The First Condition for “Legitimate” Punishment

1. Lack of proper authority:

The practice of punishment is a very specific, legitimate sort of abuse; are its effects very different though? Considering the case of children, and assuming that retribution is not supportable when practiced upon children (which I will elaborate upon later), let us postulate a scenario, one where some person is imposing something unpleasant or aversive upon a child, we may make some observations:

If it’s the authorized person punishing a child, then what results?

For the child, education, moral direction, and respect for authority, society and the rules, because he knows he is being corrected by a caring and trusted adult? I believe these are purported to be the goals of punishment.

And if it’s the unauthorized person dishing out unpleasantness, what results then?

For the child, trauma, confusion, fear, potential damage to the psyche? Certainly many people would at least consider that to be something between a possibility and a probability, depending on the severity of the unpleasantness and a number of other variables.

And what if it looked identical not to a passing stranger, or to us, as omniscient observers, but what if it looked exactly the same to the punished or abused person, to the punished or abused child? What if the child thought any number of things that would invalidate the authorized nature of his or her punishment in his or her mind? This is not uncommon, that a punished person, child or not, has a reason for his transgression, somewhere between an outright, far-fetched rationalization and an actual, arguable reason. More importantly however, what is also far from rare is it that a punished person has reason, good, bad, or in between, to feel that his punisher isn’t or shouldn’t be considered to be a respected and trusted authority. So in the likely event that something like these thoughts are in the child’s mind, then what comes of it?

Education, moral direction, respect, because that is what the punisher intended? Or:

Trauma, confusion, fear, potential damage to the psyche, because what the child perceives is not punishment but abuse? Which of these?

Of course, the question of what is effected in the punished or abused child’s mind is rhetorical. We, people, human beings, we suffer physical damage according to the blows we receive, according mostly to the targeted part of our person, and the force of the violence, all of which are determined by the intent of the attacker. This is not the case with psychic damage, which is more complex. The punished, the abused person, their internal effects, those are more closely correlated to their own mental and emotional structures than they are to what’s in the mind or heart of the abuser or punisher. And so, as beauty is in the beholder’s eye, doesn’t the trauma of abuse reside in the mind of the punished or abused person? And so, doesn’t authority lose its transformative power and the act of punishment move some steps closer to becoming only abuse?

Again, rhetorical. I’m saying yes, and maybe every step, the whole walk.

Abuse is a subjective determination, is what I’m saying. I don’t think that is news for anyone, but perhaps it doesn’t get the traction it deserves in our minds. It cannot be the punisher or abuser’s decision as to whether a given action is abusive. If that were any sort of logical possibility, that the people dishing out the unpleasantness got to say what is abuse and what is not, where could we be in terms of crime and punishment, morality, or support for the sufferers? There would be no concept of abuse. No abuse, no rape, no concept of personal human rights. Abuse is, must be, a subjective determination: if I feel raped, I have been raped, if I feel abused, I have been abused. That is the criteria. Therefore, if a child has been subjected to punishment, and he has reason to believe that the three conditions for punishment have not been satisfied, for instance that his punisher, for any number of real world reasons lacks moral authority (not a rare thought), then the child will feel abused.

Again:  if I feel abused, I have been abused. That is the criteria.

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