A Conflicted Society – the Dreamer, Part #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Irony of Deterrents, Part #3

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

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

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

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

That is the situation.

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

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


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



The Islamic State Just Doesn’t Get It.

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

And they’re getting worse!

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

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

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

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

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

THOSE Kinds of Parents

Everything is fine.

I mean if we just keep doing what we’re doing, everything will be fine. Everything will be fine sometime very soon . . . well it would be, if it weren’t for those people. I mean you and I, we were taught respect, we know how things should be and how life should be lived. We were given the gifts of discipline and morality.

If only everyone was like us. If only all parents were as disciplined and as responsible as ours. They were willing to do the hard stuff. They knew they were our parents and that they weren’t supposed to be our friends. And when not being our friends wasn’t enough, they knew how to make the ultimate sacrifice of Tough Love; they weren’t afraid to let us know that we would be on our own and alone in the world. God Bless ‘em.

Not like some others.

You know the ones. Those namby-pamby bleeding-heart idiots who don’t care how their kids grow up, the ones who don’t care if the kids never learn how to work or wash a dish, as long as the parents don’t ever have to feel that these kids are mad at them, as long as they can still feel that their kids like them. Those types never teach their kids right from wrong, and you know it’s their kids that are doing all those things that destroy society: taking drugs, failing in and dropping out of school, joining gangs and winding up as criminals and putting stress on the justice and medical systems, filling the prisons and the psych wards.

These cozy-sniffers, these traitors to the rest of us, to the responsible parents of the world, let’s not mince words about it, they are the ones that are blowing it for everyone. You know how it works. You take your family out for a meal, after reading the kids the riot act and reminding them how people need to behave in public, and how that especially in restaurants children should be more seen than heard, and then at the table next to you one of these families is acting like savages. The baby is whining or screaming, and the toddler is running around like a dog, like she’s at home or in the park, and the parents are doing nothing. Maybe Mom is cooing at the baby, maybe Dad is following the toddler around the place – not to capture her and sit her down or anything, just keeping her company, so the little so-and-so doesn’t lose sight of the family and get scared – and maybe there’s an older kid, playing on a Gameboy or something, at the dinner table, no less.

Now your kids are starting to twitch and make grumpy noises, after all, if those kids can do all that, why should they have to be perfect little soldiers? Maybe you catch your kids shooting you a resentful look. So maybe that’s the beginning of the end, maybe your kid is becoming a teenager and he’s going to start hating you now, maybe rebellion is already looming – and it’s a few years earlier than you had hoped. Thanks to those idiot parents at the next table, who have kids but clearly aren’t actually adults themselves yet.

Society is breaking down, and it’s obvious who’s to blame. Certainly not us.




Man. My attitude really stinks these days.

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.


More than Not Punishing

It all starts with not punishing – I don’t mean not spanking, not punishing corporally, I mean not punishing at all. I mean, we said “no” a lot, we distracted, even physically restrained our toddlers sometimes, but punished?

(MOM: I don’t remember saying no very often, I remember saying yes whenever possible, always thinking before responding. It’s like Bea Marshall @BeaTheTree , there is no stress when you can say yes! So say it whenever you can.

ME: True, I didn’t mean to give the impression that we said “no” as often as a lot of folks, or as often as we ourselves were told “no” when we were kids. Just that sometimes the true answer is no, and sometimes we said it, but that’s all, only said it, never backed it up with any sort of unpleasantness.)

Punished? Found a way to disincentivize unwanted behaviour by dishing out something the kids would not enjoy? Never. Never downgraded their life experience to make a point – but there were a lot of other changes that we made in the child-rearing that we practiced generally, relative to the child-rearing that was practiced on us.

The list of parenting blasphemies we practiced were as follows:

  1. The Family Bed. Our kids didn’t move out of our bedroom into their own until, presumably, they had reached an age where they required the privacy to masturbate. Then they chose a room and moved into it. I assume that was the deciding factor; I’m sure they’ll deny it.

(MOM: Lol….your girls will not like you for saying this….pretty sure that is with boys not girls….I would just say, for privacy….why don’t you ask them?

ME: Why? I’m not so liberated I want to know that! Plus, it’s kinda beside the point. Just trying to give the reader a chuckle, you got a problem with that?

MOM: Oh right – “the reader.” How’s she doing anyway?

ME: Shut up!

DAUGHTER/TRUTH-TELLER: Dad left the family bedroom first on account of snoring, mom soon wanted to be with him, older sister got a boyfriend and moved into her own room, youngest (me) was abandoned and slowly learned to not be so afraid of the dark and being alone. That is all.

ME: Oh, for the love of . . . it was acid reflux and I had to prop the bed up and sleep on a hill. And it wasn’t “snoring,” it was sleep apnea. Look, we had a family bed for a long time, OK?)

For the record, we say “shut up” a little too. But we don’t enforce it.

2. Long breastfeeding times,

(MOM: (The older one) yes, 2.5 years. (The younger one), no, 9 months….lol…but I would have…she had issues with my milk.

ME: Oh, right . . . )

3. Pacifiers as long as they wanted them. We gave them to the kids, we didn’t retain ownership. They were their possessions, not ours to take away.

(MOM: We did talk to them about getting rid of them, and the dentist did too, and eventually, just before kindergarten, they gave them up.

ME: Oh right . . . )

  1. No toilet training – it’s not difficult, you know. They figured it out themselves, years before school, where it could be a problem.

(MOM: Not true, we did show them, but we didn’t put pressure on them. It was never a struggle.

ME: Well, that isn’t “training,” then, is it? Not in any authoritarian sense.)

4. The kids could choose who they hung out with, no forced friendships with the children of our friends. That gave us some troubles, our parent friends didn’t understand it.

  1. We cursed and swore, and so did the kids. We let them watch anything on TV, anything we would watch, they could too. I mean we don’t watch porn or horror movies, but other than that. They were raised on South Park, Family Guy, and Jay and Silent Bob.
  2. We included them in any and all conversations. Sex and death not excluded, politics and science not excluded. We answered any and all questions with the truth, up to and including “Well, Sweetie, we think your uncle had a heart attack, but it’s also possible that he was so sad that he killed himself, I’m not sure” and all the way down to and including “What do you get when you cross an elephant with a Rhino?” (Elephino!) If the true answer was too complex for kids, too bad, true is true; simple and false is wrong for both those reasons, wrong two ways. When they got bored of the answer, they could walk or crawl away, no problem.

There’s more, but the thing is, it all follows not punishing. If you’re not going to punish, you can’t really force any of that stuff, all you can do is talk, make suggestions, rational explanations . . . little kids don’t always listen, and so some things got dirty, some things got broken, some things got lost. Shit happens. But you know what else happened?

  1. Straight ‘A’s, always.
  2. Polite, communicative kids that people liked to be around.
  3. Life has gotten better and easier every year since the younger one passed about four years of age.
  4. No teen rebellion, on account of no pre-verbal or toddler rage.
  5. Open communication all the way through life, no secrets, no lies. The lines of communication have always been open – yes, even right through the teen years.
  6. No drugs, alcohol, or promiscuousness.
  7. Always been a happy family together, the kids don’t mind being around us, or us them. None of the animosity normal between parents and teens. They want to be with us, and we want to be with them.

So there was more than not punishing to be sure, the family bed, no censorship (including paying no attention to the pressure for “age-appropriate” talk), no bed times, no meal times, no forced friendships. Honestly, we were often viewed as traitors to the adult “united front” that the parents of the world feel so strongly about, and, fair enough. We picked sides, for sure.

We sided with our kids.

Our end of the Deal, Part #2 – Teachers

Our end of the Deal, Part #2 – Teachers

We have got to stop using physical means on our babies and toddlers, because we’re setting them up to fail in school.

We’re moving in the right direction in terms of corporal punishment, specifically, it’s being stopped in the school systems, but that in itself has created a mismatch: if we control our kids physically, then we can’t reasonably expect the teachers to be able to control them by less forceful means.

There may be those who think teachers should be able to use the strap, or the paddle, or whatever instrument they used to use in your part of the world, but there are enough actual parents with kids in school that don’t, so we’re not going there, at least not today. Institutional corporal punishment has been outlawed, or will be in your part of the world soon, because that is how it should be, and that is something the directors of our societies have the authority to do. Corporal punishment in the home though, that is another matter. That apparently, is still a matter of religion, tradition, or just a matter of personal choice (don’t get me started – a “personal choice” as to whether I get to strike another person! Unbelievable), and the government isn’t going to touch it with a ten foot pole. Even in the countries that have outlawed it, I suspect they only prosecute if we’ve killed or nearly killed our kid.

Difficult as it sounds, we have at some point determined that by the age at which children enter the school system, they are presumed to be civilized, able to function in a classroom, and corporal punishment of children in schools has been stopped, so they need to be controllable by less than physical means, they need to be people that can be reasoned with, talked to. That means they aren’t supposed to be some sort of circus animals that only respond to a whip!

This conversation usually goes in the opposite direction, I know. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or read that the problem is caused by parents that don’t physically train their children – but that’s not it. That’s what many people might think – but no, the violence and chaos in our world and in our children is not the result of a lack of corporal punishment. It’s actually simpler than that – violence begets violence, violence models violence. When our governments banned corporal punishment in schools, they did it based on good information, study after study after study shows that corporal punishment increases violence and rebellious behaviour in children, and not the other way around, despite what Sister Mary Louise told you in Catholic school.

So spanking and threatening and generally bullying our kids makes them impossible for the teachers to control. Once things have escalated to the physical, the kids can’t be convinced by words; for words to have power, they need to mean something, and when our kids know that we’ll force a point that we’re serious about, they learn that they don’t have to listen, and so they don’t. When we’re serious, they know they can depend on us to make them feel it. That’s what corporal punishment teaches: exactly the opposite of what we hope, it teaches that they never have to listen.

And that is the teachers’ nightmare, every day.

It is not the teachers’ job to civilize our kids, especially after we have spent five years uncivilizing them by force. Every year in the life of a human being is one in which that human being is less easily influenced than the year before, by an order of magnitude, so those first five years are a virtual eternity. Overcoming that, performing that nearly impossible feat, that is not their job.

That is our job. And we’re not holding up our end of the deal.

If we want the school system to function, if we want an environment in which children can learn, then we need to raise our children in such a way that the tools a teacher can legally and morally use to do it are going to work, namely, without any sort of corporal punishment.

Outlawing corporal punishment in schools, while we use that flawed tool in our homes for the critical first several years of their lives is a good first step, but a small one. Really small. Remember “Breaking Bad?”

No half measures.

– here’s part #1:


The Fight against Corporal Punishment will Fail

I’ve said it many times, so the waiver here will be brief: of course I’m against corporal punishment. The science is in, it is indistinguishable from abuse psychologically, except where there is a difference in the degree of it, and except that the legal status of it brings its own problems and complications.

Having said that –

The acceptance of non-corporal punishment, of supposed non-physical forms of “discipline” gives oxygen to corporal punishment and abuse. As long as we keep fooling ourselves that there is some form of “discipline” that isn’t harmful to the little people receiving it, there will always be physical punishment and outright abuse. I’m sorry, folks. I know you mean well.

You just don’t understand it.

Let’s take a bird’s eye view, a high level look at it.

One of the most basic tenets of a worldview that includes psychology is that negative stimulus brings negative effects, in a word, damage. We all agree, apparently so long as the negative stimulus is negative in a legal sense; I think we mostly see that the negative outcomes associated with illegal outright abuse prove the basic idea. As corporal punishment approaches illegal status we can begin to see that its negative stimulus brings negative outcomes . . . but we’re missing something. We’re failing to take the single next logical step.

That next logical piece is this: the theory of punishment, in its most basic form, means applying a negative stimulus in order to discourage unwanted behaviour.

This is the core concept of punishment, “core” meaning that it is the central concept, not something that only applies to extreme forms, or some forms of punishment, but that this is what punishing is, what all punishing (by any name, “discipline,” “consequences,” or not getting a “reward”) is. Forms of punishment we use on children that are not violent, such as the “timeout,” “grounding,” removal of a desired toy, restriction of screen-time, with-holding of love or attention – all of these are negative stimuli. So if our worldview is partly informed by psychology, we should expect that these negative stimuli also bring negative outcomes.

This should tell us that if we wish to lessen the negative outcomes associated with corporal punishment, that it’s a little schizoid to exclude the negative stimuli of all the other sorts of punishment from the conversation. Let alone that so many folks are actually promoting these other forms of negative stimuli! Again, all that sort of talk is well intentioned, but based in a dismal failure of reasoning. To view it arithmetically, we should see that this way:

To criticize a particular form of a thing – the corporal form of punishment – while supporting the basic form, the general form, the logical “pure” idea of the thing – punishment in general – is more support than it is critique. By a long shot. By, in fact, an order of magnitude. It’s fundamental support and only peripheral critique – put simply, it does more harm than good in the long term – and this battle is multigenerational. It’s the long game we need to be playing.

Of course, there’s a lot more to this conversation, but I’ve said it elsewhere and will continue to talk about it, always. For now, I don’t want to say anything that will distract us from this point, one that should be clear to us, but apparently isn’t.

Corporal Punishment is not a Racial Issue


Here’s what the link is talking about, but examples of the racism that is flooding the web these days in the guise of talk about the NFL scandals and corporal punishment are not hard to find. The link above also debunks the idea that the homophobia of blacks caused the success of California’s Prop. 8.