Bronwen Clark
Life is full of rules. From our societal systems to our interpersonal relationships and everything in-between, there are many written and unwritten rules that influence our philosophies of living. But who creates them? Why? What are the consequences for breaking them? Through storytelling, fact-based research, humor, and an open invitation to wonder, Them’s the Rules gets curious about the meaning behind the rules we make and break, forging eye-opening connections between politics, art, science, religion, philosophy, social etiquette, and beyond.
Pirate Code and Democracy: It Takes a Pillage
We owe the humble pirate a depth of gratitude.Sure, they terrorized the seas for hundreds of years—pillaging, plundering, raping, torturing,  and murdering—but violent legacy aside, they gave us the foundation for democracy!In this episode, Bronwen uses historical record to contextualize pirate code, breaking down the complicated economic situations of the 17th and 18th century  to find newfound empathy for these “ruthless barbarians.”  Despite their lengthy criminal rap sheets, pirates were victims, too. With crews largely formed of refugee sailors fleeing abusive autocratic rule, these men sought to build egalitarian societies with institutional mechanisms to protect individual freedom and prevent leader predation—over a hundred years before America’s Declaration of Independence. 
Sep 13
40 min
COVID Rulebreakers: Masking for a Friend
To mask, or not to mask, that is the question...In this episode, Bronwen tries to understand the reasons why people  refuse to follow preventative measures to contain the coronavirus. Desperate to understand, she channels her unconditional positive regard for the human condition and looks at the situation from the "other side's" point of view.  This takes her into an exploration of "rules philosophy," allowing her to ask:How do we choose which rules to follow?Why do we choose to follow them? Break them? What are we to do when there are two opposing figures of authority issuing different rules? Bronwen approaches the mask and social distancing dilemma from as many perspectives as possible in a single episode -- human nature,  social psychology, constitutional scholarship, moral philosophy, and integrated threat theory -- and comes to a surprising conclusion.Key Points from this Episode:What the most basic definition of a rule is and different reasons we follow them.The two phases to using rules.Why rules need to be flexible, but not too flexible.The cultural influence of collectivism vs. individualism in following or not following mask mandates.How perceiving the virus s a realistic or symbolic threat influences our willingness to follow public health guidelines.Why social distancing hits us in our humanity. The conditions upon which individual liberties are guaranteed by the US Constitution and why the First Amendment doesn’t offer protection from mask mandates.The ruling in Jacobson v. Massachusetts and what four standards it set that must be met for governmental health measure to permissible restrict individual rights.The instinct of psychological reactance and how it informs our reactions to criticism.The fears dividing society any the risk too much fear poses to social cohesion.How politics became the most important factor in predicting whether or not we follow the rules.The commonalities of human nature and how our instinct to survive made us all react rationally to our perceived threats, regardless of science.The charged subtext of mask enforcement.What the “broken window theory is” and how its hypothesis is helpful in understanding why former rule followers are now becoming rule breakers.Why we are seeing more American flags everywhere.The difference between morality and ethics.What “negative liberty” is and what role it plays in our federal government. The definition of “rule consequentialism” and what flavor of this theory we see in America.What the predominant theory of morality is and how both sides of the political divide are acting accordance with it, despite different perspectives. How the Milgram Experiment can shed light on how Donald Trump became president of the USA. The dangers of moral hypocrisy.Realistic steps we can all take to mitigate the volatility in the mask debate.Threat Perception Study from UNCTwitterWebsite
Aug 30
48 min
Warzone Etiquette: Please and Tank You
What are the do’s and don’ts of proper warfare? Just like hosting a formal dinner party, hostile conflict must be proper, well-planned, and scrupulously compliant with customary codes of behavior. In this episode, Bronwen is joined by Major General (R) Allen Harrell to discuss the strict rules of the battlefield—and the challenges presented by modern warfare.   With historical analysis and anecdotal evidence, they tackle the rules that help nations balance military interests with the moral values of civilized persons, examine the breaking point between necessary and unnecessary suffering, and discuss the principles behind the law of war. . .  and the consequences for violating it. As always, Bronwen enjoys poking philosophical holes into the complicated methodology of combat while the General shoots straight with decades of military experience.  Key Points From This Episode:Hear about how the “law of war” came into being.What important role The Hague Conventions played in establishing modern warfare.The five principles of the law of war and how they are practically applied combatHow targets of military value are determined and what types of properties  are off limits. The reason behind the “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq.The difference between jus in bello and jus ad bellum. How the US military practices the Golden Rule in combat.The necessary steps taken prior to employing a weapon system.JAG officers: who are they and what do they do?The gray area of “military necessity.”Why modern warfare makes it harder to distinguish a combatant from a noncombatant, and how the US Army decides when to attack.What actions a soldier’s right to self-defense allows and prohibits.How the laws of war were upheld in the Nuremberg trials and why the Nazi Generals’ arguments of defense were destroyed.The ways in which a soldier can intervene if given an illegal order.What the implications of dishonorable discharge are on a former solider’s life.Why you’re wrong about the Vietnam War.How the press amplified the psychological trauma experienced by returning veterans.The protected rights of a prisoner of war and how they are different from detainees.What procedure soldiers follow when an enemy is captured.How proportionality is determined, and what to do about collateral damage.The four elements of national power.Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:Conduct in CombatLaw Reports of Trials of War CriminalsTwitterMajor General (Retired) Allen Harrell is a retired member of the U.S. Army.  The contents of the podcast are based on his own personal experiences and the views expressed are not intended to reflect the official position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Army.
Aug 17
1 hr 1 min
Sheepdogs and Robots: Sheep Thrillz
How will sheepdogs save the world?In the episode, Bronwen explores the pastoral pastime of sheepdog trials (think Babe) and inadvertently stumbles into the complicated world of "swarm robotics." Long been baffled by the sheepdog’s amazing ability to herd large flocks of unwilling sheep,  scientists have finally discovered the "two rules" the sheepdog follows in this impressive, and age-old,  practice of shepherding. Engineers, biologists, and physicists are now utilizing a model of this behavior to create very complex systems of organized robots. But, don’t worry---these robots aren’t being designed to replace the dynamic duo of dog and shepherd; instead, researchers expect them to play a much larger and more significant role in society! Super cool, or super scary? #robotuprisingKey Points From This Episode:The ancient roots of shepherding, and why the practice still continues today.What type of dog makes the best sheepdog.Why the sheep flock together. Where in Ireland a tourist can go to see a sheepdog trials demonstration.What the basic skills of a sheepdog are, and why they aren’t so “basic.” What makes the Border Collie so unique and effective in herding sheep.Why science wants to replicate the relationships between sheepdog and shepherd, and how they have failed to do so.What the differences between sheepdogs and cattle dogs are, and why it matters.A groundbreaking study that finally identified the two behavioral rules the sheepdog follows. What those two deceptively simple rules are. What movement rules the sheep follow, and why neurobiologists are excited. What an algorithm is. What “selfish herd theory” is, and how it is relevant to human populations. The impressive intelligence of the average sheep. What a biological swarm is, and how engineers are using this to program robots.How the shepherding algorithm will be used to address the major problems facing us today. What rules are set by the International Sheep Dog Society, and how they are ready-made for translation to artificial intelligence.Why human stampedes are one of Bronwen’s top three scariest ways to die.LinksSolving the shepherding problem: heuristics for herding autonomous, interacting agentsTwitterShow’s WebsiteAerial views of sheepherding
Aug 3
43 min
Cultural Orientation to Time: Clock-Blocked (Pt. 2)
When is it “appropriate” to move out of your parents’ house? Are you “behind” in life if you haven’t gotten married by the time you hit thirty? Why is it so hard to balance career and family, and what does it say about us if we can’t? In Part 2 of Clock-Blocked, Bronwen continues to examine how social rules are impacted by cultural orientation to time. Tackling a variety of time-related issues, like birthday depression, social clocks, motherhood, and how silence can be a useful “tool” to manipulate time in conversations, Bronwen points out how dangerous certain social rules can be to our collective mental health. Elicia and Rayan offer further insight into the cultural differences between France and America, how to manage a transatlantic relationship, and  what, if not “money,” time is in France. Key Points From This Episode:What are the “birthday blues,” and why they are so common in Western society. What the symptoms of birthday depression are.How future-orientation takes the fun out of growing older.Why birthdays have different significance as we grow older, and how our temporal orientations shift by age. What some important milestones on the American social clock are.Attitudes toward aging and their impact on health and wellbeing. The threat to mental health presented by the pressure to conform to social clocks. Changes in marriage trends across the decades.Who Edward Hall was. What the definition of “chronemics” is. Why the tempo of life is different in industrialized countries. How the pace of life is determined by economic health, geographical location, and temperature. What the AAQ is and why it is important for evaluating mental health in older adults.Why America is afraid of aging. What the difference is between a birth cohort and a generation.The different meanings of silence and why it makes us so uncomfortable. Insight into why and how we “wait.” LinksEnvy on Facebook StudyTwitterThem's the Rules Website
Jul 20
1 hr 4 min
Cultural Orientation to Time: Clock-Blocked (Pt. 1)
Are you always working “against the clock?”Do you prefer to “go with the flow?”Every society around the world has a unique perception of time —  in some, “time is money,” life moves fast,  and productivity is given priority over leisure. In others, time has no value beyond the present moment, so you should seize the day and enjoy it! Cultural orientation to the past, present, or future informs the way a society structures and organizes itself, laying the groundwork for the social rules that individual members follow to maintain order,  and the differences between cultures can make our transactions — social, economic, political, and personal — A LOT  more complicated.  Bronwen is joined by Elicia and Rayan, a married couple from two very different cultures, to examine how the rules of human interaction are impacted by these cross-cultural conundrums of time. (Part one of two!)Key Points From This Episode:How time is perceived differently in every culture around the world.What social rules are and how they are constructed in any given culture.What “primary socialization” is and why it is important in our maturation.Bronwen attempts to conceptualize the abstract notion of time, but leaves the physics to the pros.There is no global standard for what constitutes a week! The differences between the three major time orientation: past, present, and future.The Piraha tribe and how certain native tribes don’t even have a past tense in their language. How America’s individualism impacts the collective use of time, with attention to how the comparative lack of social protection encourages hustle and bustle.How the American dream is the perfect example of the future-orientation to time. Why France is able to relax and “chill’ without worrying as much about the future.Why transactions across cultures are made difficultThe differences between polychronic and monochronic time systems and the people who utilize them. The infrastructure of America and how it reflects the need to prioritize productivity.How the industrial revolution synchronized American culture and turned time into a precious commodity. Eli shares how the American culture and orientation toward productivity caused a lot of stress and anxiety. The art of conversation in France.What the differences are between “clock” and “social” time. Opposing perceptions (and moral implications) of “idle time” in France and America.How Sundays in France are sacred, plus how that strengthens the family.What is really meant by “time is money,” and how it is damaging to our psyche.The differences between work and leisure balance in America.What the implications of “the right to disconnect” are in French culture and how it wouldn’t fly in America.How French legislation works to protect the private life while also promoting worker efficiency.  What the relative importance of punctuality is in France and America. 
Jul 13
1 hr 11 min
The Golden Rule: The Flaw of Reciprocity
The Golden Rule is widely accepted as the standard for ethical conduct. In Western society, it is often linked to Christianity, but its principle of treating one another with  kindness is a tenet found in every religion and culture around the world. You’ve probably heard, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or “Do not do unto others as you don't want them to do unto you.” These two versions may seem like they’re saying the same thing, but the subtle difference in wording reveals two very opposite lines of philosophy. The Golden Rule is an easy way to teach kids right from wrong, but when broken down to its core components, it reveals itself to be an impractical and impossible rule to follow. Still, this principle of treating others as you would like to be treated has made its mark upon history and social justice, such as in President John F. Kennedy’s speech to the American public following the desegregation of the University of Alabama. While the Golden Rule continues to influence domestic and foreign politics, it has created an ethical dilemma of how to balance economics, autonomy, and collective good during the global coronavirus pandemic. Key Points from This Episode:Living in an apartment building comes with certain sacrifices and the expectation of common courtesy.How the Golden Rule is found in nearly all religions and cultures all over the world. Why Bronwen thinks it isn’t so “golden” after all. How all societies had to face issues that challenge both ethnocentrism and egocentrism. The ways in which the Golden Rule is used for social control.Where we get our empathy. The subtle differences in the Golden Rule significantly change its meaning and use.How different versions of the rule can be used to teach morality to children.The importance of relativity.The loophole in the rule that could promote violence.  How hard it is for us to know what we really want or need, and how our tendency to want what is bad for us makes application of the Golden Rule even harder. Why Freud dislikes the Golden Rule How the rule devalues “love.” Why we should never make assumptions about others’ needs and wants.How despite the Golden Rule appearing in international treaties, religious and ethnic conflicts still exist .How Kant’s “categorical imperative” improves upon the Golden Rule. How empathy can help and hurt our survival.What a harm-based morality is.The working definition of “heuristics,” or, “a rule of thumb,” and how the Golden Rule oversimplifies complex problems.  JFK and other pivotal moments in history that called upon the Golden Rule.How Utilitarianism offers a practical guideline for morality, but still has a fatal flaw.Links Mentioned in Today’s EpisodeThe Golden Rule and SocietyThem’s the RulesThem’s the Rules on TwitterFreud’s Civilization and Its DiscontentsJFK’s Report to the People Show Website
Jun 28
59 min
Murphy's Law: The Luck Stops Here
Have you ever had the experience where the worst possible thing happened at the worst possible moment and tried to find some solace in the words 'Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong?'. In today’s episode, our host Bronwen discusses Murphy’s Law, one of the most well-known and oft-quoted eponymous universal truths in popular culture. We explore the various origins of its central thesis and how it was popularized in the 1950s during a press conference. We examine how the Law’s prominence continued to be fueled by its inclusion in works such as The Making of a Scientist, and Men, Rockets and Space Rats, and how the release of the book Murphy's Law and Other Reasons Why Things Go Wrong, which included various laws and aphorisms, was particularly successful at popularizing the expression on a global scale. Later we reflect on how Murphy’s law is intertwined with the concept of fatalism and why it has survived and thrived for decades in the public imagination. For all this and more, tune in today!Key Points From This Episode:What research into the topic of Murphy’s Law revealed to Bronwen. Bronwen lists eponymous laws like Fulton’s law and Parkinson’s law.Many of these adages like ‘Work expands to time allowed’ are considered universal truths but aren’t commonly known to have official names.Eponymous laws like Occham’s razor that many of us are familiar with.The most well-known of these laws is Murphy’s Law ‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.’We explore the origins of Murphy’s Law and the figure it’s attributed to.The various high-stakes technical activities that the concept of Murphy’s Law originated in like sailing, mountaineering, and engineering.The story of Dr. Stapp and how his commitment drastically improved car safety.How the term Murphy’s Law was popularized at a press conference by Dr. Stapp.George Nichols disputes over the origin of Murphy’s Law.The various offshoots of Murphy’s Law like ‘nothing is as easy as it looks.'How these various offshoots apply to specific scenarios in life like relationships and productivity.Murphy’s frustration with the colloquial application of Murphy’s Law in everyday scenarios.Why Murphy’s law continues to remain a popular part of our collective knowledge.How Murphy’s Law relates to fatalism.Why Murphy’s law is correct and why it can’t be proven.Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:The Making of a ScientistMen, Rockets and Space RatsMurphy's Law and Other Reasons Why Things Go WrongThem's the RulesThem’s the Rules on TwitterCheck out the Them's the Rules website!
Jun 6
31 min
US Immigration: Law and Border
One of the most controversial topics over the past few years has been immigration. The U.S immigration system is riddled with complexities, biases, blind spots, confusing criteria, and conflicts of morality. Rather than just sharing dull facts and figures, which don’t shed any light on the lived experience of what it is like to navigate this overwhelming system, we thought it best to humanize the topic. As an immigrant himself, today’s guest, Javier S., has in-depth knowledge on what it takes to immigrate to the United States. In this episode, we hear about Javier’s journey, the different times he has lived in the U.S, and the various visas he has held. Each visa comes with strict criteria, and many have limits, which Javier has experienced all too well. We also talk about hiring a lawyer to help you with your immigration process, the uncertainties that immigrants faced during the Trump era, and the intersection of immigration and identity. Tune in to hear it all!Key Points From This Episode:What research into the topic of immigration revealed to Bronwen. Insights into a very recent change in the “immigration rulebook.” Javier’s take on the label “illegal alien” and why it is such a complicated term. The story of how Javier came to the U.S. and the complexity of gaining citizenship. Some of the notable immigration policies that have been implemented since the U.S independence from Britain. A look at the H1B Visa Javier got when he came back to the U.S and the caveats that come with it. Some of the limitations that come with the U.S student visa. Facts and figures about the Immigration and Nationality Act. The difference between family and work-based immigration. The long wait times that are synonymous with family-based sponsorship visas. Details about the O-1 visa and the criteria. Why the visa process is so dehumanizing, according to Javier. What the term ‘anchor baby’ means, and the U.S’s unique birthright citizenship process. Although the U.S immigration system is tough, it is still easier than in a lot of other countries. The uncertainties that immigrants faced during the Trump administration. There are so many subjectivities in the immigration process. Why Javier decided to hire a lawyer to guide him through the immigration process. The crossroads Javier faced deciding to pursue his relationship or his visa. Immigration also calls your identity into question. It is so important to humanize the issues in the immigration system going forward.  Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:Them's the RulesCheck out the Them's the Rules website!
May 30
45 min
Feng Shui: I Just Don't Know What to Do With My Shelf
Today, we are talking feng shui and its perplexing rulebook of metaphysical measurements, methods, and machinations. Is feng shui just a fancy Chinese system used by western hipsters to make you feel dumb? No, but you would be forgiven for thinking that. Based on western tendencies to commodify objects, practices, and philosophies from other cultures and misuse or misrepresent their purpose, we’re all pretty misinformed about what feng shui actually is. The internet, with its DIYs and clickbait, spins this ancient Chinese practice as either magic or superstition, which it is not, or a kind of interior design, which it also is not. In this episode, Bronwen dives into what feng shui actually means, how to maximize your access to beneficial chi and disperse negative chi in your home, and the basics of some of the various traditional schools of feng shui and how the western world has appropriated and bastardized elements of this ancient spiritual practice.Key Points From This Episode:Feng shui, meaning ‘wind’ and ‘water’, conveys a sense of invisible, flowing energy.How feng shui has been used in architecture for thousands of years in China.Learn about good chi and bad chi using the well-known yin yang symbol.Some of the things that can cause negative chi in your home, including geopathic stress.How to maximize your access to beneficial chi and disperse negative chi using feng shui.The basics of some of the various schools of feng shui, starting with the compass school.Find out how Donald Trump, of all people, first brought feng shui to the US.How the western interior design world appropriated and bastardized feng shui practice.Why decluttering and feng shui are not synonymous.Modern interpretations, like “wallet feng shui” or “fashion feng shui”, that have nothing to do with the traditional practice of feng shui.Bronwen shares a tip: be wary of useless commercial feng shui items.The five natural elements that feng shui relies on; fire, earth, metal, water, and wood.How the bagua energy map helps you enhance favorable flows of chi in your home.The symbolic significance of the bedroom, office, and kitchen in your home.How furniture with rounded edges can help with the flow of chi in your home. The importance of keeping areas of work and rest separate, being intentional about color palette, and keeping your windows uncovered.Feng shui rules for your kitchen, which is said to represent health, wealth, and abundance.How a wrongly positioned toilet can cause infertility and other feng shui rules for bathrooms.Why your front door and your back door should never be aligned.Learn about auspicious directions according to what is know as your kua number.How to deflect bad chi using mirrors, sound, and the presence of living things.Find out how feng shui consultant Kartar Diamond uses feng shui to predict crime.The surprising fact that feng shui has been outlawed in China since the mid-20th century.At its core, feng shui is simply a lens through which to reflect on yourself and your home.Why feng shui might be more beneficial than ever during the pandemic, when the concept of ‘home’ has faced a crisis of identity.Links:Feng Shui NexusTraditional Feng Shui Solutions by Kartar DiamondThem’s the Rules on TwitterShow Website 
May 23
43 min
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