Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Arguments

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  • David Haywood,

    Stephen Glaister wrote:

    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....

    In my household we actually did have reward pills -- we called them sweets! And, no, I don't think that this approach to parenting stinks or makes me squeamish. I understand Deborah is in favour of reward pills made of chocolate and shaped like frogs.

    So I don't think the physical reward vs. physical punishment cases are parallel.

    In any event, I hardly think my original post is worthy of the minute attention that you have lavished upon it. As Peter Cox has correctly perceived (and explained much better than I did in the original article) I was simply identifying a plausible train of reasoning that leaves us with a mildly interesting question.

    As I said before, I never claimed it was the theory of relativity.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Regarding the prod/smack comparison here's another -

    As a form of non-physical, to the child that is, coercion a parent says to their child "if you do that again I'll kill your cat" (or what ever the beloved pet is and with no real intention of carrying this out). It's a form of psychological stress much like time out. But I think most people would say that the comparison, as an argument against time out, is not reasonable. And for the same reason others are quite entitled to say the prod/smack comparison is unreasonable.

    It's a basic problem with argument by analogy.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Neil Morrison wrote:

    ... a parent says to their child "if you do that again I'll kill your cat" (or what ever the beloved pet is and with no real intention of carrying this out). It's a form of psychological stress much like time out.

    Neil, I am so over arguing about my (nearly) two-year old post...

    I think you've missed the point. The degree of hurt caused in your comparison isn't the same. Most people would say that announcing to a child that you are about to kill their "beloved pet" would be extremely traumatic. A session of 'time out' is trivial in comparison.

    The point in the child-prod analogy is that the physical pain is the same (or less) than with a smack.

    For what it's worth I would personally agree that a mild smack is less traumatic than announcing to a child that you are about to kill their "beloved pet". I would suggest that the latter is genuine psychological abuse.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    My comment was partly more about the general nature of comparisons. I think it's reasonable for people to say that prodding is sufficiently different from smacking for the comparison to fail as an argument.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    It's the Chocolate Frog technique, specially designed for long car journeys, with squabbling children in the back seat.

    At the start of the trip, buy a packet of chocolate frogs. Open them, and leave them in view, in the front seat somewhere.

    When the behaviour in the backseat gets just too much to cope with anymore, wind down a window, and throw a chocolate frog out.

    If there are any left at the end of the journey, the children may have them.

    OK, smacking children is bad.

    Throwing chocolate frogs out the window uneaten. That's criminal. Especially the mint ones. Lock yourself up now.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    I think it's reasonable for people to say that prodding is sufficiently different from smacking for the comparison to fail as an argument.

    Neil, It may seem reasonable, though not necessarily logical.

    Stephen, yes I think you're probably right that I am against inflicting pain to a child in order to teach them, just on principle. I was never physically punished as a child, so perhaps that's why I find the idea so irrational. And do be honest, I can't really understand how anyone would think otherwise.

    I don't agree with David that his article wasn't worth thoroughly analysing. I thought we got an interesting debate out of it. It's nice to get the point to at least politely agree about where we disagree. There is a small leap of faith in the logic, necessarily as there is some subjectivity in defining the variables behind out initial emotional response - as David says, there's no perfect formula E=MC2, though I guess simply the idea behind it would be to suggest to someone who was unsure about smacking but DEFINITELY not in favour of an electrical prod, to question why exactly that was the case. Which I think might have been an enlightening exercise.

    The alternatives to smacking involve psychological pain - is, or should that, necessarily be any less anathema?

    This is why I am less in favour of physical rather than mental punishment: what it teaches the the child; that physical punishment and intimidation are legitimate tools for showing someone you're displeased with their actions.

    I can't see much advantage in later life from having that kind of logic instilled at a young (and extremely impressionable) age?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Okay, I think I see the problem. It's a web browser options thing. Click on 'tools' then 'options' then 'content'. Under 'enable java script', you should see a box labelled 'enable sense of humour'. If you check this, you should subsequently be able to detect the presence of sarcasm, irony, and satire on the web. Some things may subsequently make a lot more sense.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    I can't find it. Is it because I'm using Firefox?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    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).

    Sure, but if you followed that to its logical conclusion you wouldn't be "anti" anything. Which I guess is the libertarians' somewhat reductionist point.

    The rest of us live in a real world where gray is the normal scale and we research, discuss, disagree and feel our way to what might be a reasonable manner for society to run itself.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    I wish PA System had some kind of mod point, favourite, or other reward scheme, because then I could give Emma about 15 trillion bonus points.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    I can't find it. Is it because I'm using Firefox?

    LOL Bless you.

    And my boss wouldn't let me put that in our help files...

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    I wish PA System had some kind of mod point, favourite, or other reward scheme, because then I could give Emma about 15 trillion bonus points.

    It's enough to know I'm loved...

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    So Emma, best comment BTW, 14 trillion PAPoints from me too. I'm guessing you're a Technical Writer, if so, you are loved but in a strange codified way.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    ...though I guess simply the idea behind it would be to suggest to someone who was unsure about smacking but DEFINITELY not in favour of an electrical prod, to question why exactly that was the case.

    And their answer could just as well be they are not the same so there is no issue. It isn't actually not logical to say that because prodding and smacking share some characteristics that they are similar enough to act as an argument against smacking. Time out and threatening pets share some characteristics but that's not necessarily a great logical argument against time out.

    It occurred to me that it might be worth comparing smacking to other instances where it is legal and morally acceptable in our society to inflict a limited degree of pain and/or to intervene in a physical manner. I know of one situation where it is and that's in the restraint of people suffering mental illness.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Should read "It isn't actually logical to say..."

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    I know of one situation where it is and that's in the restraint of people suffering mental illness.

    Uh, I'm pretty sure it's illegal to deliberately inflict pain on mental patients in order to teach them.

    Some, I guess - and without knowing the facts - would debate the use of ECT - still legal, and apparently useful, in the case of depressive disorders. It's debatable as to whether the positive outcomes of ECT are physiological (i.e. it's a medicine that unfortunately also causes pain - but is deemed to be worthwhile), or whether it's the fear of pain itself that forces people to rise out of their depression. Studies have shown that it's physiological, which is why it's still legal. Though certainly if the only justification behind ECT was that it was the threat of pain, it would not be. At any rate, any patients undergoing ECT do so by their own signed consent.

    I'd challenge anyone to think of a single instance where it is legal and morally acceptable in our society to inflict a limited degree of pain in order to teach someone. Except parents upon their offspring.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    I'd challenge anyone to think of a single instance where it is legal and morally acceptable in our society to inflict a limited degree of pain in order to teach someone

    My PE teachers used to give me press ups for being late to class, yet for some reason I still preferred PE to calculus.

    There is a distinction to be drawn between mental and physical pain (which IMO is, in itself, morally ambiguous) and actual harm.

    Since Nov 2006 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Sonic,

    Sorry Peter but, despite what you see in the movies, patients are anethsitised for ECT these days.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 102 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Peter, I'm not sure where you get he expression "teach someone", mostly the debate is about changing children's behaviour which does often mean teaching but your phrasing is a bit value laden.

    In mental health there is provision for the infliction of pain with lots and lots of provisos. It's used in situations where there is grave risk of harm and the person is unresponsive to other forms of persuasion - a very last resort. So there is a least one other situation I know of where our society condones the (minimal) use of pain for the benefit of the person on the receiving end.

    This is not exactly the same situation as smacking but it has similarities and similar justifications.

    And sonic is right, ECT is given under an anesthetic.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Sonic, I believe that it's a local anaesthetic given, so the patient is still conscious and there is an aspect of fear over the ECT seizures (which means you could consider it a physical punishment) Though you're right, it's not so much about pain, so it's true - I could have thought that through a little better..

    Neil,
    The reason I use 'teach someone' is that's usually the reasoning parents give behind using physical discipline; to teach the child what not to do. Surely the phrase 'Changing a child's behaviour' is just another way of saying 'teaching them what's good for them to do or not do'. I'm not sure what reason there could be good for smacking a child if you're not using it to give the child some kind of lesson.

    Interesting suggestion about the mental health provisos. It would be interesting to know exactly what they are, to see their reasoning process over what is allowed and what is not, and under what circumstances. Particularly as you would expect them to be scrupulous in the reasoning behind the details.

    And good example Weston! Actually I would actually be quite in favour of parents forcing their children to go for a jog as a form of punishment... the pain of exhaustion doesn't seem quite a serious as physically inflicted pain from an outside object or similar, but it is physically a form of pain, so it's interesting that I feel that way. Although in some ways it's probably not that great to create the impression in a child that exercise is less fun, so much as something so awful it ought to be a punishment.

    Out of curiosity, how would people feel about a parent forcing a child to stand on one leg, or hold an arm above their head, for thirty minutes until it started to cause pain?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Colin,

    Over the last couple of days the discussion has turned to debating the merits or otherwise of different ways of inflicting (physical or psychological) pain in order to 'teach'.

    The power of language to spin these forms is nver far away ('teaching devices etc). Some years ago, I believe a a Christian bookshop was selling a device called 'Winnie the Whale' - basically an approved piece of wood for beating children, (don't you just love Christians?)

    Anyway parents, ask yourself, what you are really doing when hitting children. Whether used routinely, or as a last resort 'when all else fails', its about breaking their will.

    Its sucess (or at least your ability to continue believing in its success) is inthe child responding in a way that reinforces the illusion that (at least for now) their will is broken, and the approriate power balance between the two parties preserved (you have the power, theirs is broken). I stopped smacking my daughter, when, still at a very young age (about 4 or5 ), upon receiving a smack, she stood up tall, looked me right in the eye, and said 'What do you think you're doing? You don't hit little children!'

    What do you say to that?

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Kennedy,

    Since we are on the topic of beating people ...

    (from the Guardian)

    Two Algerian terror suspects who were deported to their homeland last month have been arrested, imprisoned and charged with terrorist activities, despite being assured by Algerian officials in Britain they would face no criminal proceedings.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 224 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Peter, it's a full general anaesthetic and muscle relaxant.

    I take issue with "teach someone" because that's not necessarily the case. I think parents often resort to smacking when the child has repeatedly done something they know damn well they shouldn't - they have already been told and learnt that some action is wrong. The goal is a change in behaviour. At times that will entail learning something.

    With the mental health situation, the techniques for physical restraint include, and indeed rely on to a large extent, the ability to induce brief amounts of controllable pain. Mainly through what are called wrist locks. The situations where this is used is where there is grave and immediate threat of harm either to the ill person or to others. It's a very last resort.

    Where I think the comparison is interesting and possibly enlightening is in the respective roles and states of mind of those involved. With the two situations, those who cause the pain have a duty of care. In both cases it is used with people who have a diminished understanding of the consequences of their actions, have limited insight and are not responsive to other means of persuasion including verbal. And the goal is not to break anyone's will or to assert power etc but to briefly take control over a persons behaviour when they have shown that they themselves are not acting in their own interest.

    I'm not arguing that this necessarily supports any particular position; I'm just throwing iin the comparison for discussion.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Colin,

    Hmm, as I've pointed out before, it becomes interesting when you apply the justification for smacking children (diminished understanding of the consequences of their actions, have limited insight and are not responsive to other means of persuasion including verbal), to smacking elderly people.

    When care givers are caught doing this, no-one has a problem with the law coming down on them. Why the distinction?

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    With the elderly, if they are capable of reason then this is not justifiable. If they are not capable of reason due to senility then smacking is of no use and so is not justifiable. But most instances of this turn out to be straight forward bullying, ie they are angry and do not like the elderly person, which is of course not allowed with children or anyone else.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

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