Illustration by whatsthatsound

Proverbs 22:15: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.”

I was once spanked in public, in broad daylight… and as an adult.

The spectacle happened umpteen years ago.  It included me, my boyfriend, a New York City backdrop, and a Greek chorus of anonymous boys from the hood.  To add to the romance, the chorus appropriately consisted of rappers.  My boyfriend and I were  walking along, I  must have said X Y and Z , when suddenly he spun me around and discharged three perfectly executed rapid fire smacks on my patootie.  Dazed, I turned only to see said chorus approaching, grinning, with one of them rapping the words “Slam Slam Cinderella.”   To add to the surreal quality of the event: I didn’t feel humiliated.

Ever since that incident I’ve thought about what spanking  means in general.  The politico-bio-psycho-sociology of spanking became a compelling topic, fueled by this ambivalent reaction of mine and the overall ambiguous nature of pleasure/pain, notions of feminism, humiliation, attention, punishment, anger, and fetishism that can come from being spanked.  I can’t remember ever having been formally spanked as a child and so I wondered how those who were routinely spanked as children are later affected; even to the point of what sort of political choices they might make.  Could there actually be a politics to spanking in our nation’s family?

Some form of innocuous spanking exists throughout the human life cycle.  The archetypal smacking on the bottom of a newborn is the first zen slap when life says “OK, now contend”.  It may continue as a  possible item on the retribution menu through childhood and then into adulthood usually assisted by a proxy, e.g. the salvo of a snapped locker room towel.  On the fun end, beyond it being the seat of punishment both mock and real, the bottom cannot help but be erogenous.  It is served by the same plexus of nerves which serves the flip side.   Moreover,  since the nerves are deeply buried beneath fat and muscle, it requires more than just a soft brush to activate them. It requires the solid, nearly Puritanical work ethic of a focused and penetrating spank.  To spank is to pay attention. It forms a percussive connection between the two cheeks, either of the two hands; the locations of both that can be adjusted to maximal variety.  The invisibility and possibly imagined anonymity of the spanker, the faceless, non-witnessing aspect of the spankee.  It is dramatic and holds a certain degree of theatricality that has not gone unexploited in cultures worldwide. Spanking can be fun even if done in public.

After the Chinese New Year is a week long affair which culminates in light spanking of the men and light whipping of the women to expunge bad luck.  In Eastern Europe,  boys chase girls in the Spring sprayng them with perfume whereupon the girls tagged with scent in turn chase the boys to issue their spanking revenge.  Egypt  may have been the birthplace of the birthday spank as it was intended to prepare the body for the afterlife.  And you can bet your bottom dollar Ancient Rome had “Spankatoria”.

But there is the sinister side to spanking which affects the US today.  Spanking is still a vestige from the pre-sixties mentality of disciplining children coming mainly from binary-thinking right/wrong authorities who do not believe in the relative merits of talking through and time-outs.  Research has shown that spanking children as a punishment based on pain and humiliation is a typically Republican activity.  Democrats tend to choose time-outs and discussions.  The right wing, moreover Conservative Protestants, whip asses and tend to dwell in appropriately “red states”.  Research has shown this to be true.  The power of control, the need for hierarchical dominance, the unwillingness or incapacity to talk through a transgression  whereupon “justice” is measured and evidenced by tears.  In the days before Child Protective Services, that is to say, in the days of Tea Partier childhoods, spanking was the norm.  If liberals tend to talk and conservatives tend to spank, what does this mean?

Repeated spanking  of a child is a reinforced connection  between a parent, who is supposed to love, and the “bad” child.   This inherent cognitive dissonance creates a conflict which needs to be integrated somehow into the psyche. Some may go on to eroticize it, but many  will develop a view of distrusting authority and identifying with the aggressor.  By identifying with the aggressor the displaced conflict ends up in subsequent spanking of the “weak” and, indeed, masochistic “self-spanking” since so many of the spanked ultimately vote against their own best interests politically.   For a butt regularly spanked will sculpt the brain’s neurobiology to dedicate more brain area to represent “butt” and if the spanking is linked to conservative views of right/wrong, good/evil, then the brain becomes  a bio-political hostage to the butt.  Beyond a brainwashing there is political brainspanking.  .

If families are the first form of government then James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” type  is the first experience a child brought up in a traditionally Conservative home has with government as a truly intrusive and noxious entity.  “Painful enough” spanking according to Dobson, is a necessary practice to teach right and wrong because kids “just want to feel free to do what feels good” and “feeling good” is, in a word, liberal.  Fortunately, Dobson recommends not spanking a child under fifteen months, but some Conservatives advocate spanking from birth.  It would make perverse sense: good disciplining at birth means good fiscal discipline later when  kids enter the free-market.  But spanking doesn’t stop there.  What if you don’t succeed in the capitalist system?  Then you weren’t disciplined.  Not disciplined? Then you’re not moral.  Not moral?  Then you deserve to get punished: >>Spank<<. You deserve to be in poverty >>Spank<< without health care >>Spank<<, without prospects <<Spank Spank Spank>>.  Just turn your other butt cheek so God and the Spanking Right may take cracks at you.  To assure you understand your place you will be relegated to a life more suffused with alcohol and drugs to dull the sting and be given lawlessness and violence for your recreational and intellectual outlets.

Yet the basis for democracy is fairness and freedom and these moral values are predicated on empathy.  Fairness and freedom should exist for everybody and not just those in authority. Yet fairness in a certain sense goes unrecognized and freedom is by and large corporally punishable in the Conservative home.  Forget “pursuit of happiness” which is a higher order of approximation and one that can only be based on fairness and freedom in place and fully operative. These values have been spanked out of our country because of a long-standing conscious and conscientiously spanking by the right wing.  It is best evidenced by the fact that many conservatively leaning people vote against their own self interests, masochistically punishing themselves to substandard lives and sadistically punishing the next guys down the totem pole, usually immigrants and minorities.

How did this happen?  The short answer is, working class liberals who were strong on family values and who probably spank and were spanked (even Dr. Spock was an advocate of spanking at a time) made Conservatism their identity after the sixties spanked them with feminism, civil rights and war protestations.  It extended far beyond values and into the fiber of how they see themselves in the world.  In addition, the idea of “liberal elite” was concocted and the recognizable party demonized.  Hollywood made fly-over country the butt of jokes and so the poorer liberal was spanked by the enlightened, educated and emancipated liberal at a time when the right wing had strategically placed the seed of “the liberal elite” as bogeymen into their mindset.  With a sense of a strict father-run family already in place, the working class liberal opted out and has been brainspanked ever since by the highly structured and organized conservative message spreaders including the right wing-run media.  The reporters may be liberal but the messages, the linguistics and words are straight out of a right wing dictionary.  The simple and repetitive messages are so amenable to be like spanks: “Death Panels! Death Panels! Death Panels! Government Takeover! Government Takeover! Government Takeover!” and so on.

The empathic father and mother in our nation’s family are not recognized.  The father who listens and at most gives time-outs, who expects enlightened discourses on policy (like our President), who care about protection through consumer rights, workers rights, affordable health care is seen as  socialist Kaiser Söze.  The brain that went un-spanked, that stayed all-brain and continues to communicate the truth in all-brain language about caring, something that exists on a visceral plane, will never be able to compete with the spanked brain that has made that exquisitely triggerable connection between brain and butt.  If the best the left can do is smack trolls on places like Huffington Post then it needs to up its game.

Regaining the balance requires those on the Left to understand several things: 1). The need to connect and communicate on an emotional level which means giving a straight-out narrative of the truth without fear of “playing dirty” like the other side; 2). Appearing authentic and unscripted, a “I’m like you” tack and not a “you can’t even spell right, you hillbilly” one; 3) Describing the core values of America, including moral ones like available and affordable health care since life and death are moral issues, issues that supplant whether gays are allowed to marry, or any other “moral” red herring issues dangled before us by the Right Wing; 4). Engendering trust (eventually) so the 5) Identity can be re-established as one which is aligned with its own self-interests.

Slam Slam Cinderella.  This spanked,  impoverished, working class girl of a nation amidst the ashes of her own defeat has choices of godmother.    Hopefully, it will be the one who isn’t part of a fairytale.

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Interestingly, considering the subject, I think it’s fair to say that two of the great Dystopian writers of the last century were into the ol’ slap and tickle. In “1984” the citizens are kept entertained by a book called “Spanking Stories”. But the cake goes to Aldous Huxley. His writing reveals a definite love of female behinds, and near the end of “Brave New World” there is a completely gratuitous, bathetic spanking scene that seems as out of place as a Benny Hill skit in a Bergman movie. Love taps show up again in his utopian bookend piece, “The Island”.

Maybe you could have called your piece “Big Brother is Spanking You”?


Nah – the RW would think you were talking about liberals. That’s whom they see as “Big Brother” not themselves.


I was, and it was by a very religious babysitter, often for things that were blamed on me that I didn’t do, or even the smallest things. It was in the kitchen with ‘the’ wooden spoon for anyone walking by to see.

I hate to ruin the basic thesis, but for me it instilled on a most visceral level the ugliness and unfairness of rigid orthodox thinking. My protestations didn’t matter. However brave a face I tried to put on in preparation, I’d learn to have dissociative episodes, where I only became aware of the tears from the sting after I came to. And I was supposed to think about what I hadn’t done in a dark stairwell, while able to see the girls who’d pinned the offense on me outside playing through the crack in the door. I associate the authoritarian right with literal pain and capriciously cruel injustice.

Years later in High School, attending a rare church service with my mom, the pastor actually whipped out the rod quote in support of punishing children. I muttered under my breath audibly that he should be spanked for saying that, got up and walked out emotionally shaken and angry.

Not to say I can’t see the fun side of it either, though. 🙂

And, there’s probably some correlation to the fetishization of it later in life (NSFW).


” ….the system is completely violent and involved in violence, and there is no way out but violence, and that leads only to more violence. Really – what is ahead but the apocalypse?”

– Thomas Merton


Q, what a really interesting take on the whole right/left thing!

Like almost everyone here(I would wager), I wish I had a dollar for every hour I’ve spent trying to figure out what in the hell makes people on the right the way they are.

The best I’ve been able to come up with is that there must have been event/events and/or person/persons in their early years who convinced them of two massively important things:

1. People, across the board, can not be trusted. The only way the right thing will be done by them is if they are watched constantly and/or coerced to do it.

2. Money is extremely important. It just might be the most important thing in the world.

Lefties, on the other hand, seem to feel that:

1. Some people are trustworthy and some aren’t. Trust the ones you can and avoid the rest.

2. Money is cool. People, education and art are cooler.

(Okay that might not be the most objective way to put it…)

Weirdly, I have known spankers, spankees, and non-spankers and non-spankees to end up in either camp.

What seems to correlate even more directly, in my (limited) experience, is a childhood that was either chaotic or secure, money-obsessed or not.

The rightiest people I know seem to have come from backgrounds that involved some or all of the following:

1. One or both parent(s) who were drunk and/or addicted.
2. Religiously rigid household
3. Very wealthy or very poor household, where money was endlessly and relentlessly pursued.
4. Physically abusive and/or neglectful parent(s).
5. Mentally ill parent(s)
6. Extreme inconsistency in discipline. (If spanking was done in a consistent way and not in a state of rage, it seemed less likely to produce a RWer…though that still doesn’t make it OK, does it?)
7. A “kiss up — kick down” attitude toward authority. Deference to bosses and even your garden-variety bully, and abusive attitudes toward “inferiors.”
8. Hierarchical view of life. God is the Big Boss and he rules over men; men dominate women; women dominate children. And children kick the dog. The whole concept of operating peer-to-peer or as partners (as in a marriage) is alien.

I’m sure I’ve overlooked a bunch!

But the people I’ve observed who come from backgrounds like that (and haven’t managed to recognize the damage, with the help of wonderful people like you!!) seem to crave identification with power (which, almost of necessity, involves money), lack empathy, fear change of almost any kind, resist learning new things, and abhor complexity (big fans of simplistic, binary thinking).

Then, of course, we can further complicate the whole scene by taking a look at these recent studies that indicate that conservatives have bigger amygdalas than lefties. But that might blow all my amateur theorizing to hell!

And we can’t have that, now…

Thanks for a great post, Q.


From Republican Gomorrah (Max Blumenthal)which so well confirms your point:

The movement’s most powerful leader embodied the most severe qualities of his followers’ god. James Dobson is a quintessential strict father whose influence has been compared by journalistic observers to that of a cult leader. Unlike most of his peers, Dobson had no theological credentials or religious training. He was a child psychologist ❗ who burst onto the scene with a best-selling book that urged beating children into submission in order to restore the respect for God and government [authority] that America’s youth had lost during the 1960s.

Dobson leveraged his fame and wealth to build a kingdom of crisis that counseled the trauma-wracked Middle American masses with Christian oriented solutions to their personal problems. Then he marshaled them into apocalyptic morality crusades against abortion and homosexuality. When his Christian army reached critical mass, Dobson set them against the Republican establishment, flexing his grassroots muscle to destroy the ambitions of moderates such as Bob Dole and Colin Powell, and propelling movement figures such as DeLay and George W. Bush into ascendancy.


Oh,jeez! And you got What’s to do that AWESOME illustration!!!


Well, I didn’t WANT to! In fact, I totally resisted the idea. But Q, she was, uh, very PERSUASIVE.
(Whats rubs bottom…..)


Wow! What a brilliant piece, Q!

So much to think about in your post, more later.

But this macro view of politics through the prism of nurture is incisive and explains far more than arguments over actual issues.

What makes one more predisposed to embrace negative feelings than reason? Indeed, one’s core view of authority figures stems from one’s original and primary authority figures, one’s parents.

It is indeed a disconnect for small children to process that their parents love them and can hit them. They grow up loving and fearing their parents, feeling powerless but being rewarded and not beaten when following orders. The sense of self-hatred and subservience intertwined.

How does the developing mind of a human being deal with this confusing dynamic?

What you’ve presented is so incisive and reasoned, well done!


As you know, Q, we are on the same page about this. I LOVE this post! And I love all the side roads it takes my mind down.

For instance, I am pretty sure that at the time of the Founding Fathers, corporal punishment was the norm. Yet they were enlightened and, for that time, extremely “Liberal.” So how do I square that with what I believe about Repubs and spanking? I think it has to do with motivation for spanking. There seems to me to be different kinds of spanking—from the pro forma “this hurts me more than it hurts you” type (where the spanker’s heart isn’t in it), to the hard ass/tight ass ( 😉 )“You will obey me!” types.

Then, I think, there is the reptilian brain type of spanking. I spanked my son once and he was about 18 months old. I am not proud of that, but I use this story to illustrate how fear can make us angry—terror, more so.

While I was still asleep one morning, he climbed out of his crib. I awoke to find it empty, and he was nowhere in the apartment. However, a chair had been pushed to the edge of the balcony. I will never forget how I had to steel myself to look over the balcony to the ground. Of course, he wasn’t lying on the pavement, but I heard kids’ voices and ran into the street, where he was in his onesies, playing down the block. I spanked him all the way home. As you point out though, that was not a repeated punishment, which makes all the difference.

I guess my rambling point is that aside from the act of spanking, which as C’Lady addresses so well as an assault of power, the motivation of the spanking matters too, to a degree. I think the parents I associate with the authoritarian Right are damaged people in many ways; fearful and frustrated with no self-insight–thus no ability to discuss. Insight is too dangerous to their fragility.

Actually, I have to re-read your piece; there is so much in it to think about!


Ques – GREAT analysis of the bifurcation that exists within America. I read some Lakoff here but think your insights are exceptional. I’d like to add my own observations that I think support your excellent assessment.

Something that has always confused me is the total absence of spanking on 1950s sitcom TV. From “Father Knows Best” to “Stu Erwin” to “Beaver Cleaver” the use of dialogue and discussion were the only ways kids (not that they were ever really bad) were ever disciplined in the ’50s sitcoms. Isn’t that odd given the conservatism of the times? You’d think we as a population would have learned something from all that.

I once heard the head of a local NAACP defend whipping (not spanking) as an essential core to Black family. I met a Pentecostal preacher who said, without a shred of self reflection, that when his tiny 2-year-olds were kids and wouldn’t settle down to sleep, he’d take a belt to them, and then they’d be very quiet.

How could ANYONE whip a baby with a belt?????? I BET they settled down! Twenty years later, I’d be unsurprised if they’d slit his throat. He may have gotten “obedience”, but his grown adult daughter had FIVE kids, all out of wedlock, all by different fathers, so I’m not quite sure what the belt taught other than questing for love in all the wrong places. She was one of the angriest people I’ve ever, EVER met, too. Some ‘teaching tool’ that was.

We do have a nation of brats, narcissists, egomaniacs, and you find tons of them on the conservative end of the spectrum. If spanking actually taught anything, it was sheer survival, looking out for your own self at any cost. Being spanked is absolutely the loss of power over your own physical integrity. Kids for whom that becomes a way of life are angry people. How can living in fear and resentment of the person who is supposed to protect you do anything but engender rage and a sense that you can trust NO ONE?

I doubt the odd smack is psychologically harmful, but routine spanking and whipping are forms of bullying, and we know that bullies are too often those who’ve been bullied.

Conservatives may claim “spanking did ME no harm”, but if you are angry at your government, hate your neighbors, are sure everyone is getting something you aren’t, and resent what the Joneses have that you don’t, then yeah – spanking harmed you a very great deal.

So I say to conservatives who mourn the loss of Beaver-Cleaver days – then be Beaver-Cleaver parents. Do as they did. Teach your kids, don’t beat your kids. Some values liberals hold are definitely worth sharing.


C’lady, I didn’t finish reading your whole post but had to stop because I was thinking the very same thing about the 50’s sitcoms! Particularly “Father Knows Best,” because it was my favorite.

You know much more about this then I, but it occurs to me that even in the conservative (small “c”) 50’s, most Christians went to more mainstream churches– and I associate those churches with tolerance, and turn-the-other-cheek, love-thy-neighbor scripture. Yes, there was always the spare the rod types, but it seemed more compassionate then. I am wondering if the rise of fundamentalism, along with the mega churches changed that.


Ohhhhhhh, yeahhhhhhh.

Another reason why the religious right hates the mainline Protestants – we don’t beat people up, not even kids. Clearly we aren’t fit to be in the Kingdom of God since we actually believe that hopey-changey-lovey stuff. To the Religious Right, compassion is for wimps. Saw a T-shirt of theirs once: “Intolerance is a beautiful thing”.

Outside abortion clinics, these “baby lovers” would plant their kids in strollers across the driveway where drivers entering the clinic COULD NOT SEE THEM – and then the moms would walk away and chitchat while their infants served as a fragile – horridly fragile – ‘barricade’. Cannot tell you how often we called CPS or the cops. Older kids, if reluctant to freeze in winter or broil in summer on the picket lines, would routinely get smacked across the face for their “sass”.

Wonderful, loving parents, they.

Says it all. Says every damned thing you need to know.



Many, many, many years ago, my former spouse and I were followers of James Dobson. Now, speaking only for myself, I often wonder, why?


Why did I allow myself to get sucked into Dobson? Was Dobson’s philosophy something I personally needed at the time, or was it the mentality of the fundamentalist-neo-con-crowd we socialized with? Believe me, there were, and undoubtedly still are many heavy duty believers.

Regardless of the source, it was as unhealthy then (which I have moved far beyond) as it is now (which many have been seduced to believe).

Whether it be Jim Jones, Charlie Manson, some present-day-on-air pundit, or any other self-proclaimed-prophet professes, all are delusional, all take advantage of the weak, and all are responsible for the vitriol they spew under the protection of “Freedom of Speech”.

Accepting responsibility for their behavior, would be in their best interest.

Unfortunately, and in this day and age, money speaks louder than morals or ethics (words totally excluded here). These people 😆 😆 😆 all the way to the bank while the Gabby Giffords and others remain in ICU, and numerous individuals, including a beautiful 9 year old little girl have died — direct results of their unmitigated, “free” hate speech.

It’s time for those responsible for “stirring the pot” to step up to the plate and ACCEPT responsibility. Suck it up those- of-you-laughing-all-the-way-to-the-bank; each and everyone of you took advantage of, and is in someway responsible for, what this 22 year old did. You used him with your vitriol; he believed your shit (Senators and Representatives INCLUDED).

Moreover, if all y’all can not or refuse to step up to the plate, then maybe you need to reevaluate why you think any of the rest of us should give a flying fig what you have to say — even if it is only about the weather.