A conflicted Society – Psychology VS Punishment
A swat is good for a kid, teaches ‘em right from wrong. This has been accepted wisdom for many, many folks for a very long period of time: punishments teach.
Abuse damages people – this has probably been accepted by fewer people, and also for fewer centuries.
Can we think both these things? That is to say, is there a place in our minds for both of these . . . functions? Is there room in our society for these opposing apparent effects we see as resulting from what are perhaps closely related causes?
Psychology and the naming of the ravages of abuse have the potential to change the world in unimaginable ways. The symptoms and unrealized potentials that so often follow in the lives of the abused are a scourge the vastness of which cannot be overstated. The only measures of it that approach the truth are our wonder and appreciation of those who somehow manage to overcome, as well as our appreciation of those who refuse to repeat their abuse upon the next generation and to imagine a world without abuse is to imagine nothing less than heaven on Earth. Unrealized it may be, but only the fields of knowledge in and around psychology and sociology have the potential to bring this dream into the realms of possibility. Unrealized, to repeat. I admit that.
The reasons for the unfulfilled potential of the study of human interactions are many, and not all within the scope of what I’m trying to say here. Conversely, the unfulfilled promise of the other idea – that is sort of my specialty. The other idea, of course, being that children need discipline – read “punishments” – to become responsible, well-behaved, law-abiding adults.
The social – I hesitate to say ‘sciences,’ so the social ‘fields of inquiry’ – haven’t really been tested yet, in terms of their potential to cure some of society’s ills. Despite so much good information coming out in the last few generations about the damages of corporal punishment, spankings and other corporal punishments remain the rule rather than the exception. Despite the consciousness on the part of the psychological and psychiatric communities of the harm caused by punishments, over-punishments and abuse, these professions seem to spend their time selling fixes for the harmed people after the fact rather than focussing on prevention (I mean, to be fair, that is more properly the province of social workers and educators, plus it’s so vastly worse than just pointless and thankless – it’s no wonder no-one gets paid to do it). It seems the patients possibly believe in psychology, and are willing to use what psychology offers – but it appears their parents and caregivers do not. Therapy is looked upon as a very personal thing. When a person’s damage is so bad that it robs them of their quality of life, then they may look at the source of their pain; when we are tacitly accused of being the source of the younger generation’s pain we are less likely to participate in that examination.
Punishing, the belief in punishing, sets the scene for abuse in many ways. I know it’s a normal part of the narrative around parenting and abuse to say that proper ‘discipline’ and abuse are opposites, to say that the parent seeks to mold and direct their kids while the abuser seeks only to harm and humiliate. However to believe this, one must ignore all the gradients between those poles.
One must refuse to see that near the worst end of this bridge, that there is some remnant of the parent, and that near the best end, that there is some small component of the abuser. This would be a truth even if the two things were opposites – but psychology has shown us that as much as they are, they also are not. The truth is that, even as within the popular narrative’s apparent opposition all punishing has a component of abuse, the darker, psychological story of unconscious mechanisms show the abuse component to always be present in fairly constant measure. I’ll make a sharp left turn here.
I’m guessing that paragraph separated the believers of psychology from the believers of punishment (‘discipline,’ if you prefer)? Did anyone just make a choice, or learn that they had already made a choice somewhere in the past? Because that is the point I’m heading for here. No-one seems to take psychology or childhood trauma seriously, not until we run out of choices, or until our choices take a deadly turn, not until we’ve lost everything first. This is my point, the answer to the questions posed at the start of this little rant. If there is room in our minds for both of these concepts, then our minds are split, our selves are severed in two. We need to understand that a choice is necessary. Of course there is only one choice to make.
A modern person who has no concern for abuse, no concern for the consequences of the pain we create, that person is a monster, a villain. That person has been destroyed, he’s either a rare, birth-defected organic monster or has suffered some kind of ultimate abuse himself (or some combination, the possessor of an activated ‘warrior gene’ perhaps). That person has not made a conscious choice, and that isn’t a choice that it is possible to make consciously.
In the middle ground is where humanity lives, nearly all of us. Unaware of the choice, or unaware that one must be made, we treat the lessons of psychology like art, an amusing intellectual exercise, humouring the work and the visionaries who have shown us the way as though they were children and their life’s works were finger paintings.
“Sure,” We say. “Betrayal of love. Childhood emotional and mental trauma, being trained to look at hurt and deprivations as being good for us, demonstrating Might is Right, modeling bullying and the use of force - that’s bad, I mean, I guess . . . but what are you gonna do?” (Shades of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ . . . )
“Like, sure, psychology. But seriously . . .”
This, while in our real lives, we punish, wielding pain, withdrawal of love, and selective deprivations of all kinds ostensibly to produce ‘better’ people – because we think the lessons of psychology and the understanding of abuse, unlike hard science’s laws like gravity, only apply to some few of us, to extreme cases, to other people, to other parents, to other parents’ children.
There is a choice, one conscious choice to be made, because not to make it leaves us in the middle ground. That choice is to buy into the basic premise of psychology and the understanding of abuse, which, at its simplest is: hurt hurts. To deny the social forms of philosophy this way, to believe in punishing is to say hurt heals. That’s the simple logic of it, peeled down to the essence. But beyond that, because we don’t really believe in the sciences of human behaviour and so this logical truth can’t reach us, this:
Punishing, being what we have believed for millennia, has us still living in a world of abuse, war, hatred, bigotry, and a crumbling environment. If you think it hasn’t caused it, I ask you this: has it fixed it? Do we think it’s going to fix things any time soon, is that our fantasy? Will anyone say that if we treat our children, our criminals and our enemies with more harshness and less forgiveness that that is the way to peace, tolerance and a better future? Five, six, maybe ten millennia of ‘discipline,’ and this is our world. It’s not all bad, but it’s got a lot of bad still. Is this supposed to be the generation where our ideas of bringing pain and with-holding love will finally solve our problems?
No? So that isn’t a choice, then? What about the status quo?
Would no change in the level of pain and deprivations we use to make things better be a viable choice? Should we be just exactly this harsh and retributive then, and if we do, can we expect improvement in our problems? Should we make sure not to decrease the amount of unpleasantness we visit upon each other?
No again? Of course we want to lessen abuse and pain in the world, but we think we can get there while supporting a concept like punishment, a concept that means hurt heals, a blatant reversal of what is obvious and true.
Or is it yes?
Yes, we really do think the knowledge of abuse and its damages isn’t real, or somehow not important? We really do believe that a great deal of hurt is bad, but some hurt is good, so we need to make sure everyone gets hurt in some perfect measure, we really do think that if we don’t hurt each other, if we don’t hurt our children in some way that they won’t learn and the world will become a worse place?
The knowledge of abuse and its harms are the future of the pursuit of human happiness, and the belief that using pain and the loss of love to make better people of our children is the dark, unconscious past, that is what I’m saying. Let’s get on the right side of history with this. We’ll need to take psychology and human science out of the universities and into our homes, into real life. Most importantly, into our families, our parenting. This is it.
Hurt hurts, or hurt heals.
If hurt heals, then what is abuse?
If hurt hurts, then what is punishment?
Anyone who thinks the world is getting worse (it’s not) because of our gradual increase in humanity (a slow but constant upswing), is suffering from Good Old Days Syndrome; they are not making an accurate assessment of our long violent history. As bad as things look now, they used to be worse, and it is humanistic ideas, the fulfillment of which could well be our modern understanding of abuse and its effects, that are making the difference. The modern lives with no humanism, gang life, lives of never-ending war and strife, they are the lives with the most violence and crime, not lives lived in liberalism and molly-coddling.
That’s the choice before us. Humanism, psychology, these are the real deal, let’s let them change us. Let them save our children, our world. We’ve tried the other idea, over and over, hoping for different results, and we know what that is. But of course, mental illness is one of the documented symptoms.