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Causality and Corporal Punishment, 2001/07/15:18:38

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Begin topic Causality.

This entry is inspired by a letter received from a friend, which responded to some of my ruminations on libertarian society, rights, pornography, and the corporal punishment of children. Here's the edited text of the letter:
Thanks for the story. As for your being six and not connecting the damaging of the mattress with yourself, or the beating with the crime, I'm having a hard time believing that. I'll have to search my memory for anything even remotely resembling this, but it seems more likely to me that my mother worked hard at teaching me to dissociate causes from effects, that yours did too, and that most parents I've run into or heard about do this, by being either insane or overly protective.

I don't think children are born seeing causal connections, but I know for a fact that most adults, parents or otherwise, are very hard at work trying to hide them from kids. Their motives are hidden, their emotions are hidden, they try to get kids to hide their own emotions, they reward children for hiding their own motivations and punish them when they own up to their own actions, they nag them incessantly for tiny things that don't merit any possible human attention whatsover, and they ignore things that are objectively noteworthy and are a huge deal to the kids (like nagging about the proper way to Australian crawl, and ignoring the first time they can hold their breath for more than five seconds under water, the kind of event I'm witness to quite a lot in my eerie over the pool). And, like lying to kids, kidding them too much, fooling them too much, embarrassing them by talking about their misdeeds and foibles to people who have no real cause to know, even their more apparently benign behavior seems to result in the idea that causality is not operative. Spanking them after a brief time interval is the least of the assaults on a child's understanding of causality. It's assaulting them at all that is the crime here, because the kid is simultaneously being told that it's ok to use force to get what you want, that one's desires don't necessarily have to make sense to the person who is being forced, that the victim's reasoning about the situation is invalid, that they aren't allowed to use force or any other method they can come up with to get what they want, and that crying out in pain and pleading for mercy from the person who is supposed to be your protector will be ignored. Fortunately, the beating of the child may happen more rarely than any single one of the other things people do to disrupt their ability to make causal connections; but as Ken Livingston said in his lecture on raising good kids, hitting their bodies really gets their attention and sets them up to absorb information. And I've just listed some of the information they'll be absorbing. And then in a scenario so often seen in sado-masochistic pornography, parents have the insane nerve to tell children that they assaulted them because they love them. What a mind job.

I think the reason my mother failed to completely destroy my ability to see causal connections, was that she provided her own contrast object: sometimes she was without a doubt the most rational voice on the planet; other times she was just out in outer space. The two kinds of behavior were clearly differentiatable on a variety of dimensions, including but not limited to the kind of information she was delivering. So when she was being nuts I just ignored her, waiting for the storm to pass, discounting anything that didn't match up with what I knew. It also helped a lot that there were two older siblings, almost adults in comparison to me, who saw no benefit whatever in siding with my mother to present a united front against me--a claim that most sets of adults with power over children can't honestly make.
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