Preferential Abuse

I saw one of those postcard postings on Facebook the other day and while I agree with it, I am also wondering why it is so exclusive and the sentiment so pervasive. It is a quote by President Jimmy Carter that stated: “The abuse of women and girls is the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on earth.”

First of all, I have not checked to see if this quote is actually real. The Internet, for all its wonderful ability to disseminate information, can also be used to disseminate untruths. Whether true or false, the quote will be fodder for this blog! This quote is one of those interesting dichotomies, a statement that is true and false at the same time. It is also a dichotomy squared as the former president also speaks both the truth and falsehoods, sometimes in the same breath. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is intentional on his part, we all, to some extent, are closed systems, therefore we see things through the prism of our thoughts and beliefs.

As to the former, women and girls are most definitely abused, but I would offer for the President’s consideration that some men and almost as many young boys are too. Children are very vulnerable and it really does take a community to insure that we protect them. I found it disheartening that there was so much media and social attention to the 200 young girls that were recently kidnapped in Nigeria and virtually no mention of the 29 boys that had been shot or burned to death just weeks before. Where was the #saveourboys social media blitz?

Are young girls more special than young boys or is it just the number killed/kidnapped? If so, at what number over 30 does the killing/kidnapping of children in Nigeria become relevant? Is it killed/kidnapped at one time? Twenty school children are killed in Newtown and it dominates the news for weeks, but throughout 2010, 66 school-aged children were killed in Chicago and nothing much was reported. Are killings in school more important that killing children out of school? Even worse, could it be that white children killed in Connecticut and Colorado are more important and worthy of reporting than black and brown children in Illinois?

What I find even more disheartening is after a couple of weeks, all the #saveourgirls had disappeared just like the girls themselves. I do not doubt that there are some still working behind the scenes to help the girls and their families reunite, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to the news.

One of my favorite quotes is by Erik Erikson and chokes me up every time I read or say it. He was a psychologist that is most well known for his psychosexual developmental stages. “Someday, maybe, there will exist a well informed, well intentioned group of individuals, that consider the mutilation of a child’s spirit to be the greatest of all sins.” Certainly, women and girls are abused more than men, but do we need to be more concerned about one type of abuse over another? To Erikson’s quote, I would add the mutilation of any person, anywhere, in anyway, of any gender, color, age, or religion!

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I’m not sure why, but I have always liked this word! It originally meant giving a human form to something inanimate, such as showing a cloud shaped as a human face blowing wind from its mouth or giving a deity like Zeus a human body. When I first heard it, anthropomorphism pertained more to giving human traits and/or characteristics to animals. This could either be literal, such as Mickey Mouse and other cartoon animals acting as humans or regarding something a pet does as being “just like a human.”

I am in my early sixties, so I grew up on Saturday morning cartoon (imagine having just two station until ABC and PBS came on and, as far as I was concerned as a child, PBS didn’t count as Sesame Street was a couple of decades away), ahh, Wiley Coyote, Bugs, and all the Warner Brothers’ characters. I confess I am also somewhat a snob and think they and their contemporaries as being much superior artistically and having much greater personalities than most cartoons that followed until the first Pixar movie!

Notwithstanding my nostalgia for Disney and Warner Bros., I’m not really a fan of talking animal cartoons any longer. I can appreciate the quality and the story of newer animated films like Ice Age and Rio, however they grate mainly because they present animals not being true to their nature. I recently read about a fellow that was just livid at the portrayal of the geese in Charlotte’s Web, stating that real geese are not sociable and, he maintains, they would never have befriend Wilber; I didn’t quite understand his focus on the geese and never mentioned a talking spider, pig, etc.! I do not think I am that anal, but I have moved away from pigeonholing animals into anthropomorphic roles. That said, I loved all the Toy Story and Monster’s Inc. films, but I digress.

Before continuing, let me also mention that while I like animals and pets, I just do not want to be their primary care giver; unlike some girls and ladies I know, the two best days of my horse ownership were the day I purchased Winrock and the day I sold him! I thoroughly enjoyed my ex’s and daughter’s cats and now have two wonderful male Labradoodles courtesy of my wife’s love of dogs, but if I were on my own, I would not have a pet.

This brings me to the crux of this blog, the interesting juxtaposition of anthropomorphic verses real emotions in animals. Watching our two dogs, half brothers, mature through my somatic psychology “eyes,” I have seen first hand many traits that are supposedly only human while, at the same time, absolutely keeping in mind their canine traits and behaviors to maintain order.

I have seen attachment mannerisms in both, outright scheming and trickery, and emotions from jealousy to love, however one defines that term. I have watched the older dog, jealous of the bone the other has, deliberately jump up and run barking to the door. Naturally, the other jumps up and heads to the door, only to have the older dog circle back and grab the bone! One of the first self-help books I read was The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck and I remember he did not think animals could love; observing our two dogs, I can categorically state that is not true. My wife and I do not treat them as our “fur children,” they are our animal companions. Because they are not human, whatever they and we experience as love between us is different from human love, but I would argue it is still love.

On the other hand, our dogs are trained and well behaved not only to insure they do not mug guests (they are 90 pounds each!), but also because if we do not lead, one of them will try to become the alpha in the house. This is simply in a dog’s nature. A psychologist once told me when my daughter was growing up that smart children will constantly test their parents and, being intelligent , our dogs are like human children and test us in their dog ways. We have forgotten to mimic an alpha dog every now and then, like clockwork, the youngest will begin to get aggressive to both us and to the other dog in order to fill the perceived vacuum. While acting consistently within their dog nature, they test our resolve like human children might and, again like children, our dogs are definitely less stressed when they have clear, consistent rules to follow.

Even though we have to respect their animal nature, that does not mean animals cannot feel the same emotions we humans do, after all, they are mammals and we share the same mammalian brain as they do. While their brains are enhanced in some areas, such as processing smells, and less in others, like their prefrontal cortical functioning, we still share many traits. There is a neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp, who is also a psychologist, a psychobiologist, and an animal behaviorist that has done many studies on evolutionary emotions and has a wonderful documentary, Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry. His studies, much to the chagrin of his fellow psychologists, show that all mammals share the same feelings.

There is a wonderful YouTube video (Which guilty dog did this mess?) showing three small dogs at the top of the stairs when their owner finds a mess and calls out loudly “Which one of you did this mess?” Two of the dogs simultaneously turn to look at the third! Then, as the owner calls out their names, the guilty dog begins to back away to hide! Guilt, shame, remorse, or fear of getting in trouble, like their love, might not be exactly as humans experience those emotions, but the third dog definitely had them.

Not too many years ago, the brain was considered to be fully formed and inflexible when we entered adulthood. Now we know that the opposite is true; the brain is very plastic and continues to learn and change until we die. Similarly, what used to be considered anthropomorphism, might simply have been our observing emotions we didn’t think existed in animals!

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Media Mush!

Is it me, or has the media in the country gone to mush? What prompted this question is mainly reading the Houston Chronicle (and a specific editorial cartoon which I will discuss further in this blog), but also seeing other written and visual reports from various outlets.

I am not a news junkie like I was back in my thirties and forties, so my sampling is certainly not extensive, but I find that I am reading and seeing what amounts to news reporting pabulum. This is true whether we are talking the equivalent of front-page news, be it world or local, business, and, even, sports. I cannot figure out if it is apathy or ignorance driving this poor reporting.

I once read that most articles are written at the fifth grade level, but that does not explain the drop in coherent content. When a larger national school bought the graduate school where I was pursuing my doctorate, I was required to retake my third year due to graduation requirements; this entailed taking three on-line courses that were at the Master level.

For those that have not ever taken on-line courses, the students not only posts their own work, but also must read and comment on several other classmate’s work. I was appalled! Maybe that is a bit of an overstatement, but not much. It was not the technical aspects of writing a graduate level paper; many had just entered graduate school (I am sometimes ashamed when re-reading some of my early papers!). Unfortunately, the content, cohesiveness of making a logical argument, and even the grammar would have gotten me an “F” in my undergraduate classes back in the early 70s.

I find these same flaws in most of the articles I read in the Chronicle, and they employ editors to supposedly oversee their reporter’s writing! However, an even worse problem for me is trying to create a problem out of normal practices, which brings us to the editorial cartoon by Walt Handelsman I saw on Friday, 26 February.

The cartoon was titled, “Pick The Most Accurate Portrait of Governor Jindal…” and showed a framed picture of what appeared to be a young Jindal, a second framed picture from a few years ago, and then a third with just the frame, no photograph, and a note saying “Away at campaign event… Good luck at home! –Bobby.” For those of you that may not know, Bobby Jindal is the Republican governor of Louisiana.

Oh, the shock of it all!!! Really, I have never, never I tell you, seen a current governor, national senator or congressional representative spend time away from their job attending presidential campaign events! I cannot even believe that Mr. Handelsman thinks this is news.

And why is this cartoon even in the Houston paper? How does the campaigning of a neighboring state’s governor even have relevance? Further, in researching Mr. Handelsman, I found this cartoon appeared in the New Orleans’s paper on the sixth of February and the Chronicle thought it so funny and so significant that is waited three weeks to run it?

It is bad enough that those of us that still read newspapers have to put up with nothing news, but we also have to stomach these cartoonist’s, reporter’s, and editor’s sophomoric hypocrisy. While I could not find anything from so far back, I wonder if Mr. Handelsman considered a similar cartoon on Massachusetts’s governor Michael Dukakis and New Mexico’s governor Bill Richardson when they ran for president in 1988 and 2008? Granted, neither was from Louisiana, but I wonder if it is just because Mr. Jindal is Republican?

Worst, from seeing a collection of Mr. Handelsman’s cartoon on Mr. Jindal, his hypocrisy is even more flagrant in that he should be happy that Gov. Jindal is out of state where, in Mr. Handelsman’s political universe, Mr. Jindal cannot do any harm to his fellow Louisianans! Oh, the scintillating arguments from Democrats that President Bush spent too many vacations at his ranch and from Republicans that President Obama plays too much golf! Give me a break. Please!

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