Sunday, June 19, 2011

The price of learned helplessness

Learned helplessness was one of the things we had to fight against as special education teachers. Most of our students were well capable of doing most of the tasks of daily living for themselves. But why should they, if we professionals did everything for them? They swiftly learned how to "work" the special ed teachers to do things for them that they could do for themselves, but didn't feel like doing, and we special ed teachers had to make sure we put a stop to that ASAP when we spotted that it was happening. After all, learned helplessness swiftly becomes real helplessness -- the client forgets how to do stuff that he used to be able to do, because, well, he just hasn't done it in so long because other people have been doing it for him.

Take a look up there at the left. That is a widget called a cheese slicer. You use it by placing the roller on a block of cheese, tilting it upwards until the wire is at the depth you want your slice to be, then dragging it across the block of cheese. Voila, a slice of cheese for your sandwich!

What brings this all to mind is standing in the supermarket and looking at two packages of cheese. Both packages were the same kind of cheese and the same brand name. Both packages were the same weight, 8 ounces. One package was $1.99. The other package was $2.99. The $2.99 package was, of course, the pre-sliced one. The one that, apparently, can sell for more because people have forgotten how to use those things called "cheese slicers".

So now we know the price of learned helplessness: It is $1 per 8 ounces of cheese. Alrighty, then!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin


  1. And there, in a nutshell, you have the joy that is capitalism. It's called 'choice'; as opposed to socialism where you have no choice because the Commissars think you should slice your own cheese and anyone who can't be bothered and is willing to pay the surcharge is, by definition, an enemy of the people!
    David Duff

  2. Those wire cheese slicers are for the birds. They do OK with soft American cheese, but I don't like them for cheddar or anything with much texture. A potato peeler is my cheeseweapon of choice, and I eat a lot of cheese.

    I remember when the pre-sliced, individually wrapped pieces of American cheese came on the market. I was amazed that such a stupid product would be put out there. Not only was it more expensive, it was wasteful of plastic. How many barrels of oil have been used because lazy, stupid people can't be bothered to slice their own damn cheese?

    Fucking "crapitalism" -- rips off dumbasses while condemning even us smart people to resource depletion and pollution from overflowing landfills. One of the reasons I'm looking forward to the impending collapse of civilization is that it will kill off a lot of stupid people and utterly destroy the "free market" system that sells everyone the poison they use to commit planetary suicide with. I'll take the discomfort of living an 1850s lifestyle, for which I am preparing mentally, physically and fiscally as much as possible, just so I can see a lot of cretins expire before me. Misanthropic and loving it.

  3. "us smart people" who desperately wish to "take the discomfort of living an 1850s lifestyle".

    For those of you who are not smart, the above is an oxymoron - and before you say anything, I do the jokes round here!
    David Duff

  4. Mr. Duff, as usual, you missed the point (other than perhaps the one on your tiny little noggin). The point was not that there is a choice between sliced and unsliced cheese. The point was that people have forgotten how to slice cheese. Just as they've forgotten how to bake bread, grow vegetables in their garden, kill their own pig and clean and turn it into sausage and bacon and ham, and any number of other things that capitalism so helpfully helps them with. In the end, capitalism is to human skill what overly helpful special education teachers are to the skills of their charges -- toxic. Which implies there needs to be something NON-capitalist to teach skills that capitalism tends to destroy, hmm?

    Bukko, the individually wrapped pieces of American cheese food (they're not allowed to call it cheese anymore :) have one redeeming virtue. Because the wrapped slices remain untouched by human hands, they have a shelf life measurable in months, not days. Take two slices, make a sandwich, and the remaining slices shall still be good weeks later when you next desire cheese on a sandwich. Of course, they also *taste* like something with a shelf life of months, not days. Which is why they *need* a shelf life of months, not days, because it'll take that long before you forget the oily clingy taste of the last two slices you ate on a sandwich :).

    And finally, Mr. Duff, we're not going to have a choice for long. We're facing major resource exhaustion issues. Oil production is on the verge of collapsing world-wide, and our political systems are too creaky to deal with it. The British system is perhaps better suited than the American system for such, since the nature of the American system is gridlock, but Britain also has the disadvantage of being an island... an island with insufficient arable land to feed all its people. Not a good place to be when the modern infrastructure of food transport collapses...

    - Badtux the Not-so-helpless Penguin

  5. In response to your first paragraph, indeed you are right. Capitalism has whittled away many skills - blacksmiths, telegraph operators, the flint-lock musket industry, gas-lamp lighters . . . well, I could go on and on. I would only ask if, like 'Bukko', you would really - no, I mean really, honestly and truly - like to live in the 1850s?

    As to your final paragraph, alas and alack, at my age I have heard all this 'many a time and oft'. I could produce for you a long list of predictions by sundry catastrophe forecasters - they were all wrong. Still, if it makes you happy, who am I to ruin your day?
    David Duff

  6. I am baffled, Mr. Duff. The things you list were made obsolete by technological advances. Are you saying that slicing cheese and baking bread have been made obsolete by technological advance? Odd, I could have sworn that cheese is still sliced and bread is still baked, albeit most people apparently don't know how to do it anymore.

    So I'm not getting your point. But perhaps you don't have one, other than the one on the peak of your head above the "D".

    - Badtux the Snarky Penguin'

  7. BTW, this post was about learned dependency upon others FOR SKILLS RELEVANT IN TODAY'S WORLD, in case you're still confused, Mr. Duff. My point is that capitalism has been so helpful as to render many people helpless in basic life skills relevant to today's world in much the same way that special education teachers can be so helpful as to render their clients helpless in basic life skills relevant to today's world.

    I shouldn't have to say this so explicitly, but I understand that logic is perhaps too much to understand if you lack the fundamental logical background to understand how 1+1=2 can be computed using nothing but boolean logic. (Shrug). So it goes.

    - Badtux the Logic Penguin

  8. Oh definitely 'Snarky' old chap, I am confused. For example, are you suggesting that slicing your own cheese is one of many "basic life skills relevant to today's world"?

    Who'da thunk it?

    Me? I'm just delighted that I don't have to bother with such things and that capitalism allows me to choose - and calls me 'sir' as I do it! So much more pleasant that being told what to have and what to do by a commissar.

  9. BT
    Don't bother. Many people will take convenience over having an actual food product. They don't care what they eat, if it's good or bad for them, if it tastes like flavored cardboard, or if the manufacturer can even call it cheese or beef. Put salt on it, HFCS in it and stuff it on down. They don't understand and don't want to have to understand.

  10. It's o.k., Bad. I'm only about half bright and I got the message. :)

    This sweet message sent by a gray haired old woman who can cook on a woodstove, carry water in a bucket, bake bread (biscuits and cornbread several times a week and yeast bread when the mood takes me), garden, can fruits and vegetables, and milk a cow by hand if I need to. Now... do I really need to tell you that I'm Southern?

    Of course, these basic life skills and/or cheese aren't what you are really talking about, are they? :)

  11. Joan, the problem is that you're the last of a dying breed. I go through the piney woods of the deep South where my grandfather raised most of the food that fed my mother's family while they were growing up, and the only gardens I see are old folks' gardens, and the old folks are dying. The young folks drive off to the "big city" for work (the "big city" being whatever community has more than 10,000 people in their vicinity), and have neither the time nor inclination to garden or do real cooking. And none of them have ever seen a cow up close, or, for that matter, even a chicken, and none of them would know what to do with a real live chicken if you dropped one into their kitchen and said "make me some fried chicken and chiken dressing." Most Southerners younger than about age 50 or so are helpless without Big Bidness, they can't feed themselves, they can't clothe themselves, they can't do anything for themselves. They're as helpless as the special ed students I taught, but with far less excuse...

    - Badtux the Somewhat-helpless Penguin
    (Hey, I can fix pretty much everything mechanical, electrical, or plumbing-wise, but you drop a chicken in my kitchen, I wouldn't know what to do with it either!).

  12. How very odd, Badtux, your elegy above to les temps perdu sounded positively conservative, er, with a small 'c', he added quickly! It was also rather touching.

    My son's partner is Czech from a small village in the depths of Moravia. Her mum and dad always keep two pigs in the back yard which are sacrificed regularly to provide smoked or pickled pork - everything is used, put in jars and then stored in the cellar. I warned her to try and remember this because as sure as can be Walmart, or an equivalent, will open up nearby and then no-one will bother with keeping pigs (and rabbits and hens) again. It's called 'progress.

    I salute your Canute-like qualities, 'Badtux', but your are doomed.

  13. Fuckwit Duff is David Brooks with a British accent. People like him are some of the ones whose demise I hope to hear about when the Global Implosion happens. You're right about Old Blighty not being able to support 60 million un-savvy people on a resource-depleted island. The transition down to a sustainable, Roman-era population of maybe 6 million will be quite the bloody slide.

    But Tux, I don't have such dismal feelings about all modern city denizens. Mrs. Bukko and I belong to a group called "Village Vancouver" (which I think I've linked to before, so I won't be bothered with another hyperlinky). VV's reason for being is to help people prepare for an "energy descent" when Peak Oil and Peak Everything Else starts to bite. One of the group's missions is to link like-minded people in various neighbourhoods so they can mutually support each other with food-growing, product-repairing, what-have-you when hard times come. It's nice to meet people up here who will "have my back," and I will have theirs.

    I ride my bicycle around town a lot. Vancouver is riven by a series of great alleys which run between most of the streets in residential areas. I go down these as much as possible when I'm riding, both to avoid traffic and because it lets me see more of how people live. I'm encouraged by how much backyard gardening I see, especially on Vancouver's poorer east side, which is where the immigrant communities -- especially the Asians -- cluster. Even in a big city like this, there are lots of people who still have a feel for the old ways.

    Life is going to be shit when the level of our civilization is rolled back by many decades, but not EVERYONE is going to die. In 1850, the mass of humanity did not want to kill itself because it did not have refrigerators and cars and electric lights. (Even if they HAD known such things were coming.) There will be a decade of rending the garments and gnashing the teeth when we're forced back to being self-reliant. The Great Reset will be a period of horror that will be regarded in future history books as the equivalent of the Black Plague. But I have confidence that some semblance of society will emerge, hopefully a more mutually reliant, socialist one. At least in Canada, Australia and Western Europe. The U.S., I'm not so sure about. There will be pockets of civility -- I'm looking at you, Oregon and rural Washington State -- and areas of neo-feudal barbarity (the South). It's going to be interesting to read about 200 years from now, but not much fun in the middle.

  14. I hate to tell 'Bukko' this but I'm half Canadian! Oh dear, I do hope that hasn't ruined his day as he trudges up and down with his placard spelling out "THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH". When it comes to faith beliefs I try to live and let live because debate is nearly always fruitless, so if 'Bukko' believes, well, let him believe.

    However, I would point out that Britain's inability to grow enough food for its own needs is a very old historical fact. Why did the Germans strive so hard, twice, with their subs to cut off our supplies? And part of the reason for the growth of the British empire stemmed from a desire to find new sources of materials. Out of this, of course, Adams's 'invisible hand' developed international free trade which made us rich. Meddling socialists have since interfered with it and so now we are not as rich as we could be.

    Anyway, I hope it's not raining on your parade, 'Bukko', as you stand on your soapbox preaching to the unheeding!

  15. If I had to actually make my own blocks of cheese then I wouldn't have time to sit down to surf the internet and read wonderful blogs like this one...

  16. All Canadian, no wit?

  17. Not at all Canadian, you pusillanimous ponce. If you had half a brain (your cranium must have been inherited from your Pommy parent) you'd know enough to click on a person's blue-print Blogger ID to learn about whatever lies a person chooses to tell about their identity. That's what I did with you, twit-boy, which is how I learned you're one of those unicorn-Skittle-shitting libertarian wankidiots who make the bile flow up past my back teeth.

  18. "you'd know enough to click on a person's blue-print Blogger ID to learn about whatever lies a person chooses to tell about their identity."

    To be absolutely honest, and I don't mean to be hurtful, but "frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!"


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