Thursday, February 08, 2007

Parenting and the State

Parenting is one of those things that is deeply personal and influenced heavily by society. Every mainstream religion has something to say about how children are to be raised. Even the pseudo-religion of secular humanism has its own advice about parenting. This post is not about an individual's personal feelings of how to raise their young, but rather its about the notion that the state should be involved in any aspect of parenting.

Our society is really struggling with the differentiation between tough and inhumane. Children need discipline, but how much discipline is appropriate? Guess what, it depends on the child. As such, discipline and raising of children amounts to a distributed problem. Distributed problems are best solved by distributed solutions. The state cannot determine how best to raise my child, your child, or anyone else's child. Our government was never set up to handle such a monumental task. There is a huge difference between corporal punishment and genuine physical abuse. Yet, many in our nation do not see the distinction.

Many people who confuse tough with inhumane decry any kind of physical violence as universally bad. While physical violence is something that should be avoided if at all possible, the use of violence is one of those amoral (without moral value, not to be confused with immoral which are negative morals) constructs in our lives. It is the intent and the manner in which it is carried out that gives the action its moral value. Think of the statement "I shot a person". Those that confuse tough with inhumane recoil at such a statement. However, the context makes a world of difference. If I make the statement "I shot a person as he was attempting to rape my wife", then we have some context and suddenly the action isn't quite as deplorable. Indeed, it could even be considered justified. Conversely, if I make the statement "I shot a person who owed me money", then we suddenly have a criminal action.

While the above example is extreme, the same logic applies to corporal punishment with our children. The generic statement "I spank my child" is wholly amoral since we have no context with which to work. If I modify the statement to say "I spank my child in an attempt to discipline them after all of the other methods I've tried have failed utterly to correct a behavior", then we have the context necessary to make a judgment about the situation. Conversely, the statement "I spank my child because I'm angry and they got in my way" is a likely candidate for genuine abuse. Again, this post isn't to debate the values (or lack thereof) inherent in using corporal punishment. Many parents come down on many sides of this sensitive issue (see this post). Where you come down on this issue is irrelevant to me.

What is relevant to me is how far we go to insist upon our preferred method of parenting. Our culture has a problem with transference. Transference is a psychological term that basically means that we apply our own reasoning and thoughts to how others think. Thus we hear the anti-gun person who says "I can't think of a reason why I need a gun" to justify our government passing "sensible" gun regulation. Many parents do something similar when they say "I can't think of a situation when I'd spank my child". While that is all well and good for you that you can't imagine something like that, many of us can. Because you can't imagine something doesn't create a pressing societal mandate that requires the intervention of government.

What I find disheartening is that the people who confuse tough with inhumane also tend to be the parents who are the most outspoken against those who spank their children. Typical of the pacifist, post modern thinker they add to that a certain arrogance that stems from their seeming enlightened position of self worship. They then petition the government to make laws getting the state involved in a place it is wholly incapable of affecting positive change.

I know Ghandi said that we should live in the world, not as it is, but as we want it to be. Ghandi was a good man, but terribly misguided in this respect. Living in the world as though no one out there wants to do us harm is foolishness of the utmost degree. You may not be able to imagine a situation where you'd use violence, but that doesn't mean I can't. I studied martial arts actively for four years. I can imagine situations where I could do terrible things for all the right reasons. In defense of my family, all bets are off. Likewise, I can imagine the situations where I'll need to spank my children. It doesn't mean I look forward to it. It doesn't even mean I'll like it when the time comes. However, that is the nature of adulthood. We all must do things we don't want to do in order to get things we really want. I really want strong, disciplined children who know right from wrong, who can discipline themselves to get what they want out of life (instead of living for the pleasures of the moment), and I want children who are mindful of their place in this world. I have no use for building self-esteem in my children. Instead, I'd rather build self respect. The two are not the same, not even close. Self-respect comes from accomplishment and doing your best. Self-esteem is hollow and only leads to egotism. My children have not earned the right to be treated like adults. My children aren't even capable of formal reasoning. My children aren't dumb by any stretch of the imagination, but they lack the experience necessary to understand that sometimes doing what is needed yields what we want later on. If a swat on the hind end reinforces my attempt to correct my child's behavior, then so be it.

In the end, I don't come into your home and tell you how to raise your children. I don't appreciate attempts by some in our society who demand the state do exactly that to me. I can only imagine the heartache a parent goes through when their rights are tossed out the door the night the jack-booted thugs of CPS (Child Protective Services) come to steal their children away with no court order, no subpoena, and no search warrant. They can come with nothing more than an anonymous complaint and suddenly your constitutional rights disappear and your children end up in foster care (where absolutely no abuse happens ever) until the bureaucracy can sort everything out and the average citizen is able to prove their innocence. Think about that and reflect that its very likely that you use a parenting technique that I'd prefer to see outlawed. The difference is that I leave you alone to parent your children any way you see fit (provided its not genuinely abusive), I only ask that you extend to me the same courtesy.

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