The Easy Route

The Easy Route

Here’s an interesting article:


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


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.

Our Parents Did Their Best, Didn’t They?

       Our Parents Did Their Best, Didn’t They?

Our parents did their best, right?

This is not your usual parenting blog, and ‘yes’ is not going to be at the top of my list of relevant answers. If you’re looking for support for a normal parenting model, structure, discipline, that sort of thing, move on. I am not in the business of seeking to be popular with the great masses on those topics, and here you will find only one piece of advice regarding those things. Unless your child has special needs I don’t know anything about – just don’t do it, or rather do it as little as possible. I don’t mean socially possible, or possible for us, uh . . . mentally without a lot of internal conflict and even pain. I don’t care about that. I mean, I care, a little. Parental pain however, is not my primary concern; this is for the kids, as they say. What I will accept as a real constraint is money. If you’ve got to go to work and your kid is screaming blue bloody murder and doesn’t want to be dropped off – well then my concern may also be that you keep your job and the kids continue to eat and enjoy their roof – still though, there is probably an entire range of income levels where people might say that. At some point, uh, no. Somewhere between if you’re rich and if you really could stay home without losing that home, your excuse for forcing and frightening that kid starts to wear thin. I’m not saying ‘Ladies, stay home.’ I’m saying go to work, Mom AND Dad even, but find a way to get to work without having to use force and discipline on your kids, that’s all. Your chance of parenting success improves if both parents are doing the work.

That’s all I’m saying.

If you’re poor, or unsupported, working class, even lower middle class, people have to work, and so my ask of the world of parents becomes a big one. I know you have to move them around quickly, I know certain sorts of misbehaviours just aren’t tolerable in the short term and a short-term only fix, less than optimal as it is, is sometimes all you’ve got. Society, inequity, all manner of evil shit conspires to make life tough all around and worse for the poor and working poor, and anyway, everyone thinks that the tougher we are on our kids the better, so no shame in it, it’s normal. I still ask one thing though:

Just think about it. Just as you go about your busy days, doing all the stuff you have to do, just try to keep me and my plea – don’t punish your kids – in mind, see how it fits. Maybe notice the times when a promised punishment wound up with the kid in harm’s way from trying to avoid it, or that the worst kids seem to have the parents who are ‘using discipline in the most vigorous way,’ things like that. I know most of us don’t have the luxury to wait and reason with a child, but just start to think about doing just that if you could. A lot of rich folks could, but they never think about it and they don’t.

What we do regarding discipline is the problem, and not a solution for anything in the medium or long terms. Structure, unfortunately, requires discipline, so that’s out the window too. So to whatever extent you can afford it, even if it’s only dreaming about gentle, patient parenting, please, live free-range, give up the structure and the tradition and anything else that makes you want to punish your kids, that is my position.

Are you still here? Really?

You know I mean any punishment at all, right, not just the physical stuff, not just hitting and corporal punishment? That I mean don’t take away screen time or favourite toys (or God forbid, pacifiers, rattles, or Mom), don’t ground punitively (you may sometimes need to keep a child or teen home for their physical safety, I suppose), don’t put ‘in timeout,’ none of it? Just don’t do anything if you’re doing it for the specific reason that your child won’t like it. OK?

OK, we must be alone now!

Where were we? Oh yes:

Our parents did their best, right?

First of all – so what? ‘Did their best!’ That, as they say, plus a couple of bucks will get you a coffee at most places. Seriously – Hitler could have said that! Again, seriously! What do you suppose are the odds that his final prayers included the words ‘God, I tried, God, I did my best . . .’ oh, Man. I so want to blather on about Hitler right now . . . but no, back to kids, more important by sheer numbers. Riddle me this, Dear Reader if there is one, or Objection, Your Honour if you prefer: relevance?

In what other situation, when humanity attempts some feat and fails, is the admission – ‘they did their best’ – also the solution? That shouldn’t be the end of it! Of course it amounts to an Appeal to Emotion and can only serve to put a stop to any further questions, but sure . . . there. All fixed. Sigh.

Of course they did their best. If the Hitler illustration wasn’t clear enough: we all try to do our best. But what is it we’re doing that we have determined is ‘the best’ we have to give? Again – refer to your Hitler lessons. Everybody’s ‘best’ means something different and it’s not a good enough answer; we need to know why things go wrong, duh. But there’s something else.

If all the parents in our family’s history ‘did their best’ and that somehow means it’s OK or at least that we’re not going to talk about it anymore, then I would like to contrast that with how we seem to feel about them, the other, all those other parents out there whose best isn’t good enough at this very moment. Surely there must be a huge number of people out there who are neglecting their responsibilities and not educating or disciplining their kids. How else to explain the state of affairs in the world, the bullying, the disrespect, the crime and delinquency?

(I wanted to say ‘the music’ but I thought the joke would work better if I didn’t give it away for another quarter-second.)

With the present state of affairs, can we dispense with the apologetics and say that it might matter if the current batch of parents’ best isn’t good enough? No? Careful there, you’re right, it’s a trap: if the excuse that works for our parents works for the other, then we’re not going to be able to blame things nowadays on parents nowadays. After all, they’re doing their best, right? So . . . yes? It matters? Of course it matters, if parenting matters at all, but that is not enough agreement to matter, is it? How does it matter, exactly, that’s the thing. If it’s the thing I said above, ‘a huge number of people out there who are neglecting their responsibilities and not educating or disciplining their kids,’ then first, I thought you left the room a long time ago, and second, uh, no, not so much. There is no such large group of parents. How many do you know, how many people have you ever met who profess no interest in disciplining their children? Seriously, that hypothesis is bigotry in the broadest sense, postulating something that it is possible to believe about the other, but patently ridiculous if it were suggested about ourselves.

Pretty much everybody in our culture believes in discipline, don’t believe the talk, as if the support for discipline is threatened. Still, it is possible to see the world and children and teens as being in a terrible, uncontrolled state – so if there’s anything to it the answer must be somewhere else. And it is.

So they did their best, that’s true as far as it goes – not very far – and we can’t blame them, but I tell you this: if we don’t look at it, if we don’t figure out exactly how their best wasn’t good enough, we are going to repeat their mistakes, and our kids will say of us, ‘they did the best they could.’ – and they’ll be wrong. We have our chance to make changes right now, but we don’t want to even look at it.


June 5, 2015

A conflicted Society – Cognitive Specialization

Cognitive Specialization

A search of my blog for the character strings “cognitive damage”, “and cognitive “, or just “cognitive” will produce results pretty consistently. It’s a central tenet of mine, of course:

“The cognitive damage associated with abuse and corporal punishment is a result more of the repetitive nature of a very limited number of punishments that are provided as effects for a world of different possible causes, the true effects of which, while possibly painful at times, are all things that human beings need to learn, and the earlier the better. The cognitive damage is the direct effect of these missed learning opportunities at early ages, blah, blah, blah . . . “

I’ve said that many, many times, but it wasn’t until recently, within the last year when I started to allow the reverse side of that concept to creep into my thoughts. I thought of this post and forgot it again several times over the last year; thank goodness I happened to be home sick, sitting at the computer when I thought of it this time. Personally, I think I’m afraid to pursue it because I’m afraid it may be the bane of my entire edifice. I can’t wait to see how far I may have to stretch myself to cover this additional bit of information.

But you know, here goes. Of course I don’t have to publish. Ha.

If all those chances to learn real things about the real world are being missed – aren’t we still learning something, even if it isn’t how hot the stove really is, or why you shouldn’t punch your friends? Of course there are more conventional answers to that, even ones I like and agree with – but also these:

  • We learn our first versions of ‘might is right’
  • We learn a list of our parents’ likes and dislikes
  • We learn the basic principles of punishment, which are, we’re supposed to bring some sort of pain or deprivation to people who behave in ways we do not like, and that pain and deprivation are good for us, that we deserve them
  • We learn that it is standard practice for the large and powerful to bring pain and deprivation to the small and weak
  • We learn that pain and deprivations are the preferred tools for manipulation, for getting people to do what we want

That’s all somewhere in the realm of the normal, I’d say, but that last entry, is that not slightly more nasty and objectionable? We learn manipulation? And is that some generic-sounding code so that I can say ‘manipulative,’ a much more loaded and powerful word, without actually saying it? It’s a fair cop. I was hoping to make an argument to get us from the one to the other.

So before I get into other things, what sort of result would you imagine, what sort of person might we expect that education might get us if it takes, if that is the sort of lesson we get possibly far more often than we get a chance to learn something about the real world? Well, yes, the aforementioned cognitive damage of course, the life of missed learning opportunities, but what about all the time, all the focus, the opportunities to learn in depth about our families’ quirks and psychoses, and the fine arts of manipulation, and Pavlovian conditioning? Surely those sorts of hours pay off. Surely we are all specialists. Like the Reindeer people know their animals, like the Sherpa know the wrath of the mountain – that’s how we all know this world of the human social animal, with its complex hierarchies and its sometimes random mix of rules, deterrents and punishments. All of us are Subject Matter Experts – both in support of the system, dealing out our own share of the discipline, as well as in avoiding the penalties we deserve if our own disciplined subjects deserved theirs. Degrees all around, generally confirmed about the time our first child turns three, but sometimes, thank goodness, some of us argue with the professors and the department heads because we think we know better – and wind up tenure-less. Early retirement, which in this case can mean irrelevance.

Seriously, navigating our modern world – a social group of millions, even billions in some senses, interacting with any number of different authority structures and agencies at once, at least three levels of government and all three with a suite of bureaucracies. After that, international law, the hierarchies at work, church, and any clubs or associations . . . and all that arrayed against us in adulthood. In childhood, it’s pretty much every adult on earth that we must navigate. As an example of the general level of expertise, we can perhaps note that navigating our teen years, the time between child and adulthood, the period that we finish as adults, this time during which even most of the most sheltered do most our growing up – this, generally must be accomplished on the sly. Practicing to be a grownup, love, sex, relationships, learning about adult temptations like alcohol, drugs, crime, and gambling – all this is supposed to happen on the other side of ‘the law’ so to speak, teens are not encouraged to ‘grow up’ in this way. We are, however, expected to know all about it all by the time we’re adults. What I’m saying about our expertise, about how much of our plastic and modular brain is allocated for this sort of thing, is, somehow we all still manage to get through it, on our own, in the black market where we’re not supposed to be. That’s kind of impressive, considering that we aren’t all perhaps running on all eight cylinders upstairs.

So this is maybe our scenario, that we are to some degree denied a lot of learning at an early age when we are able to absorb it the best, but that we are all a species of savant as regards living our lives among an endless bunch of social structures some of which are downright hostile to us, and even half of the friendly ones of which would punish us, hurt us to keep the social order. And still we somehow live our lives, because we were raised in this system, we’re street-smart. Hardened. So, continuing with the analogy, then.

If we are all lettered, then what may become of the top of the class, the best and brightest? If we are all steeped in the system, dyed in the wool, then who are the standouts, the pound-for-pound best in this field where everyone has been at it their whole life? I don’t have to name names, of course, but suffice it to say that there are some big jobs for those who are able to manipulate a population of lifelong manipulators, great, unreportable rewards for the con who cons the cons. So yes, we’re talking about our leaders, the super-rich, our politicians and the spin doctors, the PR kingmakers and all of the types who rise to the top of a society built on manipulation and force. This is not an aberration that these manipulative psychopaths are our leaders; that is the system and they are the best. As long as this is our system, they are our rightful champions.

Nothing is going to change for us by simply rotating through different faces and names, when sociopathy is in the job’s list of prerequisites.

It explains a lot, looking at things this way, which of course is the test of a hypothesis, a theory: does it explain more, can it account for previously unexplained phenomena. It explains the power of advertising, and it explains an important piece of the whole Equality Bias and Confirmation Bias phenomenon for starters. It seems to make some sense that if I am invested with an idea of my own rugged, western individualism and independence then maybe I wonder at the advertising industry and that the dollars spent on it seem to always bring returns, when I am not swayed by it. Ignoring that some clever somebodies sold this person the American Dream at some point in his life, this person may theorize about some two kinds of people, the impressionable and the not so, but we may find that our wonder over the effectiveness of advertising and media is lessened if we consider that manipulation is what we do, that it is perhaps the most highly developed discipline that we have.

Similarly, regarding Equality and Confirmation Bias, I personally found the ideas counter-intuitive and I wasn’t sure I believed them, but again: if I think my social group is not bright and/or undirected in their social pressure to think like they do, then yes, it seems unlikely. If, however, I recall that even my relatively uneducated social group have a lifetime’s knowledge and experience in the manipulative world of the most manipulative species’ most ubiquitously manipulative time and place . . . well. It’s not so strange after all.

Plus, it explains even more.

My thesis here, that we are real-world stupid, that our connection to the real world was not made during our early years, and that we are conversely, social and manipulative geniuses may explain how so many clever people can focus on elections and high-powered corporate careers with incredible acumen and success, and yet fail to worry about what their social and political successes may wreak in the real world. Veritable virtuosos in the field of the human mind, social networking and politics – but unable to make the connection we need with the real world.

This is how ‘the economy’ always trumps the Earth and the environment. That social and political construct we can understand, we have evolved a massive organ to deal with it – but our brains’ ‘real-world’ lobe, that is going undeveloped, ignored in early childhood and stunted through life and it is atrophying, becoming vestigial.

We need to broaden our minds beyond ourselves, and start worrying more about the real world. In a real way, dedicating so much of our brain’s real estate to one another and to social concerns at the expense of our resources to process real-world things is analogous to an individual being in arrested development, trapped in the dynamic of their nuclear family and dysfunctional outside of it; the concerns of the social group have grown beyond their proportions. The real, physical world needs some time in our thoughts too, or it may become increasingly inaccessible and therefore even more at risk.

First we need to grow up.

Then we need to clean up our room.

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:


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:


  • 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 . . .


* Anyone know ‘Little Britain?’

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

Don’t Believe Me! “Abuse” VS “abuse”

Don’t Believe Me! “Abuse” VS “abuse”

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 – – 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.


Punishment Hurts in Non-Physical Ways

First, here’s a few posts of mine on why all punishment is dependent on physical means:

The second one was written too quickly, but the concepts are there, and this is an online forum; I’m happy to debate them, clarify anything I said in my sloppy shorthand. But this is the other part of the same conversation: it doesn’t need to be physical to be damaging anyway.

I’ve been on this train of thought for a long time, and this idea didn’t develop during the first decade of the journey . . . it’s here now though, and in full force: why should our focus be solely on corporal punishment?

I mean, I’m sorry to kill any buzzes, but, does that mean there’s another kind, one we like better? Perhaps something more powerful, and therefore more efficient, like the mental kind. Whip a kid, he limps for a few days and then back to normal (so there’s all this maintenance), but mentally torture him once and you can fuck him up for years – is that the sort of bang we want for our buck? Of course not.

The thing is, when we opted for the term – Corporal Punishment – defining what wasn’t corporal punishment wasn’t the task, or the problem. It was more a matter of defining what it is, and that is basically the administration of physical pain as a deterrent and a penalty for misbehaviour. Perhaps it overlaps with ‘retribution’ to a great degree, in that they both mean pain, for the sake of pain, to balance the pain of the victims. Point is, we weren’t thinking about having defined Corporal Punishment that we would then have to determine what other sorts there are.

It’s time now, though. The best time is always ten years ago, but now is good too. So there’s your first homework assignment: define “non-Corporal Punishment.” Perhaps that job will morph into naming all the sorts of punishment that there are, for example, what sort of punishment is it when my mom gave me the “wait ‘till your father gets home” treatment? Mental, that it would cause anxiety for the rest of the day, until Dad got home, or probably more emotional, that I would suffer stress and fear for several hours? I guess on those times when all that was promised was given, it all just goes under Corporal, but on the days when Mom or Dad didn’t follow through, the promise was certainly a price to pay, certainly was a punishment in itself, and then should be classifiable. And the much talked about ‘Timeout?’ The solitary confinement must surely be an emotional punishment also, the temporary loss of the primary caregiver and their love?

I have asked rhetorically a few times over the last few years, and I will again – who will stand up and advocate for this form of non-corporal punishment, Emotional Punishment? Of course, no-one will. It is my dream that as other sorts of punishment are identified they are immediately moved to the list of cruel, banned practices, because if we do end up identifying the other sorts of punishment besides the Corporal variety, they are sure to include Mental Punishment, Emotional Punishment, Psychological Punishment and others – the ramifications, one, that the functions identified in the previous studies re: corporal punishment will apply and have always applied to all sorts of punishment, and two,  that now authors, educators and social workers will be in the unenviable position of identifying  some type of punishment off of the list as Approved For Use in the home – are pretty big. The ramifications of what we think and what we do as regards punishment in child-rearing in general have always been huge.

I, for one, am not convinced that all the study that went into the CRC and the anti-Corporal Punishment movement generally says anything like ONLY corporal punishment is damaging. The CRC and the rest list many sorts of damage and trauma beyond the purely physical damage in its condemnation of corporal punishment. Clearly any of these experts would admit at least some measure of the causes of other traumas – mental, cognitive, emotional, psychological traumas – to causes of the same names, mental, sexual, emotional, etc., punishments. Though it would be overly subjective to try to quantify exactly which aspects may produce exactly which or what amount of damage, I think it must be that both these vectors have some effect at some rate. Punishment genres tend to get mixed up in these dramas, often several varieties being dished out in one writhing mass, difficult to categorize.

Meaning, that in theory, emotional, mental sorts of punishments can also bring emotional and/or mental damage – meaning in turn that decrying and banning only “corporal punishment” isn’t going to be enough to stop the damage. So while selling the anti-Corporal Punishment message with this research is fair play, or fair enough, it certainly can’t be the only thing this important research supports. It also lays much of the groundwork to get us from anti-Corporal Punishment to anti-Punishment, meaning again, where all of the non-Corporal kind, like mental, emotional, cognitive, and psychological punishments are understood in our minds to be damaging and counterproductive as well. I know we all know that all those forms of abuse exist, but I think maybe we don’t like to appreciate that those forms of punishment also exist. Perhaps we’re also not appreciating how our acceptance of what we consider to be ‘legitimate’ forms and degrees of punishments tend to give oxygen to the illegitimate kind. We don’t know when we see a kid being dressed down and humiliated at the mall whether this is the worst episode of that family’s life, or the best moment of that kid’s day, much of which may not be spent in public.

When that sort of ambiguity can exist around whether a child is suffering physical punishment or abuse, imagine the additional difficulty of identifying these invisible types, mental, emotional forms of punishment and abuse. We need to do all we can to make abuse more visible, and the second and second best thing we should do is stop approving of all these things that look the same and provide camouflage for abuse. Of course the first thing we should do is realize that the downside of a culture of punishing has a major effect, possibly as big or bigger than the positive effect we always hope for when we’re punishing.

A conflicted Society – Psychology VS Punishment

A conflicted Society – Psychology VS Punishment

A swat is good for a kid, teaches ‘em right from wrong. This has been accepted wisdom for many, many folks for a very long period of time: punishments teach.
Abuse damages people – this has probably been accepted by fewer people, and also for fewer centuries.
Can we think both these things? That is to say, is there a place in our minds for both of these . . . functions? Is there room in our society for these opposing apparent effects we see as resulting from what are perhaps closely related causes?
Psychology and the naming of the ravages of abuse have the potential to change the world in unimaginable ways. The symptoms and unrealized potentials that so often follow in the lives of the abused are a scourge the vastness of which cannot be overstated. The only measures of it that approach the truth are our wonder and appreciation of those who somehow manage to overcome, as well as our appreciation of those who refuse to repeat their abuse upon the next generation and to imagine a world without abuse is to imagine nothing less than heaven on Earth. Unrealized it may be, but only the fields of knowledge in and around psychology and sociology have the potential to bring this dream into the realms of possibility. Unrealized, to repeat. I admit that.
The reasons for the unfulfilled potential of the study of human interactions are many, and not all within the scope of what I’m trying to say here. Conversely, the unfulfilled promise of the other idea – that is sort of my specialty. The other idea, of course, being that children need discipline – read “punishments” – to become responsible, well-behaved, law-abiding adults.
The social – I hesitate to say ‘sciences,’ so the social ‘fields of inquiry’ – haven’t really been tested yet, in terms of their potential to cure some of society’s ills. Despite so much good information coming out in the last few generations about the damages of corporal punishment, spankings and other corporal punishments remain the rule rather than the exception. Despite the consciousness on the part of the psychological and psychiatric communities of the harm caused by punishments, over-punishments and abuse, these professions seem to spend their time selling fixes for the harmed people after the fact rather than focussing on prevention (I mean, to be fair, that is more properly the province of social workers and educators, plus it’s so vastly worse than just pointless and thankless – it’s no wonder no-one gets paid to do it). It seems the patients possibly believe in psychology, and are willing to use what psychology offers – but it appears their parents and caregivers do not. Therapy is looked upon as a very personal thing. When a person’s damage is so bad that it robs them of their quality of life, then they may look at the source of their pain; when we are tacitly accused of being the source of the younger generation’s pain we are less likely to participate in that examination.
Punishing, the belief in punishing, sets the scene for abuse in many ways. I know it’s a normal part of the narrative around parenting and abuse to say that proper ‘discipline’ and abuse are opposites, to say that the parent seeks to mold and direct their kids while the abuser seeks only to harm and humiliate. However to believe this, one must ignore all the gradients between those poles.
One must refuse to see that near the worst end of this bridge, that there is some remnant of the parent, and that near the best end, that there is some small component of the abuser. This would be a truth even if the two things were opposites – but psychology has shown us that as much as they are, they also are not. The truth is that, even as within the popular narrative’s apparent opposition all punishing has a component of abuse, the darker, psychological story of unconscious mechanisms show the abuse component to always be present in fairly constant measure. I’ll make a sharp left turn here.
I’m guessing that paragraph separated the believers of psychology from the believers of punishment (‘discipline,’ if you prefer)? Did anyone just make a choice, or learn that they had already made a choice somewhere in the past? Because that is the point I’m heading for here. No-one seems to take psychology or childhood trauma seriously, not until we run out of choices, or until our choices take a deadly turn, not until we’ve lost everything first. This is my point, the answer to the questions posed at the start of this little rant. If there is room in our minds for both of these concepts, then our minds are split, our selves are severed in two. We need to understand that a choice is necessary. Of course there is only one choice to make.
A modern person who has no concern for abuse, no concern for the consequences of the pain we create, that person is a monster, a villain. That person has been destroyed, he’s either a rare, birth-defected organic monster or has suffered some kind of ultimate abuse himself (or some combination, the possessor of an activated ‘warrior gene’ perhaps). That person has not made a conscious choice, and that isn’t a choice that it is possible to make consciously.
In the middle ground is where humanity lives, nearly all of us. Unaware of the choice, or unaware that one must be made, we treat the lessons of psychology like art, an amusing intellectual exercise, humouring the work and the visionaries who have shown us the way as though they were children and their life’s works were finger paintings.
“Sure,” We say. “Betrayal of love. Childhood emotional and mental trauma, being trained to look at hurt and deprivations as being good for us, demonstrating Might is Right, modeling bullying and the use of force – that’s bad, I mean, I guess . . . but what are you gonna do?” (Shades of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ . . . )
“Like, sure, psychology. But seriously . . .”
This, while in our real lives, we punish, wielding pain, withdrawal of love, and selective deprivations of all kinds ostensibly to produce ‘better’ people – because we think the lessons of psychology and the understanding of abuse, unlike hard science’s laws like gravity, only apply to some few of us, to extreme cases, to other people, to other parents, to other parents’ children.
There is a choice, one conscious choice to be made, because not to make it leaves us in the middle ground. That choice is to buy into the basic premise of psychology and the understanding of abuse, which, at its simplest is: hurt hurts. To deny the social forms of philosophy this way, to believe in punishing is to say hurt heals. That’s the simple logic of it, peeled down to the essence. But beyond that, because we don’t really believe in the sciences of human behaviour and so this logical truth can’t reach us, this:
Punishing, being what we have believed for millennia, has us still living in a world of abuse, war, hatred, bigotry, and a crumbling environment. If you think it hasn’t caused it, I ask you this: has it fixed it? Do we think it’s going to fix things any time soon, is that our fantasy? Will anyone say that if we treat our children, our criminals and our enemies with more harshness and less forgiveness that that is the way to peace, tolerance and a better future? Five, six, maybe ten millennia of ‘discipline,’ and this is our world. It’s not all bad, but it’s got a lot of bad still. Is this supposed to be the generation where our ideas of bringing pain and with-holding love will finally solve our problems?
No? So that isn’t a choice, then? What about the status quo?
Would no change in the level of pain and deprivations we use to make things better be a viable choice? Should we be just exactly this harsh and retributive then, and if we do, can we expect improvement in our problems? Should we make sure not to decrease the amount of unpleasantness we visit upon each other?
No again? Of course we want to lessen abuse and pain in the world, but we think we can get there while supporting a concept like punishment, a concept that means hurt heals, a blatant reversal of what is obvious and true.
Or is it yes?
Yes, we really do think the knowledge of abuse and its damages isn’t real, or somehow not important? We really do believe that a great deal of hurt is bad, but some hurt is good, so we need to make sure everyone gets hurt in some perfect measure, we really do think that if we don’t hurt each other, if we don’t hurt our children in some way that they won’t learn and the world will become a worse place?
The knowledge of abuse and its harms are the future of the pursuit of human happiness, and the belief that using pain and the loss of love to make better people of our children is the dark, unconscious past, that is what I’m saying. Let’s get on the right side of history with this. We’ll need to take psychology and human science out of the universities and into our homes, into real life. Most importantly, into our families, our parenting. This is it.
Hurt hurts, or hurt heals.
If hurt heals, then what is abuse?
If hurt hurts, then what is punishment?
Anyone who thinks the world is getting worse (it’s not) because of our gradual increase in humanity (a slow but constant upswing), is suffering from Good Old Days Syndrome; they are not making an accurate assessment of our long violent history. As bad as things look now, they used to be worse, and it is humanistic ideas, the fulfillment of which could well be our modern understanding of abuse and its effects, that are making the difference. The modern lives with no humanism, gang life, lives of never-ending war and strife, they are the lives with the most violence and crime, not lives lived in liberalism and molly-coddling.
That’s the choice before us. Humanism, psychology, these are the real deal, let’s let them change us. Let them save our children, our world. We’ve tried the other idea, over and over, hoping for different results, and we know what that is. But of course, mental illness is one of the documented symptoms.

Familiarity Breeds Blindness – When We Can’t See the Concepts for the Words

It’s a sad thing when words lose their power, when we have lived with them for so long that we’re no longer impressed by the things they signify. I think it was when I was reading “Midnight’s Children,” (set in India) when I was shocked, first by the expression ‘sister-sleeper’ and then in “White Tiger” when it was the stronger ‘sisterfucker’ and I realized that our version, ‘motherfucker’ had lost its punch, that I was no longer feeling the image it evokes. I started saying and writing what I think of as the Indian version in order to take advantage of its freshness and power. (Interestingly, my Canadian Microsoft Word is also accustomed to the mother version, but is flagging the sister version for a spell check.)

Show a man a photoshopped picture of himself in coitus with his own mother and he’ll react – but the word for him in that image just means somewhere between ‘dude’ and ‘swine’ these days, at least for some of us. ‘Sisterfucker’ isn’t a more disturbing concept, it was just unfamiliar to me, so my mind looked at it a little closer, and the image was a nasty surprise. I must have quit paying attention to what ‘motherfucker’ means. Now, in case anybody’s concerned that I’m switching gears, don’t worry. Here it comes.

I re-posted one of my older child-rearing, anti-punishment blogs on another site and it started a few conversations with a few people, a man or two and some ladies, some mothers. The conversation came around to my controversial stance that ‘corporal punishment’ is a misleading phrase, that in fact (‘fact’ to me at least), without a willingness to get physical there can be no punishments. Hold on –

early on while writing my blogs and my book on the subject, I looked up ‘punishment’ to get a somewhat official definition. The dictionary ones were pretty straightforward, but the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy went on for many pages. What I came up with, in the shortest form, is that punishment is the imposition of an aversive in order to lessen an unwanted behaviour. ‘Aversive’ means an unwanted stimulus, a term I usually change to ‘unpleasantness,’ and ‘imposition’ means to put something on someone without any condition as to whether they want it or not. So a punishment is something you don’t want and is put on you without your consent, in order to change an unwanted behaviour of yours.

That, just in case ‘punishment’ is a word that we don’t examine anymore, just in case we’ve forgotten the meaning or never really heard it in the first place –

So I spent a few comments trying to convince some people that all punishments depend on force, that their children weren’t likely to have been taking their non-corporal timeouts and such from a place of willing agreement, that their kids probably had learned, either the hard way or by inference, that the non-corporal punishment wasn’t going to be optional, that if they didn’t take it, it would wind up being forced upon them, that the punishment would escalate.

I’m trying not to generalize about gender here, but interestingly, among these very few people in the discussion, the most vocal man made no bones about it. Damned straight, was his attitude, a good smack will put them right. Kids don’t understand talking; that is what they understand.

The ladies, though, they didn’t believe in hitting or corporal punishment, and while they did believe in punishment, they insisted they didn’t back it up with force. Trying to make my point, I asked repeatedly if their punishments were optional, if there was any way the punishment wasn’t going to happen, or if it was going to happen by hook or by crook. One of the ladies assured me that it wasn’t optional, that if the child simply walked away from his or her timeout, that she would simply bring the child back to it, as many times as it took. I didn’t argue that ‘bringing the child back’ was a physical act, and I didn’t ask how forcefully it might have to be done if the child was stubborn about it, although these are certainly important parts of the puzzle for me. I just asked again, if it’s not optional, then the parent is going to make it happen by whatever means necessary, right?

One answer struck me as pretty schizoid, but maybe it’s just this language thing, maybe the words in the response had been said so often that the meaning had been lost: in an answer that said ‘punishments are not all backed up physically’ someone said something like ‘of course you have to follow through.’ Now that last phrase is familiar indeed, ubiquitous even – we all know it. But unexamined it must be, because otherwise how can someone say ‘of course you have to follow through’ and feel it is somehow a contradiction to ‘I am willing to do whatever it takes to make this happen?’ So that’s what’s happening, I think, when I try to make this point, it’s the same as my opening example, like we hear the deadly, incest accusation of ‘motherfucker’ all day long, and it’s all in fun, harmless, like a friendly ‘cabron’ between pals, but when I say that all punishments are backed up with force . . .

well it’s like I said ‘sisterfucker’ loudly during a moment of quiet at a church barbeque. Shock and horror. The deer-in-headlights blank stares of the good peoples’ moral indignation.

So I’m the bad guy. All right, I’ll play that role, I’ll crash your barbeque – what time again? Oh right, I remember. It’s always happening.



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.

One of Parenting’s Worst Myths

Let me ask anyone reading this – do you actually know ANYBODY who doesn’t try to discipline their kids? Anybody who doesn’t believe in discipline, anybody who says “Oh, I don’t care how my kids behave. Let the police worry about it!”


Of course the truth is, all the families that the misbehaving kids and the criminals of the world come from do indeed believe in discipline and punishment, and that DOESN’T F@#$%^G WORK, and so the kids misbehave, and many people grow up crazy and violent and lead criminal lives DESPITE having been punished and disciplined in their family homes. That is the obvious truth, because if discipline and punishment was some sort of magic cure, then you would have to show me a sizable portion of the population who doesn’t believe in it and doesn’t use it, and you can’t.


Can you? I’ll ask again:


Do you really know ANYBODY who doesn’t try to discipline their kids?