Saturday, April 23, 2005

Immoral Justifications for Parental Bullying

In recognising that the bullying culture in schools extends beyond that which children do to one another into the reaches of the fabric of the institution, eg: the assumptions that attendance is compulsory and the way that the adults there generally treat the children, we must, as a consequence of this recognition, make a case if we wish to continue to bully as a parent. Put simply, how can we say that bullying within schools is wrong, but bullying within the home is right?

Well, there are a variety of approaches to dealing with this conundrum. One of the most obvious strategems was demonstrated in the Home Education Wife Swap Programme in which an HE family of strongly Christian inclination saw nothing second rate about beating their children with a leather strap. For them the notion of original sin is very real and a very necessary justification for their behaviour.

Certainly the authors of the Bible were eager to perpetuate this notion "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him...The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame...Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest: yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul." Inherent in this call to punishment is the idea that at some stage, such punishment will no longer be called for; that a nirvana of moral perfection will be reached and the leather strap put away.

Another strategy involves accepting as a premise that children are born not so much evil, as ignorant. This is another tempting explanation for the observed rebelliousness of children and of adults not educated harshly enough. One of the assumptions here runs something like: moral ignorance contributes causally to conflicts, and in order to prevent this, a knowledgeable person will be justified in hurting the ignorant person. It becomes the responsibility of the parent to ensure, come what may, that the necessary minimum of moral knowledge is imparted.

However, that moral ignorance contributes materially to conflicts and makes it likely that a knowledgeable person will be justified in hurting the ignorant person is not a self-evident fact. It is an idea that must date back to prehistory and is part of the mythology of all static cultures -- for instance, in the doctrine of original sin. It provides a plausible explanation for the observed rebelliousness of children and of adults not educated harshly enough, and of the repulsive behaviour of people in other cultures, and it provides a plausible justification for (virtually all) traditional patterns of suppressing all that.

If children are deficient people awaiting receipt of that golden minimum measure of moral knowledge that would make it unlikely to be necessary to hurt them, it follows that adults -- or to be exact, only certain special adults who have that knowledge -- are whole people in this regard. Obviously there are many wicked adults around too. Why? Because either they were inculcated as children with deficient or immoral knowledge by parents who were themselves deficient or immoral, or else because their parents, despite being among the Elect who have the right knowledge, failed to inculcate it for fear of hurting them. The appalling irony and tragedy of such an outcome for all concerned is presented in each generation of our own society as a new discovery. Yet it must be as old as the human race and is a truism -- the central truism -- of every static culture.

On the other hand, someone who takes the same view of the effects of moral ignorance but without believing in the attainability of a final truth, is forced to be even more pessimistic than Proverbs. In this view, the boot, as Orwell put it, is going to be stamping on a human face for ever -- and it will be right to do so.

But the truth is that ignorance, including moral ignorance, has no necessary tendency to cause conflict. (Of the kind that hurts, that is.) If it did, we should all be in deep trouble because, as Popper pointed out "our knowledge can be only finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite".

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