Doubter’s Alert – Punishment

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Doubters Alert.”

          “What? What part of ‘punishment’ don’t you agree with?

          “Uh, the core concept, I guess.”

Does anybody else feel that this challenge crosses the line into some personal sort of trolling? This is the last day of summer vacation, I really should be outside – but, OK, if you wanna fight . . .


I’m choosing to imagine that a lot of us might have read this challenge that way, ‘five to ten thousand clicks bait,’ an unavoidable death match for people with a cause. OK then. On with it.

The truth I would challenge is that there is any sort of punishment of children that is not based in violence and not potentially damaging. My case amounts to a series of observations:

  • It’s been shown that abuse and corporal punishment increase the level and frequency of a suite of damages in victims, many of which are mental, psychological, emotional
  • Forms of punishment not intended to be ‘corporal’ can have all of the invisible effects above, mental, psychological, emotional problems, if the punishment includes those forms of penalties. If the penalty isn’t physical (i.e. not corporal punishment), then it’s non-physical, meaning mental, psychological, emotional, and therefore that’s the sort of hurt it causes
  • Forms of punishment not intended to be ‘corporal’ can and often do become physical fights regardless of the intended penalty’s ‘non-corporal’ nature, if they need to be forced, as well. In these cases, the penalty and the hurt have all the components, the physical and the invisible ones

So. Core concept, you say?

The definition of punishment, while it takes thousands of words in the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy, can be boiled down for our purposes, to something like this:

An authorized person doing something to someone because that person won’t like it in order to change something that person is doing, stop them doing something, or get them to do something.

People doing things to us that we don’t like – that is abuse. Punishing is abuse with a goal, usually a goal that is acceptable to the society or the family, so it rests on the old ‘ends justify the means’ idea, but here’s the thing: the second half of that thought does in no way change the first. To whatever degree abuse hurts, so too does punishment. There’s a real world out there, or at least we do better behaving as though there is, a real world where causes have effects, and the effects of our actions do not change if our actions don’t, if only our intentions differ.

If we mean to hurt, if we plan to abuse, say we pick a bogus fight with a kid and then beat him up for some sick kind of fun, that is horrible, and we might expect trauma, right? That’s clearly abuse.

But if we have a legitimate confrontation with a kid, over some behavioural issue of his, and feel the need to decree a punishment, grounding (house arrest and curfew), and the kid tries to leave, refusing the punishment, and we physically restrain him and he fights and we fight and win, we think of that differently, don’t we?

I don’t think we should. I think the two scenarios are too close to make that distinction, all the components are the same – except the adults’ intentions, the adults’ hopes, the adults’ wishes . . . and of course, if wishes were horses.

I think the fight against corporal punishment needs to morph into the fight against all punishment. I don’t see the distinction making any headway, corporal punishment isn’t going away, because the whole idea of it is a lie, that there are non-violent forms of punishing. Parents who buy into this lie learn the truth the first time their kid feels disagreeable, and so the entire gentler child-rearing movement fails. The core concept of punishing is brutal, “do this or else” – so there isn’t a harmless version, there can’t be, can there?

Sorry Folks, not my best, no art in it, I’m afraid.

But you asked!



Sept. 7, 2015