Thursday, July 24, 2008

Am I alone on this fence about PZ Myers?

In case you haven't heard the howling, PZ Myers has created the greatest stir of his career by soliciting a consecrated host to desecrate.

Now, I agree with every criticism of the Catholic church he makes in that post. I sympathize with his combined puzzlement and contempt for a group of people who somehow believe that the all-powerful creator of the universe becomes a wafer and can thereby be hurt by a puny human being. And by the way, the wafer is literally and truly the body of Christ, semi-human flesh, but it has no features of human flesh. They just know that it is, because, well, it just is.

To anyone outside the fold, this is patent insanity. Even to this confirmed Catholic (I suppose they still count me among their rolls, in fact), looking at it with fresh eyes, it is loopy beyond description. Furthermore, the history of pogroms inspired by fabricated cases of host desecration shows that this is not a silly benign belief, but can easily become full-on homicidal insanity. As do the death threats Myers has received.

So yes, let us skewer these stupid, benighted, harmful, ridiculous beliefs. Let us laugh at the overly earnest "defenders" of Christ's vulnerable flesh. Let us challenge the assertions made by these people and vociferously point out that their claims are contradicted by all evidence.

But, I do think that stealing a consecrated communion wafer is, well, dickish. And probably technically illegal. It seems to me overly inflammatory, and therefore counterproductive. Most people who are cheering PZ on are already on his side in this. People who might be convinceable that Catholicism is crazy bunk, but are not yet convinced, are more likely to be put off by something so intentionally rude. And as we've seen, believers are driven batshit crazy by it.

Actually, though, that brings me back to thinking maybe this was a good thing in that it exposed how dangerously out of their minds many true believers are.


By the bye, many critics called PZ out for not targeting the Koran. They imply he is a coward to spit in the eye of the relatively peaceful (i.e., only threatening death, rather than following through) Catholics, while carefully giving Muslims a free pass.

Now PZ himself was not involved, but I'd like to point out that when the Danish Mohammed cartoon debacle occurred, one of the very few publications to reprint the offending cartoons was Free Inquiry, a secular humanist magazine. When it comes to boldly facing up to would-be theocratic thugs, atheists are one of your best bets. Probably because, as PZ points out, we don't request a general "hands off" rule regarding beliefs in order to shelter our own. When you submit your own beliefs to rigorous criticism, you become free to stand up against the faulty beliefs of others.

So, here I am on my fence. Part of me says, "Yeah, go PZ!" and part of me cringes, and part of me raises her eyebrows and says, "Well regardless, the reaction is very illuminating," and I just can't come down anywhere solid. Am I the only person not successfully polarized by this scenario?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Babywise, Chapter One: Your Baby Needs a Family

First, let me note that Ezzo uses two "examples" of children raised in different ways. I put examples in quotes because they are not real children, just made up characters crafted to support Ezzo's views. Chelsea has the perfect parents according to Ezzo - married, committed, and bound and determined to be her authority figures, not her friends. Marisa, meanwhile, is apparently the daughter of unmarried lesbian democrats who crave her constant approval and dare not thwart her. Got it? Let's proceed.

Ezzo starts by painting all other parenting approaches as ineffectual, naive, and downright stupid: "You think [these parents] are too sweet. Too kind. They all have the best of intentions. If wishes and dreams were bright lights and lollipops, every day would be bliss. But there's much more to parenting than just high hopes."

He then goes on to lay down the prerequisite to parenthood: good old Judeo-Christian marriage. "The husband-wife union is not just a good first step towards child-rearing. It is a necessary one." OK, pretty clear - traditional marriage is absolutely indispensable to good parenting. Except two sentences later, when he tells single parents they can use his method too. OK - marriage is completely vital, except it's not really. I didn't expect things to go off the rails this quickly.

Credit where credit is due, I can see a lot of wisdom in promoting a solid pair-bond in parents to make kids feel secure and prevent excessive anxiety. A stable home is important to kids - not the most profound revelation, but at least he's getting that part right.

Then he says, "To be a good mom or dad, all you need is to continue as before." Seems like he is echoing a sentiment that seems prevalent in our culture - having a baby shouldn't cause even a ripple in your life. Anything a baby does to disrupt your sleep, your schedule, or your leisure time is a problem to be fixed. This is confirmed when he trots "Marisa" out as a bad example. He describes her parents making room for her needs in their lives (not going out for a few months because she doesn't do well with sitters, and not force-feeding her a food she rejects) summing up with, "Welcome to the circus." Yes, these parents have done two things to accommodate their baby - mass chaos will surely ensue!

I'm coming to see that Gary Ezzo is extremely fond of the False Dilemma fallacy. In fact, it appears to be the foundation of all his parenting advice. Follow Babywise, and your child will be secure, cooperative, kind, good, charitable, honest, honorable and respectful. She will be "a joy to have around." Fail to follow Babywise, and instead follow your instincts or "the La Leche League attachment-parenting style" and your parenting will be "disabling . . . emotionally crippling . . . devastating." You will be catering to your child's every whim, making her totally self-centered and selfish for the rest of her life.

Clearly Ezzo is unfamiliar with the actual tenets of attachment parenting, which emphasizes loving guidance, including using authority and behavior modification techniques. Surely there are parents out there who ascribe to a passive, lazy approach, or who consider their little darling a creative genius not to be squelched with the slightest redirection. But these have nothing to do with attachment parenting. More to the point, wherever attachment parenting falls on the continuum, it is patently true that there is a continuum of parenting choices ranging from the very permissive to the very authoritarian. There are a lot of points on the continuum between Ezzo and utter permissiveness, but he refuses to acknowledge them.

All in all, this first chapter paints a picture of an author terrified of losing control. The implication is that one must keep utter mastery of children, from the moment of their birth, or all will be lost and the child will be unruly, selfish, and miserable forever. To him, placing an infant at the center of attention and care in a family, even for a few weeks or months, is a recipe for disaster, never mind how utterly dependent newborns are.

There is another subtext to this chapter, but I'll leave it for a separate post, as this is quite long enough already.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ezzo ahoy!

I've obtained a copy of Babywise at the consignment store, and I'm reading the Preface. So far I'm seeing two themes. First, the focus is on results, results, results. And for them "results" means the baby sleeping all night long without any parental intervention, and the mother being well rested. No mention so far of meeting baby's needs, fostering empathy and closeness, or listening to one's mothering instincts. The other focus is on how they are right and everyone else is wrong. La Leche League gets called out specifically, and the tone seems to be, "Go ahead, look at what those other methods get you" - any mother who is stressed or tired, and any child that has any behavioral hiccup must be the result of inferior baby training methods.

For me, the biggest problem will probably be differences in basic assumptions. They assume that babies should sleep all night without any intervention, and that tired parents are the greatest problem to be avoided. I assume that babies are primates who are wired to need parental intervention quite often when young, and that this intervention brings benefits. It also becomes less frequent, on average, as the baby matures, and the key at the beginning is finding strategies to deal with the need for intervention, rather than trying to extinguish the baby's calls for help.

We'll see - I imagine that there will be a substantial amount of advice that I find perfectly reasonable (for instance, I believe the Ezzos promote a pattern of sleep-wake-eat rather than eat-sleep-wake, which coincidentally seems to serve my baby well). But in a way that may make the poor advice more dangerous.

Chapter 1 will be dissected soon . . .