Danger!

Essential for survival

Sad boy behind wire mesh

“A young animal kept too long in a cage will not be able to survive in the wild. When you open the door, it will be afraid to go out; if it does go out, it won’t know what to do because the world has become unfamiliar, an alien place.” – From On the Wildness of Children, by Carol Black 


From sanitized playgrounds, to eerily quiet streets after school, to trigger warnings on college campuses designed to ‘protect’ our youth from words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense, we are raising a generation of children who won’t know what to do once released from their ‘safe’ cages into the real world.

No surprise 18-to 34 year olds are less likely to be living independently than they were in the depths of the Great Recession, or that many are choosing to isolate themselves in virtual worlds where they have greater control over outcomes.

“Child-rearing has gone from harm prevention to risk elimination,” says millennial author Malcolm Harris. “In the shadow of [the current] high-stakes rat-race, it’s no longer enough to graduate a kid from high school in one piece; if an American parent wants to give their child a chance at success, they can’t take any chances. In a reversal of the traditional ideas of childhood, it’s no longer a time to make mistakes; now it’s when bad choices have the biggest impact.”

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

What many scared, but otherwise well-intentioned parents don’t realize is that the world today is changing at a dizzying speed which will require adaptability and survival skills only those exposed to danger and uncertainty can develop.

Disruptive technologies, the likes of Airbnb, Uber, cryptocurrencies, 3-D printers, etc., are upending traditional industries at a breakneck pace. Today’s knowledge will most probably be obsolete in a decade. Survival will not be of the fittest but the ‘unfittest’: those who do not fit in or fill traditional boxes. The prize will be to those who imagine and create new boxes.

Such creativity is only nurtured by experimentation…by courageous trial and error. What is to give light must endure burning, said concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl.

Sheltered and coddled children grow up with little resilience, they give up before they try, are incapable of finding solutions to their own problems, and are not inventive or self-reliant.

Carol Black points out that an ‘uneducated’ person in the highlands of Papua New Guinea can recognize seventy species of birds by their songs. An ‘illiterate’ shaman in the Amazon can identify hundreds of medicinal plants. An Aboriginal person from Australia carries in his memory a map of the land, encoded in song, that extends for a thousand miles. But to know the world, you have to live in the world. 

Most children today can’t find their way back home from school without a GPS. They are no longer allowed to live in the world; not the real one at least. No wonder they’re scared of it, or unstimulated by it when compared to the variety and intensity of the virtual worlds they now inhabit.

But the real world cannot be controlled by a joystick or mousepad – it is ‘red in tooth and claw.’ You can’t pause life like a video game and there are no do-overs.

A few, like Caroline (5) and Leia Carrico (8), are fortunate their parents understand the value of exposing them to managed risk and danger. Having received wilderness survival training, they recently survived forty-four hours on their own after getting lost in a heavily-forested area in Humboldt County, CA.

“A free child outdoors will learn the flat stones the crayfish hide under, the still shady pools where the big trout rest, the rocky slopes where the wild berries grow. They will learn the patterns in the waves, which tree branches will bear their weight, which twigs will catch fire, which plants have thorns.” – Carol Black

“In the real world, life is filled with risks—financial, physical, emotional, social—and reasonable risks are essential for children’s healthy development,” says Joe Frost, an influential playground safety consultant. At the core of our safety obsession, adds Tim Gill, author of No Fear, is the idea that children are too fragile or unintelligent to assess the risk of any given situation.

I give children more credit, and in my book, ‘The Hero in You,’ I include this poem by the inimitable rascal and mystic Rumi:

Your old grandmother says,

“Maybe you shouldn’t go to school.

You look a little pale.”

Run when you hear that. A father’s stern slaps are better.

Your bodily soul wants comforting.

The severe father wants spiritual clarity.

He scolds, but eventually leads you into the open.

Pray for a tough instructor.

Rakiki hitting Simba

Encouraging and guiding them toward their own heroic journey, I present boys with the value of courage – halfway between timidity and recklessness. I tell them to take risks but with prudence, and to embrace discomfort to achieve mastery and to challenge their convictions.

I do not comfort but challenge them.

Parents who wish to continue sheltering their sons from the real world will do well to keep my ‘dangerous’ book away from them.

Read the companion piece ‘Awakening your Wild Man’: a message to Men, and for women who yearn for the return of the Fierce Gentleman (paywall).

Follow The Hero in You.

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You’re Flogging the Wrong Horse, Mueller!

Prosecute our Educational System Instead

When will we learn?

That we don’t have a “gun problem” or a “drug problem”, but collectively, one of despair.

That we don’t have an “immigration problem” but a development opportunity in our backyard.

That the important issue is not that the Russians meddled in our electoral process with deceitful propaganda, but that many voters were so easily duped.

When will we stop focusing on consequences and pay attention to causes?

I’ll say it again:

  1. We’ve scratched the surface of the “drug problem” by injecting it with $1.5 Trillion since 1971, and it has done nothing to lower the rate of addiction.
  2. We can confiscate the 270 million guns owned by Americans, but mass killings won’t stop because the despair felt by many young men will still be there.
  3. We can Band-Aid the “immigration problem” by building a wall all the way to the Moon and across the entire southern border; it will be riddled like swiss cheese with underground tunnels in no time. Hunger is a powerful motivator. Think East Germany and the Berlin Wall.

We will not stop Russia or any other foreign power from attempting to influence our elections for their benefit, as they can’t, and haven’t been able to stop the U.S. from doing the same.

What we can, and must do, is arm our voters, especially those coming behind us, with a powerful antidote: critical thinking skills.

Here’s a sampling of social media messages posted during the last election by fake accounts with convincing names such as United Muslims of America, Black Matters, Woke Blacks, Heart of Texas, and Being Patriotic:

“… hype and hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.” (Clinton’s spelling by the way, is not a typo).

“American Muslims [are] boycotting elections today, most of the American Muslim voters refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton because she wants to continue the war on Muslims.”

Being Patriotic “America has always been hinged on hard-working people. If you remove jobs, you’ll remove our country from the world map.

Being Patriotic

Heart of Texas: If Hillary becomes President of the US, the American army should be withdrawn from Hillary’s control according to the amendments of the Constitution.

Heart of Texas

Lastly, my favorite, from The Army of Jesus:

Like if you want Jesus to win

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities. – Voltaire

With their spread amplified by paid advertisements, some 130 million Americans saw at least one of the posts disseminated by Russian actors according to Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch.

What most stuns me about these posts, is not their absurdity, but their lack of subtlety and sophistication. It’s as if those who wrote them believe the U.S. is mostly populated by village idiots.

In 1983, the Reagan-appointed National Commission on Excellence in Education wrote the following in their report: ‘A Nation at Risk’:

“The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

Little has changed, and since 1983, two generations of young adults have already marched through the assembly lines of our public schools and into our voting booths.

What is the purpose of education anyway?

Is it to produce new cogs and wheels to replace those that wear out inside the machine of our industrialized, tech-driven economy?

Or, is it to foster creativity, love of learning, grit, citizenship, and an open mind?

Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, believes the former, and tried to change the century-old mission of the University of Wisconsin system – known as the ‘Wisconsin Idea’ – by removing the words that commanded the university to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition,” replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs.”

Critical thinkers are amiable skeptics, wrote Heather Butler for Scientific American. They are flexible thinkers who require evidence to support their beliefs and recognize fallacious attempts to persuade them. Critical thinking means overcoming all sorts of cognitive biases. Roughly speaking, critical thinking helps you figure out whether you should believe some claim, and how strongly you should believe it.

In his paper ‘Teaching Critical Thinking, Lessons from Cognitive Science’, Tim van Gelder says “humans are not naturally critical thinkers. Indeed, like ballet, it is a highly contrived activity.  Running is natural; nightclub dancing is natural enough; but ballet is something people can only do well with many years of painful, expensive, dedicated training.  Evolution didn’t intend us to walk on the ends of our toes, and whatever Aristotle (‘Man is a rational animal’) might have said, we weren’t designed to be all that critical either.  Evolution doesn’t waste effort making things better than they need to be, and Homo sapiens evolved to be just logical enough to survive while competitors such as Neanderthals and mastodons died out.

But it can be taught, and even better, a growing body of research is proving that more so than intelligence, wise reasoning leads to greater wellness and longevity.

But our schools and universities don’t teach it, as they don’t much teach the Humanities anymore – the philosophies, literature, religion, art, music, history and language that help us understand ourselves and our world. These disciplines are rapidly being replaced by Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

But I forget: rationalism is the new bogeyman, and most of us recoil when having to read anything longer than one page.

My concern with this whole ‘Russia Collusion’ thing is not with the threat outside influences present to our representative democracy, but more importantly, with the threats from within. An unthinking society is easier prey to homespun propaganda that triggers aberrant human emotions like fear, vanity, greed, envy, tribalism, scapegoating, and thirst for vengeance (Aldous Huxley must be smiling smugly in his grave).

When it comes to education, I side with our federalist (or nationalist) forefathers: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, believing that something as vital to democracy as the education of its citizens must not be left to the vagaries of competing ideologies.

Here’s part of Jay’s essay ‘Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence’ published in the Federalist Papers:

“Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first. I mean only to consider it as it respects security for the preservation of peace and tranquility, as well as against dangers from foreign arms and influence, as from dangers of the like kind arising from domestic causes.  Let us therefore proceed to examine whether the people are not right in their opinion that a cordial Union, under an efficient national government, affords them the best security that can be devised against hostilities.”

Sadly, my vote for a unified approach to education is half-hearted, realizing that long-gone are the days when John Jay could confidently assure that “once an efficient national government is established, the best men in the country will consent to serve.”

But still…how we educate future generations in the Union, has, in my opinion, a direct bearing on the country’s security and prosperity so must not be left in the hands of philistines like Scott Walker, or the Texas School Board, which, in 2010, adopted textbook standards emphasizing the Christian influences of the nation’s founding fathers and diluted the rationale for the separation of church and state.

Despotism can only exist in darkness, proclaimed James Madison, and I agree. Our schools should be producing light bulbs, not mindless cogs and wheels.

So, Mueller, while you keep flogging that horse, you might want to consider what Mark Twain once said:

In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.


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