Category Archives: Adaptation

The Human Primate

As an anthropologist, I’ve read a few ethnographies.  They are generally fairly dry and academic. I’ve also read a few ethologies of primate behavior, which tend to be much more entertaining.  I recently finished a book that manages to successfully blend both ethnography and ethology: Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin.

Martin does an excellent job of incorporating the data gleaned from participant-observation (she moved into the habitat of Park Avenue East and interacted on a daily basis with the women there) with the behavioral insights informed from research done  by primatologists on the other great apes (humans are a type of great ape) and monkeys.  Her scientific study of New York City women in the 0.1% shows that even the wealthiest women living in one of the wealthiest cities in the world are really not far-removed from our primate cousins.

Primates of Park Avenue is an enjoyable, fast read that demonstrates how an anthropologist with an interest in primatology views her fellow humans.  Frankly, there is a little chimp/bonobo in all of us.


The Bandwidth Tax

The brain has limited bandwidth.

Scarcity is the limiting factor that can make life more difficult whether the scarce resource is money, time, energy, etc.  It becomes more difficult to make appropriate decisions when the brain’s cognitive capacity is focused on that scarce resource.  Thinking of cognitive capacity as ‘bandwidth’ allows us to realize that there is only so much bandwidth available.  If we are already heavily using it, for instance, by trying to figure out how we will pay this month’s bills, there is little left over for other important decisions, such as planning how to save for a college education.

This issue of scarcity and how it affects decision-making is taken on by authors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir in their book Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives. A major point of the authors is that scientific research has shown that scarcity actually reduces IQ: when scarcity pressure reduces bandwidth, there is too much going on to effectively process all that needs to be done or decided.

Mullainathan and Shafir devote a large portion of the book to discussing poverty and its relationship to scarcity and bandwidth reduction.  Many of those who are poor may appear to make unfortunate decisions.  It is not because they are incapable of making better choices, but because their cognitive bandwidth is over-taxed due to their inadequate resources.  In one experiment, “The poor responded just like the rich when the car cost little to fix, when scarcity had not been rendered salient.  Clearly, this is not about inherent cognitive capacity.  Just like the processor that is slowed down by too many applications, the poor here appear [italics in original] worse because some of their bandwidth is being used elsewhere.”  p. 52   “We would argue that the poor do have lower effective [italics in original] capacity than those who are well off. This is not because they are less capable, but rather because part of their mind is captured by scarcity.” p. 60

Poverty is a serious issue for the future since it affects the children.  “Nearly 50 percent of all children in the United States will at some point be on food stamps.  About 15 percent of American households had trouble finding food for the family at some point during the year.” p.147  Not only are children going hungry, but their parents have trouble parenting due to reduced cognitive bandwidth.  “Being a good parent requires many things.  But most of all it requires freedom of mind.  That is one luxury the poor do not have.”  p. 137  How can children do well in school when their cognitive bandwidth is occupied with hunger and a chaotic home life?   “An overtaxed bandwidth means a reduced ability to process new information…Our data…suggest that much of the correlation between income and classroom performance may be explained by the bandwidth tax… Absorbing new information requires working memory.” p. 158

Many of the poor are striving for  better lives for themselves and their children.  A college education is now considered a basic requirement for many jobs, but the cost of a college education has sky-rocketed at the same time as grants and scholarships have become more difficult to obtain and/or cover less of the cost.  Students are then forced to go heavily into debt, work while taking classes, or both.  These students are experiencing scarcity of money and of time. “…the financially strapped student who misses some easy questions looks incapable or lazy.  But these people are not unskilled or uncaring, just heavily taxed.  The problem is not the person but the context of scarcity.” p. 65

Poverty will be a multi-generational trap that is impossible to escape if nothing is done to reduce the load on cognitive bandwidth.  The poor have to constantly re-certify to get food stamps and other government programs. But the neediest often fail to do so because of the bandwidth tax: they forget.  This is a tax on poverty.  “To see the logic of taxing bandwidth, think about it this way.  Imagine we imposed a hefty financial charge to filling out applications for financial aid.  We would quickly realize that this is a silly fee to impose; a program aimed at the cash stretched should not charge them much cash.  Yet we frequently design programs aimed at people who are bandwidth-stretched that charge a lot in bandwidth.” p. 222   “…the bandwidth tax was sizable: roughly thirteen to fourteen IQ points, with an equally large effect on executive control.  These are … very large effects on cognitive function… the bandwidth tax plays a similarly large role in the lives of the poor everywhere.”  p. 161-62

Benefits to the poor, such as food stamps, should be paid weekly rather than in one lump sum at the beginning of month.  This smooths out the boom/bust cycle.  We need to “…create long periods of moderation rather than spurts of abundance followed by heightened periods of scarcity.”  p. 223   “The failures of the poor are part and parcel of the misfortune of being poor in the first place.  Under these conditions, we all would have (and have!) failed.” p. 161

There are a number of ways in which government and business could reduce the bandwidth tax on the poor.  If you are poor and have kids, having highly-subsidized day care frees up lots of bandwidth and makes life easier. “We’d be taking a cognitive load off.  As we’ve seen, this would help your executive control, your self-control more broadly, even your parenting. It would increase your general cognitive capacity, your ability to focus, the quality of your work… [H]elp with child care…is a way to build human capital of the deepest kind: it creates bandwidth.” p. 176-77

Jobs paying minimum wages require those with children to work two or more jobs in order to be able to pay the bills.  This situation is aggravated when these jobs do not provide consistent work schedules.  “In the United States, something as simple as inconsistent work hours…can cause juggling and perpetuate scarcity.  A solution would be to create the equivalent of unemployment insurance against such fluctuations in work hours, which to the poor can be even more pernicious than job loss.”  p. 178

In order to solve poverty, we must realize that simply having a job is inadequate.  “Now, rather than looking at education, health, finance, and child care as separate problems, we must recognize that they all form part of a person’s bandwidth capacity.  And just as a financial tax can wreak havoc in one’s budget, so can a bandwidth tax create failure in any of several domains to which a person must attend.” p. 179-80   Social programs and employment structure need to be redesigned: “…a better design will have to incorporate fundamental insights about focusing and bandwidth that emerge from the psychology of scarcity.” p. 181

Our cognitive capacity bandwidth is limited.  If it is taxed by inadequate pay, inconsistent work schedules, lack of childcare, unhealthy and/or insufficient diet, a polluted environment, inadequate social services and infrastructure, among many other scarce resources, it should not be surprising if the poor seem trapped in a cycle of poverty.   Mullainathan and Shafir have provided a method for reframing and solving this crisis.  Will we care enough to implement it?

“Too Big for our Brains”

You’ve seen it.  You may have done it yourself.  Someone cuts in front of you while driving.  How rude!  You yell at them, maybe cussing at them.  Behavior that probably wouldn’t happen among friends happens easily among strangers.   Why is this?

For around two million years, humans lived in small foraging groups of around 25 to 50 individuals.  When food was plentiful, the groups would gather together to exchange news and to find a mate.  A variety of research studies by anthropologists has found that humans can form optimal connections with no more than about 150 others.  Beyond that number, others tend to be viewed as strangers and, therefore, as potentially dangerous.

This data forms the basis of Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ucka book on manners for the 21st century  written by Amy Alkon whose advice is informed by solid scientific research leavened by pointed and humorous personal anecdotes.   Our brains are optimized for small-group living, but most of us live in cities and suburbs surrounded by strangers.  The group size we now have to deal with is too big for our brains. This makes it difficult to behave well towards strangers.  But an effective society requires that we figure out how to do just that.

Alkon’s primary recommendation is to turn strangers into neighbors.  Actually look at everyone you encounter: smile, be pleasant. When you really see someone and they really see you, it is harder for either of you to be rude.  “[R]udeness…almost always comes down to a failure of empathy–neglecting to consider how our behavior will affect others.” (p. 196)

Failures of empathy tread all over another person’s dignity and may cause that person also to behave rudely.  A negative cycle ensues.

When we view someone as a stranger rather than a neighbor, it is easier to treat that person as not fully human.  As Alkon notes, we have to find ways to connect with strangers in order to make them co-humans with whom we can relate.  Or, as I say to my students, “Build Bridges, not Walls.”

In this holiday season where the focus is on peace and goodwill, use empathy to break down walls and build bridges.  View others as potential friends rather than potential dangers. Turn strangers into neighbors.



Just Mercy

I first heard of Bryan Stevenson through his amazing TED talk on injustice in the United States’ criminal system.  When I saw that he had a new book out on the same topic, I immediately read it.

Bryan Stevenson: Just Mercy

Just Mercy is excellent.  Stevenson weaves into his narrative the stories of a number of individuals caught in the criminal justice system, along with his efforts to help them.  The stories are alternately emotional, heart-breaking, uplifting, and deeply sad.  I fully expect Stevenson’s life’s work to be made into a feature film in the next few years.  He and his team are the Civil Rights activists of our time.  They demonstrate that empathy and social justice can be powerful forces for change.

Below I’ve posted a number of quotes taken from  Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

“Some states permanently strip people with criminal convictions of the right to vote; as a result, in several Southern states disenfranchisement among African American men has reached levels unseen since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”  p. 16

“I’ve represented women, whose numbers in prison have increased 640 percent in the last thirty years, and seen how our hysteria about drug addiction and our hostility to the poor have made us quick to criminalize and prosecute poor women when a pregnancy goes wrong.”  p. 17

“The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”  p. 18

“Even though the restriction couldn’t be enforced under federal law, the state ban on interracial marriage in Alabama continued into the twenty-first century.  In 2000, reformers finally had enough votes to get the issue on the statewide ballot, where a majority of voters chose to eliminate the ban, although 41 percent voted to keep it.  A 2011 poll of Mississippi Republicans found that 46 percent support a legal ban on interracial marriage, 40 percent oppose such a ban, and 14 percent are undecided.”  p. 20

“In debates about the death penalty, I had started arguing that we would never think it was human to pay someone to rape people convicted of rape or assault and abuse someone guilty of assault or abuse.  Yet we were comfortable killing people who kill, in part because we think we can do it in a manner that doesn’t implicate our own humanity, the way that raping or abusing someone would.”  p. 90

“In 2014, Trina turned fifty-two.  She has been in prison for thirty-eight years.  She is one of nearly five hundred people in Pennsylvania who have been condemned to mandatory life imprisonment without parole for crimes they were accused of committing when they were between the ages of thirteen and seventeen.  It is the largest population of child offenders condemned to die in prison in any single jurisdiction in the world.”  p. 151

“Florida had the largest population in the world of children condemned to die in prison for non-homicides.”  p. 154

“In 1996, Congress passed welfare reform legislation that gratuitously included a provision that authorized states to ban people with drug convictions from public benefits and welfare.  The population most affected by this misguided law is formerly incarcerated women with children, most of whom were imprisoned for drug crimes.  These women and their children can no longer live in public housing, receive food stamps, or access basic services.  In the last twenty years, we’ve created a new class of ‘untouchables’ in American society, made up of our most vulnerable mothers and their children.”  p. 237

“Convict leasing was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century to criminalize former slaves and convict them of nonsensical offenses so that freed men, women, and children could be ‘leased’ to businesses and effectively forced back into slave labor.  Private industries throughout the country made millions of dollars with free convict labor, while thousands of African Americans died in horrific work conditions.  The practice of re-enslavement was so widespread in some states that it was characterized in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Blackmon as Slavery by Another Name.”  p. 299


Vegan Diets Cannot Save the Planet

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about the book The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith.   I won’t repeat what I said in that post except to note that humans are not meant to be vegans.  We need to eat animal protein (fish, shellfish, eggs, poultry, some red meat) in order to be healthy.  Fatty fish and eggs are especially important for proper brain growth, development, and health.  Refusing to eat them could result in decreased mental ability as one ages.

Another recent fad is the raw food movement. Now, I am not against eating raw foods.  However, I am against the concept that one should eat only raw foods, especially if that means only vegan raw foods (i.e. no sushi).

As neuroscientist Susanna Herculano-Houzel notes in her TED talk, cooking food allowed our human brains to expand in neuronal number and connections far beyond what would be expected for a primate our size.  If our ancestors had not begun cooking their food, especially meat, we would not be advanced much beyond chimpanzees in brain capacity and ability.

Human Brains Need Cooked Food

Vegan/vegetarian diets will also not save our planet from destruction.  Keith covers some of the reasons for this in her book, but ecologist Allan Savory’s TED talk provides yet another reason that humans need meat in their diets: in order to reverse climate change and desertification, we need to have large herds of animals mimicking the herds that once roamed the savannas and grasslands.

Herd Animals Can Reverse Climate Change

Savory’s thesis seems counter-intuitive.  Even he thought that before he tried it.  The results are amazing.

Points to ponder and remember:
1] We need cooked animal protein for healthy brains and bodies.
2] Managing herd animals correctly can save the planet.
3] Grasses (wheat, corn, rice, etc.) are for herd animals to eat, while the herd animals are for us to eat.

See you at the barbecue!




Capital Tax

Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the 21st Century, has received a great deal of press.  Having just finished the book, I believe that most of the commentators skimmed/skipped the first two parts and just read the last two parts.  Unless you are an econ geek (I am not.), the first two parts are pretty tedious and difficult.  However, they do provide Piketty with his bona fides.  Anyone who criticizes Piketty on the basis of his credentials probably hasn’t read/understood Parts 1 and 2.

Parts 3 and 4 are where the meat of Piketty’s argument is discussed. My interpretation of his main points is as follows:

  • Income inequality is increasing in all the OECD (economically-developed and democratic) countries.
  • Wealth/capital inequality is even worse than income inequality.
  • The United States is the most unequal of the OECD nations.
  • A progressive tax on income is good, but a progressive tax on capital/wealth would be much, much better.
  • Billionaires can hide most of their wealth so that they end up paying taxes on their much lower level of income.
  • In order to implement a progressive tax on capital, banks must provide governments all data on their depositors so that wealth cannot be hidden.
  • Excessive accumulations of wealth/capital actually depress economic productivity.
  • If steps are not taken to reduce income and wealth inequality, levels of inequality will worsen and revolution of the increasingly-strapped lower and middle classes is probable.

Piketty explains his ideas in this TED video.

Inequality Faultlines

I recently finished The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi.  Instead of paraphrasing Taibbi’s words, I’ve decided to post a number of what I consider the most pertinent quotes from this extremely important book.

“We [Americans] have a profound hatred of the weak and the poor, and a corresponding groveling terror before the rich and successful, and we’re building a bureaucracy to match those feelings.” (p.xx)

“…the rule of law has slowly been replaced by giant idiosyncratic bureaucracies that are designed to criminalize failure, poverty, and weakness on the one hand, and to immunize strength, wealth, and success on the other.” (p. xxii)

“So the only time RICO was used to fight mortgage fraud was when the criminal was a black gang member and the victims were banks. (Ironically, nobody thought to wonder how it was possible for a Lincoln Park gang member to buy 222 houses with no money down.  Heading into that particular rabbit hole would have led to the larger crime, but nobody did.)  (p. 44)

“In 2011…New York City police stopped and searched a record 684,724 people.  Out of those 88 percent were black or Hispanic.  The ostensible justification for the program is looking for guns, but they find guns in less than 0.02 percent of stops.  More often, they make people empty their pockets and find nothing at all.”  (p. 57)

“…the very lowest kind of offender in the illegal drug business, the retail consumer at the very bottom of the drug food chain, had received a far stiffer sentence [jail for smoking half a joint] than officials of HSBC [an international bank where no one went to jail] who were hundreds of thousands of dollars deep into the illegal drug business, not for any excusable reason but just to seek profits to pile on top of profits.”  (p.63)

“There are two important concepts here that work hand in hand.  One, there’s the idea that failure to follow a police order, no matter how stupid or unreasonable, is cause for an arrest or a summons.  The second idea is that the prosecutor can essentially turn any misdemeanor case against almost anyone into a de facto conviction, simply by filing charges and following through long enough with pretrail pressure to wrest a plea out of the accused.”  (p.130)

“Ultimately this all comes down to discretion.  If they want, the police can arrest you for just about anything.” (p. 132)

“Here it’s the same thing.  Police make bad arrests, a settlement comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket, but the officer himself never even hears about it.  He doesn’t have to pay a dime.  And life goes on as before…You can’t secure an officer’s dismissal, can’t get a policy change, and can’t get anyone brought up on charges.”  (pp. 134-135)

“This small Georgia city [Gainesville] is ground zero for enforcement of a ferocious federal immigration rule called 287 (g) that essentially deputizes any and all state and local law enforcement officials to arrest undocumented aliens on behalf of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).”  (p. 200)

“In recent years, the residents of the ballooning Latino neighborhoods growing up somewhere on the other side of the tracks of your town–the places where factory workers and housecleaners and similar manual laborers live–awake in the mornings to find police checkpoints strategically placed on the major thoroughfares to and from the white-people sides of town.”  (p.201)

“ICE even has a UPS-style tracking system that allows immigrant families to punch in a number and see where their deported relative is in his or her serpentine journey through the detention system.  In the real justice system, you get habeas corpus; in the shadow system, you get a tracking number to see where your familial ‘package’ is.”  (p. 202)

“So the undocumented alien who kills a room full of Rotarians with an ax has a right to counsel, a phone call, and protection against improper searches.  The alien caught crossing the street on his way to work has no rights at all.” (p. 203)

“Over and over again, we hear that if you owe money in a certain way, or if you receive a certain kind of public assistance, you forfeit this or that line item in the Bill of Rights.  If you’re a person of means, you get full service for all ten amendments, and even a few that aren’t listed.  But if you owe, if you rent, you get a slightly thinner, more tubercular version of the Fourth Amendment, the First Amendment, the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, and so on.”  (p. 319)

“For instance, while the San Diego District Attorney’s Office spent more than a decade sifting through thousands of dresser drawers and bringing felony cases all the way to court for frauds as small as four hundred dollars, executives in the same general area of Southern California, at companies like Countrywide and Long Beach Mortgage, were pioneering the brilliant mass fraud scheme that involved the sales of toxic mortgage-backed securities… Twenty-six billion dollars of fraud: no felony cases.  But when the stakes are in the hundreds of dollars, we kick in 26,000 doors a years, in just one county.”  (p. 323)

“…the poor have always faced the sharp end of the stick.  And the rich have always fought ferociously to protect their privilege, not just in America but everywhere…What’s different now is that these quaint old inequities have become internalized in that ‘second government’–a vast system of increasingly unmanageable bureaucracies, spanning both the public and private sectors.  These inscrutable, irrational structures, crisscrossing back and forth between the worlds of debt and banking and law enforcement, are growing up organically around the pounding twin impulses that drive modern America: burning hatred of all losers and the poor, and breathless, abject worship of the rich, even the talentless and undeserving rich.”  (p. 324)

“…there’s a direct correlation between need and rights.  The more you need, the more you owe, the fewer rights you have.”  (p. 325)

“…our legal system does not make sense.  Our legal system is insane.”  (p. 328)

“Month after month, Riverside County runs the same ad [on welfare fraud] and picks six new names each month to advertise.  Like welfare recipients in general, the guilty are overwhelmingly female, and usually nonwhite. ‘They don’t do this to rapists or murderers,’ says Robb.  ‘Not even to pedophiles.  It’s incredible.’ ”  (p. 349)

“If they turned life in the projects into a police state, they turned life on Wall Street into its opposite.  One lie in San Diego is a crime.  But a million lies?  That’s just good business.”  (p. 352).

“…the bulk of the credit card collection business is conducted without any supporting documentation showing up or being seen by human eyes at any part of the process.  The meat of the business is collecting unopposed default judgments from defendants who either never receive a summons or receive one and never appear in court… once the bank or debt buyer has that default judgment in hand, it can legally do just about anything to the cardholder.  It can put a lien on his property, it can attach her salary, it can even take his car or her office furniture.”  (p. 376)  ” ‘They make more on lawsuits than they make on credit interest,’ says Linda.”  (p. 382)

“Plenty of people–consumers and merchants both–are probably glad that so much credit is available, but they don’t realize that systematic fraud [by banks and debt collectors] is part of what makes it available…Legally, there’s absolutely no difference between a woman on welfare who falsely declares that her boyfriend no longer lives in the home and a bank that uses a robo-signer to cook up a document swearing that he has kept regular records of your credit card account.  But morally and politically, they’re worlds apart.  When the state brings a fraud case against a welfare mom, it brings it with disgust, with rage, because in addition to committing the legal crime, she’s committed the political crime of being needy and an eyesore. ”  (p. 383 – 384)

“Banks commit the legal crime of fraud wholesale; they do so out in the open, have entire departments committed to it, and have employees who’ve spent years literally doing nothing but commit, over and over again, the same legal crime that some welfare mothers go to jail for doing once.  But they’re not charged, because there’s no political crime.  The system is not disgusted by the organized, mechanized search for profit.  It’s more like it’s impressed by it.”  (p. 384)

“[The] Financial Crisis Inquiry Committee was given a budget of $9.8 million… Meanwhile, that same year the federal drug enforcement budget leaped from $13.275 billion to $15.278 billion.  That meant that just the increase [italics added] in the national drug enforcement budget for the year of the biggest financial crisis since the Depression was roughly two hundred times the size of the budget for the sole executive branch effort at formally investigating the causes of financial corruption.”  (p. 407)

“…in this period of extreme crisis, we not only didn’t allocate funds to investigate the [financial] crash, we actively did increase the budget to tackle street crime, incidentally at a time of declining street violence.”  (p. 408)

If you read all these quotes, you should now be furious at a system that ignores wealthy criminals, evens rewards them, while actively harassing and jailing the poor, quite often for simply being poor.  While disgust of the poor certainly plays a role in their harassment, so does a tax policy that favors the rich.  When local governments do not receive enough money from taxes, they have to make up the loss somehow.  What better way than harassing the poor with nuisance arrests?  It’s a giant scam.

To repeat one of Taibbi’s quotes: “…there’s a direct correlation between need and rights.  The more you need, the more you owe, the fewer rights you have.”  (p. 325)



Natural Parenting

I define “Natural Parenting” as that which humans did for at least 2 million years and which, until recently, most modern foragers also did.  If this type of parenting worked successfully for millions of years, maybe we ‘moderns’ should think about modifying modern life to better incorporate natural parenting.

Aka parents are considered among the best in the world.

Some parents are doing a modified version of natural parenting called ‘attachment parenting.’  Mayim Bialik has written a book (Beyond the Sling)which discusses attachment parenting in great detail using her experience and that  of her husband in raising their two sons, along with some anecdotes of their friends.  And, yes, this is written by ‘Amy’ from the Big Bang Theory. She is an actual neuroscientist with a PhD: she studied the hormones of attachment .  Both her education and experience provide credibility for advancing the idea that attachment parenting is the way children should be parented.

As can be seen in a comparison of what I wrote in Natural Parenting and what Bialik writes in Beyond the Sling,  we have many points of agreement, particularly that breast is best and co-sleeping is a great idea that encourages breast-feeding on demand.

If you are thinking about getting pregnant or already young children, I recommend this book on attachment parenting as the natural way to parent with 3 BIG caveats.

1. A vegan diet is not natural for humans. We need a diet with about 20% animal protein. The reason her kids nurse for 4 – 5 years is that they NEED the animal protein of her milk in order to be healthy. Clearly, she enjoys this type of attachment so much that she has not considered the biological reason her children are nursing well beyond the usual age of weaning.

2. Homeopathy ‘treatments’ are psychological (placebo), not physical.  If they do no harm and make you feel better psychologically, I suppose they are not a problem.  However, if you think they will actually cure an illness, think again.

3. I cannot believe that a neuroscientist would so foolish as not to vaccinate her children! The non-vaccinating crowd is too young (under 55) to have lived through the horrors of epidemic diseases and do not realize that their ‘choice’ could have devastating consequences not only for their own kids, but for babies, the elderly, and immuno-compromised individuals who cannot be vaccinated and who will become ill when exposed to her unvaccinated kids.

Those caveats aside, much of Bialik’s advice on parenting is very good.  Unfortunately, modern work situations do not provide the flexibility that Bialik, as an actress, has to fully implement attachment parenting.  She realizes this as she gave up the opportunity for an academic career because it would make attachment parenting almost impossible.

Women who want or need to work, but lack the flexibility that Bialik has, encounter tremendous difficulties in being the parents they would like to be.  Attachment parenting is not even an option.  Liz O’Donnell makes this clear in her book Mogul, Mom, & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman. Twenty-five years after The Second Shift was published, women who work outside the home or as entrepreneurs are still doing the vast, vast majority of housework and childcare. This has to change. O’Donnell uses the stories of a wide variety of women to detail the problems and outline the solutions. One of the things that needs to change is the idea that childcare is a woman’s issue. It is a parental issue. Businesses and the school system must be modified so that both men and women can be fully-involved parents.

Attachment and natural parenting would have more of a chance to occur if parents in the United States were given paid maternal and paternal leave, as is the case in all other advanced countries in the world.  In fact, there are only 3 other countries in the entire world besides the US that do not provide paid maternal leave.  The United States also needs to provide better childcare options for parents. Having businesses and schools provide on-site childcare would be a tremendous help.  Expanding the childcare tax credit and updating the 1976 reimbursement levels to 2014 levels would also make life easier for parents.  It may also make sense to move from a state that does not support working mothers.

Natural parenting has been effective for millions of years.  If we want physically and psychologically healthy children, we need to modify modern society to enable natural parenting.






Positive Deviance

The Positive Deviance Initiative defines Positive Deviance as an approach that realizes “…that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.”

This methodology has been used by the Initiative in a wide variety of contexts.  One of the first initiatives involved improving child nutrition in Viet Nam.   Researchers to villages with high levels of child malnutrition found that not all children were malnourished.  They studied the mothers with healthy children to see what these “positive deviants” were doing differently and then asked those women to teach the other women.  Malnutrition was reduced.

Another action involved altering cultural perceptions towards female genital mutilation in Egypt and other countries.   When women and men  listened to stories of local women who had not been ‘cut’, were not promiscuous, and were able to marry, attitudes began to change.  Change was further propelled by women who told their stories of how ‘cutting’ had ruined their lives.

A major problem in culture of honor societies, such as those in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the negative attitude of men towards women.  Misogyny is rampant and fierce.  How can positive deviance tackle this problem?  Fortunately, we have an important example of positive deviance in Ziauddin Yousafzai.  

Ziauddin Yousafzai


Although raised in a very traditional family in a small community in Pakistan, Yousafzai valued education so much he decided to become an educator and open schools for both boys and girls.  His first child was a daughter.  Instead of ignoring her, he made sure she knew she was valued and that she received a quality education.  Thanks to this positive deviant father, Malala has become a voice heard world-wide making the case for educating all girls everywhere.  

Positive deviance is dangerous in regions controlled by the Taliban and like-minded men.  What can we do to find and support positive deviants?