Thursday, 3 July 2008

A culture of non-violence

Dr Cindy Kiro is a woman with incredible grace under fire. I can't say I agree with every policy proposal she's ever made, but her stoicism in the face of atrocious behaviour is impressive. As the Children's Commissioner, her support for progressive pro-child policies, including the ban on smacking, have drawn opprobrium from a range of people (many of them far-right fringe lunatics, but very vocal nonetheless). She also speaks out about the effects of poverty on children and families. If you look around the blogosphere for references to Kiro – and I strongly suggest you don't – you'll find her branded a range of things, from a time-waster and apologist to a parasite and protector of child killers. You'll also find racial slurs directed against her, and even derogatory comments about her weight.

What is it about opposition to violence against children generally, and Kiro specifically, that works the rednecks into a frenzy? Today, Kiro spoke in support of an initiative launched by Chris Carter, aimed at combating bullying in schools ( As she put it, stopping bullying is part of 'build[ing] a culture of non-violence towards children. That includes at home, in schools and other community settings'. Some of the remarks posted on Stuff give clues to why Kiro is so disliked by some:

Yet another social activity that should be taught at home to take away valuable learning time. Bring back the cane.

We got the strap in school in my day, the spectre of the strap weighed heavy when thinking about being nasty to other children....

Schools and teachers need more teeth, parents more common sense and taking responsibility and no 'No smacking" laws … no more 'Namby pambying. The Police could also do with some teeth and leeway with these scumbag youth gangs.

Advocates of corporal punishment of children see no contradiction between using violence in the form of caning to control violence in the form of bullying. They believe they have a natural right to use violence – and that somehow, when violence is permitted (by God, parliament, or whoever), it no longer counts as violence or represents a form of bullying. They draw a moral distinction between good and bad violence, and feel entitled to inflict the 'good' sort. And it seems that nothing irks these people more than being told by a young Maori woman that they don't have this right after all. As some of them clearly believe, Maori are the cause of family and other violence, not contributors to the solution.

Many of Kiro's critics, including Family First, claim that they are motivated by concern for abused children. This is bullshit of the most transparent sort. Insofar as these people have any argument at all, it's that by failing to hit children, we encourage them to be violent towards others. Using this 'reasoning' (which is really nothing more than a disingenuous ploy to disguise Christian fundamentalist values in secular clothing), some of Kiro's web critics actually blame her, and others of her political ilk, for child abuse. The blog tirades against Kiro make clear just how little her opponents care about the welfare of children or indeed anyone else. I can't imagine how nakedly racist sentiments expressed in a public forum do Maori kids any good, for example.

For what it's worth, I support Cindy Kiro's vision of a culture of non-violence, and I see stopping bullying and smacking alike as integral to the creation of this culture. There is no place in such a culture for derogatory and racist personal attacks made in the name of children's welfare.


George said...

I get the feeling that there have always been stupid people - but that the combined effect of dumbing down of the media and the internet has given these people more voice than they would otherwise have had. Just like talkback did in the 1980s.

I thought this was an interesting contribution -

Anna McM said...

You're right George - doesn't the Bible say 'The stupid will always be with us' or something like that?!

Stupidity is certainly behind a lot of the dislike of Kiro, but I feel as though the likes of Family First who are more calcuating than stupid actually put out a lot of similar hateful ideas - they just phrase them in a more palatable way. At the risk of sounding like the nutty radical feminist I clearly am, I think our fundamentalist chums like families to be headed by patriarchs in true Old Testament style, with men using force to call the shots if needs be.

Sadly, I can't get your link to open...

Ari said...

George- I think it's important these people have a voice, and I'm actually very supportive that minority views are covered on the internet and on the news. What I think is stupid is that the news is making their voice look more salient than it is by not covering their more unpleasant beliefs and actions, and by giving lobby groups equal billing with respected community leaders like Cindy Kiro.

Ridiculous beliefs should be allowed to speak for themselves- and implying that parents and teachers need to use violence to stop violence when they are already bigger and much more socially powerful than children is at best stupid.

It wasn't the cane that stopped them, it was the fear of consequences. And there are consequences that matter other than physical pain- otherwise, why would they care about being prevented from beating kids? It doesn't hurt them not to beat their kids ;)

Anna McM said...

Interesting thoughts, Ari. I'm not as committed to free speech as you are, I have to admit - but that's a blog for another day! I worry that, as in this case, expressing opinions becomes a form of bullying.

rothko said...

The folks in gov't don't care about us, they care about power. Lobbying them to intervene in the lives of other people's kids... well, there's an even greater evil because it's exactly the kind of power they relish.

kids know who they trust and feel safe with, be they teachers or parents. If no-one will have them and they end up living under the bridge, that's our fault for being a fragmented society.

Officialdom and state intervention adds little of value to the lives of children and cannot compensate for our reluctance to take control of our kids' futures.

Julie said...

So rothko if you are ruling out any involvement by the state what do you suggest?

It seems to me any changes to "our fragmented society" are going to come about by people working together. The democratic institution we have that should be a good avenue for finding and delivering collective solutions is Government. But you seem to be rejecting that as a possibility?