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The Corporal Punishment Debate

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

Liberty Magazine Cover, March 28, 1931 by Leslie Thrasher. An appropriately named artist.

Recently the corporal punishment debate was reignited, with many e-personalities jumping in and ordinary people contributing their own thoughts. As far as I know, it began with a Twitter exchange between Matt Walsh and Mike Cernovich.

Attitudes expressed in this debate range between Christians who believe the “rod of discipline” alluded to in Scripture refers to corporal punishment and people like Stefan Molyneaux who were beaten to a pulp by an insane parent during their childhood and cannot imagine any scenario where corporal punishment is justified as a method of disciplining a child.

The pro-corporal punishment crowd point to how a slap is probably the most effective method to prevent a child from running out into traffic, or how a parent might justifiably slap a child who keeps roughhousing near a stove with a pot of boiling water on it, pointing out that the pain of a slap is much less than the pain and injury that might be caused by boiling water falling on the child’s head. A parent is not always going to be there to close the door to the kitchen or tell the child to be careful when danger is present. The child must learn to look out for themselves, and a smack is a lesson you don’t forget.

The anti-corporal punishment people like Stefan Molyneaux cleverly psychoanalyze their opponents and try to paint them as psychopathic or suffering from something like Stockholm syndrome (which is not hard to do when some of the pro-corporal punishment crowd say things like they almost wish their parents had spanked them more during their childhood---an attitude I personally have expressed). One of the clever arguments made by Stefan Molyneaux is that spanking teaches a child to respect big-brother fascist regimes: Don’t do what you’re told, and someone who is bigger and stronger who ostensibly ‘loves’ you will beat you up.

My own personal thoughts on the matter are the following:

As an adult, bad behaviour can result in physical pain. Talk disrespectfully to a woman---get a punch in the face from her boyfriend. Drink and drive---die horribly or become a quadriplegic. Rob someone---get shot. Punch someone---get punched back. It’s not just outright bad behaviour that can result in pain either. As an adult, simply not being careful can result in physical pain. For example, don’t follow the rules of the road---get into a car accident. Smoke next to a gasoline pump---light yourself on fire. So if as an adult, bad or careless behaviour can result in physical pain, why should a child be shielded from this reality? To my mind, when parents use corporal punishment, they are merely training a child how the real world works.

Most of the time, a parent's job is to shield a child from their own stupidity and carelessness. This is why parents put plastic safety plugs in power outlets and padding on sharp corners. But a child who does not learn that bad behaviour often results in physical discomfort will not be prepared for what he will face as an adult.

Ideally, I suppose, in most situations the parent should strive to deal out corporal punishment in as dispassionate a manner as possible, but then again there are situations where some strong emotions are probably justified on the part of the parent, such as if a child has decided it’s a good idea to run around punching little girls in the face or punching men in the groin, or if an an otherwise well-behaved child suddenly decides to push people off step ladders as a "joke", not realizing how dangerous it is. These are all things I have witnessed in real life.

Regarding Molyneaux's 'fascism' analogy, I can fully understand how he could make the argument, considering his mother insanely flew into a rage over even imagined imperfections, but in my case I was never punished for imaginary nonsense or differences of opinion like one would expect from an insane parent or a fascist government, but only for things like actual disobedience; and the fact that I received physical discipline as a child does not prevent me as an adult from standing in opposition to authorities (either secular or ecclesiastical) with whom I disagree, because as a child I saw my parents do the same thing despite the pain it sometimes caused them.

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