Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Survival Value of Obedience

Another thing that struck us both while we were reading the “Little House” books to Aidan is the severity of the discipline in those days. It seems there was only one form for correcting one’s children back then, and that was to take a switch to them. If a boy failed to bring the cows in by dark, he could expect a good thrashing from his Pa. And yet, there is a very strong sense of love and devotion between Laura and her parents.

This is cause for some cognitive dissonance with my wife, who is a leader of Attachment Parenting International and one quite committed to avoiding corporal punishment. “I don’t want to believe that everyone was completely screwed up back then . . . and yet their parenting seems pretty unenlightened.”

I thought about it some, and decided that there was good reason for the severity of the discipline back then – survival value. Back then, if a child didn’t do exactly as he was told, all the time, the consequences could be high: your son or daughter might be eaten by a panther, or (even worse) they might allow the pig that will feed the whole family through the winter to be killed by a bear. There were no emergency rooms to go to, and antibiotics were only just barely starting to be used; even a slight physical trauma could spell infection and death. In our world, children are the most expensive luxury item you can have, the recipients of everything. In their world, children were necessary laborers, vital parts of the household economy, soldiers in a daily fight for survival.

In that world, having unquestioning obedience from children had the same value that it has in the military: do exactly as your told, because if you don’t you will get us all killed.


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