The Fight against Corporal Punishment will Fail

I’ve said it many times, so the waiver here will be brief: of course I’m against corporal punishment. The science is in, it is indistinguishable from abuse psychologically, except where there is a difference in the degree of it, and except that the legal status of it brings its own problems and complications.

Having said that –

The acceptance of non-corporal punishment, of supposed non-physical forms of “discipline” gives oxygen to corporal punishment and abuse. As long as we keep fooling ourselves that there is some form of “discipline” that isn’t harmful to the little people receiving it, there will always be physical punishment and outright abuse. I’m sorry, folks. I know you mean well.

You just don’t understand it.

Let’s take a bird’s eye view, a high level look at it.

One of the most basic tenets of a worldview that includes psychology is that negative stimulus brings negative effects, in a word, damage. We all agree, apparently so long as the negative stimulus is negative in a legal sense; I think we mostly see that the negative outcomes associated with illegal outright abuse prove the basic idea. As corporal punishment approaches illegal status we can begin to see that its negative stimulus brings negative outcomes . . . but we’re missing something. We’re failing to take the single next logical step.

That next logical piece is this: the theory of punishment, in its most basic form, means applying a negative stimulus in order to discourage unwanted behaviour.

This is the core concept of punishment, “core” meaning that it is the central concept, not something that only applies to extreme forms, or some forms of punishment, but that this is what punishing is, what all punishing (by any name, “discipline,” “consequences,” or not getting a “reward”) is. Forms of punishment we use on children that are not violent, such as the “timeout,” “grounding,” removal of a desired toy, restriction of screen-time, with-holding of love or attention – all of these are negative stimuli. So if our worldview is partly informed by psychology, we should expect that these negative stimuli also bring negative outcomes.

This should tell us that if we wish to lessen the negative outcomes associated with corporal punishment, that it’s a little schizoid to exclude the negative stimuli of all the other sorts of punishment from the conversation. Let alone that so many folks are actually promoting these other forms of negative stimuli! Again, all that sort of talk is well intentioned, but based in a dismal failure of reasoning. To view it arithmetically, we should see that this way:

To criticize a particular form of a thing – the corporal form of punishment – while supporting the basic form, the general form, the logical “pure” idea of the thing – punishment in general – is more support than it is critique. By a long shot. By, in fact, an order of magnitude. It’s fundamental support and only peripheral critique – put simply, it does more harm than good in the long term – and this battle is multigenerational. It’s the long game we need to be playing.

Of course, there’s a lot more to this conversation, but I’ve said it elsewhere and will continue to talk about it, always. For now, I don’t want to say anything that will distract us from this point, one that should be clear to us, but apparently isn’t.

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