Sunday, November 6, 2011

Discipline is not the Issue Here

In 2004, Hillary Adams used Kazaa to download some music. Her father, an Aransas County judge, sat Hillary down to have a calm discussion about P2P networks, why much content on them is illegal, and how file sharing undercuts to earnings of struggling artists. Hillary recorded this video:

My primary aim is not to condemn William Adams, though of course some judgments will creep in. Instead, I should like to talk about a wrong-headed narrative that has grown around this story. One article I read speculated that this video would set off a national dialogue about child discipline. Such a dialogue would surely be beneficial. But parental discipline is not what we see in this video, even if an unrepentant Adams couched his actions in those very terms.

[I]n my mind I haven’t done anything wrong other than discipline my child after she was caught stealing, and I did lose my temper but I’ve since apologized. It looks worse than it is.
(Some of you, desensitized to file sharing, may find his verbiage hyperbolic; perhaps Judge Adams has a stronger moral compass than you.)

Discipline teaches children to follow a moral code. To have any chance of achieving this, it is imperative that a child understand the reason for their punishment. Adams might at least have prefaced his punishment by debunking Hillary’s rationalizations about Kazaa. Any half-wit could do so without taxing his intellect. Had discipline been Adams’ motivation, we would have seen a debunking. We did not. Quod erat demonstrandum. Adams says nothing specific about Hillary’s wrongdoing; he can’t even be bothered to distinguish between a computer game and a BitTorrent client.

This is the key to understanding why this video is so much more disturbing than a mere disciplinary incident. The magnitude of punishment (eighteen lashes) is bad enough, but the attitude the father displays is downright scary. One would think Hillary would reconsider using Kazaa after the first dozen lashes or so, but that’s not really why Adams was belting his daughter. He was belting her because he was consumed by rage, utterly owned by his emotions. If you doubt the role anger played in this beating, listen to what the man says.

Lay down, or I’ll spank you on your fuckin’ face! … I oughta just keep beatin’ you and beatin’ you, that’s how upset I am.… I’ll beat you into submission! … Are you happy? Huh? Disobeying your parents? Is this what you wanted to do? Is it fun to disobey your mom and dad? Huh? … You don’t deserve to fuckin’ be in this house. Disobedient. What happened to you Hillary? Once you were obedient, nice little girl. [Watch carefully: he’s literally twisting her ear.] … Dis-fuckin’-obedience. You know I’m not gonna put up with it don’t you? Did you think I was foolin’? Do you think I fool around?

I do not question that Hillary should have been punished for using Kazaa. If Adams felt she should not use BitTorrent under his roof, that is his prerogative as a parent. There are reams and reams of case law establishing the illegality of much P2P sharing, and children must be taught right from wrong. When they stray, they must be punished. “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” This is the essence of what we mean by “discipline.” It also helps us illuminate why this incident crosses the line between discipline and abuse. Proverbs 13:24 need not be taken as an admonition to use corporal punishment. The “rod” is the very rod from the Psalm 23 (“thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me”): the rod of a shepherd, used to keep the flock on the right (or righteous) path.

If this story is about discipline, why does Adams get inches away from Hillary’s face and promise a fearsome punishment regime?

If I hear so much as you raise your fuckin’ voice to me or your mother, or the wrong tone, or you do one little thing wrong, you even LOOK at me fuckin’ wrong, I’m gonna take you in there and wear your fuckin’ ass out with this belt! You understand me? That’s what it’s come to. That’s what it’s come to. Got it?
Go watch the video again. 5:15. Listen to the menace in his voice. Adams even manages to deliver the abuser’s classic line with a straight face. “You caused this. By your dis-fuckin’-obedience.” You made me do it!

By all means, let us have a dialog about discipline. But we must not call the incident in this video by anything other than what it is.