"For the Children": The Ugly, Personal Version

Monday, June 12, 2017

Since becoming a parent, I have noticed a cultural phenomenon recently blogged by Lenore Skenazy. She calls it "Using 'That's Not Safe' to Control Others," and quotes an Australian father extensively. For example, a professed concern for safety can be used to preempt discussion among adults:

... A toddler may complain about having to eat his green beans and asks, "WHY DO I HAVE TO EAT THEM"? The parent can respond with "BECAUSE I SAID SO THAT'S WHY"! However, an adult can't say this to another adult. They instead say, "I'M RIGHT BECAUSE MY WAY IS SAFER", or "WHAT YOU'RE DOING IS DANGEROUS"! [capitalization in original]
I have personally been harassed by complete strangers on such a basis. And I would say that any parent who gives in is providing us with a prime example of what Ayn Rand called "sanction of the victim." I would guess that many, if not most parents push back because they know that they have weighed the risks and benefits of whatever they are doing.

Unfortunately, the meddlesome often don't stop there. The above was just the first item of a list. The second is worrisome: Law enforcement and other people in authority are often manipulated to put such words into action, as happened when a parent was thrown out of a sports event because she hadn't dressed her children up like Arctic explorers. (Cold weather is a favorite excuse.)

In one sense, this is nothing new. All kinds of things, from theft to censorship are promoted by politicians "for the children." But these have usually been such measures as welfare programs or regulations that, while wrong, probably most people do not find intrusive on such a personal level.

It disturbs me that so many people these days feel so comfortable attempting to boss others around personally. However, this kind of behavior doesn't go unnoticed, and that is a silver lining: Such intrusions represent an opportunity to speak up about the use of altruism as a blanket excuse to override the thinking of others. This behavior is becoming common, but it isn't going unnoticed and it isn't going over well, to say the least. This can be a golden opportunity, for just one example, to openly discuss the difference between altruism and actually caring for someone you love.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

Would that, among other things that the Founding generation promoted, that their live and let live philosophy had survived the Germanization of American Culture in the late 19th Century.


This coin was reportedly designed by Benjamin Franklin; as a reminder to its holders, he put at its bottom the message, "Mind Your Business."


Some historians believe that the word "business" was intended literally here, as Franklin was an influential and successful businessman. Given Franklin's history publishing aphorisms, it may have been intended to mean both monetary and social business.

It's really too bad that Franklin couldn't have made it more explicit. Something along the lines of "Mind your own goddamn business!"

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


I'd prefer even the tamer, ambiguous version to "In God we trust," on our currency.

Of course, in an ideal world, banks would print their own currency, and we could use a bank that went with your version.