Pain is nature’s way of instructing organisms of little or no intellect in the art of survival. Imagine for a moment a lowly snail without pain receptors in its foot. The snail arrives on your barbeque and attempts to cross hot coals oblivious to the affects of pain. Pop! Exit one snail. Pain is a survival mechanism necessary to the continuation of a species. The human animal is no different in this regard except in his capacity to use a superior mind to anticipate painful consequences, and thus avoid them without going through the agony of experience. At least sometimes.
The son of my colleague at school was recently convicted for a series of armed robberies. The judge in the pre-trial hearing decided that the boy was a continuing menace to society. Bail was demanded at an unattainable level. The boy spent four months in the slammer awaiting trial. So traumatized was he by the experience, that he has emerged as a model citizen. At least he appears so. A heavy sentence of twenty-seven years hangs over his head should he repeat his earlier folly. I commend the judge for both compassion and wisdom. The boy is young, but he has a second chance to make good. He knows the consequences now, a lesson driven home by the truly painful experience of time behind bars amongst genuine savages. Did the boy need the experience? Apparently he did. The basic rules of citizenship, like a respect for the law, were never internalized within his consciousness during his formative years. Anticipation of consequences was either absent or suspended during his crime spree. For such people society has recourse to one final method of instruction. We might not be able to make you think anything, but we’re quite certain we can make you feel something. Pain is instructive.
I understand that Californians are debating whether or not to outlaw spanking. You have to hand it to California, always on the cutting edge. But I would like to know from the wise men in the state legislature how to impose the necessary lesson in self-control on the person of a cranky three-year-old? At this age the child has little in the way of reasoning faculties. Nor has the child yet a capacity for moral discrimination. I am not recommending the brutalization of children. But it seems to me that a smack to the backside does little harm, while driving home a lesson the only way possible. Call it cellular memory. The little tot will remember the consequences of his behavior. Corporal punishment of children is not cruel. Allowing them to grow into spoiled brats with criminal proclivities is a type of folly that will produce more cruelty than society has a need to endure. But what can you expect from a state legislature dominated by juvenile minds?
I also understand that in Britain it is illegal for a victim of crime to fight back. After all, someone could get hurt. Why make the situation worse by adding physical pain to the equation? I will tell you why. It is because pain in the form of a violent reaction from the victim is the only thing the perpetrator can understand. If the felon had a grasp of ordinary morality, his conscience would veto his behavior. If he could anticipate consequences, he would choose a wiser course. By outlawing pain as a deterrent, nothing is left that might cause the predator to think twice. But pain is cruel. Does anybody speak to the cruelty inflicted on the victim? This policy is morally obtuse, and destructive to the social order. It would seem that the British are well ahead of their American cousins down the road of decadence.
Violence between nations should be unnecessary and rare. Surely no dispute is so beyond reason that negotiation cannot work out a compromise. Did the hijackers of 911 have such a grievance against the United States that they had to make their point by murdering three-thousand innocents? Was this justified? What could possibly justify such a crime? Can’t we talk it out even now? No, we can’t. Our enemies hold to such a primitive morality that a massive amount of pain is the only detterent they understand. Apparently some people, Gaza comes to mind, have a rather high tolerance for pain. After a time, a sort of national masochism becomes the norm. The Gazans seem to revel in it. There is one detterent even more effective than pain. But it’s application carries with it a certain finality. Then again, extinction has a place in the natural order.
The problem with liberal theology, and the word is fully intended, is that it too often attempts to mitigate against pain. But pain was evolved by nature as part of a survival strategy. Primitive though it is, pain is a mechanism for behavioral modification. And for those who understand nothing else, pain is the final warning shot that just might inform miscreants that the next step will have lethal consequences. So why outlaw it? Pain is good for you.