Monday, April 30, 2007

Not given lightly

So far, I have not made much of a contribution to the child-battering debate. I think you can take it as read that I do not think there should be a keep-out-of-jail card in the Crimes Act for people who assault their children with weapons. If you assume that I have a particular animus against those who claim the authority of the Holy Bible for their attacks on their children, you assume rightly. It is one thing to beat up your kids but to claim that Yahweh made you do it is another matter and not a pleasant one. It troubles me that really creepy, weird people who have ideas about child-rearing which chill the blood (you see, children are born evil and you have to beat that evil out of them) should be representing themselves as ordinary New Zealanders, concerned parents, good citizens.

It concerns me that this debate has been framed by these people. The very fact that it is called the anti-smacking bill shows that this issue has been captured by the opponents of reform. Why not call it the spanking debate? I'll tell you why; because the word spanking has connotations of eroticism, of ritualistic beating for sexual pleasure. For the proponents of child-beating, the world of kinky sex is uncomfortably close.

When one reads the guides to disciplining children produced by the churches and pastors who advocate child abuse as a way of life, you see how close their worldview is to those of de Sade and Sacher-Masoch. The ritual is crucially important. The child must be told the nature of her sin; she must be shown the weapon of her punishment; some advocate having the weapon on permanent display in the family living room, as a constant reminder of the dangers of transgression. This weapon will have been chosen carefully, to provide just the right amount of flexibility and to avoid bruising (for if the punishment left scars, they might be discovered by the Others: the schoolteachers, social workers, the authorities, the World). The punishment must be administered without anger; this is a ritual, not a release. When it is complete, parent and child should pray together.

It is not easy for the Christian Right to defend their practices. There was a time when beating your children was quite acceptable; but this was also a time when it was acceptable to beat up homosexuals just for being what they were. It was a time when violence was seen as a solution to many problems. We have moved on, most of us, and the fundies find themselves like the White Rhodesians: left behind, struggling to defend what was normalcy so little time ago but is now unacceptable; struggling, as well, to comprehend what happened.

Faced with the obvious peculiarity of their beliefs and the threat from outside to their way of life, the fundies are looking for secular support. Family First, a coalition of various strains of intolerance, has found it in Robert E. Larzelere, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Oklahoma. Professor Larzelere is well known for his defence of corporal punishment. It is not as if he or his university are particularly distinguished; but a little secular, academic, support goes a long way in the world of the fundies. They might claim the sole authority of the Bible in all matters, but the support of a real, live Psychologist from the USofA is worth much more than a host of pleading pastors.

Family First have brought Professor Larzelere to New Zealand; is it just me, or is there a huge cultural cringe reflected in the way these organisations always have to go overseas for their support and in the way that local media gives the visitors such credence? Family First have given him a whirlwind tour of the local media. You might have heard him on Leighton Smith's show (I did not: Leighton's broadcasts for the dead make me want to vomit) or with John Tamihere (likewise). You can see him tonight debating the Children's Commissioner on Campbell Live.

In case you do not have time to catch up with the professor, this is what he advocates for children from 2 to 6 years: 2 open-handed swats to the buttocks, leaving no bruise. It will be interesting to see if he advocates the sort of punishment recommended for children by Craig Smith of Family Integrity in his pamphlet, The Christian Foundations of the Institution of Corporal Correction:
Go to a private place, collect the smacking rod, then fully discuss the crime...child. Their admission of guilt, their agreement that a smack is necessary and the need to master selfdiscipline together make it important that the child voluntarily submits to the discipline of smacking.
Notice that this punishment is for children from the age of 18 months. Think about that. Craig Smith does not have the sort of learning that the Professor will doubtless bring to this debate. So why does he do it? He doesn't know:
I freely admit that I do not understand the connection between a physical smack on the bottom and a rebellious spiritual condition of the heart, nor how the first drives out the latter. But the Scripture declares it is so, therefore I am obliged to believe and practice it.
I am sure that having a real life American academic to support their cause will hearten Family First. Before they get too excited, let's burst their balloon. Here is a media release from the American Psychological Association. It is fair and balanced, giving space both to Larzelere and to more mainstream opinion. It is worth reading, especially the quotation with which it ends:
Until researchers, clinicians, and parents can definitively demonstrate the presence of positive effects of corporal punishment, including effectiveness in halting future misbehaviour, not just the absence of negative effects, we as psychologists can not responsibly recommend its use
Enough. To end, I found this extraordinary footage in the course of my research:


Little Red Riding Hood said...

I wish I could frame things as well as you do Paul.

Also, what is all this emphasis on bruises? Plenty of physical injuries can be extremely painful without a visible reminder.

And if smacking was so godly, what's wrong with a visible reminder of the punishment anyway?

David Farrar said...

I am amazed that so many on the left miss the point. You seem blinded by your dislike of the religious right so miss the core issue.

Firstly it is called the smacking debate because that is what the Borrows amendment would stop being criminalised. No one much is advocating that more serious disciple remain.

You say the APA does not recommend smacking. True. But the issue is whether the state should legislate to ban smacking, to force its view of how to raise children onto the hundreds of thousands of parents who are better placed to do so.

Should the state legislate on when to stop breast feeding?

And don't tell me the Bradford bill is not about banning smacking. It clearly is, as is the rejection of the offered amendments.

I have dozens of friends who are basically left wing. Apart from actual labour party activists they are all incredulous that the Govt is legislating to tell parents how to raise their children.

Parents should be able to choose whether or not they think smacking is effective or not, and appropriate or not.

Anonymous said...

Kia ora- I think (having experienced corporal punishment - and believe you me, it did me considerable harm) that the National Party needs to look at their parliamentary reps - and ditch them all, except for Katherine Rich. Bradford's bill is a start. Turia's views (as expressed in the media) are completely correct - while children were killed in war (and, rarely, at birth), corporal punishment was *introduced* by missionaries, and horrid example (early European exploiters of various kinds.)
A male partner can no longer - if reported or discovered - whack his female or male partner. Why should ANYBODY be able to whack their/partner's offspring?
I dont believe or rely on parental judgement. I still have scars.
And, as an atheist, I deeply resent some bog-people who believe in ghosties from the bronze age, trying to warp future generations.

Anonymous said...

"I am amazed that so many on the left miss the miss the core issue." + "Firstly it is called the smacking debate because..."

says who?

i always thought it was a debate about repealing section 59 (or not)?

could it be we are all missing the point?

but seriously, how can you use criteria that has been defined by 1 side of an argument to accuse the other side of not getting it? (be they left or right - up or down)

David Farrar said...

No it is not about repealing S59. Thr bill no longer does that. Go read it.

Anonymous said...

but isnt the original purpose of the bill is to repeal section 59, isnt this the "core issue"?

ok perhaps the wording has gone to far - but it doesnt change what the debate is about. it just means that the word of the law may need to be brought back in line with the original ambition. but thats just my opinion.

Not being from debate team stock, im going out on a limb here. But does a debate change its topic because one team prefers to define it in a certain way? or is it more of an evolving thing?

During this 'debate' there has been a lot of shouting and slagging off. The only consistent seems to be either side claiming the other doesnt get it. And this usually seems to be caused by either side using a different criteria for evaluating the worth or truth of any statement.

also out of interest - isnt this the same, or similar to how laws such as assault are worded? Ie: touching, or even threatening to touch some one is officially assault. (not being a lawyer im unsure of the specifics - insights on this greatly appreciated)

Anonymous said...

>In case you do not have time to catch up with the professor, this is what he advocates for children from 2 to 6 years: 2 open-handed swats to the buttocks, leaving no bruise. <

Just to be clear, based on the interview I heard with him on Radio Live he *clearly* stated that
- a smack was the last method to employ after other methods had failed
- that he was against anti-smacking legislation but was not pro-smacking (if you get my drift). He advocated other methods first but with a smack after exhausting these alternatives.

I am not sure that message has been made apparent in your post.

And to nit pick, the quote at the finish of your work is not one from American Psychological Association, but is a quote from the author of a paper (Gershoff), again I dont think this distinction is clear and feel it gives stronger weight to the statement by implying it is the view of the organisation.