Punishment is for Animals

Although I’m sure Temple Grandin will disagree.

But it’s definitely not for people. People – adults, anyway – can communicate. Even without a common language, people can communicate well enough that they shouldn’t have to resort to just hitting one another, or confiscating each other’s possessions, to make a point.

Punishment is a last resort, or it should be. Punishing a human being is the end of communication, it’s where we say ‘I’m done talking to you, have THIS instead.’ The implicit breach of personal trust and caring that comes with every act of punishment creates the situation for the next one. Once we’ve abandoned communication and resorted to physical aversives or “non-physical” aversives that are supported and facilitated by either physical means or intimidation, we’ve lost the better options.

When talking fails and we punish, trust and love are then horribly compromised, and non-communicative means are all that’s left. Punishing destroys trust and communication. Punishing is a self-perpetuating cycle that once begun, becomes nearly impossible to stop.

People think it stops, we think that our non-physical punishments are working. Children do respond to the training, and it does become possible to control them with verbal commands, but this is based in the physical, non-verbal methods used previously; non-physical punishment is really only “previously physical” punishment. It relies on past experience of physical means. It relies on intimidation. I think there is the very real danger that the actual physical training occurs in private, when we’re home alone with our babies and toddlers, and then we get to later parade our well-behaved children about in public, displaying our non-physical mastery of them, and we all get to pretend that we have good, communicative relationships with our kids. It all looks very civilized – as did dinner with the Queen and her court, back in the days of the British empire, but empire is not achieved by good manners, and neither are well trained children.

Of course, we are not fooling ourselves and everyone around us on an individual level. This farce is inter-generational; the blindness we bring to our non-physical punishing is not conscious, it is repressed. It is blindness forced upon us as children and not acted out so much as re-played when we are adults. No-one is to blame.

If you can get past our feelings shouting this idea down, if you can look at it dispassionately, and focus on the logic, you’ll see I’m right.