L. Neil Smith's
Number 347, December 11, 2005

"So You Actually Have to be Able to Think"

Group Punishments
by Chris Claypoole

Exclusive to TLE

Recently, a local television station ran a story about two more high school proms being cancelled in New York, probably brought on by a similar cancellation several weeks ago. The reasons given were "financial decadence" and overuse of alcohol and other drugs by some of the students. The administrators were concerned about the "excessive" spending by some of the parents on their children, to include "booze cruises." They were also upset that many students not only would abuse various substances after the proms, but before and during as well. Conversations with my high school sophomore daughter and her high school senior boyfriend confirmed that a minority of their peers would show up at the proms "under the influence," and that more would meet to drink later, often at parties hosted by parents.

The comments in some of the articles on these cancellations, as well as those called in to the local television station, seemed to focus on two main themes: group punishment is not only justified, but a good lesson, or that the administrators should let the students (presumably with the blessings of their parents) do as they wish. While I might disagree with some of the actions of the students and parents involved, it is none of my business as long as there were no violations of others rights. (See 0ap.org/zap/) I strongly disagree with the concept of group punishments as being corrosive to a civilized society.

Most of us remember many times during our childhood being on the receiving end of a group punishment. Nearly all of us thought these were horribly unfair. (We were correct in this assessment, IMO.) But I will also assert that this is a good "lesson" for the students and parents, although it's not the lesson the administrators and the assortment of bluenoses and tightasses supporting them had in mind. That lesson is to stop having feelings in terms of groups and start thinking in terms of individuals. And to distrust those who prefer to deal only with groups of people, ignoring individuals.

People that believe group punishments are not only justified but are an appropriate management tool are exactly the type of people that should be kept out of power. A particularly pernicious breed of do-gooder, these neo-puritans are convinced that their sensibilities (using the term loosely) are laws of nature, and must be imposed on lesser beings "for their own good." In the cases under discussion, it is none of their business how much money the students' parents are willing to spend on their little darlings. While I'm sure that some of the spending is to feel superior to another set of parents, and some is to assuage guilt for not scheduling more "quality time" as the little dears were growing up, the spending of the parents' money is up to those parents.

It looks like the schools in question were private (Catholic) schools, so there need be no discussion about the obvious knock on those public school (juvenile brainwashing facilities) administrators who want to tell parents how not to spend their money while having no issues with spending that fraction of the parents' money stolen by way of taxation.

No, the problem is that too many people still think it is fine to punish a large, diverse group of people merely because a fraction of them are engaging in behavior that is unacceptable (regardless of whose definition of acceptable is being used). Going back to my remark about how we all hated that as children and teenagers, why did this change?

Some of this certainly has to do with the "lesson" that these schools are teaching in this instance: submission to authority, no matter how silly or arbitrary (or cruel or capricious). As I (and many, many others) have asserted, the school system in the US, with very few exceptions, is intended not so much to educate children in the sense of inculcating a love of learning and a foundation of knowledge, but to turn out compliant "citizens." Group punishments are a cog in that machinery of tyranny.

Once a person accepts the concept of group punishments, he tends to look at other things in terms of groups, rather than in terms of individuals. That person is no longer a friend of freedom. He tends to view things through a collective lens. He discounts the efforts of individuals, believing that only group action can be effective. (I stipulate that there are projects that are accomplished far more easily and/or quickly by many participants, who have voluntarily agreed upon a course of action or a desired result. I object to the assertion that I don't count except as part of a defined group, or that I cannot achieve significant results alone.)

Statists of all stripes are addicted to the cult of the group. Both rewards and punishments are to be meted out solely by virtue of group membership. Whether we are observing the handing out of stolen goods (tax receipts) to favored groups like corporations with good lobbyists and disaster victims, or seeing the punishment of disfavored groups like gun owners, it is apparent that statists do not consider their subjects as individuals.

Just as bigots who hate some arbitrary grouping of people, but can make an "exception" for a member of that group that he happens to know well, statists are blind to the fact that we are all individuals. This psychological blindness allows them to promote policies that often do far more harm than good, despite the fact that many statists I have known really do seem to think they are acting out of altruistic motives. They can only see the "big picture"—individuals are not on their radar screen.

We need to point out this blind spot to those that are willing to consider divergent opinions (trying this with hard-core statists is a waste of your time). Even "the government" is made up of individuals, and we need to remember that ourselves.


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