I recently received a very thought-provoking comment from a reader who had a question about my blog post where I claimed that spanking children was barbaric.

I have a reservation that maybe you could help me understand. 
In [your blog post] on spanking children being barbaric …
I was confused.  If there is no meaning in events [for example, spanking of children], if we can’t know the future result of that [action] “for sure,” then how can it be barbaric?
… If my partner yells at me, shall I call it barbaric if statistics show being yelled at has negative consequences? I’m confused about all this in the context of Lefkoe Belief Process, and I want to understand more.  [See my post on spanking, http://www.mortylefkoe.com/it-is-barbaric-and-must-be-stopped/.]

bigstock-Choice-121713When I first saw this question I wasn’t sure how to answer.  It looked as if I had made two statements that contradicted each other: events have no inherent meaning and spanking is inherently barbaric.  After thinking about it I’m prepared to respond.  First, let me give you my answer.  Then let me explain it.

Why events can’t possibly have inherent meaning

What I mean when I say events have no inherent meaning is that you don’t know anything, for sure, from any event or series of events.  All you know for sure is that the event happened, but you can’t draw any conclusions from the event(s). Moreover, there are almost always many different logically possible meanings for any event; there is not any single inherent meaning.  For example, someone not returning your call could mean the person is angry with you and doesn’t want to talk to you.  Or, he never got the message.  Or, he intends to call back and has been very busy and hasn’t had a chance to call yet.  Or, he did call back and when you didn’t answer he decided not to leave a message. Or, …. So whether you like it or not, events just don’t have any inherent meaning.  And wanting events to have meaning or feeling uncomfortable because events don’t have meaning doesn’t give them meaning.  There is no meaning inherent in events, not because I say so, but because logic demands it.  As difficult as it can be to accept this idea when one first hears it, most people do accept it after a little thought.  But when I point out the logical consequences of the idea—namely, that meaningless events can’t be good or bad, right or wrong—many people get very resistant. As my wife Shelly said to me when she read an early draft of this post, “I fully buy the idea that events have no inherent meaning, but you are taking that idea to a ridiculous extreme when you say that nothing is right or wrong.  Physically punishing a child is always wrong.  And what about stoning women to death as they still do in parts of the Middle East?  As you really telling me that that isn’t wrong?” To tell you the truth, I sometimes also have a hard time accepting the idea that no event is ever right or wrong when I think about specific situations.  But that is still the logical consequence of the fact that events have no inherent meaning.  Let me explain why.  (See also an earlier post in which I discuss other aspects of this issue, http://www.mortylefkoe.com/viewpoint-the-truth/.)

You have to understand where values come from

Beliefs—what we feel to be true statements about reality—are the meaning we give to meaningless events.  We make up the meaning; it is not inherent in events.  As a result, no belief is ever “the truth.”  Values are a type of belief; they are beliefs about right and wrong, good and bad.  In other words, value statements of good and bad, right and wrong, are always the meaning individuals give to meaningless events.  And if beliefs are not inherent in events, if they exist only in our minds, then specific values—which are only one type of belief—can never be “the truth” for all people, at all times, under all conditions.    It logically follows that if events have no inherent meaning, they can’t possibly be good or bad, right or wrong.

Can you make value judgments?

Although value judgments (such as, this is good; that is bad) are never “the truth,” it is perfectly appropriate to consciously choose your beliefs, including your value beliefs, and live consistently with them … as long as you know you made them up.  This will become clearer when we apply the principles I’ve established to specific situations.

Let’s look at spanking

Now let’s apply all these distinctions to spanking children.  Let me start by saying, spanking is not inherently barbaric, but it is according to my values. Spanking a defenseless child who cannot defend himself is often physically painful, teaches many spanked children that physical force is an acceptable way of dealing with other people, doesn’t teach the child anything about right and wrong (it only tells the child that the person doing the spanking doesn’t like what the child did), and more often than not leads to negative beliefs that lead to unhappiness and dysfunctional behavior as an adult. According to my values, all of those consequences are bad.  Moreover, if changing a child’s behavior is the goal, there are more effective ways to get a child to change his behavior.

What seems “bad” at the moment can seem “good” later on

And yet spanking a child is still not inherently bad.   What if being spanked resulted in one child deciding to end violence in the world and actually making some real progress in doing it?  Or if one child created a way to get millions of parents better educated in raising children?  Was the spanking really “bad” if it led to reducing violence in the world or having parents bring up their children more compassionately and effectively? When police and dogs kept Black children in the South from entering school it seemed like a tragedy at the time, but when those events were seen on television by tens of millions of people they helped get ground-breaking Civil Rights legislation passed.  Was keeping the few children from entering school really “bad” if it led to millions more Black children eventually getting a better education? And is even a “better” education really a “good” thing? Slavery made sense to most people at one point in history.  Other than the people actually being enslaved, there was a time when very few people challenged the idea that it was okay for some people to “own” other people.  Even Thomas Jefferson—who wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”—owned slaves. Despite the racism that still exists today, there are few people in the Western world who would actually try to defend slavery as an institution.  In other words, values that seem to be so true and valid at one point in time can change radically over time.  We might say that we have evolved and become more moral than people at earlier times.  Maybe so, but even if that is true, that only means that some things we argue to be intrinsically good or bad today, might be seen very differently a century from now.

Make up your own mind

Whether we like it or not, there are no such thing as intrinsically good or bad events. You have to decide for yourself what is good and bad, right and wrong.  That decision will be largely the result of other beliefs you have formed and the stage of development you are at.  Once you have created your value beliefs it is perfectly appropriate to argue for them, to try to convince others of your position, even to fight and die for them. Just don’t ever try to fool yourself into thinking that your values are “right.”

 

Thanks for reading my blog.  Today’s post should engender a lot of controversy.  Please post your questions or comments about why moral judgments can never be “the truth.” Your comments will add value for thousands of readers.  I love to read them all and I will respond to as many as I can. If you want to help your friends better understand the source of moral judgments, please share this blog post with them by using the buttons located both at the top and the end of this post. If you haven’t yet eliminated at least one of your limiting self-esteem beliefs using the Lefkoe Belief Process, go to http://www.recreateyourlife.com where you can eliminate several limiting beliefs free.

Copyright © 2013 Morty Lefkoe