Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Arguments

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  • reece palmer,

    He wants us to use a modified cattle prod to discipline children? Does anyone want to be first to borrow one of the police forces tasers to show him the error of his ways?
    Obviously he's taking the piss, that suggestion just can't be serious.

    the terraces • Since Nov 2006 • 298 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    One thing that's struck me about the anti-Bradford bill, pro-smacking argument is the obsession that parents will be punished for giving their child 'a light smack' and thus the bill should not be passed.

    But dreaming up the most minor example of a crime imaginable is not a valid way to criticise a proposed law. Theft is a crime, should we oppose it on the grounds that people will then be thrown into prison for taking pens home from work? Fraud is against the law? But that means we'll all get stiched up for lying on our CV's!

    If you're a parent and you slap your childs wrist then you're as likely to see the inside of a courtroom as you were when you used your work computer to bid for stuff on trademe.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • reece palmer,

    I really like Deborah's chocolate frog idea. Being a teacher myself I use a similar system of reward but prefer positive rather than negative reinforcement. We agree as a group on the prize for the week and the children through their actions earn or lose points toward that prize. Bribery and corruption all the way, it works every time. Obviously in this day and age Teachers are barred from using physical punishment and I think you'd be hard pressed to find one that would want to return to such a system. As I understand it (and remember this might be different to how you understand it so settle down) violence is a response to either of two emotional states anger or fear. Sometimes the children I have had over the years have made me angry, but I think I could count those times I was truly angry on one hand, and there was one particular kid who I felt like striking, but recognised that for what it was (anger) and let it go. As a teacher we hold the responsibility of loco parentis so pretty much have the role of a parental type figure when the children are at school, I sure as sure can be, would hate to think that the kids in my class are being hit by their parents, but I know some of them are and worse. Personally I think that Bradford has a slightly deranged/confused look to her, which is why the bill needs amendment and hopefully will not be allowed to become law without it.

    the terraces • Since Nov 2006 • 298 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    People who hit children, want to be feared. I don't want to be feared by my children. True power does ot need to exert itself on the weak. We are however, shaved apes.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Kearney,

    Danyl, I totally agree and I'm against the bill.

    The thing that *really* gets me is that in 1986 (or thereabouts) the Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed on the premise that the State had no business in your bedroom, which I concur with. Now the worm has turned and the State is right back in your house and we have the Labour Party supporting this intrusion when in 1986 they were active in opposing it.

    That is one thing I can't fathom.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 73 posts Report Reply

  • reece palmer,

    It wasn't your bedroom they didn't want the state in, it was theirs.

    the terraces • Since Nov 2006 • 298 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    The thing that *really* gets me is that in 1986 (or thereabouts) the Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed on the premise that the State had no business in your bedroom, which I concur with.

    That's right. The State has no business whatsoever interfering with activity between two (or more!) consenting adults.

    But children are not consenting adults.

    This is not about getting involved in people's households. It's about protecting our most vulnerable citizens.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Stephen Glaister wrote:

    Here's part of an email I sent Haywood when his slick but unconvincing "prod" piece first appeared...

    ...it's far from obvious that properly calibrated child-prods wouldn't be great for exactly the reasons you mention...

    The "slick but uncovincing" bit is a wonderful turn of phrase!

    I wonder how many other New Zealanders would agree with you that using a de-rated cattle prod on children is a "great" idea?

    To find out I've advertised one for sale on Trade Me:

    http://www.trademe.co.nz/Baby-gear/Other/auction-89399838.htm

    Feel free to put in a bid, Stephen.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    You're a bad, bad man, David. Obviously you weren't spanked enough as a child. Perhaps a word with Jennifer could get you some remedial work...

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Juha Saarinen,

    So spanking children is outlawed, but not tasering them. Interesting.

    Since Nov 2006 • 529 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    It's about protecting our most vulnerable citizens.

    dreaming up the most minor example of a crime imaginable is not a valid way to criticise a proposed law

    People who hit children, want to be feared.

    cattle prod irrelevant/ad hominem argument

    There is consensus that s.59 can be improved and that child abuse is bad. The argument is whether smacking your child should be legally classed as criminal child abuse.

    I still tend to think it should not.
    http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/slap+on+the+wrist

    Since Nov 2006 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Glaister,

    David Haywood: I didn't take a pro-prod position in my note any more than I took a pro-tissue position.... I do think that the advantages of the prod are the same as the advantages of the tissue (or of, say, IVF). I'm sorry, but your original piece is deeply question-begging: it only consitutes a reductio (or even a "putting in perspective") for those who already think the way you do. One could easily write a parallel piece challenging the non-disgust NZ-ers feel about abortion by construction of an apppropriately Swiftian use of the aborted fetuses - followed by the claims that

    (a) the normal abortion case (about which we're nonchalant) and the Swifty variant (that disgusts us) are moral equivalents, and
    (b) it's just that we're used to abortions that explains why we're nonchalant in that case

    [This was in my original email to David last year.]

    But, of course you'll never do that. And you shouldn't: such an exercise is only a reductio for people who aren't pro-choice and you'd see clearly how irritating the genetic fallacy is that maintains that someone's commitment to liberty or choice or whatever it is in the case is merely a matter of how they were brought up and so on. The trade-me link would, I assume, be rather more egregious in that case. (Or do the same thing with a "butcher-an animal-with-animal-included!" set special offer.)

    David, you make some good jokes, but your reasoning here is most unfair, and unbecoming of any scientist I would have thought. (I'd expect you never to use the sort of Web-Assisted Confirmation-BIas-GenerAtorS, or WACBIGAS as we call them in my household, that Slack so likes, for the same reason.) Please do feel free to run the comparable trade-me link in China for a re-usable, portable, soiled toilet-paper-like product. Reflect on what, if anything, a mildly queasy reaction to that would prove. Ditto for ads for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis with certain groups. And so on.

    Colin: This is a complex issue. Much of the jabber about anti-/smacking gains whatever power it has from affiliating itself with very general points urging symmetrical treatment of adults/chiildren. I've tried to address some of those very general points, thereby, I believe, draining the jabber of much of its power. But that only works if everyone plays fair. Your remark about my still missing the point does not.

    There is a point that's left over after all general questions are dismissed... but it is a mistake/equivocation to say that it's the same question that was there all along. What consititutes responsible exercise of parental authority?/What is it to bring up children well? I.e., given all of the distinctive features of the situation that makes it strictly incomparable to everything else.

    I'm basically pro-choice about ordinary smacking (and would require a positive mountain of good evidence to be talked out of that). Not pro-smacking: I'm pro-choice about abortion not pro-abortion too - the coercive framing (being described as "pro-smacking" is bad enough but one regularly has to deal with being said to be "pro-beating" or whatever it is) that's gone on in this debate, on top of comprehensive muddling of topics (and if you un-muddle them you get decried as point-missing - amazing! -and it's the person who wants to change the status quo who somehow shifts the burden of proof to those who would continue it or make a smaller change to it - incredible!) is as boringly predictable on one level as it is on another level utterly astounding and depressing.

    That's probably me done on this wretched issue. Nice chatting with y'all (but please try to think this through a little more, and try not to load the dice all the time...).

    Since Nov 2006 • 50 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Stephen, I hope I am not being presumptive by making this short précis of David's article:

    Your average New Zealander is disgusted by the idea of using a lightly charged cattle-prod to discipline children, whereas a light smacking or caning, we find less repulsive, even normal.

    By pointing out that these two methods of punishment physically harm the child to the same degree, he dismisses the idea that the issue is about how 'light' the damage is. For example: a cattle prod that delivered a dose of energy even less that a 'light smack' would still make people queasy.

    The fact that we are all repulsed by the cattle-prod shows that we are all somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of systematically causing pain to a child in order to teach them whatever lesson the adult feels is important.

    The conclusion is that: our conception of whether a punishment delivered to a child is acceptable or not, is more to do with social conventions of 'normal' rather than a rational analysis of the physical harm done to the child, or whether causing pain to a child is a legitimate method of teaching (if indeed, the teacher is a parent, headmaster, or whatever).



    So Stephen, given that - I must say I find it very difficult to follow your argument rebutting David's article. I would also politely suggest that your posts are often overly rhetorical and unnecessarily complicated making them appear rather muddled and, at times, patronising to the point of embarrassment.

    I think you would win more (well, more than zero) converts with some strict editing.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Hey! It removed all my nicely arranged white space! Sorry- makes it a little harder to follow. I guess that's what you get for being cocky about the preview function :)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Oh, a quick PS - Stephen, I don't think, as you have suggested, that we are uneasy about the cattle prod simply because it is called a 'cattle prod' and has associations with animals.

    Renaming the thing 'Toddller Tingler' and making it look like a pink wand with flowers on it wouldn't change the fact that most people tend to view the concept of delivering pain to a child through an electrical charge as something somewhat distasteful. In fact, I would suggest that said instrument would quickly become illegal.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Juha Saarinen,

    "Renaming the thing 'Toddller Tingler' and making it look like a pink wand with flowers on it "

    /me double-checks he's not on 4chan or YTMND by accident, with Pedobear lurking in the background.

    Since Nov 2006 • 529 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Yeah, in retrospect I probably should have gone with orange.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Stephen Glaister wrote:

    ... unfair, and unbecoming of any scientist...

    I preferred "slick but unconvincing"! And poor David Slack -- he somehow got in your firing line without even raising his head above the parapet (although I wonder if there is such a thing as 'conduct unbecoming to a speech-writer'?).

    Yes, I probably do try to communicate through humour from time to time -- I apologize if I hurt your feelings with the Trade Me gag. It certainly wasn't my intention.

    Peter Cox hits the nail exactly on the head with his précis of my argument. To put it another way: my point is exactly that which you appear to think I don't get. Admittedly it's rather a minor point, but then I never claimed it was the theory of relativity.

    On that Einsteinian reference: actually, this discussion isn't based on science. If it was then we could devise a nice experiment, isolate the external variables, and make decent measurements. Unfortunately we can't.

    I haven't actually stated my opinion on the Section 59 debate yet, Stephen -- I was merely raising what I thought was an mildly interesting contradiction (you obviously disagree!). However I am going to write a post for Southerly that will give my opinions on the subject. This will respond to some of the arguments that you have raised.

    Peter Cox wrote:

    Renaming the thing 'Toddler Tingler' and making it look like a pink wand with flowers on it wouldn't change the fact that most people tend to view the concept of delivering pain to a child through an electrical charge as something somewhat distasteful. In fact, I would suggest that said instrument would quickly become illegal.

    Darn, wish I'd thought of calling it the 'Toddler Tingler'. Apparently the Trade Me people consider it to be an illegal weapon already -- they deleted my child-prod auction after only two hours.

    Still I managed to get a couple of bids, and had some very good questions from someone. The auction is cached here:

    http://www.avon-river.net/TradeMe.htm

    (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the questions).

    By a curious co-incidence I did consider putting a more child-friendly image as per the 'Toddler Tingler' on Trade Me. See:

    http://www.avon-river.net/Ready_to_chastise.jpg

    Caption: "A mother prepares to chastise her child with the 'Pinochet' child-prod"

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    I'm basically pro-choice about ordinary smacking

    Me too. When I was a kid though, no one consulted me about my choice. Seemed to be a bit of a one sided choice to me.

    David, I am a little concerned about the Pinochet in a bath thing. Sounds like something for Ian Wishart to "investigate", no? Maybe you can send him photos to print.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Me too. When I was a kid though, no one consulted me about my choice. Seemed to be a bit of a one sided choice to me.

    I suspect the pro-choice phrasing was adopted so you couldn't come back with this argument (i.e. it's less one-sided than abortion).

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3207 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Glaister,

    Peter, David: You misdescribe your own views. You don't say just "here are two pain-equivalent actions, how interesting that we have slightly different initial responses to them." You further go on to insist that (i) it's the disgusted reaction that provides all the clues about what we should say about the whole class of actions and (ii) also to urge a particular theory of the divergence: that it's all culture/what you're used to. Neither of those subsequent steps follows.

    If you drop (i) andf (ii) then we have no disagreement. But I don't think you're willing to do that.

    Here's a less inflammatory example that you could have used that wouldn't have tempted you to make the errors you do and from which you could have learned something:

    Example 1: Spanking Services
    (All of the advantages of prods without the distractions of the technology!) Private companies with trained spanking specialists on call 24 hours a day will come to your house and do the deed for you in your hour of need.

    So, the thought experiment goes: ex hypothesi, the spanking services provided are pain-equivalent to spanking parents (like the prod, perhaps even better calibrated than parents are in the wild). How interesting that we don't do this? How interesting that no one has seen this gap in the marketplace?

    Example 2: State Spanking Services
    Spanking services aren't just for the rich, etc..

    Are you incoherent (or caught in a "contradiction") if you think home-spanking but not spanking-services is OK, or vice versa? Not necessarily. The cases are importantly different and they can help us see what's really important and distinctive about parental authority.

    Spanking Services violates key dimensions of the personal-ness of parental authority (see earlier notes) and of the parent-child relationship more generally. Hugging Services would too. Your child needs a hug from you (or possibly grandma etc.)... no outside professional can do the job. No reduction of hugs to simple pleasure-equivalents is possible, and the thought that it is is a radical mistake. An even more radical mistake would be the suggestion that a preference for hugs from parents over hugs from trained outside professionals is just a matter of bare cultural norms about the proper source of pleasure/comfort units. What's true of pleasure/comfort is true of pain/displeasure/discomfort. But I leave details as an exrercise to the reader.

    One can easily think of many problems with the Service model than this but this core metaphysical difference and shows why *any* example that turns on pumping intuitions about pain- or pleasure-units etc. conceived in abstraction from the sort of agency involved will mislead.

    The prod case is an interesting one for all sorts of reasons. First it inherits all of Spanking Services problems, i.e., encoded in the artifact used. Second, it introduces new problems that are the ideological can then exploit (and use to confuse themselves as I believe you both have). Prior history in animal husbandry is an important factor in our response I think (thouugh you've tried to deny it!), but so ultimately are very general worries about technology: the device in a sense keeps very vivid to us its more extreme possibilities. Sure, this particular tool has been down-rated to be safe but it's the sort of thing that could easily be up-rated. In general, the logic of machines is that your personal effort is limited to pushing a button or whatever: what happens next could be x units or x^10 units and it's all the same to you. (Spanking Services overcomes/avoids this problem which is why it's a useful case to consider first.) That disconnect is inherently frightening and discombobulating when we're discussing a situation which has to be very personal and connected/intimate to be what it is. (There are also more general phobias that the prod plays into about technology intruding into intimate aspects of life, cf., historical disquiet about contraceptives, sextoys, internet dating sites, and on and on....)

    OK - Hope that isn't too opaque or patronizing or poorly edited. From my perspective, you guys are making major mistakes faster than I can expose/diagnose them (at least given my self-imposed, once per day PA post rule).

    Since Nov 2006 • 50 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Much better. Though you probably didn't need the last sentence.

    Okay. I'll give this a go by generalising the cattle prod argument as much as possible so we can see the break in logic that you are identifying.

    We have basically been saying:

    1. People feel using Electrical Prod on child is socially unacceptable = True

    2. People feel using Electrical Prod on child is socially unacceptable because of the pure rational realisation that it causes pain to the child = True

    3. Electrical Prod and Smacking both cause pain to a child = True

    4. Therefore: It is illogical to believe smacking is socially acceptable, when electrical prod is not – because they both do the same thing.

    5. Therefore: Smacking should be Socially Unacceptable.

    So this is, indeed, technically a false logic - the problem being in point 2, that is: it is not necessarily true that we dislike the electrical prod purely because of a rational dislike to the idea that it inflicts pain. We may dislike the electrical prod because we dislike the concept of using an electrical charge. We may dislike the cattle prod because of socially ingrained (and not necessarily logical) associations of electrical charges being a unusually cold and cruel way to inflict punishment, when, in fact it may not be. It may be hunky dory.

    So basically, none of us can escape the fact that:

    People feel using Electrical Prod on child is socially unacceptable because of the pure rational realisation that it causes pain to the child = True

    ...may be true as much as it may be false. It is impossible to PROVE it logically, because it requires a variable that can’t be independently determined.

    So basically, it comes down to is the time honoured practice of philosophical introspection. We have to look very carefully at our own rational processes when deciding for ourselves which of two possible statements are true:

    Either

    (A) Using Electrical Prod on child on Child is generally deemed Socially Unacceptable because it causes pain to the child.

    or

    (B) Use of Electrical Prod on child is generally deemed Socially Unacceptable because of a socially ingrained stigma over the use of electricity as a form of punishment.

    Personally, after some introspection I feel that point A is the case for me. Though perhaps I may be deluding myself, and am actually the victim of socially ingrained bias against using electricity.

    But there is a way to, in part, test the logic of my hunch.

    You’ll have to bare with me a little bit here, because aside from electricity it’s hard to come up with forms of causing pain to the same level as a light smack (which is why, I suspect, David used the prod to make his point). But I’ll give it a go:

    1. Injection of a small amount neuro-chemical causing pain synapses to fire without the child’s surrounding tissue to be harmed.
    2. The same as above but using a pill or perhaps a sticky patch to deliver the chemical.
    3. A very light amount of acid applied to the skin.
    4. Hypnosis of child so that when parent says the word ‘naughty’ the child feels as if they are receiving pain.
    5. A light smack with a hand, a piece of plastic, wood or leather.
    6. Small electrical shock.
    7. Home spanking service (okay, still a smack, but rather makes the following point even better..)

    Now, I would suggest that advertising any of the associated products on TradeMe in for any of these punishments, would be frowned upon by the general public (and be quickly made illegal). Except, for some reason, number 5.

    I would also suggest (though again nobody can PROVE it because there is no independent variable) that we all dislike these things because the primary thing they all have in common is that they inflict pain to children.

    Of course, one could still point out the logical break, as you could with the electricity argument that it is because, with each of these possibilities we have an illogical socially ingrained bias against them, and that if we were thinking rationally all these things ought to be socially acceptable.

    Technically, it would be a logical possibility – though, I hope, with the points I’ve made, an increasingly unlikely one.


    Phew. Time for a BBQ

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Glaister,

    Peter: Run your cases with hugs/pleasure.... and the same squeamishness emerges. Hugging Services, Pleasure/reward pills/machines/hypnosis... you name it, it all stinks.... except the case in which you, the family member gives the hug. The specific agency matters to us. In some deep metaphysical sense we do all think that it's important that you, the parent are right in there in a very unmediated fashion or else it doesn't count. Your sort of view which focuses just on the quasi-bodily consequences for the child, just can't get the facts right in my view. You have to say that we must embrace arbitarily arcane technologies of impersonal rewarding/pleasuring our children, or that we have to give up personal/parental hugs. But that's nuts. And so it is in the pain case too I believe.

    I do think our standards about these things could shift over time precisely because part of us is amenable to focusing on consequences very narrowly conceived. But then, again, it seems clear which way we would and should go: we'd have fast affection and fast discipline with pleasure- and pain- prods/hypnotism... much the way we have fast food etc.. Doubtless a generation raised after our standards evolved would mock our earlier squeamishness: "Jeez, a hug is a hug is an amygdyla core dump. What's your problem? Nobody touches anyone anymore. Lawsuit?"

    I have no interest in seeing such standards evolve and I think drawing the line at various sorts of agency is very natural for human beings constituted roughly the way we are (e.g., with the mammalian default that we get to rear our own kids still in place. Shift that and all bets are off in my view.) I don't think it's illogical ingrained bias that leads us to reject the prod-/hypno- alternatives although I do believe that we could come to see things that way.

    A final remark. I sense that lurking behind your comments is something like the following thought: that children have a right not to have even modest amounts of pain intentionally inflicted on them by anyone.
    If you accept this thought then it can seem irresistible that parents not only shouldn't smack to correct/punish their children, but that in fact their intentionally inflicting pain is worse than if anyone else did it. Their violation of their child's rights is also a betrayal in a way that no one else's violations could be.

    Well, I hope you agree that that last bit is an odd consequence. I think it's an important clue about the original wrong step here: rights-discourse is so fundamentally objectivizing - it's about impartiality and justice - that it complete distorts the logical and moral structure of the parental-child relation, which is essentially partial and personal.
    In general, then, I'm very wary of talk about child's rights in any strong piecemeal way. Does every child have a right to be raised by both a mum and a dad (preferably their bio. mum and dad)? I think that right makes at least as much sense as any alleged no-pain right. In the final analysis, however, none of this piecemeal enumeration of rights seems especially helpful in thinking about children's situations vis-a-vis their parents. Rather, to the extent that rights-discourse has a place at all in this setting it seems best left at a very general level: rights to be taken care of and to be well brought up perhaps. But this in turn is pretty awkward and artificial and certainly unconstraining.

    It's hard to avoid the conclusion that rights-discourse is simply the wrong moral key in which to give voice to parenting. "We want parents to be good parents to their kids (strict, but not too strict, and so on)." is much more natural. That's a way of talking that foregrounds the overall shape of a child's life, and in which, dare I say it, there's leeway left for lone parents, for parents who occasionally smack for the greater good of the child, and for much other divergence over details. Whew!

    Since Nov 2006 • 50 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    <quote>...we are all somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of systematically causing pain to a child in order to teach them whatever lesson the adult feels is important.<quote>

    The alternatives to smacking invlove pyschological pain - is, or should that, necessarily be any less anathema? 10 days solitary coninement would be inhumane psychological "pain". But 30 minutes "time out" is reasonable psycholgical "stress". One would not make time out illegal just because some parents might lock the door and throw away the key.

    I get the feeling that there's this view that smacking is part of a spectrum of obvious violence that is clearly damaging in the extreme but that the non-physical forms of coercion are free of any such conotations.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Nick said:

    The thing that *really* gets me is that in 1986 (or thereabouts) the Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed on the premise that the State had no business in your bedroom, which I concur with. Now the worm has turned and the State is right back in your house and we have the Labour Party supporting this intrusion when in 1986 they were active in opposing it.

    That is one thing I can't fathom.

    Isn't the difference really very evident?

    One is the domain of consenting adults. The other involves a non-consenting minor.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

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