Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Arguments

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  • Robyn Gallagher,

    If this law is passed, I wonder if it will make us who were smacked feel a bit weird towards our parents.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    ... and I'd suggest that the standard would be even higher where you've got an actual right (like raising your children according to your religion) involved ...

    Woah. I presume you have in mind some qualifications to that right, stopping short of say, female circumcision.

    It is not an absolute right, and as I said this morning, I do not regard religious justification as an argument. If I do, what do I say the man whose religious leader says it's okay to slap the wife?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Okay, try this one.

    The most persuasive evidence the pro-smacking lobby can present is the New Zealand longtitudinal study showing, at the best, marginally better outcomes for children who were "lightly smacked". Outcomes for those more than lightly smacked tailed away.

    Knowing that smacking does little, if any, good, would you then continue to sanction it on religious or other grounds, knowing that in some homes it will inevitably - and demonstrably - lead to more serious assaults, which we know to be damaging? Is it a custom worth keeping?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    I remain unconvinced. If someone punches their kid in the head then that's clearly outside of "reasonable force", so they have no reasonable force defence, agreed?

    Those who support this legislation seem to be saying that no amount of force is reasonable.

    Let's remember that the government needs a damn good reason to legislate over what happens in the home. My parents used to hit me with the wooden spoon for being really naughty, and the same or similar applies to almost everyone of GenX, none of whom seem to consider it assault. Given that, I can't (yet) see how a "light smack" is a matter that requires government intervention.

    The problem, surely, is with people who brutalise their children. We all want to see those people prosecuted, but such people should never be able to rely on the reasonable force defence anyway, so this proposed change does nothing for those children (Everyone's got a story of someone battering their kids and then successfully claiming reasonable force, but isn't that a problem with judicial direction to juries, rather than with the law itself?)

    If so many PA readers believe children have an absolute right to freedom from all violence, how come I see none of you on the streets protesting against the US invasion of Iraq, where innocent children and babies are still getting shot in the head every day?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    That last sentence is brilliant. Own up, who's the satirist?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1330 posts Report Reply

  • James Wendelborn,

    It cracks me up when people say "I was hit as a child and I turned out alright." No you didn't! You think it's okay to hit children! You're fucked up!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Colin,

    OK 3410, and anyone else who remains 'unconvinced' - is it OK o smack an elderly senile person who is being difficult?

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • Colin,

    Robyn, I know what you mean - like all those Catholics who went to hell for eating meat on Friday before God changed his mind.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I do not regard religious justification as an argument. If I do, what do I say the man whose religious leader says it's okay to slap the wife?

    Well, what would you have said to William Wilberforce - whose arguments for the abolition of trading and owning human beings in the British Empire were not only political, economic and ethical - but religious? He profoundly believed that his evangelical Christianity inevitably lead to the conclusion that slavery was an abonimation to God, and profoundly morally destructive to slave and slave-owner alike.

    Wilberforce was also a Member of Parliament, who understood the nature and limits of religion and politics much better than most nowadays. I think that's a pretty good answer - there are plenty of countries that will allow you to hack off your infant daughter's clitoris and labia on the kitchen table. New Zealand is not one of them, until you can convince our legislature to change a few pieces of legislation. Not really that complicated - render unto Caesar and all that jazz...

    And, Colin, don't be bloody silly - if you don't know the difference between a customary observance (and one that hasn't been obligatory for Catholic since before I was born) and a mortal sin, either find out or hold your tongue.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Colin,

    Craig, perhapsyou can help me - I honestly don't know the difference between a customary observance and a mortal sin, and I'm afraid I don't know the difference between just annoying God, and really pissing him off. Can you please list all the things I can get away with, and the mortal ones that I should avoid.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • Colin,

    PS Is hitting children is OK by your God? (in a loving way of course)

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • Rickai,

    I know of a PI student who was fairly off the wall and would wag regularly. When the parent was contacted she took the kid around to her uncle's who ... smashed her hand with a piece of wood. The parent was contacted and told that if that ever happened again the police would be informed. Cultural Relativism? A colleague of mine with a philosophy degree informed me that Cultural Relativism can never (or should never) justify a breach of human rights. I agree.

    BTW the student is apparently doing much better now that her teachers have proved to her that adults can be trusted and that real non-violent punishments are a logical and necessary result of poor behaviour that affects her own learning (and that of her peers).

    Since Jan 2007 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Lea,

    It is interesting to see how section 59 has been ruled on.

    It seems that 'reasonable force' is more than 'light smacking' in some cases (eg hosepipes, doubled over belts). Though there are some cases listed there involving smacking that were also unreasonable.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 30 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    It's curious that noone seems to want to take on the nub of the moral argument- "...is there in fact a good justification that we should sanction - in whatever detail - an act against a child that we would not sanction against an adult?
    I have similar feelings about a/being criminalised: I've smacked my kids, always in "the worst" way- in anger- and always immediately regretted it. But it's never felt like The Law should step in. And I absolutely agree with just about everything people have said with regard to laws that aen't enforced, etc. I've found Bradford rather annoyingly morally confident (something few non-religous people seem to manage!) and I still have a deep misgiving about a law that criminalised- I suspect- most parents, without any "intention" of it being applied- yes that seems nuts. (And yes, I can also hear already the sarcasm and sour wit of the 15-year-old: "No, dad, I'm not going to school today. And you touch me- I'm right onto CYFs... and you can think about it all in prison...)
    But why should children have less legal protection that the rest of us? I can't find an adequate justification. Yes, we do treat children very differently legally- but you can make a good case- not always perfect, but a damn good case that denying them the right to smoke, drink, have sex drive etc before a particular age is generally for their own good.
    Hit 'em for their own good? We've all heard it, but should we believe it?
    In many ways- although the family raises a lot more passion- isn't this a replay of the debate about corporal punishment in schools? Wasn't there trumpeting that without the cane and the strap, there'd just be no discipline? Yet I work with teachers and I've never met one who's not glad corporal punishment has gone. It was quite hard on them too- appart from the few who liked it. And would anyone really want their kids taught- and hit- by a teacher like that?
    We'd certainly not feel comfortable with the notion that our boss, or spouse, or the police- could quite legally use force to discipline us for our own good. Why demand that power over our children?
    I don't think this is easy or simple, but I think Russell's right: the moral argument is strong enough- not to make me feel completely comfortable about this- but to support it. Waiting for a perfect bill or the perfect moment to introduce is futile- and it's nice to see the govt actually sticking to what could be some pretty unpopular principles.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Kearney,

    is there in fact a good justification that we should sanction - in whatever detail - an act against a child that we would not sanction against an adult?

    Russell, at what age would your definition of child end?

    Despite that answer there is a simple reason for the divergence: children are not adults so of course different laws should apply, and do apply, to them. There are numerous sections in the Crimes Act that mandate care and welfare of your children, of course on the premise that they cannot look after themselves (until they perhaps reach a certain age). You don't see the same mandated sections that relate to adults unless the 'carer' assumes a responsibility toward the 'cared'.

    Parents certainly assume responsibilities toward their children so therefore there must be offences that allow the state to say "you have not discharged your responsibilities". It is absurd for adults to have this same protection (save the 'carer' example above). Hence, laws are different.

    Personally I think there's an argument that because parents find themselves in 'carer' positions that there could be a positive obligation on them to in fact smack their children for correction and to not do so could be in breach of the very laws I have mentioned above.

    But that's a little 'out there'.

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

  • Colin,

    Nick, I imagine the Christian brothers at Marylands (Christchurch) would share the view expressed in your last sentence. Thank goodness the law stepped in. A good arguement for the bill if ever there was one...

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • dave crampton,

    OK Russell seeing as you asked, heres something on the great New Zealand moral argument

    Children are treated differently to adults in law - they cant have sex drive cars and get married. When they are small their parents clean their teeth. When they are older , they do it themselves. You know that.

    However you ignore the fact that you don't discipline adults for correction. Parents have responsibility for their children. Parents do not have responsibility for their children who are adults. So the "corrective discipline" is the act. However, hypothetically, if we were in a society where parents correct their adult offspring for misbehaviour by smacking them on the bum or whatever ( covered by section 59, say), then the same laws would apply to kids

    Adults don't get disciplined for correction by their parents

    So, the act of smacking against a child in this context doesn't need to be sanctioned and compared with adult assault because the motivation for the physical contact is quite different.

    So what am I saying thats new? Nothing really, so the moral issue irrelevant.

    welli • Since Jan 2007 • 144 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Nick- good point, insofar as parents have a particular legal set of obligations with regard to children- ties, if you like- so it's a special legal relationship. On the other hand- and I'm not discounting the efficacy of quickly stopping a behaviour with a sharp smack- there's not a lot of evidence that violence is a worthwhile educational tool- unless you want to teach kids about violence (and that's not just meant sarcastically; when one has just whacked another- yeah, there's a great temptation to give them a swipe and say- how do you like it? It's not necessarily empty rhetoric- it may even teach a little empathy.)
    I do feel very torn on this: in some ways we're a society that loves eg rugby and mountaineering, but also hates "risky behaviour". I'm worried this could be another turn on the road to us becoming a nation of snitches- did you SEE that woman, she SHOUTED at her poor kid- quick, get the number plate. (Actually I already feel a bit like this, without quite the inclination to ring anyone. But I've carried my own partly autistic son kicking and screaming out of public events and felt pretty exposed to public scorn- it's not pleasant).
    But but but- why do I deserve more legal protection than my kids?
    The idea that the police will be involved in every minor family scrap is just silly. But if you want absurdity- our children are probably breaking the law when they hit and kick and push us. Noone is going to stop this happening- even little kids have an instinct to strike out. But equally, I'm not going to turn pale and ring the cops because the 15-year-old has had a rush of hormones and attacked what she sees as an invader of her sacred mess (actually she's just taken up kick-boxing, I may have spoken too soon.)
    As a parent I can handle a fair level of hypocrisy- there is stuff I do that I just don't want my kids to do, at least til they're older- and then there are little things like hoarding the chocolates- but demanding the law validate the hypocrisy is a little steep.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    OK 3410, and anyone else who remains 'unconvinced' - is it OK o smack an elderly senile person who is being difficult?

    About a year ago, I spent the last week of her life caring for my 90 year old grandmother, whose senility was almost complete. She caused all sorts of problems 24 hours a day, including violence. I never thought once about smacking her. That would've been just plain disrespectful.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Anyone who physically punishes a child would tend to say that they were doing so in order to teach them to do what the parent wants (followed up by the assertion that the lesson is in the child's best interest)

    However, the main lesson the child learns is: Physical punishment and intimidation are legitimate tools for showing someone you're displeased with their actions.

    So who agrees that one will have some kind of advantage in later life after having that kind of logic instilled in them at a young (and extremely impressionable) age?

    So, aside from the obvious concerns about actual physical damage to the child, in my mind there is little difference between a 'light smack' and something more severe. The same lesson is learned by the child. And it is a lesson that, on some level, they will carry into other relationships they form.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Another thought: they say "Never hit a child when you're angry." Gotta agree. But it's also the only time I've ever done it- I don't think I COULD if I wasn't angry/frustrated. And I just plain don't trust the people who can hit kids "calmly". (Or who say they can. They may claim they're prefectly calm, but deep down I reckon there's usually fury at work.) So: don't hit 'em when you're angry- and don't trust anyone who hits 'em when they're NOT angry. Hm?

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    OK Russell seeing as you asked, heres something on the great New Zealand moral argument

    Children are treated differently to adults in law - they cant have sex drive cars and get married. When they are small their parents clean their teeth. When they are older , they do it themselves. You know that.

    And when they are older, they smack themselves? All those are issues of consent or competence; actions taken by adults on their own account. I'm not sure eligibility to be smacked is the same thing.

    However you ignore the fact that you don't discipline adults for correction. Parents have responsibility for their children. Parents do not have responsibility for their children who are adults. So the "corrective discipline" is the act. However, hypothetically, if we were in a society where parents correct their adult offspring for misbehaviour by smacking them on the bum or whatever ( covered by section 59, say), then the same laws would apply to kids.

    But some cultures do discipline adults for correction, most notably when those adults are women. The fact that it is commonplace doesn't make it right. You actually need to make a justification for smacking to warrant its place in the law. "Everyone round here does it" isn't a justification.

    Adults don't get disciplined for correction by their parents

    So, the act of smacking against a child in this context doesn't need to be sanctioned and compared with adult assault because the motivation for the physical contact is quite different.

    So what am I saying thats new? Nothing really, so the moral issue irrelevant.

    It's a bit late to start on something major, but I think Rob's post above gets what I was saying. Like him, I'm not denying qualms, but I've come to a conclusion on balance. Righto, big day tomorrow ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Colin wrote:
    __Can you please list all the things I can get away with, and the mortal ones that I should avoid.

    *sigh* I'm sure a quick browse around http://www.catholic.org.nz/ will at least start you on your way. Otherwise, I don't think ignorance about anyone's faith is anything to be too proud or smart-alec-y about.

    And more:
    PS Is hitting children is OK by your God? (in a loving way of course)

    Hum... I don't really need a consult with a burning bush to know my own temper - and why spanking a child (or laying a finger on anyone) is about as sensible as falling of the wagon or uniltarally deciding to go off my medication.

    I'm not particularly proud of the occasions I've reduced children to near-hysterics without laying a finger on them, though. I've been reliably informed that I can get quite loud, catty and in-your face intimidating when seriously pissed off. But in the end, no amount of legislation is going to make me stop being a prick - if only it was that easy.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Russell, I'm glad that we are all now clear that this bill is about making smacking illegal. So why the charade? Isn't your argument a slippery-slope argument - allowing dope use inevitably leads to P-induced murders?

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Woah. I presume you have in mind some qualifications to that right, stopping short of say, female circumcision.

    It is not an absolute right, and as I said this morning, I do not regard religious justification as an argument. If I do, what do I say the man whose religious leader says it's okay to slap the wife?

    Yes. Stopping short of female circumcision. As I may have noted above, I support the Borrows' amendment (pdf). Any force that can be said in any meaningful sense to be harmful is out.

    I do not seek to use a religious justification for spanking. I seek to use religious freedom as a reason for not banning spanking.

    Much like I might not use a religious justification for smoking pot, I might still use the religious freedom of those who profess such a belief as one reason for not banning pot.

    The most persuasive evidence the pro-smacking lobby can present is the New Zealand longtitudinal study showing, at the best, marginally better outcomes for children who were "lightly smacked". Outcomes for those more than lightly smacked tailed away.

    Knowing that smacking does little, if any, good, would you then continue to sanction it on religious or other grounds, knowing that in some homes it will inevitably - and demonstrably - lead to more serious assaults, which we know to be damaging? Is it a custom worth keeping?

    I'm not a member of the pro-smacking lobby. I'm a member of the anti-anti-smacking lobby.

    Just like I'm a member of the anti-anti-smoking lobby.

    I do not counsel anyone to smoke, I just don't think it should be illegal. In fact, please don't smoke. You will save money, look hotter, and live longer.

    It's a little unfortunate that someone like me is being called upon to defend spanking. Would someone like to defend smoking? Smoking in a house where children live? Smoking inside in the presence of children?

    I wouldn't, but I'd still be kinda reluctant to ban any of them. And they're all demonstrably, irrefutably, harmful to children. Harmful to anyone. To everyone.

    Perhaps someone in the Green Party would like to defend smoking pot on religious grounds. Just because something cannot be justified on religious grounds, or because we reject a religious justification for something, does not mean it should be illegal.

    But onto a specific point of yours - the longitudinal study that suggested that in terms of life results, light smacking was better as discipline than anything else (but not much better than no smacking).

    I know it's not your point, but it's interesting that we are considering banning something not because it is harmful, but because it isn't beneficial enough - as though we might ban all toothbrushes without the flexi-head, indicator bristles and gum massagers. And although it's not higly beneficial, it is arguably (so that study goes) better than all of the alternatives.

    It won't surprise you that I'm not a big fan of the argument that in some homes light smacking is followed by child abuse, so we should criminalise light smacking. In some homes there is no light smacking, and that absence is followed by child abuse, and I don't think we should ban an absence of light smacking either. It sounds a little glib, I know. I do think that if we're trying to send a message then the message that would be sent by the Borrows' amendent would reach just as many people, probably as effectively.

    At the moment "reasonable force" is permissible, what does that mean? Different things to different people, I'm sure. Borrows' amendment will reach those who presently take reasonable force beyond what we consider acceptable and who would also be dissauded by Sue Bradford's full repeal.

    Some people will not get the message, whichever form the law takes. I suggest that those who would get Bradford's message that no smacking is legal, and therefore stop crossing the line society draws will also get Borrows' message that nothing more than a light smack is legal and also stop crossing the line.

    There is more to say - I've yet to really defend spanking, and I'd like to expand upon the smoking/smacking dichotomy more, but I've been at this for a while this evening...

    Righto, big day tomorrow ...

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

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