Humanities

After my first degree i was cynical about my job prospects. I was a humanities student.
There is quite a lot of cynicism these days. 

  • art
  • history
  • architecture
  • philosophy
  • theology
  • literature
  • ethics

For a lot of people the very mention of these words are laughable. It’s common to deride and dismiss – to choose rather to go make more money, to workout at the gym, to break down rather than build up. It’s easy to put human endeavor down to economics or the will to power. It’s easy to dismiss the reflections on humanity. To dismiss the humanities themselves.

To me this response is rooted in envy. At its core, I think the humanities show us something to strive for – great art and thought and stories show us how flawed we are. This is the whole point. But to appreciate this requires humility, rational thought and genuine curiosity. To rebel against it shows insecurity and often willful ignorance. It ignores a treasure trove waiting to be discovered.


The humanities let us point to something of value and specify the nature of an ideal. It lets us seek for deeper answers and elevate some behaviour, values, ethics, images over others.

I want to teach my children about the humanities. I am at heart a humanist and a student of the humanities. I believe this area of studies shows us how to better perceive what is good. The humanities teach us essential Truths, like being truthful in what you say, and striving for universal love are principles which work and are good.
Happy Thursday.

What is school for?

My children have to go to school every day. As far as I can understand, the lessons they learn at school are academic and social.

The academic lessons are interesting because we can contribute and add to them at home. We read with them, do their homework with them, and explain how things work around them. 

The social lessons are harder to replicate or to know when you’re contributing as a parent to the learning. Even though we have a big family, I think that it simply cannot replace the socialising lessons learned in a school.

At home the kids sort themselves (more often than not) into order of physical strength. The oldest wallops the next in line and gains access to the toys.

At school we are exposing our children to a class full of similar aged humans. It’s not so clear cut who’s the boss in a classroom as it is at home. So the children have to cooperate and negotiate positions in the hierarchy.

In the class and the playground, similar strength children are differentiated by personality traits such as the below:

  • extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
  • agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. critical/rational)
  • openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
  • conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. extravagant/careless)
  • neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. resilient and confident)

All the above traits play a factor in how much time someone else wants to spend with you, and in how well you are able to negotiate access to anything of value (a nice toy, for example).

Happy Wednesday, Chimps.

Playlist Page

I have added a playlist page to the chimpwithcans.com website – check the menu at the top of the website. On the playlist page, you will see an embedded Spotify playlist and a link to the Apple Music version of the playlist.

It works like this – Once I have spoken about a piece of music on the podcast (happens weekly on a Thursday) I will included it on both of the chimpwithcans playlists (Apple and Spotify).

Also included in the playlists are assorted other pieces of music I like.

Wild

Wild places are less common now, even here in South Africa which has something of a reputation for wilderness and wildlife. We went for a weekend away in the rugged Cederberg which was lovely and remote. But we drove for four hours through heavily managed farmland and towns to get there. When we arrived we had bunk beds, central heating (Cederberg is cold at night) and running water in a new cottage which felt like it was custom built for us. A Bosch dishwasher made cleaning up easy! There were few wild animals to speak of except a few baboons and many birds. Weavers and sunbirds enjoying the river next to the cottage. Everything worked. Orderly and sophisticated. Beautiful, but not wild.

When I was young, even though I was a “city boy”, I had access to a lot of wild places and experienced wildlife at a scale that is uncommon nowadays. Kenya was relatively sparsely populated and undeveloped compared to today. We saw buffalo, giraffe and hyenas around my house, monkeys and chameleons in the gardens and warthogs at school. When I got a little older I could ride my motorbike through a forest and over the range of hills behind our house. There I found wide open space as far as the eyes could see. The rift valley. I used to love that ride and I miss it.

Our family would camp in places so remote we needed to bring our own drinking water, fuel, toilets, tents and food. We would also bring motorbikes on a trailer and after setting up camp next to a river we’d go for long rides through the bush. This felt like freedom from a young age.

Washing in a river, scorpions in our shoes, and waking up to lion footprints through the campsite in the morning. Certainly no electricity. Not so sophisticated. Amazing memories. Wild.

My children may not have such memories. We plan to stay here in “civilised” SA. But we can still go to game parks and show them wild animals in their natural habitat. We can then buy a cappuccino back at the campsite! Perhaps we will be able to show them Kenyan bush – Still pretty vast and wild. I look forward to that.

Child safety online

Google and Facebook have made big moves lately to improve child safety on their platforms. They will control what ads can be shown and have built mechanisms to block abusive behaviour. (link)

This sort of thing is looming like a gathering tornado in my consciousness. How can I control what my children are exposed to online when they have a will of their own? I can’t. I can guide them and explain stuff to them.

An interesting point (made by Ben Evans in his latest newsletter) is this: When people in crypto talk about building new social networks with decentralised, deterministic models, I wonder how such systems could make decisions like this. Put another way – is there an element of benign dictatorship in FB, Google and the like, which we as parents should embrace? I think there is.

On the internet and particularly with social media, there is a battle for attention. This means there will always be distasteful and abusive content because, among other reasons, it creates the biggest shock factor. It draws attention.

Children are vulnerable to shocking content, let alone anyone with criminal desires. Only the large platforms have the power to control content in some way, shape or form. Even FB and Google will be unable to stop all the bad stuff getting to your child.

My children have very limited access to the net still, but already they have figured out how to turn on Netflix. They don’t search for anything more than cartoons, but one day they will get curious. Any help from Google or FB in managing this will be most appreciated.

Who needs a stiff drink?

Health

It’s a pretty automatic thing for a dad to look after the health of his child. As a father, something primal and hard to explain happened when I held my baby for the first time. I wanted to protect her, and I can’t imagine the urge stopping anytime soon.

Quite different though is the management of my own health. Parenting often feels like one big sacrifice of the body and mind in order to help your child. No sleep, no exercise, more stress, and cramming in whatever food is lying around in between work. It’s easy to forget about yourself.

However, for the longer term health of your child, you have to look after yourself as much as possible. I once heard a (slightly corporate) metaphor describing fathers as the “CEO of their own health”. This is a bit cheesy and annoying, but it is also true. Nobody else will look after your health for you (unlike your child) – and longer term, if your health suffers so does your child. We have to make the time and manage it.

So we take tests, we go for checkups, we exercise and try to eat properly. Perhaps most impactful and difficult – we sacrifice the joys of long night TV sessions in the name of better sleep!

I have had a vaccine and a big set of health check ups in the last week. I’m feeling like the boss of my own health (for now).

Happy, healthy Tuesday, chimps.

Unavoidable trouble

I came across this quote:

Even the most assiduous of modern parents will not be able to protect their children from internet porn, drugs, or alcohol, even if they lock them in the basement (in which case they only end up exposing them to the snakes they harbor within themselves). We might have learned such things by watching the great, degenerate totalitarian utopias of the 20th century. Leaders and citizens alike attempted, with ever-increasing desperation, to force everything that existed into a defined, comprehensible and too-perfect order. That merely ensured that chaos burst forth without reserve into their souls, and then into their societies. 

Jordan B. Peterson

So as parents what can we do with this world in which we plant our innocent children? Well, one of the first things to do is to pay attention. Attention to what you are doing, to what you are saying, and to what you are exposing your children. Then as they get older you need to watch what they are exposing themselves to unwittingly.

When I lived in Sydney I used to walk past a sign on the way to work outside a pub. It said “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom”. Obviously we can’t protect our children from all the snakes and temptations of the world, but we can notice them when they strike, and then we can try to act on them. This might not work, but what is the alternative?

On another note – I’m listening through the chimpwithcans playlist on apple music for the first time in a while. Give it a listen!

Happy Wednesday, chimps.

Birthday

I turned 39 yesterday.

My birthday also coincides with a public holiday here in SA, so it’s always nice to have the day off work and not feel too guilty!

I had a super day with my family. I painted ceramics with the girls, and ate cake and good food with my wife. I got a ‘cruiser’ skateboard and a warm jacket as presents (young at heart).

We took a drive to Simons Town, taking the long way through Hout Bay and over Chapman’s peak. It is a beautiful city we live in. Climbing up cliffs of brown rock, we hit bird’s eye views of Hout Bay. We wound our way along the edge of the ocean until eventually the broad, sandy beach of Noordhoek spread out in front of us. The road falls down into the farms and houses of Noordhoek where horses and coffee shops are there to welcome you. The sea is ever present, the sun shone and the air was perfectly cool.

I consider myself so very lucky. I have more than I ever dreamed of.

Here’s to the 40th year.

My speaker is listening

Smart speakers are all over the place now. I feel the benefits in terms of good sound and convenience outweighs any potential downsides or privacy concerns of a speaker listening to me in my house.

This sort of thing would have been science fiction a few years ago. Now it is common place.

I am slightly concerned that my children will soon be old enough to understand their speaker is listening, and be able to ask Google or Alexa for something directly. I need to organise some security measures.