During the weekend, while doing my normal weekly cleaning (usually a running affair lasting 4 hours and starting at around 9 am, involving dusting, vacuuming and making wet-areas (kitchen and bathrooms) sanitary, yes a little easier now that I’ve been keeping things more … organized) I listened to Tunnel in the Sky.
I learned my Heinlein upside down as most juveniles either weren’t published in Portuguese by the time I got married, or didn’t fall into my hands. So I’d read Podkayne and Space suit but none of the others. Think of it, though, I had a treasure trove of Heinleins to explore in my twenties.
Anyway, Tunnel in the Sky, for those who haven’t read it (look to the people on either side of you. If they haven’t read it, throw them out. [Yes, I’m joking, it’s from The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, also Heinlein.]) is a book about space gates. At some point, when I have time I must analyze it, because I’d always assumed the gate and its apparatus was on Earth, but I realized yesterday the gates were on the moon and Earth and the other planets are merely terminus points. I’m fairly sure people reading it when it was published were mostly jarred — in the opening — by all the “world gates” and the fact that it made Arizona a suburb of NYC.
This is also, of course, because Heinlein was positing a massively overpopulated world. It was what “everybody knows” in his day and age, and if he had posited OUR world he’d probably have been laughed out of the field.
But for me as I was listening to it, and more so for younger people who grew up here, I think, the most shocking thing as I was reading it was when the main character is watching the space gates, that a little girl from a wagon-train ready to go out to colonize, strays. When she’s tracked down by a red cross employee, and brought back to her family (who would otherwise probably leave without her, because they had invested their entire savings on equipment and fees, and the gate would only be open minutes. Also, given the premises of this book, they probably had other kids and would have more.) her mom takes her up, ups her skirt and paddles her.
I’m sure for many people today that’s the moment they stop reading.
For decades now, we’ve been bombarded with “never hurt a child, never ever ever” and “spanking them only teaches them to be violent.”
Actually so far as we’re seeing, not spanking just teaches them to be savages… but that’s neither here nor there.
This theory of “present supremacy” in which our ancestors, in the long, long history of the race (note to inevitable idiot: the HUMAN race) are all inferior to us, in sensibility and yeah, sense to and intelligence and every other quality that makes us human, is not only unproven, it’s preposterous. Judging by achievements, alone, we’re the spoiled and lazy scions of a rich family, living off our ancestors accumulated wealth. It’s not only ridiculous for us to assume superiority over our ancestors, it’s unseemly and it should stop.
And yes I know it’s the fruits of “popular Darwinism” (Note not the original theory which posited “higher” forms as being more adapted to life not, somehow, morally superior) and Marxism (according to whose believers the future comes with an arrow pointing in the direction they want to go, which is why the people who long for the conditions and political structure of the 1930s call themselves progressives. Go figure.)
But in no other application is it as stupid as in child discipline.
Let me point out here that I’m not and have never been a proponent of the “beat them to the ground” philosophy. “Minimum force necessary” is the imperative here. RES for instance says he could discipline daughter with boring lectures. We couldn’t do that. From he time older son could argue with us, that lecture would have become untenable. Or he’d take from it the stupidest thing possible, and apply that. His brother, OTOH, would listen to us with an angelic smile, and completely ignore it.
Even with our two children, the discipline was completely different. #1 son was bullheaded from birth (I swear) and even as an infant the “distract him with another object” never worked. You had to physically remove him from the area (kicking and screaming) or lightly swat his hands (to stop him from eating dead flies on the windowsill of the house we were renting. The windows were large enough and faced south and there were always dead flies on the sill. He liked them. He insisted they were raisins. Ew.)
As he got older, sometimes you needed to swat his butt JUST to get his attention. (This is the same kid who forced us to do diaper changes en-passant. As in, as he ran babbling past us, we’d smell something, grab him, take him to changing table, change him, return him to the floor, and he’d return to running around the coffee table as though we hadn’t stopped him. I THINK if I understood his game at the time, he was playing at being an ambulance. You see, we lived on a main street and #1 son’s first heroes were cars and trucks.)
#2 son had a completely different temperament. He smiled a lot, and sat a lot building fantastic things (I still have a duck mecha made of legos, with special oggles and weapons built in to both hands, which is amazing since he was using house/and/car lego sets.) Sometimes he built whole cities, then played long involved stories with his lego people (Before that with the waffle blocks and egg people from little tykes) long before he could speak.
To discipline him the way we disciplined his brother (swat to the behind, or very light hand swats) would be totally uneeded and also cruel. And you could distract him with an object. I.e. “Get away from the heater, honey, here’s your Winnie the Pooh doll.” And he WOULD stop and come to you. I often say that if I’d had #2 son first, #1 son would have been a horrible surprise.
The only time force was needed with #2 son was to prevent him killing his brother who outweighed him by double at any given time before 10, or to drag him away from machinery. (He once set the room-wide automatic rack in a garment store in Portugal spinning. He closed the doors at the grocery store when we’d turned our backs for ten seconds. If it had a button or gears, he was on it.) So he got maybe five swats in his entire childhood all when it was a life-threatening “I want to impress that upon you” moment.
If we’d raised #1 the same way, he’d have — by now — set fire to some major city or worse.
Mind you, not only are they both decent human beings, but both of them, from the age of five or so on needed no real punishment. (Oh, okay, sometimes we took younger son’s computer cord away for a day or two, but that wasn’t even really punishment, as the fact he’d become obsessed with certain games and do nothing else, and sometimes needed a re-direct to know there was still a real world and things he must do in it.) Also, complete strangers would call us to tell us how wonderful our sons’ and their manners were, from elementary school on.
Now, up to about age five there were the occasional swats, and I won’t deny that was partly because we were doing the raising solo (sometimes just me, for long periods, because Dan was a programmer which meant month-long jags of 18 hour days weren’t unusual in the nineties) and there was absolutely no way to pass them off to a grandmother for a few hours. I suspect if we had we’d have spanked less, as I’d have had help and not needed to make them “trained and low maintenance” by the time they outweighed me (for Robert that was around 10. I was smaller then, too. Hypothyroidism hadn’t set in.) There was this idea I had to train them so I could trust them out of sight, no matter what the public opinion of swats-on-the-behind was.
Mind you, being still me and Weird Libertarian MomTM, from the time they could reason and bargain, we went to paid incentives. This horrified my SIL who is a teacher, and who said the kids should have to do some things just because they were part of the family, and they should get an allowance just to teach them to “handle money.”
But two things I can’t abide: money for nothing, and being forced to have onerous (several hours a week is that, for a kid) obligations you didn’t sign up for. No, I’m not preaching you have to do this. This was me and my personal moral scruples. So, from the time older son was 5, I’d tell him what he could do and the price. (Dusting a floor of the house was $5 I think. He didn’t do it very well, mind you, and sometimes I had to re-do, but there was a minimum satisfaction before I paid, after inspection.) By the time younger was 8 and older 12, I had a big blackboard in the kitchen. These were years I was writing 5 to 6 books a year (many of them work for hire or ghost writing and incredibly badly paid, but you know, kids needed shoes. At the rate of three pairs a year at that time.) I simply had no time for housekeeping. Cooking took long enough (though sometimes older son did that.) So on the board went everything, from bathroom cleaning, to collecting, shelving and alphabetizing the scattered books. Which is how they both ended up with substantial-ish bank accounts by their early teens.
BUT you can’t coerce cooperation from a tiny, non-verbal child, and you can’t entice it with some children. And the world is full of danger for children, even in our society (Oldest-son-by-adoption, (fandom adoption, mind, as an adult) calls the years before 3 “the happy suicidal years” when referring to my practice grandkids.)
If you’re not going to be driven insane, and make them incredibly dependent on you, you CAN’T just not train them. (It has other consequences too, later on, because humans are great apes, creatures of the band and hierarchy. Growing up with neither hierarchy nor structure makes for very dysfunctional apes. And humans.) Particularly if you are, as so many of us are now, a single person coping with one or more kids, with no nearby help. You must establish a structure. And when they’re really tiny “I can’t scream all night, because it makes my parents ill” doesn’t work. What works is “Ow, I scream I get swat and then ignored. Not good idea. That’s a rule, I guess.”
Now, imagine the world as it was for your grandparents and before. Or the world of Heinlein’s pioneers, who would be in an untamed world, with some unknown dangers, even after initial exploration.
Those people who think that the past was an idyllic place with fewer dangers need their heads examined.
There were as many dangers from people as there are now — rare, but even the village had its psychos, and the parent who doesn’t teach his kids about stranger danger is known as an ex-parent one way or another — even if less publicized. (Less investigated too. I can only imagine how much easier it would be to get away with kidnap and murder of children in the age where “go ten miles away it’s another world.” I mean, think about it. Timmy doesn’t come home from gathering wood, you might do a search, but you don’t find him, and you assume he was eaten by a wild beast (which is true in a way) and go on with life. There is a reason for stories like Ansel and Gretel, you know.) But there were other dangers too. Only people who never grew up on a farm (much less a farm of past centuries, with the livestock in CLOSE UP proximity) can think of it as a safe and idyllic place. Even without machinery, a cow can step on you, a horse can kick you, you can fall in the washing tank, you can fall in the cesspit and drown, you can eat some substance that poisons you, etc. (I had kids within five years of me in the village either succumb to all of those, or get very ill.)
Heck, I didn’t precisely grow up on a farm (though we grew most produce we used) but I remember the day I ran out the front door and almost INTO a pig that had escaped its pen and wasn’t a nice person. The swat on the butt stopped me, before I ran TOWARDS him, and the injunction to never run out the door without looking first prevented other run ins with escaped livestock in the future. Same with my one attempt to run across the street without looking. (A car came down our street once every ten minutes, but as it happened, I almost ran under the wheels of one.) For that matter ox carts can run you down too. (Long story and not my fault. I had to crouch down, though, because the driver was so close the wall he’d have decapitated me otherwise. I still don’t know if it was because he was a shockingly bad driver, or he hated kids. I was out alone at that time, at about 11.)
In an environment even more dangerous for children than ours (almost all of them, historically) and in which people have more children (which we’re going to have to do here, real soon, if the human race is to survive) than one or two, relatively harsh, immediate discipline is the only way to give your kids half a chance of survival (unless of course, you have one of the rare “easy kids” like number 2 son, who btw, from about ten on made up for it with his ability to slide out from under. He was the son who says “Sure, I’ll do it” then ignore it in the parable of the vineyard. Not anymore, but that was a difficult one to combat).
Yes, we all heard Victorians went overboard and tortured their children, or spanked them continuously, but frankly, lately, I’ve come to doubt anything popular culture says the Victorians did. I’m sure there were evil abusive parents. There are those in every century. What I’m not convinced of is that there were more of those then than now. And, in general, children grew up with more structure.
The paddling scene in Tunnel in the Sky shocked me, though, because I don’t even think you could publish that now (in fact I wonder if newer editions have it!) But it made perfect sense, both from the culture of when it was written and for the world building.
Only barbarians and children believe that their opinions and ideas of how to live apply to every world and time, no matter how different.
I often call our crop of leftists “unspanked babies” not because I believe you should spank a baby, but because they were never spanked (and by this understand I can also mean “given any discipline or structure” because some kids don’t NEED or respond well to even mild physical punishment, and I’m not someone who believes one size fits all, in the infinite variety of humanity) and therefore remain babies in adult bodies.
I remember when older son was being terrorized by a fourth grader, when he was in kindergarten (the depths of stupidity were astounding there, since son was bigger than the fourth grader.) The kid kept following my kid around the playground and pushing him, and throwing sticks at him. I stood in front of the fourth grader and told him, very firmly “No.” He looked shocked. I said “No, you don’t get to do that. Because he’s going to get mad and push you, and you’ll get hurt. Stop that. That’s being a bad boy.”
The expression on his face told me that he’d never ever ever heard no. Never had his impulses curbed. Which explained why at ten, his main form of entertainment was bullying younger kids. It’s an instinctive behavior, but one that doesn’t make you functional in the adult world.
In fact, refusing to discipline and set boundaries for kids creates amoral adrift people who don’t know what to make of themselves. Humans are creatures of the band. We need a hierarchy. We need to know where we stand in that hierarchy, and we need rules.
The alternative is to create people who think they’re at the top of the heap, since they can do whatever they want, and who react with unspeakable violence and evil when told they can’t have what they want, because that’s how apes keep their position on top of the hill.
I’m sure I don’t need to give examples.
Do your children and those children in your purvey a favor: train them in the rules and structure needed to succeed in the world.
A child who has been raised with no discipline and no frustrations is an unhappy animal, who makes lives around him miserable. The only way to curb him, as an adult, is extreme violence and fear. And it’s, in most cases, too late to make him or her functional.
And who, in sufficient numbers, can destroy civilizations.