Monday, July 02, 2007

Dawg Fight

I've been really belting the cats about the place the last couple of days in the hopes that it might inspire a suitable set of replies to Dr. Dawg, re. his criticisms of my criticisms of one of his recent posts. This is what I came up with. (With apologies to all for the absurd length of this thing.)

Dr. Dawg's first point:
My post was about the pro-spanking lobby in general, not the Citizen piece, which served simply to set the stage. It was entirely appropriate to cite other lobby groups, given my theme.
No, it wasn't, Dawg. Not unless you consider it appropriate that a production of Richard III be performed on a stage set for Julius Caesar on the grounds that both plays were tragedies ... But it doesn't bother me so much that you cite lobby groups that advocate the beating of children with neutral objects, as it does that you don't bother to distinguish them from the position of Ms. Mrozek and Mr. Quist, who do no such thing. (Indeed, they even go so far as to affirm the Supreme Court ruling of 2004 that condemns the use of neutral objects!) You did this, clearly, so that you could then paint both lobby groups--indeed the entire "Right"--with the same shit-slathered brush: they are sadists. All of them.

Brutally reasoned, demonstrably untrue, and deeply unfair, Dawg.

Dr. Dawg's second point:
I did indeed seek to make the case that the pro-spankers hail from the conservative side of the spectrum. It's not a hard one to make. I'll gladly stand corrected if anyone here can point me to a left-wing lobby to retain Section 43 of the Criminal Code.

Was my point as absurd as all that? With the crickets and everything?! Sorry, but it just seemed to me that if, say, it's possible for the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party to support something as apparently ultra-conservative as the war in Iraq, then it's just possible too that there are non-conservative Canadians who wish to retain Section 43. No doubt I'm wrong ... But this is indeed terrifying that apparently all of the "Left" (as per Dawg's "Right") are so willing to allow their partisanship to eclipse the need that all free societies have for a bit of well-reasoned debate and devil's advocacy, at precisely the moment when it is required, in the matter of the protections they are afforded by the law. (Which are just so hard to get back once they're gone, don't you know.)

Dr. Dawg's third point:
He takes issue with my claim that the authors cite studies to indicate that "spanking is good for you," but he doesn't provide the original context, only a statement that the authors state that spanking is "neutral."

But here's what he left out:

It is not accurate to say that spanking necessarily has negative repercussions. In fact there is some evidence from reputable studies that it is, as always, done appropriately -- gasp -- good.

The grammar of the last sentence is non-existent, but the sense is clear enough. The authors then go on to cite a study that concludes that "physical discipline reduc[es] drug use" and another, from New Zealand, that finds that spankees in later life "appeared to be particularly [emphasis mine] high-functioning and achieving members of society."
Yes, okay. But surely the "good spanking" business was employed here as a counterbalance to the bad spanking assumption that has brought section 43 to this pass. Mrozek and Quist don't deny the existence of child abuse. (Quite the opposite, I'm afraid.) Rather, they employ the "good" data here to mitigate (or, if you like, falsify) the conclusions drawn about the bad, bringing us back to "neutral". (Perhaps "indifferent" or "inconclusive" would've been better characterizations.) And yes, I know, it works both ways, i.e. that the bad mitigates the good ... But that's precisely the point. A parent's right to swat their child on the keister is, clearly, not the problem here. The problem is, rather, parents who abuse their children. And we do know, as you yourself point out, quite specifically what abuse is, as per the SCC's rulings of 2004.

S-207 seeks to treat a symptom as a cause. And that sort of thing never works out.

Dr. Dawg's fourth point:
I didn't deal with the claim by some lawyers from the Justice Department (not the op-ed authors, who argue instead that a spanking ban is unenforceable) that repeal will lead to a number of frivolous charges against parents, because I think, bluntly, that it's nonsense. Prove it with facts from jurisdictions that have outlawed spanking--say, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Germany, Italy, Cyprus, Croatia, Israel or Latvia. Otherwise, stop this silly alarmism. Our police are so stretched that they don't even investigate routine burglaries any more. The idea that they'd proceed against a parent firmly placing a toddler into a child's car seat strains credulity, to put it mildly.
I don't remember stressing this point myself--so I don't think I can be accused of alarmism on this front--but your apropos-of-nothing qualification here does make me wonder a bit.

It seems awfully cynical to say that people are overreacting when they express concern over being made criminals in the eyes of the law, even if they aren't actually being apprehended as such by law-enforcement. I don't think it's so much the case that people are concerned that they mightn't be able to get away with a crime, as that they aren't criminals in any sense in the first place.

Dr. Dawg's fifth point:
The examples of punishable child abuse I gave were carefully chosen: they increase in severity from using a belt to mistreatment of children leading in one instance to death. The Supreme Court of Canada, as noted in my post, took a softer view than Focus on the Family and that frightful pastor in the who believes in whipping babies. But the SCC decision does not necessarily define where the pro-spanking lobby would draw the line if they had their druthers, given the references I quoted and linked to. I'd like to know where they would in fact draw that line.
Sorry, dude. Carefully chosen they might have been, but the problem is a) they all happened in the States, b) none of them happened in the same state, and c) as news, they are (respectively) one week old, five years old, and one year old. They bear no relation to one another, nor do they to the topic at hand (i.e. the distinction between reasonable and unreasonable force under Canadian law). Your claim that they illustrate an "increase in severity" is, frankly, painful. The "increase" exists only on your web page because of the order in which you yourself put them, certainly not in reality.

As for the SCC "defin[ing] where the pro-spanking lobby would draw the line" ... Why would it do that? The point is where the SCC draws the line, isn't it? ... I think I must be misunderstanding something here.

Dawg's sixth point:
My critic imagines that I was confining my argument narrowly to Sn. 43 of the Criminal Code. Perhaps he should read my post again. I am far more interested in the pro-physical punishment folks and their politics in general, which have burst forth during the current Senate hearings. My reference to Singapore was followed by quotations from two Conservative MPs, who assuredly do support flogging.
It wasn't so much that I imagined that you were confining your argument to section 43, as that I thought it only proper that you should, given your point of entry into the debate (i.e. section 43), and that you swing back to it in your sweeping conclusion. The problem with your not confining your argument to section 43--with your blurrily transitioning to a discussion of the pro-floggers as though it directly followed from a discussion of section 43--is the implicit suggestion that if section 43 is upheld, then Canada will consequently become pro-flogging. Which is ridiculous. (For the reason that it isn't pro-flogging now, under the provisions of section 43.)

I've gotta say, your line of reasoning on this really confused me at first. He seems to understand how arguments work, I thought, and yet he's made this huge and glaringly obvious--and totally false--causal leap.

But then it dawned on me.

Indeed, Dawg, it was as if I had seen the whole process with my very own eyes:

There he was
, sitting there. Brooding over the possible retention of section 43 of the Criminal Code. He says aloud: "Don't these people see where this sort of thing will lead? This is insanity! Countenance the argument of a person who accepts even the least sort of violence, and where does it end?! Where?! ... Well, I'll tell you where, idiots! Flogging! That's where!" So he starts blasting away at his keyboard, connecting the dots for everyone to see: "If you do this, then this will happen, then this, then this!" ... But then it dawns on him! Indeed, it seems to him that the spectre of Richard Rorty himself is standing right there behind him, waggling his index finger and frowning fatly "... Wait a second! ... I can't put it this way! This is a ... No, it can't be! ... No but ... No, but it is! ... This is a ... a ... Slippery-Slope Argument! No! ... Well, I can't do that! That's a crazy conservative thing! ... Better just make it seem like section 43 is, of itself, an endorsement of flogging and take my chances that way."

Thing is, Dawg, I would've had so much more time for your argument if you'd just come clean and said that you were worried about where the upholding of section 43 might, eventually, lead. There's at least some reason to this. But, instead--so, as I say, that you might avoid the shame and embarrassment of stooping to the conservative level of debate--you decided to create a totally artificial sequence of cause and effect that flies in the face of two glaring facts: 1) that the momentum of the current social and political climate is working towards the repeal of section 43, not against it; and 2) the conservatives have introduced no bills (in spite of the comments made by two MPs more than ten years ago!) proposing a return to corporal punishment as a means to deter criminal behaviour.

By all means, talk about the pro-floggers and your concern about the risks that they might take-over the "pro-spanking" agenda. Just please don't cultivate this absurd falsehood that it already has, and that it is trying to introduce new legislation here when the issue is of preserving something that already exists.

Dr. Dawg's seventh, and mercifully last point (but, alas, I'm forced to break it up into two sections!):
The rebuttal ends with two questions allegedly put by the original op-ed authors, indicating his overly light reading of the op-ed itself:

How [will] the outlawing of spanking improve the protection of those children who currently suffer very serious abuse (that is, by people who disregard the law even as it stands now)?

The problem with this sort of question lies in its unspoken assumptions. Suffice it to say that, even if repealing Sn. 43 doesn't prevent serious child abuse, it will prevent or at least discourage milder forms of it (hitting a child). So, even if the answer to the question is "maybe not much," so what? In the longer term, of course, a society that does not tolerate the use of physical force against children will become more intolerant of child abuse of any kind.
It's funny that you should mention the problem of "unspoken assumptions" as I was just thinking the exact same thing about yours ... About your assumptions, I mean, and how unspoken they are and everything.

Now, you don't bother to say what you think the unspoken assumptions of my question are--it is, apparently, enough for you to make your case simply by suggesting the dark prospect of a veiled agenda. But all this labouring in obscurity avails the debate little. Let me see if I can tell you what I think your "unspoken assumptions" are and hopefully this will give you a clearer sense of mine.

You say, "even if repealing Sn. 43 doesn't prevent serious child abuse, it will prevent or at least discourage milder forms of it (hitting a child)." This, I believe, is what's called begging the question. That is, in order for you to present this as an answer to the question, you are taking it as read that "hitting a child" is ALWAYS unreasonable--is always "abuse". Which is precisely the matter under contention, right? And while it's an argument that I'm totally willing to listen to, you haven't bothered with it.

Still. That being said, if it is the case that hitting a child is always abusing a child, then I am definitely inclined to agree with you about the "longer term" consequences you mention of the repeal of section 43 ... Being a fellow slippery-slopist, though, you'll forgive me if I worry that the "intolerance" you mention might carry a cost far higher than you suggest. You say that "a society that does not tolerate the use of physical force against children will become more intolerant of child abuse of any kind," but what of the things an enterprising lawyer might construe as child abuse given Jim Munson's assertion that "there's no such thing as reasonable force"? Shouting? Sending a child to his room? The confiscation of his toys? Surely--I say in all seriousness--these can be vehicles of abuse? Indeed, given that it is often argued that psychological violence is a great deal worse in its long term effects than physical violence, can we really afford to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable harassment or forceful confinement of children?

You're rolling your eyes at this point, and saying something along the lines of "He-llo?! Ever heard of the common law?"

Yes, yes. Of course. The idea being that it "will continue to prevent individuals from being charged or convicted for trivial slaps and spanks" (my emphasis); that, in particular, it makes provision for parents who find themselves in the awkward position of the car seat example you give in your fourth point ... The thing is, Dawg, by repealing section 43 on the grounds that "there's no such thing as reasonable force," you have created a glaring contradiction between the Criminal Code and the common law. This because the common law clearly DOES accept that there's such thing as reasonable force. So ... which is it? Either there is a distinction between reasonable and unreasonable force--and the reasons for the repeal of section 43 have to be radically reformulated--or there isn't, and the common law will, presumably, come to reflect this too.

The second part of Dr. Dawg's seventh, and last, point (he begins by quoting me in italics):
How it [i.e. the repeal of section 43--ed. EMG] will protect all children from possibly falling victim, in their adolescence, to the sorts of epidemics of violent behaviour Mrozek and Quist outline in their, as yet unchallenged, Ottawa Citizen op-ed piece?

The authors "outline" no such thing. Rather, they make two oddly contradictory statements: first, that spanking, although illegal, is on the rise in Sweden, and that the state cannot control it; and secondly, that youth violence has risen after the spanking ban, the suggestion being made that the latter caused the former--even though the authors have just finished claiming that spanking, too, is on the rise!
Well, fair enough. I'll confess that my reading of this probably gave the authors' more than their fair share of the benefit of the doubt. Shall I explain to you how I understood it? And I'll leave it to you to dispose of my interpretation as you see fit.

I don't think Mrozek and Quist were suggesting that the two types of negative consequence they mention bear a causal relationship. The idea rather seems to be that on the one hand you have a bunch of kids who have been too severely punished because their parents were deprived of a formal framework distinguishing effective physical punishment from child abuse; and on the other hand, you have a bunch of kids who were raised in an atmosphere so barren of consequences that they are running amok ... Not sufficiently examined, I agree, but not something to be dismissed out of hand either.

In any case, the thrust of the example (given the context) seems straightforward enough: if the objective of outlawing spanking is to achieve a net reduction in harm, then there is much to suggest that this strategy, at best, will achieve nothing--at worst, it could create a whole new set of problems. This is an entirely reasonable conclusion, Dawg, and one that is supported by legitimate studies. I hasten to add too, that it takes into account the inevitability of very real and very regrettable child abuse--and at no point does it advocate spanking as a solution to the problems of disciplining children. The line is very clearly that while the merits of spanking are debatable, it remains to be the least of many other evils; that the cost of the repeal of section 43 outweighs the benefits.

Now, as I say--and if I can somehow wrap this too-long mishmash up--I would have had all sorts of time for your argument if you had taken issue with that particular synthesis. But you didn't. You completely ignored it and went about this really underhanded business of trying to say that all conservatives are sadists based on quotes taken from three sources (Focus on the Family and two Reform MPs (now Conservatives)), which stand in clear contradiction to the position of Ms. Mrozek and Mr. Quist ... Which, even then I guess, wouldn't have been so bad--except that you state by way of conclusion that this incredibly limited selection of conservative opinion represents the conservative "take on this issue"! Which issue was that again, Dawg? The one that neither Focus on the Family nor your pro-flogging MPs were talking about?

... Sorry, dude. But this just doesn't qualify as an argument.