The idea that spanking is somehow a valid parenting practice is disturbing enough.  What is more troubling is that people who practice spanking are likely to justify it within their own moral framework and not change their views on the subject.

   “To find answers, I looked at violence across cultures and history with my colleague Alan Fiske of the University of California, Los Angeles. We analyzed records of all kinds of violence, ranging from war to torture to genocide to homicide. While this was rather depressing work, it also led to some very interesting findings. We identified a pattern in that violence that was both predictive and explanatory.

   The commonality was that the primary motivations were moral. This means that the perpetrators of violence felt like what they are doing was morally right. In fact, when they were committing the act, they perceived that not acting would be morally wrong. It wasn’t about a breakdown in moral sensibilities, but more that their sense of morality was different. They viewed violence as the fundamentally right thing to do even if no one else could see any possible justification for it.

   With this lens, let’s go back to that spanking scenario. A child disobeys his mother, who spanks him because she believes it is her duty to protect him from himself and ensure that he becomes a responsible adult. She sees it as her obligation as a parent.

   Similarly, drill sergeants and gang leaders often haze new recruits, as they believe it is their duty to create lifelong bonds and instill obedience, which are required in battle. We can even see this mentality with terrorists. ISIL members believe they are morally justified and obligated to commit acts of terror, while US soldiers accept some loss of civilian lives to achieve the deaths of those terrorists. In all of these scenarios, the violent act is perceived by the perpetrator as virtuous. As details emerge about the California shootings, we will begin to see more about the shooters; whether they felt their violence was something they had an obligation to do, and if so, why.

   The general pattern we saw in the cases we studied was that violence was intended to regulate social relationships and sustain a moral order. The perpetrators are in control of their actions—they know they are hurting fellow human beings, and that is exactly what they intend to do.”

 

Tage Rai Lecturer, MIT Sloan School of Management

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