The following are some of my wonderings... I'm not actually advocating anything here, I'm just exploring an issue.
As far as I can see, causing physical harm to another person (or animal!) seems to be one of the (if not the) ultimate evil in American (Western?) society. The idea of actually inflicting physical pain on someone, no matter what the crime, seems like an unimaginable barbarism.
Why would it wrong to "beat" a person for driving drunk (or whatever), make sure they'll recover fine, and send them on their way? Why would locking them in a confined area with other criminals for months on end be more fitting?
Why is it "ok" to send a child into timeout, thereby removing them from relationship and enjoyment, yet to give them a small (but memorable) amount of physical pain is looked down upon?
Why is it "ok" to kill a person for their offences, but it is wrong to do so with any physical discomfort?
Why is it at times even considered wrong for a person to attack an intruder in their own house? Isn't it the intruder who put themselves in the situation?
What gives? I've actually been thinking on this for quite a while now, and I'm a little confused. I have a few vague ideas of my own, but I really want to hear what you all think...
It depends entirely on what you are trying to achieve by punishing transgressors.
If you just want retribution, then no doubt a physical counter-attack can be much more satisfying than other forms of revenge. It is an instinctual thing, I think, to want to reassert your dominance over your competitors.
However, if punishment is not regarded as an end in itself but as a means to deterrence or rehabilitation, then physically attacking a transgressor may be completely futile, and far less effective some kind of educational alteration. In the case of prisons, part of the reason is to confine potentially dangerous people to a manageable location. The extent to which they rehabilitate criminals depends on the justice system in question; unfortunately there is rarely much focus on redemption and more on punishment for the sake of punishment.
This will often simply result in the transgressors resenting the law even more. They will attempt to avoid justice in future, but it is unlikely that they have really learned the error of their ways. They just know that a powerful opponent will take revenge on behalf of their victims. As for deterring potential criminals, even the harshest and most brutal justice systems in the world, which incorporate corporal punishment, public humiliation and death sentences, do not deter criminals. The fact is, they just don't expect to be caught.
In the case of children, physical punishment is not going to be very effective in encouraging them to respect other people; it will simply make them fear their elders. They will associate certain actions with punishment but might not necessarily understand what they have done wrong. Punishment can be effective for children who are too young to appreciate the real consequences of their actions, but it needn't be physical and in fact corporal punishment can just be confusing and ineffective. Many child psychologists agree that it merely instils hostility and rage without actually reducing the undesirable behaviour.
---------- Post added 03-01-2010 at 12:25 AM ----------
Are you sure about that? In all cases? Do you know that time-outs never contribute to an emotional disconnect between parent and child?
Maybe you are right. When I was a child, my parents never punished me or my siblings, physically or otherwise. This didn't make us spoilt or undisciplined; they just made us explain ourselves and told us why it was wrong to do what we did. It was rehabilitative justice rather than punitive justice, and it was very effective. Even as teenagers we were always respectful, and we didn't abuse our freedom because we genuinely felt guilty about doing that. We didn't resent our parents or try to compete with them at all, because we didn't see them as an oppressive authority that punished us.