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Violence is violence

Alice Bachini is a blogger in her own right and supporter of Taking Children Seriously

Think about this: your husband decides that you need to go to the dentist. He drags you there against your will, and orders you to have a tooth extracted. You don‚t want the treatment. He threatens you, then strips half of your clothes off, in full view of everyone in the waiting-room, forces you down onto your front, and starts hitting you painfully on the exposed parts of your body.

The wrongs of the case of the man who was convicted for smacking his daughter as mentioned by Natalie Solent on her blog go much deeper than smacking and whether it should be prosecutable. Of course, I think that violence against children should be illegal if violence against adults is illegal, which it is. But I don’t know how much laws about it will help children in the current climate. A law change might even damage children more than they are being damaged already, if it results in people they want to have around being forcibly removed from their homes, for example.

There is a correlation between bad coercive parenting and smacking, but it is perfectly possible to be extremely damagingly nasty without smacking, and (theoretically, at least) above (the not-very-impressive) averagely useful to your kids while habitually tapping them lightly on the wrist if they do something you don‚t like (although IME this kind of pointless exercise is not actually the most of it).
One reason why lots of parents say “It never did me any harm” is that children, and indeed humans of other ages, often prefer honest coercion to dishonest manipulation, and violence is nothing if not explicit. There is no yardstick of damage or detriment that can compare an honest threat followed by a bash, with hours of wheedling and twisting of the truth, or even years of deliberate keeping-in-the-dark, and in most cases there is no actual time when anyone can make a choice between the two.

But honesty seems fundamental to good parenting, because people who are genuinely doing their best and seeking to improve themselves and their relationships are at least able to perceive something of better ideas when they come along. Whereas those who go around claiming a monopoly on rightness and refusing even to consider alternatives to their own ideas are entrenched against rightness and their treatment of others therefore inevitably gets worse instead of better; there is no future in a relationship with such a person.

However, violence against children is definitely bad, and the case mentioned above was particularly vile, which I imagine is why it resulted in a conviction. And I guess insofar as we trust the existing legal systems to enforce decent behaviour in people, which I don’t know how far that is (and it seems to me that libertarians differ in their views on this), this is a good case of something going right for a change.

Making violence against children as illegal as it is against adults seems like a minor tinkering that, on balance, would justify the extra-ness of the law in involved. I think if we are going to have laws at all, this is the kind of thing they should be used for. But if it’s going to become a social workers‚ free-for-all then I think that would be very dangerous. And I really don‚t know whether that would happen or not.

Alice Bachini

7 comments to Violence is violence

  • Julian Morrison

    Making a law banning smacking kids is absolutely *certain* to become “a social workers free-for-all”. The reason being: like all attacks by parents on kids, the kids mostly prefer to keep their parents and put up with the violence – and so they don’t complain.

    Lack of complaints would leave the new anti-smacking bureaucracy bored, so they’d set out on fishing expeditions and organize campaigns of shop-your-folks propaganda. Remember all that “satanic abuse” slow-news-day-ism in the 80’s?

  • Anti-smacking legislation is yet another case of the statism at its fascistic worst. Instead of just getting child abusers they make all parents criminals (potential). It’s daft, unworkable and intrusive in extremis.

    Julian is of course spot on.

    What is the next step, the state raising children after their being born? After all, which legislation like this it is obvious the state does not believe parents can raise children in the “correct” way.

  • I find a post like this on a *libertarian* site pretty amusing. What next? A call for steeply progressive income tax and gun control?

    And to say that smacking children is cruel and unkind isn’t the point. Punishments aren’t meant to be nice.

    I think I’ll stick to the quaint old notion of parents raising their kids rather than the state doing so, however much that notion may be under attack.

  • David Carr

    As someone who has always been wholly opposed to Swedish-style nanny state anti-smacking laws, I must say I find the logic of the TCS position unsettlingly persuasive.

    An adult may behave every bit as badly as any four year-old but I am forbidden from attempting to correct the behaviour of the adult by pulling his trousers down and whaling him on the rump. The argument that a four year-old does not have the power of reason can be quite effectively countered by the assertion that a heck of a lot of adults are similarly challenged (vide, the widespread acceptance of ‘global warming’)

    Now whilst I do, quite frequently, fantasise about taking a strop to enviro-mentalists, I would still be guilty of assault if I actually put this fantasy into practice.

    The problem is that I also agree with Julian, Andrew and Peter. Not surprisingly I have an instinctive mistrust of state agencies and I am simply not prepared to countenance the establishment of any government anti-smacking patrol which would, from the get-go, seek to build its own empire, bloat its budget and lobby for more powers by finding lots of ‘abuse’ problems that can only be solved by their ‘heroic’ and ‘caring’ interventions.

    Sorry, but it’s a serious no-no: a cure that is guaranteed to become infinitely worse than the disease.

    I suppose what I am trying to say is that whilst I amenable to the principle, I am implaccably hostile to the only forseeable method of enforcement.

  • Jacob Resler

    The problem is more profound than wether a government agency can be trusted. The problem is: how do you educated your children. Mind you: not who educates – parents or the state (rethorical question), but HOW. Educating children is a very complicated and difficult and delicate task, and like most things, cannot be governed by some detailed and very specific rules written down by government or anybody else. Smacking children (without excessive cruelty) is something you can hardly avoid, or at least does some good which is lost when the method is forbidden. We should abandon the belief that laws can, and should, prescribe exact receips for best behaviour in all cases – even before we consider the problem of enforcing those “ideal” laws. So I think that existing laws are more than adequate for dealing with excessive cruelty, and no new laws or agencies are needed. Some parents, probably most, err sometimes and behave in ways that other people think to be wrong – but that is not something that can, or should, be governed by laws.

  • I had an ex-girlfriend that I thought I would marry (and vice-versa). We talked about our parenting philosophies (which are hypothetical, neither of us had kids). We both thought that the anti-hitting people were crazy.

    She was a dog trainer by profession and, interestingly enough, was strongly in the “positive training” school, which believes that punishing dogs by hitting them is counterproductive and immoral.

    This attitude never transfered to her thoughts on child-rearing, but I couldn’t help but notice a inconsistency… or rather the lack of rationale for it.

    Is hitting children okay because they’re better able to reason and less likely to instinctively fear and become hostile? I’m not sure. Children’s ability to reason would suggest that kids would be more susceptible to alternative punishment.

    I’m not a father so I reserve judgment. I guess I just can’t figure out where it is more advantageous than alternatives.


  • Very interesting post