My Battle

My Battle

(That properly dead and gone swine can’t own those two words forever, can he? 10,000,000 lives AND an important pair of words taken out of circulation forever? No. Hell, no. We can’t get the lives back, but we can damned sure reclaim the words. I’m not famous or anything, I’ll do it first. You’re welcome.)

The point of this post will be to define my argument with the world, to try to establish my position (in opposition to any sort of punishment, especially of children) and to glean the position of those I might hope to convince. Suffice to say, I hear the objections a fair amount, yet I still can’t credit where the supporters of punishment are coming from as a considered position, it seems rather an un-focused one. That position is occupied by most of the world, though, so I guess it’s always going to be a moving target for me, no slight on anyone.

But I am getting a little desperate here.

In order for me to win this debate, there needs to be one. If the world of normal parents can’t see fit to choose a champion, block off some time and sit down with me to work through this, then, strange and counterintuitive as it may be, I guess I’ll have to help you, make your points for you, if necessary. Maybe if I misrepresent the POV, someone will be motivated to jump in and correct me.

It’s me against the world, of course it is. Even among the No Punishment folks, the few out there, there isn’t a lot of common ground. (The only other person I found with that search, ‘No Punishment,’ seemed to have no interest in my offered support for his position and only reacted to me as though I were either one of his students who needed correction, or maybe as though I were some sort of threat, as though I were his competition. Funny thing was, after his rebuff, I wanted to be. I got over it, though. Maybe he was just being a good critic. My first attempt at a book on this topic – being anti-punishment – which I sent him really was crap. He reacted as a prof., marked my book (a fail) and rejected my emotional support for his cause. It hurt me that my support for what I know to be a very unpopular POV meant nothing to him, he didn’t need or want it. It still rankles.) Maybe we get so used to hostility, opposition, and a lack of will to even try to see our stance that we end up so invested in our own status as outliers that agreement becomes a threat to our perceived uniqueness.* That is definitely part of the deal for me, so maybe not only me. Try as I may to assure myself and you all that it’s all about the content for me, all about the ideas themselves, I know I must always be aware that my personal need  for a unique identity is there, and makes for a conflict of interest.

Of course, these sorts of personal, internal conflicts of interest are everywhere. If you’re with me on this, then you may applaud my due diligence, the full disclosure. If you’re against me, then I guess to put it in fighting terms, I just gave you my back. That’s either a bad decision I’m making after taking a few hard shots, or it’s supreme confidence, make your own interpretation. I may be dumb enough to offer my back, but I don’t plan to give away the whole game plan! It’s a little of both, of course. Plus, the haters gonna hate anyway; he who has ears to hear, let him hear. That’s a lot of metaphor, but this isn’t math and rocket science, either.

So maybe it’s me against the world. Maybe it’s personal, as I said somewhere else, ‘the rantings of a developmentally arrested person,’ I mean, of course there is some component of that, but maybe that’s mostly what it is. That, however, may or may not matter; it depends on whether the ideas produced from this dysfunction stand on their own, doesn’t it? Many ideas we have, many good ones have likely evolved through error, but when the evolved idea works for us, who cares? If the idea has merit, the source isn’t important. If the idea is bad, the source may also not matter – we’re dancing around the logical fallacy of Appeal to Authority here. Just as a bad idea is a bad idea and selling it on the basis of its author’s good reputation is fallacious that way, so too is dismissing a good idea from an unknown source. So here’s my developed idea, which may or may not have come largely from my narcissism, as well as the opposing social idea, whose origin may also not be derived from either a divine or provable hard-scientific process:

MINE: (as well as a small percentage of people’s here in the US and Canada, I can’t speak to elsewhere. It seems, un-alienated aboriginal peoples the world over don’t beat their children as much as developed people, and besides Scandinavia’s improvement on our numbers, there may be other places in the world where the aboriginal attitude has survived better than among those of us from Europe and the middle East. I understand Hinduism and Buddhism to be a sort of evolution of aboriginal religion, still somewhat connected to natural systems. I don’t say most people practice it, but I think those religions haven’t ensconced corporal punishment of children into Holy Law at least.) Sorry – again:

MINE:

Punishment is a source of psychological and social damage because it causes harm, by definition. The harms caused to people when we hurt one another are not limited to illegal, proscribed practices. When we harm one another for what perceive to be good reasons and for good purposes, we are still harming each other, and this harm stays with all of us. This is not only regrettable, I think it isn’t inevitable. I think we can get around it. If we did, I think we’d be amazed at what human beings with far less damage can do.

SOCIETY’S: (for lack of a better term. I’m going to bundle up what may be a large variety of attitudes not all of which will apply to everyone. The only criteria is that they don’t involve the complete abolition of punishing in 99% of its forms, as I do. I’ll try to control myself, but maybe you should expect to be insulted. Apologies in advance. Here’s the bias: I’m not going to try to make sense of it; this is not my side of the argument, I couldn’t do it justice, and why would anyone ever believe I did, or tried? I’m going to do the sad, cynical thing, present my side in as good a paragraph as I can muster at the moment, tied up with a positive  ribbon and bow – and present my strawman opponent’s view in a list of unconnected talking points. It’s not a dirty trick if I point it out, right, full disclosure? Fair again, or fair enough? Anyone who wishes to take up this side of the debate is invited to make the sense of it that they can, in as artful a way as they wish. Please do: if you believe it, you owe it to yourselves and your cause. Personally, I feel someone owes it to me! On the one hand, my opponent in this debate is so big he doesn’t even know I’m here, but on the other hand, I’m battling a phantom, an idea expressed so vaguely that it can’t be held in one place long enough to beat it.) Sorry again – again:

SOCIETY’S:

  • Punishment is an important and useful tool for:
    • Controlling bad behaviour and crime
    • Encouraging good behaviour and morality
    • Protecting ourselves from violence and crime
    • Promoting the society’s values
  • Punishment, when administrated properly doesn’t cause permanent harm
  • Children need to learn about consequences
  • Children need to learn right from wrong
  • Children need to learn to listen, so that they will in an emergency, to keep them from a road, a cliff, or a river
  • Punishment “works” where nothing else does
  • Punishment is “natural;” other animals use punishment
  • A program of punishment is required to “civilize” human beings, otherwise they will behave badly
  • Not all punishment is physical
  • Non-corporal punishment is not harmful
  • Punishment and abuse are different things, qualitatively, the difference is not simply a matter of degree
  • Not Punishing is negligent – there is a moral, social and/or religious obligation to respond to misbehaviour with unpleasantness
  • Punishments reinforce deterrents, stopping crime and misbehaviour before it happens

Wow. That wasn’t too bad for a guy who’s not down with this side of the conversation. I still wouldn’t count on me, I can be very devious. Trust, as some powerful swine once said – but verify. Still, a fuller and less abrasive list than I expected myself. Having said all that, beware, no waiting: here’s the trap.

I have arguments for everything on the ‘society’s’ list, except that I’ll allow one and one-half bullets from the very first thing on the list. Don’t get me wrong, that list looks great, and if half of the things on it were true, ah. What a wonderful world that would be. The thing is, if those things were true, someone out there, some Defender of Normal Parents Everywhere should be able to deconstruct them for me, show me why they’re true, how they work. Because I have done my own deconstructions of these scenarios, and I can’t see any way all that stuff could ever possibly work.

(Except, as I say, for some caveats contained in the very first point of the list:

  • Punishment is an important and useful tool for:
    • Controlling bad behaviour and crime
    • Encouraging good behaviour and morality
    • Protecting ourselves from violence and crime
  • The confinement part of the criminal justice system undeniably makes us safe from a particular convict for a particular time, true. That is not the same as saying the prison system makes for a safer society in general.
    • Promoting the society’s values
  • This also is certainly true, punishment can indeed be used to promote and even enforce a given society’s values and morals. That, while true, would be true of any society, some of which we may not approve.

So even those two aren’t as true or as powerful as my hypothetical proponents of punishment may have hoped.)**

For the rest? Pick one, somebody, please, and let’s break it down, see how it works. Or maybe, I’ll make a series of this, one point at a time? I’ll do it, you know. Don’t think I won’t.

So, thanks for reading, and please, share and retweet . . .

Jeff

* Anyone know ‘Little Britain?’

** 725 of 1860 words between parentheses! Like, 40%ish. That must be a new record for me.

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“Rebuilding Trust” – a Rant. If You’re Going to Lie, Lie Big – **UPDATED**

“Rebuilding Trust” – a Rant. If You’re Going to Lie, Lie Big

 

       Who announced the Diane Rehm show this week? I missed your name. I’ll tweet this at Diane, hope it reaches you.

On the show on Friday, May 22nd., I heard the phrase ‘rebuilding trust’ referring to the dysfunctional relationship between America’s urban police forces and the poverty-stricken black citizens living in those cities. Continue reading

Don’t Believe Me! “Abuse” VS “abuse”

Don’t Believe Me! “Abuse” VS “abuse”

Seriously.
First of all, WhoTF am I?
Actually, when you’re nobody – like me – of course you’re staunchly opposed to the logical fallacy we call ‘appeal to authority.’ Clearly, if authority is a prerequisite for correctness, and someone like me carries none of it, then I’d have to just be wr . . . wro . . . I’d just be wr-r-r-o . . . oh, , forget it. It’s too heinous to consider, let alone say. Of course, in the case of my favourite subject, it’s authority that’s wrong, definitively.
Appeal to authority, while never a guarantee of correctness, is always beside the point. Right is right and wrong is wrong, and it’s on all of us to understand why something is or isn’t correct. It almost doesn’t matter that a thing is right if we ourselves can’t say why. “Because X said so” is even less satisfying to us (to me, at least) in our adult years than “Because I said so” was in our childhood ones – plus in the adult world, it’s even scarier.
Second, this idea isn’t one that requires a great deal of memorization. Once you get the principle in your head, it all just flows.

Definitions of abuse
Punishment can be pretty well defined as abuse (in the generic sense, bad treatment) with a purpose. When the deterrent alone fails and the penalty is to be dealt, we hope that the reality of the penalty will increase the power of the deterrent going forward. So the abuse – the beating, hiding, whipping, whooping, spanking, curfew, grounding, withdrawal of: love, privileges, loved objects. Angry shouting, threats, and insults – the abuse in the generic sense, meaning treatment we don’t enjoy, the abuse is all part of the deterrent, which of course, the deterrent is supposed to avoid all the bad stuff, both the crime and the punishment. I expect you’re way ahead of me, right?
The punishments are acceptable because they add to the deterrent which we hope will lessen future punishments, so punishments make for fewer punishments, apparently in some sort of magical feedback loop (which, if said loop actually functioned, misbehaviour and crime would be cured at an early age. If this feedback was a functioning, important part of our lives, the world would be upside-down from what we see, the well-behaved and unpunished would never be improved, and the most punished people of the world would be the best behaved! Need I say it? Study after reputable study show that the world’s most punished people are the most damaged ones in nearly every way imaginable). But that is going too far too soon.

Most of the people I interact with on this topic have a go-to, first definition for abuse (Abuse, capitalized) which is the one that means damaging, illicit, and immoral and is offered as mutually exclusive with legitimate punishments. This is the most popular definition today, I think, so fair enough, we do indeed require a term for illicit, immoral abuse. It’s just that I’m not ready to lose the older, more generic definition of abuse, meaning anything directed at us because it is something we wouldn’t like. I know it’s too late to stop the above definition from taking over the world, and I wouldn’t anyway: “Abuse” is a terrific term and covers so many forms of abuse, making many small causes part of a larger one, that is an important function.
But to the extent that it has become a Label, it has become something of a hindrance to clear thought around punishment, corporal punishment, and the consequences of forms of abuse (lower case) that have not yet found their way into the upper case territory of Abuse. In the world of social science and human behaviour, functions like abuse and its damages have their existence in a continuum, a gradient from none to all, with some randomness. My challenges in the discussions I have with some who may be too dependent upon the Label are all around this black and whiteness, ‘this is Abuse,’ ‘that is not.’ It begins to appear that at the first point in the gradient that a person defines an act to be Abuse, say the 51% mark, it is Abuse, insupportable, damaging, and to be deplored, but at 49%, we’ve not met the criteria, and the act in question therefore somehow defaults to being supportable.
Most importantly, viewing a gradient scale like this as a binary one allows any damage we suffer and cause to ourselves and each other that is born from abuse suffered under our hypothetical 51% threshold to go undetected, unaddressed, untreated and unmitigated.
It seems that Abuse qualifies for a lot of attention, abuse not so much – a problem, I believe. Although they are perhaps different stalks of a vine, they are very closely entangled. My concern is that we cannot kill the upper case one without that we are also willing to kill the lower. My fear is that the present situation – that we suffer the Abuse to live because we love the abuse – will never end.
Can we agree on this? That the punishments we use are a form of abuse, in the generic sense? As opposed to any legal sense, or any definition that is intended to differentiate the acceptable from unacceptable. Generically, if I call you an asshole in traffic, that is me abusing you, verbally, yes of course. And perhaps mine was abuse in a sort of moral or legal sense, whereby no good would be deemed to come of it. Perhaps though, the act of drivers cursing at one another is often harmless, so if no violence occurs, no harm, no foul, and as such, is lower case abuse
Now if I were to yell at my kid, tell her she’s a bad kid, in order to motivate her to not do whatever it was, that is me abusing her, in the generic sense at least, certainly, but with a good purpose, an admonishment to set her straight in life. That is what I mean by abuse with a purpose.
(With my blog name – abusewithanexcuse.com – I have made a harsh judgment, renaming the purpose as the excuse, and therefore defining abuse less generically and more toward the immoral or illegal. It’s a little provocative; the present exploration here may cause me to re-think it.)
This example may be a good one, perhaps yelling at a child and telling them that they’re bad is Abuse in many peoples’ minds, and not bad enough for the label in others’. Then, this being my point, it is certainly abuse in the other sense, something the child is not likely to enjoy, certainly an act somewhere along the spectrum and therefore carrying some gradient danger of damage. For those who define it as Abuse, it’s to be decried and stopped; for those who wouldn’t capitalize it – I am apparently free to carry on with my yelling and efforts to make my child’s “badness” one of her core beliefs. That, just in case I didn’t make it clear how I would define it: if I had to choose, it would be Abuse.
But I don’t have to choose, and neither should anyone. It’s a false choice, Abuse or abuse – “abuse” is bad enough.
If we take that attitude, we may actually make some headway in our efforts to battle bullying and Abuse, for this reason: the cycles of violence and abuse are not only driven by Abuse, but by abuse generally, the legal kind as well. Not only is the choice a false one, Abuse or abuse, but the enemy in our battle against violence and Abuse is a false one, a straw man. The psychological and social functions that we can observe, the cycles of violence, the cognitive and other types of damage associated with corporal punishments and Abuse, these dynamic forces are not composed of or driven by our distinctions. They are made of and driven by real things. Things that we don’t like, things that harm us or decrease the joy in our lives, these things, to the degree that they are experienced, are what drive the negative social forces. It doesn’t matter whether the negative stimulus is beyond our hypothetical 51% for Abuse status. It all carries its share of risk, at every percentage along the scale. “Abuse” is a legal sort of definition. No such distinction exists in nature.
In reality, it’s “abuse” that is the operating force.

A Natural Force, like Gravity
Perhaps an analogy, something to help clarify the difference between how we are so much more able to think critically around hard science, but not so much around other things. Think of abuse as a natural force, like gravity. We know gravity is a natural force, and we know that it exists in proportion to the mass of the object, usually only considered for celestial bodies, planets, and if we go hopping from planet to planet, we know we’ll encounter varying degrees of gravitational force. Perhaps the clever lads and lasses at NASA even have a fairly good idea of at what level of gravitational force things get too dangerous for humans, the amount of gravity that would cause dangerous collapses, would simply grind down human joints at an accelerated pace, or make it too difficult for the heart to raise blood to the brain– a quantity they might capitalize, Gravity.
Does that help?
All gravity has a quantifiable measurement and all gravity factors in life. Normal gravity wears joints out, and weak hearts can’t always raise blood to the brain even here on Earth. Falls and collapses have their risks here too. Of course, there are other things, but just for that little bit of our illustration – if we could lessen the gravity on ourselves, even if it’s not Gravity, our joints would last longer and feel better. At half of Earth’s gravity, I bet our knees would last right through to retirement.
So this is the heart of the matter of Abuse, my friends: it’s abuse that is the natural force, like gravity, and as such, abuse that, due to its ubiquity, has its effects on our lives. “Abuse,” meaning as opposed to ‘legal’ punishment or discipline, is a straw man, a mirage despite being a real life scourge, and it is the supporters of the lesser “abuse” that give oxygen to Abuse. “Illicit harm,” this is not a core concept. “Harm” is the core concept. I’ll say ‘keep our eye on the prize’ after we can get our eye on the right prize in the first place.

Thanks for reading, and please, retweet, reblog, get it out there, it’s free. Tryin’ to save the world here.
If anyone knows a PhD who can run with this, terrific.

Jeff

Soma Vacation

I’ve been on a bit of a dry spell, I’ve kind of said it all and I’m frustrated. My cause will never be won, not even a little. It’s tiring. We’ve had a death in my wife’s family and there’s a lot of stress around wills and probate and Oedipal crap going on. I’m dealing with it all by smoking a lot of dope.
But this is a temporary thing, a sort of narco-vacation, I’m gearing up for a treatment to give me some relief from the psoriasis, and it’s best not to be a smoker when your immune system is being suppressed. I don’t want to write a bunch of crap high. I am having a few ideas, though, in the voice memo app on the phone, maybe two ideas for a fiction project, but four or five for blogs. When I come back to y’all and to RL, I’ll have a few ready.
I’ve already been in this state and not writing for two months already, and it is strange and really encouraging to see I’m still somehow collecting a few views! I don’t know how it happens, but I can fantasize, I guess. Who’s my reader in Brazil?
Whoever’s reading, thank you, it means a lot. If any of you believe me, if someone out there can see the reversal of logic that the study of psychology and abuse shows the ‘theory of punishment’ to be, that is wonderful (I mean any punishment at all). I think, at least where I live, Canada, we’re a fairly small group. It’s nice to think someone might see it my way. Please don’t correct me if you know no-one does. That’s my baseline anyway.
Anyway, thank you all, I’ll see you pretty soon.
My tolerance was back to my old days after about one day. I can’t afford this shit.