Updated! AST and Child Sexual Abuse

I hate paedophilia, and that is the name for the human practice of adults having sex with children. I know a bunch of victims, some very close to me. When I say something like “sex is nicer than violence,” I don’t mean for human children, and if I say “sex is nicer than violence for children,” then I am talking about bonobos and chimpanzees, or about our own deep, deep past, barely more recently the time when we and the chimpanzees were the same creature. This is about origins. I have a certain insight, that we do what we do for biological reasons, but that the way we understand those reasons, and the way we talk about why we do what we do is upside down and backwards in some very important ways. In fact, I think we are subject to a kind of ‘false national narrative’ at the species level and our origin story needs a closer look. I imagine there are some smart scientists who are far ahead of me here, but generally, humanity at large speaks with a single voice.

 

I followed a train of thought about punishment. I wasn’t really looking to analyze child sexual abuse, kind of the opposite! I was running from thinking about that for personal childhood reasons, pleased to meet you.

 

The theory I came up with seems to explain a lot, though, antisocialization theory, or AST. For one, it gives a new angle from which to view our taboo regarding paedophilia. With it’s focus on punishment and abuse in human life, AST considers humanism to be new and only making a faltering start so that the safety and protection of children only works as the driver of the taboo if the taboo is also new in the world. If the taboo has deeper roots, then humanism is not likely to be the reason for it. If the biologist’s explanation about genetic addition of disease risks is the main reason, then our biology can find other answers too, and doesn’t require that we talk about it, but we do. Of course, our biology doesn’t require that we know everything about our behaviour, only that we do it – but society’s a different story. That’s where what we think about our biology matters also, what we think about our behaviour affects our choices, our policies, public and private.

 

I think our origin story has us at an impasse on both huge issues, the physical punishment and abuse of children and child sexual abuse, and AST can break us out of it. A brief definition is coming up soon.

 

I think probably AST and the associated book is the place to say that humans fuck their kids just like the chimps and bonobos do – I mean, a lot of them – sorry, us, I mean, a lot of us (I’m still running). Enough of us do that if we saw that that percentage of elephants were fucking their kids, there would be no debate, it would simply be listed as an elephant behaviour. Of course, it’s not acceptable human behaviour – but it’s human behaviour. That is not to excuse anything, quite the opposite: if it is not a human behaviour then it may follow that there aren’t victims. It absolutely is and there absolutely are, way too many, so to all the victims yes, this is a human behaviour, this happened and this happens. To make it clear for everyone else: paedophilia and incest are not nearly rare enough to be outside of the ‘normal’ fields of study and they’re not rare enough to be only a ‘personal’ issue. This is a human behaviour, a human problem, and one that we have not yet addressed in such a way as to change much about it.

 

That is true, and true things require some logic to drive them, so there will be some logic to work out here, what effect our modern situation has had on that, how we have somehow turned an act of monkey love into a powerful antisocializing force. Wait for it . . . the definition:

 

Antisocialization theory has it that abuse contributes in a powerful way to the antisocial side of our socialization, that the pain, confusion, and powerlessness associated with abuse and punishment create antisocial feelings and ideation to some degree in those who experience them. AST postulates that a more antisocial member of the troop is a more effective soldier, self motivated and tough, and that perhaps human or proto human troops that did not go to lengths to antisocialize their children were out-competed in battle. This article is not intended to be anyone’s introduction to AST, but this short version is what’s important in AST regarding child sexual abuse: punishment, violence and abuse are antisocializing factors, designed to make us crazy, angry, and violent beyond perhaps what we may have been without them.

 

Perhaps if at some point if we knew, if we were aware that we were perhaps easily killing off the less antisocial apes, or perhaps the more prosocial apes around us, and so if we had instituted a program of abuse for its effects (if we were beating our children to toughen them up and make better troop soldiers), if we were all in for making war and not love so much, then it makes sense that we would certainly also probably put the kibosh on much of our prosocializing.

 

Looking at the bonobos as a view perhaps beyond our early human past, we do indeed see that sex is a powerful prosocializing force in their lives, and as ubiquitous for them as perhaps authority, hierarchy and punishment are in ours, and the young are not left out of the never-ending orgy. It appears that adult bonobos are not antisocialized from their experience, that, in their primate life, sex exists on the positive side of the social ledger.

 

This is one way in which AST makes our previous understanding so clearly backwards: the taboo regarding sex with children, if it is as old as humankind, isn’t any sort of harm reduction strategy at all. The bonobos, they say, have very little violence and pleasure seems to be their social currency; their sex with their children looks like regular sex albeit with bonobos of all size and shape, voluntary and pleasurable. AST says human beings spend far more time punishing their children than pleasuring them (just saying, not arguing), at least today, and it’s my guess that we have made a choice.

 

We didn’t make a taboo of sex with children because sex hurts them – again, unless we only decided this recently. We did it for military reasons, because loving touch spoils soldiers. According to antisocialization theory, I mean. To put it another way, how long do we think there have been advocates for child abuse victims? Do we imagine the protection of children from sex was a cause that took over the world sometime in ancient history or prehistory when protecting them from violence remains a remote and unlikely goal today?

 

Our social injunction regarding incest is only part of the bigger, antisocialist injunction, not the proscription of harmful child rape, or of shallow gene pools, but rather the proscription of a prosocializing behaviour.

 

Of course, it didn’t stop child sexual abuse, and it’s something we will battle forever, probably, especially within the existing narrative about it. It’s a trauma for us, so how can we imagine we stopped it when it wasn’t a trauma, let alone because it wasn’t one? Despite that it looks nice when bonobos do it, when a human adult fucks a child, it is a bad scene, violent, criminal, abusive, ostracizing, all of it, so it’s hard to see the connection, but it’s there, buried somewhere in our past.

 

Trauma is not why we outlawed it in the first place, is all I’m saying, all antisocialization theory is saying. We can’t imagine ourselves making that sort of choice, but if we can look at the bonobos and imagine them making the choice to outlaw sex with their kids . . . then maybe for them, we can see that it would be an antisocial move. Just in case: I’m not advocating for humans to start living the bonobo life, I ain’t advocating for sex with children. My heart’s in the right place and my wick’s dry on this. I am not advocating and I ain’t asking for sex with kids. It’s just that I have a theory and it makes sense of things, that’s all, and that theory has brought me to where our outrage regarding paedophilia seems to be part and parcel of our love of violence. These are emotional, dangerous topics and perhaps that is in part because we don’t quite understand them yet – but AST can help.

 

Right, wrong, prosocial, antisocial, we outlawed child sexual abuse for antisocial reasons, not for prosocial ones, not to protect kids and not to avoid birth defects. At some point, we’ll have to tether ourselves to that reality, because this misunderstanding – that sexual activity, rather than violence, is somehow the greatest cause of evil in the world – simply fails to generate any real progress on either issue. To repeat: do we really think someone was advocating for the children and against child sexual abuse by adults for as long as we’ve been human, or for as long as we’ve been writing? Hardly! But we have been beating our children and so socially engineering ourselves for conflict and war that whole time. Humans have things to do, destinies to achieve, battles to fight, and we don’t really approve of those lazy bonobos just laying around playing swallow the leader all day. That’s the context in which that taboo came into existence and remains with us, as a part of the warrior code.

 

That’s the secret: sex makes you happy and peaceful, and we worry that we’re not mean enough to deal with the neighbors already, so it’s out, except for procreative sex. After all, the army needs soldiers.

 

That’s how taboos work. You’re not allowed to pick it up and turn it over, not allowed to see what’s underneath it. What’s under this one – surprise! – is violence, and our deep love of and identification with it. Not to minimize child sexual abuse, but the exposed core belief was the secret here, the thing that we have an opportunity to learn: our core belief is not a prosocial one. The truth, eventually, will set us free.

 

Jeff

Feb. 27th., 2017

Advertisements

Nature VS Nurture – Traits

Nature VS Nurture – Traits

I’m not saying that we are born with blank slates; that would be my first assumption too at this point in the conversation if I were listening rather than speaking, but no. Clearly, if our slates were really blank, how would we ever boot up, how would learning ever have a starting point? What I am saying is that we write very aggressively upon our children’s slates, and we start before we have any idea what it is we’re writing over, and before long what was there before we started our writing is buried forever, indecipherable.
The Nature VS Nurture argument has moved, I hope, finally, from the Blank Slate VS pre-determinism to the Unknown Slate VS Original Sin – at least that’s how I would frame it as regards children and parenting. Now I’m aware that the geneticists of the world will say that our slates are becoming known, more so every day, and yes, but I think we need some more social science before we have a meaningful list of traits to match with our genetic discoveries! I mean if ‘persistence’ or ‘mild-tempered’ are simple things that are either present or not, yes or no? If the qualities we ascribe to one another are also unimpacted by life experience and we can match them to a gene, terrific. But they’re not, are they?
The genetics, and its daughter-disciplines, they are coming along, no argument. Genetics and its offspring will have terrific success when it can be applied to things we understand, like medicine. However, they are already way out ahead of our ability to understand social things and how to live. Our DNA is real; of course, ‘traits’ are imagined things, mirages. I suspect that the old issues are not going away, and Free Will may still apply.
The traits, our behaviour – that we may still have to figure out in the human sphere, not with microscopes, but with honesty and love.
Jeff
06/20/2015

Don’t We Think Our Parents Did their Best?

Don’t We Think Our Parents Did their Best?

Kids nowadays got no respect.

They’re out there right now, whining about their pasts and blaming their parents, like their parents were supposed to know better or something, telling their own kids what brutes their parents were, while condescending to these poor, just started walking upright past generations that they ‘did the best they could,’ or ‘the best they knew.’

In past generations, my ‘no-punishment’ talk might have at least found an argument. The older generations at least knew that they were punishing, and they knew it was a practice that could be attacked and/or defended. But these kids now, trying to raise their own? You can’t talk them out of something they don’t even know they’re doing. These nampy-pamby modern young parents think they can get it all their own way without corporal punishment, without getting physical on their kids – which means when these too-nice parents do get it all their way through intimidation and threats and having shown the kid who’s boss while he’s a baby and can’t tell anyone, as well as by occasional violent outbursts, that no-one’s allowed to realize it because ‘We are not a Family that uses Corporal Punishment.’ That is the difference between the honest corporal punishers of the past and a whole lot of the ‘non-spanking’ parents that were the children of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Don’t get me wrong – these are the gentler of these children with children! Many still just spank – but they still mostly think they’re nicer than the old folks were, and maybe so. Maybe so, but the first group mentioned above, they tried to make a real change in principle, at least in their minds if many perhaps failed in practice, but the others? It’s not even a philosophical split. For the ones who are staying the course with parental authority and physical methods, it is only a matter of degree, what the old folks got wrong. They just took things too far.

So here’s the insolence, the lack of respect.

What did the previous generation, the children with grandchildren fail at? Were these knuckle-dragging forefathers simply incapable of controlling themselves once they started with the whoopin’, is that the theoretical basis for the ‘took it too far’ theory? Perhaps it was something they thought instead. Maybe they simply held with stronger deterrents and stronger penalties than we do today, or they had a longer list of punishable offenses., so the difference is perhaps not that the beast remained so strong in our parents and grandparents that they were simply more impulsively violent, but that they were more institutionally violent, that it was not accidental, but a belief driving the action. If that’s closer to the mark . . .

Then what did they fail at?

Strictness level too high, penalties too harsh? So this generation has the dial in just the right spot, is that it, kids nowadays don’t have the same feelings and the same complaints as our parents did and our grandparents did, because we have dialled in just the right amount of pain or deprivation to match their crimes, and they can’t help but admit it? Or are the children of the children of these modern middle-aged children still going to make the same complaints to each other because the basic principle hasn’t changed, namely, ‘they never let me X and they think they own me and they shit on my life whenever they want?’ Find me the evaluation of any matter of degree in that, I ask you.

So were our parents, our grandparents unevolved, incapable of non-violence, or less violence? No, that wasn’t the trouble then, any more – or any less – than now. There were some gentler people living in even the far past than many people living today; civilization is not a linear progression, it’s messy. Did they simply ‘go too far?’ No, because of course we don’t go too far – and you know our kids have all the same complaints we did and our parents did. Again, I’m still getting to it: the disrespect.

They didn’t do their best and fail. They’re not animals with no self-control any more than you are, and they didn’t fail at assessing what was punishable and what was an appropriate punishment, either. They failed because there is no winning this game. Spoiler alert –you are not going to win the game of discipline in child-rearing either, and self-control won’t save you. Getting just the right amount of force and/or fear in your discipline isn’t going to win it either – because . . .

The right amount of force, violence, deprivation, unpleasantness of any sort is none, exactly none, which is a principle. These are the contrasting principles in this story: the betrayal, violence and/or deprivations of punishment – or not; yes or no, that is a difference of principle, and that is the only change in our child-rearing that would be a real, qualitative change.

The old folks, they didn’t fail, because that’s not fair to say of someone who never had a chance in the first place, and it’s disrespectful. Those folks weren’t stupid. They were exactly like us, they had better intentions, and they did the best they could within a bad system. If we think we’re going to do better, without having a better idea, without having a different idea, then we’re going to find out, and we’ll know that we were no smarter than they were. Too late to make a change, of course.

Evolution isn’t automatic. It happens because we want to live and sometimes in order to do that, we have to figure out a better way.

The Easy Route

The Easy Route

Here’s an interesting article:

https://hbr.org/2015/05/influence-people-by-leveraging-the-brains-laziness?utm_source=Socialflow&utm_medium=Tweet&utm_campaign=Socialflow

INFLUENCE

Influence People by Leveraging the Brain’s Laziness

MAY 29, 2015

Discussions of influence are almost always focused on messages and information, the assumption being that the best route to drive people’s actions is to get them to understand the course of action that is best for them and then to pursue it.

But another stream of work on influence has also noticed that the environment affects people’s actions. Over the past decade, proponents of the work described in Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have focused on small changes that can be made to the environment that have a big effect on behavior. The classic example from this work is that changing the default option from opting in to a retirement program to opting out of one can have a significant affect on how much people save.

In all of this work, though, there is still an assumption that the environment is treated as a reflection of information that should drive preferences. For instance, it’s assumed that people tend to stick with the default option because they do not know enough to change it.

This view of decision-making assumes that information is always at the core of the cognitive economy. But in fact, energy is the key currency that the cognitive system seeks to preserve. The human brain is roughly 3% of people’s body weight and yet it uses 20-25% of our daily energy supply. This energy is required to keep the brain running regardless of exactly what the brain is doing. That means that time spent thinking about a choice is highly correlated with the amount of energy consumed by the brain.

A better way to think about the role of the environment, then, is to recognize that people want to minimize the amount of time and brain energy they spend thinking about a choice and also minimize the amount of time and bodily energy they expend toward carrying out actions after the choice is made. The simplest way to do both is to simply take the actions the environment is conducive to. In other words, people are not treating the environment around them as information in most deliberative processes. Instead, they are performing the easiest actions with as little thought as possible.

So if we want to influence other people’s behavior, we must make desirable behaviors easy and undesirable behaviors hard. Take the design of your grocery store, where impulse purchases are often displayed on the endcaps or in the checkout aisle. You’re not spontaneously purchasing those items because you have more information about those non-necessary products, but based on a combination of what the environment makes easy to do, the habits people have learned from past actions, and the results of previous deliberations about a decision.

Consider a consumer preparing to buy toothpaste. As a child, her parents used Colgate, though she tried Crest and Aquafresh at friends’ houses while growing up and saw plenty of commercials over the years. In college, when she began to make her own toothpaste purchases, she would typically search for the Colgate, but if another common brand was in easy reach, she selected that instead. A promotion that placed a toothpaste she liked in a special display would lead her to grab that as she charged through the store. She was frequently frustrated by the number of times that toothpaste manufacturers changed their packaging, making it more difficult to select one of the brands she typically bought.

In this example, none of these decisions involved significant deliberation. Instead, there were small preferences for brands based on prior exposure and a number of selections based on what was easy to do. Indeed, one thing that brands often do that blocks this low-effort behavior is to change their packaging, which forces the consumer to put in effort to find the familiar brand in an unfamiliar box.

This orientation to the environment can change or reinforce all kinds of behaviors. As I discuss in Smart Change, one of the most successful public health campaigns of the last half-century is the effort in the United States to reduce the number of smokers. One of the most important factors that decreased smoking rates among adults from roughly 50% in the 1960s to about 20% now is the environment. It is no longer possible to smoke in public buildings in most places in the United States. Some businesses no longer allow smoking on their entire campuses. This change to the environment makes an undesirable behavior

difficult.

In the workplace, there are many ways to set up the environment to drive people toward desirable behaviors. For example, many companies set up databases of prior projects and their outcomes as a way of capturing organizational knowledge. However, these databases are often difficult for employees to access and have clumsy user interfaces that make it hard for people to find what they need. To make the archives more useful, they need to be accessed quickly from people’s computers, and the user interface needs to make it easier to find past reports than it is to ask a few random colleagues if they know of any related projects.

Similarly, if your aim is to get people to schedule shorter meetings, organize the office calendar program in which the default meeting length is 15 or 30 minutes rather than an hour and needs to be adjusted to be longer if necessary. Although people will still end up scheduling a number of hour-long meetings, the need to expend energy to override the standard option will shorten many of the items that end up on people’s schedules.

Anyone interested in influence should start by focusing on the environment of the individual they are trying to affect. Analyze that environment and find ways to make desirable actions easy and undesirable actions difficult. Remember that the human cognitive system aims to get the best possible outcome for the least possible energy cost.

Art Markman, PhD, is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. He has written over 150 scholarly papers on topics including reasoning, decision making, and motivation. He is the author of several books including Smart Thinking,Smart Change, and Habits of Leadership.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Of course that is my idiocy exactly, attempting what only I and a handful of other folks the world over consider to be rational arguments in the most emotional, contentious and consensual subject possible. Of course a nudge is exactly what the UNCRC (United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child) and the anti-corporal punishment movement is hoping to provide by getting governments to pass laws criminalizing the corporal punishment of children. Once that change reaches the world’s biggest empires, then I plan to try to start the next wave of humanism – outlawing the fights parents get into with their children when they’re trying to impose their non-corporal punishments.

That because, in the end, what is the difference to me if you plan, in the most dispassionate way to punish me corporally with a spanking or a beating or whether you decree a non-corporal punishment like ‘grounding’ (curfew/confinement), and wind up beating me up in the fight that ensues when I refuse? How is one a violent crime and not the other? They certainly both are when both assailant and victim are adults. Oh, Hell.

I’m doing it again, aren’t I.

Oh well, I’m home, sick with a parasite, I can’t do all the work my home and yard and employers need, so if this is all I can do right now, I’ll do it.

The thing is, what that article gives us first is, a solid, biological reason why we don’t like to think too much, so we’re all off the hook. Turns out that maybe we’re not just mean and stupid because we’re mean and stupid, that maybe it’s not so much a choice at all. Thinking too much really has had a biological cost forever. The biological cost is energy, they said, I assume it means an advantage where food is not unlimited and more energy efficient genetic lines succeed and survive better.

The costs of not thinking are not all biological, of course, and nearly impossible to measure.

Of course, the energy cost is no excuse for some of us, many of us can afford to find the calories required for conscious thought; but it does mean there’s no shame in not thinking more. It’s our evolutionary heritage, and no-one expects the whole population to swim against the current.

Having said that, it often appears that it is just those of us swimming just that direction – overthinking, thinking about something either other folks just don’t or just in a new way – that have made our species so different from all the others. Somehow, just as there are micro-climates that gardeners need to understand, there are also micro-environments within humanity – we are 90% of our environment, society is our environment now, more so than anything to do with geography or the weather – where there are eddies and back-currents, evolutionary rewards that seem contrary to the general flow. Too, somehow, we have assimilated our own outliers, and made them part of our species’ mosaic, preserving their genes and their ideas rather than letting nature simply dead-end them like one might expect – and we are more intelligent, diversified, and resilient for it. But I digress. Where were we? Energy?

My stance, my epiphany, my cause, my obsession, E., All of the above, is that we shouldn’t punish our children, ever, for anything, that the basic premise of punishment is wrong, doing things to people because they don’t like it, although it appears to provide a motivation in a good direction, unfortunately also hurts, same as abuse, and so actually takes us in the opposite direction in the long run. Punishing is a net cause of misbehaviour and crime, not a cure (I’m happy to argue about that, and if you’ve never read me or a very few other folks who say it, I know, it’s a bombshell. But I’m talking about the stance right now, talking around it, as it were, and the first point of this particular post is not to make that declaration, but to talk about that declaration. Moving on).

My wife and I raised our two girls with no punishment whatsoever, other than a few things that I’ve written about elsewhere, an iPod that didn’t get replaced for several months after losing two of them, and some MMA action between me and our second baby in the family bed on one horrible, sleep deprived night. Other than that, we never tried to train our kids, we simply followed them around to keep them safe. There was a lot of leg work, and that was high-energy work, chasing them, talking endlessly and fruitlessly to them about why we do what we do and why we don’t do what we don’t, and then cleaning up the messes when talking didn’t work. Like I say, high energy – but only for the first five years. We didn’t know what would happen. It was a pleasant, unexpected thing: parenting just started getting easier every year.

As it turned out for us, if you don’t punish, that is if you don’t commit the counter-intuitive-to-a-kid betrayal of punishment, if you don’t start hurting your kids with the very first few exploratory mistakes they make and then just fall into the trap of doing it all the time – you will never have to punish. If you can get through the first several years and wait for them to learn the language, wait until they can talk and reason with you without you trying to hurt them, they will be on your side and life will be easier for you all. I swear to God. For the normal, European-descended Canadians around us while we raised our girls it was the opposite. For them, things just kept getting harder and more contentious all through the teen years.

So, in conclusion, thinking costs energy, and we’ve evolved not to engage in it more than necessary. However, possibly new to this calculation, punishing also costs energy, also threatening our success.

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