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Thursday, March 20, 2008



Dr. Lester CN Simon

I thought I should write this article to the Daily Observer to let off some steam because it seems I get too angry too quickly and that I may need anger management classes. But I have to say straight up that I think I have the patience of Job. Seriously. When you consider the things I go through in this country on a daily basis I should be vexed every day and every night or maybe I should have been born vexed to prepare me for this ton of wanton vexation.

Since I was little, I learnt to deal with vexation but vexation these days comes from corners and quarters I never expected. The first time in my life I remember getting really upset and having to deal with anger management was when I was little and liked this sweet little girl in my village. I planned out a detailed conversation with this princess, in my mind. I rehearsed the conversation over and over, even looking in the mirror to see her reaction, and my reaction too. Imagine then, when I met the princess and opened the conversation, the well planned conversation, by saying to her that I had a dream about her last night, all the ugly duckling could find to ask me was who told me to dream about her. I didn’t plan for that at all.

But I learnt from that. I learnt that I must always be prepared for the unexpected. But the unexpectedness I am getting these days is beyond all unexpectedness. It’s as if the devil sent some people on earth with my name in their mouths and with explicit instructions to seek me out and render me botheration.

Take St. Mary’s Street, the busiest exit from the city. There are no traffic lights at the top, so if you have to turn right, you have to hope that some sensible person will not block the exit when the traffic light ahead of them is red. The other day, I drove up to the intersection and ever so gently, kindly, and very softly, asked a driver to reverse a little so that I could drive out. The man looked me straight in the eye as if to say I must come out of my vehicle, walk over to his car, put his car in neutral, pull up the hand break, take off his seatbelt, drag him out, throw him to the ground, or gently put him to sit down on the sidewalk and then reverse his car myself. Now, if I were to follow his clear instructions and do that, the police would not understand I was following orders. I had to take a deep breath.

Some say that deep breathing is the solution to anger. Deep breathing means that you do not breathe from the top of your chest like you do when you are panting; neither do you breathe solely from your chest wall by pushing out your chest. They suggest that you breathe from your diaphragm, which is below and attached to your chest wall. When you do that, by pushing your stomach out to breathe in, your chest opens more and your lungs take in as much air as possible. It is difficult to be angry and breathe deeply. But years of getting angry have led me to conclude that anger is rational.

In a recent book, called The Logic of Life, the celebrated economist, Tim Harford writes that although many of our actions and decisions may seem irrational, there is an underlying logic to our choices. There is a method in our madness. Take crime, for example. Most people do not commit crime because of fear of punishment; they calculatedly commit crime because they know they stand a very good chance of not getting caught. Or if they got caught in Antigua and Barbuda, they stand a very good chance of not going to trial or of the case being dismissed.

Criminals are some of the most rational persons on earth. Misfits yes; but diabolically clever and rational. Those who claim that prison and the death penalty work are not really saying that they are deterrents, they are saying that they prevent the imprisoned or the executed from committing crimes. In the case of these penalties being wrongly applied, the consequences are obvious.

In The Logic of Life, Harford uses the principles of economics to tell us why in the face of the risk of HIV infection, a prostitute will occasionally have sex without a condom for a higher fee. As bizarre as this might seem at first, she (or he) is said to be making a similar economic choice as other workers such as policemen or soldiers, who get higher salaries for engaging in legitimate high risk work. This means that although we know that deep breathing will help to avert anger, we will deliberately breathe badly when we huff and puff and blow the house down because we are making a learnt, rational, economic choice. The reward is that we feel good after a good anger and sometimes even while we are in the state of anger too. Some people actually go out of their way to get angry or force others to get them angry so they can feel good afterwards.

We wonder why boys are doing poorly in school and seemingly making poor choices but maybe there is logic at work here. We have always been told that education is to prepare us for the job market (which sounds so much like slavery all over again). Why then would a street-smart boy go to school when he has a job already, even though he is out of work every now and then, like some educated people? And do not tell the delinquent school boy that he is missing out on the "aha" experience, the joy of learning and discovering in school. He has been there and done that already on the streets where you live.

As the message by D. Gisele Isaac on Observer Radio implies, we have to change the way he understand education. This might mean setting up small schools all over the community, starting at home, or incorporating the places where children go, play and skylark to ply the new education. Maybe we need a new type of teacher, a new chalkboard and a new type of textbook. If education is to prepare us for life, why go to school when we already have the life we think we want? The mountain of education must move to Mohammed (as Barach Obama is showing).

The premise of The Logic of Life is that we are rational beings responding to incentives and rewards even when our choices seem bizarre. Take the recent arguments about legalization or decriminalization of marijuana. Whenever these discussions arise, they always end up in smoke because the arguments are not fair and logical. The arguments usually surround two themes, one of which is to compare marijuana to other substances. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the data show that marijuana is just as safe as or even safer than alcohol or tobacco. We cannot them move from that conclusion and add to the reasons for the use of marijuana by saying that it is a natural substance. That is a non sequitur. We might as well smoke “cassi” bush.

The fact that marijuana is natural does not bestow any special advantages to it. Oxygen is natural and yet it can be harmful under some circumstances. Sunlight is essential yet sunrays can cause cancer. Many disasters are natural. The very act of smoking marijuana releases a number of harmful substances that are released from many substances that are burnt. This means that the burning of incense in church or barbecuing chicken and even natural vegetables might be harmful. Indeed, one wonders the effect it would have had on him if Moses had to stand in front of the burning bush every day for excessive lengths of time.

So, if the science shows that marijuana is as safe as or even safer than legal substances, that is the argument for legalization or decriminalization. We should admit to the scientific fact that burning many substances, including marijuana, can be dangerous to health. We can then decide if the risk of smoking it is an acceptable risk and stop trying to confuse the arguments by invoking the naturalness of the marijuana plant. If this argument makes you angry, this is one time to defy the prescription for anger management and do not take a deep breath.

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