The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rules the World.

The ‘legitimate’ abuse that has a thousand names, punishment, correction, discipline, consequences, training, spanking, timeouts, quiet time, penance, detention, etc., this practice is done by nearly everyone. People of many races, religions, nationalities, creeds, sexualities, income levels, education levels, and both genders, most people hold with punishment’s basic, unquestioned, unacknowledged premise, that you can improve people, their behaviour, their development, their character – by hurting them. By somehow making life less pleasant for them when they stray from the caregivers’ idea of what is done and what is not.
Now, for me, this seems to contradict a great deal of psychological thinking, which developed, to some degree, by tracing suffering people’s lives to the unpleasantness that damaged them to the point of seeking a doctor’s help, in the early days, damaged them to the point of being committed to a sanatorium. For a dysfunctional patient, often after other causes had been explored, physical ailments, etc., often the next, or maybe last logical step might be the psychoanalyst, and psychoanalysis has had some success, making connections between mental trauma and social dysfunction.
Of these two apparently opposing ideas – punishment and psychology – the latter seems the more logical, dare I say, scientific. So with this argument, and the ones in the preceding chapters, I’m going to push on, taking as a given at least as my premise, that unpleasantness, only different from trauma by a matter of degree, damages people rather than improving them.
OK, the use of punishment has looked like it works, you punish someone and the unwanted behaviour appears to stop – but does it? Do we think a punished child becomes a model citizen forever afterwards? Do we think a punished adult ceases his criminal behaviour and goes on as a saint? I don’t think even the most energetic of my unconvinced audience thinks that, do they? So again, unpleasantness makes people worse, less functional, rather than improving them. Having said that, I want to extrapolate that whomsoever punishes a person the most, does the most damage.
If one’s parents are active participants in the practice, the culture of punishment, then I feel I must say, that the parent who does the more parenting, very often the most punishing, must be the parent causing the most unpleasantness, the most trauma, the most damage. And, sorry to say, in my world, probably in most of the world, it’s Mom doing most of the parenting. Certainly many fathers are responsible for horrible trauma, perhaps the more serious punishments are administered by the father in some families, but basically, day-to-day parenting and punishing, falls to mothers. This is especially true during the earliest years of the child’s life. Uninvolved fathers are bad in many ways, of course. Neglect is a form of abuse, there is the lack of male modelling, but there is the other side too: if parenting means punishing to the mother, and if she overdoes it, then Dad’s neglect is downright dangerous, he can be rightly accused of not protecting his kids from some hands-on abuse. Also, if he’s not helping, then the mother can become stressed out, also not a good thing for a parent who already thinks punishing kids, that is, hurting kids, is good for them. So yes, that is what I’m saying: in the culture of punishment, your mother is probably doing you more harm than your father. Dad’s no saint, don’t get me wrong, he’s letting her do it, often participating . . . but the myth that needs busting here, is Mom’s sainthood. Having said THAT, the other ramifications of this are the more important thing. Blame is even, one does it, one allows it, and sometimes they trade off. I don’t make this point to place blame; this isn’t about the trauma of children.
This principle, that mothers raise the children, that mothers punish the children, this is the root of misogyny, the root of violence against women. We love our mothers, we love our system of punishment, we all hold the family unit as a sacred, ancient tradition, but that is the surface of it all. That is only what we say, what we think we feel, but the dark side is this:
We all know who punished us, we know who damaged us. Violence against women is a trend, a tendency, it is far more prevalent than the incidence of extreme abuse would indicate, the expression of infantile rage against the one who hurt us, that is the great secret. This is another piece of the great puzzle of life that falls into place when you work from the premise that punishment is violence.
The culture of punishment in which we live has turned the most natural, organic beautiful thing in the world, mother love, into a violent act, and one which brings a terrible vengeance to the half of humanity we should all hold sacred, our mothers. Now to blame. Women, putting the blame for misogynist violence on men isn’t working; stop spanking your sons. Men, you’re not fixing it either. Stop making your women “correct” your sons. This is the issue. Violence breeds violence.
The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Women, your safety, the safety of your daughters and grand-daughters is in your hands. Hurting kids, dishing out unpleasantnesses, damages them, it doesn’t help them, and it doesn’t help women. Help your kids, help yourselves, give up your punishing ways. Love looks like love, and it doesn’t invite revenge.

Love Looks like Love

People usually punish with the best of intentions. As children, we receive most of our punishments from those who love us.
Of course, it’s those who love you that are interested in correcting you, who want you to grow up as a happy, healthy, productive member of society, and so when you misbehave, they try to steer you on the right path. Unfortunately, most peoples’ choice of tools for such work is rather limited, and all too often, the tool that gets used is punishment; in fact, for some, that’s the only tool in the box. No-one thinks this,’ that it’s the only tool I’ve got, so I guess I’ll use it.’ They believe in it, it’s the only tool they think they need, a kind of wonderful, all-in-one tool that is all you might ever need to correct anyone, anywhere, anytime. The fact that they are trying to correct you, trying to set you up for a happy, productive life, this is believed to make you feel, well, loved. If they didn’t love you, they wouldn’t bother, right? They love you and they’re trying. That’s what parents tell themselves; it breaks my heart to tell them all.
I’m sorry, but it’s not true. Love looks like love.
Don’t be fooled by imitations. Love looks like love. Punishment looks like . . . well, it looks like what it would look like if you couldn’t talk about it, if you couldn’t explain it away. It looks like the opposite of love.
Love looks like patience, like thoughtfulness. Love looks like communication, difficult, cautious, slow communication. Communication with a lot of checking, a lot of error correction, a lot of testing, to make sure the communication is getting through, that the last thing got through before the next thing begins. Whereas punishment is a cheap, shoddy shortcut, whose results are highly dubious. An act of punishment marks the end of communication. I’ve said earlier, punishment is when attempts at communication are abandoned and the teacher, the parent simply resorts to the use of force, of negative incentives.
Love looks like love. It will be a sad realization if we have to face the truth of this. Unfortunately, many of us may really not know this, and it means, well, maybe we just haven’t seen enough loving correction to recognize it. Maybe we’ve been told how the punishment was good for us for so long we believed it, and started to think that was a sign of love, and perhaps the only sign of love we ever got.
Ouch. That hurt me, and I’m the one who said it! I’ll let that be it for today.

Punishment is for Animals

Although I’m sure Temple Grandin will disagree.

But it’s definitely not for people. People – adults, anyway – can communicate. Even without a common language, people can communicate well enough that they shouldn’t have to resort to just hitting one another, or confiscating each other’s possessions, to make a point.

Punishment is a last resort, or it should be. Punishing a human being is the end of communication, it’s where we say ‘I’m done talking to you, have THIS instead.’ The implicit breach of personal trust and caring that comes with every act of punishment creates the situation for the next one. Once we’ve abandoned communication and resorted to physical aversives or “non-physical” aversives that are supported and facilitated by either physical means or intimidation, we’ve lost the better options.

When talking fails and we punish, trust and love are then horribly compromised, and non-communicative means are all that’s left. Punishing destroys trust and communication. Punishing is a self-perpetuating cycle that once begun, becomes nearly impossible to stop.

People think it stops, we think that our non-physical punishments are working. Children do respond to the training, and it does become possible to control them with verbal commands, but this is based in the physical, non-verbal methods used previously; non-physical punishment is really only “previously physical” punishment. It relies on past experience of physical means. It relies on intimidation. I think there is the very real danger that the actual physical training occurs in private, when we’re home alone with our babies and toddlers, and then we get to later parade our well-behaved children about in public, displaying our non-physical mastery of them, and we all get to pretend that we have good, communicative relationships with our kids. It all looks very civilized – as did dinner with the Queen and her court, back in the days of the British empire, but empire is not achieved by good manners, and neither are well trained children.

Of course, we are not fooling ourselves and everyone around us on an individual level. This farce is inter-generational; the blindness we bring to our non-physical punishing is not conscious, it is repressed. It is blindness forced upon us as children and not acted out so much as re-played when we are adults. No-one is to blame.

If you can get past our feelings shouting this idea down, if you can look at it dispassionately, and focus on the logic, you’ll see I’m right.

Original Sin

Mass-murderers like Charlie Manson and Andreas Brevik (spelling?) seem to think everyone is a psycho like them. They have it in common that all they thought they needed to do to start a race/faith war was to kill a few people, a few tens of people, and the war would be on, that all the average guy needs is for someone to start the killing and we’d all jump in and go on a mass mass-murder spree, a national, even global, bench-clearing brawl. They think everyone is like them, or at least that we all secretly want to be.
A core belief in people’s intrinsic violence, intrinsic evil, that’s what that is. Or to put it in other words, they hold with the doctrine of Original Sin.
Which is, of course, is a strong predictor for the nearly universal belief in the social tool known as punishment.
(This is what makes Charlie so captivating when he talks. He seems to know this, that he and we are not that far apart.)
It’s no secret that the religious, at least the Christian religious make no bones about this, that Original Sin is a tenet, they think it’s true, hence the need for God. And they mostly all follow the extrapolated idea from it, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” But what of the disavowed, the atheists, the lapsed? Also true, for the most part. We can deny the church, we can deny the bible, but it is foolish to deny that the bible is the basis of our entire culture here west of Afghanistan and east of Hawaii, (possibly excluding much of Africa) for the last 2,000 years. You atheists, you church-bashers, know this: use the rod, and you propagate the very thing you hope to extinguish!
This is a key part of the interaction between religion and our faith in punishment as a social tool. When everyone is punished, when we are all raised with punishments that begin long before we have any understanding of the world, then a vengeful god makes sense, the idea of a punishment awaiting us at the end of a mis-lived life seems, reasonable. It has precedent, at least in our minds. Of course, this idea is normally expressed the other way ’round, that God and his punishments are the model for our lives, as written into many faiths’ texts. I don’t hope to change any minds among the religious followers, but the atheist reader will have to admit that the actual function is arranged in the natural timeline of a human life: parents first, God second.
It seems that there is no getting around our cultural heritage, certainly not if we still cling to the most important and influential beliefs of that legacy while only disavowing ourselves of the less reality-based and purely theoretical ones.
Alice Miller:
“Wherever I look, I see signs of the commandment to honour one’s parents and nowhere of a commandment that calls for the respect of a child.”

Punishment helps to teach kids right from wrong – not.

. . . everyone thinks that normal stuff. It’s a silly myth if anyone thinks there is some huge group of people out there who thinks “aw, screw it, I’m just gonna let my kids do whatever the hell they want.” Most people believe what you’re saying, that we need to use some kind of disincentives, to teach right from wrong – and still, this is the world we get. A world where we all seem to perceive ourselves as evil, naturally bad, and requiring some force or control to whip us into line, a world where high school kids torment one another to the point of suicide. A world where even the good people of the world seem to feel killing “bad” people is OK.

Nature VS Nurture

The answer to the nature-nurture arguments is very often nature, but I don’t see it’s less nurture because of that. It’s not an either/or thing: we have natures and we have a lot of nurturing to do, it’s not one or the other.
As impressive as some of the ‘nature’ studies and experiments are, still there are some large bodies of knowledge that prove the importance of nurturing as well. The premise upon which all of psychology and psychiatry is founded is the idea that abuse hurts and damages people, – statistically, not every person, every time – impairing our normal functioning. Mountains are the studies and evidence for this factual case of the importance of the nurture side of things.
I don’t know what we plan to do with this information showing how much of what we can excel in, or fail in, is hardwired, our natures from birth. Are we planning to marry and breed in a more scientific manner? Mandatory sterilization of the inferior?
What our function is, what we can do, is nurture, and there is room for improvement. We could work on our nurturing. Any improvement we can make in our nurturing of our young has the potential to bring everyone’s lives up a level. Anything we learn about the hardwired part of ourselves is good to know, but I’m suspicious it may not be a good sort of knowledge to actually use. In terms of the law, and actual nurturing of children, it is the nurturing aspect of life that should concern us.

Bullying as Punishment

the world runs on authority, on force. The army, the police, schools, corporate hierarchies, parenting, parenting, parenting. Family structure. Punishment and discipline is a system by where we control unwanted behaviour by force, and punishment, which, punishment is defined as dishing out unpleasantness to the misbehavers in order to motivate them to change their ways.

This is pretty much a definition of bullying. The bully punishes the victim. The bully justifies this punishment by listing the victims’ misbehaviours, or the victims’ family’s, or race’s, or faith’s misbehaviours.

This is punishing behaviour, this is bullies doing what their parents did, doing what the police do, I mean the bully’s behavior is VERY CLOSE to that, closer than any of us would like to think. I’m saying the bully feels he is doing what he sees around him, that in the parlance of some schools of psychology, the bully is getting his power back, after some authority figure has taken his power from him.

So, parents, schools going to the bully kids and telling them to stop is a joke to these kids. They see it as just more ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ So do I, for that matter. I, for one, would love to see someone ask the kids if I’m right about that. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the kids.

Parents don’t think they are bullying. We have a consensus about what is acceptable punishing behavior, and we really cannot seem to draw parallels with our legitimate punishments and other similar behaviours. If we can’t, if we won’t see how bullying is an extension, an extrapolation of our punishing ways, then there is very little hope that any of our conversation about bullying, any of our attempts to combat it will get any traction, very little hope of our ever solving a problem if we refuse to understand it in the first place. Surely, someone has noticed that speeches that don’t acknowledge this difficult truth have not had any dramatic effect on the bullying phenomenon? I think any approach that doesn’t include this idea would be considered empty and hopeless, at least to any group that lives under threat or reality of punishment – like our kids.

Long and short, if we don’t stop ‘bullying’ our kids at home, we will never stop their bullying, that should be obvious. I don’t know why it isn’t.

Many nations have outlawed corporal punishment, in Canada, we are in the process of outlawing it, and I can see the next step, that we will someday realize that the damage caused by punishing behaviours generally outweigh any benefit, and when we all stop anything like bullying, so will our kids. Until then, we will fight this bullying thing in vain, fighting it in the schools, and causing it at home.

So now, there are programs, task forces, plans and research, all government money spent to figure out this embarrassing problem, and if we don’t try to stop people from the use of punishment – corporal and otherwise – on our kids at home, we are wasting all those resources. And that is a sad, cruel joke, one that the parents don’t understand, and only our kids are laughing about. Not in a good way.