Very good sentences

by on March 6, 2013 at 2:29 pm in Philosophy | Permalink

People punish other people when they don’t know what else to do with them.

That is from the excellent Adam Phillips, from the latest issue of the LRB (my favorite periodical these days), gated link here.

1 Nikki March 6, 2013 at 5:39 pm

People punish other people when they can get away with it. When they can’t, they still do, except the term changes from “punishment” to anything between “being a jerk” and “criminal offence.”

2 msgkings March 6, 2013 at 5:43 pm

You must run with a pretty rough crowd. What a brutal view…

3 Andrew' March 7, 2013 at 6:42 am

Milgram. Nazis. Etc.

4 Handle March 6, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Why do I get the feelings that I could replace “punish” in that sentence with a hundred other words without doing any more violence than done here to either language or reality?

5 Rahul March 7, 2013 at 1:04 am

+1 This feels like the Emperors New Clothes. I cannot see the profundity of that remark at all.

6 Dismalist March 6, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Glad it’s gated, for it makes no sense.

7 Thor March 6, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Tyler, you are a genius. Unfortunately, you are also wrong about the LRB. It is a hotbed of warmed over gibberish.

It is the preferred venue of Zizek. It has sacrificed sober respectability and insight, for the temporary “success” of trendiness. And it just isn’t that good as a journal/magazine of ideas. It’s now (practically) an offshoot of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, which is to say a left leaning, postmodernist institution.

8 Tracy W March 7, 2013 at 6:48 am

This statement seems implausible. I’d’ve thought most punishment is driven by anger. Not knowing what else to do with someone, well, walking away is always an option.

9 Andrew' March 7, 2013 at 7:47 am

Not reading it the context appears to be parenting, and walking away is a punishment. Almost every single day my kid runs into traffic. My day consists of reminding my wife that these are human beings. Were they 100 pounds heavier they would be in prison.

10 IVV March 7, 2013 at 8:24 am

There’s still time.

11 dr. March 7, 2013 at 12:12 pm

your kid needs a cocktail of behavior altering drugs before, as you said, they end up in prison (no fun for anyone). let’s start with ritalin and effexor

12 Mike March 7, 2013 at 9:53 am

How is that different from “punishment is a last resort, when all other options have failed”?

13 derek March 7, 2013 at 11:08 am

Maybe they don’t require punishment, but are doing different things than expected or desired. If you read the sentence and focus on punish you assume they are doing something that deserves punishment. I think there was a post here a while ago about that very thing.

Maybe the system of incentives is working as designed, but the design and your purpose are not the same thing. Government policy is often like this. A complicated mixture of incentives are set up with a stated goal, then for some reason people start acting on the incentives as opposed to the stated design and the results are far different than desired. Instead of looking at the incentives and structure of the policy (or even the wisdom of even trying it), the reaction is to punish.

Remember last year that fellow that was at Facebook who cashed out and then left the country? He was responding to incentives and taking his resources elsewhere to a more welcoming jurisdiction. Do you remember the response? Was it to question the idea of taxing the rich as is Obama policy? Was it to ponder the wisdom of making the country inhospitable to those types of folks and considering the consequences? Nope. Punish.

I’m amazed at the response to this quote here.

14 Thor March 7, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Of course many people are vindictive; no one denies that. Phillips, though, is continuing the Freudian goal of exposing children as the true malevolent mini-adults that they are, under the veneer of childhood/like innocence. For Freudians, they are already little sexual beings, rather than the putative innocents of popular belief.

I think most people ignore rather than punish. Then again, there are those who think ignoring is a kind of punishment… But isn’t that stretching the definition of punishment a bit too far?

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