I often find myself on the lonely side of an argument. I don’t think it’s because I’ve gone off the deep end or that I’m out of touch. It’s that I live in America and my argument-based loneliness is local. The so-called liberals here are the moderate right in most of Europe and our far right-wingers are closer to fascists more than anything. So when I formulated my opinion on spanking in regards to discipline, I expected to be expressing a minority view. That has largely turned out to be true, both in an anecdotal sense and a broader, public-opinion sense (the U.S. is nowhere near banning spanking whereas much of Europe has advanced beyond this neanderthal stage).
The case for why spanking is wrong and immoral is not a difficult one to grasp, but it can be difficult to make it. First and foremost, principle must be emphasized. This is the absolute cornerstone of my argument – and it’s what is most often ignored in the presentation of counter-arguments. Without some sort of broad, yet qualified (see definition number 3) underlining to an argument, there is no good basis; the argument becomes too malleable and convenient. To date, this entirely typifies the sort of arguments favoring spanking that I have heard.
The principle which I follow is simple: hitting is bad. But by itself, that is far, far too broad. It needs qualifications. Hitting is bad except when in self-defense. That doesn’t mean hitting becomes good in self-defense, just that it becomes justified. One can go further and say hitting is bad except when in defense of others. And then one must go further and qualify that what is being defended is something of a high importance. In most cases, bodily defense is the reference. A case can be made for property, but that is not important here.
So now with this general principle, one can apply it to specific situations to check its universality. If the rule becomes “It’s bad to hit except when it’s against a Jew” then we don’t have a universal principle – or we need to justify this new qualification. In the case of specific religions or races, the qualification almost never works. If it does, it’s because there’s something else at work (“It’s bad to hit except when it’s against such-and-such a race” may have some operation value during a time of war). At any rate, it is necessary to test the universality of “It’s bad to hit” (with our justifiable qualifications in mind, i.e., self-defense):
It’s bad to hit children.
This works, but with a limited scope. After we check off our already stated qualifications, this statement leaves open the implication that it is okay to hit adults. Since that clearly is not true, the statement needs to be amended back to the principle: It’s bad to hit.
The issues that arise here should be easily dismissed, but for whatever reason are harder than an Alabama tick to dig out. The first that comes to mind is power. In my experience and in sifting through the Interwebbings, spanking proponents want to make the distinction between really wailing on a kid and some relatively light slaps on the butt. And this is where I am forced to go back to principle. If hitting is wrong, all qualifications considered, then hitting is wrong is wrong is wrong. It is irrelevant how hard one wishes to spank a child. If the intent is to cause physical harm, then there is nothing justifiable in that. It’s like saying stealing is wrong…unless it’s just a little bit. That’s a silly fall from logic.
Another issue is that of parental rights. Most people can agree that parents are the primary caregivers and are primarily responsible for the well-being of the child. To some this seems to mean parents are bestowed with natural rights to discipline as they see fit. But again, it always goes back to principle. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.
What I find most interesting about the “parents’ rights” argument is that it usually comes down to blood relations. That makes no sense. First, it compromises principle where it is convenient – it is not okay to hit a Jew by virtue of that person being a Jew, and so just the same to a child. Second, I fail to see how genetic relatedness is even relevant to the conversation. It’s so specific and, again, convenient. But besides that, it excludes those who adopt or otherwise become legal guardians of children not their own. What’s more, the child is equally related to the parent. If not for the difference in physical prowess, why shouldn’t the kid be allowed to discipline the misbehavior of the parent? Clearly, something more than genes must be at work. For someone to make such an argument seems bizarre, out of touch, and, unfortunately, all too common (at least in my experience). It’s a “shield argument”, really. It shields the proponent from needing to justify allowing strangers to discipline their child. If it’s okay to hit a child out of discipline for one person, it should be okay for another. Introducing arbitrary guidelines (one must be blood related and/or a legal guardian) does not effectively get around the issue. It skirts it out of convenience.
Finally, in no particular order, there’s effectiveness, effect, and what spanking teaches. Commonly, proponents of spanking either attest to not wanting a “spoiled little brat” or that spanking has no detrimental, long-term effects. Both are terrible points. First, plenty of people grow up without being spanked and were never, nor are, “spoiled little brats”. Second, whether or not spanking has long-term effects is irrelevant. Even is spanking proved to be an effective means of discipline, it wouldn’t affect a single aspect of the argument so far put forth. It goes to principle. Burning a child with an iron would be effective discipline, but the argument has clearly surpassed whether or not effectiveness is at issue. It is not. To bring it up is to simply ignore everything that has been said.
The truth is that the science doesn’t show one way or the other how effective spanking is. The results are mixed, sometimes muddled. However, one thing science does tell us is that for physical punishment to be effective, it needs to be gradually increased over time in most cases. If it isn’t, a tolerance is built to it. We can extrapolate and apply this known fact to spanking through conjecture, but direct evidence is light.
And then there’s what spanking teaches. When one breaks it down, it becomes clear. Spanking tells children that in order to get their way, they just need to hit. In order to correct the unwanted behavior of others, physical force will do the trick. This does not mean that children will grow up to be violent. For most children, that connection probably won’t even be made. Rather, they will see only some people are allowed to hit others. Often, this will be because parents and teachers will give them the conflicting mantra “Don’t hit others”. Ultimately, this confusion turns out to be a good thing for everyone, but that is not the point here. Spanking is teaching that hitting is okay in the correction of unwanted behavior. The fact that most children will not understand what they are being taught is immaterial.
At the end of all this, whether or not spanking is okay should be clear. It is not. It is an immature way to obtain one’s way out of stupidity, miscalculation, frustration, and/or an inability to raise a child who shows intelligently-based respect, rather than just faux fear-based ‘respect’.