We Need a Law for That?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The above title is a direct quote from the first commenter to a story, "Utah Governor Signs Law Legalizing 'Free-Range Parenting'," in the Deseret News. It's also essentially the same as my initial reaction upon first learning the news from "Free Range Mother" Lenore Skenazy's Let Grow blog. I can understand why many parents would want such a law -- as a solution to what Skenazy aptly calls the "weaponized busybody." I've blogged similar stories, of parents who land in legal trouble for doing ordinary things in public in front of a busybody with a cell phone, and even have my own tale of drive-by harassment. (I didn't know how lucky I was, then!)

What? Neither a phalanx of adults nor even a drone? Call CPS! (Image via Pixabay)
But a law? I am not an attorney, but this sounds like a band-aid for a much more serious set of problems, primarily cultural, but also political. I recall Skenazy, for example, discussing the origins of the now-widespread, gross exaggeration of the threat of child abductions. It's easy to see how this might prompt some people to call the police when they see children they deem too young walking somewhere alone. And perhaps law enforcement is still getting used to every Tom, Dick and Harry being able to record isolated events and use them rightly or wrongly as evidence of wrongdoing. But these alone don't account for the absurd amount of attention some of these stories get; or the precautionary mindset-cum-authoritarian impulse behind many of the people behind the cameras; or the lack of accountability they have vis-à-vis the parents they take it upon themselves to monitor. It also doesn't explain the myriad laws already on the books that place all adults on the same footing as the least responsible -- such as the one in my state that makes it illegal for me to leave one of my kids alone in the house or the car, regardless of context, period. Or such policies -- as permission forms for everything at our daycare -- that seem motivated by fear of being sued.

My best first stab at this is that, culturally, too many of us are acting less and less like independent adults, and are using the government as a surrogate parent. Such people, to greater or lesser degrees, expect laws that protect people from themselves, and demand intrusions by government that would never have been tolerated even a generation ago. This leads to intrusive legislation and the "weaponization" of laws, such as those against neglect and abuse, for purposes never intended. Most people really just want to be left alone, but passively accept this state of affairs -- until, one day, as harried parents, they learn what this really means. Then, not having thought much before about politics, they do what everyone else does, and demand a law to protect their ability (Freedom isn't quite the right word here.) to perform the activity they understand not to be so dangerous.

I can understand why many conscientious parents are excited about this law, but it gives me pause when our freedom to act isn't protected under the law by default. This law might stop "weaponized busybodies" -- in the short term, from making our lives as parents more difficult -- but it is part of a very alarming broader trend, of the government permitting us to do prescribed things, rather than protecting our freedom to act according to our best judgement. (See the way marijuana is being "legalized.") The real problem that needs addressing is that too many Americans both take freedom for granted on a daily basis and yet are intellectually inclined to be suspicious of freedom -- and this combination sets us up for those who hate and fear liberty to run roughshod over the rest of us.

I am not convinced one way or the other whether laws like this are good or bad as holding actions, but the war in which this is just a battle is the one for liberty. Some say that a government that can give you everything can also take everything away. Perhaps, but when we have to petition the government to make the usual decisions and perform the normal actions of living our daily lives, it starts to feel very late in that game.

-- CAV


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write, "as a solution to what Skenazy aptly calls the 'weaponized busybody.'"

My preferred solution is to weaponize them fully by stuffing them in a cannon and firing them into a brick wall.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gus:

I'm a little late on this. As a new Salt Lake City resident I found this interesting. Utah is Mormon country. I won't even get into that bizarre, damaging religion.

In any event, the state passes a law to let kids be kids, yet we adults have to go to state run liquor stores to buy spirits and wines. And alcohol that is sold in stores has the lowest content(something like .000001). Because of Mormon doctrine, alcohol, and caffeine are forbidden. So we are all treated like children; screw the separation of church and state???????

Bookish Babe

Gus Van Horn said...


You and me both.


Thanks for noting that particular irony. I hope your move is otherwise going well.