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Friday, March 9, 2018

Just spank'em!

That gad-durned, newfangled, modern thinkin'!

An interesting topic has been popping up with Dan about whether the absence of corporal discipline in modern society is a reason for why we have things like mass shootings in schools. I  don’t see how any one factor can be blamed for something so complex, but I would agree that it may be one of several factors….or at least symptoms.  However, I do think there IS a more complete answer, except that to do it full justice, I’d probably have to write a book instead of a blog post, but I will do my best.

As an atheist I know there is nothing beyond what we are, there is no cosmic driving force directing our actions.  But that has never stopped us from becoming what we aspire to be. Aspiration and work towards a goal, coupled with a bit of luck, has proven sufficient to remake a society into whatever it chooses to be. If a person wants meaning in their lives, they choose what it is and the result is meaningful. How powerful is that? The problem is it works in reverse too.

The Greatest Generation being great

When I was a kid there was a holdover mentality in effect from the Greatest Generation still being the mentors and authority figures in society…...but these ‘elder statesmen’ were already being challenged. The sense of honor, personal responsibility, and inner strength of character that these elders relied upon during some of the most challenging times worked in their time, but now it was the 1960’s and a new generation was pointing to the glaring holes in that golden veneer. And they weren’t wrong either. Vietnam was not WWII, racial inequalities were glaring, and the patriotism that had meant laying down your life for one’s country, loved ones, and honor, now was being eyed suspiciously as a flag-waving excuse to support a potentially corrupt government. Science was on the rise and religion on the ebb. Protests were everywhere. People became empowered. It was the beginning of a different kind of individualism. Not the “rugged” kind…..but the one where you either looked out for yourself or risked being a sucker.

A not-so-noble truth of that same generation.

Then came Nixon. Now even the stalwarts had to recognize that things weren’t as innocent and rosy as had been believed by the preceding generations. The last veil was stripped away, and nothing was the same after that. Suspicion replaced faith. And while that sort of philosophy can be depressing, how could anyone go back? It was like Adam & Eve eating the apple…….yes, they lost their grace and innocence…...but they did gain knowledge. The hallmarks of American idealism as evidenced by a glance at any Norman Rockwell collection became corny nostalgia. And that is where we are now decades later.

At the time of his death, Norman Rockwell, our nation's beloved illustrator, was a sad, disillusioned man, who felt all of his life's work was a lie.

There have been attempts to swing back to those glory days of God and country and family…..but every time the proponents of these values were exposed as frauds and hypocrites. There were plenty of lecherous TV evangelists, corrupt politicians, and people saying one thing but doing another much more self-serving thing in secret. And then people started doing something that while understandable, led to where we are today: they sort of gave up. 

The Bakkers before the fall.

There are quite a few things that people gave up on, but I think the worst two are ‘thinking’ and ‘taking responsibility’. For a society blessed with the opportunity to learn more than any one that came before, we are just getting dumber instead. There is so much information and so much that contradicts itself, that again people seem to have just given up and instead of trying to learn and evaluate, they are just indulging themselves with distractions. And in our current age of ‘tribalism’ no one needs to work harder than listen to whatever proselytizing “talking head” is their side’s current shaman. Gone are the days when established didacts were challenged by new ways of thinking. Now anyone with a few minutes of airtime or a cell phone can be regarded as equally valid as anyone else. So any philosophy, no matter how wrong or dangerous, can be instantly validated with a Google search.

The right half of a phony coin. (And yes, it has a left half too.)

When an individual mentally crashes after one tragedy and then another, we look at them in sympathy and understanding. We get that there’s only so much a person can take. But what if that happens to a society? It’s dangerous enough for a distressed individual to think: what difference does it make? But how much worse is it if that is a general consensus? What sort of message are our kids getting from a society that feels and acts this way?

The other issue is a holdover from the ‘victim culture’ that came into vogue in the 90’s. Nothing is anyone’s fault. We are all victims. So even if we do bad things, or see someone else do bad things, no one even needs to be sorry……..“Be sorry for ME! I’m the real victim!”  How can we point to a kid growing up without consequences as a problem when all around us is an entire world of people, many more wealthy and powerful than us…..who suffer no consequences either?  

A troubled kid can always find solace in the church, right?

So take a kid, especially a troubled one, with parents who have sort of given up on everything except consumerism and where is the guidance that could either help him through his crisis…..or at the very least ….identify the crisis before it turns to tragedy? And if a kid is disturbed and angry and feels like going into a school with the intent to kill a lot of people is a good idea….how empowering is it for him to think about the possible consequences and conclude: what difference does it make? And besides, I’m the real victim here?

Would spanking him at an early age have helped? Probably not, but if spanking was just one part of an overall parenting system centered on hard work, goals, responsibility, learning, thinking, discipline, and consequences, then maybe yes. But you could still instill all of that without the spanking and still probably achieve the same result. But for that you first need parents who are not part of the overall problem.

There is definitely a prevailing sense that something is different and that something is wrong. Well, if we are to be honest, every society in each generation has been different and each one of them had their share of things that were wrong. This is our set. Is there a way back? No. Like Adam & Eve, there is no going back. You can only move forward, but that is not a bad thing.......unless where you're headed is even worse than where you are.

OK, so the fall seemed bad at the time.....and a lot of nasty shit happened.....but look where this (symbolic) decision led. Nothing we have would have ever been possible if we never evolved past being a clever primate.

But I'd like to think the kids we raised that are now just coming into their own might redefine society once again. Perhaps there will be a new "Age of Reason"?  After all, a society need not be naive to have noble standards. And perhaps besides my own kids and step-kids, who I think are doing pretty well, their kids (my grandkids), raised by the standards instilled in them, might turn this all around......with or without spanking.


  1. My comment is much briefer than your post deserves but (1) work calls; and (2) I honestly just don't have much of an explanation for mass shootings. It's hard for me to attribute it to some change in the amount of quality of thinking. Stupid and ignorant people have existed from the dawn of time. In fact, we have more highly educated people than at any time in history. Similarly, I don't know that this era really is all that different in terms of graft and corruption, etc. As bad as Nixon was, we have had other administrations that were at least as corrupt, if not more so. But, I do think that the media age now means we are more bombarded with the bad stuff, which leaves people with a very unbalanced. A few weeks ago, I posted this article on my blog: The title is not really accurate, because much of the article is not about good things that happened in 2017, but about how much better certain things were in 2017 than at any point in history. It is hard to read that article and square it with the sense so many of us have that everything is going to hell in a handbasket.

    But, I think that in addition to having skewed views about how hard our lives are and what sorry shape society is in, part of the problem lies in the fact that we do not, in fact, have it very hard. The Greatest Generation earned that title honestly. They faced a very hard threat and rose to the occasion. Same with people who lived through the Depression. Hard times make for tough, resilient people. I am afraid that the opposite also is true. We have a generation that has been raised with the idea that life should be "safe." They insist they must be sheltered not only from real physical danger or economic deprivation, but even from having to hear an idea they don't agree with. They have elevated not being offended to a sacred right. This whole concept of "micro aggressions" that is so popular on college campuses shows what a low bar we have set on things that are viewed as threatening or offensive. A previous generation literally fought and died for civil rights. This generation gets terribly offended if someone missed the memo that LGBT should now be LGBTQ. It's all faux offense taken at the common little frictions that occur from people rubbing against each other in society.

    So, I absolutely agree with you that the culture of victimhood plays some role in this. We have given up on the idea that people should be strong and resilient, and the result is that every offense justifies inflicting your pain on other people.

    1. Good points and I appreciate your need to get some work done instead of solving the world's problem through blogging. ;-)

      I do want to clarify my point about 'thinking'. (As I said I would need a lot more time and space to really go into all the things I wanted to.) I'm not saying that collectively we have less knowledge now. That would be absurd. And I also think people have always liked to entrust the 'big questions' to powers or institutions "above them". But there is a certain newfound disdain for intellectualism that is disturbing and a stubborn reluctance to think for oneself when it is far simpler to parrot one's favorite 'talking head'. Maybe we always had that problem? It explains the older generations' faith in their church and their leaders. But there was a point in the 60's where that level of blind trust in something or someone else was being questioned and that level of questioning has been replaced with a kind of 'what difference does it make?' shrug.

      Nixon was by no means the first unsavory politician....but he was the first to publicly disgrace the presidency in a way that left a lasting cynicism.

      And things are much better now than in the past. It is why when people ask me, because of my love for history, if I wished I could live "back then"...I always answer "HELL NO!" And every generation sees the current one as a testament to the decline of what once was: "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households."----Socrates

      As for the Greatest Generation? Yes, they did make it through some tough times, but they also had their share of issues. I do feel the credit they get is due to a sense of wonder at their ability to do the things they did and believe the things they did. But they did some pretty shitty stuff too.

      Completely agree about the sense of entitlement and offense being taken at every turn.

      I guess I missed my mark with my post because I was trying to say that I think the current problem is that disappointment with ideals from the past has resulted in a lack of ideals in general and rather than instill certain desired characteristics in our kids, based perhaps not on naivete, but solid, practical humanism, a defeatist attitude has resulted in just a mad rush for irresponsible distraction. As a result, the kinds of standards that can keep an angry person from killing a bunch of people are negated and the same people who gave no worthy example to their offspring wring their hands over what that has led to.

      By all means write more when you have the time!

    2. This is turning into a "fuck off Friday" for me where work is concerned. :-)

      I totally believe that the general escalation in violence is somehow connected to falling standards of behavior and self-absorption/victim mentality. I am not as sure about it coming from a sense of defeatism among parents. In fact, I think the opposite may be more likely. It is the phenomenon of "helicopter parenting" and over-protective parenting that leads both to over-indulgence and lack of standards and accountability, and to a softening and weakening that leads to lashing out when things don't go their way.

    3. That is an equally valid perspective. However, as long as the Dickey Amendment keeps being renewed, I suppose we'll never know for sure.

      Parenting is an interesting thing. I can say that what you described has happened in my biological family to a degree, but not with both kids (both raised in the over-protective '90s. And the offspring most akin to being more easily offended is probably the one least likely to EVER act out against others. Meanwhile, the other, who complains about the very things you mentioned, is much more prone to lashing out. Not that I worry that either would do anything crazy.....they were raised better than that! ;-)

      Interesting dueling theories. Which leads to violence: "Everything matters to the most minute degree" vs. "Nothing matters at all"? Wow. A lot to think about.

    4. "Parenting is an interesting thing." There's an understatement!

      It's also humbling. You and I just spent a lot of time debating how kids become who they are, but what surprised me the most was how much is just hard-wired temperament. My kids are incredibly different in personality, yet they are close in age, were both raised in the same house, went to all the same schools . . . Yet, they are almost nothing alike! Though, they are not particularly easily offended, probably because I've gone so far out of my way to make sure they exposed to be me regularly saying offensive things. :-)

      Now, my wife is a true helicopter parent, but I think the kids' respective reactions to it vary a lot based on their temperament.

    5. Very true, and I think that shows the advantage of double parenting over single parenting. Not that single parenting is something that is always avoidable. But to intentionally CHOOSE it as a preferred parenting style seems selfish and irresponsible.

  2. Hi KD,
    A very brief reply to a very long and thoughtful post....YES!!!!!

  3. My kids were spanked and I'd like to think some good came out of it.

    1. Spank/no spank.....the method of punishment is not nearly as important as the framework of rules and expectations. Don't you think?

    2. I think sometimes having something to dread (punishment) makes it better.

    3. True. It's a good deterrent.