The recently and awesomely re-launched blog Nobody's Business has a couple of posts addressing a core nanny-state issue from a couple of angles: the problem of children.
I'm talking about the problem that children bring out our most authoritarian impulses. Children take our theoretical devotion to liberty and reduce it to a practical appetite for Mrs. Grundyism and micromanagement. Children are the bloody shirt waved by the most enthusiastic and controlling nannies amongst us. I've just created a new tag — Think of the Children! — to aggregate all of our posts discussing how real and imagined threats to children lead us to tolerate intrusions into their lives and ours. (I also retroactively applied the tag to appropriate past posts. I need a drink now.)
Nobody's Business has two important posts touching on this phenomenon.
First, Rick Horowitz talks about how eager we are to judge parents — and involve the government — when we conclude, based on limited information, that parents are not doing a good enough job of watching their kids. If you've ever been on a mommy blog or an adoption blog or a parenting blog, you've seen it: someone tells a story about seeing neighbor kids out late unsupervised, and suddenly the thread is full of people telling the storyteller to call Child Protective Services — as if that's rational based on the information presented, as if a call to Child Protective Services is likely to work to the benefit of the children. This goes to an ethos that is at the heart of why we allow our fellow citizens to use kids as excuses to violate everyone's rights: people who are lovely, open-minded, and un-judgmental about other issues are often judgmental assholes about parenting. That's how citizens of a free society can talk themselves into using laws, or lawsuits, to micromanage everyone else's parenting: because many people think that everybody but them sucks as a parent.
Second, Mark took apart economist Steven Levitt's "daughter test" — the admission that in considering what society should criminalize something, he thinks about whether he'd want his daughter to do that thing. As Mark suggests, Levitt's sin is being too honest — he admits to what too many citizens are secretly thinking. We want the state to parent for us — to forbid things we don't want our kids to do. We want the state to step in to parent other people's kids as well, because — as established above — we secretly think those people suck as parents.
I was completely unprepared for how powerfully I would love my kids, so I sympathize with the tendency of kids to impair our capacity for rational thought and lead us astray from our ideals. But as Rick suggests, we have to stay strong for their sake — ultimately they won't thank us if we chain ourselves, and them, out of fear and for their putative own good.
Edited to add: Fixed messed-up links. Sorry.
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