Wednesday, October 15, 2014

To Spank or Not To Spank

News about another case of child abuse has brought the Anti-Spanking crusaders out of the woodwork again.  Now they're quoting all sorts of studies which claim that spanking causes everything from poor impulse control to poor brain development, and of course leads to child abuse.  I notice that they carefully tiptoe around the fact that spanking is mostly practiced in working-class and poor families, while Other Methods are practiced by middle-class and rich families.  Nobody mentions that the supposed ill effects of spanking just might be the results of poverty itself.

And, of course, the people conducting the studies are middle-class or above themselves.  The few exceptions that I know of were writers.  G. B. Shaw once commented: "Never strike a child except in anger, even at the risk of maiming it.  A blow in cold blood must never be tolerated."  R. A. Heinlein spent half a chapter of his novel "Starship Troopers" explaining why spanking is healthy and realistic, and anti-spanking is subtly dangerous.  Interesting, considering that it's writers who usually turn a keen eye on class differences, class prejudices and class assumptions.

I've noticed myself that an awful lot of social science is affected by the class prejudices -- "ethnocentricities" is the official term -- of the social scientists themselves.  I don't think anybody needs to be reminded of the piously proper medical researchers of a century ago who claimed that the "Negro brain" was "less developed" than the proper Caucasian brain.  Looking back from today we can readily see the blatant errors in logic of those Terribly Proper studies, but nobody has noted the glaring logical errors of our modern social scientists whose findings support and agree with the prejudices of our current middle and upper classes.  Here's one: when people protest "Hey, I was spanked as a kid, and I did all right", the anti-spanking pundits reliably answer "If you think spanking is acceptable, then you're not all right".  That's a classic example of circular logic.  They might as well say outright "If you disagree with me you're insane."  Uhuh.

Well, I was not spanked as a child, and I was not all right until I got away from my parents.  The reason is that, as I've noticed elsewhere, parents who don't spank use nasty psychological torments instead to enforce their will.  My brother and I learned to be actually relieved on the rare occasions when we could provoke our parents to lose control and physically smack -- partly because, not having practiced spanking, they didn't know how to do it right and would miss as often as they hit, and partly because afterward they would feel attacks of Liberal Guilt and would refrain from the psychological punishments.  Honest spanking would have been kinder.  Pain is only pain, and the memory of it fades quickly, while psychological scars can take years to heal.  ...Needless to add, I grew up to be a rebel -- and learned martial arts.

Here's another case, which the anti-spanking crowd will no doubt call "merely anecdotal" (that's what bigots call evidence contrary to their prejudices, until the number of "anecdotes" drown them).  Back in post-revolutionary Russia there lived a middle-class Jewish family -- safe from Soviet government harassment because the father worked for a government bureaucracy -- who earnestly believed in all the "progressive" biases.  Among other children, they had two daughters: call the elder Katya and the younger Anya.  Katya was a practical cynic while Anya was an idealist.  Being middle-class Liberals, the parents did not spank;  instead, they used psychological punishments -- while telling the children they should be grateful for such treatment.  For example, whenever their cousins came to mooch a meal, the parents would hand over the babysitting of the cousins' retarded child to their daughters, telling them they should be grateful for a chance to display their virtue by "caring for the unfortunate".  As soon as the adults were out of sight, Katya would foist off the job on Anya.

One day the girls disobeyed an order -- making beds, IIRC -- and their mama decided this required severe punishment.  She ordered the girls to each bring her their favorite toy, and she said they wouldn't get the toys back for a full year.  Katya handed over her least-favorite toy, a worn-out doll, on the theory that she wasn't going to do without her favorite for a year, and mama wouldn't know the difference.  Anya handed over her favorite toy, a mechanical bird, on the theory that after anticipating it for a year, regaining the toy would be that much sweeter.  Well, the year passed and the day came.  Instead of giving back the toys, mama admitted that she'd given them, the very day she got them, to the local orphanage -- and the girls should be grateful that they were able to give joy to the "disadvantaged".  Katya gave a dutiful smile to her mother, and a knowing smirk to her sister, and went off to play with her favorite toys.  Anya decided that she hated her mother, and hypocrisy, and self-sacrifice, and the "disadvantaged".

Katya went on with her family-planned life, but Anya concentrated on her schoolwork.  She specialized in techniques of film, and eventually got herself a scholarship -- and government permission -- to leave Russia, go to America and go to Hollywood to study filmmaking.  As soon as she got there, she renounced her Russian citizenship, applied for American citizenship, got a job as a script-girl and worked up to script-writer.  She also changed her name -- to Ayn Rand.

Yes, that Ayn Rand.  She spent the rest of her life writing scripts and influential books in which she denounced progressivism, and self-sacrifice, and hypocrisy, and altruism.  We don't know what happened to her family back in Russia when World War Two broke out, or after, but none of them wound up with Ayn Rand in America.  She also took care never to have children of her own.

Sure, all this is "anecdotal", but the moral is clear: don't spank your kids, and you'll wind up with extremists and rebels.  Then again, seeing the "ethnocentricities" of the middle and upper classes, maybe this is a good thing.

--Leslie <;)))><         




Aya Katz said...

I think Ayn Rand's sister did visit her after Rand was successful. The story goes that she was so overwhelmed by the choices of different toothpastes and toiletries on the store shelves in the US that she felt very uncomfortable and returned home to Russia, happy to have the choices made for her.

I agree. Psychological, manipulative punishments are much worse than spanking.

cinderkeys said...

That's a false dichotomy, though. It's entirely possible to discipline kids without either spanking them or resorting to psychological torture.

My bias/background: My parents never spanked, but two or three times in my life, all before I turned four, they utilized the well-timed smack on the butt.

J Hanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J Hanna said...

Interesting post. I think many parents could benefit from reading it.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi,Aya. Amazing! I've heard similar comments by visitors from hellaciously restrictive countries. There was the Iranian student who complained that Americans had "too much freedom", because, when he went to a store to buy a shirt, there were so many choices that he got lost. Apparently it never occurred to him to simply ask the shop-girl for exactly what he wanted.

Hi, Cinder. I'm confused here; you say that your parents didn't "spank" but occasionally used a "well-timed smack on the butt". Well, what IS spanking but a well-timed smack on the butt?

--Leslie <;)))><

cinderkeys said...

A smack on the butt is just a smack on the butt. A spanking involves putting the kid over your knee and smacking multiple times, harder, with more intent to cause pain.

At least I thought that was the distinction. Am I wrong?

Ori Pomerantz said...

Cinderkeys, I am not a native speaker of English but my wife is. When she talks about "spanking", it is the smack on the butt. Just painful enough to take seriously.

I was not spanked as a child. My wife was. She's also the saner one of the two of us, and our standards of discipline follow hers.

When we go to Israel, where spanking is considered a bad thing, people are amazed at how well behaved our children are. They're not afraid of us, and they do test their boundaries, but they know when they need to be polite.

Leslie Fish said...

Aha! Class prejudice strikes again! My parents disliked the notion of spanking because that was how working-class Italians in the city next door disciplined their children. In Israel, spanking is the way Arabs discipline their children. And I'm thinking of where the term "whipping boy" came from. Opposition to spanking is a class artifact! It has nothing to do with the health or development of the kid.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Not just Arabs, but Sepharadic and ultra-Orthodox Jews. Of course, what could the ultra-Orthodox, whose average family size is about six, possibly know about child rearing?

Leslie Fish said...

Ahahahaha! Distinctly a class artifact!

windmills said...

One of the (several) factors which (IMHO) usually get left out of the corporal punishment debate is that different parents have diametrically opposed goals. It's not just a matter of two schools of thought about how to raise the "best" child, it's a fundamentally divergent idea of what constitutes "best".

Observe the following two examples:

"Linda" is a liberal, vegan, pacifist. She does not spank her children, for many reasons, not least of which is that she doesn't wish to teach them to hit. Hitting is wrong. Violence solves nothing. Conflict should be discussed until consensus is reached by the collective. If a violent thug wishes to take something from you, you should surrender it immediately and hope this prevents him from hurting you. Then call the police so they can utilize violence on your behalf, eliminating the need for you to dirty your higher-level hands with it.

"Connor" is a conservative, ex-military, deer-hunter with a large collection of firearms. He wishes to teach his children that self defense is imperative, that violence can and should be used... to preserve individual liberties, to protect defendants, to defend against aggression, etc. That when someone hits you, you should hit them back. That the "herd" is often wrong, and that when that happens, individuals should act on their own judgement and live with their own consequences.

If you have widely divergent goals about what type of adult you are trying to produce, it only follows that the methodology would be different.

The people who castigate "Colin" for administering calm, dispassionate spankings are EXACTLY the same ones who flood the Internet with vitriol because his ten-yr-old daughter has a pic on her Facebook page of herself smiling with a rifle and a dead deer. They are the people who support the expulsion of children for chewing pop-tarts into pistol-shapes.

The difference isn't in what route to take, it's in the desired destination.

All JMO, as always.

windmills said...

That was *protect dependents, not "defendants".

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Wind. Very true! It's about politics too, as well as class. Hmm, or more precisely, it's about the culture of class -- which can last long after the members thereof manage to work their way into a wealthier social stratum. Of course the politics follow cultural attitudes. Frankly, pacifists always annoyed me with their hypocrisy -- because they foisted off unavoidable violence on other people in order to keep their own hands clean. Hmmmm, that's why I think "Friendly Persuasion" is an underappreciated American classic.

Anonymous said...

I think one reason that spanking, and hitting children in general, came into disrepute was that more people became conscious of child abuse. And I've seen child abusers (like, picture a one-year-old kid beat up worse than I'd expect to be losing a brawl in a biker bar) howling that "they had to discipline the kid."

Unfortunately, we have no way to prevent people with no business raising children from having them, so we do stopgaps.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Raven. Very true; a lot of people who shouldn't have kids do. In the long run, Nature/evolution would solve this -- but at the expense of the innocent kids, who would die of abuse/neglect or otherwise refrain from breeding. Human attempts to create a more humane solution haven't been very successful, either leaving kids in abusive families or robbing innocent parents of their kids. All I can think of is to make it easier for kids to survive running away from home.

Leslie Fish said...

Hmmm, actually I think that Arizona has a sensible standard on this. It's legal to smack a kid hard enough to leave welts or bruises that last less than a day; a smack that does damage which lasts more than a day is over the line.