A TCS Blog
Friday, August 29, 2003
What to do when you feel completely shit

Part II

Here are some suggestions, based on the vast array of knowledge I have collected in my lifetime (*chokes*).

1. First of all, you need to get a grip. Great creative ideas are unlikely to pop up while you're in the middle of feeling shit. Whatever the problems causing the shit consist of, you almost certainly need to find some kind of way of distancing from them so you can stop feeling shit long enough to think straight enough to start considering how to improve things.

2. To this end, doing something reliably enjoyable or comforting can help, or maybe just consciously deciding to let go of worrying or whatever the problem is, or maybe consciously deciding to distract yourself so as to give your brain a chance to recover some creativity and tackle whatever needs tackling. (NB "whatever needs tackling" can include the fact that actually there's nothing concretely wrong except negative thinking- negative thinking is something wrong).

3. 99.999% of all problems boil down to fear. Even if the worst thing that could possibly happen has happened, you will almost certainly find that fear of life in the light of this reality is more significant than bad feelings about the actual thing. For example, bereaved people fear coping without their loved-ones. Sick people fear feeling even more sick tomorrow. Depressed people are largely unhappy about how they expect to feel in the future, rather than exactly how they feel right now. Therefore:

4. Relax, focus on this exact moment right now, notice that you're still there and life is still going on, stuff like that. If women in labour can do this, which they can, and even sometimes end up feeling happy about being in extreme (it's not really pain if you feel happy about it, you know), then that's a start.

5. If you are in more physical pain than someone in labour, either it will be shorter-lived, or someone should give you some heavy drugs to help you deal with it.

6. This is getting morbid. So the next thing is: think positive! There are lots of ways of doing this. (You can always find out some more, from books in the library). One is, rather than fearing the future, take a look at the reality that is now. You will notice that there are good things in your life. Feel good about the fact that a) you haven't destroyed these good things, b) you probably actually did something which nurtured these good things, and c) these good things can be grown.

7. Get in touch with your preferences. This is what hippies are doing when they go on about massage and meditation. It's no use doing maths all day if you never stop and think inexplicitly about what you really want. For instance, if you want more love and sex, for goodness sake do something about that rather than watching yet more Star Trek re-runs. Better still, do something about that and watch the Star Trek re-runs. Relationships don't happen all on their own anymore than medical careers, or novel-writing, or house-buying happen on their own. We have to make them happen by active actions and the right kind of systems and planning. Not to mention, pre-planning dismantlement of our own inbred prejudices and cynicisms.

8. Getting in touch with your preferences: spend a day thinking about them. Walk around looking at things and people. Think about what you like, what you're interested in, however slightly, and follow some of those newer, smaller, less obvious hints your unconscious is trying to give you. Rethinking tiny decisions can be fascinating, and open up new paths.

9. If you're feeling slightly less shit, you may be in a position to take a look at what went wrong when you first started feeling shit. There's a million things it might have been, but as pain is almost always unnecessary to human learning, the chances are you were thinking irrationally about things rather than having staggeringly immensely difficult problems involving vast human suffering and immorality thrown out you from nowhere when you couldn't handle them. Because, the fact is,

10. Life is good. Which is why we shouldn't waste time feeling shit: it doesn't help us improve our lives, or grow better ideas, at all. In fact, it does the opposite: drains our creative energy and slows us down. And this is also why fun is good: fun increases our creative energy, and fires us up. But in order to have fun, you've gotta chill, get real, and go with the flow. My top tip for the day: find someone else who already knows how to do that, and learn from them.

And, be good. Of course.

Thursday, August 28, 2003
A story

Yesterday I read a story of a young man who took his own life. He had been repeatedly harrassed, mugged, robbed and extorted by gangsters on his way to work. Every morning he started from his home afraid wondering, if today he would be able to avoid his assaillants. These guys would come upon him, require him to pay them for safe passage and if he did not have what they wanted, they would hit him or strangle him using his own tie. He tried finding ways to get around them, but they always managed to get him in the end. Finally he decided that death was the only way out.

Where did all this happen? Surely such things cannot happen in western society. In here laws and law enforcement exist to protect us from the violence others might use against us. But it did in fact happen - in Britain.

How could such outrage happen in a civilised country.

The simple explanation is, this young man was 11 years old as were those gangsters that robbed him, beat him and extorted him. If they had been ten years older, those that made his life hell, would have been prosecuted, and that young man would have been taken seriously. Our law system failed him, when he needed it the most - and it cost him his life.

The story of his tragic death can be read in http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,1028851,00.html.

What kind of society are we, if

"Sandra Thompson was used to her son's weekend rhythm - the immediate relaxation and laughter of Friday afternoons, the dark mood that descended every Sunday as another week loomed. "With the first mention of school, Thomas must have had the same thoughts - are they going to be at the bus stop, are they going
to get me today, do I have enough money on me to cover what they take?"

this doesn't give us an automatic reaction that something is very badly wrong; something that should be solved; something that can be solved; something that this boy was unable to solve by himself, because not even his mother took him seriously.

What kind of culture is ours, if child's discomfort, distress is considered normal and not taken seriously?

On the day of his death he was tormented in the school bus. He got off and never got to school. The school officials informed his mother that he hadn't showed up and she tells

"I rang him up on his mobile and we had words. He slammed the phone down on me. I called him up later and said we'd say no more about it, and I'd take him to school the following morning.". It is probable that he did not wish to die, but wanted his mother to take his wish not to go to school seriously and considered making himself sick the only alternative. This is what his mother believes.

In our culture, school is considered so important that it is better for someone to be driven to the edge of suicide rather than consider the possibility that school just might not be a good place for him. People would rather see their children unhappy, unable to pursue their own dreams and attending school than happy, learning and flourishing out of school.

People in our society have firm belief that school is always best that school is something sacredly good. They are wrong, there is plenty of evidence that home schooling works better. And even if it did not, the beliefs people have about school are irrational and the case of this boy shows it clearly.

Even after tragic death of a young boy these people cannot see that there are alternative solutions. That there are other possibilities that would have allowed him to live his life to the fullest and make his fortune.

This boys death shows not one individual tragedy, but a whole pattern of tragedies happening all around us. How many other children go to school today, not wanting to go there, possibly afraid of being beaten up by others. Or forced to be with teachers who hate them, ignore them, tell them off, or are just plain are unhelpful in problems the child wants to solve. Children who will carry scars of their childhood long after their school is over.

What to do when you feel completely shit

Part I:

Contrary to public opinion, being TCS does not make you rational. It doesn't make you nice, happy, kind, intelligible, sensitive, constructive, successful, worthwhile, or good at scuba diving. It just makes you value those things (especially the scuba diving obviously) and aspire to more and better of them.

I'm gonna say that again. Being TCS does not make you rational.

There are these little things we mention occasionally in TCS called entrenched theories. That's a code-word for fuckups. People have fuckups. People are fuckedup. Yes, that means you.

"They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
They may not mean to, but they do.
They give you all the shit they had
And add some extra, just for you." (Name that poet, and correct the punctuation and probably the odd word. I did that from memory and my memory isn't great. I blame my parents. Obviously)

Anyway, basically, we're all fucked, due to having been fucked up, not just by our mums and dads but probably by anyone else who succeeded in getting their tuppence worth of fuckup in as well.

How do we know we're fucked? Because it's extremly extremely extremely likely. Is there such a thing as being totally rational in every sphere of human knowledge? Well, you show me someone who is brilliant at everything and I'll go away and think about it. In the meantime, my best theory is, at the present time in history, hahahahahahahahahaha.

So, anyway, people are fucked, and people feel shit as a result of this, from time to time. If they're unlucky, they get suicidal and die. If they're lucky, they mostly feel good and rarely feel shit. (If they never feel shit, they might just be bumbling around in an apathetic drug-induced haze, of course, which doesn't necessarily count as rational or good or happy or un-fucked-up either.)

Therefore, we need to know with how to deal with feeling shit.

"Get your ideas more rational, of course!" I hear you yell.
"Oh goodness, thanks very much!" I reply sarcastically. "Like, I didn't know that already!" And I continue. "Are you suggesting that out of all the possible knowledge human beings can generate, there is absolutely no possibility of any convergence or generalisation in the subject-area of How To Stop Feeling Shit that anyone can ever work out or benefit from?"
"Er..." you re-rejoin.
"Didn't you know that all knowledge consists of generalisation?"
"I can't remember what that means because I filed it in a non-verbal area of my brain, but I know it's extremely high on the best-theory list, and I can track down its path if need be. Meanwhile, if anyone tries to tell me that it's wrong to feel shit just one more time, I will whack them over the head with my thick heavy copy of 'The TCS Knowledge of Everything Bible' and yell 'Oh, you don't say?!' in a very loud voice."

Because, nobody wants to feel shit. Everybody wants to solve their problems. They just need more ideas about how. Want to make moral use of your time? Get solving more of the problems of humankind. How about finding a cure for cancer, as a startoff? I don't know medicine, so I'm going to tackle some other real-life problems that I do know about instead.

To be continued.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Some links

Elliot is going slightly nuts.

Alice has gone grey and ugly.

This post Gil linked to before turned into quite a detailed discussion about parenting worth reading.

The mysterious Virtue Pure posted this (searched for a suitable adjective- eccentric? unconventional? novel?) introduction to TCS philosophy, and is seeking criticisms.

And there is a new TCS discussion forum on the Taking Children Seriously website.

That lot should keep you busy for a while, anyway.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Dyslexia and Scientism

Wrote a post on my blog about dyslexia and how it's caused by genes. It's fitting that a fictitious disease should have a fictitious cause.

Making children kill themselves

I'm too angry to blog much about the vile disgusting evil in which this poor child was forced to live. No wonder he couldn't keep it up. Read the link and wonder why people aren't marching on the streets about this.

(From Brian Micklethwait, who is suitably angry himself, on Samizdata)

Monday, August 25, 2003
Censoring Teenagers' Magazines

It wasn't the main point of the post, but I've written some some comments on this post.

if you're interested in the the anti-meta rule found on the main TCS list, and takingchildrenseriously.com, read this post.

Sunday, August 24, 2003
don't miss the stuff about common preferences in this post.

Friday, August 22, 2003
Right and wrong

What are they?

Is "wrong" anything you decide that's less good than it might potentially have been? Is it more wrong, in the light of current knowledge, to support slavery in theory, than it would have been in Ancient Rome? What's the difference between "wrong" and "less than best-possible", and what's the difference between "right" and "right according to my best theory, which may be wrong, especially considering nobody else in the world seems to agree with me that I'm Napoleon"?

Thursday, August 21, 2003
And another...

I also posted about TCS on my blog.

Brilliant post!

OK, I wrote this one on Taking Children Seriously. I think it addresses a whole load of recurring TCS criticisms, and I especially like the bit about why "How to be a moral parent" can't ever be written. But, why no comments? Surely this post deserves endless streams of deep critical analysis?

PS Can someone change the title again please? My one above wasn't meant to last. Reverse changes are fine, and if nobody does it then I'll think up another one myself and it'll be an obscure reference to British universities and Shakespeare theatres so you may not like it.

Saturday, August 16, 2003
According to the comments, this is an excellent, excellent post about poly so umm go read it!

Branding the blog

Here's what I tagged on the end of that post below when I sent it to TCS. Brilliant, I thought, this is sure to excite our potential readers into visiting and becoming addicted (OK, that was a bit sarcastic):

"This post also appears on a blog which keeps changing its name and which has no unique byline yet..."

Guys, it's a bit difficult to advertise a blog which not only has no consistent name but also has no unique byline advertising its wares!... I realise that the blog for the TCS community was inaccurate literally speaking. However, it also embodied some ideas that have now been lost: it was meant to convey that this is the only group blog where TCS people come and say whatever they like. A unique community space. The only TCS community-blog. We even nearly chose that for a title, at one stage.

However, there is one possible interpretation of that byline which does include a tiny implication that nowhere else in the entire internet exists that is a) a blog, and b) anywhere that TCS people might want to go. And clearly, in our search for the ultimate blog, we must rule out that possibility and ensure that nothing we say can possibly be misunderstood.

Therefore, I propose a quiz. We now need a new byline, which says
a) exactly what is unique about this blog,
b) sums up what we're about,
c) is easily quotable for advertising (ideas-spreading) purposes, and
d) is short, to-the-point and elegantly phrased.

Otherwise, what are you going to call this place when you tell people about it? Go on, tell me.

Here endeth the lesson.

Great Expectations

(Also posted on the TCS list.)

There is an idea in TCS that people should have no expectations of or for their kids. This is false.

Actually, we certainly do have all sorts of *right, good* expectations of our children. When we buy their favourite cakes in the supermarket, we do so because we expect their preference of yesterday to be very likely similar today, and this is rational.

Expecting people to be totally alien unpredictable creatures is wrong, and so is ignoring the fact that people want and like you to get to know them, to have an intimate understanding of their preferences and good ideas about how those preferences might develop. You can't buy someone a wonderful surprise gift unless you know what they like. You can't come up behind them and tickle them in a way they enjoy. You can't share a secret smile with them in public when something amusing nobody else understands comes up.

Having no expectations is impossible and wrong, and places sad limits on one's ability to get close with and benefit from others. Having rational, good expectations is right and good.

What's sad is, sometimes people think *all* the expectations we have of our children (and sometimes other friends) are necessarily fixed immutable things that end up being forcibly imposed on them. Actually, expectations should be flexible and held with an awareness of one's own fallibility. The consequences of mistaking someone's expectation (which happens often- people's ideas change all the time) should be adaptation and growth, not coercion.

Adjusting your expectations after making a mistaken conjecture is like this:
"Mum! I was trying to read Harry Potter! Can't you tickle me later?!"
"Er, sure, sorry, honey..."
*Mum wanders off feeling slightly dumb.*

*No* expectations at all is like this:
"You got into the Olympic swimming team? Holy shit, that's incredible! I don't believe it!!" ... when your daughter has been representing the UK swimming for the past ten years and won several gold medals.
"Yeah, thanks a lot mum..."
*Daughter wanders off to spend some time with her real friends, who actually take in basic information about her life*...

Criticise that!

Friday, August 15, 2003
Evolution in action

I think the way we have evolved our title is quite magnificent. Our sidebar says who we are- the blog for the TCS community. What that means is, the group blog where anybody TCS can blog unedited on any subject. Our blog by us for us (everyone else welcome to observe and comment).

And one of the things we are about is growing our ideas. Unlike other blogs, we don't have to get stuck with titles that are silly, overlong, inaccurate or sub-perfect! We can change our title whenever we want! I propose that anyone who, after private rational consideration, thinks they've come up with a better title which the blog will want, acts accordingly.

Although, this does somewhat remind me of the story about when a local Nazi in some local Nazi job wrote to Hitler asking for promotion, and Hitler replied along the lines of, "Well, if you think you're good enough to be in charge, why don't you just take over?" I guess the moral of that is, there are right and wrong ways of disregarding institutional traditions and increasing individual autonomy (and the knowledge embodied in the institution at the same time).

Thursday, August 14, 2003

But what if...

people changed the title whenever they felt like it (assuming they have the faintest idea how to) and when it stops changing, we can assume there's a common preference. It's not going to stop links working, because it's still http://tcsblog.blogspot.com

Then there would be the added frisson as we click our tcsblog button on the favourites bar in Safari (I wish). Not just "has anyone posted?", but "What are we called today?"

Matrix Reloaded

I went to see this movie yesterday - will ya shuddup already; I've been busy - so here's my wannabe Brian/Alice-culture-blogette response.

The action was superb. But there was too much of it. Since it's easy enough to work out that nothing bad will happen to Neo before the end of the movie, if then (it's a trilogy, people), there's not that much tension involved, despite the moves being beautiful. And in the end, you just get used to suspending disbelief about what is normally physically possible, and take it all for granted.

But there was no directed plot line. [/loop] Neo meets a person. They tell him who to see next. [/end loop] This works on the large scale actually, since the whole point of the movie is that you can't make a choice until you know WHY you are doing something (see below), and Neo doesn't actually make a choice until near the end. But it's not really a recipe for a pacy movie is it? Action sequence where we know the goodies will win is followed by portentious dialogue where we know Neo will follow the instructions to the next stage.

The cool idea in the movie, which was sufficiently emphasised that you don't really need a second viewing to get the finer points of it, was to do with cause and effect. Without knowing why you take the actions that you do, you are at the mercy of what they called cause and effect, and what I suppose I'd call inexplicit theories. By examining and criticising your theories, you can work out why your instincts lead you towards certain decisions. This enables you to make a rational choice rather than just following the inexplicit theories blindly.

The friend I went with had three big reservations about the values of the film, which might be summarised as love, cool and willpower.

1. Romantic love is seen as a paramount moral good. It has redeeming power: Trinity's love saved Neo's life in The Matrix; this time the favour is returned; their romantic love also maybe saves the whole human race, because of the effect it has on Neo's choice. But what is the basis of this tie so close that it affects life and death? Errr... they never tell us, beyond the schmultz, thus perpetuating the myth of happy-ever-after self-sustaining love (which always looks quite boring to me).

2. It is important to appear cool at all times. It's not just the shades and the black overcoats, but also the air of appearing confident and in control of all situations at all times. Is blagging your way through by looking cool really the best tactic in all situations? This film suggests so.

3. When the odds are stacked against you, then willpower will suffice to guarantee success. (Were we supposed to be in hysterics when Keanu Reeves turned into Christopher Reeve-I-mean-Superman?) But willpower isn't the key to success. "I will have a good relationship with my children, I WILL have a good relationship with my children" doesn't help. The key to success is creativity, and you don't get a whole lot of that from the characters in Matrix Reloaded (though there's lots from the choreographers, the directors, and the people who invented those amazing zoom-round still-shot jobbies).

I'm going away on holiday tomorrow and won't be near a modem. I hope the blogosphere is still here at the end of the month. Toodle-pip!

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Mikko Sarela has posted an article about TCS on his website, here.

The name again, believe it or not.

I just noticed that there is a small problem with not having TCS in our title: nobody is going to find us on a search engine. Doh. Or on the other hand, I don't know how search engines work, maybe they will find us if we say "TCS!TCS!TCS!" enough times in each blog. Anyone?

We got linked!

Woo-hoo! Much Ado About Knitting has a really good piece about TCS, which links here as well as here, and I would just like to quote this excellent bit from it right now about how to think about cp-finding failure:
In point of fact, there are times (like, ahem, today) when we most definitely don't find the option that each person prefers to their original idea of what ought to happen. But those times are failures. Not failure, in a pathetic chest-beating sort of way. But they are at least mistakes of the sort we can learn from (hopefully cheerfully).
Yes, yes and once again, yes. It's a real shame how some anti-TCS people are unable to admit their own mistakes and failures and just learn from them, and have to justify them with nonsense like, "Coercion is sometimes morally good!" instead.

Say it with me right now: "OK, I failed this time. I got it wrong. I will learn from my mistakes. I am a human being not an infinitely knowledgeable robot." Thank you.

The new social problem: part II

In part I, I wrote about how parents have a responsibility to help their kids find friends, and how sometimes this can be difficult when TCS kids reject not only school but other popular social activities as well.

If your child goes to school, she will probably make some friends there. But if she doesn't go to school, it's up to you to help her out socially. She isn't rejecting the whole concept of friends just because she doesn't like school, obviously. And if your child doesn't like or want to go to Brownies, ballet-dancing or any of the other immediately obvious social activities kids of her age often attend, then it's still up to you to help her out. When asked, people of all ages very rarely say they want fewer people for sharing their passions with.

As Emma commented below, friends are people with whom you do things you enjoy. A lovely person with whom you share not a single common conversational or other interest is not a friend but a person you happen to know (although it might well be worth exploring further to see what you can do together). Relationships are active things, not just a couple of nice people sitting in a room together. They are ongoing mutually-beneficial enjoyable activity-sharing arrangements.

If your child has only been introduced to children who try to beat her up, or group activities that bore her silly, then it is still your responsibility to help her out better than that. When asked, people of all ages very rarely say, "No thanks, I don't want any more friends!" and the ones who do probably don't realise that it's a good idea to re-arrange your time-management somewhat before finding yourself in the position of turning away potentially great people! Time is something you make, not something that rules your life.

For TCS parents seeking safe environments for their kids to mix with others, it might be useful to remember the idea; "Everyone is TCS sometimes". For example, other families may coerce their own kids but it's much less acceptable to coerce other people's kids: visiting friends can easily be a TCS experience. Similarly, people who are unpleasant to be around while they are confined in a hated schoolroom can be interesting and lovely while playing music with their friends. Everybody is nice sometimes. And the time when they are nice is, when they're happily occupied, doing something they enjoy. Relaxed, learning, active people are nice to be around. So the secret of getting on well with people is: find something you both like to do together.

This might take research and experimentation. But it's our responsibility to our children to help them engage with the world in the good, social ways everyone enjoys.

Of course, most of us haven't had the opportunity to learn this in our own childhoods. Some of us are struggling hard to find ways round and through it in our adulthoods. Those of us who are very socially fulfilled indeed may not consciously know why, or be able to pass on the knowledge of how to achieve it very easily to our kids.

I will write another blog (part three) with some practical ideas for helping kids find friends for sharing fun with, later on. For now, I just want to set out the principles that:
a) TCS is about helping kids get what they want- including friends,
b) a friend is someone you share enjoyable projects (activities/ active interests) with,
c) friendship is not wholesale bonding with an entire individual: actually, you share the things you enjoy, and disregard (stay distant from) the rest (examples: me and Auntie Sue share gardening tips, not socio-political analysis; me and Jim play bingo, but don't have sex. Another more extreme theoretical one is; I would interview Saddam for a magazine if he was locked behind bars in a maximum-security prison, but I wouldn't invite him round for tea. But there is always something about a person that you don't share, whether it's going to the toilet or discussing your love-life.)

So instead of thinking, in the traditional romantic exclusive feminine way, "Is so-and-so my/a Real True Best Friend?" just think, "What kind of fun can I have with such-and-such?" and encourage your kids to think likewise. This is not merely pragmatic, but the route to learning the joint social skills of growing good sharednesses and distancing from unproductive ones which is the bottom line in human-relationship building. Very, very important indeed.

Thursday, August 07, 2003
Left-Wingers and Their Control Issues

This post is somewhat inspired by Emma, who commented a bit on it. I've been thinking about it lately too, as I've been talking to a lot of left wing people recently. Anyway, this doesn't plan on being a thorough post, so please do comment, or elaborate on it in your own post. (yay! elaboration!)

Usually it starts with my complaint that I can't buy alcohol at 4am. To which I usually get an odd look. (Drinking in the middle of the night is considered more acceptable than drinking at 10am, isn't it? And the liquor store is open at 10am...whatever.) Then I mention something about drugs being illegal. Of course, they don't believe drugs should be illegal, because addiction is a disease. Addicts should be cured. Forcefully. (see here). Then I'll say something about welfare being forced charity. Or health insurance being forced charity. (see here). Which, of course, horrifies them. Don't I want to help people? Well, I say, of course I want to help people. I just don't like being forced to do so. Especially not in stupid ways that don't work (but that's a whole other post).

So then, my wonderful left wing friends, in their gentle attempt to enlighten me, tell me that it's different for me because I actually think. I am smart (apparently). Other people don't think. Maybe I could handle buying alcohol in the middle of the night or drugs being legally accessible, but other people couldn't. It would ruin their lives. And maybe I would help poor people willingly, but other people wouldn't. So the poor people would all starve and die. (As opposed to just getting jobs, for some reason. But, again, another post.) And not only are some other people unable to handle all of this responsibility and freedom, infact most people would be unable to. The majority.

So then I ask if they do, indeed, believe in some sort of democracy. Which, of course, they do. Why would I even ask such a question? They're not fascists! So then I point out that in a democracy, the majority gets to make the rules. And if the majority is, infact, as stupid as is believed, then they should probably not be allowed to be making rules. Since they might enact terrible laws, say, allowing them to buy alcohol at 4am, and as a consequence, ruin their lives. So, that would make democracy a pretty bad idea.

And I have really never gotten a coherent, comprehensible answer to this.

Add-On: Elliot pointed out that "pro-democracy view [does not neccesarily require] considering the majority of people to be competent/intelligent".

So, to clarify my point:
A. Most of the left-wing people I talk to believe in a utopian democracy where people have even more control over their laws, usually through referendums. And even if they don't believe this, 'regular' democracy still has the ideal of the majority ruling, and does allow the majority to have some say, through voting for whom they like, or referendums or whatever.
B. Saying people shouldn't be allowed to control their own lives, because they are stupid, and then saying that these same stupid people should be allowed to control their own laws, is inconsistent. (This being my point.)

Wednesday, August 06, 2003
The Title... again

I don't like our title. I think it's clumsy, awkward, lacks snap, and isn't accurate anyway (like, there's loads and loads of TCS blogs, and this is just another one? I don't think so...) Plus, it is not surprisingly getting confused with Taking Children Seriously, which is now a blog called Taking Children Seriously, and, I mean...

Can we not come up with something else? Something exciting? Something groovy and cool and all-round impressively toothsome?

I invite you now to ponder how things would have been if the following blogs had titled themselves as literally as us...

Samizdata would be "The Socialist Individualist Blog" (snore)
IMAO would be "Some funny stuff about politics and monkeys"
Little Green Footballs would be "Enough evil to make you want to kill yourself, or at least have a large vodka"
The anti-idiotarian rottweiler would be.... the anti-idiotarian rottweiler...

And goodness only knows what this blog would be called.

Come on guys! Let's show the world that even TCS people have original branding** ideas! Otherwise, they'll all just think we are a bunch of over-literal socially inadequate mathematical nerds who can't tell the difference between insensitive critical ranting and supportive human helping...

** That's a marketing term. Plus, I like it. Anyway, marketing is good, because markets are good.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Being Bored

Alice recently wrote about being bored here

We feel bored when we don't know what to do. But there are so many fun things to do (blogging, reading a P.D. James, Picking Your Own strawberries... you name it). Why does one get bored then?

I think it's because we have two conflicting theories in our minds. "I want to get on with x" and "I don't really want to get on with x because I'm scared of it/not really interested in it/whatever". Until those conflicting theories get resolved, it's hard to get on with anything else that might be fun.

When we're feeling bored, maybe we should work out not only which thing it is that's top on our mental list of things we want to do, but also what it is about it that is stopping us wanting to do it.

It won't necessarily solve the problem, although maybe being able to say "I'm scared of working on this problem because I don't know the answer yet and it's really complicated" will help to dissipate the fear, and enable one to work on a tiny corner of that problem as a self-contained thing. Or being able to say "I don't really want to do that" will free us up to do something else fun.

Monday, August 04, 2003
The New Social Problem

When people start home-educating, they often get asked, "But what about socialisation?" as if the only way for kids to make friends was to be locked in a classroom with 35 other people the same age as them all day five days a week (and obviously not noticing that, ahem, if you lock kids in a classroom with 35 other people the same age as them all day five days a week it becomes rather difficult for them to socialise in many other ways, doh).

A home-educating friend of mine invented the best possible answer to this yawn-inducing question: she says, "Yes, I know! It's all we can do to keep up, we're so busy nowadays!" The number of activities available for home-edding families is ballooning wherever you look. In my little country town, there are things we could do nearly every day, within an easily driveable radius in all directions. Another friend of mine in London could easily go to a different activity every day, had her family the time and inclination. And I haven't even mentioned that home-edding families have tons of stuff to do that isn't home-ed meets and trips: things like playing with their friends, going out with their each other, staying in to watch TV, play computer games and (shock! horror!) reading books.

BUT, there's the rub. In TCS families, kids aren't necessarily carted around from home-ed group gathering to ice-hockey practice to outings at the National Trust stately home. The pressure to Do Things which afflicts many new and longstanding home-educators doesn't exist. Most of us have long since forgotten who the Joneses even are, never mind thinking about trying to Keep Up with the competition of their kids' overloaded social diaries. I'm more likely to say, "Oh, nothing...." if someone asks what I'm doing tomorrow, than, "I'll check the calendar... er, we can fit you in a week next Tuesday, 3pm, between Art Club, Trampolining and Brownies." (It's not true precisely: we'll be doing lots and lots of things. It's just they're not pre-booked two terms in advance and don't involve longstanding agreements with other people, usually).

Why is this? Because, TCS kids, being helped to do what they want and pursue their own excellently well-informed learning ambitions, very often turn down the chance of a lecture at the cheese-factory by some patronising worksheet-handing-out nutcase who thinks kids are to be spoken to like pet dogs, in favour of staying home and doing their thing. Organised home-ed activities, apart from the social ones in general, tend to be sniffed at rather more by those whose lives are full of playstation, fun and blah, than by those whose toy-boxes contain the standard four twigs and a piece of muslin favoured by school-rejecting Alternatives and Puritans.

In short, we have a completely different kind of Social Problem. Our problem is, finding modes of socialising sufficiently inspiring that our kids actually want to participate in them. Why is this a problem, if they're happy playing lego all day? It isn't really: except that, people enjoy being with other people in good ways, and children are entitled to adult facilitation in finding the people they like and want to be with, and very many adults find this job extremely difficult to do well, having been dumped in classrooms themselves. Many of us don't even consider it our job at all!

But it is our job. We should help our children pursue their social wants just as we help them pursue their "educational" and all sorts of other wants. And it may not be as easy as it seems if your children's preference is to be close with like-minded others and every available other is apparently either banned from visiting your scary household or too uncivilised to want to have around for very long. Or both.

(To be continued! Comments in the meantime gratefully received...)

Sunday, August 03, 2003
Fruits and crops of the earth

I just got back from a post-prandial country walk, through woods and fields. In one of those fields, where a hay crop has recently been taken off, we found some field mushrooms.

Not being hugely confident in fungus identification, except for chanterelles and shaggy inkcaps, which noone could mistake for anything else, I telephoned my family for help. Conveniently, most of them were in a car together, so getting advice was easy.

"pinkish-brown gills, slightly scaly tops, some of them have rings, about 6 cm diameter, they smell like the mushrooms you can get in Tescos" I said.

"If you cut the stem with a knife, does the flesh quickly turn yellow?" asked my brother. Nope. "It's not a yellow stainer, then".

"Is there a volva - that's a bump before it goes into the ground?" asked my father, full of vocabulary and concentrating hard on the M1 motorway. Nope. "OK. It isn't ammonita deadly poisonous, then"

"Do a spore test tonight", advised my mother from the front seat. "The spores should be brown not white". This is where you leave a mushroom spore-side down on a sheet of white paper, and the spores all fall onto the paper overnight, making a cool pattern. If the spores are white, it's an ammonita (aargh).

1. Gathering free food from the fields and hedgerows is satisfying beyond reason. I think it is partly the chance aspect of it, and partly the fact that the pickings are so fresh. Also it's fun to come home as conquering hero(ine) with something extra for supper or tomorrow's breakfast.

2. It's important to check that funghi are edible. Ammonitas really are deadly poisonous, most of them, and there's no way I'd risk eating the edible ones. Dorothy Sayers didn't write "The Documents in the Case" for nothing, you know. http://www.agarics.org/Index.jsp is a really cool fungus web site with pictures and a database to help you identify what you've found.

3. Families can be great sources of expertise and wanted advice, although I confess that it is easier to ascertain the edibility of a mushroom in person rather than at a distance of several hundred miles.


Teenagers have a negative reputation in current society. They are seen as pointlessly destructive, aimless, obstinate, and a bunch of other things. As well they are terribly moody, and suffer from higher than normal rates of depression. Most people believe that these are inherent qualities of teenagers. But, in societies where there is no recognition of adolescence, and instead one becomes an adult at around 13, the problems normally associated with teenagers do not seem to exist. Teenagers are normal, productive members of society.

So what if someone were to arbitrarily pick an age range, say 30-40, and decide that because of problems with the brain during this period of life, people in their thirties were unable to make mature and responsible decisions? We could enact mandatory schooling laws for those in their thirties, require them to have gaurdians and rules and such, have discriminatory laws for employment, credit, housing, driving, drinking, smoking, and everything else we currently have for teenagers. My theory is that we would then see the exact same sorts of problems with them that we now see with many teenagers.

Of course, this is all just of the top of my head. So if you think I'm a nut-job, please do feel free to tell me all about it.

Friday, August 01, 2003

We need all the help we can get


And can I just say how bloody annoyed I am that they aren't letting kids under 12 in to see Terminator 3 (if I've understood correctly). Thank you.

Although, I was rather pleased to read this, about how things might change. Vive l'Evolution!

Update: I was wrong! Certificate 12 has already been replaced with certificate 12A! (Which means parents can accompany kids under twelve, so they're not completely banned anymore). Freedom to the people, hurrah, things are getting better all the time (bursts into Beatles tunes)!


Does anyone have an idea for getting spontaneous modern-art biro decorations off pale-coloured lino flooring? My all-purpose cleaning paste stuff isn't working. Thank you!


Parent's view of museums (#1): boring dusty places where teachers force children to fill in worksheets and responsible adults force themselves to read and memorise all the information on the signs. Not as good as pubs.

TCS child's view of museums: amazing places full of incredible magical stuff, like real spaceships and dinosaur bones and buttons you can press to make weird noises (who cares what they're meant to be for, they're fun), full of giant rooms to explore and look round.

Parent's view of museums (#2): welcome places that kids like so maybe there's something good about them after all, they are spacious, and one can always sit down and get a coffee, and hey, that stuffed snake is pretty cool I guess...

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