Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Lies to Children

From wiki:
Any explanation of an observed phenomenon which, while not 100% scientifically accurate, is simple enough, and just accurate enough, to convey the beginnings of understanding to anyone who is new to the subject. There is always time to fill them in on the fine detail further down the road. This describes the sort of axioms we tell young children when they are beginning to get to grips with science.

"A “lie-to-children” is a statement which is false, but which nevertheless leads the child’s mind towards a more accurate explanation, one that the child will only be able to appreciate if it has been primed with the lie."

"Yes, you needed to understand that” they are told, “so that now we can tell you why it isn’t exactly true”(The Science of Discworld, Ebury Press edition, quotes from pp 41-42)
I don't post very much about my personal life on this blog. I'm actually a very private person, someone who shuns rather than seeks the limelight.

Which makes this whole sex-change thing even more ironic. As a scientist, as a geek, I'm fascinated by it, and also want to share everything I can about a situation I have intimate knowledge of with the world. To cap it off, in order to retain what Human Rights I have, I have to be an "Activist for the working day".
We are but warriors for the working day.
Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirched
With rainy marching in the painful field.
Or in my case,
We are but activists for the working day.
Our gayness and our guilt by others seen
Reflecting naught but blindness in this field
Ok,I won't give up my day job.

But I digress.

My son's favourite Uncle died yesterday. Uncle Keith was sitting, playing a game, had a stroke, went into a coma, and breathed his last as soon as the life support was switched off. He'd been ailing for many years, and was in his late 80's, so this was a shock, but not a surprise.

How do I tell my son that he won't be able to play with Uncle Keith any more? It's at times like this I really wish I had a User Manual for life. One that gave detailed instructions.

We'd talked about death before. Laid the groundwork, as my in-laws live next door, and they're in their late 80's. It won't be long before Andrew won't be able to play with Pa, and Grandma.

So Andrew knows that Uncle Keith is in Heaven now. A wonderful place, the only drawback being that once you leave for there, you can't ever come back. Which is why no-one wants to go, even though there's no sickness or sadness. It means leaving all our loved ones behind. Of course you get to see the ones who have gone before, parents, grandparents, loved pets. Children too, for some.

I hope with all my heart that there is such a place. I don't believe it though. And I certainly don't believe that another place, a place of eternal punishment, exists, for if it does, my place is there. Even if I was in Heaven, the knowledge that others were suffering the torments of the damned would make it truly Hellish for me. Iago may have sung "Credo in un Dio crudel" in Verdi's Otello, and he may have believed in a Cruel God, but I don't. If He exists, he couldn't be that cruel, and if He is, I'll rebel against Him for it. I'm terribly imperfect, but even I'm better than that. Such a deity is not worth worship.

The funeral is on Friday. Andrew's chance to say goodbye, and the final link with this place broken, so Uncle Keith can feel complete, his mortal coil well and truly shuffled off.

I still have no good answer to my son's question "Why didn't he get his head frozen?". I doubt that I will either, it's getting too expensive. But maybe... and not just for me, it seems. He might find some comfort in it, a thought I'd not considered before. Would he be better off inheriting the money, or knowing that his parent had another chance at life? Hopefully I'll have plenty of time to think about it.

So meanwhile, I tell Lies to Children.


Nica said...

Nice post, Zoe. Thank you.

My respects to Uncle Keith and your family.

Laserlight said...

I recommend that you do NOT take him to view the body. I've gone to that sort of thing and the picture of "dead husk" tends to overwrite the picture of the living person I knew.

As for why not get your head frozen, that's easy. "He didn't think it was likely enough to work to be worth spending the money." You can bring up "what else might he have done with the money" if you want to introduce economics.

As for Hell...I am not a theologian (nor do I play one on TV), but I'd say Hell is not God's doing. Take Aunt Agatha, who was self-centered and nasty and pessimistic at 50, and only got more spiteful and so forth as she got older. Extend that curve about 1000 years ... she's not in Hell because God put her there, she's there because she put herself there, by her decisions and behavior. See CS Lewis' _The Great Divorce_ for more along these lines.

mythusmage said...


Since you're talking about Hell, check out Niven and Pournelle's latest collaboration, Escape From Hell. It's a sequel to their Inferno, which was recently re-released in a "authors' preferred edition". Sylvia Plath meets Aimee Semple McPherson.

It sounds like you need a short break from life, and I think Escape is a good, short break.

Zoe Brain said...

I read "Escape" just the other day - a fortunate coincidence.

As for Aunt Agatha - perhaps with enough time, and enough love, even she may heal. One of the reasons why I still am involved in the whole TS thing, when 90% of those who have transitioned "move on" to as normal a life as they can, is expressed simply.
"While a single person is drowning, how can one leave the pool?"

Many TS people identify with the Bodhisattva Kuan-Yin. An ideal we strive for in our own halting, imperfect way.

I'm as spiritual as a brick. Hard-nosed, the Elephant's child, always saying "show me". But if I can be said have a philosophy that I try to live up to - not very well - it would be the 4 vows of the Bodhisattva.

Laserlight said...

"perhaps with enough time, and enough love, even she may heal"

And if she continues to chooses not to, what then? If you're going to allow free will, ultimately you must allow the freedom to choose badly and take the consequences.

Battybattybats said...

Sure Laserlight, and we can choose to hold any god accountable for it's choices too.

The god of Pascals Wager for example is an evil god we can sit in judgement on.

And as science is finding more and more influences on behaviour.. from ergot poisoning to alcohol to psychopaths botn or through brain damage losing the capacity to intuitively empathise and so very much more then we could judge any and all gods who might punish those incapable of full uninfluenced decisions especially through no fault of their own such as the mentally ill as an evil god that we are ethicly superior to.

A punishing god is itself an evil god. The material world alone has sufficient consequences for our actions to make a person capable of understanding them stick to being ethical..

But not everyone is so capable and any god that made such a choice as to burden mankind with imperfect reasoning and with a proportion of the population incapable of instinctive empathy is an evil god who, as the one who made a choice to create people who through no fault of their own would be selfish that leads to the consequence of those people harming others heedlessly for their own benefits? Only that god is ultimately responsible for those acts as they were the ones fully cogniscent of the consequences.

And as such if such a god exists it is the thing that needs to suffer consequences for it's choice!

But if there is or is not a god we humans must still find ways to protect individual liberties while still helping people afflicted with unreason or lack of empathy live harmless and fruitfull and quality lives.

And to explain to developing minds notions not easy to comprehend and heartrendingly hard to accept.