#antiparenting

#antiparenting

It’s not personal, Folks, but I think I have to separate myself, I think I have to stop hoping that people might ever find me by searching for “parenting.” You’ll find a lot of people, and a lot of blogs, books, advice, bloggers with thousands, even hundreds of thousands of followers, but from a random sampling of the content, it’s all “parenting,” and in the overwhelming number of cases it’s all synonymous with “control.” I hope I’m not hurting feelings here, but be forewarned: if that’s what you’re talking about I’m not going to follow you. More yet, if I’ve been following you, that’s likely to end soon. Again, not personal, but if I had a brand, you’d be hurting it. I can’t be associated with you.

I’m pretty old, the other side of fifty, and so I’m not the most savvy fellow on the interwebs; much of social networking is counterintuitive to me, and I may have lost my way. I thought I would be followed more if I followed more people, and who knows? Maybe it worked a little. Maybe half of my thirty-some twitter followers and half of my hundred or so WordPress followers are the reciprocal kind, and if those numbers were larger by a few orders of magnitude, I suppose I would accept the arrangement. But really – who compromises for those sorts of numbers? For those numbers I’m going to allow myself to be confused with the likes of Barbara Coloroso?

Not personal, Ms. Coloroso. You’re normal, and as such, you’re a fine specimen of your type – but I am in the business of telling people what they don’t want to hear. I’d love a bestseller, of course I would, but this is not my day job. No-one needs me to make any money at this. Folks, when I tell you you’re all bad parents and you’re destroying the world with your efforts for control, this message comes only from the goodness of my heart. These insults are free for anybody. You’re welcome.

“Parenting” has a lot of positive connotations. We protect our kids, we feed and house them, do all we can when they’re sick and we hope for best for them, of course we do. I have no objection to the things we wish for our children. If that was the entire list of what we do – well, that actually should be the whole list, that’s the point. It is the other side of parenting, the side we don’t like to see, the dark side that I’m taking issue with: punishment has no place in that positive list of parenting activities. It certainly deserves no credit in any positive outcomes our children may have. I tell you here, when a firm hand doing the hard thing appears to save a child from serious trouble, we can be certain it was also what led them to trouble in the first place.

I have to say here, that much of the modern parenting advice never says “hit your kids,” or even “hit your kids if nothing else works.” It’s just that they don’t say not to, at least they don’t say it strongly enough. They’re trying to get read, trying to sell some books or gain a large group of followers; they can’t tell everyone, most of whom have already hit their kids, that they’ve caused irreparable damage. Who wants to hear that?

Let me pose this question, though: who, in the history of the universe ever solved a big problem by hearing only what they wanted to hear? Who, in the history of the universe ever changed people’s minds by only telling them what they already thought?

So the best of the “normals,” as we call the punishers of the world in my house – the degreed ones, the educators, the psychologists – are writing parenting advice, trying to nudge people toward a slightly more gentle sort of parenting, hoping to lessen the damage parents cause through the betrayal and abuse of punishments, but they can’t take a stand on the principle of the matter, not when they’re hoping to be read. There are a few voices in the wilderness. You can find a few people, try searching on “No Punishment,” or variations of that, there are a few of us, as the least of which I count myself.

Again, with no boss to worry about, I’ll say it.

Trying alternative methods first isn’t good enough to stop the damage; ending “corporal” punishment isn’t good enough to avoid the betrayal, the resentment and the world-crippling harm. It is punishment, all punishment, that needs to be purged from anything we should be proud to call parenting. If punishment is a part of the good important work of parenting – I’m anti-that.

Authority is the Problem.

Muslim extremists, Zionist extremists, Christian ones, Buddhists – people, the extremism is in the authority, not in the flavour. This one takes your refusal to eat what they allow as a reason to punish or kill you, that one some other reason, the common denominator, the really bad thing with all these attitudes is the punishing part, the killing part, the authority. So the Christian authorities decry Muslim “extremism” (read “authoritarianism”), but they won’t ever decry authority, because they enjoy their own too much.

Folks, let’s don’t be divided and conquered in this way. Eyes open – it is authority that is the problem, power and force. If you are going to kill me for some behaviour of mine, then it is irrelevant to me what the name of your God is. What is relevant to me is that you are a killer, that you think you have the right to bring punishments down on me. The brand of psychosis you have is a minor detail, Christian, Muslim, whatever. Authority – the idea that some people have the right to control others – that is the problem. That is the core belief all of our authorities share, Christian, Muslim, whatever. And they’ve all struck a deal with one another that they will never talk about that.

(The above argument regarding authoritarianism versus the world’s great religions’ versions of authority also applies to political systems. It is the nearly impossible to kill kernel of authority that turned the great Communist experiments into oppressive dictatorships, just as it has with so many non-socialist societies. Muslim, Christian, Capitalist, Communist, doesn’t matter: the common thread, and what should be the obvious evil, is authority.)

I hate to tell you: belief in authority, that is even more impossible to cure than belief in religion. It’s the basis of religious belief. All religions are a set of rules to follow to achieve some spiritual end, and acceptance that life is about authority is a prerequisite to believing that, a rule, and a punishment or a reward for it. Now here’s the thing.

Authority is a necessary evil. Adults need to control their babies, for their own good. We’re responsible for them, and they’re helpless and clueless, so there’s no talking to them. Sometimes parents need to act unilaterally, and in that way, authority can be a necessary thing for the survival of babies and young children.

After that?

After that, authority exists in a state of arrested development, or rather, it has us trapped in a state of arrested development. If we raise our kids right, they don’t need someone telling them what to do and how to live. A human being that has successfully matured to adulthood should be able to operate autonomously and cooperate autonomously. If we raised each other right, we could live in a world run with reason and communication alone. The reason we can’t is because we are all damaged and made stupid by authority and its abuses. The science is in regarding abuse and corporal punishment which are the tools of authority: it’s damaging us.

Without this damage, the world would not be full of screwed up, evil people who can only get the things they want done by way of authority, because the things they want to do aren’t supportable by logic, reason, morality or communication. If the things you want are social or economic inequality (power or wealth), then you’ll need authority for that. Healthy, mature, intelligent human beings probably won’t give you that willingly and consciously. For a world with lessening inequality, for us to develop normally, individually and collectively, we need to wean ourselves off of this belief in authority. It’s holding us back. Individually, and as a species, we are not growing up as long as we’re buying into the system of authority.

Prisons and Bad Neighborhoods – the Irony of Deterrents, Part #4

Deterrents run on contrast.

The power of a deterrent must be, in some relationship, proportional to the difference between the penalty and its absence, or rather, life with the penalty and life without it. Meaning, of course, if your life is Hell, deterrents have a tough job. That’s why, despite his age, Charlie Manson is still always getting into trouble – because why not. What are they gonna do, take his TV away? Lights out early? Charlie don’t give a Goddam, because his life sucks already. Now if we told him that if he were to behave perfectly for a month that we’d set him free and give him a house somewhere with his new bride and cable, he might have to think about it.

See the difference there?

One, if he doesn’t spit on a guard he’s still in prison, and if he does he’s still in prison but he can’t watch Mike and Molly.

Two, if he spits on a guard, he’s in prison and can’t watch Mike and Molly, but if he doesn’t he’s a free man with a young wife who thinks the sun shines out of his ass – and HBO. (Have you SEEN “The Knick?” It is so cool!)

So the power of deterrents lies in the difference the penalties make in your life. So now let’s look at racial inequality in the justice system and policing, so much in the public consciousness right now.

In an inner city bad neighborhood, life is tough. There’s a lot of crime, gangs rule many aspects of life, the food supply sucks and the schools are not exactly on the good colleges’ lists. Many parents are either working long days to get by, or unemployed and depressed and/or addicted. The influence of the gang life starts young. When poverty is hurting you and yours, criminally acquired money must have a very strong pull. Things can look pretty hopeless, especially for the underclass races. Even for those who try, a good education requires money, and earn as much as you can, people in these neighborhoods often have no family money, no savings or even credit to help.

(Note: sure some make it, which is generally defined as ‘making it out,’ which, that’s our hint: a successful person from the ‘hood knows that his kids’ odds will be better if they grow up somewhere else. And saying some make it up and out, that is a small percent, and despite what the purveyors of the American Dream would have us believe, the larger percentages reflect the larger reality. It’s tragicomic that a few percent of anything is supposed to prove a rule. That really is some bad science.)

So, gang pressures, violence, bad food, the commodification of sex, and a very tough road to get out – contrasted with prison, I ask you: how different is it? Couldn’t that list describe either one, life in the ‘hood or life in prison? At that level of contrast, how much of a deterrent can prison really be? As proof of this rhetorical argument, consider the following possibility.

That the police appear to already know this. Could this be why they appear to have stepped up the penalties for crime all the way to a street execution? With the lack of police indictments and the extreme lack of police convictions, one could say they are sending a calculated message: never mind prison, the real deterrent is some level of likelihood that your sentence will be carried out in lieu of your arrest. This line of reasoning may also explain why there is so little movement towards non-lethal weapons for police; it may not be the effectiveness factor so much as that they don’t want to remove the real deterrent. So there’s the deterrent’s required contrast: a tough life with some happy times or a bloody death and a heavy loss for those who love you.

And still, still, even with the ultimate deterrent in place, still crime abounds, still the police have to follow through far too often. Even when the deterrent is the end of everything, people still misbehave. We’ve tried locking them up, we’ve tried killing them, where do we escalate to next? Maybe they’ll go full mob next, shoot the kid and then go after his family.

Or maybe we might have to grow up and explore the idea that punishment is a form of abuse, and actually causes more social problems than it solves. Like Charlie in the opening example, maybe if we offer our poor a life, a house, HBO, a chance to pursue some happiness, then maybe prison or a bloody death in the street will begin to look more unthinkable by comparison.

Because for folks in the ‘hood as it stands today, all too often, it’s not enough of a contrast to make a difference.

Punishment can’t solve everything, but here’s a case where prevention isn’t even considered!

It seems that when a paedophile wants help beforehand, there’s nothing for him.
“Go fuck some kids first,” Society tells them. “Then we’ll deal with you. But do try to get caught, OK? I mean otherwise, we may never be able to help you.”
” – oh yeah. The kids. We may never be able to help the kids, either.”

http://www.vice.com/read/do-we-need…iles-differently-635?utm_source=vicetwitterus

I know I’ve also heard that non-paedophile murderers can’t get help beforehand either, like this Canadian shooter at the Parliament buildings, or this American, 20 years ago, Wesley Alan Dodd. We love our punishments so much, we won’t even consider prevention, apparently.

A Conflicted Society – the Dreamer, Part #2

My family was always involved peripherally or otherwise, in psychology. My mother was a great reader, we always had copies of “Psycho-cybernetics,” “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and such around the house, “I’m OK, You’re OK” – self-help classics. In my late teens and when I returned home in my early twenties, it had gone to Alice Miller, Jon Bradshaw, ACOA. This was the early 1980s. My brother was working in an emergency shelter for teens and getting his degrees, and one sister did that sort of work as well. Both of my sisters were big readers and were on voracious journeys of psychological self-discovery. I’d say the elder was more based in the classics, Freud, Jung and R.D. Laing, and the younger loved Alice Miller during that period – I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know who she’s been reading since. So this is what all the conversation was about in that time, around Mom’s house. Suffice to say, I came by this obsession honestly.

Mom had been taking in foster kids, teens. Screwed up kids were our world, either we worked with them, or we were still busy being one, like me. Or both, I guess. We’d also had some sexual abuse in the family.

During this period, talking Bradshaw, ACOA (would invoking Suzanne Summers’ name help or hurt here? She was the voice for Adult Children of Alcoholics, wasn’t she?), and Miller, it seemed that there were many sorts of abuse, and that almost no-one escaped them all. After all, we all have problems, and this whole survivor movement was based in the idea that it was childhood trauma that caused our disorders. Physical, sexual, verbal, emotional abuse, abandonment, alcohol and substance abuse, divorce, there were books, support groups and movements for all of these traumas . . .

. . . and it was starting to look to me that lines were being drawn between them all, I had a creeping feeling that everybody, despite the support, was somehow on their own, fighting their parents’ particular brand of abuse. It began to look to me like all parents were abusing their kids, and yet no-one was saying that, no-one would say all parents were abusive. It was starting to feel apologist in that way. Most parents are good, they all mean well, but a certain percentage of them are violent. They all mean well, but a certain percentage of them are drunks. They’re mostly OK, but some are child rapists. Mostly, they’re good folks, they’re doing the best they can, but some abandon their kids, and some are emotional blackmailers. Parents are good and selfless, but many are verbally abusive. Now, I know this is to some degree the ranting of a developmentally arrested person, but it’s all adding up, isn’t it? I was starting to sense the presence of a common denominator.

I wish I could say when the exact moment was, when the crux of the matter occurred to me, that punishment was abuse, that punishment, despite its legitimate status was, uh . . . scientifically, functionally . . . made of the same stuff as abuse. I can’t, though. This wasn’t the moment, but maybe it was the catalyst: when I moved from my rooming house in the town where I took my trade school and home to Mom’s house, I was twenty-three, and I ran into a girl I’d known before, during my lost years. It was love at first sight, well, first sight after several years.

She was twenty or twenty-one, she was just separated from someone, and she had a little boy. He was around one year old. It wasn’t long before we had bought her parents’ condo and we lived together for three years, and I brashly, foolishly took the role of the boy’s father, as if he didn’t already have one. These are regrets, I look back on that time and I’m embarrassed and horrified, the whole period seems like a bad dream. Taking on the role of husband and father with that prefabricated family was like putting on a suit of clothes or something. It seemed to me that I knew everything about it, automatically; it felt like a programmed thing, like I was living on autopilot, and I barely remember it now. I don’t think I was actually conscious. But one episode I do remember.

She was emotional and kind of volatile, and I had come home from work one day and found her at critical mass, waiting for me at the front door. The toddler was driving her nuts, and it going to be my turn.

“He’s not doing” something, or “He won’t do” something else, she said. I don’t remember much, I’ll warn you. I wasn’t high or anything, I wasn’t smoking during my time with them, but drinking weekends. I was just unconscious. I wasn’t angry before, I don’t think it had been a bad day or anything, but as soon as she complained about her son, as soon as she gave me a target, it triggered me. I was instantly pissed off too, and I marched into the house, yanked that two or three year-old’s pants down and smacked him several times, hard. That is the end of that fragment of memory, I’m afraid, I can’t say how we got through that, what the rest of that evening was like, but I think the spell was broken. I think after that I realized that I was living someone else’s pre-programmed life. That was nearly thirty years ago, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never hit another kid.

His mother and I went our separate ways, and a few years later I met my present and only wife, the mother of my kids and by the time our girls were born in the mid-nineties, the thought had come. There would be no punishment, at all.

The lesson of my poor little rent-a-kid, the guilt of that beating, and the unconsciousness, the feeling of having been . . . used, there is no other way to say it, used by some generational repetitive process with a life of its own, that lesson stuck with me. I hated that feeling. It cropped up on other occasions while my girls were young, while my wife and I were fighting over our child-rearing (I mean, what were the odds my wife would come to all the same conclusions as me, and on the same schedule?), that feeling of repetition, that feeling of doing just what my parents had done. It was like Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, or some evil Deja Vu experience. I hope it’s not necessarily true, but I worry that the feeling meant I was doing something terribly wrong. Of course I did. I was a full-time pothead through those years, always out in space, emotionally unavailable, physically unavailable for half an hour or more at a time, every three to four hours, for a smoke. The smoke was there to make that feeling go away, but of course it only operates on the feeling and doesn’t change anything concrete.

Still, though. Those are problems, things that will have their impacts on the kids, bad things that will leave some scars, but even so – most kids get stuff like that, and punishments and all that they mean as well.

You know, maybe addiction is a fractal sort of thing, a theme that runs all through the lives of folks like me and the people around us. I think maybe that feeling of unconscious repetition was the same one that made it so easy, and made it seem so natural to slide into that first family situation, with my live-in lady and her little boy. Feeling automatic, feeling that I could know how to do it, having never studied it, having never put conscious thought to it for a minute, it was like my first high, the free one, the best one, the one you end up losing the farm trying to recapture. Did I learn to associate that sense of comfort with a trauma, like a kid who gets wasted and crashes the car, killing a loved one? Was whooping that kid’s ass my car crash, and now the feeling of repetition and familiarity, that sense of life as it has always been fills me with terror and guilt?

Whatever it is, I have tried very hard to be a father and a husband consciously this time out, and that has had my wife and I swimming against the current since the kids were born, fighting the grandparents, at odds with our friends, the parents around us, and fighting our own urges for control, because we feel control requires force. If it weren’t for each other, meaning all four of us, which it always has been, it would have been a lonely journey.

It hasn’t been though.

My first experience as a father was a trauma, a horror. This time around has been the exact opposite.

A Conflicted Society – the Dreamer, Part #1

I’m not special. I’m no genius (no shit, Sherlock!), nobody would describe me as ‘brilliant’ or ‘visionary’ – quite the opposite. I mean, I don’t expect I’ll be noticed or remembered for my ideas. I may never achieve my first big dream, of having anyone call me a writer. Those are just fantasies, I know that. I’ve never taken those dreams seriously, they’re just embarrassing little voices that perhaps we all have in some form or other, and while we’re in our right minds we don’t converse with them. Plus, every sane person has doubts about themselves and their ability to perceive and deal with reality, and therefore has doubts about their whole worldview. Please note, I said ‘sane person.’ Of course many people appear not to doubt themselves at all. When it’s more than appearance, when they really don’t, they’re not sane. Well, of course, sanity is relative, but those folks are not sane enough for many social responsibilities, like philosophizing or voting.

So maybe what I call My Insight, or My Epiphany, (nothing delusional about Capitalizing your Thoughts, is there?) that punishment is damaging abuse and misguided in all of its applications has some of its roots in my fantasy, that it is born from grandiosity and immaturity. I think, in psycho-babble terms an unwillingness to accept the world as it is and ourselves as we are is ‘immaturity.’ I did have a psychiatric assessment done when I was fifteen, and ‘dreamer’ was the diagnosis; it didn’t take a lot of years for me to accept that description, and that was almost forty years ago now but I imagine I’d assess the same way today. I accept the label, but still immaturely reject the premise. A society will survive without noticeable impairment if some small percentage of its citizens are not pragmatic. No harm, no foul. To paraphrase the great mariner poet of my youth, a yam, what a yam, and that’s all. What a yam (say it out loud).

I was depressed and unmotivated when I was checked out at fifteen, and a puritan at the time with the discovery of marijuana still a few years off. It was just that point in high school when we are to start making choices about what sort of career path to take, wood or metal shop, science or law, and none of it appealed to me, I was dreading adulthood and work. When you’re fifteen, a few things apply: one, I thought a thirty or forty year employment was forever; and I couldn’t seem to find my way out of a teenage rebellion that I somehow knew could bring no change. There was a primal scream of “NO!” welling up in me, but no imaginable reward to come after I let it out.

So I rebelled, dropped out of school at the legal age to do that, and did nothing for several years until I simply picked up where I left off, chose a trade and went back to school. It had taken me five years of dependency and poverty before I saw any upside to having a job and leading a pedestrian, working man’s life. During those years I discovered I was a poor drinker, too many blackouts, too little control, and I knew that couldn’t be a regular thing for me. It still was, to some degree, throughout my twenties, but in those lost years of my late teens I also discovered the heathen devil-weed, which seemed to make life tolerable for some thirty years. By the end of that dalliance though, it was just never enough, and I gave that up.

Now I have this. Now, in order to face what depresses people, what depresses me in particular, life’s apparent meaninglessness and life’s even more apparent hopelessness, I have this idea, that punishing is causing all of our problems.

It seemed to me at some point that what I just called ‘life’s hopelessness’ was really just My Hopelessness, and perhaps not only mine, but many people’s, and if it was personal and individual like that, maybe there was something for it. The ‘hopelessness of life’ – that is existential, a parameter we have to live within, but Our Hopelessness, that’s a little more down to earth, perhaps that is somehow . . . manageable. That’s not how we get there, though, let me back up a little.

When a young person gropes with the question of meaning, at least the way I recall it, it’s phrased thusly: Why are we here? Towards the end of my adolescent sabbatical from life I was reading some philosophy, some religious stuff, and sometimes consuming small, five dollar bits of paper or semi-toxic mushrooms on the weekends, and for a stretch in my twentieth year every weekend would bring about a new perspective, I would have a new philosophical or semi-religious idea. Still depressed then, I needed an explicit reason to keep breathing and going to work, and I worked through several of these hallucinogen fuelled constructions in fairly rapid succession. I’ve got to say, despite the suspect nature of the mental states that seemed to produce them, some of the thoughts from those weekends have stayed with me for life. One of them was this: ‘why are we here?’ struck me as a pointless, meaningless question. People from all over ask it, people from, here, here and also there ask it, and truly, if we were somewhere completely elsewhere, another planet, another universe, another form, we could still ask it! What is the meaning in asking why am I here, when I would ask it wherever I was? So after that mental leap, I started to think that the surface meaning of this universal question wasn’t the point of it, and certainly wasn’t the sense of it, so to understand its appeal would require a subtext, and that goes to the person asking it. Why do we ask it, is the proper question, and the answer is, because we’re sad.

‘Why am I here’ is not a question a happy person asks, and it isn’t a question one asks when they’re somewhere they want to be. But now, again, it’s personal, it’s at the human level. ‘Why are we here?’ – that is cosmological, religious. But ‘why am I sad?’ that is in the here and now. That we might have a chance to answer. If we look at meaninglessness, hopelessness and the mystery of why we are here as universal, philosophical, as pertaining to some predetermined Human Condition (not all grandiose, Capitalized Thoughts are mine), then they appear unanswerable. But what if that’s not it? What if universal sadness either isn’t universal, or at least isn’t necessarily universal?

What if the near universality of sadness and hopelessness has a nearly universal real life cause, in the here and now? Or to put it another way, what if we could imagine a human being who was happier, a person who might never ask ‘why am I here?’ In what ways would this person’s life have to be different from the rest of ours? This question must have been lying dormant in me when I finished my interrupted education, got my trade, and returned to my home town to take up life as a normal, working adult.

The Irony of Deterrents, Part #3

‘Law and Order’ types – Republicans, Conservatives – and punishing parents, these folks who advocate for deterrents and punishments, they like to say how they’re fixing things, how they’re “modifying behaviour” and setting children and criminals right. Well, they’ve been at it for all of recorded history and maybe longer, and of course kids are always new, solving some doesn’t change anything for the next batch, but if their attitude did anything to lessen crime – well, there would be less crime. If there had been any progressive lessening of crime by these methods, these last eighty centuries (three hundred generations?) should have given us some sense it was working. Instead, we have pretty much all reached the conclusion that these things are as they have always been, and always will be, that crime is simply part of the human condition. This despite that our nearest cousins, the chimpanzees and bonobos, seem to live with a peace-to-crime ratio similar to ours.

You know, I offend a lot of people, I basically spend all of my online time telling everyone that they are bad parents, but there’s more. I think that, despite the offense of my message, people are put off by something else. I suspect they all know I’m not being completely honest with them; I think it must show that I’m holding something back. So here it is. No fear.

You ‘Law and Order’ types, you authoritarians, you punishers of children and criminals, know this: you’re not just failing. You’re not just not having the desired effect, oh no. You are destroying the world. You are making the world the Hell that it is for so many people. Your punishments – often intended as deterrents, you hope not to have to follow through, I’ll give you that – have the same effect, cause the same suite of damages that abuse does, to wit, psychological problems, cognitive difficulties, and crime. You are causing all the social problems you say you’re trying to fix.

That, plus you want to talk about how it’s natural and inevitable, and you refuse to do the troubleshooting, you refuse to take your negative stimuli out of the equation. You want to say it’s inherent, the crime, the greed, the violence – but you will defend to your last breath the very active, hands-on stimuli that has been shown by study after reputable study to cause exactly these things, and you will stubbornly never let up long enough to prove it one way or another.

That is the situation.

Now I’ll start talking nice again – well soon.

You didn’t create this situation. But having been told, having had it pointed out to you – the next time you mete out a punishment you will be doing just that. So cut it out. Stop destroying the world.

 

Here’s Part #2, might be critical to this part:

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/10/22/law-and-order-the-irony-of-deterrents-part-2/

 

The Islamic State Just Doesn’t Get It.

Well, it seems those damned Muslims in Iraq and Syria are misbehaving again.

And they’re getting worse!

WTF is the matter with those people? We’ve already bombed the crap out of them at least twice, and still they insist on their revelatory religion, and they’re only getting more committed to it, getting stricter and more fundamentalist. We’re having to go bomb them again, like we told them we would, like everybody knew we would if they acted up again. We’ve tried everything, haven’t we? We occupied them, some really present, hands on supervision, plus we’ve tried invisible death from the sky. If that doesn’t let them know that we will always know when they’re misbehaving and that we can always catch them and correct them, I don’t know what would!

We’ve shot them, bombed them, blown up whole families, even whole villages, yet for some reason, despite that we will kill and maim them, they continue to kill and maim each other. Where do they get this idea that it’s OK to do that? Who do they think they are?

It’s their Quran, isn’t it? It’s a manual for violence, and it teaches that life is cheap. That must be it. They are raised on the belief that violence can solve any problem that presents itself, and that belief is so pervasive and so entrenched that all of our righteous violence can’t seem to get through to them. It almost seems hopeless. It almost seems like we should just give it up. After all, we’ve tried everything.

But how can we? What they’re doing is so bad!

I guess we’ll just have to step it up.

Law and Order – the Irony of Deterrents, Part 2

 

I’ve just re-read my first post by that name, and I couldn’t help but notice that it’s terrible. So this isn’t going to be so much ‘Part 2’ as version 2.0. Steven Pinker keeps Tweeting about how writers need to remember that they’re the ones talking, and that we should lay it all out and not hope that our readers already know everything we’re trying to say – and boy, he could have talking to me alone. So with that in mind I’ll try this again.

 

  1. The Damages of Punishments.

 

There is a terrible irony that happens when we attempt to solve society’s ills through punishment. The science is in regarding abuse, and also regarding corporal punishment: these things are causing many of our ills.

Crime, high-risk behaviour and self-harm, addiction, depression, cognitive impairment and poor grades in school, all these and more have been shown through study after reputable study to be higher frequency issues for those who are documented to have suffered abuse and/or corporal punishment in their lives.

Let’s also admit right here the truth obscured by a ubiquitous fallacy: all serious punishments are corporal punishments. We don’t volunteer for our punishments, and when we choose to take them, it’s because they are going to be forced upon us physically if we don’t. Punishments are not optional, and force is “corporal,” ultimately. This means that the list of negative outcomes above is the result of punishments, no qualifier like “corporal” is necessary, and in fact, any qualifier is detrimental to the truth. There is no type of punishment that doesn’t ever cause damage, because there is no type of punishment that isn’t intended to. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it?

We harm so that the person we are punishing changes their behaviour in order to avoid the harm. If it doesn’t harm, it’s not a punishment, by definition. In the best cases, the prospect of the harm is enough and bad behaviour is avoided before it occurs – but we’re not addressing deterrents just yet.

That list of negative outcomes above – oh, let’s repeat it: crime, high-risk behaviour and self-harm, addiction, depression, cognitive impairment and poor grades in school – not a complete list, of course, that suite of damages has been shown, statistically to be more common in people who have suffered abuse and corporal punishment, that is to say, these effects are caused by abuse and corporal punishment.

Let’s stop there for a moment, and ask, what else causes these things? Certainly medical conditions like Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and any number of brain mis-developments or diseases add their effects. I won’t argue, it may be impossible to separate FAS from other factors in an abusive and punishing population, but surely we see these outcomes in many people who are known to have no serious medical causative factors or syndromes associated with parents’ substance abuse. Of course there are serious traumas, war and natural disasters, heinous crimes, no denying that, but these aren’t likely to be an explanation for most of the people suffering these negative outcomes either. Genetic predisposition perhaps, perhaps Original Sin or its evolutionist cousin, our animal natures?

As to genetics, I expect the science is coming, the statistics may show something in the coming years; I’ll wait for the studies. As for Original Sin, I won’t hold my breath. Those statistics aren’t coming, ever.

What I’m getting at here, though I won’t presume to put a percentage on it, or even to say it’s the majority (even if I suspect it is), is that abuse and punishment are a major cause of the long list of personal damages that so many of us suffer from and that the more punished and abused of us tend to suffer from more, in proportion. Statistically.

And now to deterrents.

 

  1. Deterrents – the Calculated Risk.

 

Simply defined, a deterrent is the designation of a punishment intended to turn us from crime or misbehaviour; a punishment administered after the misdeed is intended to teach a lesson the hard way, while one that stops the behaviour before it starts is referred to as a deterrent. The threat or promise of a punishment, we hope, will avert the bad behaviour before it happens.

For a deterrent to be effective, at least one of several things must happen. A deterrent forces the subject to make a cost benefit analysis, so first, the cost must be more than we want to pay, that is the cost – the punishment – must outweigh the benefit of the crime in order to deter it. Second, the cost must be certain enough to force the analysis – meaning the punishment doesn’t matter if we don’t think we’re going to get caught, if we think we’ll never have to pay. If it were only the first condition that mattered, things would be simple – we would only have to insure costly punishments and deterrents would work. That’s not the case though; there is almost always some variable chance of never having to pay, and so deterrents are a gamble.

Depending on our perception of our chances of being caught, the strength of a deterrent is increased when the cost is increased, that is, when the punishment offered gets more severe. For the second condition, as the certainty of being caught increases, so too does the power of the deterrent. So this is the question for a person contemplating a crime, or a child considering being “bad:” what is the penalty, and will I be caught? If the penalty is painful, and the odds of getting away with it are low, and the person is not otherwise compelled to ignore the risk (a third condition, that external circumstances do not make the likelihood or severity of the penalty irrelevant), the deterrent will work. Again, this is the analysis from the criminal’s, or the naughty child’s point of view.

But we, caregivers, we, society, we have an analysis to make too, regarding costs and benefits.

 

  1. The Bets We Make – Un-calculated Risk.

 

When all goes well, when the conditions are right and the deterrent works, then that’s great. All well and good, or close enough, anyway. Let’s just say that if deterrents worked all the time, I wouldn’t be complaining. Of course they don’t, so the complaining will continue. If they did, we wouldn’t all have been spanked and grounded as children and the prison industry wouldn’t be such a growth sector.

It’s when the deterrent fails that’s the problem.

When either the punishment offered isn’t scary enough, certain enough, or when there is something scarier that will happen if we don’t commit the crime and the deterrent doesn’t work, then we have another choice: punish or let it pass. Of course, any parent or anybody else will be quick to tell us we can’t just let it pass. That would be the end of deterrents instantly. So when the deterrent fails, we punish. For what happens when we punish, I’ll refer you back to Section 1: higher incidences of crime, high-risk behaviour and self-harm, addiction, depression, cognitive impairment and poor grades in school, etc.

So this is the gamble, the bet we make. We designate a punishment, hoping for the deterrent effect, and all too often wind up punishing instead, causing the aforementioned damages to our criminals, and to our kids. When we lose this bet, we instantly transition from being the good folks who would make the world a better place by stopping bad behaviour to becoming the cause of so many of the world’s ills instead. Of course this is a multigenerational gamble. “Our kids” means us. This is the gamble, but make no mistake, no-one wins the game. This is one that we lose often enough that the wins are nearly meaningless, because the damages that come with losing aren’t balanced out by the mere absence of trauma that is the prize for winning.

Defined as a joke with the power to make us cry, this is irony: a logical joke, but a sad, sad reality. This is the deeply ironic fallacy of deterrents.

If we believe in our deterrents, but see crime remains, or increases, we may think the deterrents need to be stepped up, the penalties intended as deterrents worsened . . . and this only increases the damage, and doubles the horrible irony of our public policy. This is what is offered by our Law-and-Order politicians, more damage, and therefore, among other social symptoms, more crime. (I’m looking at you, Stephen Harper.) This situation is of course more heartbreaking when we do that with our parental discipline, when we increase the stakes on our children, in this game that we can only lose to a greater or lesser degree, this game where there is no winning.

I know deterring crime, deterring bad behaviour, it sounds positive. If it worked every time, if the bad behaviour was averted one hundred percent of the time, it would be – but it doesn’t. Again, I’m not going to put a number out there, I won’t even presume to say that the deterrent fails more often than not. Clearly it fails often enough; punishments are not rare, by any measure, and neither are the sorts of damages punishments have been shown to cause. I repeat: deterrents fail often enough, and damaging punishing inevitably results. There is no winning these bets, only degrees of losing. Punishing damages people, and our wish that bad behaviour can be reliably deterred is back-firing. Our chosen method to solve crime and misbehaviour is what is causing it, and not the other way around.

If this is not heartbreaking to us, we can consider that we have been desensitized to it. There is only so much horrible irony a person can take before we just switch off. It’s the system, it’s not our fault.

That doesn’t mean it’s not wrong.