alone still standing? After all, couldn’t another version or two have survived and coexisted with us on a world as large as ours? Lions and tigers coexist; so do jaguars and cheetahs. Gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, and chimpanzees do as well (though barely). Two kinds of elephants and multiple versions of dolphins, sharks, bears, birds, and beetles—countless beetles—inhabit the planet. Yet only one kind of human? Why?

More than once, one variety may have done in another either by murdering its rivals outright or outcompeting them for limited resources. But the answer isn’t as simple or dramatic as a war of extermination with one species turning on the other in some prehistoric version of Planet of the Apes. The reason we are still here to ruminate on why we are still here is because, of all those other human species, only we evolved a long childhood.

Over the course of the past 1.5 million years, the forces of evolution inserted an extra six years between infancy and pre-adolescence—a childhood—into the life of our species. And that changed everything.

Why should adding a childhood help us escape extinction’s pitiless scythe? Looked at logically, it shouldn’t. All it would seem to do is lengthen the time between birth and mating, which would slow down the clamoring business of the species’ own continuance. But there was one game-changing side effect of a long childhood. Those six years of life between ages 1 and 7 are the time when we lay the groundwork for the people we grow up to become. Without childhood you and I would never have the opportunity to step away from the dictates of our genes and develop the talents, quirks, and foibles that make us all the devastatingly charming, adaptable, and distinctive individuals we are.

Childhood came into existence as the result of a peculiar evolutionary phenomenon known generally as neoteny. (More about this sweeping misinterpretation later) The term comes from two Greek words, neos meaning “new” (in the sense of “juvenile”) and teinein meaning to “extend,” and it means the retention of youthful traits. In the case of humans, it meant that our ancestors passed along to us a way to stretch youth farther into life.

More than a million years ago, our direct ancestors found themselves in a real evolutionary pickle. One the one hand, their brains were growing larger than those of their rain forest cousins, and on the other, they had taken to walking upright because they spent most of their time in Africa’s expanding savannas. Both features would seem to have substantially increased the likelihood of their survival, and they did, except for one problem: Standing upright favors the evolution of narrow hips and therefore narrows the birth canal. And that made bringing larger-headed infants to full term before birth increasingly difficult.

If we were born as physically mature as, say, an infant gorilla, our mothers would be forced to carry us for 20 months! But if they did carry us that long, our larger heads wouldn’t make it through the birth canal. We would be, literally, unbearable. The solution: Our forerunners, as their brains expanded, began to arrive in the world sooner, essentially as fetuses, far less developed than other newborn primates, and considerably more helpless.

Bolk enumerated 25 specific fetal or juvenile features that disappear entirely in apes as they grow to adulthood but persist in humans. Flatter faces and high foreheads, for example, and a lack of body hair. The shape of our ears, the absence of large brow ridges over our eyes, a skull that sits facing forward on our necks, a straight rather than thumblike big toe, and the large size of our heads compared with the rest of our bodies. You can find every one of these traits in fetal, infant, or toddling apes, and modern human adults.

In the nasty and brutish prehistoric world our ancestors inhabited, arriving prematurely could have been a very bad thing. But to see the advantages of being born helpless and fetal, all you have to do is watch a 2-year-old. Human children are the most voracious learners planet Earth has ever seen, and they are that way because their brains are still rapidly developing after birth. Neoteny, and the childhood it spawned, not only extended the time during which we grow up but ensured that we spent it developing not inside the safety of the womb but outside in the wide, convoluted, and unpredictable world.

The same neuronal networks that in other animals are largely set before or shortly after birth remain open and flexible in us. Other primates also exhibit “sensitive periods” for learning as their brains develop, but they pass quickly, and their brain circuitry is mostly established by their first birthday, leaving them far less touched by the experiences of their youth.

The major problem with all this NT self-congratulatory aggrandizement is this: the equally possible scenario that this “open, externalized brain development” leaves human fetuses-infants-children highly vulnerable to disastrous consequences: death in infancy by neglect, disease and predation; maternal death, brain and nervous system damage due to not-so-healthy human environments, insufficient care and nutrition during critical post-birth growth, plus the usual demands and perils of nature.  And in “modern” societies, the necessity of a tremendous amount of medical-technological intervention in problem pregnancies: extreme premature birth, caesarian section delivery, long periods of ICU support, and growing incidence of life-long impairment.    

“Inattentional Blindness” to any negative consequences of human evolution is a true failure in NT perception of the human condition.

Based on the current fossil evidence, this was true to a lesser extent of the 26 other savanna apes and humans. Homo habilis, H. ergaster, H. erectus, even H. heidelbergensis (which is likely the common ancestor of Neanderthals, Denisovans, and us), all had prolonged childhoods compared with chimpanzees and gorillas, but none as long as ours. In fact, Harvard paleoanthropologist Tanya Smith and her colleagues have found that Neanderthals reversed the trend. By the time they met their end around 30,000 years ago, they were reaching childbearing age at about the age of 11 or 12, which is three to five years earlier than their Homo sapiens cousins. Was this in response to evolutionary pressure to accelerate childbearing to replenish the dwindling species? Maybe. But in the bargain, they traded away the flexibility that childhood delivers, and that may have ultimately led to their demise.

Aye, yai, yai! This string of NT echolalia, copied and pieced together from pop-science interpretations of “science projects” is worthy of Biblical mythology… a montage, a disordered mosaic; a collage of key words, that condenses millions of years of evolutionary change into a “slightly longer” (call it 6 million years instead of 6 thousand – sounds more scientific) – history of Creation… this is for neurotypical consumption: It’s okay… Evolution is really just magic, after all! 

We are different. During those six critical years, our brains furiously wire and rewire themselves, capturing experience, encoding and applying it to the needs of our particular life. Our extended childhood essentially enables our brains to better match our experience and environment. (Whatever that is supposed to mean – like wearing Bermuda shorts to the beach?) It is the foundation of the thing we call our personalities, the attributes that make you you and me me. Without it, you would be far more similar to everyone else, far less quirky and creative and less, well … you. Our childhood also helps explain how chimpanzees, remarkable as they are, can have 99 percent of our DNA but nothing like the same level of diversity, complexity, or inventiveness.

You are creative and quirky (dull and conformist) – and even if that’s a shameless lie (it is), AT LEAST you’re smarter than a chimpanzee!  

Our long childhood has allowed us to collectively engage in ever broadening conversations as we keep finding new ways to communicate; we jabber and bristle with invention and pool together waves of fresh ideas, good and bad, into that elaborate, rambling edifice we call human civilization. Without all of this variety, all of these interlocked notions and accomplishments, the world, for better or worse, would not be as it is, brimming with this species of self-aware conflicted apes, ingenious enough to rocket rovers off to Mars and construct the Internet, wage wars on international scales, invent both WMDs and symphonies. If not for our long childhoods, we would not be here at all, the last apes standing. Can we remain standing? Possibly. I’m counting on the child in us, the part that loves to meander and play, go down blind alleys, wonder why and fancy the impossible.

How shockingly stupid (and awful) writing. 

 

Psychologists Terrorize Children / “Emotional Regulation” Abuse

American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids. Here’s How

In defense of the wild child

https://newrepublic.com/article/114527/self-regulation-american-schools-are-failing-nonconformist-kids

By Elizabeth Weil, September 2, 2013

The writing is cringe-worthy, especially abominations such as “valorize” and “valorizing” but that’s neurotypicals for you – novelty is irresistible, like glitter and mini cupcakes with blue icing and sprinkles. Highlights are mine. Comments.

Of the possible child heroes for our times, young people with epic levels of the traits we valorize, the strongest contender has got to be the kid in the marshmallow study. Social scientists are so sick of the story that some threaten suicide if forced to read about him one more time. But to review: The child—or really, nearly one-third of the more than 600 children tested in the late ’60s at Bing Nursery School on the Stanford University campus—sits in a room with a marshmallow. Having been told that if he abstains for 15 minutes he’ll get two marshmallows later, he doesn’t eat it. This kid is a paragon of self-restraint, a savant of delayed gratification. He’ll go on, or so the psychologists say, to show the straight-and-narrow qualities required to secure life’s sweeter and more elusive prizes: high SAT scores, money, health.

I began to think about the marshmallow kid and how much I wanted my own daughter to be like him one day last fall while I sat in a parent-teacher conference in her second-grade classroom and learned, as many parents do these days, that she needed to work on self-regulation. My daughter is nonconformist by nature, a miniature Sarah Silverman. She’s wildly, transgressively funny and insists on being original even when it causes her pain. The teacher at her private school, a man so hip and unthreatened that he used to keep a boa constrictor named Elvis in his classroom, had noticed she was not gently going along with the sit-still, raise-your-hand-to-speak-during-circle-time program. “So …” he said, in the most caring, best-practices way, “have you thought about occupational therapy?”

I did not react well. My husband reacted worse. I could appreciate the role of O.T., as occupational therapy is called, in helping children improve handwriting through better pencil grips. But I found other O.T. practices, and the values wrapped up in them, discomfiting: occupational therapists coaching preschoolers on core-muscle exercises so that they can sit longer; occupational therapists leading social-skills playgroups to boost “behavior management” skills. Fidget toys and wiggle cushions—O.T. staples aimed at helping children vent anxiety and energy—have become commonplace in grammar-school classrooms. Heavy balls and weighted blankets, even bags of rice, are also prescribed on the theory that hefty objects comfort children who feel emotionally out of control. Did our daughter need what sounded like a paperweight for her young body in order to succeed at her job as a second-grader?

Are mainstream classrooms being redesigned under the assumption that all children are autistic or behaviorally impaired? 

My husband grilled the teacher. How were her reading skills? What about math? Did she have friends?

All good, the teacher reassured us.

“So what’s the problem?” my husband asked. “Is she distracting you?”

The teacher stalled, then said yes.

“And have you disciplined her?”

He had not.

This is when I began to realize we’d crossed some weird Foucaultian threshold into a world in which authority figures pathologize children instead of punishing them.

No – psychology provides pathologies to JUSTIFY the same old “right and obligation” granted those in authority, to punish children and “lesser” humans.  

Self-regulation,” “self- discipline,” and “emotional regulation” are big buzz words in schools right now. All are aimed at producing “appropriate” behavior, at bringing children’s personal styles in line with an implicit emotional orthodoxy. That orthodoxy is embodied by a composed, conforming kid who doesn’t externalize problems or talk too much or challenge the rules too frequently or move around excessively or complain about the curriculum or have passionate outbursts. He’s a master at decoding expectations. He has a keen inner minder to bring rogue impulses into line with them.

Emotional regulation is psychology’s new pet field. Before 1981, a single citation for the term existed in the literature. For 2012 alone, Google Scholar turns up more than 8,000 hits. In popular culture, self-regulation is celebrated in best-selling education books, like Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed, manuals for success in a meritocracy extolling a pull-your-socks-up way of being. Some of Tough’s ideas are classically liberal, built off Nobel Prize–winning economist James Heckman’s theory of human capital and the importance of investing in the very young. But then the book turns toward the character-is-destiny model pioneered by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth and the KIPP charter-school network. The key to success, in this formulation, is grit. (Though Duckworth acknowledges on her own website that nobody is sure how to teach it.) One KIPP school features a tiled mosaic that reads, “DON’T EAT THE MARSHMALLOWS YET!”

“Long may this book dwell on the best-seller lists!” Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times, giving How Children Succeed a hearty endorsement. Yet though widely embraced by progressives, the grit cure-all is in many ways deeply conservative, (Puritanical / Liberal / Old Testament actually, in the American version of religious  pedagogy) arguably even a few inches to the right of Amy Chua and her Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The parent of the well-regulated child should not, like Chua, need to threaten to burn her daughter’s stuffie if that daughter is curious or self-indulgent, AWOL (or god-forbid, dawdling) somewhere between school, soccer practice, and the piano tutor. The child should be equipped with an internal minder. No threats necessary.

But at what cost? One mother I spoke to, a doctor in Seattle, has a son who has had trouble sitting cross-legged, as his classroom’s protocol demanded. The school sent home a note suggesting she might want to test him for “learning difference.” She did—“paid about two thousand dollars for testing,” she told me—and started the child in private tutoring. “After the third ride home across the city with him sobbing about how much he hated the sessions, we decided to screw it,” she said. She later learned every one of the boys in her son’s class had been referred out for testing. Another family, determined to resist such intervention, paid for an outside therapist to provide expert testimony to their son’s Oakland school stating that he did not have a mental health disorder. (So much for “innocent until proven guilty“ – human rights are being trampled, right and left) We wanted them to hear from the therapist directly: He’s fine,” the mother said. “Being a very strong-willed individual—that’s a powerful gift that’s going to be unbelievably awesome someday.”

In the meantime, he’s part of an education system (a victim, rather) that has scant tolerance for independence of mind. “We’re saying to the kid, ‘You’re broken. You’re defective,’ ” says Robert Whitaker, author of Mad in America. “In some ways, these things become self-fulfilling prophesies.”

Education is the business of shaping people. (Social-engineering) It works, however subtly, toward an ideal. At various points, the ideal products of the American school system have been extroverts and right-handed children. (Lefties were believed to show signs of “neurological insult or physical malfunctioning” and had to be broken of their natural tendency.) Individuality has had its moments as well. In the 1930s, for instance, educators made huge efforts to find out what motivated unique students to keep them from dropping out because no jobs existed for them to drop into. Yet here in 2013, even as the United States faces pressure to “win the future,” the American education system has swung in the opposite direction, toward the commodified data-driven ideas promoted by Frederick Winslow Taylor, who at the turn of the century did time-motion studies of laborers carrying bricks to figure out how people worked most efficiently. Borrowing Taylor’s ideas, school was not designed then to foster free thinkers. Nor is it now, thanks to how teacher pay and job security have been tied to student performance on standardized tests. (A red herring – this has nothing to do with accountability)  “What we’re teaching today is obedience, conformity, following orders,” says the education historian Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System. “We’re certainly not teaching kids to think outside the box.” The motto of the so-called school-reform movement is: No Excuses. “The message is: It’s up to you. Grit means it’s your problem. Just bear down and do what you have to do.”

American education has always taught obedience, conformity, and following orders; the difference is that we used to throw in basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills so that “the peasants” could read The Bible and perform basic job tasks.   

As a consumer of education—both as a child and a parent—I’d never thought much about classroom management. The field sounds technical and dull, inside baseball for teachers. Scratch two inches below the surface, however, and it becomes fascinating, political philosophy writ small. Is individuality to be contained or nurtured? What relationship to authority do teachers seek to create?

One way to think about classroom management (and discipline in general) is that some tactics are external and others are internal. External tactics work by inflicting an embarrassing or unpleasant experience on the kid. The classic example is a teacher shaming a child by making him write “I will not …” whatever on the blackboard 100 times. My own second-grade teacher threw a rubber chicken at a boy who refused to shut up during silent reading. But such means have become “well, problematic,” says Jonathan Zimmerman, director of the History of Education Program at New York University. In 1975, in Goss v. Lopez, the Supreme Court found schoolchildren to have due process rights. “As a result, students can say to teachers with some authority, ‘If you do that, my mom is going to sue you.’ And that changes the score.”

In Goss’s wake, many educators moved toward what progressive education commentator Alfie Kohn calls the New Disciplines. The philosophy promotes strategies like “shared decision-making,” allowing children to decide between, say, following the teacher’s rules and staying after school for detention. This sounds great to the contemporary ear. The child is less passive and prone to be a victim, more autonomous and in control of his life. But critics of the technique are harsh. It’s “fundamentally dishonest, not to mention manipulative,” Kohn has written. “To the injury of punishment is added the insult of a kind of mind game whereby reality is redefined and children are told, in effect, that they wanted something bad to happen to them.”

A different, utopian approach to classroom management works from the premise that children are natively good and reasonable. If one is misbehaving, he’s trying to tell you that something is wrong. Maybe the curriculum is too easy, too hard, too monotonous. Maybe the child feels disregarded, threatened, or set up to fail. It’s a pretty thought, order through authentic, handcrafted curricula. But it’s nearly impossible to execute in the schools created through the combination of No Child Left Behind and recessionary budget-slashing. And that makes internal discipline very convenient right now.

To train this vital new task, schools have added to reading,’riting, and ’rithmetic a fourth R, for self-regulation. The curricular branch that has emerged to teach it is called social and emotional learning, or SEL. Definitions of SEL are tautological. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines it as involving “the processes of developing social and emotional competencies” toward the goal of making a child a “good student, citizen, and worker” who is less inclined to exhibit bad behaviors, like using drugs, fighting, bullying, or dropping out of school.

The aim is to create a “virtuous cycle” of behavior. As Celene Domitrovich, director of research at CASEL, told me, SEL instructs children in “the skills that undergird” grit. “Paul Tough doesn’t talk about SEL, even though his whole book is about it,” says Domitrovich. “Tenacity, grit, motivation, stick-to-it-iveness—we’re all talking about the same thing.”

CASEL was founded by Daniel Goleman, the former New York Times reporter whose 1995 blockbuster book, Emotional Intelligence, was based on the work of two psychology professors, John Mayer and Peter Salovey. (Salovey clearly has all kinds of intelligence. He’s now president of Yale University.) Emotional intelligence sounds unassailably great. Who wouldn’t want high ratings for oneself or one’s children, especially given Goleman’s claim that emotional intelligence is a more powerful predictor of career success than IQ? Besides, SEL filled a need. On top of the discipline vacuum* created by the Goss ruling, in the 1990s, says Domitrovich, “you start having school shootings. There’s a surge of interest in the idea of prevention—bullying prevention, character development.” * Discipline vacuum? A consequence of Americans equating discipline with physical punishment. Take away paddling, smacking, hitting and humiliation-shaming, and – well, there is no other discipline, is there? Read your Bible!) 

Now that is a perverted line of thinking! School shootings can be “prevented” by mass behavioral indoctrination and social coercion from birth, a program, which in itself, is a human rights catastrophe! Psycho-social Eugenics…  

Since then, CASEL has been pushing hard. It’s an advocacy group. The NoVo Foundation, run by Warren Buffett’s son Peter and Peter’s wife, Jennifer—and endowed with roughly $140 million worth of Berkshire Hathaway stock—has taken up social and emotional learning as one of its four primary philanthropic interests. SEL is now mandated at all grade levels in Illinois. Some form of it is taught in half of school districts in the United States.

Certain SEL lessons are embedded into school practices like “morning meeting.” The peace table at my daughter’s school, inspired by psychologist Thomas Gordon’s suite of alternatives to “power-based” classroom management techniques, is sort of an SEL extracurricular. Anyone can call a peace table to address a grievance, which can range from I think you smacked that tetherball into my head on purpose to I’d like to hang out more with your best friend. At the table, the children complete a worksheet. When you ______, I feel _______. I need you to _______.

SEL curricula also offer direct instruction on discrete skills. For example, a teacher might do an active-listening exercise, laying out the components—you look the other person in the eye, you’re quiet when they talk—then asking the children to role-play. This, of course, is a useful life habit and a dream to a lecturing teacher. Yet Domitrovich takes it further. “You can see where it’s so obvious that this is essential to learning. What if a child is not good at stopping and calming down? What if a child is really impulsive? What if a child is not good at getting along with everybody? How’s that going to play out?” To her, the answer is clear. The other students in the class are going to ignore and exclude the poorly regulated child. As a result, that child is not going to be “learning optimally.” Academics will suffer due to deficient social and emotional skills.

Is this not an “underhanded” way to single out ASD / Asperger children for “retraining” as social clones? Impose a “behavior regime” that is so strict that such children will not be able to comply, and “self-diagnose” 

The only problem is: It’s not clear that’s true. In 2007, Greg Duncan, a professor of education at the University of California at Irvine, did an analysis of the effects of social and emotional problems on a sample of 25,000 elementary school students. He found, he says, “Emotional intelligence in kindergarten was completely unpredictive.” Children who started school socially and emotionally unruly did just as well academically as their more contained peers from first through eighth grades. David Grissmer, at the University of Virginia, reran Duncan’s analysis repeatedly, hoping to prove him wrong. Instead, he confirmed that Duncan was right. A paper from Florida International University also found minimal correlation between emotional intelligence and college students’ GPAs.

In 2011, CASEL volleyed back at the skeptics, publishing a gigantic meta-analysis (213 studies, 270,034 students) claiming that SEL programs raised academic performance by 11 percent. Such a large and divergent finding sent up a red flag for NurtureShock co-author Ashley Merryman, who’d read just about every published study relating to emotional intelligence and academic achievement while researching the book. So she examined CASEL’s source studies and discovered that only 33 of the 213 reported any academic results at all. She also uncovered a far more likely reason for CASEL’s fortuitous finding: Many of the students in the sample populations received academic tutoring. (Exploitive capitalists…let’s label these people for who they really are.) 

In 2007 a UNICEF paper on child wellbeing ranked England dead last in the 21 developed nations it surveyed. (Apparently all those books and movies about horrid British childhoods are accurate.) SEL, the British hoped, would make its children emotionally healthy. The Department of Education rolled out programs countrywide. Six years later, England’s experience with SEL (or SEAL, as they call it) offers some cautionary tales. For starters, the programs didn’t seem to work as hoped—or, as an official 2010 brief reported politely, “[O]ur data was not congruent with the broader literature” promising “significant improvements in a range of outcomes.”

Among the most cutting assessments of the British SEL experiment is an ethnographic study called “Social and Emotional Pedagogies: Critiquing the New Orthodoxy of Emotion in Classroom Behaviour Management,” by Val Gillies, a professor of social and policy studies at London South Bank University. Gillies describes the new emotional orthodoxy as a “calm, emotionally flat ideal” that “not only overlies a considerably more turbulent reality, [but] also denies the significance of passion as a motivator.” In theory, SEL gives less well-regulated children a more stable foundation from which to learn. In reality, writes Gillies, “Pupils who dissent from sanctioned models of expression are marked out as personally lacking.” (Shaming, blaming, social exile – same old religious imperative) 

According to the human development theory of Dandelion and Orchid children, certain people are genetically predisposed to grow fairly well in almost any environment while others wilt or blossom spectacularly depending on circumstances and care. Some kids—the dandelions—seem naturally suited to cope with the current system. As Sanford Newmark, head of the Pediatric Integrative Neurodevelopmental Program at the University of California at San Francisco, puts it, “You can feed them three Pop-Tarts for breakfast, they can be in school twelve hours a day, and they can go to kindergarten when they’re four, and they would still do OK.” But many children crumble.

That is, these kids will take any abuse psychologists can think of, and thus become “good neurotypical idiots”.

“We’ve been around for a couple hundred thousand years, reading only for the last five thousand years, and compulsory education has only been in place for one hundred fifty years or so. Some kids are going to be thinking, ‘Why is my teacher asking me to do this? My brain doesn’t work this way,’ ” says Stephen Hinshaw, a psychology professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Heidi Tringali, an occupational therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina, offers a hypothesis built on shorter-term influences: Many of the nonconforming children she treats may need wiggle cushions and weighted balls because they’ve grown up strapped into the five-point harnesses of strollers and car seats, planted in front of screens, and put to sleep at night flat on their backs, all of which leaves them craving action, sensation, and attention when they’re finally let loose. “Every child in the school system right now has been impacted. Of course they’re all licking their friends and bouncing off the walls.”

One crude way to measure the population of kids who don’t meet today’s social and behavioral expectations is to look at the percentage of school-aged children diagnosed with attention- deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Over the past ten years, that figure has risen 41 points. (A lot of these kids were just born at the wrong time of year. The youngest kindergarteners, by month of birth, are more than twice as likely than the oldest to be labeled with ADHD. This makes sense given that the frontal cortex, which controls self-regulation, thickens during childhood. (More pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo) – The cortexes of children diagnosed with ADHD tend to reach their thickest point closer to age eleven than age eight.) The number climbs higher still if you include syndromes like sensory-processing disorder, which Newmark jokes just about “everybody” has these days.

When I asked Zimmerman, the New York University education historian, if schools had found a way to deal with discipline in the wake of the students-rights movement, he said: “Oh we have. It’s called Ritalin.” (And dozens of other psychoactive drugs) 

The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking judge originality, emotional expressiveness, humor, intellectual vitality, open-mindedness, and ability to synthesize and elaborate on ideas. Since 1984, the scores of America’s schoolchildren have dropped by more than one standard deviation; that is to say, 85 percent of kids scored lower in 2008 than their counterparts did in 1984. Not coincidentally, that decrease happened as schools were becoming obsessed with self-regulation. (More pseudoscientific psychology mumbo jumbo)  

As Stanford Professor James Gross, author of Handbook of Emotional Regulation, explains, suppression of feelings is a common regulatory tactic. It’s mentally draining. Deliberate acts of regulation also become automatic over time, meaning this habit is likely to interfere with inspiration, which happens when the mind is loose and emotions are running high. Even Tough acknowledges in a short passage in How Children Succeed that overly controlled people have a hard time making decisions: They’re often “compulsive, anxious, and repressed.” Last year, a study out of the University of Rochester took on the marshmallow kid himself and challenged his unconditional superiority. What if the second treat won’t always be available later? There can be an opportunity cost to not diving in right away. (Mumbo jumbo; it never ends) 

Valorizing self-regulation shifts the focus away from an impersonal, overtaxed, and underfunded school system and places the burden for overcoming those shortcomings on its students. “Even people who are politically liberal suddenly sound like right-wing talk-show hosts when the subject turns to children and education,” says Alfie Kohn. “ The problem is with the individual.’ That is right-wing orthodoxy. (It’s also Puritanical American faux-liberalism) 

Maybe the reason we let ourselves become fixated on children’s emotional regulation is that we, the adults, feel our lives are out of control. We’ve lost faith in our ability to manage our own impulses around food, money, politics, and the distractions of modern life—and we’re putting that on our kids. (Neoteny is a fatal condition: no adults to apply common sense or critical thinking to stabilize social systems) “It’s a displacement of parental unease about the future and anxiety about the world in general,” says psychologist Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. “I’m worried our kids are going to file the largest class-action suit in history, because we are stealing their childhoods. They’re like caged animals or Turkish children forced to sew rugs until they go blind. We’re suppressing their natural messy existence.” (OMG!) 

I do worry about my little Sarah Silverman. She’s frenetic and disinhibited. My life would be easier if she liked to comply. But we did not send her to O.T. Parents make judgment calls about interventions all the time. What’s worth treating: a prominent birthmark? A girl with early puberty? Social and behavioral issues can be especially tricky, as diagnosing comes close to essentializing: It’s not your fault that you’re acting this way, honey. It’s just who you are. As one mother told me: “The insidious part is, you can start losing faith in your child. You go down this road …” Your child’s teacher tells you your child is not showing appropriate emotional regulation. You’re directed toward psychological evaluations and therapists. They have a hammer. Your kid becomes the nail. “The saddest, most soul-crushing thing is the negative self-image. We think kids don’t understand what’s happening, but they do. There’s this quiet reinforcement that something is wrong with them. That’s the thing that’ll kill.”

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Okay, so parents exist who realize the terrible situation in American schools; the damage being done to their children, the injustice of an out-of-control social-psychology monster taking over our schools and families, and yet, there is a passive attitude behind their lackluster complaints; a lack of proper adult anger and action that is instinctual in parents, but instead there is willingness to sacrifice their child’s well-being to the social order – and in some measure, with concern for their own social status.  

The natural adult response is to protect one’s child above all other considerations; it’s instinctual. That’s the price of neoteny: failure to act. 

 

“Free Range Children” / Parenting Option

Click “Watch on YouTube” 

I’m in dangerous territory here, not being a “sacred” mother. As a childless woman, my advice is, DO NOT give parenting advice, or even an offhand opinion to a child-bearing female if you value your life and sanity. LOL. This includes pet behavior, training and feeding. These are domains that it seems, every woman who has popped-out an infant or adopted an animal, is convinced beyond reason, that by virtue of these acts, is an absolute expert on all things “nurturing” – without any training whatsoever.

And yes, the people who have commented on the video are highly negative….

My thoughts on this video?

  1. I could not do this type of parenting, or any other type of parenting. The noise level and physical chaos would drive me mad.
  2. The objections raised seem ridiculous. Children don’t learn much of anything in American public schools; significantly, math, science, history, reading, writing, logic or critical thinking.
  3. The average American doesn’t know, remember, understand or use academic information.
  4. Children need survival skills: these include how to earn money, how to manage money, how the “real world” works (nature and science), how to solve problems; how to access information and evaluate that information for accuracy and utility; and how to recognize consequences that will unfold from one’s choices.
  5. The “free range” parenting style is closer to how most humans have experienced childhood during the last 200,000 years. The difference lies in how much labor is involved in “making a living” and therefore, the level of labor children must contribute to helping the family to survive.
  6. American kids eat a high calorie junk food and sugar “diet” and are preoccupied with social media, social status and violent entertainment. How is that better than how this family spends time?
  7. American child-rearing is reward / punishment based; cruel, conformist and obedience-obsessed. Bad behavior is an inevitable result of this “belligerant” hierarchical structure.
  8. See posts on Hunter-Gatherer child rearing. That said, I doubt that even a small percentage of Americans are equipped to make this more “natural” child-parent relationship work.

https://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/jared-diamond-hunter-gatherer-parenting/

https://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/self-education-hunter-gatherer-play/

https://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/more-on-hunter-gatherer-child-education/

https://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/children-of-hunter-gatherers-asperger-traits/

 

 

How America Lost Its Mind / Atlantic Magazine – Rant by a Neurotypical Person

Sept. 2017 Kurt Anderson

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/how-america-lost-its-mind/534231/

When did America become untethered from reality?

I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.”

A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart … Face it, folks, we are a divided nation … divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart … Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.”

Whoa, yes, I thought: exactly. America had changed since I was young, when truthiness and reality-based community wouldn’t have made any sense as jokes. For all the fun, and all the many salutary effects of the 1960s—the main decade of my childhood—I saw that those years had also been the big-bang moment for truthiness. And if the ’60s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are probably mistaken to consider ourselves over it. The 1960s were Hell for an Asperger: I was constantly berated and attacked for being a “Fact Nazi” by people who were truly manifesting a “neoteny psychosis”. 

Each of us is on a spectrum somewhere between the poles of rational and irrational.

OMG! This guy is nuts; guilty of the neurotypical nonsense he’s complaining about! Can we PLEASE stop using “spectrum” to “mush together” mental processes (and everything else) into an undifferentiated wad of goo that somehow spans the gulf between imaginary “polarized, black and white” neurotypical stupidity?  

We all have hunches we can’t prove and superstitions that make no sense. Some of my best friends are very religious, and others believe in dubious conspiracy theories. What’s problematic is going overboard—letting the subjective entirely override the objective; thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings are just as true as facts. The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, whereby every individual is welcome to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control. OMG! What an idiotic neurotypical “interpretation” of “Enlightened” intellectual freedom. 

From the start, our ultra-individualism (this did not exist in foundational colonies, which were the opposite: conformist to narrow religious dogma to the extreme) was attached to epic dreams, sometimes epic fantasies—every American one of God’s chosen people building a custom-made utopia, all of us free to reinvent ourselves by imagination and will. In America nowadays, those more exciting parts of the Enlightenment idea have swamped the sober, rational, empirical parts. Little by little for centuries, then more and more and faster and faster during the past half century, we Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation—small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us. And most of us haven’t realized how far-reaching our strange new normal has become. (OMG! What a garbled string of “factoids” strung together as nonsense. America was founded by “magical thinkers” – highly religious crackpots drummed out of Europe by people fed up with their insane hatred of happiness as a worthy experience. The “rational” element was always a finite minority of self-interested “gentleman” who wanted the riches and rights reserved for the Aristocracy to be available to THEIR CLASS.  

Much more than the other billion or so people in the developed world, we Americans believe—really believe—in the supernatural and the miraculous, in Satan on Earth, in reports of recent trips to and from heaven, and in a story of life’s instantaneous creation several thousand years ago.

If the 1960s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are probably mistaken to consider ourselves over it.

We believe that the government and its co-conspirators are hiding all sorts of monstrous and shocking truths from us, concerning assassinations, extraterrestrials, the genesis of aids, the 9/11 attacks, the dangers of vaccines, and so much more. And this was all true before we became familiar with the terms post-factual and post-truth, before we elected a president with an astoundingly open mind about conspiracy theories, what’s true and what’s false, the nature of reality. We have passed through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. America has mutated into Fantasyland.

How widespread is this promiscuous devotion to the untrue? How many Americans now inhabit alternate realities? Any given survey of beliefs is only a sketch of what people in general really think. But reams of survey research from the past 20 years reveal a rough, useful census of American credulity and delusion. By my reckoning, the solidly reality-based are a minority, maybe a third of us but almost certainly fewer than half. Wildly optimistic; and PLEASE don’t include yourself in the reality-based minority. LOL)

Only a third of us, for instance, don’t believe that the tale of creation in Genesis is the word of God. Only a third strongly disbelieve in telepathy and ghosts. Two-thirds of Americans believe that “angels and demons are active in the world.” More than half say they’re absolutely certain heaven exists, and just as many are sure of the existence of a personal God—not a vague force or universal spirit or higher power, but some guy. A third of us believe not only that global warming is no big deal but that it’s a hoax perpetrated by scientists, the government, and journalists. A third believe that our earliest ancestors were humans just like us; that the government has, in league with the pharmaceutical industry, hidden evidence of natural cancer cures; that extraterrestrials have visited or are visiting Earth. Almost a quarter believe that vaccines cause autism, and that Donald Trump won the popular vote in 2016. A quarter believe that our previous president maybe or definitely was (or is?) the anti-Christ. According to a survey by Public Policy Polling, 15 percent believe that the “media or the government adds secret mind-controlling technology to television broadcast signals,” and another 15 percent think that’s possible. A quarter of Americans believe in witches. Remarkably, the same fraction, or maybe less, believes that the Bible consists mainly of legends and fables—the same proportion that believes U.S. officials were complicit in the 9/11 attacks.

When I say that a third believe X and a quarter believe Y, it’s important to understand that those are different thirds and quarters of the population. Of course, various fantasy constituencies overlap and feed one another—for instance, belief in extraterrestrial visitation and abduction can lead to belief in vast government cover-ups, which can lead to belief in still more wide-ranging plots and cabals, which can jibe with a belief in an impending Armageddon.

None of this “listing of crazy beliefs” cancels out (by the neurotypical “matter-antimatter” principle of magic word opposition) or precludes ACTUAL conspiracies, predation, cover ups or exploitation by corporations and lobbyists, government agencies, special interests, the “Religion Industry” and political parties for misuse of power.

Why are we like this?

The short answer is because we’re Americans—because being American means we can believe anything we want; that our beliefs are equal or superior to anyone else’s, experts be damned. Once people commit to that approach, the world turns inside out, and no cause-and-effect connection is fixed. The credible becomes incredible and the incredible credible. Typical neurotypical defeatism when faced with a tough question, because “word magic” is the only option for problem-solving, and word magic fails when confronting fact. 

The word mainstream has recently become a pejorative, shorthand for bias, lies, oppression by the elites. Yet the institutions and forces that once kept us from indulging the flagrantly untrue or absurd—media, academia, government, corporate America, professional associations, respectable opinion in the aggregate—have enabled and encouraged every species of fantasy over the past few decades. How naive! It was these very institutions that “lied about reality” (everything is perfect; trust us) while specializing in unethical and immoral behavior at all levels of power, within American government, and in foreign policy.   

A senior physician at one of America’s most prestigious university hospitals promotes “miracle cures” on his daily TV show. (The medical industry has always done this) Cable channels air documentaries treating mermaids, monsters, ghosts, and angels as real. When a political-science professor attacks the idea “that there is some ‘public’ that shares a notion of reality, a concept of reason, and a set of criteria by which claims to reason and rationality are judged,” colleagues just nod and grant tenure. The old fringes have been folded into the new center. The irrational has become respectable and often unstoppable. This is the normal neurotypical condition, and has been, for thousands of years. 

Our whole social environment and each of its overlapping parts (the delusion of “parts” again, instead of integrated systems of activity)cultural, religious, political, intellectual, psychological—have become conducive to spectacular fallacy and truthiness and make-believe. There are many slippery slopes, leading in various directions to other exciting nonsense. During the past several decades, those naturally slippery slopes have been turned into a colossal and permanent complex of interconnected, crisscrossing bobsled tracks, which Donald Trump slid down right into the White House. Oh please! How naïve: this is what passes for analysis? Americans traditionally resort to the knee-jerk superstition that “evil” is an eruption  of “chaos” into a perfectly organized neurotypical universe, the existence of which is a fantastical irrational construction; a pathetic denial of insanity within.   

American moxie has always come in two types. We have our wilder, faster, looser side: We’re overexcited gamblers with a weakness for stories too good to be true. But we also have the virtues embodied by the Puritans and their secular descendants: steadiness, hard work, frugality, sobriety, and common sense. (And an arrogant, ugly do-gooder, busybody, know-it-all obsession with abusing other humans.)  A propensity to dream impossible dreams is like other powerful tendencies—okay when kept in check. For most of our history, the impulses existed in a rough balance, a dynamic equilibrium between fantasy and reality, mania and moderation, credulity and skepticism. Total fantasy: and note the continuing limitation of neurotypical addiction to polarized thinking: Either / or behavior; a tug of war between the devil and angel in your soul; black or white; one extreme or the other; yatta yatta! It’s just plain infantile… 

The great unbalancing and descent into full Fantasyland was the product of two momentous changes. The first was a profound shift in thinking that swelled up in the ’60s; since then, Americans have had a new rule written into their mental operating systems: Do your own thing, find your own reality, it’s all relative. A blossoming of   neoteny in Americans.

The second change was the onset of the new era of information. Digital technology empowers real-seeming fictions of the ideological and religious and scientific kinds. Among the web’s 1 billion sites, believers in anything and everything can find thousands of fellow fantasists, with collages of facts and “facts” to support them. Before the internet, crackpots were mostly isolated, and surely had a harder time remaining convinced of their alternate realities. (Single crackpots are rarely effective; it’s those who gather together in the thousands – or millions – who are dangerous). Opinions are all over the airwaves and the web, just like actual news. Now all of the fantasies look real.

Our shocking Trump moment is just the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional for its entire history. Hmmm… magical thinking; attributing an election outcome to some “disturbance in the ether” caused by “ghostly persons” that reach out from the past to “f— things up”. It couldn’t be that elections are simply a mirage? A fool’s drama of people casting meaningless ballots in a charade of democracy, which is in real terms, a “slug fest” for power and control by opposing elites? 

Today, each of us is freer than ever to custom-make reality, to believe whatever and pretend to be whoever we wish. (From what external entity does this mysterious permission arise?) Which makes all the lines between actual and fictional blur and disappear more easily. Truth in general becomes flexible, personal, subjective. And we like this new ultra-freedom, insist on it, even as we fear and loathe the ways so many of our wrongheaded fellow Americans use it. Us and them duality again; I’m right-headed, you are wrong-headed.

Treating real life as fantasy and vice versa, and taking preposterous ideas seriously, is not unique to Americans. But we are the global crucible and epicenter. (Rather arrogant assumption. We always have to be the Best!) We invented the fantasy-industrial complex; almost nowhere outside poor or otherwise miserable countries are flamboyant supernatural beliefs so central to the identities of so many people. This is American exceptionalism in the 21st century. The country has always been a one-of-a-kind place. But our singularity is different now. We’re still rich and free, still more influential and powerful than any other nation, practically a synonym for developed country. But our drift toward credulity, toward doing our own thing, toward denying facts and having an altogether uncertain grip on reality, has overwhelmed our other exceptional national traits and turned us into a less developed country. (Neurotypical Blah, blah, blah! This guy is certainly in love with meaningless verbiage!) 

People see our shocking Trump moment—this post-truth, “alternative facts” moment—as some inexplicable and crazy new American phenomenon. (No, only deluded control freaks, who think that their version of how reality “ought to be” matches the supernatural template of “absolute best version” of reality, that they thoroughly believe exists, but has never existed, except in their imagination, would think this way.) But what’s happening is just the ultimate extrapolation and expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional for its entire history.

America was created by true believers and passionate dreamers, and by hucksters and their suckers, which made America successful—but also by a people uniquely susceptible to fantasy, as epitomized by everything from Salem’s hunting witches to Joseph Smith’s creating Mormonism, from P. T. Barnum to speaking in tongues, from Hollywood to Scientology to conspiracy theories, from Walt Disney to Billy Graham to Ronald Reagan to Oprah Winfrey to Trump. In other words: Mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that ferment for a few centuries; then run it through the anything-goes ’60s and the internet age. (What an idiotic string of nonsense) The result is the America we inhabit today, with reality and fantasy weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled.

The 1960s and the Beginning of the End of Reason

I don’t regret or disapprove of many of the ways the ’60s permanently reordered American society and culture. It’s just that along with the familiar benefits, there have been unreckoned costs.

In 1962, people started referring to “hippies,” the Beatles had their first hit, Ken Kesey published One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the Harvard psychology lecturer Timothy Leary was handing out psilocybin and LSD to grad students. And three hours south of San Francisco, on the heavenly stretch of coastal cliffs known as Big Sur, a pair of young Stanford psychology graduates founded a school and think tank they named after a small American Indian tribe that had lived on the grounds long before. “In 1968,” one of its founding figures recalled four decades later,

“Esalen was the center of the cyclone of the youth rebellion. It was one of the central places, like Mecca for the Islamic culture. (YIKES! How typically arrogant!) Esalen was a pilgrimage center for hundreds and thousands of youth interested in some sense of transcendence, breakthrough consciousness, LSD, the sexual revolution, encounter, being sensitive, finding your body, yoga—all of these things were at first filtered into the culture through Esalen. By 1966, ’67, and ’68, Esalen was making a world impact.”

This is not overstatement. Essentially everything that became known as New Age was invented, developed, or popularized at the Esalen Institute. Esalen is a mother church of a new American religion for people who think they don’t like churches or religions but who still want to believe in the supernatural. The institute wholly reinvented psychology, medicine, and philosophy, driven by a suspicion of science and reason and an embrace of magical thinking (also: massage, hot baths, sex, and sex in hot baths). It was a headquarters for a new religion of no religion, and for “science” containing next to no science. The idea was to be radically tolerant of therapeutic approaches and understandings of reality, especially if they came from Asian traditions or from American Indian or other shamanistic traditions. Invisible energies, past lives, astral projection, whatever—the more exotic and wondrous and unfalsifiable, the better. REALLY? 

Not long before Esalen was founded, one of its co-founders, Dick Price, had suffered a mental breakdown and been involuntarily committed to a private psychiatric hospital for a year. His new institute embraced the radical notion that psychosis and other mental illnesses were labels imposed by the straight world on eccentrics and visionaries, that they were primarily tools of coercion and control. This was the big idea behind One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, of course. And within the psychiatric profession itself this idea had two influential proponents, who each published unorthodox manifestos at the beginning of the decade—R. D. Laing (The Divided Self) and Thomas Szasz (The Myth of Mental Illness). “Madness,” Laing wrote when Esalen was new, “is potentially liberation and renewal.” Esalen’s founders were big Laing fans, and the institute became a hotbed for the idea that insanity was just an alternative way of perceiving reality. Again, this notion of “listing” fragmental factoids as a way of “canceling out by magic word” any possibility of fact, truth, significant connection, importance, results, consequences, or understandable outcomes in human affairs, which might follow logical paths or patterns, demonstrates the neurotypical inability to “think” beyond infantile polar opposition of good and evil as presented in Sunday School lessons. 

These influential critiques helped make popular and respectable the idea that much of science is a sinister scheme concocted by a despotic conspiracy to oppress people. Mental illness, both Szasz and Laing said, is “a theory not a fact.” This is now the universal bottom-line argument for anyone—from creationists to climate-change deniers to anti-vaccine hysterics—who prefers to disregard science in favor of his own beliefs. How infantile: how Sunday School! Judgements that other people are “mistaken” without any acknowledgement that “my illusions and delusions” are contributing to “the mess”, or that I can possibly be the object of my irrational “superiority”. 

You know how young people always think the universe revolves around them, as if they’re the only ones who really get it? And how before their frontal lobes, the neural seat of reason and rationality, are fully wired, they can be especially prone to fantasy? (Dumb inaccurate pop-science clichés) In the ’60s, the universe cooperated: It did seem to revolve around young people, affirming their adolescent self-regard, making their fantasies of importance feel real and their fantasies of instant transformation and revolution feel plausible. Practically overnight, America turned its full attention to the young and everything they believed and imagined and wished.

If 1962 was when the decade really got going, 1969 was the year the new doctrines and their gravity were definitively cataloged by the grown-ups. Reason and rationality were over. The countercultural effusions were freaking out the old guard, including religious people who couldn’t quite see that yet another Great Awakening was under way in America, heaving up a new religion of believers who “have no option but to follow the road until they reach the Holy City … that lies beyond the technocracy … the New Jerusalem.” That line is from The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition, published three weeks after Woodstock, in the summer of 1969. Its author was Theodore Roszak, age 35, a Bay Area professor who thereby coined the word counterculture. Roszak spends 270 pages glorying in the younger generation’s “brave” rejection of expertise and “all that our culture values as ‘reason’ and ‘reality.’ ” (Note the scare quotes.) So-called experts, after all, are “on the payroll of the state and/or corporate structure.” A chapter called “The Myth of Objective Consciousness” argues that science is really just a state religion. To create “a new culture in which the non-intellective capacities … become the arbiters of the good [and] the true,” he writes, “nothing less is required than the subversion of the scientific world view, with its entrenched commitment to an egocentric and cerebral mode of consciousness.” He welcomes the “radical rejection of science and technological values.” Note the belief in the POWER OF WORDS to form, change and dictate “reality”. This irrational delusion is due to a neurotypical dependence on the principles of magic.) 

As 1969 turned to 1970, a 41-year-old Yale Law School professor was finishing his book about the new youth counterculture. Charles Reich was a former Supreme Court clerk now tenured at one of ultra-rationalism’s American headquarters. But hanging with the young people had led him to a midlife epiphany and apostasy. In 1966, he had started teaching an undergraduate seminar called “The Individual in America,” for which he assigned fiction by Kesey and Norman Mailer. He decided to spend the next summer, the Summer of Love, in Berkeley. On the road back to New Haven, he had his Pauline conversion to the kids’ values. His class at Yale became hugely popular; at its peak, 600 students were enrolled. In 1970, The Greening of America became The New York Times’ best-selling book (as well as a much-read 70-page New Yorker excerpt), and remained on the list for most of a year.

Previous two paragraphs and actually, the rest of the article:

Social blah, blah, blah which never interested the average American, but was epidemic in upper and upper middle class Americans, fixated on their pretentions to superior intellectual and social status. There was widespread denigration of “blue collar” working Americans by these classes at the time; it continues today.  

Depression? / A Social Epidemic

The topic of Depression has been showing up quite a bit on sites that I frequent, and I realized that I don’t actually know much about Clinical Depression. I don’t find the description below to be very specific or medical. It’s self-diagnosis, isn’t it? You’re depressed if you think you are – the symptoms and criteria are offered to the patient to choose from; not an objective process. Five of these symptoms (why 5?) have to last for two weeks (why two weeks?) What if it’s not two weeks, but 13 days? Are you then not depressed? This seems a very short duration from what people with depression say – that it’s chronic.

There is an admonishment used to restrain this type of “bogus” quantification: Only  things that can be counted can be counted.  Making up” numbers (like 5 symptoms, 2 weeks) does not change the arbitrary social basis of diagnosis; false quantification does not make a process “science”.

Call me a picky Asperger, but what is the cause?     Clinical Depression, if it’s real, must have cause(s).

Why bother with a charade of diagnosis? Just have people show up, say, “I’m depressed,” and dish out the prescriptions.  

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From Mayo Clinic Online: Subscribe to Housecall Our general interest e-newsletter keeps you up to date on a wide variety of health topics.

What does the term “clinical depression” mean?

Answers from Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D.

Depression ranges in seriousness from mild, temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent depression. Clinical depression is the more severe form of depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It isn’t the same as depression caused by a loss, such as the death of a loved one, or a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder.

To be diagnosed with clinical depression, you must meet the symptom criteria for major depressive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association. This manual is used by mental health providers to diagnose mental conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment. Are insurance companies co-writing the DSM, that is,  practicing medicine without a license? How do pharmaceutical companies influence the choice of which and how much medication is prescribed?  The fact is, insurance industry representatives do “contribute” to what appears in the DSM.

For clinical depression, you must have five or more of the following symptoms over a two-week period, most of the day, nearly every day. At least one of the symptoms must be either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure. Signs and symptoms may include:

Depressed mood, such as feeling sad, empty or tearful (in children and teens, depressed mood can appear as constant irritability) (What teenager isn’t sad, empty, tearful or irritable at times?)

Significantly reduced interest or feeling no pleasure in all or most activities (Isn’t that the reality of  people at the bottom of the American Social Pyramid in the 21st C.? Drug addiction, violence, poverty and crime would likely both induce and arise from depression.)

Significant weight loss when not dieting, weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite (in children, failure to gain weight as expected) (Wow! that covers just about anyone!)

Insomnia or increased desire to sleep (Here we go again – any behavior on either side of an imaginary “normal.” In the U.S. we are bombarded daily by the message that even “normal” people have a sleep disorder. I’m not downplaying the absolute need for quality sleep. And how does one get adequate sleep time working more than one job, just to survive? )

Either restlessness or slowed behavior that can be observed by others (hearsay evidence; subjective.)

Fatigue or loss of energy (subjective; millions of Americans are exhausted by the stress and insecurity of chaotic social demands)

Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt (socially induced symptoms)

Trouble making decisions, or trouble thinking or concentrating (Wow! I keep hoping for objective, provable symptoms, but it’s I guess they don’t exist!) 

Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or a suicide attempt (Look no farther than people who have been discarded by society: ex-military, the homeless, Native American young people, and the elderly.  

Your symptoms must be severe enough to cause noticeable problems in relationships with others or in day-to-day activities, such as work, school or social activities. Symptoms may be based on your own feelings or on the observations of someone else. (Wow! How scientific is that? It’s clear that clinical depression is a SOCIAL DIAGNOSIS, created by stressful conditions built into the social environment. Unhealthy social conditions of poverty, violence, financial distress, broken families, tyrannical bosses and demeaning work place conditions, do create physical changes and disease in the human animal, but “pills” simply mask the pain; they offer no cure for a toxic society that values profit over people; it is the “medico-pharma” greed that has created massive opioid addiction in the U.S.) 

Clinical depression can affect people of any age, including children. However, clinical depression symptoms, even if severe, usually improve with psychological counseling, antidepressant medications or a combination of the two. (Vague, relative, subjective, with no proof of efficacy and no money back guarantee!)  It’s all about $$$$$$$$.

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For more from the NIH / National Institutes of Health:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml

Major Depression (Is this clinical depression, or not?)

Definitions

Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. For some individuals, major depression can result in severe impairments that interfere with or limit one’s ability to carry out major life activities.

Additional information can be found on the NIMH Health Topics page on Depression.

The past year prevalence data presented here for major depressive episode are from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The NSDUH study definition of major depressive episode is based mainly on the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV):

  • A period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, self-image or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Unlike the definition in the DSM-IV, no exclusions were made for a major depressive episode caused by medical illness, bereavement, or substance use disorders.

Confused? What does all this incoherent “activity” on the part of American industry, institutions and government agencies amount to? Fabulous profits for corporations. 

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It is important to understand that not only do we do horribly abuse animals, we are animals, and our American social environment is the equivalent of zoos, circuses and research labs for human animals. 

zoocircusmarinepark

Under pressure from a state court, California is building a psychiatric care unit at San Quentin prison in order to provide long-term mental health care for death row inmates. If you think about it, it's slightly ironic.

How sick is this? It’s cruel, insane and socially typical thinking.

 

 

 

Back to Basics / Positive and Negative Liberty

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 

I’m highlighting and commenting as I read this, based on my experiences as an American citizen for 50+ (conscious) years, and from the POV of a lifelong, born as, Asperger human. 

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberty-positive-negative/

First published Thu Feb 27, 2003; substantive revision Tue Aug 2, 2016

Negative liberty is the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints. One has negative liberty to the extent that actions are available to one in this negative sense. Positive liberty is the possibility of acting — or the fact of acting — in such a way as to take control of one’s life and realize one’s fundamental purposes. While negative liberty is usually attributed to individual agents, positive liberty is sometimes attributed to collectivities, or to individuals considered primarily as members of given collectivities.

The idea of distinguishing between a negative and a positive sense of the term ‘liberty’ goes back at least to Kant, and was examined and defended in depth by Isaiah Berlin in the 1950s and ’60s. Discussions about positive and negative liberty normally take place within the context of political and social philosophy. They are distinct from, though sometimes related to, philosophical discussions about free will. (In my opinion,  a dead dodo term with only superstition and western illusion to support it) Work on the nature of positive liberty often overlaps, however, with work on the nature of autonomy.

As Berlin showed, negative and positive liberty are not merely two distinct kinds of liberty; they can be seen as rival, incompatible interpretations of a single political ideal. (Why not as mutually informative in a discussion about freedom?) Since few people claim to be against liberty, the way this term is interpreted and defined can have important political implications. Political liberalism tends to presuppose a negative definition of liberty: liberals generally claim that if one favors individual liberty one should place strong limitations on the activities of the state. Critics of liberalism often contest this implication by contesting the negative definition of liberty: they argue that the pursuit of liberty understood as self-realization or as self-determination (whether of the individual or of the collectivity) can require state intervention of a kind not normally allowed by liberals. (Hmmm…. in the U.S., these two would appear to be reversed, with Republicans (conservatives) going for strong limitations on the state, and Democrats (liberals) favoring strong limitations on human behavior by the state. Perhaps this reversal exists because liberals in the U.S. are the present day perpetrators of Puritanism? 

Many authors prefer to talk of positive and negative freedom. This is only a difference of style, and the terms ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ are normally used interchangeably by political and social philosophers. Although some attempts have been made to distinguish between liberty and freedom (Pitkin 1988; Williams 2001; Dworkin 2011), generally speaking these have not caught on. Neither can they be translated into other European languages, which contain only the one term, of either Latin or Germanic origin (e.g. liberté, Freiheit), where English contains both.

1. Two Concepts of Liberty

Imagine you are driving a car through town, and you come to a fork in the road. You turn left, but no one was forcing you to go one way or the other. Next you come to a crossroads. You turn right, but no one was preventing you from going left or straight on. There is no traffic to speak of and there are no diversions or police roadblocks. So you seem, as a driver, to be completely free. But this picture of your situation might change quite dramatically if we consider that the reason you went left and then right is that you’re addicted to cigarettes and you’re desperate to get to the tobacconists before it closes. Rather than driving, you feel you are being driven, as your urge to smoke leads you uncontrollably to turn the wheel first to the left and then to the right. Moreover, you’re perfectly aware that your turning right at the crossroads means you’ll probably miss a train that was to take you to an appointment you care about very much. You long to be free of this irrational desire that is not only threatening your longevity but is also stopping you right now from doing what you think you ought to be doing. (Nice concise description of the human condition in Western culture. This problem can only exist in cultures which acknowledge the individual.) 

This story gives us two contrasting ways of thinking of liberty. On the one hand, one can think of liberty as the absence of obstacles external to the agent. You are free if no one is stopping you from doing whatever you might want to do. In the above story you appear, in this sense, to be free. On the other hand, one can think of liberty as the presence of control on the part of the agent. To be free, you must be self-determined, which is to say that you must be able to control your own destiny in your own interests. In the above story you appear, in this sense, to be unfree: you are not in control of your own destiny, as you are failing to control a passion that you yourself would rather be rid of and which is preventing you from realizing what you recognize to be your true interests. One might say that while on the first view liberty is simply about how many doors are open to the agent, on the second view it is more about going through the right doors for the right reasons. (I don’t see these as being exclusive to each other at all:  the one must take sides position is neurotypical, not Asperger. An Asperger can be aware of a proposed distinction, without having to jump on one horse and ride it into the swamp of social typical insanity. These concepts are useful tools with which to analyze a situation, a pattern or a system. They are not universals, absolutes or ideas that demand loyalty.)

In a famous essay first published in 1958, Isaiah Berlin called these two concepts of liberty negative and positive respectively (Berlin 1969).[1] The reason for using these labels is that in the first case liberty seems to be a mere absence of something (i.e. of obstacles, barriers, constraints or interference from others), whereas in the second case it seems to require the presence of something (i.e. of control, self-mastery, self-determination or self-realization). In Berlin’s words, we use the negative concept of liberty in attempting to answer the question “What is the area within which the subject — a person or group of persons — is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?”, whereas we use the positive concept in attempting to answer the question “What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that?” (1969, pp. 121–22). (These are not actionable ideas, because they propose an unachievable separation of “thought” from real environments. These are “oughts and shoulds” that deny the facts of human social existence. Social systems control human behavior. That is, the answers to these questions were decided long ago by DEAD PEOPLE; not people living today. Without this realization, social structures appear to neurotypicals to be part of the fabric of space-time, not scientific space-time, but supernatural space-time!)  

It is useful to think of the difference between the two concepts in terms of the difference between factors that are external and factors that are internal to the agent. (Yes, this is a useful tool, but in action, these internal and external factors are not exclusive) While theorists of negative freedom are primarily interested in the degree to which individuals or groups suffer interference from external bodies, theorists of positive freedom are more attentive to the internal factors affecting the degree to which individuals or groups act autonomously. Given this difference, one might be tempted to think that a political philosopher should concentrate exclusively on negative freedom, a concern with positive freedom being more relevant to psychology or individual morality than to political and social institutions. (Here we go; the neurotypical universe of “chopped salad”) This, however, would be premature, for among the most hotly debated issues in political philosophy are the following: Is the positive concept of freedom a political concept? Can individuals or groups achieve positive freedom through political action? Is it possible for the state to promote the positive freedom of citizens on their behalf? And if so, is it desirable for the state to do so? The classic texts in the history of western political thought are divided over how these questions should be answered: theorists in the classical liberal tradition, like Constant, Humboldt, Spencer and Mill, are typically classed as answering ‘no’ and therefore as defending a negative concept of political freedom; theorists that are critical of this tradition, like Rousseau, Hegel, Marx and T.H. Green, are typically classed as answering ‘yes’ and as defending a positive concept of political freedom.

Above we have a concise description of the “values” situation in traditional Asperger temperament vs. social repression of one’s native or instinctive concept of What it means to be human. This goes far deeper than retraining Asperger children to mimic social “niceties” in order not to be rejected from the group. 

In its political form, positive freedom has often been thought of as necessarily achieved through a collectivity. Perhaps the clearest case is that of Rousseau’s theory of freedom, according to which individual freedom is achieved through participation in the process whereby one’s community exercises collective control over its own affairs in accordance with the ‘general will’. Put in the simplest terms, one might say that a democratic society is a free society because it is a self-determined society, and that a member of that society is free to the extent that he or she participates in its democratic process. (One might say this, but social typicals are full of blah, blah, blah that is “pie in the sky” – blind to reality) But there are also individualist applications of the concept of positive freedom. For example, it is sometimes said that a government should aim actively to create the conditions necessary for individuals to be self-sufficient or to achieve self-realization. The welfare state has sometimes been defended on this basis, as has the idea of a universal basic income. (I have nothing against a support system for providing decent distribution of resources to those who cannot “fend for themselves” – but the welfare system – in the U.S., at least – is not this: it is a system for controlling who gets access to the upper levels of the social pyramid, and who remains trapped at the bottom.) The negative concept of freedom, on the other hand, is most commonly assumed in liberal defences of the constitutional liberties typical of liberal-democratic societies, such as freedom of movement, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, and in arguments against paternalist or moralist state intervention. (More supernatural blah, blah, blah that has nothing to do with the reality of a severe social inequality disguised as democracy. I’m sure that the neglected and persecuted minorities “voted for” their own oppression!) It is also often invoked in defences of the right to private property. This said, some philosophers have contested the claim that private property necessarily enhances negative liberty (Cohen 1991, 1995), and still others have tried to show that negative liberty can ground a form of egalitarianism (Steiner 1994). (Neurotypical – either-or, black and white, non-negotiable “supernatural” absolutism. Pick a side…)

After Berlin, the most widely cited and best developed analyses of the negative concept of liberty include Hayek (1960), Day (1971), Oppenheim (1981), Miller (1983) and Steiner (1994). Among the most prominent contemporary analyses of the positive concept of liberty are Milne (1968), Gibbs (1976), C. Taylor (1979) and Christman (1991, 2005).

2. The Paradox of Positive Liberty

Many liberals, including Berlin, have suggested that the positive concept of liberty carries with it a danger of authoritarianism. Consider the fate of a permanent and oppressed minority. Because the members of this minority participate in a democratic process characterized by majority rule, they might be said to be free on the grounds that they are members of a society exercising self-control over its own affairs. But they are oppressed, and so are surely unfree. (Democracy as a sham) Moreover, it is not necessary to see a society as democratic in order to see it as self-controlled; one might instead adopt an organic conception of society, according to which the collectivity is to be thought of as a living organism, and one might believe that this organism will only act rationally, will only be in control of itself, when its various parts are brought into line with some rational plan devised by its wise governors (who, to extend the metaphor, might be thought of as the organism’s brain). In this case, even the majority might be oppressed in the name of liberty. (The preposterous notion that all humans can be forced to be “perfect” someday apply psychological diagnosis and treatment, social engineering, pharmacology, genetic fixes –  Until then, despots must rule, by default.)  

Such justifications of oppression in the name of liberty are no mere products of the liberal imagination, for there are notorious historical examples of their endorsement by authoritarian political leaders. (This continuing “charade” of Liberals believe this, Conservatives believe that! ALL leaders are authoritarian; their goal is control of the social pyramid.) Berlin, himself a liberal and writing during the cold war, was clearly moved by the way in which the apparently noble ideal of freedom as self-mastery or self-realization had been twisted and distorted by the totalitarian dictators of the twentieth century — most notably those of the Soviet Union — so as to claim that they, rather than the liberal West, were the true champions of freedom. The slippery slope towards this paradoxical conclusion begins, according to Berlin, with the idea of a divided self. To illustrate: the smoker in our story provides a clear example of a divided self, for she is both a self that desires to get to an appointment and a self that desires to get to the tobacconists, and these two desires are in conflict. We can now enrich this story in a plausible way by adding that one of these selves — the keeper of appointments — is superior to the other: the self that is a keeper of appointments is thus a ‘higher’ self, and the self that is a smoker is a ‘lower’ self. The higher self is the rational, reflecting self, the self that is capable of moral action and of taking responsibility for what she does. This is the true self, for rational reflection and moral responsibility are the features of humans that mark them off from other animals. (This “higher self” is the socially-invented imaginary “western” human, who is not rational or moral at all, but entirely self-serving; a person who is indoctrinated with the concept that obedience to social prescriptions is a rational decision, but which  is actually an archaic irrational religious mandate: the myth of “higher self vs. lower self” is merely a continuation of Old Testament original sin (our animal nature) vs. “obedient, conforming, self-hating humans” who are slaves to a social hierarchy: this propaganda works for any system, whatever we choose to label it. Note: The Reformation did not change this: Henry VIII, the “father” of a rebellious protestant regime was a serial rapist and murderer beyond the aspirations of misogynist criminal heroes of Biblical fame) The lower self, on the other hand, is the self of the passions, of unreflecting desires and irrational impulses. One is free, then, when one’s higher, rational self is in control and one is not a slave to one’s passions or to one’s merely empirical self. The next step down the slippery slope consists in pointing out that some individuals are more rational than others, and can therefore know best what is in their and others’ rational interests. (Western psychology feeds on this myth) This allows them to say that by forcing people less rational than themselves to do the rational thing and thus to realize their true selves, they are in fact liberating them from their merely empirical desires. Occasionally, Berlin says, the defender of positive freedom will take an additional step that consists in conceiving of the self as wider than the individual and as represented by an organic social whole — “a tribe, a race, a church, a state, the great society of the living and the dead and the yet unborn”. The true interests of the individual are to be identified with the interests of this whole, and individuals can and should be coerced into fulfilling these interests, for they would not resist coercion if they were as rational and wise as their coercers. “Once I take this view”, Berlin says, “I am in a position to ignore the actual wishes of men or societies, to bully, oppress, torture in the name, and on behalf, of their ‘real’ selves, in the secure knowledge that whatever is the true goal of man … must be identical with his freedom” (Berlin 1969, pp. 132–33).

The contention that there is a rational or moral distinction between a “pure and democratic United States” and any nation, political system, or culture that WE designate as inferior to us, is outrageous. The U.S. acts on purely supernatural and predatory religious prejudice, acted on (in the Puritan way) as “he who has the most money has God’s approval to be the Chosen Tyrant”. 

Those in the negative camp try to cut off this line of reasoning at the first step, by denying that there is any necessary relation between one’s freedom and one’s desires. Since one is free to the extent that one is externally unprevented from doing things, they say, one can be free to do what one does not desire to do. If being free meant being unprevented from realizing one’s desires, then one could, again paradoxically, reduce one’s unfreedom by coming to desire fewer of the things one is unfree to do. One could become free simply by contenting oneself with one’s situation. (This is a viable option, which millions of people act on, whether by necessity or preference for simplicity) A perfectly contented slave is perfectly free to realize all of her desires. (Wow! Nonsense) Nevertheless, we tend to think of slavery as the opposite of freedom. More generally, freedom is not to be confused with happiness, for in logical terms there is nothing to stop a free person from being unhappy or an unfree person from being happy. The happy person might feel free, but whether they are free is another matter (Day, 1970). Negative theorists of freedom therefore tend to say not that having freedom means being unprevented from doing as one desires, but that it means being unprevented from doing whatever one might desire to do (Steiner 1994. Cf. Van Parijs 1995; Sugden 2006). (More neurotypical nonsense, since no definition of an actual state of freedom exists; no possible state labeled freedom has been proven to exist, except as an “abstract feeling”)

Some theorists of positive freedom bite the bullet and say that the contented slave is indeed free — that in order to be free the individual must learn, not so much to dominate certain merely empirical desires, but to rid herself of them. She must, in other words, remove as many of her desires as possible. As Berlin puts it, if I have a wounded leg ‘there are two methods of freeing myself from pain. One is to heal the wound. But if the cure is too difficult or uncertain, there is another method. I can get rid of the wound by cutting off my leg’ (1969, pp. 135–36). This is the strategy of liberation adopted by ascetics, stoics and Buddhist sages. It involves a ‘retreat into an inner citadel’ — a soul or a purely noumenal self — in which the individual is immune to any outside forces. (I think this is a western misinterpretation of a response to these unavoidable forces, which does not claim immunity!) But this state, even if it can be achieved, is not one that liberals would want to call one of freedom, for it again risks masking important forms of oppression. It is, after all, often in coming to terms with excessive external limitations in society that individuals retreat into themselves, pretending to themselves that they do not really desire the worldly goods or pleasures they have been denied. Moreover, the removal of desires may also be an effect of outside forces, such as brainwashing, which we should hardly want to call a realization of freedom.

In the U.S., brainwashing takes the form of Consumer Capitalism, marketing and advertising and political impotence: any and all needs and desires that are natural and necessary to a proper, happy animal life, are denied and replaced by cheap novelties, infantile distractions and the purchase of status objects, over and above the acquisition of food, shelter and meaningful relationships. The result is an epidemic of pathology and self-destruction. 

Because the concept of negative freedom concentrates on the external sphere in which individuals interact, it seems to provide a better guarantee against the dangers of paternalism and authoritarianism perceived by Berlin. To promote negative freedom is to promote the existence of a sphere of action within which the individual is sovereign, and within which she can pursue her own projects subject only to the constraint that she respect the spheres of others. Humboldt and Mill, both advocates of negative freedom, compared the development of an individual to that of a plant: individuals, like plants, must be allowed to grow, in the sense of developing their own faculties to the full and according to their own inner logic. Personal growth is something that cannot be imposed from without, but must come from within the individual. (What crap! It is exactly these individual propensities that the social system is designed to quash without mercy)

3. Two Attempts to Create a Third Way

Critics, however, have objected that the ideal described by Humboldt and Mill looks much more like a positive concept of liberty than a negative one. Positive liberty consists, they say, in exactly this growth of the individual: the free individual is one that develops, determines and changes her own desires and interests autonomously and from within. This is not liberty as the mere absence of obstacles, but liberty as autonomy or self-realization. Why should the mere absence of state interference be thought to guarantee such growth? Is there not some third way between the extremes of totalitarianism and the minimal state of the classical liberals — some non-paternalist, non-authoritarian means by which positive liberty in the above sense can be actively promoted?

Blah, blah, blah! Neurotypicals pretend to “think” but in their addiction to “magic word concepts” they are blind to reality: this Asperger would say, that only by understanding the actual manifestations of social reality, (which are anti-individual, anti-liberty, anti-self-actualization, anti-moral, anti-ethical, anti-nature, anti-happiness) can the individual find a workable strategy to cope with the human landscape – and preserve some measure of integrity.

(Which one must accept as a rational being, may not be possible!)

Ouch! I’ve given myself a headache! Time for some R&R…. continued, next post.

cont., / Negative and Positive Liberty

I include the following for the masochists, who must follow neurotypical nonsense to the absurd matter / antimatter negation of actionable thought. Freedom, liberty or whatever one calls it is not an idea: it is a rare and temporary illusion limited by human on human negotiation, predation, warfare, subterfuge or dumb luck. In the real world, it either exists or it doesn’t; it doesn’t. 

A Russian proverb wisely suggests:  

“My hut is on the outskirts; I know nothing.” 

My comment, as always? For the love of sanity, PLEASE SHUT UP. 

3.1. Positive Liberty as Content-neutral

Much of the more recent work on positive liberty has been motivated by a dissatisfaction with the ideal of negative liberty combined with an awareness of the possible abuses of the positive concept so forcefully exposed by Berlin. John Christman (1991, 2005, 2009), for example, has argued that positive liberty concerns the ways in which desires are formed — whether as a result of rational reflection on all the options available, or as a result of pressure, manipulation or ignorance. What it does not regard, he says, is the content of an individual’s desires. The promotion of positive freedom need not therefore involve the claim that there is only one right answer to the question of how a person should live, nor need it allow, or even be compatible with, a society forcing its members into given patterns of behavior. Take the example of a Muslim woman who claims to espouse the fundamentalist doctrines generally followed by her family and the community in which she lives. On Christman’s account, this person is positively unfree if her desire to conform was somehow oppressively imposed upon her through indoctrination, manipulation or deceit. She is positively free, on the other hand, if she arrived at her desire to conform while aware of other reasonable options and she weighed and assessed these other options rationally. Even if this woman seems to have a preference for subservient behavior, there is nothing necessarily freedom-enhancing or freedom-restricting about her having the desires she has, since freedom regards not the content of these desires but their mode of formation. On this view, forcing her to do certain things rather than others can never make her more free, and Berlin’s paradox of positive freedom would seem to have been avoided.

It remains to be seen, however, just what a state can do, in practice, to promote positive liberty in Christman’s sense without encroaching on any individual’s sphere of negative liberty: the conflict between the two ideals seems to survive his alternative analysis, albeit in a milder form. Even if we rule out coercing individuals into specific patterns of behavior, a state interested in promoting autonomy in Christman’s sense might still be allowed considerable space for intervention of an informative and educational nature, perhaps subsidizing some activities (in order to encourage a plurality of genuine options) and financing this through taxation. Liberals might criticize this on anti-paternalist grounds, objecting that such measures will require the state to use resources in ways that the supposedly heteronomous individuals, if left to themselves, might have chosen to spend in other ways. Some liberals will make an exception in the case of the education of children (in such a way as to cultivate open minds and rational reflection), but even here other liberals will object that the right to negative liberty includes the right to decide how one’s children should be educated.

3.2 Republican Liberty

Other theorists of liberty have remained closer to the negative concept but have attempted to go beyond it, saying that liberty is not merely the enjoyment of a sphere of non-interference but the enjoyment of certain conditions in which such non-interference is guaranteed (see especially Pettit 1997, 2001, 2014, and Skinner 1998, 2002). These conditions may include the presence of a democratic constitution and a series of safeguards against a government wielding power arbitrarily, including the separation of powers and the exercise of civic virtues on the part of citizens. As Berlin admits, on the negative view, I am free even if I live in a dictatorship just as long as the dictator happens, on a whim, not to interfere with me (see also Hayek 1960). There is no necessary connection between negative liberty and any particular form of government. On the alternative view sketched here, I am free only if I live in a society with the kinds of political institutions that guarantee the independence of each citizen from exercises of arbitrary power. Quentin Skinner has called this view of freedom ‘neo-Roman’, invoking ideas about freedom both of the ancient Romans and of a number of Renaissance and early modern writers. Philip Pettit has called the same view ‘republican’, and this label has tended to dominate in the recent literature (Weinstock and Nadeau 2004; Larmore 2004; Laborde and Maynor 2008).

Republican freedom can be thought of as a kind of status: to be a free person is to enjoy the rights and privileges attached to the status of republican citizenship, whereas the paradigm of the unfree person is the slave. Freedom is not simply a matter of non-interference, for a slave may enjoy a great deal of non-interference at the whim of her master. What makes her unfree is her status, such that she is permanently liable to interference of any kind. Even if the slave enjoys non-interference, she is, as Pettit puts it, ‘dominated’, because she is permanently subject to the arbitrary power of her owner.

Contemporary republicans therefore claim that their view of freedom is quite distinct from the negative view of freedom. As we have seen, one can enjoy non-interference without enjoying non-domination; conversely, according to Pettit, one can enjoy non-domination while nevertheless being interfered with, just as long as the interference in question is constrained, through republican power structures, to track one’s interests. Only arbitrary power is inimical to freedom, not power as such. On the other hand, republican freedom is also distinct from positive freedom as expounded and criticized by Berlin. First, republican freedom does not consist in the activity of virtuous political participation; rather, that participation is seen as instrumentally related to freedom as non-domination. Secondly, the republican concept of freedom cannot lead to anything like the oppressive consequences feared by Berlin, because it has a commitment to non-domination and to liberal-democratic institutions already built into it.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the republican concept of freedom is ultimately distinguishable from the negative concept, or whether republican writers on freedom have not simply provided good arguments to the effect that negative freedom is best promoted, on balance and over time, through certain kinds of political institutions rather than others. While there is no necessary connection between negative liberty and democratic government, there may nevertheless be a strong empirical correlation between the two. Ian Carter (1999, 2008), Matthew H. Kramer (2003, 2008), and Robert Goodin and Frank Jackson (2007) have argued, along these lines, that republican policies are best defended empirically on the basis of the standard negative ideal of freedom, rather than on the basis of a conceptual challenge to that ideal. An important premise in such an argument is that the extent of a person’s negative freedom is a function not simply of how many single actions are prevented, but of how many different act-combinations are prevented. On this basis, people who can achieve their goals only by bowing and scraping to their masters must be seen as less free than people who can achieve those goals unconditionally. Another important premise is that the extent degree to which a person is negatively free depends, in part, on the probability with which he or she will be constrained from performing future acts or act-combinations. People who are subject to arbitrary power can be seen as less free in the negative sense even if they do not actually suffer interference, because the probability of their suffering constraints is always greater (ceteris paribus, as a matter of empirical fact) than it would be if they were not subject to that arbitrary power. Perhaps this non-trivial probability is sufficient to explain the sense of exposure and precariousness of the ‘dominated’. In reply, Pettit (2008a, 2008b) and Skinner (2008) have insisted that what matters for an agent’s freedom is the impossibility of others interfering with impunity, not the improbability of their doing so.

Much of the most recent literature on political and social freedom has concentrated on the above debate over the differences between the republican and liberal (i.e. negative) conceptions of freedom. Critiques of the republican conception that build on, or are otherwise sympathetic to, those of Carter and Kramer, can be found in Bruin (2009), Lang (2012) and Shnayderman (2012). Pettit himself has continued to refine his position, and has further discussed its relation to that of Berlin (Pettit 2011). Berlin’s own conception of negative liberty, he argues, occupies an inherently unstable position between the more restrictive Hobbesian view and the more expansive view of freedom as non-domination.

Pettit’s analysis of freedom has inspired a number of recent works by political theorists sympathetic to the republican tradition. Frank Lovett has developed an account of domination as a descriptive concept, and of justice as the minimization of domination (Lovett 2010). Several other authors have made use of the concept of domination in addressing more specific problems in normative political theory, such as disability rights, workplace democracy, social equality, and education policy (De Wispelaere and Casassas 2014; Breen and McBride 2015).

4. One Concept of Liberty: Freedom as a Triadic Relation

The two sides identified by Berlin disagree over which of two different concepts best deserves the name of ‘liberty’. Does this fact not denote the presence of some more basic agreement between the two sides? How, after all, could they see their disagreement as one about the definition of liberty if they did not think of themselves as in some sense talking about the same thing? In an influential article, the American legal philosopher Gerald MacCallum (1967) put forward the following answer: there is in fact only one basic concept of freedom, on which both sides in the debate converge. What the so-called negative and positive theorists disagree about is how this single concept of freedom should be interpreted. Indeed, in MacCallum’s view, there are a great many different possible interpretations of freedom, and it is only Berlin’s artificial dichotomy that has led us to think in terms of there being two.

MacCallum defines the basic concept of freedom — the concept on which everyone agrees — as follows: a subject, or agent, is free from certain constraints, or preventing conditions, to do or become certain things. Freedom is therefore a triadic relation — that is, a relation between three things: an agent, certain preventing conditions, and certain doings or becomings of the agent. Any statement about freedom or unfreedom can be translated into a statement of the above form by specifying what is free or unfree, from what it is free or unfree, and what it is free or unfree to do or become. Any claim about the presence or absence of freedom in a given situation will therefore make certain assumptions about what counts as an agent, what counts as a constraint or limitation on freedom, and what counts as a purpose that the agent can be described as either free or unfree to carry out.

The definition of freedom as a triadic relation was first put forward in the seminal work of Felix Oppenheim in the 1950s and 60s. Oppenheim saw that an important meaning of ‘freedom’ in the context of political and social philosophy was as a relation between two agents and a particular (impeded or unimpeded) action. This interpretation of freedom remained, however, what Berlin would call a negative one. What MacCallum did was to generalize this triadic structure so that it would cover all possible claims about freedom, whether of the negative or the positive variety. In MacCallum’s framework, unlike in Oppenheim’s, the interpretation of each of the three variables is left open. In other words, MacCallum’s position is a meta-theoretical one: his is a theory about the differences between theorists of freedom.

To illustrate MacCallum’s point, let us return to the example of the smoker driving to the tobacconists. In describing this person as either free or unfree, we shall be making assumptions about each of MacCallum’s three variables. If we say that the driver is free, what we shall probably mean is that an agent, consisting in the driver’s empirical self, is free from external (physical or legal) obstacles to do whatever he or she might want to do. If, on the other hand, we say that the driver is unfree, what we shall probably mean is that an agent, consisting in a higher or rational self, is made unfree by internal, psychological constraints to carry out some rational, authentic or virtuous plan. Notice that in both claims there is a negative element and a positive element: each claim about freedom assumes both that freedom is freedom from something (i.e., preventing conditions) and that it is freedom to do or become something. The dichotomy between ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’ is therefore a false one, and it is misleading say that those who see the driver as free employ a negative concept and those who see the driver as unfree employ a positive one. What these two camps differ over is the way in which one should interpret each of the three variables in the triadic freedom-relation. More precisely, we can see that what they differ over is the extension to be assigned to each of the variables.

Thus, those whom Berlin places in the negative camp typically conceive of the agent as having the same extension as that which it is generally given in ordinary discourse: they tend to think of the agent as an individual human being and as including all of the empirical beliefs and desires of that individual. Those in the so-called positive camp, on the other hand, often depart from the ordinary notion, in one sense imagining the agent as more extensive than in the ordinary notion, and in another sense imagining it as less extensive: they think of the agent as having a greater extension than in ordinary discourse in cases where they identify the agent’s true desires and aims with those of some collectivity of which she is a member; and they think of the agent as having a lesser extension than in ordinary discourse in cases where they identify the true agent with only a subset of her empirical beliefs and desires — i.e., with those that are rational, authentic or virtuous. Secondly, those in Berlin’s positive camp tend to take a wider view of what counts as a constraint on freedom than those in his negative camp: the set of relevant obstacles is more extensive for the former than for the latter, since negative theorists tend to count only external obstacles as constraints on freedom, whereas positive theorists also allow that one may be constrained by internal factors, such as irrational desires, fears or ignorance. And thirdly, those in Berlin’s positive camp tend to take a narrower view of what counts as a purpose one can be free to fulfill. The set of relevant purposes is less extensive for them than for the negative theorists, for we have seen that they tend to restrict the relevant set of actions or states to those that are rational, authentic or virtuous, whereas those in the negative camp tend to extend this variable so as to cover any action or state the agent might desire.

On MacCallum’s analysis, then, there is no simple dichotomy between positive and negative liberty; rather, we should recognize that there is a whole range of possible interpretations or ‘conceptions’ of the single concept of liberty. Indeed, as MacCallum says and as Berlin seems implicitly to admit, a number of classic authors cannot be placed unequivocally in one or the other of the two camps. Locke, for example, is normally thought of as one of the fathers or classical liberalism and therefore as a staunch defender of the negative concept of freedom. He indeed states explicitly that ‘[to be at] liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others’. But he also says that liberty is not to be confused with ‘license’, and that “that ill deserves the name of confinement which hedges us in only from bogs and precipices” (Second Treatise, parags. 6 and 57). While Locke gives an account of constraints on freedom that Berlin would call negative, he seems to endorse an account of MacCallum’s third freedom-variable that Berlin would call positive, restricting this to actions that are not immoral (liberty is not license) and to those that are in the agent’s own interests (I am not unfree if prevented from falling into a bog). A number of contemporary libertarians have provided or assumed definitions of freedom that are similarly morally loaded (e.g. Nozick 1974; Rothbard 1982). This would seem to confirm MacCallum’s claim that it is conceptually and historically misleading to divide theorists into two camps — a negative liberal one and a positive non-liberal one.

5. The Analysis of Constraints: Their Types and Their Sources

To illustrate the range of interpretations of the concept of freedom made available by MacCallum’s analysis, let us now take a closer look at his second variable — that of constraints on freedom.

Advocates of negative conceptions of freedom typically restrict the range of obstacles that count as constraints on freedom to those that are brought about by other agents. For theorists who conceive of constraints on freedom in this way, I am unfree only to the extent that other people prevent me from doing certain things. If I am incapacitated by natural causes — by a genetic handicap, say, or by a virus or by certain climatic conditions — I may be rendered unable to do certain things, but I am not, for that reason, rendered unfree to do them. Thus, if you lock me in my house, I shall be both unable and unfree to leave. But if I am unable to leave because I suffer from a debilitating illness or because a snow drift has blocked my exit, I am nevertheless not unfree, to leave. The reason such theorists give, for restricting the set of relevant preventing conditions in this way, is that they see unfreedom as a social relation — a relation between persons (see Oppenheim 1961; Miller 1983; Steiner 1983; Kristjánsson 1996; Kramer 2003; Morriss 2012; Shnayderman 2013; Schmidt forthcoming). Unfreedom as mere inability is thought by such authors to be more the concern of engineers and medics than of political and social philosophers. (If I suffer from a natural or self-inflicted inability to do something, should we to say that I remain free to do it, or should we say that the inability removes my freedom to do it while nevertheless not implying that I am unfree to do it? In the latter case, we shall be endorsing a ‘trivalent’ conception, according to which there are some things that a person is neither free nor unfree to do. Kramer 2003 endorses a trivalent conception according to which freedom is identified with ability and unfreedom is the prevention (by others) of outcomes that the agent would otherwise be able to bring about.)

In attempting to distinguish between natural and social obstacles we shall inevitably come across gray areas. An important example is that of obstacles created by impersonal economic forces. Do economic constraints like recession, poverty and unemployment merely incapacitate people, or do they also render them unfree? Libertarians and egalitarians have provided contrasting answers to this question by appealing to different conceptions of constraints. Thus, one way of answering the question is by taking an even more restrictive view of what counts as a constraint on freedom, so that only a subset of the set of obstacles brought about by other persons counts as a restriction of freedom: those brought about intentionally. In this case, impersonal economic forces, being brought about unintentionally, do not restrict people’s freedom, even though they undoubtedly make many people unable to do many things. This last view has been taken by a number of market-oriented libertarians, including, most famously, Friedrich von Hayek (1960, 1982), according to whom freedom is the absence of coercion, where to be coerced is to be subject to the arbitrary will of another. (Notice the somewhat surprising similarity between this conception of freedom and the republican conception discussed earlier, in section 3.2) Critics of libertarianism, on the other hand, typically endorse a broader conception of constraints on freedom that includes not only intentionally imposed obstacles but also unintended obstacles for which someone may nevertheless be held responsible (for Miller and Kristjánsson and Shnayderman this means morally responsible; for Oppenheim and Kramer it means causally responsible), or indeed obstacles created in any way whatsoever, so that unfreedom comes to be identical to inability (see Crocker 1980; Cohen 1988; Sen 1992; Van Parijs 1995).

This analysis of constraints helps to explain why socialists and egalitarians have tended to claim that the poor in a capitalist society are as such unfree, or that they are less free than the rich, whereas libertarians have tended to claim that the poor in a capitalist society are no less free than the rich. Egalitarians typically (though not always) assume a broader notion than libertarians of what counts as a constraint on freedom. Although this view does not necessarily imply what Berlin would call a positive notion of freedom, egalitarians often call their own definition a positive one, in order to convey the sense that freedom requires not merely the absence of certain social relations of prevention but the presence of abilities, or what Amartya Sen has influentially called ‘capabilities’ (Sen 1985, 1988, 1992). (Important exceptions to this egalitarian tendency to broaden the relevant set of constraints include Waldron (1993) and Cohen (2011), who demonstrate, for the sake of argument, that relative poverty is in fact empirically inseparable from, and indeed proportional to, the imposition of physical barriers by other agents, and Steiner (1994), who grounds a left-libertarian theory of justice in the idea of an equal distribution of social freedom.)

We have seen that advocates of a negative conception of freedom tend to count only obstacles that are external to the agent. Notice, however, that the term ‘external’ is ambiguous in this context, for it might be taken to refer either to the location of the causal source of an obstacle or to the location of the obstacle itself. Obstacles that count as ‘internal’ in terms of their own location include psychological phenomena such as ignorance, irrational desires, illusions and phobias. Such constraints can be caused in various ways: for example, they might have a genetic origin, or they might be brought about intentionally by others, as in the case of brainwashing or manipulation. In the first case we have an internal constraint brought about by natural causes; in the second, an internal constraint intentionally imposed by another human agent.

More generally, we can now see that there are in fact two different dimensions along which one’s notion of a constraint might be broader or narrower. A first dimension is that of the source of a constraint — in other words, what it is that brings about a constraint on freedom. We have seen, for example, that some theorists include as constraints on freedom only obstacles brought about by human action, whereas others also include obstacles with a natural origin. A second dimension is that of the type of constraint involved, where constraint-types include the types of internal constraint just mentioned, but also various types of constraint located outside the agent, such as physical barriers that render an action impossible, obstacles that render the performance of an action more or less difficult, and costs attached to the performance of a (more or less difficult) action. The two dimensions of type and source are logically independent of one another. Given this independence, it is theoretically possible to combine a narrow view of what counts as a source of a constraint with a broad view of what types of obstacle count as unfreedom-generating constraints, or vice versa. As a result, it is not clear that theorists who are normally placed in the ‘negative’ camp need deny the existence of internal constraints on freedom (see Kramer 2003; Garnett 2007).

To illustrate the independence of the two dimensions of type and source, consider the case of the unorthodox libertarian Hillel Steiner (1974–5, 1994). On the one hand, Steiner has a much broader view than Hayek of the possible sources of constraints on freedom: he does not limit the set of such sources to intentional human actions, but extends it to cover all kinds of human cause, whether or not any humans intend such causes and whether or not they can be held morally accountable for them, believing that any restriction of such non-natural sources can only be an arbitrary stipulation, usually arising from some more or less conscious ideological bias. On the other hand, Steiner has an even narrower view than Hayek about what type of obstacle counts as a constraint on freedom: for Steiner, an agent only counts as unfree to do something if it is physically impossible for her to do that thing. Any extension of the constraint variable to include other types of obstacle, such as the costs anticipated in coercive threats, would, in his view, necessarily involve a reference to the agent’s desires, and we have seen (in sec. 2) that for those liberals in the negative camp there is no necessary relation between an agent’s freedom and her desires. Consider the coercive threat ‘Your money or your life!’. This does not make it impossible for you to refuse to hand over your money, only much less desirable for you to do so. If you decide not to hand over the money, you will suffer the cost of being killed. That will count as a restriction of your freedom, because it will render physically impossible a great number of actions on your part. But it is not the issuing of the threat that creates this unfreedom, and you are not unfree until the sanction (described in the threat) is carried out. For this reason, Steiner excludes threats — and with them all other kinds of imposed costs — from the set of obstacles that count as freedom-restricting. This conception of freedom derives from Hobbes (Leviathan, chs. 14 and 21), and its defenders often call it the ‘pure’ negative conception (M. Taylor 1982; Steiner 1994; Carter and Kramer 2008) to distinguish it from those ‘impure’ negative conceptions that make at least minimal references to the agent’s beliefs, desires or values.

Steiner’s account of the relation between freedom and coercive threats might be thought to have counterintuitive implications, even from the liberal point of view. Many laws that are normally thought to restrict negative freedom do not physically prevent people from doing what is prohibited, but deter them from doing so by threatening punishment. Are we to say, then, that these laws do not restrict the negative freedom of those who obey them? A solution to this problem may consist in saying that although a law against doing some action, x, does not remove the freedom to do x, it nevertheless renders physically impossible certain combinations of actions that include doing x and doing what would be precluded by the punishment. There is a restriction of the person’s overall negative freedom — i.e. a reduction in the overall number of act-combinations available to her — even though she does not lose the freedom to do any specific thing taken in isolation (Carter 1999).

6. The Concept of Overall Freedom

The concept of overall freedom appears to play an important role both in everyday discourse and in contemporary political philosophy. It is only recently, however, that philosophers have stopped concentrating exclusively on the meaning of a particular freedom — the freedom to do or become this or that particular thing — and have started asking whether we can also make sense of descriptive claims to the effect that one person or society is freer than another or of liberal normative claims to the effect that freedom should be maximized or that people should enjoy equal freedom or that they each have a right to a certain minimum level of freedom. The literal meaningfulness of such claims depends on the possibility of gauging degrees of overall freedom, sometimes comparatively, sometimes absolutely.

Theorists disagree, however, about the importance of the notion of overall freedom. For some libertarian and liberal egalitarian theorists, freedom is valuable as such. This suggests that more freedom is better than less (at least ceteris paribus), and that freedom is one of those goods that a liberal society ought to distribute in a certain way among individuals. For other liberal theorists, like Ronald Dworkin (1977, 2011) and the later Rawls (1991), freedom is not valuable as such, and all claims about maximal or equal freedom ought to be interpreted not as literal references to a quantitative good called ‘liberty’ but as elliptical references to the adequacy of lists of certain particular liberties, or types of liberties, selected on the basis of values other than liberty itself. Generally speaking, only the first group of theorists finds the notion of overall freedom interesting.

The theoretical problems involved in measuring overall freedom include that of how an agent’s available actions are to be individuated, counted and weighted, and that of comparing and weighting different types (but not necessarily different sources) of constraints on freedom (such as physical prevention, punishability, threats and manipulation). How are we to make sense of the claim that the number of options available to a person has increased? Should all options count for the same in terms of degrees of freedom, or should they be weighted according to their importance in terms of other values? In the latter, does the notion of overall freedom really add anything of substance to the idea that people should be granted those specific freedoms that are valuable? Should the degree of variety among options also count? And how are we to compare the unfreedom created by the physical impossibility of an action with, say, the unfreedom created by the difficulty or costliness or punishability of an action? It is only by comparing these different kinds of actions and constraints that we shall be in a position to compare individuals’ overall degrees of freedom. These problems have been addressed, with differing degrees of optimism, not only by political philosophers (Steiner 1983; Carter 1999; Kramer 2003; Garnett 2016) but also, and increasingly, by social choice theorists interested in finding a freedom-based alternative to the standard utilitarian or ‘welfarist’ framework that has tended to dominate their discipline (e.g. Pattanaik and Xu 1991, 1998; Hees 2000; Sen 2002; Sugden 1998, 2003, 2006; Bavetta 2004; Bavetta and Navarra 2012, 2014).

MacCallum’s framework is particularly well suited to the clarification of such issues. For this reason, theorists working on the measurement of freedom tend not to refer a great deal to the distinction between positive and negative freedom. This said, most of them are concerned with freedom understood as the availability of options. And the notion of freedom as the availability of options is unequivocally negative in Berlin’s sense at least where two conditions are met: first, the source of unfreedom-creating constraints is limited to the actions of other agents, so that natural or self-inflicted obstacles are not seen as decreasing an agent’s freedom; second, the actions one is free or unfree to perform are weighted in some value-neutral way, so that one is not seen as freer simply because the options available to one are more valuable or conducive to one’s self-realization. Of the above-mentioned authors, only Steiner embraces both conditions explicitly. Sen rejects both of them, despite not endorsing anything like positive freedom in Berlin’s sense.

7. Is the Distinction Still Useful?

We began with a simple distinction between two concepts of liberty, and have progressed from this to the recognition that liberty might be defined in any number of ways, depending on how one interprets the three variables of agent, constraints, and purposes. Despite the utility of MacCallum’s triadic formula and its strong influence on analytic philosophers, however, Berlin’s distinction remains an important point of reference for discussions about the meaning and value of political and social freedom. Are these continued references to positive and negative freedom philosophically well-founded?

It might be claimed that MacCallum’s framework is less than wholly inclusive of the various possible conceptions of freedom. In particular, it might be said, the concept of self-mastery or self-direction implies a presence of control that is not captured by MacCallum’s explication of freedom as a triadic relation. MacCallum’s triadic relation indicates mere possibilities. If one thinks of freedom as involving self-direction, on the other hand, one has in mind an exercise-concept of freedom as opposed to an opportunity-concept (this distinction comes from C. Taylor 1979). If interpreted as an exercise concept, freedom consists not merely in the possibility of doing certain things (i.e. in the lack of constraints on doing them), but in actually doing certain things in certain ways — for example, in realizing one’s true self or in acting on the basis of rational and well-informed decisions. The idea of freedom as the absence of constraints on the realization of given ends might be criticised as failing to capture this exercise concept of freedom, for the latter concept makes no reference to the absence of constraints.

However, this defence of the positive-negative distinction as coinciding with the distinction between exercise- and opportunity-concepts of freedom has been challenged by Eric Nelson (2005). As Nelson points out, most of the theorists that are traditionally located in the positive camp, such as Green or Bosanquet, do not distinguish between freedom as the absence of constraints and freedom as the doing or becoming of certain things. For these theorists, freedom is the absence of any kind of constraint whatsoever on the realization of one’s true self (they adopt a maximally extensive conception of constraints on freedom), and the absence of all factors that could prevent the action x is, quite simply, equivalent to the realization of x. In other words, if there really is nothing stopping me from doing x — if I possess all the means to do x, and I have a desire to do x, and no desire, irrational or otherwise, not to do x — then I do x. An equivalent way to characterize the difference between such positive theorists and the so-called negative theorists of freedom lies in the degree of specificity with which they describe x. For those who adopt a narrow conception of constraints, x is described with a low degree of specificity (x could be exemplified by the realization of any of a large array of options); for those who adopt a broad conception of constraints, x is described with a high degree of specificity (x can only be exemplified by the realization of a specific option, or of one of a small group of options).

What perhaps remains of the distinction is a rough categorization of the various interpretations of freedom that serves to indicate their degree of fit with the classical liberal tradition. There is indeed a certain family resemblance between the conceptions that are normally seen as falling on one or the other side of Berlin’s divide, and one of the decisive factors in determining this family resemblance is the theorist’s degree of concern with the notion of the self. Those on the ‘positive’ side see questions about the nature and sources of a person’s beliefs, desires and values as relevant in determining that person’s freedom, whereas those on the ‘negative’ side, being more faithful to the classical liberal tradition, tend to consider the raising of such questions as in some way indicating a propensity to violate the agent’s dignity or integrity (Carter 2011a). One side takes a positive interest in the agent’s beliefs, desires and values, while the other recommends that we avoid doing so.