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H2O Man

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Member since: Mon Dec 29, 2003, 07:49 PM
Number of posts: 66,849

Journal Archives

The Politics of Family Dysfunction

Yesterday I posted an essay titled “Family Violence,” that focused on one type of domestic violence, child abuse. Although my rants and ramblings are no longer high profile on this forum, I was pleased with the thoughtful and insightful responses. Quite a few people agreed that there are alternatives to physical violence for teaching discipline to children and youth. Here is a link to that OP/thread, for anyone who might be interested:


I thought that it might be of interest to follow that up, with an essay on “family systems.” As I noted yesterday, the family is the basic building block of the community. Thus, family systems have a significant impact upon the larger society. Although I retired from a career in social work more than a decade ago, these are among the things that I think about when I watch the news on television …..and not just with the ugly events associated with the NFL, but everything from war to the economy to Robin Williams.

As a social worker, I dealt primarily with what are inelegantly known as “dysfunctional families.” And not the average, every day, all-American dysfunctional family that manages to get by, and is able to deal with problems as they arise. Rather, I worked with families that, for a variety of reasons, became entangled in the legal system.

Before going on, I want to say that I believe it is better not to view these issues in a judgmental way. As a general rule, my focus was always to help families identify options to improve the quality of their lives. And that wasn’t a result of some Polly Anna, rose-colored glasses view of human nature. I encountered some violent individuals who deserved the prison sentences they got.

There are a number of dynamics that can cause dysfunction in a family system; some of these may be temporary, while others tend to become entrenched. It is the entrenched ones that tend to create multi-generational difficulties. Domestic violence (against spouses and/or children), addiction, poverty, and serious illnesses and death can all cause dysfunction. Family violence is, of course, in the news now, and hence is my focus today.

Years ago, a model was created that maps the general roles that children living in dysfunctional families tend to take. It is based upon a “four children family system.” A good movie, “The Breakfast Club,” illustrated those roles -- and showed both the positive and negative potentials of each of those roles. (Families, like individuals, are fluid, living entities, and so such roles are not life sentences.)

These roles tend to go in order of birth. They include:

-- The “family hero,” who tends to be a high-achieving individual, who tries to get perfect grades and to be a top athlete;

-- The “lost child,” who tends to attract relatively little attention to him- or herself;

-- The “wild child,” who creates tension at home, in school, and in the community; and

-- The “clown,” who uses humor to relieve family tensions.

A person who inhabits any one of these roles will find ways to get their needs met. There is, of course, a very real potential that the ways that, say, a teenager in a dysfunctional family gets his/her needs met will not be skills that translate well into the larger society. Hence, while I definitely believe that parents have the right to decide how to raise their children, I understand that family dynamics have consequences for the larger society.

Family dysfunction is not limited to any one economic class. However, “the system” does tend to focus more on low-income families. While the concept of “foster care” was intended to protect children and youth who were at risk of being seriously harmed, it has sadly become, far too often, a pipeline to the prison-industrial complex. On the flip side, in wealthy families, such dysfunction can produce a George W. Bush, who as an adult has the force of law to enable his personal pathology.

I mention Bush, not simply to take a jab at the man who led the effort to destabilize the Middle East, but to make another point. This is a political forum, by and large. When we think about the world of politics, and view it in the context of a high school classroom, using those four roles, we can see clearly who is getting their needs met, and who is not. Which “kids” become political and business leaders. Which kids are more or less likely to see the connection between voting, and the reality of their every day lives.

Family Violence

The topic of domestic violence is “in the news” again, largely due to the actions of several football players. Some of the media reports seem to have value, and have the potential to bring about some thoughtful discussions about the damaging impact of physical violence within families. As the family is the basic building block within our communities, it is worth considering the effect that family violence has upon our culture.

Today, I’d like to focus on a specific type of domestic violence: child abuse. That’s a broad topic, of course, and includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. In different states, physical violence can be defined as falling into “neglect” and/or “abuse,” depending upon the severity of it. As I live in New York, I tend to use the terms as defined by our legal system.

For many years, I worked in a county-wide program in positions that dealt with child neglect and abuse. I investigated more cases than I care to remember; counseled parents on appropriate parenting skills; and testified in court many, many times. Later, in another county, I developed a 20-week course for cases referred by Family Court, where parents were at (high) risk for losing all parental rights. That course coordinated services and evaluations through mental health, alcohol & drug abuse services, and social services.

For the sake of this discussion, I will add some personal life experience, which may relate to my position on domestic violence. I was raised in a family where violence was extreme. And I have raised four children -- two sons and two daughters -- without violence.

I believe that the only legitimate purpose for “discipline” is to teach children self-discipline. Hence, if an adult says, “I was hit as a kid, and I turned out okay,” my response is, “Are you willing to consider that there may be a better way?” In my experience, most parents are open to considering that possibility. Those who are not run the risk of having “the system” playing an on-going role in their families’ lives.

Domestic violence of all types tends to go in cycles; some of these cycles include generations. Not all children who are subjected to physical violence grow up to be violent adults. Yet as a general rule, adults who are violent experienced violence in their childhood. I believe that adults who become violent when they are angry did not develop self-discipline. Instead, they have learned that, when angry, to strike out at someone they are confident that can beat up.

If we are serious about breaking the cycles of domestic abuse, our culture needs to consider alternatives to violence starting with childhood. Malcolm X used to say that society should fight violent crime by starting in the high chair, rather than ending with the electric chair. Indeed, there are basic parenting skills that assist a child to become a self-disciplined person.

During the industrial revolution, western culture began to discount the significance of a child’s first five years of life. By no coincidence, this is when the basic family system went from “extended” to “nuclear,” to fit the needs of the economic system. In today’s high-tech society (with more “single parent” and “blended” families than in the past, again to fit the needs of the economic system), there is a greater appreciation of early child development.

There are four basic building blocks for these formative years. These are: “loveable,” meaning the parent loves the infant; “worthwhile,” meaning the parent enjoys spending time with the toddler; “capable,” meaning the child is able to learn things and master skills; and “responsible,” meaning the parent trusts the child to do things right, including doing the right thing.

A five year old who has these building blocks has a better foundation than one who lacks one or more of them. It really is that simple. More, most of the parents who I worked with, who were sincere about wanting to be the best parent they could be, would at some point be able to identify which of these building blocks they did not have in their childhood. And this wasn’t a result of my asking them -- it was something they came to recognize on their own.

To be clear, I’m not saying that doing this results in a child who behaves perfectly. Quite the opposite: no one behaves perfectly. And it is a teenager’s job to test boundaries, experiment with life, and present challenges to their parents. The truth is that a teenager’s brain hasn’t fully developed in the region that identifies consequences. Parents can help them to learn to take the time to consciously think things through, and that does include having negative consequences for bad behaviors. But it doesn’t have to include violence -- especially when there are better ways.

I recognize that any time a person speaks like this, there will be others who say that’s unrealistic. That I do not understand human nature. That human history is filled with violence. And it’s hard to argue that there isn’t lots of violence -- way too much, in my opinion. Yet human nature has many potentials, and non-violence produces greater options. We have the ability to see that specific systems create cycles of violence, and to make the conscious effort to identify and practice alternatives to violence.

ISIS Question [?]

“I married Isis on the fifth day of May
But I could not hold on to her very long
So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong.”
-- Bob Dylan; Isis

Question: Can the US afford to go to war against Isis, without a high risk of going bankrupt?

It seemed that one of Usama bin Laden’s goals was to destroy the American economy, much as happened to the former Soviet Union. A thinking person could objectively question if the billions of dollars spent in the “war on terrorism:, from 2001 on, might have been better invested in other avenues.

I ask the above question not anticipating a “right” or “wrong” answer, but rather, for your opinion. Thank you.

"Death of a King"

I plan to pick up a copy of a new book, “Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Year” by Tavis Smiley. While I am not very familiar with the author, I have seen a few good interviews with him in the past couple of days. It appears to be an interesting and valuable book.

It will be a welcome addition to the section of books, both by and about King, in my library. More, it focuses upon that last year of Martin’s life -- which I find the most fascinating and inspiring. One of the things that I have most appreciated on the Democratic Underground is that a significant number of forum participants know about that final year. They know about King’s transformation.

But that isn’t really why I find myself writing this today. It would, of course, be worthwhile to have a discussion that focuses on the significance of Dr. King’s growing from the best-known Civil Rights leader, to the prophet who identified the triple threats of racism, poverty, and militarism. And how so much of America turned on him for doing that which his highly evolved conscience dictated. I’m always up for that.

The reason that I’m writing is because I am thinking about the importance of King’s central theme, and how it applies today. It is something that I sometimes struggle with, and frequently meditate upon, because as our society is being torn apart at the seams, it is easy to become angry and frustrated. Our culture is saturated with fear and hostility, making it at times difficult to avoid letting that negative force seep within my own thinking.

I think that most objective forum participants would say that a significant amount of that negative force has been channeled in discussions here in recent days and weeks. Sometimes it is expressed as hatred for republicans. Other times, it is harsh insults aimed at other forum members. (And, in a few cases, there may be individuals here for the wrong reason -- simply to disrupt.) I know that I sometimes am impatient, and say rude things that I shouldn’t.

One of the things that I heard Smiley say, in two of the recent interviews, is that even under the intense pressures and stress that King endured in his final year of life, he never stopped loving his enemies. That included King’s knowing that a bullet was in his future. Those who feared and hated King grew from the days when he simply looked to integrate lunch counters, buses, and public toilets, to when he sought to force fundamental changes in our economic system.

What does it mean to love your enemies? To many people then, like now, that simply sounds silly, foolish, unrealistic, even weak. Too few people actually listened to King’s explanation of exactly what he meant by that. And that explanation reminds me of something that the ancient philosopher Confuscius said, in response to a question of what he would do, were he to have political power: “Insist that people use words correctly.”

King frequently explained that when he used the word “love,” that he intended it in the sense of one of the three Greek words for love. He made it clear that he was not speaking of “eros,” or romantic love; nor did he mean “philia,” the love of family and friends. Rather, he meant it as “agape,” or the love of all of creation. Agape does not imply warm, fuzzy feelings for one’s enemies. Nor does it imply appreciation or respect for that enemy’s behaviors. Instead, it means that King accepted that those who hated black people were sick. That those who lashed out violently suffered from disease.

King knew that hate could not be “cured” with more hatred. And that social justice could not be achieved by violence.

About a month ago, we had an intense discussion of the year 1968 here on DU:GD. Some of this forum’s most insightful members spoke about their experiences and memories of that strange and violent year in our nation’s history. It was, not coincidentally, the year King was murdered. We are in another of those dangerous periods of history. And that is exactly why I believe it is important that we all take the time to study the lessons of Martin Luther King, Jr.

H2O Man

Primary Unplugged

Tuesday’s primary in New York State should be of interest to both members of the Democratic Party and the Democratic Left nationwide. If for no other reason that republicans are examining it, the contest between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Zephyr Teachout was important. Let’s take a look.

Cuomo is, of course, the son of former governor Mario Cuomo. Andrew worked for his father, and got his education in elections and the world of state and national politics -- at a time when George W. Bush was involved with his father’s political career. In some ways, Andrew is the complete opposite of W: he is highly intelligent, and highly disciplined. In other ways, he is similar: he is highly ambitious, and that isn’t intended as a compliment. He wants to be president.

Teachout teaches Fordham Law School. She was born and raised on a farm in Vermont, something that served her well in the democratic primary. She ran a classic, grassroots underdog campaign, appealing to farmers, environmentalists, and the teachers union. And, unlike Cuomo, her campaign ran on very little money.

As governor, Cuomo had advantages other than money. He had access to the media at levels his opponent did not. And by refusing to debate Teachout, he insured that Zephyr remained largely unknown.

As a result, Cuomo won the primary, with about 2/3rds the votes, compared to Teachout’s 1/3rd. However, she won in at least twenty of the rural, upstate counties. Cuomo’s strength was, not surprisingly, in the large cities.

As it now stands, Cuomo will face a conservative republican puppet in November. There is at least one “third party” candidate in the mix, a Green Party candidate who has made his anti-fracking policy his central issue. And there is a call for Teachout to run “third party,” although I do not think that she is going to.

If Cuomo was facing a serious republican challenger -- such as his father did in George Pataki -- he would need the support of progressive Democrats and the Democratic Left. But he is not; indeed, the republican machine in New York State views Cuomo being acceptable. Indeed, two of his closest associates are state senator Tom Libous (recently indicted on federal corruption charges) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Thus, the question that groups including environmentalists and the teachers union have to answer goes beyond November. Do they continue to support “centrists” such as Andrew Cuomo, simply because he is a registered democrat? Even when that politician fails to support them on the very issues that they consider most important? Or do they continue to organize at the grass roots level, to build a coalition of like-minded citizens, capable of winning elections from the local level up?

Mayweather vs Maidana II

On Saturday, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., defends his welterweight title in a rematch with Marcos Maidana. The scheduled 12-round bout, which takes place in Las Vegas, is being carried on Showtime pay-per-view. Mayweather won by majority decision in their first bout, in May of this year.

Older forum members will recall that before that first bout -- in which the odds were 11-to-1 for Floyd -- I had predicted here that it would be the toughest fight of Mayweather’s career. While most of the sport’s “experts” in the media were saying that Mayweather was taking an easy fight, I correctly pointed out that styles make fights, and that Maidana actually had a chance at pulling off an upset.

As it turned out, Maidana actually landed more punches in six of the twelve rounds in May. Floyd suffered the first cut of his career. One judge scored the bout a draw. The boxing community’s reaction to the bout motivated Mayweather to seek an immediate rematch with Maidana.

Recently, I discussed the up-coming bout with Showtime’s boxing analyst, Steve Farhood. I stated that Maidana is to Mayweather, what Basilio was to Robinson. Steve said that it is a good analogy, but noted Carmen was a great champion. Now, that is true -- Basilio ranks among the toughest men in the sport’s history. Yet, it was not technique that separated the Onion Farmer from others -- it was his mental and physical strength.

Almost everyone who has competed in the ring much has had the experience of fighting that guy who isn’t gifted in technique -- indeed, he does many things “wrong” -- but who is so strong and aggressive that you cannot fight your usual fight against him.

Now, Maidana had three loses before he fought Floyd. The first was a controversial split-decision, that most viewers believed he won. The other two were against tall men with long reaches (both have held titles). They were able to keep the smaller Maidana at arm’s length. But Maidana is as tall as Floyd, and has an almost equal reach. More, he entered the ring weighing 17 pounds more than Mayweather in their first bout.

Perhaps most importantly, Maidana joined with one of the sport’s best trainers. He has added a serious jab to Maidana’s offense. It is very similar to the powerful jab that allowed Mike Tyson to get inside on larger opponents. That jab allowed Maidana to defeat Adrian Broner, which earned him the first fight with Floyd.

Floyd is an outstanding counter-puncher. Thus, opponents from Oscar de la Hoya to Canelo Alveraz would become hesitant to throw punches by the middle rounds when they challenged Mayweather. But Maidana’s jab -- which he delivers above his shoulder’s height -- tucks his chin deep into that shoulder. When he brings it back, his chin remains protected. That is hard to counter consistently.

More, that jab allowed Marcos to cut the distance between him and Floyd, exactly as it did with Broner. Once inside, especially when Floyd’s back was to the ropes, Maidana was able to make it an ugly fight. And an ugly fight it was: Maidana landed numerous low blows and rabbit-punches, lifted his knee into Floyd’s groin, and butted; Mayweather responded by using his forearm, a few low blows, and rubbing the palm of his gloves on Maidana’s face.

Kenny Bayless will be the referee on Saturday, and he is the best in the business. Still, it is difficult to imagine this bout being free from fouls. Rather, Mayweather needs to keep the fight in the center of the ring to avoid the rough tactics of Marcos Maidana. That means that he will have to take the lead, throwing crisp combinations, and then moving to the side. In exchanges, he needs to get his shots off, both first and last. And when Maidana misses, Floyd needs to punish him. Easier said than done, of course, even for someone as gifted as Mayweather.

Maidana has had a longer, more focused training camp this time. He is prepared to fight for the full twelve rounds, at the pace he did for the first six in May. His jab will be essential. Look for him to mix that up, much as he did against Broner: single jabs, double-jabs, hooks off the jab, and most importantly, coming in under the jab and banging the body. The body attack is vital as far as preventing Floyd from moving for 12 rounds.

Hopefully, the outcome will not be decided by fouls -- such as a cut resulting from a butt. Yet, anything is possible. In my opinion, the “outside factor” most likely to influence the bout would be if Mayweather damages one (or both) of his hands in the fight. His hands have given him problems several times in his career. Floyd went into their first fight without any personal animosity towards Marcos; on Saturday, he’ll be seeking to punish Maidana. That means sitting down on his punches more, and old hands do not hold up so well that way.

Enjoy the fight, and may the best man win.


All of this naked stuff makes me uncomfortable. I mean, if God wanted us to be naked, we wouldn’t be born fully dressed. Eve took her clothes off, and unto therefore God hath punished humanity. I don’t have the exact quote and verse; however, I know this true story can be found in the Old Testicle’s Book of Genocide. (No pictures, though.)

A lot of this can be traced back to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They posed naked on the album “Two Virgins.” Two direct results happened: the other Beatles were so ashamed that they quit the group; and Jim Morrison, reportedly after being “tabbed” with a hit of marijuana, exposed himself on stage in Miami. No Pat Boone, he.

This led to Abbie Hoffman threatening to lead a “Love In” featuring thousands of naked hippies, at the 1968 Democratic Convention. Luckily, Mayor Daley had a cool head, and was able to direct the police to maintain a peaceful, well-dressed atmosphere.

Things drifted downhill when, on their “Sometime in NYC” double album, John and Yoko put a picture of President Nixon and Chairman Mao dancing naked on the cover. While I’m unsure if these leaders even knew someone was photographing them, I am pretty convinced they did not intend for this to be placed on a record cover.

Equally worse, years later, the contamination from John and Yoko infected Paul and Ringo. They allowed a re-release of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” album to be titles “Let It Be Naked.” (No naked pictures, though.)

There’s something un-natural about nudity. It creates an unhealthy attitude about the human body. It leads to the mortal sin of masturbation. Hundreds of young men flush their lives away, due to nudity. It’s been proven to lead directly to smoking and insanity.

My advice: if you see naked people, just try to imagine them fully dressed.
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