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Amour Propre

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‘We may reduce almost all the moral instruction which has been or can be given to children to the following formula.

“You must not do that.” “Why not?” “Because it’s naughty.” “What does naughty mean?” “Doing what you are told not to do.” “What harm is there in doing what you are told not to do?” “You will be punished for your disobedience.””Then I shall do it so that no one finds out.” “You will be watched.” “I shall hide.” “You will be asked.” “I shall tell a story.” “But you must not tell stories.” “Why not?” “Because it’s naughty.” “Why is it naughty?”

The circle is inevitable.’

Jean Jacques Rousseau, from Emile


 

If Mike were raised by panthers, he would stalk around in the high grass and pounce on antelope and deer. If Mike were raised by British royalty, he would pinch bottoms at exclusive parties and run from the press. If Mike were sent to high school, outside of Cleveland, he would answer his teacher’s question when his turn inevitably came. He would try to give a reasonable answer based on the highlighted section of his textbook. And he would realize that even though the Wars of the Roses did definitely happen, and even though European history in the middle ages is recorded fact, it is also utter, irrelevant nonsense which will not come in handy at all when he takes his place in the adult economy of Ohio. He will design pop-up ads for used cars and auto parts. He will succeed.

By then, he won’t behave well to please his mom and dad, or his teachers and coaches, or to avoid their wrath. He will simply have to follow his own moral compass, installed via a system of punishment and reward. And even then, is it the fear of punishment or the hope of reward that keeps him in a straight line? That keeps him from screaming out loud when his wife starts in on him again?

She wants to talk about her feelings; he wants to put on his socks and shoes. That’s what TV is for–to cope with your feelings. Turn it on in the morning, if you have to. That’s what cupcakes are for, beer and wine, coffee, coffee cake, coffee hour, happy hour. He will buy her some earrings. He will eat candy.

Down in the kitchen, she makes a loud noise that is calculated to get his attention. Bang. What? Did you she throw a bag of frozen bagels at the backsplash? Never mind. It’s just a game. It’s one of those games that seems like it will never end. But then it does. One person goes down the chute. The other climbs a ladder. Just like that.

 

 

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