November 18, 2009

Monsters at Large -- and a Few Young Heroes, Too

The mother said, "Go ahead and torture my ten-year-old daughter!" And the police officer did.

I offer the following words of caution to those who may be all too eager to congratulate themselves for their outrage in reaction to this incident. Yes, this is profoundly sickening and disgusting. To taser a person is to torture her. Tasers kill people. To use a taser on a very young child is monstrous. For detailed discussions of what tasers do and of the broader cultural significance and meaning of their increasingly common use, see, "The Normalization of Violence, Torture and Annihilation," "Obey or Die," and follow the links for much more.

But if you think it's "okay" to spank or smack children, even if only once in a while, you have accepted the same destructive ideas as the mother in this story. Children who are spanked or smacked will also be very damaged, certainly psychologically if not always physically. If you condemn what happened in this story but approve less extreme instances of the same principle, your position is inconsistent and self-contradictory. The mother in this story is a monster, but she's a consistent monster. Is that worse? Certainly it is here, but that's only the beginning of the inquiry, not anywhere near the end. In a different way, the same is also true if you think it's "okay" to ceaselessly manipulate and blackmail children psychologically and emotionally. Most parents act in that manner with tragic frequency, and they'll all tell you they only do it "for the child's own good."

I don't need to set out my supporting argument again in detail; I've been through it many, many times. See "Meaningful Connections," "A Post We Did Not Wish to Write," and the numerous articles linked in those pieces. Because I consider these issues to be of special importance, I will repeat here part of what I said in the second of those essays:
Most people, and certainly most people in the United States, will not condemn cruel behavior toward children by adults in anything approaching a consistent and meaningful manner.


This inconsistency becomes even more marked when we note how common physical cruelty toward children is. See "When the Demons Come," "The Search for Underlying Causes, and Why Spanking Is Always Wrong," and "From Mild Smacking to Outright Torture and War: The Lie of 'Well-Intentioned' Violence." I also direct you to my discussion of the heated and fundamentally hypocritical Mark Foley controversy, and of corporal punishment in public schools: "The Politics of Lies: Suffer the Children." I emphasize: corporal punishment in public schools -- which means you pay for the torture of children. On the identical point, see the ACLU report here (pdf).

As noted, individuals are correct to condemn Polanski's actions, and they should condemn them. However, until and unless they demonstrate that they understand the much more common forms of cruelty toward children -- and until and unless they condemn that cruelty as well -- their condemnations of Polanski (and of similar behavior by others), however impassioned and even sincere they might be, represent nothing more than an isolated instance of happening to stumble upon the truth. It is very easy to condemn a figure such as Polanski: such condemnation involves no risk of any kind (indeed, for many people, the failure to condemn is much more likely to open them to criticism from those tribes with which they identify and to which they belong), nor does such condemnation imperil their belief systems.

A heinous crime such as rape -- rape of anyone, adult or child -- is comparatively rare. How often do adults treat children cruelly in the much more common ways I mention above, and that I have analyzed in detail in the past (and which I will soon analyze in still further detail)? Why, every minute of every day, all around you. Do you react with horror when the angry parent smacks a child at the supermarket? You should. Do you intercede to protect the child? I would not suggest that you should in every instance; it might be very inadvisable, for a number of reasons. But you should want to. Most people don't. Many people approve the parent's behavior, and many other parents treat their own children the same way.

For these reasons (and many more), while I regard the condemnations of Polanski as correct in a broad sense, I view them as largely insignificant. I also regard them as worse than insignificant in one crucial way: we are eager to condemn the most extreme crimes, especially when that condemnation carries no personal risk of any kind, precisely because we do not wish to confront and condemn cruelty that is much more widespread. The eager condemnation of the extreme particular instance allows us to avoid a much more threatening and fundamental truth.

This is the same mechanism that I examined in my discussion of the behavior and meaning of those I call "the torture obsessives" ...
The earlier essay has still more.

The article linked at the beginning of this entry points out the stark contrast between this horrifying incident and another recent and very different kind of story. I suggest you read it. It should provide some welcome relief and bring a very large smile to your face; it certainly did to mine.

The entire, albeit brief, story is very unusual. But this sentence especially stood out for me: "The precocious Phillips, who skipped the fourth grade, has withstood anger from his teacher and taunting by his classmates in pursuit of his protest." The story offers no further details, but I am almost certain that the boy's parents are offering significant support for his protest. It also sounds as if the parents are fostering a genuinely independent spirit, a young boy who will stand by what he is convinced is right despite continual pressure from his classmates (which unfortunately is only to be expected) -- and also from his teacher. That sounds like one pretty rotten teacher, but sadly probably not one who is atypical.

Nonetheless Will Phillips has kept up his protest since October 5, and he still continues it today. He reminds me of the teenage students who peacefully protested the horrifying occupation of Iraq. I wrote the following about those students, and this also applies to this ten-year-old boy:
These students are hope. They are the future, if we are still fortunate enough to deserve one. These students have earned their right to a peaceful, joyous future. Most adults can no longer say the same.

Honor them. It's the very least we can do.
For you, Mr. Phillips.