Monday, March 13, 2006

Reflecting on *SMACK* Violence

The comments on the last post have me reflecting on the nature of violence.

The argument that sometimes a measure of violence (or, as I put it, force) is needed in order to preserve peace - and this argument is central to just war theory - could be described by means of this analogy, which does not reflect well on the potential of the argument:

I once saw a woman out shopping with her kids at a toy store. Two of the kids got into an argument about a particular toy. As the argument escalated, the bigger kid hit the smaller kid. The mother, irate, stormed up to the bigger kid, and *SMACK* whacked him good. As she hit her child, she disingenuously shouted, "No! We don't hit!"

A couple of questions for discussion:

1. Is this a good analogy for the argument in question?

Or, to put it another way, is this sufficiently like what nations like the United States do when we threaten aggressive nations with military force?

2. Is there any charitable way to view the actions of the mother?

Or, to put it another way, is there any chance that her hitting her child to make the point that we shouldn't hit will actually succeed?

I'm particularly interested in two types of comments, but of course welcome all comments. The types I am most interested in are:

1. From my philosophic friends: work with the analogy and its correlation or lack of correlation to the arguments made by just war theory.

2. From my friends with children: help us get inside the perspective of the parent who uses force to teach that violence is wrong. Is this purely hypocritical? Is this motivated by frustration or unchecked anger? Or is there possibly some method to the apparent madness?

Well, I've shaped this conversation enough. If you're interested in this sort of thing, leave a comment.


Brian Cubbage said...

I'm definitely category 1-- philosophic, but without children. The anecdote you relate is potentially comical, but in the end I have a hard time taking the mother's remark as a well-thought out lesson on the morality of violence. In other words, it's probably a stretch to put her on the hook for conveying a profound moral lesson here. She obviously wanted to find a way of controlling her child's behavior and render it more appropriate; it's just unfortunate that her chosen means of control was so at odds with the behavior she was trying to produce.

That said, I think that kids have a much keener sense of this disconnect between word and deed than many people give them credit for. And hitting a child as a way of reinforcing behavior patterns strikes me as counterproductive anyway, regardless of the particular behavior one is trying to reinforce. No high theory here, though-- just an intuition.

The philosophical question you pose is whether the use of violence to prevent other violence is ever justified. The only form such a justification could take, as far as I can see, would be that that use of violence would prevent even greater violence from coming about. The tough question there, though, is whether the limited use of violence to prevent greater violence creates a propensity to violence, in both its victims and in others, that in turn produces even more violence than would have occurred had we simply done nothing, or chosen other means. Many pacifist arguments make this claim. I have theological reasons for thinking that this must be true, but I don't have anything like empirical evidence. I'm not sure any evidence is currently available that would help to settle it, either.

Free-floating speculation, anyone?

Sandalstraps said...

I doubt there will ever be a good data set from which to draw empirically based claims on this topic, so free floating speculation is all we've got!

Thanks for your contribution, Brian. I'm waiting for more voices to be heard before I weigh in for real.

Princess Pinky said...

Before I had children I knew I would not hit/ spank/ use physical force. I decided this in part because my parents used physical discipline. I was never beaten I wasn't even spanked that much. But I can tell you it didn't really modify my behavior in its intended manor. I was an angry made me more aggressive.

It doesn't make sense to teach in a "do as I say, not as I do" method. It applies to more than just hitting to show hitting is wrong, but we'll just stick with that for now. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. They can tell when we are parenting out of frustration. Sometimes they try to use it to their advantage. Sometimes they know to stay the hell outta the way.
I witnessed this with a childhood friend's child. This friend was having a bad day. Her child was being a typical 3 yr old. Not doing anything bad, just babbling away about her horse and having a grand time. Then she bumped into a table and knocked over a glass of water. Friend freaked out. Child cried out "don't hit me" and fled into her room. She did not appear for three hours.
I thought once that spanking might be useful. Say perhaps if your child ran away in a store or out into the street. Especially if you don't use physical discipline this would be enough of a shock to help modify the behavior, right?
Josh hid under a fixture in Gap when he was about three. My mother in law and I searched franticly for him. I was dying inside because it was taking too long to find him and I knew he was gone. We did find him, not five feet from where we were standing originally. This was the instance that I had planned to use such discipline. I didn't. I let my mother in law deal with him because I was just so happy to find him alive that I wanted to kiss him and strangle him all at the same time. I was not in a position to do ANY discipline at that moment.
Discipline is hard. It is something we must do. It is hard to detach from one who is a part of you in order to correct behavior. If we are too passionate it could lead to violence. We do a lot of counting in my house. It gives my children time to correct the behavior that has been brought to their attention and gives us a chance to center ourselves. At that point if behavior has not changed a reasonable punishment can be given.

Chappy said...

Both Heather and I swat Noah on the hand from time to time in order to punish certain toddlerific misdeeds (oddly enough, hitting, biting, or kicking someone is usually what gets him swatted), but we usually go more for the discussion route.

I was raised with the "that's a lick" system myself. The T.A.L. System entailed my father tallying up the stupid things that my brothers and I did thoughout the day and then lining us all up to pay the piper. He would spread-eagle us against the bed and ask us our tally. If we answered low, we got more licks with the belt. He also gave the usual "this hurts me more than it hurts you speech" and warned us not to flinch, as his aim wasn't too good. After we began discussing having kids, Heather very clearly made it known that the T.A.L. System would not be used at Castle Chappula. I, my belt, and Noah's diaper-armored backside are all happier for it.

Squirrelly said...

help us get inside the perspective of the parent who uses force to teach that violence is wrong. Is this purely hypocritical? Is this motivated by frustration or unchecked anger? Or is there possibly some method to the apparent madness?

As Dave said, we occasionally spank Noah, or give him a light swat on the hand. Nothing more, and nothing especially painful--just a reminder to stop what he is doing immediately. When employed as a seldom-used exclamation point, it almost always works.

I try very hard not to make that my default disciplinary response, and not to employ it when either of us are tired or grumpy.

I think it's a matter of perspective, honestly. I've never thought of it as hitting my kid to teach him that violence is wrong. It's more like, if he misbehaves and is out of control, there will be very real, immediate consequences.

And always, after Noah gets a spanking, we love on him and tell him why what he did was wrong and merited a spanking.

However, as Noah gets older and he is better able to understand cause and effect, I'm using time-outs more and more.

That's my two cents, anyway.

Tom said...

My favorite method of disipline is the "time-out" method. This works very well for us, especially when the "time-out" is applied not just to the child, but one of the child's possesions.

If Caleb, for instance, is misbehaving with his lightsaber, he will be sent to time-out for two minutes (each child is punished in time-out up to the length in minutes of that child's age in years). The lightsaber, however, might just land itself in time-out for the rest of the day.

As attached as Caleb is to the lightsaber and the idea that he is, in fact, a "real" Jedi Knight, this works far better to deter him from being violent with the lightsaber than any spanking ever could.