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Corporal Punishment, Race and Adrian Peterson

Note: I need to say that this blog post is NOT an endorsement of corporal punishment.  The post is reflecting the some of the more complex emotions on this sensitive issue.

When the news first broke about Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson being indicted for physically abusing his child, my “official” belief was that what he he did crossed a line.  Parents can discipline children, but if the photos that have been shown are true, well, this was way beyond a little pat on the butt.

But deep down, I felt an odd feeling- knowing that sooner or later, the issue would move to talking about corporal punishment and what role it should have in parenting if any.

I have to say, that if I ever have children I’m pretty sure I would not spank them.  I just don’t think that this line of punishment works anymore.

That said, when people start talking about how horrible it is to spank children and what horrible parents these people are, I get angry at the those people.

The reason I get angry is that the issue stops being academic and becomes very, very personal.  Because when we talk about the immorality of spanking children, it means that judging how my parents raised me.

Like most African Americans, I was spanked as a child.  There was a time that I would have said that because my parents were strict, that saved me from a host of evils.  I don’t believe that anymore, but I still get defensive about this.

I know that Chris Carter has received accolades for saying on national television that his mother was wrong in how she punished him.  Maybe I’m weak, but I’m not at the point I can say that.  Maybe I think that they did the best that they could as parents.  Maybe I don’t want to see them as callous monsters. In my parent’s minds they weren’t as brutal as their parents.  My mother has told me about how my grandmother punished her and it was rather chilling.

But the fact is, if we think that corporal punishment is a form of child abuse, then my parents weren’t merely wrong; they would also be considered monsters.

I do think corporal punishment should not be acceptable in our society.  But the self-righteous and smug attitude among those opposed to spanking rubs me the wrong way.  This debate brings up very personal issues; it’s the intersection of race and how we discipline.  I know there are many that says race has nothing to do with this, but this is America; race usually has everything to do with anything.

I think the reason the Charles Barkleys of the world start defending Peterson is because it feels less going after Peterson, than it is an accusation about discipline among African Americans.  Is this true?  No, but I think many African Americans think that they are being judged by white Americans on how to best parent.

Columnist Solomon Jones talks about this in his September 15 column:

…there is an underlying truth that has not been spoken regarding the use of corporal punishment in America, specifically where African Americans are concerned.

The very violence that was used to subjugate and enslave African Americans is now frowned upon, which is a positive development.

Still, it’s hard for me to ignore the fact that American society was built on that violence, benefited from that violence, and continues to prosper as a result of that violence.

And yet when a black parent uses a switch — a microcosm of the whips that were used against slaves — he is portrayed as a monster who must be punished.

The hypocrisy here is obvious. We can’t be in favor of violence when it benefits us, and against violence when it doesn’t. We can’t endorse whipping when it enriches, and frown upon it when it doesn’t.

I do think Peterson went overboard.  I do think it was right that the Vikings deactivated him and I thought it was wrong to re-activiate him (which the Vikings had to reverse after a backlash from corporate partners and the Minnesota political establishment).

Maybe my defensiveness concerning my parents is because I really believe they did the best they could.

I think there needs to be a change in how African Americans discipline their children, but I think it has to be done through education and not from a point of shame.  Most parents do what they learned from their parents.  They think the alternative is to allow the child to run free.  Another way has to be shown, but it has to be done in a way that doesn’t tell them that they are bad parents.

My parents did they best they could as have many other parents. That needs to be taken into account when we say that corporal punishment is no longer acceptable.

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259 thoughts on “Corporal Punishment, Race and Adrian Peterson

  1. This ties in to something I’ve been thinking about, and I’ll be holding back a little bit in case I write the post that’s percolating in my mind.

    There is something particularly special, and sharp, when it comes to critiquing how we parent. I’ve been a father all of two years, and I feel it. Criticize my dietary habits? You’re probably right. Criticize my carbon footprint? I may get defensive, but at some level it’s “whatever.” Criticize how I raise my child? I… don’t respond well. To say the least.

    In part it is the natural insecurity of not really knowing what I’m doing. We’re all playing it by ear. Our parents all played it by ear. There’s no manual. The “Best Practices in Child Rearing Guide” seems to be a combination of being ever-changing and impossible standards.

    But we love our children, and most of us are doing the best we can. Mostly, we think our parent(s) did the same. Which makes us very edgy. To the point of sometimes defending things we don’t do, if we know and love people who do or did.

    I’m on a vacation with my family and the in-laws. The Adrian Peterson subject has come up numerous times, and overwhelmingly the response has been that this is about telling people how to parent. My folks, my in-laws, are by-and-large not well informed about how far over the line that Peterson went. When I say this, they revise their positions accordingly. My father-in-law, who can be kind of stubborn, seems to be of the mind that even if Peterson did go pretty far over the line, though, he didn’t have to for this to be an issue because this all wraps around the parenting critiques.

    This all being despite the fact that my father spanked me, almost apologetically, maybe a couple times in his life (I think it didn’t feel right to him, which is why he didn’t do it more) and that I am unaware of my wife or her sisters ever being spanked. But there is a hunker down mentality, because I suspect that they were spanked growing up. And though not black, we do come from a culture that disproportionately utilizes capital punishment and I think there is a sense that we take these criticisms a little on the personal side on a cultural level even if it doesn’t apply to us specifically.

    So, as best as I can for a white man from a comparatively privileged background, I do kind of understand where you’re coming from on this. A little, maybe.

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    • This brings up an interesting point. The research on corporal punishment suggests that it really doesn’t work as a disciplinary method. It can even have the opposite effect of whats intended in many cases. However, basing the legal guidelines on what is and is not acceptable parenting on the latest scientific research is liberalism in its most busy-body form. The type that gets people really resentful at liberalism even if the aims are noble. Family is supposed to be one of the areas most protected from state intrusion to many people.

      There really isn’t a compromise on this issue. We are dealing with some very passionate feelings about lots of topics on both sides.

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    • What’s odd is that other changes don’t seem to draw as much ire. Our parents had us sleep on our stomachs as babies, but we don’t see it as an insult to their parenting to say that babies should sleep on their backs to avoid SIDS. It’s also not an insult to our parents that now kids have to be buckled up in the car at all times, when we were allowed to roam free in the back seats. We can understand that times change and so does the understanding of what it means to be a good parent without retroactively calling our parents bad parents.

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      • Discipline is part of the core of parenting, so criticism of discipline is criticism of the core of one’s parenting. Seatbelts and on which side your infant lies are peripheral.

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      • Its not just a matter of the implication that one’s parents might be monsters, it is the implication that the spanked person might be emotionally damaged. Usually, this charge of “emotional damage” seems to be heavily value laden. One person’s “lack of empathy” is another person’s “appropriate emotional distancing” from the situation.

        And further, this seems to be part of a larger pattern of psychological diagnoses which seem* to be based on progressive values. So there also seems to be an ideological twist to this. The seeming is important as conservatives are not going to trust the profession if they feel that the psychiatric profession is a sort of secular priesthood passing off their progressive prejudices as insights into the human psyche.

        *Whether or not it is true, there seems to be the perception that psychiatrists think that people shouldn’t have persistent emotional pain while a conservative thinks that perhaps people they think of as having a “deviant” sexuality should appropriately feel emotional pain for having said sexuality. Whether or not they are right about this depends on what values one has, and psychiatrists as public authority figures should not, in their professional capacity, take sides about this.

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  2. Good post. I’m not a fan of CP but i’ve worked with a lot of parents who used it. Plenty of them never drew blood or left bruises. When done well CP can be a part of a successful plan for discipline. AP certainly looks like he went to far so that needs to be the point regarding him. But CP is legal in this country and plenty of people use. It takes drawing blood or bruises to get CPS involved and doing something.

    I don’t agree with the hardcore anti-spanking people but i don’t’ see why they are any more self-righteous then any other advocate for something. They see all spanking as abuse. They seem like, DV advocates, to only see part of the spectrum of violence yet define everything by that. It is a bit myopic. The better discussion is if someone is going to use CP how do they do it well. Because I’ve worked with plenty of parents who had teens complain to me they were helpless to control their kids because they were to big to hit. The tragedy was that they saw hitting as everything thus losing the respect of their children. They never taught the children to do right because it was right and to self-control. In any case, and i say this as a parent and uncle, if you children love and respect you, then your disappointment with them will hurt more then being smacked. Their respect for you will keep them more in control when you aren’t there then fear. that doesn’t mean they wont’ screw up, oh they will, but once they are out of the range of your hand something has to be moving them.

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    • I agree with just about all of this. I don’t know if they are especially self-righteous. There is a combination, though, of (a) they disproportionately come from more influential sectors of society (the educated, the white, the wealthy) and (b) what they say comes (implicitly and sometimes explicitly) with threatening to take their children away and/or potentially prison for those who disagree. That’s a potent combination.

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      • I tend to think all single issue advocates suffer from some myopia and work in echo chamber type environments so they all risk being a bit blind to how they appear and to be self-righteous. In, sort of, their defense i’ll say that like DV advocates, who overlap quite a bit with the anti-spanking people they see such horrible cases of abuse that it is very hard for them not to be overwhelmed and passionate. Having talked to quite a few of both of those groups they care plenty and usually work with many minority children so i think they do understand race as an issue. Working to prevent child abuse is a noble calling, really hard work and scarring. That doesn’t make them right or your criticism less pertinent though.

        As a side note when i was in college i would never have imagined there are so many ways to screw up discipling children as I’ve ended up seeing. I couldn’t make up some of the weird stuff i’ve seen people do.

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    • I am pretty strongly anti-corporal punishment (and anti-violence period), but I don’t see it as abuse simpliter. I see it as an ineffective, counterproductive, and potentially damaging method of discipline, but that’s true of many non-corporal forms of punishment. If it is, in all cases, abuse, then so is most parenting.

      For levity’s sake, this parenting is hilarious:

      3-year-old Mateo Makes His Case for Cupcakes: “Li…: http://youtu.be/TP8RB7UZHKI

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    • “The better discussion is if someone is going to use CP how do they do it well.”

      This, I fear, is what is always lost in these sorts of issues. Abusus non tollit usum.

      Still, I see nothing wrong for my fellow traditionalists to make sure they think on the relationship between crime, punishment and forgiveness. There is a Lord Peter short story, Talboys, that is helpful to frame the difference between hitting and punishing and, more importantly, forgiveness. It is pretty high-church, so I don’t expect it to be convincing as an argument, per se. But, if you are interested in talking to folks on this side of the spectrum, it would be a place to take as a reference point. As for me, I can understand the reasoning behind disciplining a child, but cannot fathom an earthly notion of what our present penal prison system is for.

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      • “cannot fathom an earthly notion of what our present penal prison system is for.”

        Unfortunately in the pursuit of balance, order, and stability a significant portion of the population is caged, beaten or killed. Maybe this father went overboard trying to instill enough behavioral change that his son would not end up in the system.

        If so, that says as much about the system as the father.

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      • Well, that right there.

        Before we condemn any black parents for their parenting choices, let’s get it so even relatively minor failure of their children’s discipline is not likely to result in their deaths or extended and repeated imprisonment.

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    • I don’t agree with you on the “how to do it right” part. I believe that “how to do it right” is almost always best answered with one word: “not”. That the best case of corporal punishment, and the case with the vast majority of parents who use it, is that it’s not harmful, but still quite unnecessary and no more effective than sensibly applied non-corporal punishment.

      So, if someone has a system that works for them and their kids, and they’re not in need of help with parenting – great, leave it be, whether it includes moderate corporal punishment or not. But if you’re going to do parenting education, why would you include material about how to make the best possible use of an approach that at its best is not harmful but not especially effective, and at its worst is lethal?

      I do want to make clear though that I don’t think those who spank their children should be considered child abusers – not even “it’s not up to the level of criminality, but it’s still an abuse” – any more than those who use techniques that are less than optimal on other fronts should be criminalized (You’re cooking chickpeas without a pressure cooker? That’s way less effective. You dal abuser!).

      Like Will and probably many others here, my parents spanked me occasionally, and I would vehemently dispute any allegation that they were bad or abusive parents, at the moment they were spanking me or at any other time. But I think it’s also quite valid to recognize that that particular parenting technique of theirs is one that’s now known not to be useful.

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      • You are comparing children to chickpeas? Really? That’s your argument? Are you kidding me? So just because I pound out my steak to tenderize it, it is okay to “tenderize” my children too?

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      • Small joke. Apparently a bad one.

        All I really mean is, reasonably applied, non-excessive, corporal discipline is not abuse. It may be totally ineffective, somewhat effective but not as much as non-corporal discipline, or just as effective as non-corporal discipline. It could be I’m wrong and it can actually be more effective than non-corporal discipline.

        But regardless of all that, its level of effectiveness is not determinative of whether it is abuse.

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      • But fundamentally, yes, children are just like chickpeas. Not any other pulse, just chickpeas. You’ll have to buy the beer if you want the explanation of my highly elegant theory. It’s a fairly elaborate theory, so it will take several beers.

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  3. Discussions about anything get contentious when there’s self-righteousness involved. But when you strip away the self-righteousness of the loudest, the argument still has merit. Hitting children isn’t acceptable and the evidence shows that it doesn’t work.

    Like anything else in life, we need to be able to step back and analyze whether or not what we do is working. It’s a common expectation in the professional setting, and it should apply to culture as well. The thing is, there isn’t a “race” issue here in the first place. A recent Slate article points out that a large majority of white, Hispanic, and black Americans find some form of corporal punishment acceptable. The gaps between the groups are usually within 10 points, depending on the survey question, with more than 70% saying they have used corporal punishment themselves.

    In a more general sense, this case is yet another illustration of why I dislike the appeal to tradition as an explanation for cultural behaviors. There ought to be more self examination and more criticism. “Because my parents spanked/hit/whooped me when I was a child” is not sufficient reason to inflict the same on your own children. We need to stop and think about why people find themselves coming back to this behavior and what we can do to teach them that it’s not an effective approach to discipline.

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    • Saying that all aspects of life should be subject to technocratic, scientific analysis is one reason why people loathe technocratic liberalism. The type that really thrived in the mid-20th century. A lot of people really resent being told what to do by experts even if the experts are right. I’m against corporal punishment to but the message needs to be conveyed in a way that isn’t liberal busy-body.

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      • It’s possible to take the data and, instead of telling people they should or have to do something, try to convince them to do it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s the way public dialogues should work. That they don’t suggests a failure not in scientific analysis but in the way we apply it to life.

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  4. My very white parents spanked my very white ass. I fully get Dennis’s defensiveness about his parents, because I feel the same.

    In my case I obviously don’t have the sense of a racial condemnation, of course. But because there’s a sense out there that this feels like whites condemning blacks, which in part it may be, I just want to reiterate, for black folk and white folk alike, my very white parents spanked my very white ass.

    They probably shouldn’t have, but they weren’t bad parents, amd I turned out reasonably ok.

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    • What happened to me on occasion would almost definitely be classed “abuse” today. Not *every* spanking was a beating, but some were. Though at my house it was The Belt, not a switch (my grandparents made my mom and her siblings go out back and pick their own switches, when they got spanked – and don’t try picking one that’s too light or looks like it’s going to break, you’ll just get sent back out there to pick a ‘better’ one).

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      • One of the cruel tricks in making kids pick their own switch is they’re likely to pick a think flexible one, thinking it will hurt less than a somewhat thicker and stiffer one. And of course at some level that just ain’t so.

        But also it’s just plain cruel to make anyone pick the instrument of their own torture (not that a whipping with a switch is necessarily objectively “torture,” but from the little kid’s perspective it sure is).

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      • RE: flexibility; according to my mom, they were supposed to judge the switch for that too. It needed to be green, minus buds etc.

        it’s just plain cruel to make anyone pick the instrument of their own torture

        On the one hand, indubitably.

        On the other, see my note above: they were being “taught” how to do the task “correctly” with the proper “tool”; presumably for the benefit of their own future children. (!)

        Also, a large part of any punishment is the anticipation of it. Going outside to pick the switch elongates that part – and so *if* the *actual* switching is reduced in duration and/or its emotional effect heightened (that is, same desired result is achieved with fewer blows), it could be arguably less cruel, depending on the weight you assign the physical part vs. the psychic part.

        On that note, I’ve told before here how my father, a gentle person who only spanked me a handful of times (probably wouldn’t have ever, if my mom hadn’t expected him to), did it as close to “ideally” as I think is possible.

        First, he never did it in anger – it was a “scheduled” activity, taking place hours after the precipitating events.

        This both ensured that I had plenty of time to think about what I had done (and what was coming), and also that he wouldn’t be in a rage when he did it.

        Then, he would explain why it was happening, and exactly what to expect (“You did X, and that is not acceptable, and here’s why; so, I am going to spank you ten times”), and then do exactly that.

        Then, after the enumerated blows were over, he held me, and he cried too. That old cliche about “this hurts me as much as it does you” I think was actually true in his case.

        My mom…was a very different story, in many, many ways.

        What’s weird is that they were both raised in somewhat similar environments, though my mom’s childhood was probably worse (though my father’s parents divorced and his dad was certainly a harsh and unyielding authoritarian, I get the impression that family life was at least fairly consistent/stable – whereas my mom’s dad was an abusive alcoholic, who threatened to kill his family members more than once. And I don’t mean just idle rhetorical “to the moon” kinda stuff, I mean stalking through the dark house in his underwear with a gun).

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  5. I think there’s another issue here as well. Could be wrong. My folks were from the south. Is this a cultural/regional issue also?

    I was spanked once and nearly kicked in the rear once. Frankly, I’d been very bad both times, and it stopped my bad behavior. It also established a baseline. I knew when my dad told me to do something in a certain tone he frickin’ meant it. As such, I see CP as a tool in the box. One that shouldn’t be used all the time, but rarely. I think it has it’s uses. I’m not talking about using a switch on bare flesh though…I’m talking a spanking. It does tend to focus the mind. Maybe the “evidence” doesnt’ show that it works in aggregate. It sure as hell worked ancedotely. I also think that it’s over used.

    As to everyone who talks about how children shouldn’t be exposed to violence yadda yadda, well they already are. The watch it on tv all the time. They get pushed around on the playground. They get punched by their friend is in their friend’s when they break a lego toy. And that’s just the “normal” stuff.

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    • ScotchIrish have a pretty bad history with corporal punishment, where it was culturally acceptable to beat your kids (or your wife) unconscious — and if they died, well, that was their fault for being weak.

      THAT said, I know someone born in the 1950’s who was knocked unconscious by his mum wielding a broom at his head (he was the youngest child and was teasing her). Irish tempers can be fierce.

      I’m pretty sure it’s not Southern. I’m pretty sure most people two generations back spanked their kids, and that any difference between Southern/notSouthern is due to a different part of Southern culture — their romantic streak.

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    • Is this a cultural/regional issue also?

      Yes, very much so. It’d probably be impossible to detail all the things CP is wrapped up in.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve known very few Asian or Indian parents who didn’t spank their kids at some point. I think those who are adamant it doesn’t work are exaggerating the research and probably never even saw any of it firsthand.

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      • The research I have seen indicates that it “works” to make the child more compliant (when the parents are watching) but creates emotional distance and distrust at the least, and possibly worse psychological effects in some cases.

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  6. Although and I probably come at the corporal punishment issue with different assumptions, I oppose it, as he does. I also agree with what he’s been saying here about technocratic liberalism and how it can be and often is counterproductive, even when its practitioners are right.

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    • Personally I’m pretty neutral on the concept of corporal punishment. Like the Professor I suffered it occasionally but only for what I, in hindsight, would consider some seriously bad and dangerous behavior and it did establish a baseline for me of – whatever you got spanked for you don’t fishing do.
      Perhaps the research is correct and it’s counterproductive. Whether it is or not it’s definitely an area that liberalism would be well advised to keep its distance from. Nevertheless government will act; CYA logic applies to spanking as much as anything else and the busybodies do screech.

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    • Thank you. My parents did not use corporal punishment on Saul and I when were growing up. This was because they really didn’t think corporal punishment should be legal in the first place because it was nothing more than assault and battery to them rather than out of any belief that it doesn’t work. My feelings agaisnt corporal punishment are for the same reason, the law really shouldn’t allow violence in most situations rather than technocratic ones.

      One of the infuriating aspects of current liberal and progressive thought, although this aspect as deep roots dating to the late 19th century, is the idea that science should guide all policy and most liberal policy prefences are correct because they are supported by science. Yglesias and company are guilty of this but you find similar reasoning even among Yglesias’s liberal critics. It really shouldn’t take a political genius to understand that “to hell with tradition and culture” is going to be very grating to many people and not a really good strategy. There needs to be some bending in policy for custom even if the custom might be slightly questionable.

      Corporal punishment can and should be outlawed by governments but it should be made illegal simply because it is domestic violence, in the sense that is happening in familial or quasi-familial setting, and domestic violence is against the law. Prohibiting corporal punishment should be nothing more than an extension of this.

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      • One of the infuriating aspects of current liberal and progressive thought, although this aspect as deep roots dating to the late 19th century, is the idea that science should guide all policy and most liberal policy prefences are correct because they are supported by science.

        This is something that drives me crazy as well. The appendix to the Aughts edition of Moral Politics was basically an attempt to argue that liberalism is correct because of developmental psychology. It just came off looking silly, but it was sort of the logical extreme of the “liberalism is correct because of science” attitude.

        I remember a prominent science blogger using it, along with some findings in social psychology, to then argue that conservatism is a mental illness (a claim that I have since seen made in the opposite direction many times as well, though).

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      • The old-school Marxists called their system Scientific Socialism to contrast themselves from the more mystical, to them, anarchists. The anarchists were kicked out of the International for being religious of all things. It really was fashionable for all sorts of political groups to claim that science supported them for most of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Progressives, Marxists, Fascists, capitalists, social democrats and many others thought that science was on their side. The only real exceptions that I can think of were the various religious political groups like the Evangelical crowd in the United States or the early Islamists.

        We still have remnants of this today. There are conservatives that think liberals are stupid because obvious the science of economics proves that conservative economic theories and policy preferences are the best. There are similarly liberals that believe conservatives are dumb becuase of science. We’re much less technocratic now but it stil is there.

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      • Note this in an era when the technocrats legally are sending Hellfire missiles into homes and blowing kids into pieces no bigger than a matchbox. And anarchists are the “low” developed mystical High Idealogy nutters.

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      • The anarchists were kicked out of the International for being religious of all things

        Hmm… I thought it was the Paris Commune and what resulted, namely this:

        In its struggle against the collective power of the possessing classes, the proletariat can only act as a class if it constitutes its own distinct political party, opposed to all the old parties formed by the possessing classes. The forming of a political party by the proletariat is indispensable in order to assure the triumph of the social revolution and its ultimate object, the abolition of all classes. The coalition of working-class forces, already obtained in economic struggles, must also serve as a lever in the hands of that class in its struggle against the political power of its exploiters. The lords of the earth and the lords of capital always use their political privileges to defend and perpetuate their economic monopolies and to enslave Labour, and therefore the conquest of political power is the great duty of the proletariat.

        Along with Bakunin’s personal attacks on Marx (including some rather anti-Semitic ones), underhanded political machinations, and more dangerous (for the Marxists) attacks on the General Assembly, which he and his supporters sought to turn into a sort of clearinghouse (they described their desired outcome as turning it into a post office, or something like that) while removing control to the local association(s) of trade unions in the various countries.

        He and his supporters had a habit of making everyone hate them by trying to gain control through underhanded and dishonest maneuvers, and it bit them in the ass. Marx’s long-standing distrust of Bakunin and the Alliance in general, which he (correctly) believe had never ceased to operate independently when it merged with the International, combined with the fact he and Engels considered Bakunin a self-involved nationalist who was never really interested in international socialism, only Slavic (and personal) dominance, meant a split was inevitable, and Bakunin’s opposition to the above resolution (which essentially requires presenting a united front), along with his desire to break up the General Assembly, gave them the ammunition they needed to kick Bakunin and Guillaume out.

        Proundhon was into mysticism, but Bakunin talked of freeing anarchism from his metaphysical baggage, essentially trying to make anarchism a scientific form of socialism like the Marxist versions.

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      • “One must have lived in that isolator which is called a National Assembly to realise how the men who are most completely ignorant of the state of the country are almost always those who represent it … Most of my colleagues of the left and the extreme left were in the same perplexity of mind, the same ignorance of daily facts. One spoke of the national workshops only with a kind of terror, for fear of the people is the sickness of all those who belong to authority; the people, for those in power, are the enemy.”

        Yeah, mystical religious stuff. You wanna see my dancing shoes?

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      • I should clarify that even though I oppose cp, I don’t think it should be outlawed. I’m also very wary of criticizing parents who, say, spank. So I guess by “oppose cp,” what I really mean is, that I’d like to think if I were a parent, I wouldn’t do it.

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  7. 1. must be a great pleasure to his parishioners if his sermons are anything like his essays. Such a fine picture of the ambiguities of modern life!

    2. I’m not sure if really grasp the racial angle here. As a lot of comments show, corporal punishment seems to transcend racial lines. Perhaps economic class is a factor, perhaps not although I see hints and suggestions that it grows more infrequent as a family’s wealth accumulates. (Obviously, Adrian Peterson is a wealthy man thanks to his phenomenally successful athletic career, although he was raised in rather modest circumstances, to my knowledge.) Or is the issue that black families have a more static social structure, one slower to change with the times, combined with the fact that non-CP child raising is a relatively new social phenomenon?

    3. My father spanked me, once or twice, when I was maybe four or five years old, but then it stopped. I suspect, as with , he felt morally bad about it and didn’t find it particularly effective (as compared with an expression of disappointment and revocation of some sort of activity), so he made a conscious decision to stop. I don’t believe he abused me on those occasions when he did it and it did not change a relationship of love and respect. So I join the consensus that corporal punishment is not necessarily abuse, although I hesitate to define when that line gets crossed.

    4. I’m using my Super Editor Powers to promote the post to the top of the fold, I like it so much. Dennis may be a modest man to not seek the top position, but this kind of article is what this magazine is all about: exploring ambiguity in our culture.

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    • Blacks are a core part of what Pew calls the ConservaDems.
      Obama gets plaudits from pundits when he gives speeches on Father’s Day about the importance of black men in the family unit.

      But… I wonder. The people who are pro-torture — are they the same people who say they use CP? This might be a “length of the knife” issue, where folks are defining terms and then responding to their own definitions.

      I don’t remember my parents spanking me, though they say they did (I must have been 4 or 5). It’s my understanding that used sparingly it’s not inappropriate at that age.

      I think that CP becomes inappropriate when kids are of an age to understand other punishments. Naturally, that age changes based on the kid, but 7 seems a decent cutoff (younger for most kids).
      Spanking, used appropriately, should say “wake up, you’ve been bad” — it shouldn’t be a tool for intimidation.

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  8. 1. As I understand it, surveys show that a majority of parents use corporal punishment with the lowest group being Asians. Only about 73 percent of Asian-American parents use corporal punishment. That is still what I would call an overwhelming majority.

    2. The problem with corporal punishment is that the term covers a wide range of behaviors. Corporal Punishment can be one spank applied immediately at the point of discretion or it can be much, much worse. Are we defining any use of physical force as corporal punishment or does it need to involve more?

    3. I wonder if incidents of CP are going to decrease with newer generations. It is now almost universally unacceptable for public schools or maybe all schools to use corporal punishment and when people advocate for its return, they are seen as being part of a culture war and battle of the resentiments throwback. My friends with kids seemingly understand that meltdowns are part of normal development for small children for various reasons and sometimes it is best to just let a toddler cry it out. I’ve seen many posts on facebook where they talk about older busybodies in their neighborhoods yell at them for not using CP on their toddlers during a meltdown. Though I get what Lee is saying, I suspect that as people become more informed about development psychology, we will see less CP used. Or my friends can just be upper-middle class super-liberal types.

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  9. We are caught here in the age-old conundrum of what’s acceptable. Defenders of Confederate Heritage don’t want their ancestors turned into monsters, despite the fact that what their ancestors participated in what are not considered gross violations of human dignity. Ownership of people,marrying off daughters at young ages, debtors prison, indentured servitude, corporal punishment were all once considered moral and fair treatment, and all, to some degree, are now recognized as violations of individual dignity. The people who subscribed to the old ways are left feeling that they’re being judged for simply doing the things they were taught to do.

    Unfortunately, if they continue to do those things, that condemnation might well be justified and necessary. Censure is a large part of how we change behaviors. It’s how we censure that matters, I think.
    The act of censure needs to fully grasp that alternative truths can be true at the same time; that, for your parents (and mine, I don’t think there’s a race here, I think there’s an era), corporal punishment was part of ‘good parenting.’ And now, it’s considered an assault.

    So I suspect the moral thing that really discomforts is the disconnect from tradition; the knowledge that what was okay now isn’t, and that if you hold to the past in changing norms, you’re willfully acting in an immoral manner, and you will be censured for it. Because this is what your parents and grandparents did, it’s also a censure of them.

    I think this is much the complaint against liberalism; I see it reflected in many of the comments above. But at some point, you just need to get over it, too. Because it’s not cool to assault others. Even your children. And if you do so, you should be the recipient of condemnation. That does not mean you should, in turn, condemn your parents; it means you should be thankful that they tried to do their best, and with time and greater knowledge, you might be lucky to have a chance to not only do better, but that there’s something you’re doing now, thinking it’s your best, that in some future time will be considered equally awful. If it really is awful, don’t you want your children’s children’s children to understand you tried to do your best, and the hope of the future is always that they have a chance to do better then your best?

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    • I think you are largely right on the losing of tradition. I understand some of it because there are plenty of traditions that I support but are seen as a bit old-fashioned or might be in the future but you are right that eventually people need to get over it.

      There is a whole issue about various traditions which might modify a child’s body against his or her will. This includes that Hispanic parents tend to pierce a girl’s ears soon after birth and circumcision for Jewish boys. I’ve heard non-Hispanics and non-Jewish parents be rather angry and upset over both practices. I’m a defender of things that mark me as having a Jewish body in a way that might be a kind of ethnic pride and I tend to get dismissive when non-Jews criticize circumcision because they generally do not understand how much of it is a part of Jewish identity. There is a bit of the criticism that stings as Aryanization to me and a majority telling a minority what to do.

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      • I find this comment rather ridiculous from someone who doesn’t keep kosher.
        There were many traditions about Judaism intended to keep jews apart from others,
        circumcision included.
        You don’t burn many offerings to G-d, do you?

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      • I can understand that frustration.

        But I do wonder about your notion of marking, too. My husband was circumcised, my sons were not; my husband is not Jewish, he’s Christian, we raised our children as atheists. One of my sons, I now find, is my daughter.

        Identity is, I think, a mental thing. Accepting the behaviors and physical markers of that mental construction by simply going along with tradition is a decision to accept the burden individuals bear by the simple act of deciding not to change, we allow something to continue; inaction is an action, too.

        I don’t have much issue with parents opting to pierce a child’s ears or circumcise a son; there’s little evidence of long-term problem (unlike failing to vaccinate, for instance). But I also wonder if the tradition that someone cannot be Jewish without being so marked might change? if Jewish people, over time, decide that Jewishness is a social construction, and marking it matters less thinking it? Particularly in the face the actual burden the individual might bear as a result of the norm?

        The Mormons, actually, seem really good at this; they seem able to say, “We came from this tradition, and we’re changing it thusly, and we are all comfortable with that.” That Mormon social norms seem retrograde and vindictive to me indicates that our progress can be both positive and negative, which suggests that a variety-of-change might be an important constant.

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      • Americans largely still circumcise as compared to other Western nations. So many American males, Jewish or not, are circumcised.

        In the end you are dealing with something that has thousands of years of history. I don’t think it is a covenant from God but I do think it was used as a marker of Jewish identity, same with the prohibition against tattoos. There is also a long tradition of anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish body for being weak, different, and ugly so I also see not having tattoos and being circumcised as markers of pride and defiance and seeing that the Jewish body in its natural form can be attractive and good looking and does not need to go against a blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan ideal. So it becomes a political issue, just like there are issues with people fighting against the Western beauty myth for women which largely seems based on Ancient Greek art. I have a Jewish body (short, broad, non-tattoed, no-evidence, and hairy) and I am proud of it.

        That being said there are Jewish people who identify as Jewish but still have tattoos and I suspect we will see more people raised Jewish but not circumsized as intermarriage increases.

        That being said, there was an attempt to get the city of San Francisco to ban circumcision in their borders and the movement blew up upon releasing something which would make Julius Strietcher proud. I find it telling that that they quickly resulted to this tactic:

        http://blog.sfgate.com/nov05election/2011/06/03/literature-for-sfs-anti-circumcision-measure-stars-monster-rabbis-and-blonde-superheroes/

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  10. Neither my wife nor I are fans of corporal punishment, and as such we chose not to go the spanking route. The result: Two great, non-violent citizens — who certainly spent much of their childhood and adolescence misbehaving in various ways, but never to the point of doing real damage to themselves or others.

    My parents were big fans of corporal punishment for what might be jokingly referred to as “high kid crimes.” The result: Two great, non-violent citizens — who certainly spent much of their childhood and adolescence misbehaving in various ways, but never to the point of doing real damage to themselves or others.

    These two data points are anecdotal, of course, but I would argue that there’s still something very important at the heart of it. Further up, Will nudges up against something I think every first time parent unwittingly dives into headfirst just by virtue of being a parent: Parenting flips the tribalistic switches in our brains in a way almost nothing else does.

    If you listen to talk radio host and callers, you know that people who don’t spank their children essentially let them run wild, unsafe and unsupervised, too lazy and selfish to ever bother correcting behavior or trying to instill morals into kids who will grow up to be thugs, rapists, and drug abusers. If you listen to people at your Gymboree class, you know that anyone that uses any kind of corporal punishment is guilty of child abuse, smacking their own flesh and blood for the pure primitive pleasure of it, not caring that because of this bloodlust these innocent creatures will now grow up to be thugs, rapists, and drug abusers.

    And it’s not just spanking. When our oldest son was in prime SIDS territory, he wouldn’t fall asleep on his back. He just wouldn’t. After weeks, our doctor advised us to throw in the towel and let him sleep on his stomach. He was suffering from sleep deprivation (as were his parents!), and as she told us, it made no sense to be reckless with an immediate threat to his health by being fanatic about something that merely slightly decreased the odds of SIDS from 1.3/1000 to 0.87/1000. SO we let him sleep on his stomach, and it helped. But we quickly stopped talking about it outside of the family, because other people were pretty in our face that we were guilty of child abuse. Letting him sleep on his back was a criminal negligence in most people’s eyes, and as with spanking there were no gradations. For a surprising number of people, our decision to let our some sleep on his stomach was no different than if we left him alone in a crib all night while we went out and partied.

    You see this in almost everything connected with parenting: breastfeed/formula, cloth/disposable diapers, phonics/whole language. Even within tribes, you get nasty schisms. You and you friend might both breastfeed, but tempers will flare when one of insists kids need to ween at 18 months and the other insists everyone needs to wait until they’re at least 4.*

    None of this, of course, is to provide flack to Peterson. The photographic evidence is horrific, startling, and quite damning. But it would be nice if everyone in my non-corporal punishment tribe would stop equating one light corrective swat on the behind to using a switch with such force that you’re leaving deep bloody gouges. Just like it would be nice for the pro-spanking crowd to acknowledge that just because I didn’t use a literal firm hand, my kids aren’t going to end up homeless giving hand jobs at the bus station after high school.

    *If you don’t live in Portland, you can probably change that last one to 2 or 3. I think the “breastfeed until they are able to make a rational argument for why they want to stop” isn’t such a national thing.

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    • There was a study some years back that made a brief splash in the media, that showed that kids who were spanked tended to misbehave more. The conclusion was that spanking causes misbehavior.

      In fact the study showed only correlation, not causation. It didn’t disprove the possibility that kids got spanked more because they misbehaved more. But more importantly, it didn’t eliminate the possibility that kids who were spanked a lot misbehaved more not so much because of the spanking, but because of poor parenting–that parents who resorted to spanking a lot might, on average, be poorer parents in a number of ways.

      Which I think is likely. But again, that’s all based on statistical likelihood, and so doesn’t say anything about your parents, or mine, who also spanked.

      And given how ubiquitous spanking once was, if in itself its necessarily so bad it’s amazing we don’t see that once upon a time every adult was either a violent criminal or a suicidal drunk.

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      • If we tallied up all of the things that were once commonplace, but which have been proven in the last 50 years to be harmful, we’d probably have a pretty sound proof that the human race died out a few hundred years ago.

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      • There’s some evidence that some species prosper in the face of high predation; a constant weeding of the genetic stock. Lobsters, for instance, seem to thrive in part because of heavy fishing. I’ve heard the same of species like foxes, and we know that deer will overpopulate to the point of starvation without herd thinning.

        Or as the cliche goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

        Certainly from an evolutionary standpoint, someone like me, with a chronic genetic condition, probably shouldn’t have procreated.

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      • zic, oh definitely. That we’ve survived all of the bad things we’ve done (or at least extremely suboptimal things) says more about our adaptability than it does about how bad or suboptimal those things were/are. I was just being silly.

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      • And given how ubiquitous spanking once was, if in itself its necessarily so bad it’s amazing we don’t see that once upon a time every adult was either a violent criminal or a suicidal drunk.

        …we *have* managed to have an inexplicably decline in violent crime the last few decades. Perhaps it’s actually due to less spanking. ;)

        (Not fewer ‘parents who spank’, that has barely changed, but a decline in the amount of spanking they do, due to general societal disapproval. There are at least two anecdotal instances on this very post of ‘parents who spank’, but do so very reluctantly and aren’t very comfortable with it.)

        but because of poor parenting–that parents who resorted to spanking a lot might, on average, be poorer parents in a number of ways.

        This is still rather damning for spanking.

        If people who, generally speaking, are ‘good parents’ don’t do it, or at least do it reluctantly, and people who are ‘bad parents’ are more ready to do it, whether or not actually causes violence, it’s probably not the best parenting choice, speaking as a matter of sheer probability.

        It’s sorta like you can determine if something is a good financial move based on if wealthy people do it, even without knowing anything about it. If wealthy people never try to make money via investing in X, but a bunch of poor people do…well, you can probably dismiss X as an investment possibility, even if you know nothing about X. It’s not that it *can’t* a good choice, it’s just unlikely.

        Of course, just like poor people often have limited options in the ‘earning money’ field, and X may be their only option…it might be that spanking is the *best choice* for bad parents, because they have no other way to control their children.

        Or, at least, they don’t *know* of any other way.

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      • Glyph,
        low quality posting does not equal troll.
        Trolls post big boasts of what they’ve done to somewhere else (generally /b/).

        I know the use of the term has expanded… (and when someone is deliberately
        expressing a view that they don’t hold, just to get your goat, it’s fair.)

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      • I was just kidding about the decrease causing less crime, but now I’m actually wondering if the decrease in lead exposure (Which is probably the actual reason, or at least one of them, for the decrease in crime) might be part of the *cause* of the decrease in spankings. Or, to put it another way, I’m wondering if lead intake in childhood makes someone using corporate punishment more likely.

        We’re still not *exactly* sure what lead does. We know it causes reduced cognitive function, and we know people exposed to lead are more likely to be violent, but we’re not sure if that violence is entirely due to just ‘being dumber’, or if lead also alter something else in the brain that causes violence.

        I mean, we suspect that a lot of Roman emperors were basically poisoned into craziness by lead-based sweetener in their wine, and they usually didn’t get ‘violent’ personally…but they did often get ‘violent punishy’.

        Does anyone have any polling graphs of corporal punishment’s acceptance among parents? Not just the actual thing, but how *willing* they are to do it?

        If it’s related to lead intake, it should start dropping a few years after crime started dropping. (Assuming that criminals are 16+ and parents are 20+)

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      • In fairness the amount of alcohol that the average adult has consumed (particularly those of lower social classes), has in fact gone down substantially. (And if we compare to Roman times when they not only drank but also added LEAD to their wine….)

        I mean, look, once upon a time a staple part of a peasant diet was beer. You had it basically for lunch and dinner, perhaps a gallon a day. Imagine, if you will, that you were putting down a pitcher full of strong beer. Not the low ABV stuff they have now, but stuff ranking up there with barleywine, and you get a good sense of why perhaps not a lot of people lived past 60ish.

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      • Nob,
        mostly, beer was pretty weak. it was more for controlling disease than anything else. They had stronger stuff, but that was more for food than anything. If they really ate 1 gallon of strong beer per day, they’d have been mightily obese.

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    • “But we quickly stopped talking about it outside of the family, because other people were pretty in our face that we were guilty of child abuse. Letting him sleep on his back was a criminal negligence in most people’s eyes, and as with spanking there were no gradations. For a surprising number of people, our decision to let our some sleep on his stomach was no different than if we left him alone in a crib all night while we went out and partied.”

      We had the same situation with Mayo, but reasoned that stomach sleeping was better than no sleeping on our own. I shared this with some folks and never got pushback, but who knows what they really thought. Everyone assumes I’m an incompetent father no matter what I do (and no matter what the evidence* suggests) so I just stopped caring.

      * If you look at the rate of injury, illness, or frantic-parent-moments for his various caregivers, mine would all be the most positive. Which doesn’t necessarily mean I’m better than the others, but should suggest I’m something other than incompetent.

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    • What’s interesting is that parents vastly underestimate how often they use CP (by a factor of 50) and for the severity of infractions that they use CP (majority are for things like sucking on fingers or getting out of a chair instead of dangerous stuff). This probably leads to why CP is romanticised. If people think they only do it about once a month for important lessons, they’ll think CP is fine and dandy. If they remembered that they do it over a dozen times a week for kids being kids type actions, they may reconsider.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/04/22/parents-still-spank-their-kids-for-trivial-reasons-even-when-researchers-are-listening-in/

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      • By the study I linked below, it would be by a factor of 110; the women who wore the sensors said 18 times a year, but it was 18 times a month.

        That’s a whole lot of physical assault being ignored; so the question becomes one of intent; and there are different reasons for CP.

        One is parental frustration. I used to read the Boston Globe during morning nap, always both amazed and relieved that there weren’t constant stories of under-5-year-old siblings murdering each other. That was a real comfort that they wouldn’t actually go that far, and I didn’t need to trade all my clothes in for black-and-white ref shirts and silver whistles; those whistles leading to the next need of CP, emergency restraint from immediate danger.

        There is a definite need for quick, sharp restraint — the fork going into the outlet, the step into the busy roadway or off a dock type restraint. Here, I like the notion I learned of how kittens and puppies learn bite inhibition; a loud, squeak/squeal sound as a better alternative, the mother’s high, sharp titch sound. The whistle.

        The third reason is consequence, and the only consequence I see really taught here is that beating someone is an acceptable thing if it’s done in the name of love. I totally reject this idea; it is a complete moral failing, imo.

        But the fact is that rage overtakes us, and we lash out. We don’t think through the methods of modeling correct behavior, and a lot of the behavior we try to cure our children of is the bad behaviors we have ourselves; the parts of ourselves we don’t want passed along to the next generation. There’s a fine line between wisdom learned and passed along and visiting the sins of the parent on the child that every parent should wrestle with.

        I’d mostly forgive people who lash out in frustration within some reason; losing control can help you understand the need to control yourself. I found myself crossing a line I wasn’t comfortable with, and so one day, about to draw back and smack one of my kids, I stopped and gave myself a time-out in the time-out spot. I stayed there until I’d calmed down, and was a safe person to be around my children. This stunned them, gave them the true consequence of their actions — driving me to such distraction, I lost control of myself. Pretty soon, if they were too wild, I’d go to the spot, and they’d start behaving.

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  11. The problem here is that there are a lot of things pretending to be ‘corporal punishment’, and a large portion of them are *completely* unacceptable, whereas the rest simply don’t work.

    In the completely unacceptable pile:
    a) CP that is done out of anger, ie., just *beating* a child when they misbehave. Yes, this applies to all punishment to some extent, parents often get frustrated with their children, but overreacting and grounding someone for ten years can be corrected later, whereas hauling off and hitting someone cannot be, and combining physical action that causes pain with *anger* towards that person is a bad combination.
    b) CP that causes actual injury. Or even exceed a certain level of pain.

    Removal of those two leaves a third sort of CP, a few measured hits as an actual process of punishment. This is, I think, the sort of CP people think is acceptable.

    There are a couple of problems, here. How you actually make the last one legal while making the first one illegal? Yes, you can in theory ban actual injury, although that’s almost completely impossible to actually find, so not really. But you can’t even, in theory, make it illegal to hit to hit a child out of anger, but legal to hit them as punishment.

    So to start with, you’ve got an extremely problematic process that, to distinguish it from child abuse, you have to be *much more* intrusive to a family than to *just ban the damn thing to start with*. Or would parents like some sort of government-enforced waiting period to make sure it’s legitimate ‘punishment’ and not ‘just hitting the kid because he annoyed me’?

    And then, next up, is the fact that CP doesn’t work particularly well, for a lot of reasons. A major one being that punishing someone with a mild indignity for a day actually sticks with them much more than a few seconds of pain.

    And third, as people have pointed out, it’s hard to see any way that CP has ever, technically, been *legal*. There does not appear to be an exception to the crime of ‘assault’ for it.

    And fourth…this is total bullshit as a punishment. Causing pain to correct behavior is not an acceptable way for society to operate, and, in fact, *we don’t*. It’s the sort of thing that causes people to think it’s accept to cause pain in others. The full range of punishment options that society can do to adults is also open for children, and there’s no real we need to continue doing something with children that we stopped for adults out of moral concern *centuries* ago.

    What we should *actually do* about this situation is unknown.

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    • Amanda Marcotte on a study of evangelicals and corporal punishment:

      Unfortunately, parents are overestimating their own abilities to keep it in check. Researchers at Southern Methodist University strapped audio recorders onto the arms of 33 mothers to see if and when they used spanking, and found that instead of retreating to a quiet space to calmly administer a spanking, mothers who spank are just hitting in anger and frustration. Kids got spanked for finger-sucking, messing with pages of a book, or getting out of a chair when they weren’t supposed to. Parents who spank say they do so around 18 times a year, but the SMU researchers found it was closer to 18 times a week.

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    • I don’t think it’s a problem that can be addressed by the legal system. Apart from the extremes that most think is abuse, is corporal punishment more harmful to the child than jailing a parent and/or removing the child from the home? I don’t think that’s a satisfactory solution. Fines are burdensome on poorer families, who tend to me more likely to administer spankings.

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      • Well, if we’re not going to use the legal system, then we should welcome the discomfort that results from understanding the things are parents did, right in their time, might not be right in ours, and the things we think are right might not be right in some future time.

        Perhaps that feeling of disrespecting our parents and our heritage should be viewed as a sign of social growth, for good or ill though it may be; a cutting of the social apron-strings that allows humanity ever-greater capacity to treat all humans as human; not just some select few. The Golden Rule.

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      • You can say the same think about wife-beating. Wives put up and still put up with a lot violence from their husbands because the financial consequences of leaving the abusive relationship. Many of them reasoned and still reason that its better to put with the physical and mental pain caused by an abuser than the economic hardships that would result from leaving him. The idea that we should tolerate child abuse in all put the most extreme situations because its potentially more harmful, if only for economic reasons, to jail or fine the abusive parent is similarly ridiculous. Preventing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse of children is a good in itself and allowing it to continue because at least a kid has a roof over his or her head in the abusive relationship is immoral.

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      • We don’t’ actually deal with most child abuse in the legal system. We use the CPS systems to deal with most of it. Most child abuse isn’t serious enough, or have enough evidence, to deal with in the crim justice system.

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      • The question is how often families are hurt by a particular level of abuse, versus how often they would be hurt by having a father thrown in jail. The question is how many families you’re willing to blow up to make your point. It’s not a ludicrous question.

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      • In the case of incest, it’s likely to be worth blowing the families up. That was my view when it came to the FLDS.

        My understanding is that domestic violence charges against women (or men) are somewhat rarely pursued over the objections of the victim.

        Both, there are times that it is worth blowing a family up. I’m not at all convinced that corporal punishment generally defined justifies it. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a level of abuse that does, though.

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      • And for all the kids who then get placed in foster care and suffer far worse abuse, well, at least we have our morally absolutist position to fall back on.

        Maybe we could just outlaw abuse in the foster care system.

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      • Will,
        One episode of non-consensual sex (call it rape if you will) followed by an ongoing consensual relationship? This is worth breaking up a family? Keep in mind that any girl who wants to leave can always run away… (some do, for what it’s worth).

        … brother/sister incest can get really awful, really quickly. Because parents are basically saying that the sister’s right to consent, right to her own body, is completely fucking irrelevant, and that her brother’s needs and wishes must be obeyed at all costs. [alternative is military school for the boy.]

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      • Sticking murderers in jail doesn’t bring people back to life, either.

        We generally do not use the (criminal) legal system to redress wrongs. We use the legal system to *threaten people with punishment if they commit wrongs*. We do that so they don’t commit wrongs in the first place.

        The problem here isn’t that we *couldn’t* punish people who do this, it’s that society is strangely reluctant to decide that corporal punishment is wrong, despite it being something that we would roundly condemn *in any other context*.

        It is cognitive dissonance at its finest. (And as Dennis pointed out, part of its gotten tied up in race. Yippee! Now it’s even harder to fix!)

        Fines are burdensome on poorer families, who tend to me more likely to administer spankings.

        Yes, but fines are a generally stupid bias built into the legal system, and has nothing to do with this issue particularly. You want to fix that, don’t limit it to corporal punishment.

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      • The problem with throwing parents to use corporal punishment in jail is not that it doesn’t fix the situation (un-hit the kid), it’s that it can create a situation worse than the one it perceives to correct.

        It’s like the War on Drugs in this respect. My problem with the War on Drugs is not particularly freedom-based. It’s based on the enforcement of the law being actively worse than the crime it seeks to alleviate.

        Corporal punishment doesn’t have to just be bad or wrong in order to be outlawed. It has to be so bad or wrong that throwing parents in prison and/or putting the children in foster care is better. This is the case when we’re talking about Joel Steinberg, but I don’t even think it’s close when it comes to run-of-the-mill corporal punishers generally.

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      • You know, I typed this into my last comment, deleted it, retyped it, and deleted it again, because I knew people’s brains would shut down, but, you know, screw it. Here it is:

        …despite it being something that we would roundly condemn *in any other context*.

        In fact, we have condemned it, and outlawed it, in what is literally the *exact* same context: wife beating

        Why? Because people cannot assault other people. Just because someone is ‘in charge’ of their family doesn’t mean they can assault ‘lesser’ member of their family.

        Please note that while *we* no longer assume that a husband is in charge of his wife in their marriage, that was *still* the assumption when wife-beating was outlawed (Around the 1920s in many states) …and yet it was outlawed anyway. At that time married women were still considered little more than children under the control of their husband…and husbands *still* weren’t allowed to beat them.

        Yet, actual children? Sure, go ahead there.

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      • Corporal punishment doesn’t have to just be bad or wrong in order to be outlawed. It has to be so bad or wrong that throwing parents in prison and/or putting the children in foster care is better.

        …if, and only if, *the punishment proposed* is throwing parents in prison and/or putting the children in foster care.

        Saying ‘We should not throw the book at them’ is not the same as saying ‘It should not be illegal’. Perhaps the result of breaking the law should be parenting classes.

        Hell, even *illegal* is a pipe dream at this point. How about just *massive condemnation* at this point? How about we, as society, stand up and say ‘Corporal punishment, no matter how it’s done, is not acceptable’?

        Because we haven’t even done that yet. We all end up dancing around the damn issue because how dare anyone insult our parents like that?

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      • Moral condemnation and criminalization are are two different things. This subthread is about criminalization.

        In a social level, the situation is even worse than you say. We can’t get most parents to not hit their kids. Fix that, and then criminalization becomes more feasible (albeit less necessary).

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      • Cutting someone’s foreskin off without their consent is typically assault. As is making someone eat something they otherwise would not (even when that thing is good for them). Restricting a person’s movement to their bedroom is often unacceptable (unless you’re the state) and taking away someone’s personal possessions when they do something you dislike is theft.

        All of these are considered okay when done to one’s kids. Spanking is not unique. Part of the nature of parenting is doing things to your kids that would be a rights violation if done to an adult. But, unless you are some radical, you do not think male infant circumcision should be illegal for non-medical reasons. You do not think taking away your kid’s x-box countsas theft. You do not think that sending your kids to their room or to the naughty-corner is imprisonment or torture.

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      • Let me address these things one at a time:

        Cutting someone’s foreskin off without their consent is typically assault.

        This is something that is *literally* only allowed via historic precedent and many people are not very comfortable with. You can’t use it as an example…it just as controversial as spanking. Perhaps more so.

        As is making someone eat something they otherwise would not (even when that thing is good for them).

        Wow, you have a crazy parenting style, force-feeding children like that. How do you find feeding tubes that size? Do you need medical professionals? Or do you just shove the food in their mouth and hold it closed until they swallow?

        Oh, wait, I think you’re actually talking about the common parent behaviour of requiring specific food being eaten *before a child can eat other food*, or get other privileges. Which is not actually ‘making someone eat something’, and would be perfectly legal for other people to do, if a bit eccentric. (You cannot enter my store until you eat this candy.)

        At some point, the people pointing out ‘other illegal things parents do’ need to learn there’s an actual difference between *physically doing thing to people*, and what parents do, which is *ask* things of their children and punish them if the child does not follow along. Those are not even close to the same thing.

        Restricting a person’s movement to their bedroom is often unacceptable (unless you’re the state) and taking away someone’s personal possessions when they do something you dislike is theft.

        And ding-ding-ding we have a winner. When you are the *legal guardian* of someone, you can do the sorts of things the *state* can do to them. You can restrict their movements to some extent, you can take away their possessions to some extent, you can basically punish them in the way that the state can.

        Other things the state isn’t allowed to do to people under their control, and neither are parents: Starve them. Deny them medical care. Constrain their movements in such a way as to cause them significant mental anguish.

        And, oh yes, *assault them*. Except, for some reason, that last only applies to prisoners.

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      • regarding circumcision:
        Its a question of what we are willing to allow even if we do not agree with. Maybe you don’t agree with male circumcision, but I bet you are willing to allow it because you believe that Jewish families should have some room to raise their children as they see fit. I’m asking you to extend the same courtesy to other families as well. I am not talking about other people who actually see no problem with criminalising male infant circumcision. I am talking to you and asking you to be consistent. If you are unsure about circumcision, then apply that same uncertainty to spanking. If, however, you actually think that you should disallow circumcision then you are an anti-Semite and an illiberal authoritarian moral busybody and I have nothing further to say to you.

        regarding feeding:
        1. Surely there is a difference between a parent merely requesting that the child eat something and a parent ordering the child to eat something. The authority a parent naturally has over his or her child has to count for something. And it would be absurd to consider the obedience of a minor towards her parents to be fully voluntary. There is an element of coercion and bringing to bear that level of coercion against an adult would ordinarily be criminalised

        2. You don’t need a feeding tube to make a child eat something. just need to apply a bit of pressure to their cheeks to get them to open their mouths and quickly insert a spoon full of food.

        Regarding what the state is and is not allowed to do:

        Starve them. Deny them medical care. Constrain their movements in such a way as to cause them significant mental anguish.

        Given that American prisons have solitary confinement which is known to cause intense mental anguish, I sincerely doubt that the bit about mental anguish is something that the state is not allowed to do to prisoners. But I suppose that is irrelevant to our purposes

        And, oh yes, *assault them*. Except, for some reason, that last only applies to prisoners.

        Except that even if your country for some arbitrary reason does not practice corporal punishment, it does not follow that corporal punishment is not a valid punishment for some crimes. As it turns out, I live in a place in which corporal punishment is applied often by the courts (for various offences like theft and vandalism), by schools and by parents.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caning_in_Singapore

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      • Murali,
        so is punishing someone for someone else’s crime, committed in another country while they weren’t there. Parents have responsibilities when it comes to their children, and therefore we grant them some lattitude.

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      • Parents have responsibilities when it comes to their children, and therefore we grant them some lattitude.

        I agree that parents are owed some latitude in virtue of the responsibilities they bear vis a vis raising their kids. That’s why I think corporal punishment and circumcision should not be illegal.

        Murali,
        so is punishing someone for someone else’s crime, committed in another country while they weren’t there.

        I do not know what this statement is in reference to.

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      • Murali,
        parents of course. They can be prosecuted (notably for drugs) if their kids have it in their house without their knowledge. They don’t even have to be around to stop it — hell, they don’t even have to have met the damn kid.

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      • Maybe you don’t agree with male circumcision, but I bet you are willing to allow it because you believe that Jewish families should have some room to raise their children as they see fit. I’m asking you to extend the same courtesy to other families as well. I am not talking about other people who actually see no problem with criminalising male infant circumcision.

        I was unaware that *I* was in charge of who third parties could assault. I feel there should have been some sort of notice given, like for jury duty. But, okay.

        Everyone, feel free to punch Murali in the stomach.

        I am talking to you and asking you to be consistent. If you are unsure about circumcision, then apply that same uncertainty to spanking. If, however, you actually think that you should disallow circumcision then you are an anti-Semite and an illiberal authoritarian moral busybody and I have nothing further to say to you.

        I think that’s the first time I’ve even been called an anti-Semite *in advance* of making a statement.

        That’s some fun logic you have there. Finding one thing that society allows for historic reasons, despite it being a rather clear violation of basic human rights, and justifying that with *another* thing that is basically in that same category. Which, I feel I must point out, means *we should never outlaw anything*.

        And it’s exceptionally interesting when, according to Murali, one of the injustices *can’t ever* be fixed because anyone who is in favor of fixing it is anti-Semitic.

        ‘Oh, sure, wife-beating is horrible, but have you looked at circumcision? I demand you state a side on that…and if you’re okay with it, I’ll call you an inconsistent hypocrite, and if you’re against it you’re an anti-Semite!’

        For the record: Circumcision of infants should not be allowed.
        Also for the record: That is not what this discussion is about.

        Surely there is a difference between a parent merely requesting that the child eat something and a parent ordering the child to eat something. The authority a parent naturally has over his or her child has to count for something. And it would be absurd to consider the obedience of a minor towards her parents to be fully voluntary. There is an element of coercion and bringing to bear that level of coercion against an adult would ordinarily be criminalised

        Because the only way to bring that level of coercion against an adult would require *having custody of them*, aka, being allowed to control their movements. Parents with regard to their children, and the state when when talking about prisoners, have custody. With everyone else, it’s called ‘kidnapping’ to restrict people’s movements like that.

        The fact there is basically an exemption to *kidnapping* laws for people who have legally been assigned ‘custody’ of people, does not mean there is also an exception to assault laws. There’s not.

        2. You don’t need a feeding tube to make a child eat something. just need to apply a bit of pressure to their cheeks to get them to open their mouths and quickly insert a spoon full of food.

        *sigh* I’m really going to have to wade into this bullshit, aren’t I?

        It is perfectly legal for the state to force *mentally incompetent* people to eat. The young children you are describing are mentally incompetent, and as such, can be forced to eat, just like they can be forced to have medical care and whatnot. Parents, like the state, are not supposed to do this to people who are *not* mentally incompetent and are rational humans who are merely choosing not to eat. ‘Mentally incompetent’ and ‘minor’ are not the same thing, and in fact if parents went around physically forcing food into the mouths of 16 year-old children, or even a 10 year-old, they would quickly find child protective services had a few things to say about this.

        It’s the same logic under which you can strip the clothes off children, or lock them into a crib. Small children are not *capable* of making decisions about their health and safety, and thus the parent makes those. As the child gets older, parents making such decisions becomes more and more dubious on the part of the parent, and, at some point even *still-minor* children are assumed to be able to make those decisions for themselves, or at least have veto power over what the adult has decided.

        Parents, of course, do not have to run *their* control through courts, and thus the entire system and the rules are much vaguer than the legal system, which has to contend with due process and very specific rules.

        And I’m not arguing we should have any sort of hard and fast rules about parental control, all children are different. I’ve seen 9 year-olds that seem as intelligent as adults and able to state clearly what they want, and I’ve seen 14 year-olds that are complete idiots.

        What I am saying is that we shouldn’t let parents ever do things to children that *the state cannot legally do at all* to people in its custody. Like assault them, or refuse to feed them. (Or, yes, deny them medical care, and I’m aware that’s a whole nother issue.)

        Except that even if your country for some arbitrary reason does not practice corporal punishment, it does not follow that corporal punishment is not a valid punishment for some crimes. As it turns out, I live in a place in which corporal punishment is applied often by the courts (for various offences like theft and vandalism), by schools and by parents.

        For the record, when we talk on this board, we’re usually talking about modern places with basic human rights, not what they do in Singapore.

        You know that thing when you’re in a discussion and there’s a guy who is on the same side as you, but who is a horrible horrible person and doing your side more harm than good? But, of course, he never understands that?

        Yeah. That just sorta happened for the pro-spanking side. They ended up on the same side as _Singapore_.

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      • Only I have not encountered an argument that could successfully show that corporal punishment is any more of a violation of human rights than imprisonment. Its easy to declare it to be cruel and unusual or is a violation in some other way. But it is in fact difficult to prove that it is.

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      • Perhaps the result of breaking the law should be parenting classes.

        This I could potentially get behind. Though I generally think preventive measures are better than reactive ones, such as a sustained campaign of messaging and education. Given the way public opinion currently stands on CP (not to mention the unlikelyhood of obtaining government funding), this would have to come from the private sector.

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      • Only I have not encountered an argument that could successfully show that corporal punishment is any more of a violation of human rights than imprisonment. Its easy to declare it to be cruel and unusual or is a violation in some other way. But it is in fact difficult to prove that it is.

        Actually, it’s pretty easy to prove that caning causes ‘severe pain or suffering’, and thus is in violation of the Convention Against Torture, where that is the definition of torture. As Amnesty International has pointed out.

        Of course, Singapore has not signed that, but that is because Singapore is a barbaric nation that the entire world condemns the behavior of, an authoritarian human-rights violator dressed in the clothes of a modern nation.

        But for someone living in a country *with no actual human rights* if the government doesn’t like you, I can see why the issue might confuse you. Trust me, the rest of the world sees quite clearly as to whether governments should be allowed to cane people, and the answer is ‘hell no’. (Remember my whole ‘You’re not helping your side’ comment?)

        As for the US, *mild* corporal punishment of prisoners is not generally allowed under the prohibition of ‘cruel and unusual punishment’, as it is somewhat cruel, and usually pretty unusual. The closest currently allowed under US law would be things like chain gangs, where prisoners are required to work, along with things designed to cause mild mental anguish like solitary confinement. Both those are, in a sense, grandfathered in, and so they *aren’t* ‘unusual’ and thus can’t be ‘cruel and unusual’.

        Of course, *both* of those have human rights issues and are likely to go away in the next couple of decades, as soon as our politics stops being completely screwed up and someone actually shines a spotlight on the current criminal justice system.

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      • “Amnesty International says so” means exactly that, and no more.

        The *really* funny part of ‘You’re not helping your side’ people is not when they say totally insane things that they think supports an argument (While people on both sides actually just recoil in horror.), it’s when *other people leap in to defend those things*.

        Everyone, I’d like you to meet Brandon Berg, defender of Singapore caning people. He thought it was worthwhile to step into a conversation he was not even in, and say ‘Hey, let’s not be so hasty to condemn the government *whipping adults*. Just because that liberal Amnesty International condemns beating people with sticks doesn’t mean we need to instantly condemn it also.’

        And, of course, let’s not forget that this a punishment that is applied to ‘Vandalism’, which includes things like putting up posters. A crime that has been used, and was created to, silence political dissents.

        I’m glad you’re keeping us real, Brandon, making sure we don’t thoughtlessly condemn a *repressive regime with almost no regard for any sort of civil rights* just because Amnesty International says a specific thing they do is torture.(1) We need to *carefully* *consider* if beating people with sticks is torture or not, making up our own mind.

        1) To clarify, Amnesty International has not actually weighed in on Singapore, because Singapore has not actually ratified the Convention on Torture. When I talk about them condemning caning, they’re condemning *Indonesia* caning and demanding they stop, because Indonesia *has* ratified that. Singapore isn’t even paying lip service to international norms.

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      • Do you have anything to actually show that the so-called rights that are espoused by Amnesty international, human rights watch etc are anything more than the prejudices of a bunch of white people?

        I find it difficult to believe that corporal punishment is more harmful than a prison sentence. Perhaps at the extreme when 24 strokes of the cane may be comparable to some of the shorter prison sentences. Otherwise, prison sentences cause more permanent set backs to long term projects. After a few strokes of the cane, a person can go about the rest of his life after a comparatively much shorter recovery period. The opportunity cost for a 6 month prison sentence is much larger.

        This makes it appropriate as a punishment for crimes which are not sufficiently serious to send someone to jail for. It can also be added to a jail sentence to create a greater variety of punishment schedules. By contrast to fines, the suffering inflicted by a caning is the same regardless of one’s financial prospects. Thus, whereas a system of fines punishes poor people more heavily than the rich, corporal punishment is egalitarian in the suffering it inflicts.

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      • Being anti-circumcision makes one an anti-Semite? Damn.

        I’m anti-corporal punishment because of the data. Being pro-corporal punishment says that considerations other than the effectiveness of the punishment and its potential harm are more important than the data. That’s fine, I suppose, and I’m not suggesting we outlaw corporal punishment of children (that’s not feasible anyway, I don’t think), or that we shouldn’t be sensitive to cultural differences, but we should at least say what it is and what it isn’t, and it ain’t punishment for the sake of effectiveness or the long or short-term well-being of children.

        As for corporal punishment of adults, if our choices were merely imprisonment or corporal punishment, there might be room for discussion. Fortunately, for most offenses those are not our only options, and when considering the offenses for which they are, corporal punishment lacks the features that make imprisonment justifiable (namely keeping certain sick fucks out of our communities).

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      • If the purpose of imprisonment (or criminal punishment in general) was only to sequester those not fit for society, we would not be varying prison terms with the severity of the crime.

        Also, given the centrality of circumcision to jewish identity, outlawing circumcision amounts to outlawing jewish identity. That is ant-semitic.

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      • Murali, read what I said about imprisonment again. You’ve missed, or perhaps conveniently elided, the most important part.

        As for circumcision, I’m not sure that’s true. There is, obviously, much more to Jewish identity than circumcision. We are perfectly happy outlawing female circumcision, which is important to some religions and cultures, but I don’t think most of those who favor outlawing female circumcision would consider ourselves anti- those religions and cultures.

        That’s not to say I’m in favor of outlawing male circumcision (I’m agnostic on the subject), but to say that it is automatically anti-semitic is to beg a bunch of questions.

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      • You should flesh that out into a full post.

        I’m unaware of you don’t know anything about Singapore, or are being sarcastic, but the idea of a guy from *Singapore* asserting that their criminal justice system is more fair is completely absurd.

        Singapore is the place with *mandatory* executions for *drug trafficking*. Executions that they refuse to even keep track of the number of.

        It is also the place that allowed the detention of people without charges for, basically, political opposition, under the justification of ‘national security’. Basically, it’s the place that has managed to codify all the worst-case US hypotheticals about ‘unlawful combatants’ applied it to its own citizens…and actually uses that power to silence opposition.


        Do you have anything to actually show that the so-called rights that are espoused by Amnesty international, human rights watch etc are anything more than the prejudices of a bunch of white people?

        Wow, way to be racist against non-white people. People of all races are smart enough to see what actual human rights are, and Singapore is not a repressive hellhole because it is populated by non-whites. It’s a repressive hellhole because…oh, wait, I think I misunderstood.

        Well, your inability to understand human rights is not due to your race either, nor am I even sure what that is. I am not sure where that inability springs from, but people from any race, national origin, or creed can be idiots.

        I find it difficult to believe that corporal punishment is more harmful than a prison sentence. Perhaps at the extreme when 24 strokes of the cane may be comparable to some of the shorter prison sentences. Otherwise, prison sentences cause more permanent set backs to long term projects. After a few strokes of the cane, a person can go about the rest of his life after a comparatively much shorter recovery period. The opportunity cost for a 6 month prison sentence is much larger.

        You know, I was about to argue this, when I remember that Singapore canes people for things *that would not be punished with jail elsewhere*, like putting up posters on public property or overstaying a visa.

        The sort of things that civilized nations would punish with jail time, like rape and murder and serious theft, Singapore punishes with caning PLUS JAIL TIME.

        Every single crime punishable by caning in Singapore seems to have basically the same non-caning punishments attached to it as the US, or worse. *Plus* caning.

        This makes it appropriate as a punishment for crimes which are not sufficiently serious to send someone to jail for. It can also be added to a jail sentence to create a greater variety of punishment schedules. By contrast to fines, the suffering inflicted by a caning is the same regardless of one’s financial prospects. Thus, whereas a system of fines punishes poor people more heavily than the rich, corporal punishment is egalitarian in the suffering it inflicts.

        This is a guy from a country that has a $1000 (roughly $800 US) fine for smoking on the subway, talking about how corporal punishment can be more fair than fines.

        You want to make some sort of argument that the criminal justice system could choose better things than fines and jail time? Of course it could. In fact, I’ve made detailed arguments here about how house arrest and monitored living environments are much cheaper *and* much better than prison for 90% of the people currently imprisoned that need to be imprisoned. (Which is probably only 50% of the people currently imprisoned.)

        And I’ve also argued that fines should be replaced with some sort of community service, as fines are extremely damaging to the poor. (Although not as damaging as *your* insane fines.)

        But you want to suggest corporal punishment as an alternative? Well a) Singapore isn’t even doing that, they’re using it *in addition* to fines and jail time, and b) Fuck you, no. We’re actually civilized human beings here in the US, all appearances to the contrary. We *arrest* people for causing pain, we don’t deliberately cause it as government policy.

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      • It seems you are incapable of disagreeing civilly. Well, fish you too. Singapore may be far from perfect, but for most people, its a hell lot better than living in the US. But its mighty white of you to call another person’s country barbaric.

        We may have harsh penalties for drug offenses but our police do not break in and shoot your dog just because your neighbour smokes pot. Moreover, just because I approve of some things that my government does doesn’t mean I approve of everything it does. And pulling up past crimes by the state is kind of a douche move since its not like America has not had its own share of civil rights violations. Also, the mere fact that a government does some admittedly very bad things does not mean that other things that it does are necessarily bad. The argument you are making is like this.

        You: The Singapore government does A, B, C, D, E, F and G. F and G are things all governments do, but A -E are wrong

        Me: E is not wrong

        You: A – D are wrong therefore Singapore is barbaric. Therefore E is wrong

        Can you see how you are making an ad-hominem fallacy?

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      • Do you have anything to actually show that the so-called rights that are espoused by Amnesty international, human rights watch etc are anything more than the prejudices of a bunch of white people?

        The idea that the standards of human dignity that Amnesty and HRW point to are “the prejudices of a bunch of white people” really doesn’t hold water. I’d remind you that there were no dissenting votes on the UDHR’s passage in 1948 (the Soviet bloc, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa abstained – and in the last case, to deprive non-white people of rights). Subsequently, there has been widespread ratification of the related human rights conventions (CCPR, ICESCR, CERD, CEDAW, CAT, etc.).

        Even setting aside the UN-centered apparatus (i.e. the treaty-monitoring bodies connected with the widely ratified conventions, many non-white people sitting on those committees by the way), there are numerous regionally established commissions that one would be hard pressed to identify as reliant on the “the prejudices of a bunch of white people”: the Inter-Ameican Commission on Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights for instance. Singapore is a party to the AICHR. Moreover ASEAN promulgated an ASEAN Human Rights Declaration which includes the idea that: “No person shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”*

        States, governed by people of a variety of races and religions, have set forth principles on the subject of human rights and human dignity. Part of the work that organizations like Amnesty and HRW are doing is holding states to their word (in international law jargon, pacta sunt servanda, agreements must be kept).

        *Some details on AHRD that don’t fit in a comment box, but as answer to your opening question, this will suffice.

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      • We may have harsh penalties for drug offenses but our police do not break in and shoot your dog just because your neighbour smokes pot.

        No, your government just detains citizens without charge if they it decides they’re a threat to national security, aka, if they’re political opposition. And, of course, the Singapore police never ever make mistakes because of, uh, something.

        Of course, it’s best if they *can* find charges, like how they like to cane people for ‘vandalism’, aka, putting up posters and spraying graffiti. (The only way to get their message out, as all the newspapers are government run.)

        And pulling up past crimes by the state is kind of a douche move since its not like America has not had its own share of civil rights violations.

        Ah, yes, that far-off past of 1989, when Singapore passed a constitutional amendment because the courts there said detaining people without charge should not be allowed.

        But perhaps more importantly, I have never, at any time, implied the US has a perfect system. I said what it doesn’t do is *torture people* as part of their judicial system.

        Now, it has recently tortured people, via a combination of lying to the people and no oversight, and it’s fine to complain about that…and *I’m* not defending that. It was wrong, and literally illegal, and people who did it are only not in jail because we have a non-functioning political system in this country.

        But you’ll notice it took no one knowing what was going for it to happened, because American is a civilized nation that does not approve of torture, and in fact has made it illegal.

        Can you see how you are making an ad-hominem fallacy?

        My *original point* is that corporal punishment is barbaric…I just pointed out the rest of those to explain what else is going on in Singapore, that it’s not that they have some sort of ideal system *except* for corporal punishment, your insane assertion aside.

        I brought the *other* problem’s Singapore’s justice system has to counter your crazy argument that ‘caning is better than imprisonment and fines that hurt people’s futures’, when in fact *every single* crime that you can get caned for *additionally* has roughly the same or harsher punishment and fines than the US has *on top* of the caning. Some of them are things we don’t generally even consider crimes. (Again, putting up illegal posters. Cops catch you putting up posters illegally on public property here, they’ll…make you take them down. Or just take them down themselves.)

        And that has nothing to do with the fact that beating people with rods is, in fact, barbaric, and will be barbaric always, at all times, in all circumstances.

        Yet just about every ASEAN country engages in corporal punishment.

        Uh, no. ASEAN countries generally allow parents and guardians to engage in corporal punishment of *children*, aka, spanking. Exactly like the US does. Which is also wrong, but its something the world has just started to realize is wrong, and just started to ban.

        The only countries I am aware of that practice severe corporal punishment *of adults* as part of their *judicial system* are Singapore and Malaysia, which they do via caning. (There are a few places that practice somewhat mild forms of physical pain in various ways, but I’m unaware of any that rise to anywhere near the level of caning.)

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      • It seems that searching the internet tells us that Brunei also engages in corporal punishment. As do some places in indonesia as well as Myanmar

        Countries which disallow corporal punishment are Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos. Vietnam.

        So, half of the countries in ASEAN still practice or have recently instituted corporal punishment, not just Malaysia and Singapore.

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      • you are missing my point. Singapore has gotten a lot of things wrong: Arbitrary detention, civil rights violations(speech and assembly), drug war, prohibition of gay sex are among them. Corporal punishment is not among them. You are saying corporal punishment is barbaric. But just because you or someone else or even many people say so doesn’t make it the case. Justice isn’t the sort of thing that is up to a vote.

        Punishment is essentially a harm or suffering inflicted on someone for some wrong that person did. It is justified by notions of desert and reciprocity which say that said wrong doer deserves some amount of suffering for the wrong committed. This harm may be inflicted by different means (fines, caning, jail time, execution, house arrest). Some harms can only be inflicted by certain types of punishments. For example, there are some harms that cannot be inflicted by any means other than execution. An analysis of the actual extent to which people’s fundamental interests and core projects are set back by corporal punishment places it somewhere between house arrest and jail time. In some instances it may even be less bad than house arrest. A person on house arrest may have difficulty finding a job near his house. After a caning, a person can continue working after a short recovery period. There is no reason why caning cannot be added to other punishments to modify the harm such punishments inflict.

        It is not clear if punishments which have been modified as such are too excessive. However, even if many of them are, it does not follow that it is corporal punishment which necessarily makes those punishments excessive. Moreover, the mere fact that a given mode of punishments is used in punishments which turn out to be excessive, it does not follow that the problem is with that mode of punishment. It could be that there is a place for that mode of punishment, only that it is misused.

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      • Yet just about every ASEAN country engages in corporal punishment.

        And those countries that do so are wrong to do so, having committed elsewhere to being against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Precisely the rights violative conduct that Amnesty and HRW were established to highlight.*

        An analysis of the actual extent to which people’s fundamental interests and core projects are set back by corporal punishment places it somewhere between house arrest and jail time. 

        Perhaps the core of the disagreement. I believe one’s bodily integrity is a pretty fundamental interest, and as such corporal punishment constitutes a quite severe harm in and of itself. Here’s why. The core international human rights agreements repeatedly highlight the inherent dignity of human beings. Altogether, the direction of travel regarding the treatment of prisoners (and state attitudes towards crime and punishment) has been towards further recognition of that inherent human dignity.** Caning, flogging, and lashing, all run counter to that inherent dignity recognizing framework and towards a framework of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

        Also troubling to me, your final two paragraphs have very few boundaries indeed. Can the state break your arm as a punishment? Under the rationale you’ve set, focusing on desert/reciprocity, you could conceivably deserve a broken arm. Moreover, you could continue to work with a broken arm. And (maybe you’ll clarify whether this is the case), is it against your fundamental interests and core projects not to have a broken arm for a few months?

        And from corporal punishment and broken bones, we can move to other, not yet entire bygone modes of punishment. Can the state chop off or remove body parts as punishment? To me, the whole desert/reciprocity coupled with fundamental interests/core projects framework you outline leaves the individual exposed to quite a range of state inflicted brutality under the punishment heading.

        I much rather flip desert 180 degrees in the opposite direction than you’ve outlined. Even supposing an offender deserves punishment X, Y, and Z, that offender deserves respect for their human dignity even more.*** Which very well may mean that punishments X and Y are off the table and society can only pursue punishment Z.

        * The parallel works particularly well for HRW. If I recall correctly, HRW was founded as Helsinki Watch to monitor the Helsinki Accords, the USSR and satellite states having agreed to certain standards of conduct. The direct parallel works slightly less well for Amnesty, as Amnesty’s origins are different.

        ** So we end up with concepts like “Except for those limitations that are demonstrably necessitated by the fact of incarceration, all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…” (from the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, UN General Assembly Resolution, 1990)

        *** After all, the history of crime and punishment hasn’t been a history of being too lenient with offenders, on the contrary once upon a time a huge number of criminal offenses were punishable by death.

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      • I think we’re getting somewhere (though we may be reaching a point where I’m not sure I can convince you. But at least we’ve clarified where our fundamental differences lie).

        The core international human rights agreements repeatedly highlight the inherent dignity of human beings. Altogether, the direction of travel regarding the treatment of prisoners (and state attitudes towards crime and punishment) has been towards further recognition of that inherent human dignity.** Caning, flogging, and lashing, all run counter to that inherent dignity recognizing framework and towards a framework of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

        So, I’ve got three sorts of objections which are kind of related

        1. It is not clear what exactly dignity consists in. I am suspicious that a lot of if not all dignity talk is just a prettied up way of saying “yuck”.

        2. The above ambiguity with the concept of dignity seems at least partially responsible for why its not clear that corporal punishment is any more injurious vis a vis dignity than imprisonment. Moreover, if dignity talk is a lot like yuckiness, then it is extremely culturally relative. At the very least, while it may be considered degrading to human dignity in the US, it is not considered to be so in Singapore. There also seems little to be said in terms of whether there is any objectively right or wrong view about this.

        3. A third related point is that its not clear why dignity and “eye for an eye” stand in opposition to each other. In fact, it seems to be the case that it is the latter sort of principle (reciprocity) which underlies our core intuitions about justice. There is also a lot to be said about how reciprocity norms are essential to the stable functioning of a society.

        Also troubling to me, your final two paragraphs have very few boundaries indeed. Can the state break your arm as a punishment? Under the rationale you’ve set, focusing on desert/reciprocity, you could conceivably deserve a broken arm. Moreover, you could continue to work with a broken arm. And (maybe you’ll clarify whether this is the case), is it against your fundamental interests and core projects not to have a broken arm for a few months?

        You are right that there are very few boundaries and it is plausible that someone may deserve a broken arm. For example, a recalcitrant wife beater would seem to deserve to have either one or both of his arms broken. When I ask myself why we don’t institute such a punishment for spousal abuse, it seems that we don’t do it because we find it yucky (because it is unusual) and because it is inconvenient to enact punishments which we don’t already have the apparatus to carry out. If there are other familiar methods to inflict the same amount of harm which do not arouse the yuck reaction, we can permissibly use that punishment instead.

        However, as I’ve mentioned above, there is nothing (except name-calling) that can be said about societies where that yuck reaction is not shared, or is associated with a different type of punishment.

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      • First a question then an observation.

        My question: To what extent, if at all, do you see a distinction between the reaction “That’s inhumane” and the reaction “Yuck”?

        You mention cultural relativism, but what I’d point to is the consonance and my “agreements must be kept” point from earlier. States have already agreed to a given set of principles – so we find references to the UDHR, both UN based declarations as well as regional, inter-governmental organization rooted declarations, both UN level human rights institutions and regional institutions, and oftentimes ratifications of the relevant treaties. Also, everyone has ratified the UN Charter. The UDHR is in part spelling out what provisions of the charter mean, like “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person” and “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. Those aims are brought into focus by instruments like the UDHR and related treaties.

        The potential ambiguity over dignity is far less legitimate, far less extensive given these agreements – that is, there is clearly an international human rights regime and that regime includes the participation of many cultures, religions, etc. These diverse cultures managed to negotiate the texts, vote these texts through the institutions of global governance, and continue to serve as guardians as to how to interpret these texts. The disjuncture between states’ solemn pronouncements and state behavior is central to human rights advocacy (irrespective of the continent of the country involved, the religions of their authorities, or their skin color; so given time I could outline the many, many human rights violations of the US related to crime and punishment). It isn’t ambiguous when these states are essentially writing checks that their respective populations can’t cash – “No person shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” is a really striking sentence. Does that sentence’s meaning really become ambiguous just because I’ve hopped on a plane from New York to Singapore?

        My observation is related to that point, and I think it is something I’m running up against in this discussion (and in crafting a suitable reply). So human rights and dignity talk exist on two parallel tracks. On one track is the philosophical (for some theological) analysis, which has its own set of rules for what counts as admissible or inadmissible forms of argument. So one’s more likely to encounter conceptual analysis, and a challenge like “a lot of if not all dignity talk is just a prettied up way of saying “yuck”. (Or perhaps even discussion of the divine spark, and what conduct God is owed / Gods are owed.)

        The other track is the political track, looking to a set of negotiated declarations, treaties, and other sources of international law. And also looking to the history that produced the current regime. I’ve only mentioned it in passing, but that history is really, really ugly; it involves very clear denials of humanity and inhumane treatment of millions. Sometimes the political track makes reference to philosophical underpinnings, but it isn’t exactly grounded there. The political track has to wrestle with the history and attempts to guide state behavior away from a brutal past towards (what’s conceived as) a more humane future. While there is overlap between the philosophical and the political there is not a one to one relationship. I don’t think they’re fundamentally irreconcilable, but I suspect part of our disagreement may stem from the tension between the two outlooks.

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  12. The idea that we should tolerate child abuse in all put the most extreme situations because its potentially more harmful, if only for economic reasons, to jail or fine the abusive parent is similarly ridiculous.

    I was referring to all forms of corporal punishment that rise to the level of abuse as extreme.

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  13. I was spanked growing up. I don’t know that it was part of a formal parenting style or just my parents reacting in the moment. I assume the latter because of the inconsistency of its usage. But we got it… Good sometimes. You knew how mad dad was based on where on the spectrum you got it… With the hand above the pants? Not so bad. With the belt on the bare ass? Daddy was pissssssssed.

    Oh yea… We’re white.

    I wonder if there was a historical gap between the races on its usage. 538 looked at current trends, but what does history tell us? Did corporal punishment only become immoral when white people moved away from it? Or were white people “early adopters” of the idea that it was immoral and thus moved away? This seems like an important question to answer. Not in terms of actually assessing its immorality (FTR, I think it is not only immoral but counterproductive to the types of people I want my children to be), but in terms of determining how we respond to its usage, especially when we see rather sharp divides along racial lines.

    Thanks for this piece, Dennis.

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  14. Thanks everyone for the wonderful discussion about this. I wanted to highlight something. A lot of you have said they have trouble understanding how this is a racial issue. I think a lot of you that have shared that your white parents were just as strict as my black parents is correct. I think where it becomes racial/cultural is how it is so casually accepted in black society. Comedians have joked about it and as you can see a number of sports figures have spoken approvingly of it as well. Other parts of American society probably spank as much as African Americans, but what makes it unique with African Americans is how embedded it is in how one raises a child. So when critics (that are usually, but totally) white talk about the negative affects of spanking, I think it can tap this feeling that whites are complaining about the practice and are “othering” black parents.

    So, yes, this isn’t a racial issue per se. Except when it is. It is a racial issue and it isn’t, but it is, if that makes any sense.

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    • Yeah, that actually makes total sense to me.

      I actually think you kind of nailed in the OP when you said, “I know there are many that says race has nothing to do with this, but this is America; race usually has everything to do with anything.”

      I hadn’t planned on veering too far into that territory myself here, but now that I’m there anyway…

      I’ve noticed that the Peterson scandal hits one of those odd places where different tribal lines on the graph cross: Those in the media that I would normally expect to use this story as a way to tsk-tsk the state of African American males today are oddly lining up to defend Peterson’s actions. It’s interesting to me to see the concern about the “sissification of America meme” trump the “black people’s problems are all black people’s fault” meme on talk radio this week.

      No idea what that means, exactly, but I still find it oddly fascinating.

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    • The last time my mother beat me, it was because she was tired and overworked, a single mother with five children, three still at home, two navigating the shoals of young adulthood with varying degrees of success. I’d spent the afternoon avoiding my pedophile, and so hadn’t cleaned the kitchen, done the laundry, and started supper. She came home — probably with a developing migraine and going through menopause after a day working in a lab filled with formaldehyde, to the mess, the dirty laundry, and the unprepared meal. She asked what I was doing, and I couldn’t tell her, “avoiding the man who’s been trying to sexually abuse me,” there was too much social protection for him. So I said another version of the truth, “out in the woods.” So she took the broom to me. And I did not scream out, because I knew I hadn’t been in the wrong to protect myself so. Which further enraged her, so she hit harder, still, and I refused to cry. She finally gave up. I had marks. She never did it again, either, her brutality stunned her; and that day marked a rift in my trust in her that has taken years to darn together.

      I do not think that this is an uncommon event; the beating where you won’t cry out no matter what, either. I do not think it’s a racial problem per se.

      What I do think is a problem is the way a parent beating a child reinforces the racial stereotypes we hold of some people as violent people. Then, yes; it is about race. Shame on anyone who points to one man who, like my mother, went too far, without recognizing that any parent, given the right amount of stress, can also go to far. All parents hold the potential to harm their children; and questioning if something is actually good or harmful is a healthy habit.

      I would hope that anyone seeing what Peterson did would make all parents who think switching their children is acceptable reconsider, and not be seen as an excuse to only examine the behavior of some parents.

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    • I was looking for a good place to jump in, hopefully this is it.

      I don’t think Peterson is a monster. I think he is misguided and misinformed. I also think CP needs to stop. But I don’t think the law trying to prevent every spanking would do the job.

      We need to create space and support for the idea that an unspanked kid is not an out of control wild child with no dicipline or self control. We need church leaders and others to educate their flock that sparing the rod does not spoil the child. Without that we will keep seeing incidents like this regularly.

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  15. Excellent op Dennis as usual,

    I agree with your assessment vis race and CP. This past weekend we had a family reunion on the Asian side so I’ll use that to talk about their attitudes on spanking (Chinese that is). The Peterson case was talked about quite a bit with my sons who were never spanked Agnes their cousins who were occasionally

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  16. Aarggh new Swype app not acting right on new iOS.

    Just came back from family reunion with the extended Chinese side of my family and we talked quite a bit about spanking. The Chinese will spank but only as a last resort. They will use the guilt method continuously with much emphasis on sacrifices made by the parents, grandparents and as many forebears as they can think of who are All disappointed with the child’s behavior. Children are inculcated with respect for tradition and the virtues of gaining and saving face. I’ve seen mothers throw a fit because their child flubbed a note at a piano recital. The child will be mortified but they won’t make that mistake again and will practice much better the next time.

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  17. Someone once joked:

    At age 18, you put the kid in a room with a bat and their parent strapped to a chair for 30 minutes. No social opprobrium or criminal charges from whatever happens in that room.

    His reasoning: if the parent beat the snot out of their kid regularly and unjustly, the kid would beat the parent to death and justice would be served. Or they would forgive their parent and they both could move on, and society would be served.

    Or the kid is a sociopath and will take the opportunity to murder somebody with no consequences and then the parent deserves to die anyway for letting a sociopath out on the general public.

    Or everybody would be really uncomfortable for a few minutes and then they’d talk about something important, and society would be served.

    Basically, he didn’t see a downside.

    I pointed out that this was very likely discriminatory for all children except the eldest child. I’m a ruiner.

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  18. I’ve been reading through this post and comments and all I can say is WTF?

    Everyone seems to like the original post, but it is just absurd from almost any aspect, except for the obvious truth that Dennis, you know, FEELS that any condemnation of a black man who beats his child is somehow racial in nature. Because, well, because it makes him feel bad about his parents or something.

    As many others have pointed out, domestic violence against children is popular across all racial lines, so beating your children isn’t a particularly black experience.

    And the only evidence he can cite to back up his claim of racism is an absolutely absurd quote from Solomon Jones which somehow equates black men beating their children with white men beating their black slaves. Huh? For the record, Mr. Jones, no one today is advocating slavery, so you really can’t equate societies past acceptance of flogging slaves with today’s distaste for grown men (black or otherwise) beating children. And please learn what the word microcosm means.

    And this entire thread seems to be of the opinion that “well, my parents beat me and I’m okay.” I might beg to differ if you think that violence against children is acceptable, but still, that really isn’t the point is it? Most people grow up “okay” to some degree or another. And from the evidence it seems that most parents hit / spank / beat their children. So it isn’t an absolute in terms of making little Johnny into a psychopath. But I wonder what percentage of children who are bullies are children who are victims of domestic violence in their homes?

    And as for the tradition defense for violence? Bah. Women and children were traditionally considered to be a man’s property, and he could do with them as he wished. We’ve moved past that tradition.

    To those who think that liberals may be right on this issue but don’t like all them being all “busybody” about it. What kind of stupidity is that? “I know they are right, but i just don’t like them so I am going to disregard anything correct they might say. And then I am going to hold my breath until I turn blue and pass out because I am a child and that is how I roll.”

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    • Nu. It’s his personal experience. and if his personal experience with our colorblind society makes him determined to tell us exactly how much our racist asses make him smart, well, more power to him.

      It’s good to get other perspectives.

      Blind as a bat, I might say “of course, it’s not about racism” — easy for me to say.

      Dennis’ contribution here is important.

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    • Women and children were traditionally considered to be a man’s property, and he could do with them as he wished. We’ve moved past that tradition.

      Actually, we started outlawing wife-beating before we moved past that tradition. In the 1930s, wives were still considered to be little more than property, but wife-beating was getting a bad rap and had been mostly outlawed. (Not that it ever was technically legal. And, of course, *enforcement* was always tricky.)

      Or, to put it another way: Outlawing wife beating was a (late) victory of first-wave feminism. Making men and women equals in a marriage was a victory of second-wave feminism.

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      • Interesting, isn’t it, that it is illegal to hit your wife, but not illegal to hit your children. When you beat your wife, it is called abuse and domestic violence, but when you beat your children (who are less able to defend themselves) it is called “parenting.”

        Sad.

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      • Yeah! And also how you can’t make make your wife stay in the bedroom in defiantly or cut off contact from all her friends against her wishes if she broke your rules, but you’re totally allowed to abuse your kids that way

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      • Yeah! And also how you can’t make make your wife stay in the bedroom in defiantly or cut off contact from all her friends against her wishes if she broke your rules, but you’re totally allowed to abuse your kids that way

        Yes. Because it’s totally legal to lock children up in their bedroom. No one will bat an eye if you have chains and locks on the outside of their bedroom door.

        Wait, no. That’s not legal either!

        It is just as legal to tell your wife to go to the bedroom and sit for an hour and think about what she did as it is to tell your child to do that. The difference, of course, is that the wife is unlikely to actually play along with that.

        Likewise, the difference between who can see their friends is because it is basically illegal for others to transport children without their guardian’s consent, and children cannot transport themselves. You have no ‘right’ to cut off contact that anyone (either your child, or their friends) has to respect, all you can do is make it physically difficult. Which you can for a child, but not for a wife.

        You know, this is the sort of comment I know I should just stop, but I’m actually interested in how far down the rabbit hole decides to go in what he claims it’s legal to do to children, vs legal to do to random adults. There actually *is* a legal difference there, but he’s manage to almost completely miss it, because his examples are all about him *telling* people things, and obviously he can tell any random person to do any random thing.

        Let’s see if he can figure out the *actual* difference between minor children and adults.

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      • David,
        One thing is that parents can be punished for crimes that their kids commit. Even if the parents were in another country at the time… occasionally even if they’ve never actually contacted the child.

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      • Outlawing wife beating started in the 1700?s. (and wife-stealing too). Well, at least in Pennsylvania — we always were the hippie state.

        Yeah…instead of ‘illegal’, I really should have said ‘considered immoral’. Someone assaulting their wife has rarely been actually *legal*. But society didn’t do anything about it.

        First-wave feminism were just the people who got society to consider it something horrible. However, 1700s is sorta early…feminism really can be considered to have started in Pennsylvania (and everywhere else) in 1850s or so, when divorce laws started changing.

        Anyway, my point was, for a span of time, women were still sorta ‘property’, or, in a better analogy, like a pet. But now animal cruelty laws were enforced, and if it could be proved in court that a man did that, he’d have his pet taken away.

        Equality was something that happened later.

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      • David,
        Actually, I have stronger grounds for “considered immoral” in the 1700’s, than for actually illegal (didn’t bother to look it up). That was one of the main reasons the Scotch Irish were kicked out of PA.
        Quakers were really nice folks (still are, actually. I owe a very dear friend’s life to them).

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      • And the important point I was trying to make, which I don’t think came across, was that the logic presented seemed to me to be trying to reach a conclusion via the claims: 1) We stopped seeing married women as property, so 2) we make it illegal to assault them.

        And that lead to the conclusion: 1) We should stop seeing children as property, and 2) we should make it illegal to assault them.

        The problem there is that isn’t how it worked with women, historically speaking. That history is incorrect. We’ve never seen women as property in this country…we’ve seen them as *children*.

        Which means trying to generalize from the treatment of women to the treatment of children is somewhat silly. Children actually *are* children.

        So my point was we stopped hitting women *well before* we stopped treating them as children.

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      • Huh? Locking kids in their room? Who said anything about locking kids in their room?

        I’m talking about grounding your kids, which I believe is not only legal but is actually recommended by the Society of Pediatric Psychology as a form of discipline for certain behaviors.

        And grounding isn’t actually the same as telling your wife to “think about what she did.” It’s not letting your kid physically leave the house without your permission for a period of time even if they want to — sometimes as long as a week — and/or stepping in to cut off all communication with the outside world, including electronic communication. We’ve done both at different times with my kids for things we found to be extreme transgressions. (Actually, we’ve never done either for as long as a week, but we’ve certainly done it for multiple days.)

        And no, I wouldn’t ever, ever, ever do either of those things to my wife — period. And yeah, I’m pretty sure my doing so would be illegal.

        Is that far enough “down the rabbit hole” for you?

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      • I’m talking about grounding your kids,

        Yes, I know. You seem to be unclear about the words you’re using. You can, in fact, ‘make’ your wife stay in her bedroom the same way you make your kids…by demanding it, and withholding things if she refuses. You can keep your wife from her friends by the same way…refusing to drive her somewhere, and refusing to let her friends visit your property. That is how children are grounded, and it perfectly legal to do it to adults also.

        Of course, that is completely stupid and unworkable, because things in your house are probably also owned by your wife, and the house is her property too, and she can also drive places herself. But *legally* you can certainly try to ground your wife.

        My point is, if you’re going to make comparisons between your behavior between children and your behavior towards other adults, you need to base that comparisons on the *actual* difference in the behavior allowed towards them. Which you completely missed.

        The actual difference is that adults have *custody* of their children. Custody is a legal term that means a person is allowed to control someone’s location. Via actual physical control. In other word, ‘custody’ is basically an exception to kidnapping laws. People can move people they have custody of against their will, or keep them somewhere against their will.

        Even with custody like that, this is never, ever, how grounding is implemented, and, as I pointed out, if someone attempts to physically restrain their child (Via locking them somewhere or chaining them up or even physically holding them) more than necessary, child protective services will have something to say about it.

        I hope this answers your question of why you can abuse (or, rather, kidnap) your kids by controlling their location (Laws about custody are an exemption to kidnapping laws), but *aren’t* allowed to abuse them by injuring them (Laws about assault(1) have no such exemption.)

        1) Technically, parents also have some right to medical decision-making, which does impact laws about assault. Children can be subject to medical procedures they don’t want, which is normally assault. But that’s unrelated to just *hitting people*.

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      • I’m going to withdraw from this kerfuffle at this point, because it’s hitting me that this is one of those times where two people are being pissy with one another despite the fact that they’re actually in agreement.

        Apologies for pissiness on my end.

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      • I’m going to withdraw from this kerfuffle at this point, because Vikram was right that analogies don’t really help resolve debates and instead predictably led to us arguing about the differences between wives and children instead of the thing we actually cared about in the first place

        FTFY.

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  19. Hi, I’m a mom of 2 teenagers and also a vic of cp. The cp i experienced has made me confused as a parent. The endpt is i learnt that kids respond better to love n bit of talk than cp. It could all go very wrong and the child might grow up to be a violent adult. Parents should be taught they r the best role models; a parents abusive behaviour teaches a child that u can do that too. It is rather shocking to note that cp is legal in some places.
    Stop cp!

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  20. I don’t know why everyone keeps saying spanking is a black culture thing. My parents spanked us with the dog’s leash and all my (white) friends were spanked, the only kids I knew who weren’t spanked (as far as I know) were my rich cousins.

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  21. Interesting to me that no one has mentioned the elephant in the room, which is Christianity. We are a religious, largely Christian nation. And all those Christian parents love to quote the Bible’s admonition that if you “spare the rod” then you”spoil the child.”

    God is all but commanding us to beat our children. This might account for the slightly larger rates of CP in black families, as they tend to be more religious than other groups.

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  22. To those in favor of corporal punishment, would you be OK if a parent inflicted injury to himself (eg; self-flagellation) rather than his child to address the child’s misbehavior? How about inflicting injury to the child’s sibling(s)?

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  23. So I’ve mentioned this story before on the blog, but it’s germane here, so here we go again.

    Back when I was a toddler, in 1972, my parents were dead-ass broke folks living in a very dead-ass-broke neighborhood of San Jose… on a street which now, according to Google Street View, has come roaring back to charming restored historical neighborhood, but I digress.

    Next door lived a pair of very broke-ass ass-broke folks with a daughter about the age of my sister (then 3, going on 4). They used corporate punishment well past any line over to the side of “beating your child”. Mom called CPS.

    A pair of cops showed up, interviewed the child, interviewed the parents, and left.

    The guy hauled his daughter out on the front lawn 20 minutes later and beat the shit out of her in front of the neighborhood, basically daring anybody to ever again call CPS. Nobody did, they were all terrified that cops would show up, and leave, and he’d wind up killing the kid.

    In a world where people like this exist, the legal system will fail to cover all cases.

    It is too easy to cast doubt upon anonymous phone calls, or even verified ones. Physical evidence won’t always be as egregious as photos of whip marks. There’s no real barrier to any butthead becoming a parent.

    Fast forward 25 years, and my sister is taking her son to the emergency room for falling down and hurting himself. She’s stressed, even though he’s not hurt too badly, he’s hurt badly enough to have to go to the emergency room. She lives at the time above the poverty line but she’s wearing walkabout Saturday clothes which are an old concert shirt and ripped jeans. She’s a single mother. Someone in the ER doesn’t like the look of the injury, or her outfit, or thinks her stress level is unusual, or whatever… but CPS shows up and starts interviewing her. Are you angry? Do you feel that your child has limited your opportunities?

    Now, that guy that beat the crap out of his daughter 40 years ago, well, 15 years ago he’d probably fail that interview, because hey, that’s none of your goddamn business and he loses his temper and takes a swing at the CPS guy and that’s that, the kid goes into foster care (which might be its own hell, but that’s a different story).

    So things are probably better than they were 40 years ago.

    I don’t know that they’re markedly better than 15 years ago.

    I don’t know that they can get much better than they were 15 years ago. We can spend more money, and we might get better results, but I don’t know how much better the results are going to be for the money. We’re probably going to send a lot more CPS folks out to interview more single mothers whose kids fall down than we do send CPS folks out to interview guys who will beat their daughter on the front lawn of their house. We’re probably going to put more kids whose parents are single mothers into foster care who don’t need to be there than we will save daughters from sociopaths.

    Not all problems have solutions.

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  24. Dennis:

    “I have to say, that if I ever have children I’m pretty sure I would not spank them. I just don’t think that this line of punishment works anymore.”

    Have you ever tired to reason with a screaming four year old?

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    • @notme:

      Trying to reason with a four year old, screaming or not, is your first problem. Thinking that hitting a screaming four year old will somehow help is your second.

      If you have a screaming child and your parenting skills are such that you don’t know how to comfort that child, please don’t take out your frustration on the child.

      Might I recommend that you slap yourself silly instead? You, as a parent, are the one who has failed and deserves to be punished.

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      • No strawman, Notme. You pulled a quote from someone saying that they wouldn’t use violence on their children and responded by asking if they had every tried to reason with a screaming 4 year old. Which is to say that you would in fact beat a screaming 4 year old. That was the entire point of your comment, Notme. Own it.

        And violence against children is never a “parenting tool.” You can use all the euphemisims you want, but you are still an adult beating a child. Every child deserves better than crap-ass parents like you who beat them because they are too ignorant and useless to do anything else but lash out with violence.

        Might I recommend parenting classes? Or sterilization?

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      • MarkJ

        More liberal hyperbole. Who, except you, said anything about “beating” a child? No one. There is a big difference between swatting a kid on their butt and beating them. I guess you are too smart to know the difference.

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      • Mark:

        There is a big difference between snark and a strawman.

        It is impossible? No, not impossible just very unlikely. I’m sure that somewhere throughout the ages there has existed a child that was always a little angel and always obeyed their parents. I have yet to see a unicorn either, but tomorrow maybe that day.

        What I find amusing is parenting opinions from folks that don’t have kids. I remember talking with fiends that have kids about their own expectations/beliefs about parenting pre and post kid. Needless to say, not everyone’s beliefs survived reality.

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      • Dad and Uncle , who had custody of niece and nephew at age 4, and former therapist with kids here. Didn’t hit, didn’t need to. Were they more than a handful at times; hell yes….still didn’t need to hit them. It is very possible and lots of people discipline with hitting.

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      • Parent of an extremely well behaved six year old. We’ve taken her just about everywhere imaginable. Neither me nor my wife have ever once struck her, spanked her, or used any kind of corporal punishment. We get complements from strangers and teachers on her good behavior on a very regular basis.

        Does she immediately obey every single demand or request we make? No. Does she immediately obey the overwhelming majority of our demands or requests? You better believe it.

        I know more than a few other parents who can say the same thing.

        That doesn’t mean I have a particular problem with parents who spank (assuming they don’t actually cause physical injuries). But I’m more than a little amused at the suggestion that parents who completely take corporal punishment out of their “tool bag” raise poorly behaved or disobedient kids.

        I’m even more amused that you thought it worth your time to mock Dennis for saying he would take spanking out of his tool bag and to suggest at this is some kind of an unresonable fantasy.

        I’ll make you a deal, though- I’ll continue not judging the parenting skills of parents who spank if you stop judging those who are uncomfortable with it.

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      • It is impossible? No, not impossible just very unlikely.

        Er… wow. This isn’t just a failure of imagination, this is absolute ignorance of about 35% of the parent population of the U.S.

        I guess you don’t pay much attention to the gobs and gobs and gobs of folks who don’t use corporal punishment and still manage to raise decent kids?

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    • Notme: I haven’t personally, but I have seen how my brother and sister-in-laws parent their young children which didn’t require corporal punishment. One 4 year-old particularly could be a little terror, but it was handled with a stern talking to, not a spanking.

      I’m not going to judge someone who might see corporal punishment as a tool in discipline. But I think you have to take into account where and why you are using it. Just because a 4 year old is acting out is not necessarily a reason.

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      • Not Me’s attitude here is the one that I think causes the trouble. We have to show people that a well behaved mature adult is the end point of refusing to use CP.

        If we don’t do that then the pressure to hit will never stop.

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  25. I continue to pause at the idea that those who don’t want children to be attacked with weapons – and let’s make no mistake about what a switch or a belt or a paddle is in these scenarios – is being smug. This isn’t about being smug. This is about drawing a great big line between what is and is not okay to do when dealing with children, literally defenseless, less than half-our-size children.

    To put that another way, imagine your reaction if I were to begin switching, belting, or paddling you. I’m (probably) bigger than you, and could, potentially, pin you in such a way as to gain the necessary access. This isn’t a threat. I’d never do such a thing. But would you be a smug person if you thought, “That adult shouldn’t be pinning and switching/belting/paddling that other adult.” Of course not.

    None of this excuses those people getting their jollies from making this about race. Anybody making comments specifically critical of African-Americans, or assuming that this only happens in African-American homes, can absolutely pound sand from here to eternity.

    That the issue is being obfuscated though? That’s precisely what aids and abets the abuse that I referenced in my own post. Because god forbid we just deal with the very specific issue of children and their parents and where to draw the appropriate lines between them.

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  26. Via a comment on Sullivan’s site:

    I am a psychologist who works primarily with very young children and their families. It is disturbing to me, especially reading the comments sections of sites that are covering this story, to see how few people seem to have gotten the memo about the impact of early violence on the developing brain. While Mr. Peterson’s son was being whipped, and for some long time thereafter, his nervous system was being flooded with stress hormones (cortisol is the primary culprit). Shame, anger, and fear states cause the body to respond this way, as stress hormones can also help mobilize us into fight or flight states when danger is near. The problem is that sustained, repeated exposure to these hormones causes structural changes to the developing brain, including the hippocampus and the amygdala – structures that are responsible for emotion processing and memory.

    The result? A nervous system that is “primed” to scan for danger and ready to fight to protect itself rather than one that can safely engage in play, exploration and learning (these brain states are incompatible). Research is very clear that kids who are exposed to this kind of violence (fear states) are much more likely to be violent as they grow up.

    So you want to have fewer future Ray Rices clocking their partners? Figure out ways to keep kids like Adrian Peterson’s safe.

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  27. Perspective

    You know, so I’d turn out okay as an adult. What you need to do is to take that justification of “appropriate” violence and realize that what you’re doing is to establish what level of physical and mental pain is okay to inflict on your child intentionally. The answers should always and unambiguously be none.

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    • There are times and places where physical restraint is necessary. To protect the child from harming him or her self. Times when it’s necessary to protect yourself from an assault being committed by your child. Children, particularly when they’re bigger, can hurt their parents. I know one young man who murdered his mother, tried to murder his father, and will spend the rest of his life in prison. A young woman violently trying to kill herself, and not caring if she took others out with her.

      So I do agree, there is some line of self-defense that might push toward something that looks like corporal punishment, if we define corporal punishment as intentionally inflicting pain; restraint and self-defense aren’t really corporal punishment, however; though corporal punishment might take the form of either; when you start beating someone, a natural response is to defend yourself.

      Real restraint and self defense are not provoked by your already-inflicted pain; and if you require the self-defense here, you may be at the place where might consider calling the cops to invoke the justice system that invokes the mental health system and praying to God (even if you’re, like me, a non-believer,) that there were a better way of dealing with this in place.

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  28. I have four kids. I believe corporal punishment of any kind is wrong, and I welcome a societal consensus applied to law that prohibits it. (Yes, I am a “technocratic liberal”.) But I also tend to be very liberal about the rights of people accused of crimes. And I feel like it is unfair to people from lower socioeconomic classes and certain regions where they were raised with this as part of their culture, and there was never a clear dividing line where it was well publicized that this type of punishment was no longer allowed. I think we need to pass some kind of national law, accompanied by a big media blitz PR campaign to convey the message that times have changed and this is no longer acceptable. Of course, in our broken system, this is very unlikely to happen. So the application of the evolving societal consensus will be uneven and ad hoc.

    I wonder too if we’ll see a strange set of political coalitions develop here between white southern conservatives and ethnic minorities. Those are the groups that are more likely to use corporal punishment, especially of the “switch” variety, with white northern liberals being the least likely.

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  29. Let me throw mud in the water here.

    How many of you own dogs?
    How meant of you have hit, swatted or otherwise instituted CP on same?
    Viz your comments on this site about children what is different?

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      • No, I induced them outside with treats, gave treats after they scratched on the door and we’re let outside, and gave them treats after they did their business out there, but withheld treats after an “accident.” Reward for good behavior, taught step by step. No reward for bad behavior.

        Rubbing the dog’s nose in it is not going teach them anything of value.

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    • Interesting question, . There are a lot of parallels between dealing with pets and small children, particularly pre-verbal types. Basically the whole “sit them down and patiently explain what they did wrong and why mommy’s mad” routine is off the table. Yet you still need to communicate “do this” or “don’t do that.” A quick swat on a rear end that’s well-padded by a diaper (and occasionally they’re last bowel movement) may simply be the only communication method available.

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      • Thanks Road this was where I was going with the question. Dogs who severely misbehave may not respond to a severe talking to. Beating may not work either. Not everyone gets to be the dog whisperer

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    • I follow a dog-centered learning methodology.

      But really, I mostly use positive reinforcement with treats. Empirically that has been shown to be more effective than aversive training methods.

      That said, I don’t always have treats on me, and I am certainly not above using my size and height to intimidate him and let him know whatever he’s done is not acceptable. You can see dogs do this to each other all the time without needing to actually bite each other. Similarly, I’ve never needed to hit him.

      Caveat: I got him when he was an adult, and he is quite mellow and eager to please.

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      • I think if you start from the premise that a dog wants to make you happy, positive reinforcement gets a patient person about 90% of the way to a well trained dog. The other 10% requires some negative reinforcement restricted to verbal expressions of displeasure (growls), expressions of dominance (growls with a physical presence), or actually putting the dog on its back (and growling). In my experience, I only put a dog on it’s back and do the growly thing a few times (when the dog had bad behavior around other dogs) and i don’t know that it accomplished anything since that dog continues to be somewhat skittish and unpredictable around other dogs.

        It seems to me, and this applies to training kids as well as dogs, that CP used as a training tool results from a lack of patience/emotional investment/commitment on the part of the trainer. But I’m a hippy liberal, so course I do.

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      • That’s been my only avatar! We adopted him as an adult two years ago. He’s practically perfect, but somehow found himself on his last day at the shelter when a rescue group here drove down to get him.

        If you have an idea for a post, write it up! I’ve actually given a speech at Toastmasters about dogs and have told an anecdote or two in class when it served to get a point across, but I’m not sure what I’d be able to say here.

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      • skittish and unpredictable around other dogs

        It would make sense to me that dominance on your part wouldn’t necessarily help with this. I use dominating behavior when I want to prevent him from doing something he would otherwise like to do (e.g. get on the sofa, eat his food before I’ve told him it’s OK to). Skittish sounds like the result of anxiety, which isn’t a choice a dog makes to defy you.

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      • Vik,

        That makes sense. We tried all sorts of positive reinforcement, extra dog socialization time at the dog park, etc. A couple times when she was being particularly snippy I did throw her on her just to give that a shot. Ever since her old alpha died she’s been a mess around other dogs. Like, really poor behavior that just comes outa the blue. She’ll be having fun then next thing you know she’s all bite, bite, bite. Also, she’s pretty old.

        Any suggestions?

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      • Well, if I had any great suggestions, I’d have said that instead of just unhelpfully pointing out why what you had already tried hadn’t worked.

        We have a friend who had a super-anxious dog whose response was to bite other dogs (drawing blood). I did manage to get him introduced and controlled around our dog. I called our friend and took the leash from him and took a distracting walk around the neighborhood (with several, small, high-value, cut treats in my pocket). Meanwhile, Mrs. Bath tied our dog in the front yard. Eventually, I took the evil dog back home. Before he really noticed our dog, I started giving him treats. I kept approaching our house gradually step by step, feeding him treats nearly once every step. I could see he was aware of our dog, but these were high value treats, so he wasn’t going to bother with him. Eventually, I was taking half steps toward our dog but his attention was still on me. By the time I had run out of treats, he had realized our dog wasn’t really anything to be afraid of and they got along ever since. I didn’t have to repeat the exercise the next time they met. He seemed to understand that our dog was OK to be around.

        Caveats include that I only tried this once, and our dog genuinely is a mellow guy; I don’t know if I could have introduced him to a hyper dog that way because he’d be going nuts wanting to meet the new go and partake in the treats I was giving out.

        So, I might try something like that. Another thing might be to hang around whatever is making her uncomfortable until she eventually gets tired of being uncomfortable and sits or lays down (at which point you could praise or reward her). You’d want to do this at a far enough distance that she doesn’t find it too stressful but not so far that she’s ignorant of the stressor being there. If you have access to a dog park, you could maybe walk around the park ignoring the dogs inside. That way she accumulates time being around dogs and realizing that she doesn’t have to obsess over them. You might even try that several times without actually entering the park. Eventually, you might enter the park when there aren’t many other dogs around and walk on leash purposefully to somewhere random ignoring whatever dogs are there.

        I don’t actually know that any of this would work, but I think you ought to try it once and see how it goes.

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  30. down here.

    I think humane/inhumane covers a wider range of cases than what is allegedly covered by human “dignity”. So some punishments are inhumane on even my analysis when they are excessive with respect to the alleged crime. Roughly, the idea is that the excess with respect to the crime can be so great that it can be called inhumane. For example, chopping off someone’s hand for petty theft is inhumane because the harm inflicted is far in excess of the crime. The victim of petty theft can, in a sense, be made whole with time (money can be earned back) while the person whose hand is chopped off cannot. But where people try to say that something is inhumane on grounds of being offensive to human dignity, I usually suspect a yuck reaction unless it can be translated into some setbacks of a person’s fundamental interests (roughly speaking, the ultimate goals central to her life plan or her highest order preferences).

    I don’t think they’re fundamentally irreconcilable, but I suspect part of our disagreement may stem from the tension between the two outlooks.

    Yeah, as someone who is at least a philosopher by training (and somewhat of a sceptic in orientation), I don’t think such documents actually count as evidence that corporal punishment is never suitable.

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    • The victim of petty theft can, in a sense, be made whole with time (money can be earned back)

      It’s not entirely clear to me what you mean here (i.e., whether you’re talking about the thief compensating the victim or the victim making more money), but this evokes a fallacy I see often enough that I want to call attention to it whether you’re committing it or not:

      You can never fully recover from property loss unless someone else compensates you. Sure, you’ll earn more money, but you would have earned that money anyway. If someone stole $100 from you, you’re still out $100. You can work harder to make an extra $100, but you could have done that anyway, so you’re still out some combination of $100 and the disutility of the extra work you had to do to make it up.

      Also, in efficiency terms, the problem with theft isn’t the transfer of property. Theft is a transfer, resulting in no net gain or loss. The problem with theft, again in terms of efficiency, comes from these factors:

      1. Damage done in the course of committing the theft. Breaking a window to gain access to the stolen goods, for example.

      2. Precautions that potential victims take to protect themselves from theft, like alarm systems, bars on windows, and guards.

      3. Deadweight loss due to people choosing not to accumulate material wealth or goods due to fear of becoming a target.

      Which is to say, the external costs of theft are not limited to the value of the property stolen.

      Finally, punishment should exceed the crime due to nonzero possibility of not getting caught. That is, suppose there’s a 25% chance of getting caught. If we want to deter a crime that has $100 in external costs, then the expected cost to the thief of getting caught should also equal $100. With a 25% cost, this means that the penalty should impose a $400 cost on the thief. Or maybe something similar in expected utility terms instead of expected cost. This is why some traditional legal systems have set the penalty for theft at some multiple of (e.g., three times) the value of the stolen goods.

      I still don’t think this gets us to punishing shoplifters by cutting off their hands (I’m going to save Mike Schilling the time and say shooting them, either). Just pointing out that it’s complicated.

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      • Well, the money can be returned (at least in principle) or otherwise compensated. What I was getting at is the idea that the setback to a person’s interests (as in the difference in well being of the person who has been robbed and the counterfactual counterpart who wasn’t) asymptotically approaches 0 very quickly. That is not the case for someone whose hand has been cut off.

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      • Yes. I do have problems with physical torture of detainees. As it is carried out now, there is a lack of due process. If you actually tried them in a court of law where they were afforded a legal defence and other features of due process, and if they were subsequently found guilty, and the punishment prescribed by the law for said crime was torture and said penalty was proportionate to the crime, then I would be fine with it.

        But, depending on the severity of the act or attempt, any given method of torture might be too severe or insufficiently severe. So, more would have to be said of the crime and the method of torture before I signed off on it.

        None of this warrants doing anything to prisoners before they have been tried and found guilty. That means no torturing prisoners for information etc etc.

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      • If it doesn’t make me too uncomfortable to have other people be subject to it, it’s proportionate.

        So “we know it when we see it”?*

        This is the rabbit hole we always go down with torture. Most of us have a line that we feel is too far and is therefore “torture”, but why should we go with my definition and not yours?

        We incarcerate people all the time, and we (Jaybird possibly excepted) don’t consider that “torture”; but if you came to my house right now, stuck an nutritionally-sufficient IV in my arm and a bedpan under my butt and handcuffed me to my Comfy Chair for the next 90 days, I’d consider that “torture”, even though I am in relatively little physical danger or discomfort (circulation or bedsore issues aside) and still have unfettered access to the jokers at OT.

        All you have done is limit my physical movement for a set period of time; yet the thought is fairly horrifying to me.

        But jail isn’t “torture”, or at least it’s one we’ve decided is acceptable.

        * or, with apologies to Mel Brooks: ” “Torture is when you cut my finger. Punishment is when I confine you to a sewer and you die.”

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      • Determining proportionate is difficult in that getting an accurate and precise measure of harm done is difficult. Yet, we can imagine that over a lifetime, certain sorts of putative harms have less long term effect vis a vis a person’s highest order preferences. A prick on the finger is a small harm while losing one’s life is a very large harm

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      • Yet, we can imagine that over a lifetime, certain sorts of putative harms have less long term effect vis a vis a person’s highest order preferences

        We certainly can imagine that, but it gives us a method that is extremely abstract and subject to certain potentially problematic aspects of public whim. As Jaybird might say, once we all agree that you shouldn’t execute someone for stealing a pack of gum, it’s just a matter of haggling.

        Personally, if we’re going to use proportionality as a means for determining and justifying punishments, I’d like to have something a bit less nebulous. At the very least, I’d like some principles that lay out what dimensions of a punishment are to be compared to what dimensions of a crime, what the purposes of punishment are, how we measure the extent to which they meet those purposes, etc.

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    • The victim of petty theft can, in a sense, be made whole with time… while the person whose hand is chopped off cannot.

      Whether that’s empirically true is debatable, perhaps, but theoretically we can make a person whole after chopping off their hand. This can be demonstrated by asking yourself what price you would accept in exchange for your hand. Even if we can’t really trust your estimate to be accurate with any precision (as behavioral economics research demonstrates), the fact that there exists some price that you would find acceptable in exchange for your hand demonstrates that you can–theoretically, at least–be made whole.

      We might as plausibly say a person cannot be made whole for a kidney that is taken, but in fact we do find people selling their kidneys.

      Of course the price for a forcibly taken kidney or hand might be higher, because to make a person whole we also have to compensate for extra fear, emotional trauma, and so on, but that doesn’t affect the theoretical possibility, only the price.

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      • You may find it interesting, , that I have encountered a number of judges who have indicated that they believe a jury instruction describing exactly what you are discussing is legally improper. In other words you can’t ask a jury, “how much money what I have to pay each of you in order to [do what the defendant did to the plaintiff.]”

        I’ve never quite grasped the reason why that would be the case. And the jury instructions that do exist on general damages (“pain and suffering”) are very vague, and easily misunderstood.

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    • Wow, and I had thought you’d drawn the circle around human dignity quite small before these latest responses. Now I see that by your lights, only injuries to “ the ultimate goals central to her life plan or her highest order preferences” seem to count for much – nearly all else appears to be secondary. I on the other hand, have a much lower bar for the kinds of injuries that I’d classify as impermissible affronts to human dignity. (I also don’t quite understand how you assess others’ highest order preferences in a world with a multiplicity of life plans and high order preferences. What if someone counts bodily integrity as a quite high order preference? Can John Doe say, “I wish to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; included in that is freedom from being caned, lashed, etc.”? Are you counting on the superlative to do that work of invalidating John Doe’s assertion of his preference?)

      And before reading your torture/due process reply to Chris, I thought maybe there was potentially some small sliver of agreement – I intended to question you about the kind of thinking you’ve done about compassion and mercy in justice systems. So, despite my deep reservations about the desert/reciprocity frame you outline (my previous boundaries question), I could find my way nearer to that position, but only given a really well developed thinking (and institutions) that kept in mind ideas about forgiveness and mercy – a release valve if you will, for a framework I find quite brutal.* I don’t know if that’s territory (i.e. mercy, compassion, clemency, and pardons) you want to offer any thoughts on, but that’s what came to mind.

      And as for due process/torture, I guess the position you outline is of a piece with your not recoiling at the state directed breaking of arms mentioned above. Also territory that’s gone untouched, in addition to the person who suffers caning, lashing, broken arms, etc., there is also the state official(s) who participate in and inflict this harm on other people. Given the Stanford prison experiment, I’d say that in addition to the harms to the person made subject of this kind of “justice”, there’s harm to the the individuals who are charged with torturing others. I worry about the dangerous combination of empowered bureaucracies capable of inflicting such harm and cultivating bureaucrats whose full-time job it is to inflict such harm on others. To me, barbarism is not too strong a word for that system.

      * Note the “Yuck” argument also falls short to me because I find the current, US system quite brutal (all too common violence and assault within prisons, overcrowding, solitary confinement, imprisonment long distances from family, inadequate attention to re-entry and societal reintegration after prison, etc.). I don’t, and I hardly believe Amnesty or HRW do, single out Singapore for criticism while finding the US criminal justice system as adequate. Both Singapore and the US systems are inadequate in taking sufficient account of human dignity. So it isn’t a “yuck” directed at any particular culture (or religion, or skin color), it is a demand for a floor under which no one can fall. In my estimation, the floor you’d set permits quite a bit of harm under the guise of punishment. (And I’d worry about where justice without mercy leaves the individual, flawed human being)

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      • (I also don’t quite understand how you assess others’ highest order preferences in a world with a multiplicity of life plans and high order preferences. What if someone counts bodily integrity as a quite high order preference? Can John Doe say, “I wish to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; included in that is freedom from being caned, lashed, etc.”? Are you counting on the superlative to do that work of invalidating John Doe’s assertion of his preference?)

        Now, when discussing what counts as a larger or smaller harm inflicted upon a person, there are good reasons to organise that person’s preferences in a way that reflects the relative importance of each of those preferences to a rational life plan. There is a clear sense that someone whose peripheral interests have been infringed has been harmed less than someone whose more central interests have been infringed.

        That said given the variety of preferences, what some people consider a peripheral harm may not be the case for everyone. What some people consider degrading may not be what others consider degrading. Let me assume that it is the case that lots of people in the US find corporal punishment a lot more degrading and offensive to their dignity than jail time. There is no reason to think that there are some people for whom the reverse is true. It is jail time which is much more degrading.

        However, there needs to be a general schedule of punishments for various crimes and it would be impractical to accommodate the idiosyncratic preferences of the sort I discussed. In a society where most people did not corporal punishment degrading (or at least as degrading as imprisonment), it would be impractical to accommodate the preferences of the small minority who thought differently.

        Some of this also boils down to what seems reasonable to demand. It seems that when you look at a life holistically, a person who experiences intense pain for a short duration with no permanent injury is harmed less than someone who is imprisoned for a few months. If someone were to say that a momentary experience of extreme pain was a more enduring setback of his interests than a few months in jail, we would think that person eccentric, at the least, or even slightly unreasonable.

        None of this is to deny that no harm has been done to someone who experiences that pain. I’m only saying that the harm is less than what that person would have undergone if he had been imprisoned.

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      • I suggest you evaluate corporal punishment as a potential recipient of it. This will require that you sincerely accept that you are capable of committing criminal acts. Determining and ultimately eliminating the root causes of criminal behavior rely on understanding with compassion the bad actors and their motivations.

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      • People almost always desire to commit wrongs and not be punished as they deserve. It does not follow that such is a valid preference. Nothing you’ve said about eliminating the true cause of crimes (e.g persistent poverty etc) precludes setting punishments that inflict as much harm as the alleged criminal is supposed to have inflicted.

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      • “Sometimes it is better to answer injustice with mercy.”
        -Barristan Selmy, Game of Thrones
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XVJnLz7lA4

        “Herding the masters into pens and slaughtering them by the thousands is also treating men like beasts. The slaves you freed, brutality is all they’ve ever known. If you want them to know something else, you’ll have to show it to them.”
        -Jorah Mormont, Game of Thrones

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  31. If you made me choose between 30 days in maximum security or 30 lashes with a cane, I’d probably take the cane.

    In an actual maximum security prison, then I would take the same–because the “mattresses” in those cells would aggravate my bad back and cause me severe pain. But if I could bring in an air mattress, and not face violence from other prisoners, I’d easily take the 30 days confinement rather than the caning.

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    • not face violence from other prisoners

      Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it? The only way to guarantee *that* would be 30 days in solitary. And solitary (even with a comfy mattress!) is its own special kind of torture, and I do mean torture.

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      • It just doesn’t seem like a very good thought experiment if part of our calculus is “if I receive this violence now, I reduce the risk of having potentially worse violence inflicted on me over the next thirty days”. The point was whether inflicting violence is humane as a punishment. If we get off on the tangent about how the state should do a better job protecting prisoners for each other (especially those who are not looking for trouble), then I’ll sign the petition. But the point really was that if we take out the risks of more severe violence (or pain in the case of the bed aspect), I find the idea of being caned thirty times quite horrific, and thirty days’ confinement not nearly so.

        I do think, if I had to choose between thirty days in solitary (with the comfy mattress, as you stipulated) and those thirty lashes, I’d sign up for the solitary. Now, I haven’t actually experienced solitary confinement, so I might regret it as you say. But I’ve spent weeks at a time in a cabin in the woods without anyone else around, and I didn’t go nuts. Still, it might be possible that if it’s as horrible as you (and a lot of people) say, I’d wish I had taken the caning once I spent a few days in solitary. But even if I did, that might just be the classic error of thinking the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

        Which makes me think of an interesting corollary thought experiment: if you got put in solitary, but could get released at any point by taking one lash with the cane for each day you had remaining. Or, you started getting caned, but could stop them by agreeing to take a day in solitary for each lash remaining. Or, heck, maybe you could even alternate, filling up your tally board with a mix and match.

        I suspect a lot of people find it easy in the abstract to say they could take the caning, thinking it’s over with quickly and then you can go about your life. But if it actually started, and you could choose that tradeoff I described in the above paragraph, I suspect (and obviously have no way to prove this whatsoever) that most people would end up taking about 28 or 29 days in solitary.

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      • It doesn’t make for a good thought experiment, but it does actually better reflect the practical choices faced. Prison is by design awful. It isn’t a “time-out” where you can think about what you’ve done. If you were to complain about your back, the best case scenario would be that you’d hear that you should have thought of that earlier. The more realistic case is that your situation might be used against you.

        I sort of forget what point was being argued, but it isn’t really fair to say that Singapore’s system is cruel relative to America’s just because an American can envision a better system as part of a thought exercise.

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  32. [Sorry to mess up the threading, but when I only have my iPad handy to read the board, it seems there is no reply button on the thread itself, only at the bottom.]

    We were discussing thought experiments about accepting caning versus time in prison. You said you kind of forgot what the original point was, and I guess that does affect the discussion: whether we have just moved on to a new discussion about adults and the criminal justice system, or if we are still reasoning by analogy to what is right or wrong when disciplining kids.

    I thought it was still the latter, so then for me the analogy has to include being able to feel safe from physical pain and violence when being imprisoned (as an adult analogy to a child being grounded or sent to their room) as compared to being caned (basically the same thing as what Peterson did to his son, and what Charles Barkley says every black family in the South does). For instance, I discipline my younger kids with timeouts, and my older kids with loss of privileges in a token economy we use. I have never spanked or otherwise struck any of my kids (although when they were toddler or sometimes preschool age, I have physically forced them to go into timeout if they were being defiant and refusing). But a timeout, or loss of privileges, do not carry with them a risk of greater physical pain or more severe violence than a spanking or whipping would.

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