Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Arguments

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  • 3410,

    Despite vigorous debate, one solid fact shines through: all of us know innately what’s right and what’s wrong, not because it is the Word of the Lord, which must be obeyed.

    So, the question remains: how do we identify the ones who do not know right from wrong, and then isolate and re-educate them?

    [disclaimer: the preceding statements are intended as a satirical work for entertainment purposes only. The opinions within are not intended to represent any actually held beliefs by the author.]

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Glaister,

    Here's another way of putting the obvious case against the moral argument that Russell finds so compelling:

    The parent-child relation is a relation of authority. The whole age of consent/reaching your majority stuff is about your becoming an authority (or locus of authority) in your own right: at which point you can only be bound by laws you make yourself in the sense of consenting to be bound by them (indeed in principle you could even have literally written those laws through holding public office.... the core of enlightenment ethics and politics)

    People used to think the lots of classes of adults weren't in fact authorities, and that they were in fact rather like children: hence people whipped servants, disciplined wives and so forth. All of that was wrong. (What's commonplace is beside the point.)

    Bradford's "moral" argument, however, presupposes a step that's a partial reductio of that enlightenment model: that children aren't children either. (That's a step within a larger pattern of a general reductio of various sorts of, in my view correct dualisms that are built into the enlightenment that's currently on-going in various jurisdictions, including New Zealand. I wish I had time to explain it all to you but I don't!)

    There are serious questions about how to be a good parent and how to exercise one's parental authority. That's what an interesting and serious debate about smacking is or would be about. Bradford's "moral" argument, however, is a complete howler and can be no part of such a debate. Ergo, a lot of the current debates strike me as quite hopeless jabber.

    Is there a good reason to allow (please avoid "sanction" - it's needlessly confusing) an act against a child (over whom one has authority), that we would not allow against an arbitary adult?

    Well, there'd better be. I send my kid to his bedroom and he has to go. I can't send other adults to their bedrooms. If I'm going to the bach, my kid's coming with me. Whether he wants to or not, he's getting in that car. No adult has to come to the bach with me or get in the car.

    I am law to my child, and I'm not (and must not be) to any adult. Every single interaction I have with my child is therefore entirely, qualitatively distinct from any interaction I ever legitimately have with any adult. Authority permeates everything with my child. The same moves - if we can even seriously think about "Get in the car. We're leaving...." as the same thing when it plays out with respect to one's child and with respect to an adult (SB assumes this - it's false of course) - that are allowed and even required (if you drive off without your child you've done something very wrong) in the child case, are absolutely forbidden in the adult case. If I attempt to be a law to an adult - "You're getting in the car, I'm not taking 'No' for an answer" - I violate his or her autonomy (can only be bound by self-made law.... remember?). I'm paternalistic in general, and I may be kidnapping them or worse in particular. Do note the terms we use for these errors.

    If you wanted to get all sue-bradford-y about it you could describe my child as my prisoner: his location in physical space is mine to decide (and if I don't know where he is that's a problem) in a way no adult's ever is. SB: "Some people are more concerned about Adults' rights to boss their kids around and locate them wherever the adult wants to be than kids rights to not be bossed around and to be where they want to be."
    Spare us.

    That's my main point covered. Beyond this I agree with almost everything Graeme Edegeler has said above.

    Finally, for masochists only perhaps, I can quickly paste in here for your further consideration a point that came up in a long chapter o' mine about why poly-marriages (PMs) shouldn't be permitted, or, equivalently why only single de jure partners should be allowed.
    Without going into details there's a generic challenge to the sort of argument I like: Doesn't it prove too much? If it worked at all wouldn't it (absurdly) show that people should only be alllowed to have one child (at a time, say)? The key to answering this generic challenge - to rejecting poly-partner possibilites while allowing poly-child possibilities - is to observe the difference that relations of authority make. Perhaps seeing relations of authority do some work in another setting will convince you of their essential-ness. (But it probably won't.) Ok, here goes:

    We respond to the generic challenge in outline as follows: (i) Parent-child relations are very different from marriage-like relations between consenting adults; (ii) while analogous "distribution of scarce resources" problems do have to be solved in both cases, both the problems and their solutions work quite differently in the different settings, hence (iii) our Intrinsic Problems argument implies nothing about numbers of children (poly-child possibilities don't have any parallel intrinsic problems!). Let's now fill in this outline.

    First the differences. Parent-child relations are in the first instance asymmetrical relations of authority rather than symmetrical relations of consent. What the parent is obligated to provide to a child reflects the general, highly-dependent character of children and is a matter of meeting appropriate standards for being-a-good-parent, not principally a matter of being held to anything by the particular child herself or of what the particular child wants. The role of parent is logically prior, and the child herself is secondary. Thus, you fail to meet your obligations to your child insofar as you've been a lousy parent, have failed to be a responsible authority over them, and in a socio-legally articulated setting that authority may then be stripped away from you and given to someone else. The order of explanation is: you failed to be a good parent hence you failed your child.
    In the adult, symmetrical, consent-based case, it's your consenting partner you fail (and who can fail you), it's what they want (and you want) that matters. Thus, insofar as you fail to meet your obligations to your partner to that extent you've been a lousy husband/wife. Someone else may or may not be able to step in and play your general role, but there's a sense in which the core consent-based relationship is utterly particular so that there's no replacing it and certainly nothing to be transferred to anyone else. The order of explanation is: you failed them, hence you failed to be a good husband.
    From these fundamental differences, much follows. In the asymmetrical authority case the parental role is the thing and that's not essentially limited to one child, indeed arguably it's essentially unlimited. Susan may be your child but there's no (non-metaphorical) role of being-a good-parent-to-Susan that one can succeed or fail at, rather there's just being-a-good-parent. Still less, of course, does Susan herself have any standing to object to possible siblings: her consent and desires and expectations simply aren't at issue! Some people in some circumstances may be able to cope with or be able to be-a-good-parent to more children simultaneously than other people in other circumstances, and in principle someone might seek advice about her own likely capacities in this regard. But in all cases there's still just a single standard for being-a-good-parent that's applied, and there's simply no entry point beyond that for individualized claims of particular children against their parents (and certainly not that they should have no siblings!).

    In the adult, symmetrical, consent-based case it's the individual relationship that succeeds or fails. Each individual partner's conception of and perspective on what's going on has center-stage, and each can walk if that is not respected. We argued beginning in Section 3.5.1 that the background conception of modern marriage is a personally expressive "voluntary love relationship" that has a high degree of personal fulfillment and intimacy as its normal aspiration. Unlike the parent-child case, therefore, it's completely intelligible for individual partners to structure arrangements in highly exclusive ways: to agree to always come running for someone if they'll always be there for you (because they aren't off running to someone else), and so on. It isn't obvious that any structure with more than two parties can always provide each party with the support and possibilities for on-going intimacy and fulfillment - a partner to cover your back - that modern marriage is dedicated to. And in due course we saw that none does. In some respects our Intrinsic Problems argument against PM was an argument about the distribution of and also the scheduling of scarce resources of attention and time, but it's the individualistic intelligibility of marriage relations that give those considerations their bite.

    Parents with multiple children too need to consider whether they're taking on more than they can handle, and to be aware of the sorts of tradeoffs that occur even well within the boundary of being-a good-parent: "Maybe we won't be able to send Susan to private school now, but, hey, she'll have a sister!" But that's for the parents to work out. There's therefore no Intrinsic Problems argument against poly-child (at the same time) families, rather there are just some superficial similarities between problems faced in quite different settings.

    Since Nov 2006 • 50 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    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?

    What I'm saying Neil is that the difference between good smacking and bad smacking is reliant on the perception of the smacker. As I said yesterday, do you trust the loonies expressing violent fantasies about Sue Bradford on CYFS Watch to tell the difference?

    But, again, what is the justification for smacking anyway? I'm generally relaxed about what consenting adults do, but I think the presence of non-consenting minors should require us to set the bar fairly high for the "right" to do it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22839 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    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.

    The problem with the way the study is quoted is that it takes "good" smacking, separates it out, and declares that it doesn't seem to do any harm. But the bad smacking is, well, bad. It's a retrospective classification that generates its own result. The parents who did the bad smacking were presumably under the impression they were doing good smacking too.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22839 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    If you wanted to get all sue-bradford-y about it you could describe my child as my prisoner: his location in physical space is mine to decide ...

    Uh-huh. Just like, say, a criminal in prison, whose freedom of movement is determined by authority. But authority can have absolute power over the convict and still, in our country anyway, can't hit him for purposes of correction. You haven't really answered the question.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22839 posts Report Reply

  • Carolyn Skelton,

    On the argument that Bradford's Bill will criminalise parents, and that any law that isn't always going to be enforced is a bad law: compare this with the law on assault. Isn't the legal definition of assault something along the lines of any exertion of force on another person/adult? But how often is this enforced to the letter of the law?

    I don't think the tackling of rugby players is such a great analogy because of the consensual element. I think the bit of biff that happens very often on the paddock is a better example. We don't see the police rushing out onto the paddock every time a player thumps another one, or even pushes another one aside in anger after the whistle has blown. Does the law on assault then criminalise most rubgy players?

    And does it criminalise everyone who has gently pushed aside a friend, partner or other acquaintance in anger or jest?

    And I also see that on Bradford's bill according to the NZ Herald online this morning:

    "If the bill became law, parents would be able to use physical force only to restrain their children from hurting themselves and other people, from being disruptive or to stop them committing a crime."

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 39 posts Report Reply

  • Colin,

    3410 has conceded that smacking an elderly senile person, (even if behaving in ways that would incur smacking if they were a child) would simply be disrepectful. This is a MAJOR POINTthat needs to be emphasied. Children must be RESPECTED - despite their transgressions. As adults and parents, it is our duty to respect our children.

    We all know what happens to children who are not respected - they have limited self respect and this can be traced as the source of so many problems. Ask a child how they feel when being smacked - it destroys their self esteem. Ask the inmates of our prisons about how much they believe their parents respected them (and incidently whether being lovingly smacked contributed to this).

    This also raises the issue of 'cultural' norms. Lets be honest, cultures where the emphasis is on chidren having to respect their elders, and not the other way around, are the same cultures where smacking and abuse are significant problems. Like religion, culture should never be an excuse for hitting children.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • dc_red,

    I would have assumed that there is a strong element of implied consent among those who play rugby towards pushing and shoving after the whistle, handbags at five yards, and punch-ups which don't result in any more than trifling injuries.

    There is no implied consent for, say, eye-gouging, biting someone's ear off in a scrum, or knocking someone out with a punch.

    Somewhere inbetween it gets a bit fuzzy no doubt, but the "ordinary violence outside the laws of the game, but nonetheless very routine" does seem to be consented to. Everyone who plays knows what to expect - they wouldn't have signed up otherwise.

    Oil Patch, Alberta • Since Nov 2006 • 706 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    I'm bemused at the sudden proliferation of the term "light smacking". It fudges the essential nature of what's going on, in part at least because we all know that a "light smack" need not hurt. Anyone who's ever smacked a kid knows that if it doesn't hurt, it simply doesn't register. Put the other way- smacking is about inflicting pain- and we hope, and I think sometimes at least reasonably expect- that this will change behaviour. But if you look at it in this light, it all becomes rather clearer. This is something we have long abandoned in our criminal justice system with regard to the correction of adults. And it's hard to justify with regard to children.
    (Part of my reluctance WRT this bill, is that it seems to cover "the use of force" more generally- and I've felt obliged to forcibly pick kids up and put them into "time out" enough to become a/ sceptical that any kid in "tanty" mode will go willingly and not have to be forcibly moved, and b/ quite surprised at how much more effective "time out" is when compared to a smack (perhaps the message is undercut by my immediate feelings of remorse and being a dreadful bully).

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    The problem with the way the study is quoted is that it takes "good" smacking, separates it out, and declares that it doesn't seem to do any harm. But the bad smacking is, well, bad. It's a retrospective classification that generates its own result. The parents who did the bad smacking were presumably under the impression they were doing good smacking too.

    I think that's a little unfair. It rather separates out "light" smacking and finds that it is good (does not harm and does less harm than absolutely no smacking).

    Being a longitudinal study it will have have to determined the questions in advance of getting the data (e.g. it asks parents about their lives at ages 5, 7 and 9 and then sees how the kids are doing at 15). It cannot ask about good smacking or bad, but instead about light or frequent etc.

    Retrospective classification of pre-set variables is the only way a longitudinal study can work. E.g a study to determine the effectiveness of daily aspirin in reducing heart attacks might separate people into those who take none, those who take a low dosage, those on a normal dosage and those on a high dosage. The validity of the study is not diminished by the fact that it determines that a low dosage is a good level, just as the validity of this study is not undermined by the fact that it evidence that occasional light smacking is a good level.

    You're doubtless right that many of those who thought they were smacking at a good level were wrong. The utility of this study is that we now have evidence they are wrong. We can tell them they are wrong - that the most they should do is occasional light smacking.

    the difference between good smacking and bad smacking is reliant on the perception of the smacker

    Thus we have the Borrows' amendment - light smacking is fine and does no harm, so would be permitted and harmful smacking would not. The difference between good smacking and bad smacking with the Borrow's amendment is no longer reliant on individual perception, but reliant on a statutory definition that, though couched in legal language, is relatively easy to understand and easy to explain.

    We have a study that evidences that X is fine, Y is okay, and Z is bad. So we might ban Z. We shouldn't ban X because it's kinda like Z, just like we don't ban low dosage daily aspirin because high dosage daily aspirin is bad for you.

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

  • Raymond A Francis,

    Well i have just changed my mind on this
    I had felt that once in a blue moon a light smack is needed in the raising of children, usually delivered in anger but in a controlled way
    I feel this will continue and to make a law making this ilegal is illogical as it would criminalise what most parents feel is normal behaviour

    But I was wondering how often section 59 had been used as a defence so followed the link given above http://www.barnardos.org.nz/AboutUs/repeal_incourt.asp
    Well worth a read if you are a supporter, quite horrifying in my mind

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 577 posts Report Reply

  • Span .,

    Sorry, I haven't had time to read the whole thread yet, but I wanted to note that this is not the first time that a Family First spokesperson has made outrageous claims on The Panel:

    I have to say I find that organisation entirely misnamed. I would be very interested to know more about where their funding comes from.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 112 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Rights, such as freedom religion - which at international law acceded to by New Zealand includes the freedom to raise your children according to your religion - can be subject to limits, but those limits must be demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

    So, as a matter of law, if it could be established that removing a legal right of parents to lightly smack their children would save lives and/or reduce actual child abuse, then yes, it might well be permissible.

    I would think that international law, and IMHO, common sense, would say that children's rights overrule parental rights, particularly if they're just parental rights based on religion. Religious belief can't be used to take away other people's rights, once society has ruled people have those rights.

    For me, the heart of the debate is, should children have the same rights as adults. The 'rights of parents to smack kids' is not a basic human right. It's just something that's been allowed in society. The right not to be assaulted is, most people would agree, fairly fundamental. I think children should be extended that protection.

    The debate about 'light smacking not being harmful' and the role of police and the courts are all side issues.

    We wouldn't have a debate about 'lightly smacking your wife' being allowable under law in NZ. Previously in history that was considered acceptable, but society has moved on and recognised your can't do that to another adult. It's time for society to recognise the same thing for children.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    I'm obliged to pay attention to the moral argument Bradford makes: 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 might finally get to the actual pro-spanking argument Russell's been after a little later, but I'd like to extend my tobacco analogy for the mo'.

    We have laws that permit the sale of cigarettes. And we have laws that expressingly exclude dwelling-houses from the reach of the Smoke-free Environments Act. I understand that part of Sue Bradford's opposition to the Borrows' amendment is that she doesn't think it right that there is an actual law which says - you are permitted to smack your children (no matter how narrowly that "sanction" is couched).

    Is there any good justification for laws that expressly permit the smoking of tobacco products in dwelling-houses (... where children live)?

    What kind of message are we sending with this law?

    At least arguably some (light) smacking might be better in some circumstances than the alternatives to it - we still might be reluctant to sanction it, but why do we we sanction smoking inside in front of children, which under absolutely no circumstance could ever be better than the alternative of not smoking?

    Now this isn't a good argument for why you should spank your children.

    And it's not a good argument for why light smacking should be legal in the way the Chester Borrows' proposes, however, I think at least in part addresses the question of the moral imperitive against having a statutory sanction for light smacking.

    If we recognise that something shouldn't be criminal (like smoking inside, or lightly smacking one's kids), then it is appropriate that however the law is drafted (positively or negatively) that it allows for this (i.e. you can have a law making assualt illegal, but with an exception for light smacking, or you can have a law which makes everything other than a light smack of one's children illegal.

    We should not make things we consider should be lawful, unlawful just because the easiest method of writing the appropriate laws is in a positive (you have a right to ...) sense.

    [drastically over-simplifying - it deals primarily with employment]

    The Smoke-Free Environments Act makes it illegal to smoke inside, but excludes dwelling-houses (and prison cells etc.) from this. This arguably sends a message that smoking inside one's house is 'good' behaviour. From Sue Bradford's moral imperitive it would be better if the law said you may not smoke inside a restaurant, or a workplace, or a marae, or a ... (and listed the hundreds of classes of place where it's not permitted), rather than have the law say you may not smoke inside except ... (and then list the half-dozen or so where it's acceptable, 'though not encouraged).

    As a matter of legislative practice, I think that, although it may send a slightly less acceptable message, the "you may not assault your children, except with a light smack" formulation is better and more sensible (espeically from a legal perspective) than the alternative, phrased entirely negatively.

    The general statement, followed by the specific exceptions to it, is a far preferable form of legislation than an extensive list of specifics (as my drastically over-simplified Smoke-free Environments Act hopefully demonstrates).

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

  • Jeremy Andrew,

    The 'rights of parents to smack kids' is not a basic human right. It's just something that's been allowed in society.

    It does pay to recall that all of the basic human rights have been formulated and agreed by consensus. The term implies something integral to the human being, but its just a list that people have decided on. Not that its a bad list, or a bad idea, but over the majority of human history there have been more people with one or more of those basic rights denied than with them all intact. In many cases denied by people who would agree with the lists of rights, but not necessarily the definition of human.
    Even now, arguably the best time to be alive in terms of the odds of having a long and happy life, there are still many hungry, homeless and/or opressed people in the world.

    End of downer..

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 900 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    Apparently half the world still cook using fire,

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Andy C,

    I've been thinking long and hard about this one. As a parent of two young boys, who are often boisterous as lads tend to be, I was at first fervently opposed to the removal of Section 59, as I saw it as possibly criminalizing parents who wish to discipline their children in what has been an accepted manner - and by that I don't mean excessive smacking, either, just the normal paddle the bottom type of thing.

    But then I listened to Mikey on the b, and I thought about it a lot more. Why is it acceptable to hurt our children? At all? Why should we have the right to hurt them - even a little bit? The only reason I have ever heard to justify it is that it is an accepted part of discipline in our society. But then so was torture 500 years ago, but does that mean that it was right? It certainly is not considered acceptable now.

    The old, "I was smacked as a kid and I turned out all right," argument really doesn't bear close scrutiny. I can remember being smacked as a kid, and I still feel resentful about some of the times, 40 odd years later. And I have smacked my kids when they've made me angry, and sometimes I've thought about it later and felt bad, because it really wasn't justified to hurt them and all it did at the time was vent some of my anger - on them.

    That's patently wrong. I've got a range of punishments in my house, and of all of them smacking has been the least effective. And now that I've thought about it hard, we've decided to ban all forms of hitting in our family, either from child to child or parent to child. Other things work, and we use them.

    The fact is, smacking is only "accepted" because that's what everybody's parents did to them, and so it goes on. If we make a conscious decision to break that cycle, remove it totally as an acceptable act from the psyche of society in general, then future generations will never even consider it an option. I know it won't solve all the child abuse cases for now or in the near future, but in 2 generations time I truly believe that the number of people who resort to violence to solve their problems will have significantly reduced.

    You see, I've always been of the opinion that nobody has any right to hurt you if you don't want to be hurt - I have never got into fights or even hit anyone - except when I have smacked my kids.

    But now I realize that just because they are mine doesn't mean that they are not people too, and it doesn't give me the right to hurt them. Because that's what all the vocal opponents of Ms Bradford's bill are calling for - the right to be able to hurt their kids. And that's just wrong.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Kennedy,

    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!

    This post sum's up the entire debate - no finessing required

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 224 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Andy C wrote:

    Why is it acceptable to hurt our children?

    I've thought long and hard about the same thing -- particularly after conversations with dog-training experts (and I'm not kidding when I say that).

    To answer this question (like a good engineer) I came up with a thought-experiment that attempted to shed some light on the issue. This was actually the subject of my first guest post on Public Address:


    Probably not my best work, but it might (in a small way) help put our cultural norms about child punishment into perspective.

    Of course, this doesn't necessarily help you decide whether Sue Bradford's bill is a good idea or not.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    It cracks me up when people judge others based on one comment. Personally, I think that's kinda fucked up.

    In my experience, the only way to get to some sort of consensus on essentially unanswerable moral questions like this, is to rigourously test opposing theses against each other. How thoughtful is our position if we simply agree to agree on the currently fashionable politico-moral standpoint and then pepper any challenges to it with personal abuse?

    BTW, I hit a kid once - not hard - because he pulled a knife on me. I immediately felt that I'd over-reacted, when I saw how frightened he was; haven't done that since, but who know's?. So, that's my personal position. Please let me know if I am now politically acceptable.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • jon_knox,

    Yeah I heard Mikey on the b talking to Russell and like Andy C above, it was a conversation that altered my perspective. I'm a believer in treating people equally, but it wasn't until Mikey pointed out that we have protection for adults, people in prison...etc from being hit, why shouldn't we also have protection for our kids.

    We tacitly tell future generations that violence works with every smack.

    Belgium • Since Nov 2006 • 464 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Great post, Andy C.

    May I offer an alternative to David Haywood's stunning suggestion for disciplining children.

    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.

    Or the variant technique - eat the chocolate frogs yourself.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Glaister,

    If you wanted to get all sue-bradford-y about it you could describe my child as my prisoner: his location in physical space is mine to decide ...
    Uh-huh. Just like, say, a criminal in prison, whose freedom of movement is determined by authority. But authority can have absolute power over the convict and still, in our country anyway, can't hit him for purposes of correction. You haven't really answered the question.

    I say that that's a sue-bradford-y way to put things to flag the absurdity that results from trying to press intra-adult categories down into a setting governed by relations of authority. That is, I don't think it makes sense to think about parents as imprisoning and kidnapping their children every day of their young lives.

    I deliberately refrained from discussing smacking per se to separate out the very general point about conceptually quite different settings underwriting quite distinct treatments of adults and children. That's supposed to slow down the attempt to translate and analogize across that boundary, and alert us to the fact that similarities between cases in these different settings can deeply mislead. If you don't get that point right then nothing one goes on to say about any particular case or alleged point of similarity will be correct, and most of it will be question-begging. I'll post separately about Haywood's "prod" piece as an example of this point - it's substantially question-begging. And I invite readers to note how often people in the discussion thread back-slide and say something like "Yes, but people used to think it was OK to hit their wives..." Oy vey.

    At any rate, Brown has now reformulated the alleged "moral" argument/query from

    Is there a good reason to allow an act against a child (over whom one has authority), that we would not allow against an adult ?


    Is there a good reason to allow an act against a child (over whom one has authority), that we would not allow against an adult (over whom one has authority)?

    There are at least 2 reasons:

    1. It's Personal.__Parents love their children (that's the default assumption that guides letting people raise their own children rather than, say, requiring everybody to re-apply for the job of raising their child shortly after birth). It's therefore a personal authority not an impersonal one. The personal-ness changes everything. Parents are in it for the long haul. They in fact have every incentive not to brutalize their children. They want their chidren to love them back, eventually look after them as they age etc.. In the impersonal case there's none of that structure and constraint and scale, hence in principle one might want to regulate much more closely what impersonal authorities may do, etc..
    2. __It's system-installing
    . Children aren't yet the acculturated and rational agents they'll become. Parents are constantly manipulating their children, rather than addressing their reason or proto-reason (they do some of the latter too of course, but it's never the whole story or even the majority of the story). That's the very difficult job they have to do: produce a critter that by (or ideally well before) its majority has the full blown rational and emotional interface to the wider society so that it can be autonomous. Parents have to install the system the rest of us just get to run (they can push your buttons forever precisely because they installed the system!). System installation just does have a different set of tools. Whatever is going on in cases of authority over adults is much more attenuated than in the child case. It's non- or much-less- system-installing. It's like second language learning/teaching perhaps rather than the first-langauge learning/teaching that's literally and metaphorically going on in the child case.

    I leave drawing out the consequences of these points for treatment of prisoners, seriously-in-decline elders, seriously handicapped relatives, and so on, as exercises for the reader.

    A sensible debate about smacking etc. can only occur as a question about the proper exercise of parental authority once one has abandoned Sue Bradford's (and Brown's) howler of thinking that there's an in principle problem with asymmetrical treatment of adults and children.

    Should raising children, which is an utterly sui generis social construct, be allowed to contain x, y, or z?

    is the fair form of the question that is before us. But you'd never know it.

    Since Nov 2006 • 50 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Glaister,

    Here's part of an email I sent Haywood when his slick but unconvincing "prod" piece first appeared [don't bother reading any further unless you've read Haywood's original] :

    Hi, I enjoyed your piece. It was largely question-begging I believe but that's OK if the aim is just to loosen mental gears rather than establish anything.

    Anyhow, I was struck by the following comparison that you didn't make:

    prods are to smacking as tissues are to handkerchiefs

    (they're both the expensive modern high-tech solutions to old problems)

    Yet evidently you feel and think we should all feel differently about the two cases.

    It isn't obvious to me what the difference is supposed to be. In the abstract tissues/disposable diapers/plastic supermarket bags etc. can sound pretty bad - they fill up landfills, waste trees, waste oil etc. - and they're on the Greens' shit-list for these sorts of reasons.

    Prods sound bad in the abstract too - an abstract that is dominated by their current use with livestock etc.. But it's far from obvious that properly calibrated child-prods wouldn't be great for exactly the reasons you mention (and they of course wouldn't be torturing if they were properly calibrated). Perhaps it's simply our unfamiliarity with them that breeds our contempt. IVF and other reproductive technologies have often struck people/societies as bizarre/barbaric/brave new world-y etc. before they become commonplace - and in fact I wouldn't mind betting that there's a great example from history somewhere of people rejecting sperm banks as appropriate only for animals and as abusive in a human context.

    More generally, evidently you suppose that NZ-ers current feelings of non-disgust are more simply matters of habit and thus easily revised/properly correctable than NZ-ers current feelings of disgust.

    That's a very contentious supposition to say the least.

    Since Nov 2006 • 50 posts Report Reply

  • Colin,

    Stephen, what you seem to be saying is that you've missed the point. I agree, you have.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 13 posts Report Reply

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