Did you know dolphins discipline their young? And not just the mother. If a youngster is out of line, any of the older dolphins will rake their teeth across his body or give him a good smack with a tail.
Dolphins are like humans in other ways, we know. They are sociable and intelligent, even without domestication and training. Wild pods have been known to protect lost swimmers from sharks. It is believed they circle and protect their young in much the same way.
A dolphin alone is a dolphin dead. Without the group, they are just as vulnerable to sharks as any other creature in the water. They cannot corral a school of fish for effective hunting. Maintaining group cohesion and following the rules keeps them alive. Therefore discipline is necessary as the threat of death is constant. “Pay attention, do as we do or you will die” would be the underlying fear driving the discipline, even if the message is “Pay attention, do as we do or we will hurt you.” Dolphins are intelligent enough to inoculate their children against the greater threat of the unknown predator with the lesser threat of group disapproval. Whether this is due to altruistic or utilitarian motives is beside the point.
Humans used to be this way: when we as a species were sparse in number, when our technology was crude, when we were susceptible to the dangers of the dark and the cold. Perhaps a lone hunter could find himself a meal enough to live on, but there was always protection in numbers and the social contract ensured survival of the group if not the individual.
Again, discipline of the young was necessary: “Do as we do or you will be hurt.” They traded the greater pain of injury or death with the lesser pain of a hand or a switch. And yes, the switch became a cane in many cases, likely because it was very effective on the more obstinate youth who learned they have the power not to fear the hand or the switch. But nevertheless, the fear of the dark and the cold driving these methods was constant in their lives. The dangers were very real and reinforced every time a member of the group perished from his own bravado.
Obviously, here are other kind of animal groups that do not behave this way. Antelope herds do not have to hunt for food in the way of dolphins or humans. So long as the grass grows green and the water is wet, everything they need to live on is provided for them. If a young fawn is pestering the wrong adult, they may be kicked out of the way, but otherwise there is no effort to train the young in the “ways” of the adults. If a lion attacks, no effort is made to protect the young, which are usually the ones pecked off for the lion’s meal. The surviving herd will then continue to graze beside the feasting lion, seemingly oblivious to the death (good or evil) of its own kind. The survival of this group hinges solely on reproducing faster than the lion can eat; there is no social contract, no need for communication, no need to maintain group cohesion or threaten the unruly with expulsion. All that is needed is provided for; the only thing to fear is the hungry lion.As humans in a digitized world, most all that is needed for survival is provided for us by way of our advanced technologies and social contracts. As adults, however, we know we must struggle day to day to maintain our existence with balance: monetary and dietary, occupational and personal. But for the children in our not-so-brave new world, living in a home without corporal discipline, living in a home were their favorite meals are a request or tantrum away, living in a home of endless customizable entertainment choices of passive and interactive varieties, they have no fear of their elders, no understanding of limited resources, no understanding that the world is not by its very nature customizable to their whims.
Within the last century, we have seen the consequences of the evolution of society past the point of diminishing returns. 1 in 88 children are deemed affected by the condition called Autism. For autistic children the big people in their lives become benevolent deities cultivating paradise for their little Adams and Eves. To them, these are just the rules of the game until proven otherwise. If all that they could ever need is provided for them, they learn/decide/deduce via high intelligence, that there is no need for communication, manner, or expression. At some point a cycle of withdrawal and compensation begins, the adults never understanding that the child is growing ever more dependent upon them because on a deep subliminal level the psyche of the child effected a cost-benefit analysis and deemed dependence on these deities the path of least resistance to survival.
The young antelope has someone to protect him from the lion. That someone has always been there, always will be there, until proven otherwise.
Without resistance from the elders, without the message of “Pay attention, do as we do or we will hurt you,” without the driving force within the elders of fear of the unknown, fear of an angry God, or fear of greater social disapproval of “bad parenting”, the child will turn himself into an antelope, willing to block out emotional and social stimuli, willing to forgo the joy of accomplishment over adversity, because this intelligent creature of our making knew that adversity itself can be avoided through a parent’s love and devotion. These are just the rules of the game as he understands them. Tell him the rules have changed.
I do not currently observe that all children are potentially autistic given the same level of doting parents and malleable environments. I believe autistic children (including potentially myself and many of my kinfolk, now my daughter) share a trait of inherent stubbornness and laziness, combined with advanced intelligence. This perhaps is a genetic trait of evolutionary significance, because convenience technology (bicycles, laundry machines, computers) and therefore society as a whole would not advance without the willingness of some to put an inordinate amount of brainpower into figuring out how not to do something.
It is the brainpower of the very intelligent which has allowed society to advance to the point where we as parents are now afraid to inoculate our children against the greater pain of injury or death, by way of the lesser pain of a firm smack on the butt. We parents, fully inoculated, still fear the pain of exclusion from the group. We fear the disapproval and legal action of authority. We fear that we have not adequately stripped our child's life of pain and danger and risk of all kinds.
We fear the moment when the lion sees the deity has fallen asleep.
Those who do spank today do so with an unknown pain of guilt (or layered arrogance) that they are inept in not mastering the mythical non-spanking method.
I contend that corporal discipline, sustained limited resources (food choices: eat this or go hungry), and rigid environmental structure can be used effectively with potentially autistic children by inserting oneself as the deliberate, measured adversary a child is required to overcome. It is far better that their fears be controlled by the adult hand than by their own developing, beautiful, yet fragile minds. As parents we want our children to grow and blossom, not wither and wilt before our eyes, but not every flower will bloom in nutrient rich soils. Some flowers are meant to bloom in the desert.
My previous thoughts, musings on Autism:
Autism's Inconvenient Truth - June 25th
Organizing Your World - October 10th (An allegorical attempt at illustrating how some children process information)