Making people

No, not cloning, not Frankenstein, no virtual avatars, no advanced robotics or AI. Not just procreation, either. Parenting.
This is an odd topic for me to write on, being as I am, not a parent.

Oh, I can claim a little experience here and there participating in the parenting of other people’s children. Most people can: parenting is hard work, and anyone who can bear it will probably get roped in as stand-in laborers at some stage in their lives. I can also claim the same naive expertise that leads nearly everyone to feel that they can make expert commentary on teaching: I have been a child.

So why am I writing about this? Are we thinking about it, you ask? Of course we are: everyone thinks about the idea of being a parent from time to time, even people whose avowed plan is never to do so. That we might be thinking about it is no indication of anything, and if it was, do you think I’d announce it on my blog?!?

I’m thinking, and writing, about parenting right at this moment because I just read a neat article in The Age about cooking with bones (and fat, and skin, and stuff) which repeatedly raised the concern that knowledge of basic home-cooking might be dying off in today’s children, failing to be handed down. This subject is not new to me, as anyone who’s met my father would know. His cooking skill and knowledge is unquestionably vast, but his capabilities as a teacher (see, it was relevant!) are lamentably scant, at least when the student is one of his own family. Nonetheless, I count myself a credible cook, and this is due in no small part to having watched and listened and occasionally been taught, in my childhood, by a great chef.

Reading this article gave me pause to think: what if parenting is seen as an art along the lines of the pride of skill of a good tradesman in each piece of his or her best work? i.e. the pride of a parent might also be about the joy of craft, and the knowledge that here is something which will bear testament to one’s commitment, knowledge, experience and passion, long after one is dead. Mind you, I can immediately see the gaping chasm of a problem with this thought: parents don’t get to choose what their children turn into. Yes, I have seen Dead Poets Society. (If you haven’t, buy a box of tissues and go rent it, now).

The thing I’m getting at, I think, is knowledge-poverty. Not information-poverty: that is unlikely to be a problem for any future generation of humans. This article talked about skills like knowing how to make a stock. Sure, you can look this up on the ‘net, but if I hadn’t given you a link, would you have? And now that you have, if you’ve never made a stock before, are you going to learn? Would it be easier if I showed you? How about if I showed you how, repeatedly, and fed you numerous tasty meals based on it?

That kind of labour is synonymous with craft in my mind: you do it over and over again until it’s second nature. Sometimes you get it wrong. Eventually it’s just a technique, like tying your shoes, or reading an analog clock.


slow adj. to run a needlessly glitzy X application via two layers of ssh tunneled indirection, via an overloaded metropolitan network link, an elderly desktop box acting as a database server and multi-user ssh gateway, and a very noisy dialup connection from Wonthaggi, while a mandatory windows update tries to download a 20MB patch in the background.