Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Is “more progressive” always better?


At least some things that are considered progressive, more civilized (than in the “days of yore” or the non-western world), or otherwise more “developed”, are of disputable merit.

Take the issue of corporeal punishment of children: In e.g. Sweden, Germany, and the US, this is today typically considered cruel, archaic, and a failure of the parent/teacher; further, outside of very restrictive limits, it is illegal. Yet, a case could be made that the current restrictions do more harm than good.

Below, I explore this and a few similar issues.

Corporeal punishment

On a number of occasions, I have heard parents in forums complain about the consequences of their inability to enforce discipline, or consider the corporeal punishments they, themselves, received as children as something helpful in learning boundaries (and similar)—and over time I have grown skeptical to the current strict ban applied in many countries.

Certainly, the original ideas behind a ban on corporeal punishment was to prevent abuse and excessive violence, e.g. that a child suffered long-term damage (as opposed to short-term pain), was punished on the drop of a hat or with disproportional severity, or that an adult just took out his or her anger on the child. That children are given a “get out of jail free” card, was hardly the intention.

That a parent gives a child a slap, man-handles him in a non-hurting manner, or similar (given a justifying situation) is a very different matter. It seems to me that the current ban is too far-going, and that the views of “cruel” and “archaic” are unfair. In particular, I find the categorical and uncritical, almost religious, belief that some people put in physical punishment being wrong, to be incomprehensible.

As I can testify based on my own sister: There are children who must not be put in a discipline-free environment (note that “discipline” does not automatically imply corporeal punishment). Further, is is beyond doubt that the emotional punishment practiced in some families (not, I stress, my own) can have much worse effects than even a broken arm—yet, while even forcefully holding the arm of a child can be illegal, all but the most severe cases of emotional punishment are still legal.


It can pay to bear in mind that those children who have carried problems from corporeal punishment with them later in life, have done so over emotional, not physical, mechanisms. Apart from truly outrageous cases, the physical symptoms of even a severe punishment is gone within a few days—and a box around the ears can be forgotten in ten minutes. Unfair or undue punishment, punishment which is not connected with the “crime” in a timely manner, punishment that leaves a feeling of being unloved or even hated, etc., that is what causes problems.

In fact, looking back at my own life (admittedly low in punishment), the by far worst punishment-experience I had was in Kindergarten, where one of the other children set me up to take the fall for something he had done (I still do not know what): The teacher dragged me away, told me to stay put in a chair, was visibly angered at me, and refused to tell me what I had allegedly done—but did not actually hurt me. It was several years before I did not become angry when I recalled the incident—and even to this day, I remember it. Why is this? Mostly, because I was never informed about what crime was involved, and was never given the opportunity to defend myself against the unfair allegations.


Another issue is the right to vote: Typically, each enlargement of the pool of voters has been considered a “step forward”—despite most of the voters lacking the intelligence, rationality, and education to be able to make a valid choice.

Often an argument is made that it is important that all societal groups are fairly represented. Whereas this argument is not entirely without merit, it naively includes people who are easily manipulated and have no place as voters; with the result that elected politicians are not masters at governing, but at manipulation. Here I would strongly advocate an entirely different approach, possibly that one of the following criteria is applied:

  1. Only persons with a bachelor’s degree or higher are allowed to vote.

  2. Every individual is given one vote per 10,000 Euro tax paid p.a.

  3. Only people where the number [IQ + 2 * Age] exceeds 200 are allowed to vote.

  4. Voting is made contingent on passing a hard test on critical thinking and political/societal knowledge.

(With varying advantages and disadvantages.)

Interestingly, this is an issue where the modern politicians would almost unanimously join hands to oppose all changes: Allowing easily manipulated people to vote benefits the politicians more than the voters...


Obviously, the smaller pools of the past were not (necessarily) an advantage: While the pools were smaller, they were often based on irrational criteria—leading to small pools of stupid voters, instead of large pools of stupid voters. A modern system should strive for the novelty of small pools of bright voters.

The well-fare state

A limited well-fare state can something good: Someone who takes care of those who cannot take care of themselves, e.g., orphans or those unable to work. However, as time has gone by the well-fare state (as in Sweden or Germany) has developed into a system where even the unwilling to work are given a living on the cost others—often combined with bureaucratic or legal quirks that exclude those who have a valid reason to seek help.

Interestingly, there are a few issues that were considered once considered highly progressive in the US (the home of “liberal” progress), but where the trend has started to turn. Consider e.g. affirmative action or the use of absurd language constructs (“African-American” and similar) to avoid any possibility of offense to minority groups. (USanians in favor of such phrasings may note that on the few occasions I have discussed the subject with other Europeans, we have had consensus that they are laughably idiotic and signs that the proponents have lost perspective.) Political correctness, in general, is a prime example of good intentions gone wrong through lack of perspective and insight.


One of the main reasons is likely the “if a little is good, then more is better” fallacy: If adding a pinch of salt to the pot improves the taste, then so will a second, and a third, and a fourth, ...

Other reasons include the ease with which rhetoric can be applied, how easy the masses are swayed by empty emotional arguments, and similar: Consider e.g. how easy it is to (mis-)associate corporeal punishment with vicious abuse and horrible suffering.


There are also cases where something evil is rightfully attacked, but where the negative consequences of a too staunch position are over-looked and a “from the ashes, into the fire” situation can occur.

Consider e.g. child-labour, something indisputably bad (discounting special settings like educational work): Banning child-labour in Germany is a good idea; doing so in a third-world country where the child-labour is needed to supplement the family income, that is a different issue. Before such a ban can be reasonably put in place (let alone be enforced...) it is necessary to decrease the need for child-labour. Similarly, attacking companies that benefit from child-labour may seem a good idea, but the consequences for the children and their families are often misjudged.