First of all, WhoTF am I?
Actually, when you’re nobody – like me – of course you’re staunchly opposed to the logical fallacy we call ‘appeal to authority.’ Clearly, if authority is a prerequisite for correctness, and someone like me carries none of it, then I’d have to just be wr . . . wro . . . I’d just be wr-r-r-o . . . oh, , forget it. It’s too heinous to consider, let alone say. Of course, in the case of my favourite subject, it’s authority that’s wrong, definitively.
Appeal to authority, while never a guarantee of correctness, is always beside the point. Right is right and wrong is wrong, and it’s on all of us to understand why something is or isn’t correct. It almost doesn’t matter that a thing is right if we ourselves can’t say why. “Because X said so” is even less satisfying to us (to me, at least) in our adult years than “Because I said so” was in our childhood ones – plus in the adult world, it’s even scarier.
Second, this idea isn’t one that requires a great deal of memorization. Once you get the principle in your head, it all just flows.
Definitions of abuse
Punishment can be pretty well defined as abuse (in the generic sense, bad treatment) with a purpose. When the deterrent alone fails and the penalty is to be dealt, we hope that the reality of the penalty will increase the power of the deterrent going forward. So the abuse – the beating, hiding, whipping, whooping, spanking, curfew, grounding, withdrawal of: love, privileges, loved objects. Angry shouting, threats, and insults – the abuse in the generic sense, meaning treatment we don’t enjoy, the abuse is all part of the deterrent, which of course, the deterrent is supposed to avoid all the bad stuff, both the crime and the punishment. I expect you’re way ahead of me, right?
The punishments are acceptable because they add to the deterrent which we hope will lessen future punishments, so punishments make for fewer punishments, apparently in some sort of magical feedback loop (which, if said loop actually functioned, misbehaviour and crime would be cured at an early age. If this feedback was a functioning, important part of our lives, the world would be upside-down from what we see, the well-behaved and unpunished would never be improved, and the most punished people of the world would be the best behaved! Need I say it? Study after reputable study show that the world’s most punished people are the most damaged ones in nearly every way imaginable). But that is going too far too soon.
Most of the people I interact with on this topic have a go-to, first definition for abuse (Abuse, capitalized) which is the one that means damaging, illicit, and immoral and is offered as mutually exclusive with legitimate punishments. This is the most popular definition today, I think, so fair enough, we do indeed require a term for illicit, immoral abuse. It’s just that I’m not ready to lose the older, more generic definition of abuse, meaning anything directed at us because it is something we wouldn’t like. I know it’s too late to stop the above definition from taking over the world, and I wouldn’t anyway: “Abuse” is a terrific term and covers so many forms of abuse, making many small causes part of a larger one, that is an important function.
But to the extent that it has become a Label, it has become something of a hindrance to clear thought around punishment, corporal punishment, and the consequences of forms of abuse (lower case) that have not yet found their way into the upper case territory of Abuse. In the world of social science and human behaviour, functions like abuse and its damages have their existence in a continuum, a gradient from none to all, with some randomness. My challenges in the discussions I have with some who may too dependent upon the Label are all around this black and whiteness, ‘this is Abuse,’ ‘that is not.’ It begins to appear that at the first point in the gradient that a person defines an act to be Abuse, say the 51% mark, it is Abuse, insupportable, damaging, and to be deplored, but at 49%, we’ve not met the criteria, and the act in question therefore somehow defaults to being supportable.
Most importantly, viewing a gradient scale like this as a binary one allows any damage we suffer and cause to ourselves and each other that is born from abuse suffered under our hypothetical 51% threshold to go undetected, unaddressed, untreated and unmitigated.
It seems that Abuse qualifies for a lot of attention, abuse not so much – a problem, I believe. Although they are perhaps different stalks of a vine, they are very closely entangled. My concern is that we cannot kill the upper case one without that we are also willing to kill the lower. My fear is that the present situation – that we suffer the Abuse to live because we love the abuse – will never end.
Can we agree on this? That the punishments we use are a form of abuse, in the generic sense? As opposed to any legal sense, or any definition that is intended to differentiate the acceptable from unacceptable. Generically, if I call you an asshole in traffic, that is me abusing you, verbally, yes of course. And perhaps mine was abuse in a sort of moral or legal sense, whereby no good would be deemed to come of it. Perhaps though, the act of drivers cursing at one another is often harmless, so if no violence occurs, no harm, no foul, and as such, is lower case abuse.
Now if I were to yell at my kid, tell her she’s a bad kid, in order to motivate her to not do whatever it was, that is me abusing her, in the generic sense at least, certainly, but with a good purpose, an admonishment to set her straight in life. That is what I mean by abuse with a purpose.
(With my blog name - abusewithanexcuse.com - I have made a harsh judgment, renaming the purpose as the excuse, and therefore defining abuse less generically and more toward the immoral or illegal. It’s a little provocative; the present exploration here may cause me to re-think it.)
This example may be a good one, perhaps yelling at a child and telling them that they’re bad is Abuse in many peoples’ minds, and not bad enough for the label in others’. Then, this being my point, it is certainly abuse in the other sense, something the child is not likely to enjoy, certainly an act somewhere along the spectrum and therefore carrying some gradient danger of damage. For those who define it as Abuse, it’s to be decried and stopped; for those who wouldn’t capitalize it – I am apparently free to carry on with my yelling and efforts to make my child’s “badness” one of her core beliefs. That, just in case I didn’t make it clear how I would define it: if I had to choose, it would be Abuse.
But I don’t have to choose, and neither should anyone. It’s a false choice, Abuse or abuse – “abuse” is bad enough.
If we take that attitude, we may actually make some headway in our efforts to battle bullying and Abuse, for this reason: the cycles of violence and abuse are not only driven by Abuse, but by abuse generally, the legal kind as well. Not only is the choice a false one, Abuse or abuse, but the enemy in our battle against violence and Abuse is a false one, a straw man. The psychological and social functions that we can observe, the cycles of violence, the cognitive and other types of damage associated with corporal punishments and Abuse, these dynamic forces are not composed of or driven by our distinctions. They are made of and driven by real things. Things that we don’t like, things that harm us or decrease the joy in our lives, these things, to the degree that they are experienced, are what drive the negative social forces. It doesn’t matter whether the negative stimulus is beyond our hypothetical 51% for Abuse status. It all carries its share of risk, at every percentage along the scale. “Abuse” is a legal sort of definition. No such distinction exists in nature.
In reality, it’s “abuse” that is the operating force.
A Natural Force, like Gravity
Perhaps an analogy, something to help clarify the difference between how we are so much more able to think critically around hard science, but not so much around other things. Think of abuse as a natural force, like gravity. We know gravity is a natural force, and we know that it exists in proportion to the mass of the object, usually only considered for celestial bodies, planets, and if we go hopping from planet to planet, we know we’ll encounter varying degrees of gravitational force. Perhaps the clever lads and lasses at NASA even have a fairly good idea of at what level of gravitational force things get too dangerous for humans, the amount of gravity that would cause dangerous collapses, would simply grind down human joints at an accelerated pace, or make it too difficult for the heart to raise blood to the brain– a quantity they might capitalize, Gravity.
Does that help?
All gravity has a quantifiable measurement and all gravity factors in life. Normal gravity wears joints out, and weak hearts can’t always raise blood to the brain even here on Earth. Falls and collapses have their risks here too. Of course, there are other things, but just for that little bit of our illustration – if we could lessen the gravity on ourselves, even if it’s not Gravity, our joints would last longer and feel better. At half of Earth’s gravity, I bet our knees would last right through to retirement.
So this is the heart of the matter of Abuse, my friends: it’s abuse that is the natural force, like gravity, and as such, abuse that, due to its ubiquity, has its effects on our lives. “Abuse,” meaning as opposed to ‘legal’ punishment or discipline, is a straw man, a mirage despite being a real life scourge, and it is the supporters of the lesser “abuse” that give oxygen to Abuse. “Illicit harm,” this is not a core concept. “Harm” is the core concept. I’ll say ‘keep our eye on the prize’ after we can get our eye on the right prize in the first place.
Thanks for reading, and please, retweet, reblog, get it out there, it’s free. Tryin’ to save the world here.
If anyone knows a PhD who can run with this, terrific.