Friday, 28 August 2009



People are innocent until proven guilty, though I know that's an unpopular idea these days, so I can't say that Phillip Garrido committed the crimes he's been charged with relating to the abduction of Jaycee Lee Dugard in 1991. If true, though, the details of this story are interesting.

If the allegations are correct, Ms Dugard and 2 children fathered by Mr Garrido would have been kept hidden for the practical reason that Mr Garrido's parole disallowed him contact with young children.

As with Hans Fritzl in Austria, it would also have been psychologically useful to Mr Garrido and his conscience that what he did wrong - if he did do anything wrong - was kept separate and hidden from his "real" life.

We teach right and wrong to children through punishment and often anger and violence. A good child is not a moral child, it is a quiet, obedient child.

Children quickly learn that, existentially, not getting caught is the same as being good. Get caught and you get punished: behave as you've been told and you are considered good; behave badly and get away with it and you, too, are considered to be good.

This leads us to believe that the misdemeanours, crimes and sins we commit don't count unless we get caught.

Sexually abuse a child in a secret place and then go back in the main house and wash your hands and no one knows: therefore you can feel you've done nothing wrong.


It is better to teach right and wrong as a personal responsibility. Making it entirely external takes morality away from the individual.

When you wonder what you can get away with and what the punishment will be if you get caught and how likely it is you will get caught or suspected and what to say if you are, life gets stressful and complicated, and your personality divides and shifts more than usual.

If you decide to care about right and wrong, life is simpler. You decide what the right behaviour is and behave that way. Your life is then easier to conduct, and your good conduct makes you feel better even if no one notices. Beyond that, and less important, others learn to trust and value you, so the external influences in your life tend to get better, too.

There are inherent instincts for cruelty and aggression in us. Sometimes we need them to defend ourselves or those we care about.

Sometimes, though, we express them because the hard wiring of our brains is not all that well planned out. (Eg The part of the brain that appears to be active during sexual arousal is close to the amygdla, which processes negative emotions, and adjacent parts of the brain tend to activate each other.) (See Who Are You?: 101 Ways of Seeing Yourself by Malcolm Godwin; and Rita Carter's Mapping the Mind).

So, as Lou Reed sings, "You can depend on cruelty", and on "crudity of thought and sound".

None the less, if we teach children and ourselves that right and wrong make life better for them as well as every one around them, then life will become better for our children and us and every one around us.

Monday, 24 August 2009

EX 8

Write a piece of prose or verse based on this list - not from the words but from the pictures and ideas that come in to your mind when you read the words.

  • Manipulation

  • Serial killer

  • Satire

  • John F. Kennedy

  • The Vietnam War

  • Shadows under the trees

  • After the rain

  • The gym

  • Cheerleaders