Every morning I wake up, check my news feed, and read stories of extreme doom and gloom about the “next generation”. Oh the kids these days! Of course, I usually ignore most of these doomsayer ramblings, yet one story from last week struck a chord with me.
It was a Newsweek piece reporting on a recent study that found that the creativity of American under-18’s, steadily rising throughout history until1 1990, has since then “consistently inched downward”, with the decline most prevalent amongst children of primary school age. The commentariat have been quick to blame “video games” and the educational curriculum for this decline, but I am not so sure. Instead, I propose a different thesis. I suspect that it is our modern culture of isolating and protecting our children from every conceivable risk, any possible danger, anything that might possibly cause them any form of momentary unhappiness, that is to blame. That by “protecting” our children, we have inadvertently killed their souls, and are creating a society not of men, but of zombie drones.
Allow me to explain. We now live in a country that is based upon risk-minimisation to the extreme. It is now viewed as legitimate for our government to do everything to minimise any potential negative effects on our lives, even if we enter them of our free volition (just think of the war on obesity, on smoking, on alcohol and so on). The nanny state rules supreme, and it is only natural that such a protective mindset is applied to the youngest of our society – to an even greater degree in fact. Yet I ask – at what cost?
Let us all think back upon when we were in school. Even for a relatively youngling like me (I’m not old yet!), I think about all I did that was perfectly harmless back when I was at school, but would now be illegal. Indeed, I still remember much-beloved playground equipment at my school torn out on the fear that someone might get hurt (If anyone from Trinity is reading this – remember the Vomitron? And the fun we had before it was removed courtesy of Ashfield Council?) . I remember when, just two years ago, as a leader in the Scouting movement, I proposed, as part of our annual camp, activities that I did countless times as a child – activities that I not only enjoyed, but without doubt built character – and was informed that due to the current legal regime, the 0.001% risk of a skinned knee was too great, and we were unable to do them. Some of my greatest childhood memories have now become illegal. The fun I had, the things I learned – all unavailable these days. And this doesn’t even begin to get into all the things our parents generation did – and lived through.
What have we, proud Western civilisation, come to. What state are we now in. In the U.S., a parent was called the “worst mum in America” for letting her 9 year old ride the subway unsupervised (h/t to the IPA for bringing this case to my attention). In Britain (the world’s first soft-totalitarian state), parents are being persecuted by the State for letting their children ride a bike to school (oh the monstrosity! Heaven forbid! A child riding a bike to school, what horror!). Even Facebook, under pressure from the UK Government run Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (bolstered by a petition from 44 police chiefs – voluntary choice indeed) has agreed to introduce a “panic button” on its UK sites, where “teens will be encouraged to click it when suspicious that they’re being targeted for abuse…and may also report users who they believe are acting inappropriately toward them”.The list goes on. And on. And on.
And do you know what? I just want to scream “enough is enough”. Call out for an end to this madness. Go climb Mt. Kosciusko and scream for all Australia to hear. Our great land was founded on the rugged pioneering spirit. The squatter in the outback. The free settles out on the land. Throughout our history we have seen brave men and women face all odds, overcome every obstacle, all in the spirit of forging a new and greater life for themselves and their families. People who recognised danger, yet spat in its face. This is what made us. We have such a proud history of overcoming adversity, and yet now we are creating a society where adversity is apparently an evil word. A society where everyone must be protected – by The State – from every ill. A society where toil seems to be unacceptable.
Let us just look of what we think of our children. How much faith we place in their resilience. Even a cursory check of the media would bring up countless stories condemning “bullying” in schools, accompanied by calls on the State to take action. “Zero tolerance” educational academics proclaim! No child should ever be “bullied” at school! Everyone should be all sweet and nice and all children should frolic merrily through school playgrounds hand in hand! Real life preparation indeed.
Just think about it. Take a few moments to think about where we now are. We now have a Federal Select Parliamentary Committee looking into cyber-abuse. Again, just stop and think about this for a moment. The highest elected representatives of the land – the people responsible for our economy, our defence, our national wellbeing – are spending their time trying to stop mean 14 year olds from sending nasty emails. Does this not bother anyone? Do you not just think to stop and say, enough is enough? I mean… really? Are we really that far gone that we really want our government to do this?
Of course, this is not to take away from serious incidents of abuse of people at school. Severe abuse ought never be tolerated, and teachers and community leaders should take every effort to stamp it out without question. Violence, death threats, severe intimidation should be treated with the utmost severity – there is no question there. But to conflate any wrongdoing, any ‘mean’ action with severe abuse strikes me as counter-productive at best. To call someone a rude name, to not invite them to your birthday party, to engage in such acts as what have now been termed “anti-social behaviour” (punishable in many places by the legal system) is not the same thing as genuine abuse. To the contrary, by equating all “bullying” as an act worthy of government intervention, you do little more than trivialise the severe cases, and place everything on the same level playing field. The result? Lessening the chances that intervention where it is genuinely needed occurs properly (boys and wolves, after all). Even more insidiously, however, is the fact that if you consider harmless “bullying” as an act worthy of Federal Government interference, then you do not provide children faced with minor meanness with the opportunity to learn how to stand up for themselves. Instead, you foster a dependant mentality where all they think of is run to an authority figure for help.
Last week, a study [immediately denounced by the busy-body industry (for how else can we call it?)] by prominent psychologists revealed that standing up to classroom bullies can be an important step in childhood development. Without even going into the details, this ought be intuitive to us all. After all, how else are we to learn how to assert ourselves if all opportunities to do so at a childhood level are taken away from us? And so I make the claim: bullying can be beneficial. Standing up to people, learning to deal with adversity, confronting your fears – this is all animportant rite of passage for all children, and one that reaps countless benefits in adult life. Yet it is something we now seem willing – indeed eager – to deprive our children of. Looking back on my life, I freely admit I was an utter twat for most of my school times (not much has changed perhaps). Yet I can freely admit that it was those people who called me out on it – who did the very “anti-social” actions that are now condemned by the Federal Government – that ultimately made me a better person. And, with t he benefit of hindsight, I am grateful to them for it.
Since I shall doubtlessly be condemned as callous for saying “bullying can be beneficial” already, I might as well go on. And extend this to life overall. Last week, a “healthy, leafy branch fell from a tree in Central Park and the unthinkable happened: It killed a 6-month-old girl who was in her mom’s arms, just as the dad was about to take their picture. The mom was gravely injured. The dad is now taking the first steps toward filing a lawsuit.”A tragedy, to be sure. But let us think about what this lawsuit means. What message it sends. Because – to me – the message, one of zero tolerance to any bad act of fate – is clear. It is a message that we need a society where no child can ever, under any circumstances, be exposed to any risk whatsoever. We need a world free of all risk. Of any possibility of danger. Where nothing bad can possibly happen. And this is a message I cannot accept, and a world I would never want to live in.
The busybody-industry will respond by saying “one innocent death is too many”. At the risk of ruining my entire future political career by saying this, dammit, no it is not. We live in a fallen world. Bad things happen. Innocent children will always die. This is unavoidable. We can never protect people against every threat, every possible disaster. Unless we live our lives cocooned in a plastic bubble (and perhaps even then), s**t happens. That’s life. Innocents will always die. The question is how we react to this. Do we accept the nature of the world, do we accept that there are bad people out there and learn how to cope and deal with this, or do we attempt to cocoon everyone, attempt to prevent every possible bad thing happening, at the cost of our souls. The death of one child is a tragedy. To destroy an entire generation to prevent it from occurring again, that is the real crime.
In fact, having already dug myself into a hole, I will go even further and say that suffering is not in and of itself a bad thing. To go through life avoiding torment and struggle, and wishing only pleasant experiences, is not a life worth living. It is not a life that creates character, or a life that creates true people. There is a difference between living and existing, and, dammit, it is our trials and tribulations that make us truly human. Suffering – in and of itself – is nota bad thing. To endure suffering, and come out the other end, builds virtue (something our modern society sorely lacks). The sooner we wean ourselves off the Dr. Phil notion of eternal contentment, the better we shall be – not only as people, but as society as a whole.
If we continue upon our present trajectory, we are doing little more than creating a nation of zombies. We are raising a generation who are unable to fend for themselves, unable to cope with even the slightest setback, and will grow up with few skills other than the ability to suckle on the proverbial governmental teat. By protecting our children from anything ‘bad’, we have deprived them of the ability to stand up for themselves. And to be truly human. Ought we really wonder why scores show them to be less “creative”? We have nought but ourselves to blame.
We may well be on the way to creating a ‘safe’ world, free of any harm for our children (Huxley, much?). But, in the long run, is this really a world we want to live in? Do we really want a country of happy, content drones, unable to take any misfortune, and running to the nanny-state the second they cut their finger or fall in the mud? Such a society may be good for those with a vested interest in big government (whose livelihood necessitates a compliant and dependant populace), but it damn well is bad for the few of us remaining who believe in a robust liberty-oriented populace, or for those of us who want a society with real people, and not simply carbon-copy clones of “happy” drones.
The time has come for us to say enough is enough. To stop our obsession with protection, and to stop trying to create an environment free of risk or unhappiness. Because s**t happens. But what’s more, suffering does buildcharacter, and taking risks is worthwhile. It is time we reclaim those qualities that made Australia the greatest country on earth.
For the sake of our children, and our children’s children, we need to learn how to say: “harden the f**k up”.
(Initially posted at my personal blog)