Monday, July 18, 2005

Consistency on smacking

Writing in the Herald this morning, Stevan Eldred-Grigg argues for consistency on smacking. If we are allowed to smack children - out of love, of course - because they often do stupid things and cannot understand rational argument, shouldn't that also apply to others who behave childishly? Drunk partners and senile grandparents, for example?

It's a vicious parody which makes clear the moral values of those who advocate for smacking. They only hit those who can't hit back. Those in exactly the same intellectual situation with any smidgen of physical or legal power to resist are immune. This is not about love, it is about power and whether they can get away with it.

Protecting the weak from physical domination and abuse by the strong is precisely what the law exists for. We should not be leaving the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society outside the protection of the law. Instead, we should ensure that anyone who assaults another can be prosecuted - regardless of the age of the victim.


"we should ensure that anyone who assaults another can be prosecuted - regardless of the age of the victim."

Agreed. There definitely need to be stringent laws against toddlers kicking and biting their parents...


Posted by Amanda : 7/18/2005 03:42:00 PM

The consistency argument fails because it misrepresents what is consistent.

If we wish to leave out the age of a person then we could still have rules incorporating hitting. The "can't hit back" concept is only a half truth. The rubric includes that they are under guardianship of another, and that their actions have no legal consequences except for the guardian. Also, the reason or motivation for physical force as discipline is not just punishment/retribution but as a tool of education where other methods are impractical or ineffective. Now "education" may be behavioural reinforcement more than an intellectual discourse on ethics - but only because that alternative is necessary in the circumstances. It also has legitimacy in so far as the person receiving the force is capable of learning from it and will probably do so - even if not specifiically from the single instance - which means that to continue to inflict force on anyone - including the elderly - who cannot hope to have their behaviour modified by the act then to that extent it is wrong to impose it (even in the first place). Children are so obviously in a different stage of development that Grigg's argument is considerably, I would say fatally, undermined. Elderly, being in a regressive stage of development and arguably having "earned" some respect can expect to cash that credit in at the end of their lives. To equate them to children is to willingly distort for purposes of argument.

If person X (age unknown) had damaged you or your property, was unrepentant and could not be legally sued or punished or "educated" by the state what options are there? Does it depend on their capacity to self improvement? Does it depend on their previous good record? Is it matter of choosing a punishment to fit the crime - and if so is it then a matter of empirical facts as to what method works better than another, and when and how administered and by whom?

Grigg seems not to understand that in everyday situations adults do hit one another. Sometimes it is playful and meant as a moment of fright in order to emphasise that they have crossed a social boundary. A push, or a shove to reinforce territorial space, a hit on the arm to convey disapproval. Sometimes it may even be painful - but this is normal and acceptable behaviour amongst people who know each other and in some cases is acceptable for those who are strangers if they transgress certain boundaries. None of which is reprehensible and none of which would give rise to claims of assault even though, in a legal sense, a criminal offence has been committed. To argue that children should be removed from that standard may actually give a child an artificial and dishonest representation of adulthood and "real life" and would thus be a form of mis-education? If it is the duty of parents/guardians to educate their children so they may become adults who are mindful of the consequences of their adult actions, then the odd smack seems small beer to the almighty beatings they would sustain in adulthood if they have not learnt why they should not offend against others. The answer, after all the moralising and theoretical debates, is because of the consequences of their actions. There will no doubt be data on these issue from smacking v. non-smacking households and Sweden's before v. after no-smacking law. What sort of people has it created?

In this mix too must come the "anti-smackers" alternatives to the crude, short, sharp violence that I have thus defended. Does talking to a child work? If not at what age will it work (if ever)? Does a crude, short, sharp imprisonment work - even when it can be practically administered?

I, personally, cannot remember any parental physical violence against myself as a child (it certainly must have happened though) - all I can recall is many threats about "the belt". It largely kept me in line so I surely must have got it at least once for it to have been effective.

Posted by Bomber : 7/18/2005 04:32:00 PM

Having been on the receiving end of corporal punishment a fair bit, both at home and at school, I find that I did learn from it. What I learned was effectively "Don't get caught". It didn't give me anything else. It taught me that those who have physical power over me will use it, and in turn I and my siblings used our power over those less powerful than us. Hence, all it did was modify my wrongdoing such that I became adept at covering my tracks and estimating risk of punishment with value of the object gained in risking that punishment.

I've seen several situations where corporal punishment was either completely ineffective (The teachers inflicting it were far more lenient than what the kids got from their fathers, so the kids basically laughed at it and competed to see who could get the most swipes with the strap as a badge of honour) or it was obscene and illegal (to the point that the boy concerned was missing teeth and had permanent brain damage)(the cops solved that problem, as I recollect, but it left broken people behind.)

Sure, its ridiculous that some want to make illegal a quick smack on the botty when the kid has been a right little prat, but on the other hand, some of the pro smacking lobby seem to be just too damn creepy for me to trust them.

I seem to have been able to rationalise what corporal punishment I received as a child into modifying my behaviour (Just not in the way the punishers thought they were modifying it - in many cases, while I understood the ethics/behaviour/wrongdoing that were required to change or to do, I saw no reason to follow them if I didn't want to, I just continued my behaviours in a more careful and devious manner - effectively the opposite of what the punishment was designed to do). Thus corporal punishment taught me things about risk and duplicity, always valuable in any society, I suppose. However, I know of less cerebral children who just interpreted it to mean "X hates me", and it has blighted their lives ever since, or made them violent too. I also know of families that have been violent in their use of corporal punishment, but with education and understanding of its outcomes have drawn back from it and mended the breaches it has made, but often with hidden costs.

I don't think you can legislate a level that is 'safe'. A complete ban is ridiculous, but a partial allowance is always open to differing interpretations. (Its like fireworks - I enjoy them a hell of a lot, but I admit that the number of fuckwits out there who'll abuse them makes an eventual ban likely.)

Posted by Weekend_Viking : 7/18/2005 05:15:00 PM

Eldred-Grigg may have written a vicious parody, but it's also a false analogy. For example, if consistency is so important and the difference between childhood and adulthood not important, Eldred-Grigg might also argue that if we're allowed to fuck adults out of love, shouldn't that also apply to others we love, like children for instance? I don't doubt Mr Eldred-Grigg would be the first to suggest that he wouldn't ever make that argument. He shouldn't have made this one either.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/18/2005 10:04:00 PM

I wasnt smacked and I turned out OK except I also note that a lot of other children at school showed no fear of the "law" be it the school or their parents and could commit fairly serious crimes against other children basically with immunity.

What corrective system is in place for children that parents can't control?

(this could have a number of causes not worth adressing here since it wont be possible to entirely avoid this occuring)

Posted by Anonymous : 7/18/2005 10:17:00 PM

Milt, last time I checked, "fucking" someone you loved was a mutual activity - one which both parties consent to. Remind me again who is using a false analogy?

Posted by Jarrod : 7/18/2005 11:49:00 PM

OK, I'll remind you - Eldred-Grigg is using the false analogy. We're entitled to seek consent to sex from other adults - children too? I think not.

Like Eldred-Grigg, you're equating childhood with adulthood. But they are very different things, and parenting is not by the consent of the parented. I'm willing to commit to no taxation without representation in raising my children, but beyond that they can do as they're damn well told.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/19/2005 02:33:00 AM

Was I being too subtle?

Of course children are unable to consent; this is one of the many differences between children and adults, and the reason why it is intellectually dishonest to compare a consensual activity with a non-consensual one in this regard.

No one is arguing that children and adults (or children and the elderly) are identical - you're attacking a straw man. In fact violence tends to have more far-reaching psychological and physical consequences for children than for adults due to their inherent fragility.

Which is precisely the point.

Posted by Jarrod : 7/19/2005 09:03:00 AM

You're being too subtle by half. Eldred-Grigg's point is that if we don't smack adults we shouldn't smack children. I/S makes the same point with his headline and with his final comment quoted by Make Tea Not War. I don't think it's attacking a straw man to point out that consistency isn't necessarily desirable between your behaviour towards adults and that towards children. Make Tea Not War pointed out one way it's a foolish concept, I've pointed out another.

"In fact violence tends to have more far-reaching psychological and physical consequences for children than for adults due to their inherent fragility." Sure, getting a whack on the arse now and then puts you at serious risk of injury and has you whinging at a therapist for decades. I think you're confusing "whack on the arse" with the kind of physical abuse that can land you in court exactly because, please note, it is already criminal right now.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/19/2005 04:48:00 PM

"Protecting the weak from physical domination and abuse by the strong is precisely what the law exists for."

You are confusing two different things. Shoei and I certainly have to have physical domination of our children. Like... picking them up and putting them to bed, even if they are crying to stay up later. Pulling them back if they go to run on the road. Making them stay sitting at the table until they have eaten some of their dinner. It all involves something of dominating them.

But if we didn't do that, we would be abusive parents through neglect.

As for smacking, it's better to parent without it, but there are times when a quick smack on the bottom gets those brain cells working. And make tea not war has an excellent point too.

Parents have authority, physical and mental, for a reason. But authority in this modern society is an anathema.

Posted by Muerk : 7/19/2005 05:16:00 PM

Once again - no one is arguing that we should treat children and adults identically. Repeat after me: straw man. The argument, as I understand it, is that it's not appropriate to hit anyone - i.e. violence is always the wrong answer.

The current law as it stands leaves a loophole for child abusers - a clever defendant (with a clever lawyer) can muddy the lines between an "appropriate" level of force and a beating. If you're comfortable with that, and feel justified in your own behavior, then good for you. But I'd prefer to protect more children than less.

Further to that I don't recall ever seeing a parent hit a child without that parent being in an elevated, angry state themselves. The type of state where you're less than rational - and where you might use more force than you intend. Maybe you personally are always totally controlled. Maybe you've never hit your child out of anger - you've always been cool, calm and collected. But would you be the rule, or the exception?

Posted by Jarrod : 7/19/2005 09:59:00 PM

Jarrod, if I point out that "Eldred-Grigg's point is that if we don't smack adults we shouldn't smack children", and your response is " one is arguing that we should treat children and adults identically. Repeat after me: straw man.", I can only wonder what kind of analogy you think Eldred-Grigg was trying to make.

The current law doesn't leave a loophole for child abusers - it leaves a defence for parents that smack their children. That there are bizarre outcomes of trials that are decided by jury isn't news. If MPs want clearer guidelines for judges to use to instruct juries as to what constitutes "reasonable force" (and it's not rocket science, to quote phil u), they can go ahead and do that. What they shouldn't do is arbitrarily criminalise me and most other parents (and yes, if they take away our defence against assault charges, that is exactly what they are doing).

Sure I was usually angry when I hit my kids. Probably didn't do them much good but certainly made me feel a lot better. And if the only lesson they learned from it was that people bigger than you are dangerous when angry, well even that's valuable pedagogy in action. I'd certainly far rather they learned that lesson than that I taught them that any bullshit will be tolerated and nothing bad will ever happen to them - now that really would be bad parenting.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/20/2005 02:30:00 AM

Arguing that you should apply one behavior consistently does not automatically imply that you should apply another behavior consistently. To be more specific - I don't believe anyone is saying that, for example, children should be able to vote, drive, get married, run for public office, etc. We accept that children are not the same as adults - there's no question of that.

Currently, however, it's not acceptable to set fire to adults. If I apply your logic, should I be entitled to set fire to my children - as long as it's a small fire, and that in my opinion, it won't cause any lasting harm?

You may think that you're teaching your children that "people bigger than [them] are dangerous when angry" - maybe so. But you're likely to also be teaching them that violence is an appropriate response when you're angry and that it's appropriate to use violence to control those smaller and weaker than you. Hence the psychological harm I mentioned before.

You might disagree - but self justification is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

Posted by Jarrod : 7/20/2005 08:55:00 AM

"We accept that children are not the same as adults - there's no question of that." But you reserve the right to make analogies based on "you wouldn't treat an adult like that". Forgive my confusion.

That smacking kids doesn't do them lasting damage isn't my opinion, it's the evidence of pretty much every generation of children up until recently (and even then, only in the West), who all grew up and managed to raise their own children without liberals to offer them therapy. What is just an opinion with nothing to back it up, is the liberal view.

Here's a tip for you - the parents' task and legal responsibility is to control certain people smaller and weaker than themselves. By your definition, my kids are going to learn that some means or another is appropriate to control those smaller and weaker than you, because by one means or another, I have to control them. Your method would presumably be that they should learn that emotional manipulation and threats of loss of certain priviledges or pleasures are an appropriate method. Frankly I'd rather have them learn my way.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/20/2005 05:27:00 PM

Hey guy - whatever helps you get to sleep at night.

Posted by Jarrod : 7/21/2005 12:27:00 AM

Abuse is abuse whether it's pschological or physical. Changing the law to make it criminal smack bottoms to me is laughable, vote grabbing, misguided bollocks. I ask will there be staturatory guildlines
on what you can say to your children next? I remember being told one day that violence only breeds violence. by that rational pshycological abuse would then breed more....

I think we also attribute to much sublte thinking to children from my own experience as a young adult looking back it is only with retrospect can i analyse my childhood. At the time I was to worried about getting muddy and doing kid stuff.

Every kid is different and the real trick is understanding how to teach your children in a way that lets them grow whilst setting the right boundries that are true to your values as a parent.

Make tea -love it ... ooooh the absurdity

-bob "the anon poster"

Posted by Anonymous : 7/21/2005 12:38:00 PM

What is important in the debate over childrens' rights - as is the case in the animal rights debate - is not whether adults are different from children, but whether there is any morally relevent differnce.

Of course adults and children differ in many ways. Children are smaller, weaker, their minds less developed, they are younger, have differnt body proportions, their physiology is differnt, they are spelled differently etc. And sometimes these differences are relevant. Adults are allowed to vote and children are not, because adults have the mental capacities to understand what they are voting for and children do not. Adults are allowed to have consensual sex with adults but not children, because children are not judged capable of giving consent.

But in the case of smacking there is no morally relevent differences. Adults can feel pain; so can children. Adults can be hurt and humiliated; so can children. If anything there is an argument for giving children MORE protection from assault than adults because of their vulnerability and inability to hit back.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/25/2005 10:56:00 PM