Sunday, September 10, 2006

Lao Tzu vs. Dobson via Lakoff: The essential danger of conservatism

I said I was going to write more on Lakoff and Dobson, and while I forgot why I was going to do that, I'm not at a loss for a viewpoint.

First, let's start here:

The conservative family values agenda is, at present, being set primarily by fundamentalist Christians. This is not a situation that many people are aware of. Probably the most prominent figures in the fundamentalist Christian family values movement are Dr. James Dobson, who is president of Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, and Gary L. Bauer, who runs the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. These groups have been most explicit in developing a Strict Father approach to childrearing and have been extremely active in promoting their approach. On the whole, they are defining the conservative position for the current debate about childrearing, as well as for legislation incorporating their approach. Since the ideas in conservative Christian childrearing manuals are fully consistent with the Strict Father model of the family that lies behind conservative politics, it is not at all strange that such fundamentalist groups should be setting the national conservative agenda on family values.

I should say at the outset that virtually all of the mainstream experts on childrearing see the Strict Father model as being destructive to children. A nurturant approach is preferred. And most of the child development literature within the field of developmental psychology points in one direction: childrearing according to the Strict Father model harms children: a Nurturant Parent model is far superior.

Lakoff has it wrong: the "Strict Father model of the family" is really the undisciplined Father model of the family...

Here's a few choice quotes from Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching...

Chapter 29

1. If any one should wish to get the kingdom for himself, and to effect
this by what he does, I see that he will not succeed. The kingdom
is a spirit-like thing, and cannot be got by active doing. He who
would so win it destroys it; he who would hold it in his grasp loses

2. The course and nature of things is such that
What was in front is now behind;
What warmed anon we freezing find.
Strength is of weakness oft the spoil;
The store in ruins mocks our toil. Hence the sage puts away excessive
effort, extravagance, and easy indulgence.

No matter how much one tries to actively "seize the empire," whether the empire is one's domicile or the United States of America, one will come to failure.

What Lao Tzu is referring to here - and this Taoist perspective mirrors similar sentiments in Buddhism- is that neither a "strict" nor "indulgent" stance in executing authority will be useful.

Chapter 57

1. A state may be ruled by (measures of) correction; weapons of war
may be used with crafty dexterity; (but) the kingdom is made one's
own (only) by freedom from action and purpose.

2. How do I know that it is so? By these facts:--In the kingdom the
multiplication of prohibitive enactments increases the poverty of
the people; the more implements to add to their profit that the people
have, the greater disorder is there in the state and clan; the more
acts of crafty dexterity that men possess, the more do strange contrivances
appear; the more display there is of legislation, the more thieves
and robbers there are.

3. Therefore a sage has said, 'I will do nothing (of purpose), and
the people will be transformed of themselves; I will be fond of keeping
still, and the people will of themselves become correct. I will take
no trouble about it, and the people will of themselves become rich;
I will manifest no ambition, and the people will of themselves attain
to the primitive simplicity.'

This is neither strict nor indulgent: but rather empowers all.

Contrast that with Dobson, as interpreted by Lakoff:

Dobson is clear about the need for punishment, as are the others.
Rewards should not be used as a substitute for authority; reward and punishment each has its proper place in child management, and reversals bring unfortunate results. (Dobson, 91)

The point of punishment is not for some specific offense, but to enforce the parent's absolute authority in general, as a matter of principle. Any rebelliousness of spirit must he broken.

When youngsters display stiff-necked rebellion, you must be willing to respond to the challenge immediately. When nose-to-nose confrontation occurs between you and your child, it is not the time to discuss the virtues of obedience. It is not the occasion to send him to his room to pout. Nor is it the time to postpone disciplinary measures till your tired spouse plods home from work.

You have drawn a line in the dirt, and the child has deliberately flopped his bony little toe across it. Who is going to win? Who has the most courage? (Dobson, 20)

The only issue in rebellion is will; in other words, who is going to rule, the parent or the child. The major objective of chastisement [that is, physical punishment] is forcing the child's obedience to the will of his parents. (Fugate, 143)

The spanking should be administered firmly. It should be painful and it should last until the child's will is broken. It should last until the child is crying, not tears of anger, but tears of a broken will. As long as he is stiff, grits his teeth, holds on to his own will, the spanking should continue. (Hyles, 99-IOU)

In the [biblical] command of obedience given to children, there is no mention made of any exception. It must be set forth and impressed on them without any exception. 'But what if parents command something wrong?' This is precocious inquisitiveness. Such a question should perish on the lips of a Christian child. (Christenson, 59)

Require strict obedience. The obedience should always be immediate, instant, without question or argument. What the father says to do, the son does. He does 'a well, he does it immediately, he does it without argument. The parents allow no exceptions to the rule. Hence, obedience is the law of the land and the child should not deem it necessary to have an explanation for orders he has received from his parents. (Hyles, 144)

Obedience is the most necessary ingredient to be required from the child. This is especially true for a girl, for she must be obedient all her life. The boy who is obedient to his mother and father will some day become the head of the home; not so for the girl. Whereas the boy is being trained to be a leader, the girl is being trained to be a follower. Hence, obedience is far more important to her, for she must some day transfer it from her parents to her husband. This means that she should never be allowed to argue at all. She should become submissive and obedient. She must obey immediately, without question, and without argument. The parents who require this have done a big favor for their future son-in-law. (Hyles. 158)

Swift and painful punishment is thus seen as the basis for all character development:

Obedience is the foundation for all character. It is the foundation for the home. It is the foundation for a school. It is the foundation for a society. It is absolutely necessary for law and order to prevail. (Hyles, 145)

The means of punishment is also generally agreed upon. The "rod" in "Spare the rod and spoil the child" is meant literally:

The Biblical definition of the rod is a small flexible branch from a tree (a wooden stick) ... a number of rods [should be kept] throughout the house, in your car, and in your purse (so that you can] apply loving correction immediately. (Tomczak, 117)

The rod is to be a thick wooden stick like a switch. Of course, the size of the rod should vary with the size of the child. A willow or peach tree branch may be fine for a rebellious two-year-old, but a small hickory rod or dowel rod would be more fitting for a well-muscled teenage boy. (Fugate, 141)

The use of the rod enables a controlled administration of pain to obtain submission and future obedience. If a child's rebellion has been to disobey an instruction willfully, the parent can stop after a sufficient number of strokes and ask the child if he will obey instructions in the future. The parent is the best judge of the correct number and intensity of strokes needed for a particular child. However, if the child repeatedly disobeys, the chastisement has not been painful enough. (Fugate, 142-43)

Since such punishment is necessary to form character, it is a form of love.

Disciplinary action is not an assault on parental love; it is a function of it. Appropriate punishment is not something parents do to a beloved child; it is something done for him or her. (Dobson, 22)

Because I love you so much, I must teach you to obey me. (Dobson, 55)

This is clearly a) bound to fail, and b) cruel. Moreover, it creates a cycle of increasing abuse. Not a pretty picture for society.

If this is the Republican model, then it is simply Americans' patriotic duty to keep these people from power.

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