Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish was an examination of how French prisons developed and, in turn, how the governing aesthetic of the prison bled down into cultural institutions.
The administration of implicit violence and explicit subjugation bled down into culture itself, essentially. And this is something we see in our own society, with schools becoming more indistinguishable from minimum security prisons with each passing news cycle.
The only debate now is how much to pay the jamokes holding guns over the kids, even as their academic skills languish behind kids in first-world and now second-world countries with each passing year.
Violence and the ability to control it are the ultimate means of control. Both physical violence and ideological violence, such as falling in line with whatever the acceptable modalities are at a given time. Society is predicated on the assumption that there is always improvement to be made on this front; in reality, there are always demonized groups, and taboo modes of expression.
Mob rule predominates everywhere. Even, perhaps especially, on the Jacksonville City Council, which spent the last month shredding a seemingly harmless, symbolic bill, in what was a ritualized defenestration of the most vulnerable member of that august legislative body: Garrett Dennis.
Dennis filed a “Hit-Free Zone” bill simple in its intent: People shouldn’t hit each other on city property. This includes parents or guardians tanning the hides of their young charges in public parks or buildings, like those majestic halls in which the best and brightest in local government ministrate.
Oh, my, the reaction.
Bills that legislators want to kill are often described as “loved to death.” By the time Dennis’ bill went through two rounds of committee hearings to refine it and two separate council hearings, it had been loved so much, it had a substance abuse issue, sported pustules from six communicable diseases and owed three people at City Hall support payments.
It’s finally lost that loving feeling. It’s dead for a year at least.
You should’ve heard the discussion.
Worries about the encroaching maw of big guvmint surfaced. And about using support staff as a delta force to block spankings before they happen. About risk management and legal liability. And on and on.
The measure was merely symbolic; every time a committee got ahold of it, a tooth was yanked, until by the final iteration, the resolution was just flapping gums and bloody drool. No matter! Killed with a 9-9 vote, under the watchful eyes of Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief lieutenants.
The things that stood out weren’t the good ol’ boys chopping up Dennis’ latest broken dream. They were the defenses and apologias in hearing after hearing for spanking itself.
Councilmen (all men) lauded the palliative powers of an asswhoopin’. It makes you a better person, teaches the difference between right and wrong, and so on. In that discussion, Dennis even said he might have paddled once or twice.
Implicit to this discussion: Reasonable people theoretically know the difference between a good ol’ asswhoopin’ and physical abuse.
That’s not necessarily so. In homes where one or more parties are inclined to physical violence and not especially stable, spanking is part of a larger toolkit of physical and psychological abuse.
This is a reality for lots of kids in this story, born in what euphemistically are called “one-parent homes,” where the maternal figure very often is negotiating relationships with unstable people who become quasi-parental as they start to throw in on bills.
Too often, violence becomes one of those “look what you made me do” scenarios … familiar in the abusive dynamics that predominate when lives become ad hoc choices and “choose your own adventure” contingency plans.
What comes of that? Obviously, the people on council turned out fine. But what of the kids who don’t power through? What dynamics are learned when discipline becomes a matter of who can hit who the hardest?
I know what happened to me. Decades of struggle.
Always the behavioral problem, the squandering of the potential flashed on standardized tests. I kept getting shunted into more dumbed-down classes, the penalty box for not having that support system that would make me a sure bet to succeed. And soon enough, I shut down to where I lived in my own head and couldn’t focus at all.
How much of that was born of the violence and uncertainty of my day-to-day? That question seems moot at this point. But physical violence and power imbalances engender questions we can’t answer.
Dennis’ bill was dead as soon as he sponsored it. But it got to an issue: We are governed by, and apologists for, violence. Why?