Punishment as Bullying

The world runs on authority, on force. The army, the police, schools, corporate hierarchies, parenting, parenting, parenting. Family structure. Punishment and discipline is a system by where we control unwanted behaviour by force, and punishment, which, punishment is defined as dishing out unpleasantness to the misbehavers in order to motivate them to change their ways.

 

This is pretty much a definition of bullying. The bully punishes the victim. The bully justifies this punishment by listing the victims’ misbehaviours, or the victims’ families’, or race’s, or faith’s misbehaviours.

 

This is punishing behaviour, this is bullies doing what adults do, doing what the police do, I mean the bully’s behavior is very close to that, closer than any of us would like to think. I’m saying the bully feels he is doing what he sees around him, that in the parlance of some schools of psychology, the bully is getting his power back, after some authority figure has taken his power from him.

 

So, parents and schools going to the bully kids and telling them to stop is a joke to these kids. They see it as just more ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ which it is. I, for one, would love to see someone ask the kids if I’m right about that. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the kids. Better yet, we need a mole, someone who can infiltrate the kids’ group and get a real answer. They don’t trust us.

 

Parents don’t think they are bullying. We have a consensus about what is acceptable punishing behavior, and we really cannot seem to draw parallels with what we see as our legitimate punishments and other similar behaviours. If we can’t, if we won’t see how bullying is an extension, an extrapolation of our punishing ways, then there is very little hope that any of our conversation about bullying, any of our attempts to combat it will get any traction, very little hope of our ever solving a problem if we refuse to understand it in the first place. Surely, someone has noticed that speeches that don’t acknowledge this difficult truth have not had any dramatic effect on the bullying phenomenon? I think any approach that doesn’t include this idea would be considered empty and hopeless, at least to any group that lives under threat or reality of punishment – like our kids.

 

Long and short, if we adults don’t stop ‘bullying’ kids everywhere, we will never stop their bullying, that should be obvious. I don’t know why it isn’t.

 

Many nations have outlawed corporal punishment, in Canada, we are in the process of outlawing it, and I can see the next step, that we will someday realize that the damage caused by punishing behaviours generally outweigh any benefit, and when we all stop anything like bullying, so will our kids. Until then, we will fight this bullying thing in vain, fighting fire with fire, and modeling it and propagating it as we do.

 

So now, there will be programs, task forces, plans and research, all government money spent to figure out this embarrassing problem, and if we don’t try to stop people from the use of punishment – corporal and otherwise – on our kids at home and everywhere else, we are wasting all those resources. And that is a sad, cruel joke, one that the adults don’t understand, and only our kids are laughing about. Not in a good way.

 

Jeff

 

Jan. 22, 2016

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Mom’s Such a Martyr – Parental Sacrifice and the Six Year Challenge

 

One of my many differences with people in the parenting groups and with the prevailing climate in the gentle parenting movement is around sacrifice, around parents looking after themselves as well as their kids, because it’s important to model self-love and care, and because we figure happy, less stressed-out parents will have more success with their efforts to make the gentle change in their parenting. All this and more, and it’s obvious, impossible to deny in theory . . .

LOL. Of course I’m kidding!

My contrariness is not easily intimidated. I don’t know if you, the postulated reader realize it, but I’m kind of living on the edge here, when I start these sorts of rants, often the subject of my critique is something apparently unassailable like this. This is a high wire act in my mind, unconventional thinking, and it’s not easy. But with every new aspect of my study here, I’m gaining confidence and I don’t think I’m going mad. Fooling myself that I’m winning any points in these arguments doesn’t seem overly difficult or complex, which tells me I’m not so far diverged from the reality of things. Of course, for a curmudgeon, this is where the fun is. So to it, then.

This generation’s allergy to parental notions of sacrifice has some strange roots. The image of the sacrificing Mom is that of the Nineteen-fifties middle America, thing, Dad off at work and Mom at home, a slave to the house, the laundry, the kids, and of course Dad, and Mom lives out her life never doing a thing for herself, a martyr for the family. That, yes, a horrible standard for Mom, working twenty-four seven and the most hardworking of Dads not working those hours at all, home time being largely off-time for Dad. This is a situation at which to rebel, and when I was young, it was Women’s’ Lib, the women’s’ liberation movement, or more generally known then as today, feminism, that broke the spell and let us all know that this sacrifice was neither ‘its own reward’ or the model anyone should set their daughters up for.

All right and proper, not strange, I know, but here it is: was that also not the time and culture that beat the crap out of their kids, out of our parents, us and our friends? (I’m fifty-five as of this writing.) I know, right, parenting blogs and feminist blogs and never the twain shall meet, but, folks, it’s all one world out there. Our martyrs passed on their second-class citizen status and associated abuse to us, right? I know, many acted as protectors, shielding us from our more violent fathers, but really, in that demographic, who raised the kids? All I’m saying is, I get it, that culture of “sacrifice” was bad, that model needs to go, for both feminist and – childist – reasons, no argument for that larger thing: that whole culture needs to change, absolutely.

But (and here come the comments), was the sacrifice really the problem in it?

If it seems to be, I think it’s only because of its close ties to abuse, that Mom’s sacrifice means she allowed herself and therefore us to be abused. Does the feminist movement want to say that Mom was complicit in her own and her children’s’ abuse, that is, is Mom’s shared guilt what they want to shine a light on, or should we not just keep the parenting talk focussed on abuse? Abuse is the real scourge here, focussing on sacrifice is oddly misogynist when we’re talking about abuse or parenting, it’s a form of victim blaming – as though there are impersonal, automatic cycles of abuse with lives of their own, but these martyr women, they’re making a choice in it, like they’re the only ones who are. It just smells off to me. Mom may have done it as an adult, but abuse is still abuse, even if we seem to volunteer for it. It’s the driving force in the dark side of our parents’ and grandparents’ parenting and Stockholm Syndrome in itself is a reaction, not a cause. All I’m saying is, Ladies, mothers, feminists and those who are both especially, yes, no-one should model that, that was some misguided sacrifice indeed.

To give the devil and the dark side it’s due, though, some bullshit in the name of a virtue is not a new thing in the world, and many a callous abuser has beaten his chest and cried about his “sacrifice.”  As Dark Side as I can ever be: is the flip side of ‘happy parents are gentle parents’ an ultimatum: ‘Call me out on my bullshit and I will beat the tar out of this kid?’ Misreads and abuse exist for everything, including sacrifice; it doesn’t mean things can’t ever be the good, proper versions sometimes. Sacrifice was our mothers’ and grandmothers’ immediate personal problem, their battle, and maybe still many ladies’ battle today, and solving it saves women, absolutely. Suggesting that fighting this battle somehow saves children, and that the two groups, women and children (read adults and children) can never be in conflict, that one’s gains can never negatively impact the other, however, isn’t right and it’s not helpful. Your fight for freedom was and is against the men, the adults. It’s still OK to sacrifice a little for your kids.

How sacrifice hurts us as children is only one of the many, many ways abuse hurts us. Let’s keep our eye on the prize.

So. ‘One of my many differences.’

I don’t mind some sacrifice. Yes, I’m a cultural Christian, and while that doesn’t mean I agree with the sacrifice of human beings in the literal sense, nailed to trees, I do think sacrifice is, at least in it’s better forms, a good thing, a moral act. In fact, it’s a big part of my planned cure for abuse and punishment in the world. In it’s most practical, generational terms, what I’m advising is that some punished and also possibly abused generation swallow that pain and find a way not to repeat, in fact to sacrifice what they see as a “normal, happy life,” live with the pain and troubles their childhoods left them with and keep their fucking hands off of their own kids, even if they think “raising their kids right” will make themselves feel better. That is gonna feel like some sacrifice, I won’t lie to you.

I felt it, believe me.

I can’t imagine how many times I’ve told the half-joke that I sometimes wish I had beat my second daughter up at least once, just so that during all the frustrating times with her afterward, I could have just closed my eyes for a second and treasured the memory. Man, it would be nice, once in a man’s life to bark an order and see it swiftly carried out. That is an immediate gratification I have rarely enjoyed, believe me. I have fantasies of personal power, my worldview tells me we all do, and I have happily (usually happily) sacrificed getting the payoff those fantasies promise.

In practical terms in a slightly shorter time frame, I would say the sacrifice of our inheritance of parental power needed to last until my younger daughter was old enough to talk and reason with, old enough to understand things, and as I remember it, she was five or six. She was born a full three and one-third years after our older one, so the difficult years, where we manually did everything we might want to train our kids to control themselves for, were then over before ten years had elapsed from the first one’s birth. I mean, ten years into our life as parents, we never had another cause to consider punishing. This when the teen years were still before us, and they aren’t anymore. We sacrificed, and it paid, sorry if that sounds ironically old fashioned.

We sacrificed a lot, all the other things, besides the sense of parental power I will save for another post, but there was a lot of work, and we had opted out of much of normal life around normal families, we sacrificed the support normal parents get from each other. Not kidding, it was a lot, but again: for six years after the birth of your last child, then it’s payoff time. Not kidding about that either.

 

 

Conclusions

 

That old model of family life, yes, that was bad, let’s do away with that, but let’s also make sure we’re fighting the real devil here, not some victim proxy. Mom’s sacrifice didn’t help, but abuse and force, these are the issues that shape us, negative things like these. Sacrifice is still a moral tool, with a legitimate existence. Do we imagine that in harsh, unforgiving nature, sacrifice on the part of parents is not a survival adaptation for the young and so for the species?

Having said that, part of what was wrong with the model of Mom’s martyrdom is that it never ends, the payout is never made. They thought the payout was our success and our happiness – but again: they whooped our asses while they said that to themselves, so that payout maybe never came either, right? Sacrifice for nothing really isn’t, in hindsight. What I’m offering you here is old-time, tried and true sacrifice, hard work for actual results.

Face that Mom and Dad were and all your friends and colleagues are wrong about the benefits of any sort of punishing, and hold back your punitive urges until your kids are six years old. Make that sacrifice and see what happens. And don’t get me wrong, be nice to yourselves, that part is true, it will be easier if you’re getting breaks. If, however, when it gets hard, and you can’t help but feel you’re somehow repeating Mom’s errors, over-sacrificing, I promise you, six years. Six years of feeling like something of a fool, six years of letting your kids get away with stuff you never would have gotten away with, six years of feeling like your inner child has lost a fucking lottery, and after that the hard part is behind you – a decade or two earlier than it was when our parents parented us, if you recall. For my wife and I, it meant it was that long before it ever got any easier for many of the parents around us, and neither the strictest ones nor the least so were immune, which, BTW, fits the social science study data.

Some sacrifice is a good thing, sometimes.

 

Jeff

Jan. 16, 2016

#SixYearChallenge

Shit Flows Downhill

Shit Flows Downhill

. . . and payday’s Friday, the plumber’s knowledge base, as we boys mansplain it to each other. (Wow. Word had no comment for that word! Did Microsoft buy the Urban Dictionary?) Of course, I’m not here to discuss plumbing, which is a good thing: I suck at it. This for the metaphor.

You know, the king wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and dumps on the court, the cabinet all growl at their staff and slash the budgets of their least favourite departments and ultimately the people don’t get their bread.

Abuse flows downhill, is what I’m trying to say, along the lines of authority.

The family version is, Dad lords it over Mom, Mom gets a little more disciplinary with number one son, this firstborn noogies his younger sibling more than usual and the lastborn kid winds up taking it out on the dog, who then puts the run on the cat, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Plus of course, Dad is upset because of something his boss did or said, who is simply passing on directives from above . . . not ad infinitum, technically though. In theory, the buck stops at the king or ‘the shareholders.’ I don’t think in this conversation that we need to credit Dad’s or the king’s claim that he represents and works for God; I’m not weighing in on God’s existence or not here, just saying I have yet to meet the man or the king who might be on God’s mailing list. Our default position for such claims must of course be skeptical, even if we think it’s possible. Certainly most such claims are false.

Abuse follows lines of authority, it bears repeating. Just as hierarchical structures of authority make so many large cooperative efforts possible for humans, it’s this same structure makes punishment and abuse possible. Without authority, punishment is simply abuse – but without authority, abuse would simply be an unconnected bunch of fights. Winners win, losers lose, but that’s just violence. Abuse is an abuse of authority, and authority means something like ‘legitimate power,’ so abuse is violence in a more specific, organized context. Interestingly, disorganized violence we can view as natural and amoral, like what the bears do and we don’t judge harshly for it. Abuse is different.

Abuse is a crime within some sort of social order. Along with all the new things human resource pooling has brought into the world like agriculture, industry, and community care of the sick and elderly comes things like oppression, war, and abuse – new crimes for new situations.

Of course, shit flows downhill in a racial sense too.

If, God forbid, Barkley was right as well as honest when he told us that whooping their kids is what black people do (paraphrase), meaning if there is any racial difference in America as to the use or amount of use of corporal punishment, then maybe this is why, because that’s how the stuff of plumbers’ efforts flows. Because life is a pyramid and bad stuff falls down from above like a champagne fountain where people are the glasses; the ones at the upper levels hold what they can and all the rest falls to the ones below, all the bad stuff winding up at the bottom. Do I have to say who is at the bottom of our society? The poor, obviously, among which group black and brown people are over-represented here in North America.

So maybe Charles was right, maybe the stereotype, the cliché has some truth, maybe the under-classes really are rougher on their kids. I am not a racist, no “buts.” If that stereotype has any truth, and if it is in any way due to the fact that gravity operates on our waste, then that is on us, the folks at the top.

I love all things in and around social issues, I love socially-directed comedy, and I really enjoy black comics preaching about racism (Chris Rock: a black man has to fly to get to where a white man can walk!). I do worry about my own racism, because that pleasure is very specific, almost fetishist if you consider that I live in the most black-deficient place in North America. But Chris Rock, Pryor, I love those guys. Know who I can’t stand? George Lopez. I don’t suppose it’s his whole act, but unfortunately for me and George, the only few times I’ve seen him, he was going on about how his parents whooped him, how it was good for him, and how if we don’t whoop our kids they’re all going to turn out badly. All I can see in it is a brown guy, a member of an oppressed group, talking about how the answer for people is more oppression, more roughness.

I pity a person for that, knowing that their pain is too great to face – but these comics, Lopez is not the only one, many comics do that material, Eddie Murphy did – these comics are marketing their denial, and marketing corporal punishment. That is not helpful – plus it is easy to see it as a form of collaboration with the folks at the top.

Shit flows downhill, but that sort of comedy is like installing a pump in the line too, really un-called for.

Now for some really wild conjecture – in a discussion of racism! What could possibly go wrong? – regarding race, class, and corporal punishment: life is tough for the under-classes, and if the poorest folks really are rougher on their kids it isn’t from any sort of bad intention. We all think discipline is a good thing. Poorer kids are at higher risk levels for everything except being spoiled and feeling entitled, so maybe poor parents make a logical choice to be stricter, to do more of what they hope will keep their kids on the straight and narrow.

As for why it’s not working, if that’s what’s happening, I will refer you to the rest of my blogs, but suffice it to say it isn’t champagne that is flowing down on the poor from above and it isn’t champagne that poor folks have too much of and have to pass down to their children.

Jeff

July 12, 2015

Punishment Hurts in Non-Physical Ways

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

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/09/18/corporal-punishment-is-not-the-whole-story/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2015/03/04/all-punishments-are-physical/

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.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt – Corporal Punishment and the Catholic Church

Just when I thought we had an enlightened Pope, the obvious truth comes out to smack me in the face – well not in the face, I guess. This obvious truth smacked in some other part of my body, some part where being struck isn’t going to cost me my dignity, I guess.
This Pope has come out on the side of many marginalized groups, gays, Muslims (marginalized in the West), even women, I think. He even said righteous atheists could go to heaven! But this –

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31163219

“He made the remarks during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, which was devoted to the role of fathers in the family.
The Pope outlined the traits of a good father, as someone who forgives but is able to “correct with firmness” while not discouraging the child.
Some child welfare campaigners have questioned his comments.
The Pope said: “One time, I heard a father in a meeting with married couples say ‘I sometimes have to smack my children a bit, but never in the face so as to not humiliate them.’
“How beautiful,” he added. “He knows the sense of dignity. He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on.””

– this was rather disappointing. It says in the article that the Catholic Church argued that it “in no way supported corporal punishment,” but one has to wonder if this most shockingly liberal Pope could say this then what would more conservative back-benchers think about it. The article also mentions that the Church had come under criticism last year by a UN committee that was monitoring the progress of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
So, I’m a little afraid that we’re all getting a peek behind the curtain at this Great and Liberal Pope. If he can be supportive of corporal punishment for everybody on Earth – after all, we all start as children – then perhaps that gives the lie to his support of smaller groups, perhaps that support might start to look merely political.
The premise I find amusing: that as long as we’re not struck in the face, we retain our dignity while receiving our corporal punishment. I’m sure we all remember how dignified we felt when our pants were pulled down for it.

Personally, I feel this as a slap in the face, and sort of well, personal. The guy supports every possible cause they throw in front of him except mine. Murphy’s Law, got me again.

Updated! Shows of Strength and Presenting a United Front

. . . are short term, things, of course, is where I’m going. It was never my plan, in raising my kids. We’re playing the long game. We are traitors and pariahs in the world of breeding couples, my wife and I; if you’re disciplining your kids, we don’t have your back. We’ll have no part of it.

Same for the police, and Team America, Team Israel, and the vengeful God of Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.

If you’ve never read me before – and the odds that you’re one of the few who have are not good! It’s not like my message is the type to go viral – you may not know that this is a pattern with me, the family and then the society, the micro and the macro, the model and the mass production. I see things as fractal, as we do in our nuclear families, so it goes in society.

In my little corner of suburban Canada, in my mainstream life of the middle and lower classes, the adults have a cartel on what is allowed for kids, over what is done and what is not. It’s public school, public play, large public markets and entertainments, and everyone knows what is expected of kids, and apparently we all know exactly how to insure that, and so we all know exactly what is expected of parents too. Of course, that means discipline and control. God forbid your kids should create any problems for me, and vice versa. We all know when a child goes bad and causes problems who is to blame; it’s the parents. Somebody isn’t with the program. Don’t they know that we are all depending on each other to maintain total control of things?

Well, we took a chance, opted out of the cartel, and guess what? Our kids aren’t causing any problems for anybody. I’m not saying it’s all of the kids – but the kids causing problems were raised in the cartel, in the group where all the adults are backing each other up, where the adults are presenting a united front. When as kids we see that dynamic, when we see that it’s a military tactic and it’s directed at us, that hurts our feelings. And when it’s total, when there is no crack in the wall presented by the authority of the adults, when no adult dares break the line and side for the kids, well then we can lose hope. Then desperation may set in.

This united front, this show of solidarity and strength, it’s authority’s answer to everything, but it’s an affront to those of us who were operating under the illusion that we were all on the same side. So it’s a shock and an insult to us when we’re kids, and the grownups who in nature would be our caregivers, the ones who would love and protect us close ranks and say, “No, kid, it’s us against you. No-one who matters, no-one with a vote is on your side.”

That is the Dark Side of Alice Miller’s famous assertion that the presence of one enlightened adult can be the difference in a child’s life. Yes, believe it or not, Dr. Miller was sugar coating it for you. She also let us all think we could undo the damage afterwards with therapy, or she did with her first couple of books anyway.

So, on to the macro part.

Not parents, but the disciplinarians for the parents, and for the children as well, the police – they also like the benefits that come from presenting a unified front, plus they too have left the role of caregiver behind in favour of the bludgeon a little too often. These latest few high profile police slayings of unarmed black people put me in mind of the Hell’s Angel’s rules of engagement as detailed by Hunter S. Thompson so long ago: if one of them has a fight with you, they all do. Plus, as Thompson learned the hard way, it doesn’t matter that they pick the fight, or that it was accidental, the result of a stupid misunderstanding. You were simply unlucky, wrong place, wrong time. All right, on with it. Here’s the point:

We think that in order to keep control of things, we need to be strong, we mustn’t show weakness. Of course this is a self-fulfilling behaviour. If we establish control with strength – read force – then strength and force it must be, forever, because you have pissed off the objects of your control. Here’s the thing though. After some time, like two seconds after the first use of your strength, things like humanity, mercy, and kindness become synonyms for weakness, and that we mustn’t show, or all is lost. That is the nature of fantasy: the fantasized consequences for imagined actions are infinite, larger than life.

Clearly, what the authorities fantasize would happen if the police punished one trigger happy cop like they do every trigger happy private citizen is total anarchy, the end of their authority and civilization as we know it. Equally clear to some of us is that is really stupid. Of course what would actually happen, is it would be the beginning of some sort of respect. Humanity we can respect. Inhumanity we only fear.

It’s not humanity or weakness that is going to drive the people to rampage, it’s the opposite of humanity and weakness nobody likes, meaning of course, what the police are doing now, the show of strength. Here, perhaps the authorities and their police can take a lesson from parents. As much as parents are the model for this huge error, as much as parents are guilty of the same authoritarian methods, there’s a difference: kids grow up. Every parent sees the growth and steady increase of their kids’ power and the waning of their own that comes with age, and a great many parents can see their mistake in dealing with it and so change their ways.

Those that change, those that add humanity to their arsenal as time does its work, those who allow their dominance to slip and replace it with a real, human relationship, if they do it in its proper time, they are able to grow old, vulnerable and weak without unreasonable fear of their children’s vengeance. Their children also benefit greatly, having a more normal transition from childhood to adulthood, the gradual move from the small world of their nuclear family into the larger world beyond the family dynamic, learning to function in society. Those that cling to their strength and to their dominance live to fear coming under their children’s power – either that, or the children simply get as far from them as possible, possibly never to return. The people in the first group, the ones who relax their grip and show their humanity, those folks are growing up, maturing in a normal arc of learning. The ones in the other group grow stodgy, bitter, fearful of change, and live alone at the mercy of their negative fantasies. Some of the children from the second group manage to grow themselves up against the odds, but many spend far too large a portion of their lives trapped in the messed up power dynamic of their nuclear families. This extra time spent frozen in childhood in that sense, this what we call arrested development.

I’ve recently gotten out the old turntable and begun listening to vinyl records again, and one of the last few I’d bought, back in the day was the first offering from Tracy Chapman, remember it? ‘Talkin’ About a Revolution?’ I listened to the whole album last week, and it was depressing. That record is twenty-five years old and it could have been written and recorded yesterday.

The police, the authorities, they are in the second group of people. They are not learning.

What needs to happen, in order to satisfy Alice Miller’s minimum requirement for a difference in the lives of the people suffering under the dysfunctional caregiving of the authorities, is again, one enlightened adult. In this case though, a particular adult, one enlightened police chief, one enlightened prosecutor,  or one enlightened mayor. That’s something that could make a difference. In a bunch of lives.

Ignore that “Tiger Mom” – She’d Eat Your Kids

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/12/elephant-mom-timeof-tigermother/383378/?single_page=true

– And here’s the text:

Being an ‘Elephant Mom’ in the Time of the Tiger Mother

It’s okay for parents to nurture, protect, and encourage their children, especially when they’re very young.

I still remember the first time someone spoke to me about grit. It wasn’t when I lost my dad and saw my mother fall apart.

It wasn’t when my mother died, and I felt like I was falling apart.

It wasn’t when people who I believed would invest in my business didn’t. It wasn’t when the great recession hit our advertisers and my business had to stop publishing a magazine.

It was when I was thinking of pulling my 3-year-old out of a preschool in which she clearly wasn’t thriving. She was anxious, frozen, a shadow of the child she used to be before she started there.

But it was a co-op preschool, meaning I couldn’t just turn around and leave. When you sign up to join a co-op, you also sign up to work various jobs around the school and to commit to being an active part of a larger community. In other words, I had to talk to the other parents at the co-op about my decision. One of them cautioned me: “What about grit?” she said. For a minute, I was taken aback. Was she talking about me or my 3-year-old?

She wasn’t talking about me.

It shouldn’t have shocked my system. I’ve often felt like a misfit around parents when they talk about how kids have it too easy these days or how important it is to inculcate a sense of independence in them as early as possible.

This is the story of my struggle to allow myself to be the kind of parent I want to be. I grew up in India, but moved to the U.S. in my 20s and became a mother here in my 30s. I had never felt like an outsider, ever—until I had a child.

I read a lot of books so that I would be the best mom I could be. And I suddenly found myself wondering, did the Indian parents I saw in my parents’ generation—and many in mine—get it wrong? My father was a big believer in the importance of a child’s first five years. I often heard him tell people how he couldn’t scold me until I was five. He reprimanded his younger brother for raising his voice at his kids before they turned five. Raised voices or not, we didn’t have any concept of time-outs anywhere around us. I can’t recall a time when I cried and a grown up didn’t come to console or hold me. They always did. I slept with my mother until I was five. My father would tease me and say I was my mother’s tail, but neither of them did anything to get me to sleep alone or in a different room with my siblings.

My parents weren’t the only ones with this kind of approach. The phrase I would hear in almost every home we visited during my childhood was some version of’Let the kids enjoy themselves.’ They have the rest of their lives to be grown up.And the social fabric of our world supported them. We would go to the fanciest of restaurants with our parents and run around and play tag. No one would stop us—not the managers, not the other diners. It was normal. Soon enough, the servers would join in. It was lovely.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that my parents and their friends necessarily had it right. Some of them produced kids who were happy, some of them didn’t; some of them raised CEOs, some of them raised stay-at-home moms. I’m justsaying that it’s okay to be an elephant mom, an elephant dad—an elephant parent.

If you’re wondering what ‘elephant parent’ means, it’s the kind of parent who does the exact opposite of what the tiger mom, the ultra-strict disciplinarian, does. Here’s a short video clip that shows how real elephants parent. And that’s what I’m writing about here—parents who believe that they need to nurture, protect, and encourage their children, especially when they’re still impressionable and very, very young.

My elephant mom was a doctor with infinite patience. I failed a Hindi test when I was in fifth or sixth grade, and I remember going to her, teary-eyed, with my results—and hearing her tell me that it didn’t matter. There were many more tests ahead. As I sobbed in her lap, she stroked my hair, hugged me, and told me there would be another test, and I could pass that one. (I did get the annual proficiency prize for Hindi a year later at the same school.)

My grandparents were doting parents, too. On both sides, the families lost everything in the partition of India. They had to flee to India from what is now Pakistan. My naana (mother’s father), originally a doctor from a wealthy family, began saving every rupee to educate his girls. He stopped going to the movies, his favorite past time. Both he and his wife stopped buying new clothes and began stitching them at home instead.

My father knew grit. He came to Punjab in India on a train with bullets flying around him—and people dying in front of his eyes. (Riots accompanied the 1947 partition that divided India and Pakistan.)

After his father died suddenly, he looked after his mother and brought up his four siblings in India. He and my mother paid for them to study in school and college and funded their weddings. Yet, my father never talked to me about grit. If anything, my parents protected me from pain; perhaps they knew that life would eventually have some pain in store for me, sooner or later. They learned how to raise their kids from their parents. And I learned how to raise my kid from them.

But my husband, who is also Indian, and I are raising our daughter thousands of miles away from where we were grew up. There aren’t any families of Indian origin at my daughter’s preschool or even in our immediate neighborhood. “Our way” isn’t a way that everyone around us understands. When she was a baby, we wouldn’t let her cry herself to sleep. It wasn’t a judgment on those who followed the sleep expert Marc Weissbluth’s advice. It was and is a cultural belief. Even now, our four-year-old will often ask us to put her shoes on, and feed her, much to the consternation of many fellow parents. But we do it because it connects us to our uncles and aunts who would have said she has the rest of her life to do it herself.

To make sense of the world where I was raising my child, I went to meet Angela Jernigan, who runs Parent Connect East Bay in Berkeley. She helps people find and build a support structure in their parenting journey. “We don’t have the village anymore,” she said. “It’s very hard for parents to be connected (to their kids), to give their kids the experience of being felt and heard.” For that to happen, parents need to feel connected and supported themselves, which in our fragmented world can be hard to do, she explained.

Jernigan has heard words like grit and resilience thrown around in her own child’s elementary school. “I explain that us having adult-like standards for children is the wrong way to build resilience. Parents have to be nurturing to build a core of strength with children,” she said.

Nurturing. Vulnerable. Empathetic. That’s how parents need to be, she suggests, when kids are having a “big feeling” (in other words, a meltdown).

I heard something similar in a TED talk by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work, who studies the human connection. “You can’t selectively numb those hard feelings,” Brown said. She was referring to emotions like guilt, vulnerability, and shame—emotions kids and adults feel. In an uncertain world, Brown said, we like to make things certain. “We perfect, most dangerously, our children.”

And why we do that probably warrants an entirely different discussion about our cultural fears and insecurities. Have we failed as parents if our kids aren’t the most well-behaved, toughest, and smartest kids in the neighborhood? Jernigan’s clients are more often than not people who are trying to be the perfect parents, raising perfect kids.

Literature, discussions and forums about parenting abound. As we look for the best ways to raise our kids, we gravitate toward what makes sense to us. After meeting Jernigan, I couldn’t help but think that if there were so many parents flocking to her group to learn how to better connect with their kids, maybe many of the differences I’d noticed weren’t as fundamental and deep-rooted as I’d believed. Perhaps parents, regardless of where they’re from, have more in common than not. The mom who spoke to me about grit also, on a separate occasion, spoke to me about wanting a slow separation from her child.

Studies and facts indicate that, regardless of what parents might say about being tough with their kids, they are spending more time and money on them than previous generations have done. A 2012 study by sociologists Sabino Kornrich and Frank Furstenberg that was published in Demography found that parentsspent more on their children’s education and care than on consumer goods from 1972 to 2007. Studies out of the University of California at San Diego show that college-educated parents in the U.S. have dramatically increased the time they spend with their kids over the past twenty years.

Trading Up: Moral Equivalence – Bigger Crimes for Smaller Ones

First of all, I admit, I was a late adopter of the expression, “moral equivalence.” I find it counterintuitive, it really means ‘false moral equivalence,’ right, ‘contrived moral equivalence,’ something like that? Or does it refer to people who really do think these disparate situations are actually equivalent? Whatever, let’s live with those questions, like they used to say in the “est” seminars. I’m a great believer that we need to juggle all these thoughts, all these balls need to be in the air at once, that we shouldn’t commit to any conclusions that could be wrong and then base our arguments from them. Everything should always be available for review in our minds, pending new information.

I think we all place the concept in the category of fallacious argument. Moral equivalencies are offered as justifications for behaviours that we all naturally intuit to be wrong, such as violence that is out of proportion to the behaviour that prompts it. Examples of moral equivalence may include:

  • A nation like Israel literally killing something like a thousand Palestinians for every murdered Israeli because the Palestinian Arabs WANT to kill all the Israelis.
  • A police officer literally killing a citizen in a fight that begins with an attempted arrest for a minor crime – of course, like jaywalking or operating a very small commercial enterprise without a license or without filing the taxes.
  • A law introduced that curtails the rights of large numbers of people based on statistically insignificant levels of a crime – like the voter ID laws.

Now, I know everyone is making the race arguments about these things, and of course there is racism, and classism, the poor always get the short end, and through long term, cultural racism, ‘the poor’ is pretty much synonymous with ‘blacks,’ at least in America. Fair enough. I just want to point out what seems to be slipping under the radar: the simple moral fallacy underlying all policing, and authority in general, and that is the magnitude of the crimes in these situations.

I think we can all see the cost and benefits of imprisoning murderers. Sure, forcible confinement is bad, an infringement of the prisoner’s human rights, but his infringement on the human rights of his victims is worse, so we feel justice is served. Perhaps not optimally, at least I don’t really think so, but close enough for this conversation. And so, if this killer resists arrest and dies in the ensuing fight, that’s still close enough to proper – of course, provided he really is a murderer, provided he’s guilty.

Morally, that is not so bad. Pretty good in a horrible situation. But that example should not be used to cover all arrests. That is some bad science, in fact it is probably one of these arguments of ‘moral equivalence’ to say that anyone who resists arrest for anything can be righteously killed. Race and racism aside, that is reprehensible, and defending that behaviour very correctly puts the defender on the wrong side of morality. This is a net increase in crime: murder for jaywalking, murder for black market cigarette sales.

That is the opposite of what we are paying police for.

Talk about ‘do as I say, not as I do!’ Here’s what you can’t do, and here’s what we can do – this is the very essence of inequality, inequity and anathema to ‘all men being created equal.’

So here’s what I think should happen: I don’t think that we should enforce these laws if it means creating a bigger crime than the one we’re trying to stop. So no corporal punishment for non-violent crimes, for jaywalking for illegal small businesses – verbal admonishments only. Counselling and reason, let them know that they aren’t holding up their end of the deal in our attempts to have a fair society. Perhaps for the subsistence criminal, we can find them some legal money to live on. This may involve reorganizing our social structure in such a way that doesn’t leave so many people out of the right side of life and the law, such as decriminalizing drugs and stopping the erosion of the government’s revenues for education and healthcare.

Maybe we could document these minor crimes, and use the information in court if the person does anything that really does require police and courts, so we could show a pattern of anti-social behaviour, make a case that some sort of intervention is overdue for the stubbornly anti-social and criminal people that abuse the system.

Pie in the sky, right? Madness?

So, the status quo seems reasonable, then? That minor crimes should be punished corporally, with a forced trip to jail and possibly prison, something that would motivate the offender to fight for his life and turn our attempt to correct small crimes into deadly street battles instead? Please don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t blame everyone. It’s been complicated and confusing for so long, but that’s . . . crazy. All infractions of the law do not need to be enforced.

In fact, of course, all cases of breaking the law are not enforced now. How many crimes of the rich, the bankers, and the leaders are not punished? Of course, the crimes that are detected, solved, prosecuted and punished are far fewer than the actual instances of crime and always have been. In this way, criminal punishment has always been unfair and random. That perhaps bears repeating.

Criminal punishment has always been unfair and random. That being the obvious truth to any thinking person, and being that improving the consistency in catching and prosecuting is unlikely and possibly not even desirable – most of us think we’re close enough to the dystopic police state of our nightmares now – maybe we need to think about going the other direction. Simply not arresting and prosecuting the poorest people for minor crimes (again, drug laws come to mind) – not going after the lowest hanging fruit with the intent of violence and forcible confinement – could well be our best way to increase the consistency of our law enforcement, and therefore the general fairness of our society.

This could be one way that the police could gain some real respect and trust in the poorest communities – I mean, this wouldn’t be huge, much crime is violent crime, and I’m not advising we ignore those who would victimize others with violence – but this is exactly the point. Victimizing others with violence is exactly what the police are doing when they come to arrest and imprison people for minor crimes. If this is what cannot be changed, then talk of community trust and respect is empty blather. And deeply cynical too.

To say to people –

“We want to work with you, to establish a partnership, based on trust and mutual respect, based in understanding. We acknowledge that we are here to serve the community, to work for a greater peace and a better life for all – “

– while still maintaining that we intend nonetheless to come to your house, overpower you and throw you in prison for not paying your parking and court fines? That is deeply schizoid for some of us and downright cruel and cynical for some others. Either way, it’s . . . crazy. Again, violence, kidnapping and forcible confinement for minor crimes – that is a net increase in the level of crime, and it’s the very opposite of what the general population is paying the police to do.

Morally, arrests and the associated force and violence are worse than jaywalking, street level black market dealing, avoidance of legal and traffic fines, and drug possession. That is what I’m saying. This isn’t moral equivalence. It’s a total inversion.

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.

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.