If Love Seems Mean at First

Mater et Magistra
mater et magistra?

Sadism is all right in its place, but it should be directed to proper ends.
The whole world hates bullies, which is why authoritarian power gets such a bad rap. Neitzsche exposed western religion for forcing the free tribesmen to become submissives and slaves, docile and effeminate. Rousseau implied that parents themselves ruin their children by infecting them with their culture and values.

But what if all that negative stuff is not really negative, in the long run? What if sometimes the socalled negative tyranny can have a worthwhile goal? I'd like to take this to an extreme, for the purpose of thought debate.

A Mental Experiment

Wittgenstein said, "It's only by thinking even more crazily than philosophers do that you can solve their problems."

Michael Levin created a mini earthquake and shocked liberals when he wrote his little essay The Case For Torture.

"It is generally assumed that torture is impermissible, a throwback to a more brutal age. Enlightened societies reject it outright, and regimes suspected of using it risk the wrath of the United States."

Levin says, however, "I believe this attitude is unwise. There are situations in which torture is not merely permissible but morally mandatory. Moreover, these situations are moving from the realm of imagination to fact." Did you catch that? Morally mandatory torture!

He declares, "I am advocating torture as an acceptable measure for preventing future evils." And he adds that it may be necessary for us to "choose to inflict pain as one way of preserving order."

"Paralysis in the face of evil is the greater danger."

More on this



Are draconian measures called for?

A brilliant Black Conservative (among so many), Morgan Reynolds, says that current punishments lack credibility. They are ineffective because the criminal element simply does not believe in them. Well MAKE them believe, he says.

Reynolds says: "Restore shaming sentences -- degradation, the stocks, the pillory and flogging. I'm not kidding. Probability, immediacy and type of punishment are more important than the longer and longer sentences in air conditioned prisons currently favored to discourage crime. Corporal punishment is constitutional (the fifth amendment implies it), efficient, effective and egalitarian. "

Reynolds quotes the great Adam Smith as saying: Kindness toward the guilty is cruelty toward the innocent. (See his July 1996 essay.) Reynolds adds, "The social harm done by the criminal must be reflected back onto him so that he makes no mistake about the harm he is doing. Bad decision; bad consequences."

Matthew Iglesias makes the observation that, "in practice prison really is a form of corporal punishment in light of the violence that takes place in the American penal system."

Iglesias has been positively impressed by Singapore's style, which, records show, has one of the lowest crime rates (far, far lower than the American rates). But Iglesias holds back from an enthusiastic endorsement of corporal punishment for older delinquents. He says, however, the whole subject "could stand some serious scrutiny and analysis, since it's not clear to me that the actually existing prison system (as opposed to some idealized alternative) is more humane in any substantive way."



Charles Dickens, like so many other greats, the Quakers, Tocqueville, Beccaria, and recently, Michel Foucault -- have all studied prison and the doctrines of punishment. Dickens felt the long prison sentences demoralized exceedingly, that their cruelty surpassed even physical consequences. Should we try to salvage a worthwhile element of corporal punishment?

One contemporary, Kathy Renbarger, seems to have brought a great deal of understanding to the idea of corporal punishment in either sentencing or self-initiated (ostensibly voluntary) venues. Her idea lays a heavy emphasis on the attitude preparation of the offender, before and after. It is, after all, the "judge in your head" that determines whether you freely accept your guilt, whether you make progress toward acknowledgment that you deserved your punishment, that you yourself are culpable. Renbarger says, "a severe (but safe), objectively determined, corporal punishment is used as a very effective atonement catharsis." Her idea is that the compassion and healing go hand in hand (a cleansing process?) with "severe but safe" lickings. She calls her proposal "Corporal Alternative Sentencing."

By putting so much stress on the mental component (the judge in your head), the Renbarger discussion goes deeper, I believe, than some of the others. The Saudi harshness is too much for Matthew Iglesias, too much outside our western norms. But Kathy Renbarger, in her focus on inner transformation, on soul healing (if I might put it that way) brings a great deal of wisdom to the subject.

Besides, western "norms" (so-called) may not be so exalted or enlightened as we like to think. The affluent, "advanced" and enlightened, hyper-educated West may be guilty of permissiveness, cultural decadence, and moral hedonism. It has been said that white men in America are considerably more likely to be deviants and perverts than the men of any other race. What if many white husbands are overdue for a touch of Singapore-style Law and Order (Michael Fay, style).



Corporal punishment works on children so why not on older delinquents?

According to a recent Voter/Consumer Research poll commissioned by the Family Research Council, more than four out of five Americans who were actually spanked by their parents as children say that it was an effective form of discipline. See whole article.

That is not to say there have no been problems. In a soul-baring letter, Bethany Fenimore indicts the Roy Lessin spanking system for children for its lack of flexibility, its overall harshness, its failure to integrate genuine Christian compassion. She notes another issue often neglected, "sexual stimulation can be cross-wired with the painful ritual of spankings."

This is surely what Freud meant in his famous paper, 'A Child Is Being Beaten.' Freud noted that some patients connected feelings of pleasure with expressed fantasies of being beaten and that these fantasies excited considerable shame and guilt. He also observed that being beaten on the bare bottom was a common element in these fantasies and that sometimes the fantasies reflected genuine childhood experience. Inevitably, a spanking on the bare buttocks carries with it penile stemulation, especially if the child is either across the knee or lying down on something. These fantasies illustrate the link between pain and erotic stemulation.

One solution to this issue would be to dispense with spankings altogether. That was the solution that Rousseau's aunt chose, once she became aware of the sexual excitation the boy (Jean Jacques Rousseau) was getting. Rousseau recounted his early childhood spankings from this attractive relative, and also the fact the as soon as she realized the sexual effect upon him, she ceased spanking him altogether, even clothed.




Some links for further exploration

Peter Moskos powerful study: In Defense of Flogging

A Case for the Corporal Punishment of Criminals: Just and painful

Bring back flogging by Leo Savage Bring Back Flogging (colonial style deterrence)

Paul's crime and justice page Corporal punishment considered in light of open discussion

Islamic Traditionalism - Their fundamentalism gets a bad rap but what about the positive



we the 'enlightened' ones

Is it hypocrisy on our part to pretend we have become so modern and enlightened and benign, that we no longer have to resort to the authoritarianism that past ages used? Is it hypocrisy to smugly rank ourselves more advanced than socalled heathen folk, now that we "know" so much more about sweetness and light? (Do we?) Ben Franklin wryly commented that we call the dark skinned folk savages, "because their manners differ from ours, which we think the perfection of civility." (Are they?)

Even the moderate James V. Bennett, in some ways almost a reformer in the correctional system, declares that a prison sentence "at its worst amounts to a refined torture much harsher than corporal punishment."

I would like to ask, is authoritarianism automatically evil in the first place? Is there not a legitimate role for power, and dominion, and authority? Within our Anglo American political tradition there has been a strong anti-authoritarian strand going back to the Puritan and separatist movements of the 17th century (the Puritan Century) against Stuart Monarchism in particular, and the liturgical, ecclesiastical church hierarchy (the Cavalier Anglican upper crust), but also a general revolt against medieval authoritarianism and Catholic religious law and order. Surely there was much good within that revolt, generally.

But how far is anti-authoritarianism justified in going. All the "rights of men" to come from that movement have limits to them. If individuals have rights and liberties, do we not have duties also? Do we not have social obligations before God and Country, and especially before our fellow human beings?

As infants we are born into families, and without their care and protection and provision, none of us could survive those early helpless days and years. In return, there are deferred duties and obligations incumbent upon each of us.

Those who care for us and protect us and parent us, they represent the first "government" we know. From ancientest times it has been known that we come into the world, and grow to adulthood, with obligations toward others. Those obligations begin in the family, the first society we know. Government, at the political level, is merely an extension of that first family. For all the puritan hatred of corrupt authority, there is a blind spot to such anti-authoritarian sentiment. It tends to overlook the injunction: let every soul be subject to the higher powers, the apostle Paul tells us. There is no power but of God, since the powers that be are ordained of God.

Paul explains that "rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil." A very important, necessary function. They keep the peace. (see Romans chapter 13, in the Christian Testament).

Alexander Hamilton wrote: "Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictated of reason and justice without constraint."

Even our great prophet of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, invoked the indispensable importance of the rule of law. Our "good" must be confirmed in brotherhood, our "liberty" must be confirmed in law. There are times when those in authority must hold up a mirror to the unruly, to evil-doers and law-breakers.

The Bible says, "With the merciful I will be merciful, but with the froward I will be froward." It was surely not a violation of Dr. King's doctrine of agape love for the President to send out troops to protect the children (trying to enter school) who had been targeted by the Klan for violence and terrorism.

It is surely not a violation of Dr. King's doctrine of non-violence to enact stern penalties against hate-crimes, or violence against women. Bullies are rightly brought to account by responsible authority, and those who are weaker, or meeker (women and minorities) are rightly protected.

Alexander Hamilton declared: "Government implies the power of making laws. It is essential to the idea of a law that it be attended with a sanction; or, in other words, a penalty or punishment for disobedience. If there be no penalty annexed to disobedience, the resolutions or commands which pretend to be laws will, in fact, amount to nothing more than advice or recommendation."

Authority, even dictatorial authority with totalitarian overtones, has a positive role simply in the function of maintaining law and order. The Christian Testament says that those in power wield not the sword in vain, but by punishing evil and rewarding good, they perform a worthy service. Indeed, the people generally benefit from the basic peace that flows from sufficiently strong authority.

Thomas Hobbes lived a part of his life during the English Civil War between the Cavaliers and the Puritans. The lawlessness that flourished within the anarchy of war was, to Hobbes, worse than the dictatorship of a divine-right king. He focussed on the wholesome role that FEAR plays in taming the evil in man. Government almost has a duty to assume a mask of bogeyman or monster to the lawless and unruly types. Hobbes called this monster role LEVIATHAN.



Some save by fear, the Christian Testament tells us (Jude 1:23). What if there are certain types of men (or women) so corrupt, or so evil, that nothing less than shock and awe can reach them. Our modern libertarian age, with all its focus on rights and freedoms, all our compassion for criminals and the underdog, is a reflection of noble evangelical (and enlightenment) sentiments. Robert Kennedy inspires us when he says, "Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world."

Who can argue with such a wish. There's is something of that thought in the Hebrew Bible, something of that thought all through the civilization of Christian Europe, and plenty of that thought in our modern Enlightenment-inspired age, with our trust in tolerance and sympathy for the disadvantaged.

But what about the extremes of evil? What about a case where the very survival of civilized society is being threatened? Do the law abiding folk not have rights to security and peace? No one desires the extreme measures that a surgeon must sometimes resort to, in order to save life. Yet when milder measures are ineffective, those extreme measures may be the only thing left.

History gives examples of powerful leaders who made radical choices, took extreme actions, even offending ordinary values, in order to accomplish a greater good. The heroes of flight 93 did not wait for court authorization to use violent force in defeating the aims of evil high-jackers. Yet all glory to them for their actions. President Lincoln blatantly defied the Constitution in suspending habeas corpus in order to avert the isolation and destruction of Washington DC, yet history approves his actions (as Congress at the time was obliged to do).

Occasionally, ordinary law must be superceded by a higher law. The Nuremberg Trials following the defeat of Hitler was based on no written law then existing. Where was there any law against the attempted genocide of an entire people. But some such accountability (as Nuremberg Trials) was eminently necessary under a higher ethos of humanity itself -- or God.

Our English forebears touched on something of the principle that Necessity (or survival) supercedes ordinary law when they said, "When Saint George speaks, Saint Ives is silent." Saint George was the patron saint of battle, of arms. Saint Ives was the patron saint of lawyers. When the very life of the nation is on the line, in war time, ordinary law and due process must stand out of the way.

So what's your verdict?

I can't speak for you. It's hard enough sorting through two opposing sides, both of which make powerful arguments. Like it or not, force is the way the world works. Call it realism, if you will. It is all through history. Only a few idealistic non-conformists like Tolstoy, the Quakers, the Jehovah Witnesses, the Moravians (Quietists) and Anabaptists were the Non-Violence missionaries. Yet even many of them sanction or condone fierce, spankings of children by parents, if done with responsibility and parental love. Without physical force to back up authority, what do you have? A paper tiger. A make-believe government.

Parenting is just government on a direct, intimate level (of family).

For who Jehovah loves he disciplines, in fact
he scourges every one whom he receives as a son.



Here are some thoughts from Chalmers Johnson:
(discussing revolutionary change)

Well before Thomas Hobbes, in fact, "the very roots of Western political philosophy lie in the reaction of some men against the argument that 'might makes right' and against man's primitive reliance upon force."

The fact is : "All social systems are burdened by some degree of violence"

Referring to Lewis Coser, Chalmers Johnson says that the whole point of government and law is that concern of social organization aiming at "minimizing and regulating the use of violence."

Like Hobbes, the use of legitimate or routinized force, to control (or punish) illegitimate or unregularized force.

The state of nature, for Hobbes, was so unbearable precisely because of its lack of order, its pervasive "might makes right" anarchy in every relationship. The entire point of joining together in a human family, a polis, an oikos-nomos (household law or rule) was that there was Authority, a pater-familias if you will, endued with power to enforce ORDER, which would presumably be more just, if imperfect, from the lawlessness of the state of nature. This Authority, this pater-familias, or "mortal God" was called by Hobbes Leviathan, from the monster in the biblical book of Job. He maintains order by fear and by force. He punishes the bullies and evildoers, avenges murder and theft and violence, and even if despotic, he keeps the peace.

What Ortega y Gasset says is the following: "Man has always had recourse to violence"

"There are times whern force is almost necessary, what Ortega y Gasset calls "none other than reason exasperated" because nothing else has worked. "Force was, in fact, the ultima ratio"

The final argument of kings, when reason, argument, persuasion, entreaty all had failed.

But the important distinction was that it was seen as a final resort, not a preferred option, An ultima ratio (last resort or argument) not a prima ratio (first argument) or even worse the unica ratio. (only argument)



Can Suffering Sometimes Be Redemptive?

Martin Luther King (Jr) assured Americans struggling under the yoke of historic oppression that God sees. "Have Faith" was the prophet's message. Unearned suffering is indeed redemtpive. Not only will your longsuffering pay off, you will be a better person for it. God's promises are true, said the great preacher. The arm of the Almighty is not too short to save even the humblest of his children.

But what about suffering that is well deserved? Perhaps Brother King said something about that, too. I do not know off hand. But I believe that sometimes we can be transformed or cleansed by chastening that we have brought on ourselves in some way. This is perhaps a spiritual grace, rather than a rational one. I am convinced there are times when (like the old alchemists' magic) the base elements and emotions can be transformed, somehow, into purest gold. The gold tried in the fire. See algolagnia for more on this joy-in-suffering ideal.

A still further thought is this.St Paul discussed one culprit who would not learn any other way, he was his own worst enemy, but Paul suggested there was hope, but it would take tough measures. (This is I Corinthians 5: 5). It might be necessary to "To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved." The cross references show the thought is not at all uncommon throughout the biblical centuries. One citation is Proverbs 23:14 (referring to youth or children here, "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."

Sort of a Biblical version of, "We can do this the easy way -- or we can do this the hard way." (It's all on you, buddy.)

Guilt - the guardian of our goodness
- Willard Gaylin

Job 3:25 the thing I feared came upon me .....
a Hebrews 10:27 kind of thing. You get that queasy feeling, that 'certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.'

Irwin Hyman, a school psychologist, has been an articlate advocate and activist on behalf of eliminating corporal punishment from schools in America. Dr. Hyman notes how many preachers and televangelists of the religious right tend to evoke the devil as a handy scapegoat for their 'spare the rod, spoil the child' support of corporal punishment. Ironically, some of these same fundamentalists and evaleglicals have been caught recently in assorted sexual imbroglios. With tongue in cheek, Dr. Hyman offers a modest proposal. Perhaps these outspoken supporters of children receiving the rod of correction should follow their own advice for misbehavior and submit to the punishment recommended in the Old Testament for adults. Deuteronomy 25:2.3 recommends forty stripes for the one 'worthy to be beaten.' [pp 32, 33]

Dr. Hyman's point, while humorous, makes a potent point, reminding us to pause a moment. How would we like it? In fact, the Bible is often used rather selectively by those who invoke it in support of their own, sometimes overly narrow, agenda. Do you realize the Bible actually (when it was written) enjoined the following guidlines for corporal punishment:
The culprit lays down, whipping applied to bare bottom. Deuteronomy 25: 2 (mentioned above - for adults)

and to be beaten on the bare flesh, till his back is plowed like a field Jeremiah 26: 18
break up your FALLOW ground Hosea 10: 12
and flay their SKIN from off them MICAH 3:3

DEUTERONOMY 7:16 thine eye shall have no PITY upon them: neither shalt
DEUTERONOMY 13:8 neither shall thine eye PITY him, neither shalt thou spare
DEUTERONOMY 19:13 Thine eye shall not PITY him,
DEUTERONOMY 19:21 thine eye shall not PITY; but life shall go
DEUTERONOMY 25:12 off her hand, thine eye shall not PITY her.
PROVERBS 13:24 son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him BETIMES.
PROVERBS 17:10 mentions one hundred strokes - 100 lashes; (what's the use?)
PROVERBS 19:18 and let not thy soul spare for his CRYING [wailing, howling].

the word scourge in Hebrews 12 refers to heavy, yet flexible, leather [ie, rules must have "teeth" -- in other words, the capability of "plowing" the crusty ground]

Proverbs 23:13-14 -- never to result in death, only in torn slash bruised flesh.
Luke 12: 47-48 -- the word beat is "dero" in Greek, to flay, scourge (lacerate)(many strokes for the one who knew better)

Related link with Biblical support - the message of the Hebrew Bible also includes the almost constant reminder that mercy transcends severity. Judgment indeed does come for the recalcitrant. Psalm 129 refers to Israel's affliction from his youth. (Vulgate 128) Yet God is faithful through it all. His "back" was plowed. Resulting in long furrows. But time and again God calls for compassion, for lovingkindness
and tender mercies



Surely there is an urgent role for literature and the arts, even the more popular entertainment industry in highlinghting such issues, delving into history, fantasy and fiction on these difficult themes. If nothing else, leaders of today and tomorrow need wisdom.


Some possible related links:

The Meanest Mother in the Whole World - sweet, light-hearted poem
Both sides of the spank debate
Punish attire over the years
In defense of flogging adult offenders (Moskos)
Teaching an 'old dog' new tricks
Sentencing reform - Moskos' ideas just might work
Effectiveness: Flogging of Michael Fay
Home improvement: starting with yours truly
You've got to look at the eros dimension, also
The ultimate purpose of discipline is teaching SELF-discipline

Bob Shepherd
friend me (facebook)
Site creator Bob Shepherd