The unfortunate ways in which we frame child abuse.

From Sidewalk Bubblegum.

The ways in which people frame their opposition to child abuse, such as spanking in this case, are regrettable, and I thought that needed to be openly discussed.

Now, I am not interested in the slightest in what defenders of spanking or any other form of child abuse and violence have to say. I think we are all well aware of their disgusting, child-hating mentality. We are well aware of their desire to inflict pain on children and call it love because their parents inflicted pain on them and called it love. We are well aware of their belief that without violence the next generation will be depraved and bereft of moral compass. Adults have been moaning about the depravity of the younger generations since Socrates. This imbecilic game has been played over and over for thousands of years.

Let me make one thing clear: spanking of children is sexual assault, there is no rational argument for spanking, and if you support spanking in any form you support sexual assault. People fail to recognize this in the case of children because child abuse has been the norm in child-raising in Western societies, and as the norm we are not predisposed to see anything wrong with it.

Furthermore, a majority of people have been spanked by their parents and will adamantly refuse to blame their parents for it, so they must defend spanking. I do not expect those people to come to their senses, because they have been damaged by their childhoods and are heavily invested in the belief that their parents loved them and would not have intentionally harmed them. Such people can hardly be asked to be objective about child-raising, and their opinions have no more relevance than the opinions of slaughterhouse operators on animal rights.

Although these are obviously subjects worthy of a great deal more discussion, I don’t want to talk about them right now. I want to talk about the ways in which compassionate people, who probably don’t think of themselves as having any sort of prejudice against children, argue against child abuse.

The first thing that got my attention was a tumblr post arguing against spanking. While I know the people involved are radicals who have the best of intentions, the kind of reasons listed for not spanking children included things like laws against corporal punishment, IQ tests, beaten children using violence themselves, and psychological problems in adulthood like alcoholism and depression.

Other arguments against spanking are in the same general vein:

If study after study conclusively proves that hitting your kids doesn’t work as a disciplinary method, and worse, it has long-term damaging impact to their psychology and makes your kids more aggressive, why do we as a society allow it?

Violence is just an outlet for anger. When used on children, it does great harm. Research has found that physical punishment is linked to aggression, hyperactivity and emotional problems.

Worse, it teaches children that violence is O.K. When children who were raised that way (like my grandmother and Peterson) grow up, they often use violence themselves in the way that they have learned.

Spanking a child does show the child that the parent is bigger and stronger and can take control of the child. But, it doesn’t show the child how to learn to develop control of themselves. Spanking may stop the child then and there, but there’s a cost emotionally and cognitively to a child, and over the long run, it doesn’t usually lead to the child learning not to repeat the behavior that resulted in the spanking in the first place. It can also lead to the child learning to behave because of fear, not because of respect.

This is an unacceptable way to argue about child abuse, and it needs to stop. Now, I do think some people get it (this guy gets it, and I’m sure there are others), but most don’t.

Now, there is an obvious way in which these arguments are horrid: they imply that, if spanking did cause children to behave and control themselves, did not lead to aggression or hyperactivity, and did not normalize violence, then spanking would be just fine. Using statements of fact to justify a moral statement will fail when you turn out to be wrong about those facts.

But this is only a corollary to the main issue. If someone states that we need to protect women from harm because they are needed to raise the next generation, or that we need to let brown people immigrate because they take the jobs no one else wants, we rightly point and laugh at those people for being sexist and racist pieces of shit. We instinctively understand that treating people instrumentally is bigoted and sick. Human rights are not conditional and should not be a reward to those people who are most useful to society.

And yet the most egalitarian person will not see anything wrong with using the same sort of bigoted argument when discussing child abuse, because it is an integral part of the childist mentality that children are not full human beings and should not enjoy full human rights, and that their immediate well-being and needs are irrelevant compared to the need to ensure their “successful” future and their obedience to whatever pedagogy the parents have signed off on.

No one should be treated as a means to an end, including children. Children are full human being. Children deserve to be respected as human beings. This is true regardless of what you believe about their future. It is not conditional on any depression, IQ test, or measure of aggression.

There is one, and only one, argument which should properly be used against spanking:

Children are human beings. Human beings should not be hit by other human beings.

You might say, sure, but doesn’t it add to the argument that spanking also has all these negative effects? Maybe so, but what it also does is turn a human rights issue, a moral issue, into a pragmatic issue.

Suppose we argue that an act of rape is bad because no one should get raped, but also because rape has traumatic effects on its victims. Now you’ve turned a criminal act into a factual debate. Are all rape victims traumatized? If a victim is not traumatized, was the rape bad? Are victims who were more traumatized “more raped” than other victims? Does a study that shows rape victims are not as traumatized as previously thought prove that rape is good?

Now we are no longer talking about the fact that rape victims are human beings and don’t deserve to be dehumanized, and we’re wasting time arguing a non-moral issue. This doesn’t advance the discussion against rape and gives leeway to ultra-rationalist anti-feminists to slip in and argue “science.”

I am not arguing, of course, that the people who argue against child abuse while still retaining their childist prejudice are child-haters or are against children. Like I said, I have no doubt (and in some cases, I know) that these people are compassionate and want nothing to do with prejudice. But the hidden premises of childism must be exposed, nevertheless.

4 thoughts on “The unfortunate ways in which we frame child abuse.

  1. suelyle September 24, 2015 at 23:43

    Great piece Francois.

    • Francois Tremblay September 24, 2015 at 23:58

      Thank you! Also read my latest one, which is sortof a continuation of this.

  2. […] have discussed this reduction of childist issues to scientific studies when I discussed spanking. Well-intentioned […]

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