Monday, January 16, 2017
A couple of recent stories from Free Range Kids, Lenore
Skenazy's parenting blog, have reminded me of Ayn Rand's essay on "The
Ethics of Emergencies," which argues that, because emergency
situations are not metaphysically normal for man (cited at link),
they should not serve as the basis for the ethical system by which he
should live his whole life:
It is important to differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of human existence. This does not mean a double standard of morality: the standard and the basic principles remain the same, but their application to either case requires precise definitions.The modern variant of comparing our existence to a hospital or a life boat is to demand that we all live by the imaginary, worst-case dictates of precautionary thinking. Think of the biggest worry-wart you know (and probably ignore), and then imagine that person in power over your daily life. Here are just a couple of examples of this from Skenazy's blog, one from journalism and one from parenting. Here's the first:
An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible -- such as a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a shipwreck. In an emergency situation, men's primary goal is to combat the disaster, escape the danger and restore normal conditions (to reach dry land, to put out the fire, etc.).
By "normal" conditions I mean metaphysically normal, normal in the nature of things, and appropriate to human existence. Men can live on land, but not in water or in a raging fire. Since men are not omnipotent, it is metaphysically possible for unforeseeable disasters to strike them, in which case their only task is to return to those conditions under which their lives can continue. By its nature, an emergency situation is temporary; if it were to last, men would perish.
It is only in emergency situations that one should volunteer to help strangers, if it is in one's power. For instance, a man who values human life and is caught in a shipwreck, should help to save his fellow passengers (though not at the expense of his own life). But this does not mean that after they all reach shore, he should devote his efforts to saving his fellow passengers from poverty, ignorance, neurosis or whatever other troubles they might have. Nor does it mean that he should spend his life sailing the seven seas in search of shipwreck victims to save....
The principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency and to turn the misfortune of some into a first mortgage on the lives of others.
A squirrel chomped the leg of a senior citizen sitting on the porch of a retirement home in Deltona. WESH TV reports that the victim ran inside, furry felon still attached, whereupon it bit three more seniors. This is terrible. (Especially for a squirrel fanatic like me. One bad squirrel does not a bad species make!)And now, before you laugh at yet another dumb reporter, consider the second, in which a father -- thanks to the courts empowering yet another meddlesome creep with a camera -- received criminal sentencing for making his eight year old son walk home on a familiar route one evening:
Anyway, I bring it up because at the end of this "news" story, the reporter ("Robert Lowe"!!!) says in all seriousness, "Tonight I spoke with the parent company which runs the senior living center here in Deltona. They described in detail what happened but did not say what if anything they're doing to prevent another attack."
That's right. The company did not abjectly, automatically and immediately announce any new measures it will take to make sure this once-in-a-lifetime incident does not happen once-in-a-lifetime again.
What does Robert Lowe think should happen? Perhaps the parent company could chop down all the trees on its property, or cover the porch in wire mesh? Maybe it could hire some squirrel assassins? Give HazMat suits to the golden agers who inisist [sic] on venturing outside?
My point is, this "SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!" mentality is doing us in. It's making us dumb, scared, wasteful, ungrateful ... [bold and link in original]
[Mike] Tang later asked the court if a man who would not let a 20-year-old walk home at 8 at night struck them as a reasonable judge of danger.The above excerpt hardly does the case justice, so I recommend reading all of it. Do note that Tang correctly assessed the chances of harm coming to his son and made that clear in court -- and that the court labeled this speculation. This court then sided with the fevered speculation of the man mentioned in the first sentence of the above.
Apparently it did. This was a jury trial and the verdict came back: Guilty. Tang was sentenced to a fine of $220 plus one year of parenting classes plus 56 days of "hard labor" which sounds like breaking rocks, but is basically picking up trash and other menial tasks for the county.
To date Tang has refused to do any of these things and now the county is threatening to suspend his driver's license. Which, Tang pointed out in an email to me, means his son would be doing even more walking..
Tang has filed an appeal even as the court has issued a warrant for his arrest. [bold in original]
After you do, consider the fact that, although such cases are currently rare enough to remain newsworthy, they are becoming common enough that we should speak up about them. Yes, the widespread availability of mobile cameras does mean that we might be filmed or photographed at any given moment. But having to live up to someone else's ridiculous notions about what is "safe" should not and need not be part of the bargain.