Adrian Peterson and the glacial pace of cultural evolution

Reach out and touch me now
Aphrodite said
You aren’t the only one
with armies in your head

Adrian-PetersonI guess I take the Adrian Peterson story personally, for reasons I wrote about back in 2011. To this day I remember the pain that was inflicted on me by those I loved, and who loved me. Pain inflicted because they loved me, so much that they would have laid down their lives for me without question. But in their minds, if they spared the rod they were hurting me.

It warps you, in a way. It makes you associate pain with love and justice. And at 53, I have accepted that I will never quite be okay because of it.

Cultural evolution is a slow and sometimes painful thing. What is obvious to you and me today will be obvious to everyone eventually, but eventually might mean 20 years.

This basic dynamic is a source of unending frustration for people like us, isn’t it? Being enlightened is its own reward, but anytime you’re out ahead of the curve – any curve – it necessarily comes with a maddening sense of why doesn’t everyone get this? The challenge is how to contribute to moving the pace along, speeding it up as much as possible, without going nuts yourself.

I have failed at this balancing act more times in my life than I can recall. There is a war in my head and it never stops, and when a story like this makes its way into the public consciousness the fight starts back up again. This is, in part, what I had in mind when I penned those lines at the top for a song called “Hegemony,” which appeared on Fiction 8’s Project Phoenix CD.

The good news, I guess, is that right now Adrian Petersen is doing for child abuse what Ray Rice has done for domestic abuse. There are almost certainly children out there who will never be subjected to this kind of violence again, thanks to the attention on this story.

The pace of cultural evolution isn’t moving fast enough for me, but at least it’s moving.


  • I’m conflicted here. Like you, I was beaten with virtually everything–peach switches, belts, paddles, shoes, you name it. And like you, my parents and grandparents did it at least in part because they thought it was the right thing to do. (My grandmother was a bit psychopathic–different story.) My parents both hated it, not that it stopped them.

    Indeed, they even had rules–nothing above the waist, etc. When one of our babysitters once slapped me on the face with an open hand, my parents went to war. OK to leave welts, bruises and blood running down the legs, but not OK to leave a faint red mark on the cheek.

    In the main, I think it’s a good thing to stop beating children. I certainly never beat mine, and if I spanked them at all, it was one whack on the bottom with an open hand a time or two.

    However, I can’t help feeling there’s something materially different between Rice and AP. Rice grew up in a household without wife beating and with a strong mother. He knows better. AP likely grew up with peach switches, and doesn’t know better. I know ignorance is no excuse, but I sorta think it is.

  • I doubt this story will do anything for children or for the fight against child abuse. It will simply bring out the abusers and make them more strident. Read any comment thread of any reasonable length on this story and you will see that the beaters are very sure they have a right to beat. And beat. And beat.

    I’m not going to get in bad-parent Olympics, here, but I will say that this idea that parents or grandparents or whatever relatives or foster parents beat out of perfect love is just a crock of the smelliest stuff you ever smelled. I suppose that, theoretically, a parent could feel forced into beating by some sort of religious kookery, but you would see that in the parent’s demeanor. There would be serious pain on his/her face, a strong reluctance ever to engage in beating, a determination to beat only to the minimum level required, and the like. Maybe some people reading this saw something like that, but I never did with my own parents, and I never saw another child beaten in public by a caregiver who had anything like that demeanor.

    And you know what else? A parent who feels forced to beat would think about it a long time and approach the act calmly but resolutely. If a beaten child has ever seen such a thing, I never heard about it. Instead, the act was done with extreme anger, was administered on a rage-induced impulse, and was often carried on until the rage-filled parent was too exhausted to lift his/her whip, 2×4, belt, switch, lamp cord, fly swatter handle, yardstick, sap, billy club, baton, wire snake loop, .tent pole, crow bar, 38 Smith and Wesson, or whatever came nearest to hand.

    Nope. I’d wager that 99.9% of beatings are administered in rage. They’re done for the parent — not for the child in any way, whatsoever.

    I give Peterson no slack, here. He’s a bad parent. It’s that simple. And a criminally bad parent, at that.

    Degree of physical punishment
    Never Rare Moderate Severe Extreme
    Violent inmates
    at San Quentin 0% 0% 0% 0% 100%
    Delinquents 0% 2% 3% 31% 64%
    High School
    drop-outs 0% 7% 23% 69% 0%
    freshmen 2% 23% 40% 33% 0%
    Professionals 5% 40% 36% 17% 0%


    • A parent who feels forced to beat would think about it a long time and approach the act calmly but resolutely. If a beaten child has ever seen such a thing, I never heard about it.

      A good percentage of my whippings fit this description. Not all – many were of the anger variety – but plenty were calm and measured. I won’t argue that this is anything but an exception, as you say, but it does happen occasionally.

    • as always, helpful and thoughful response. thanks.

  • OK, more data coming out. Turns out this is not AP’s first problem with this. And as unfair as it might be, I’m always swayed when people are accused twice, e.g., Ben Roethlisberger. Once can be bad luck…..twice? although having said that, I’ve never been accused of beating another human being even once, so there you go.

    • Well, Peterson, as far as I can tell, has admitted to, essentially, caning his son. He just doesn’t believe it’s abuse. He’s also admitted to whipping the other boy, though he says that the boy got the scar on his head when it hit the car seat (while he was whipping him). So, the facts of the case don’t seem to be in any dispute that I can tell.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s