July 18, 2014


So apparently we are now arresting, jailing, and breaking up the families of parents for letting their kids do stuff that was totally normal when most of us were growing up, like going to the park, waiting in the car, "babysitting each other" (as in the first linked article), etc.

Nosy neighbors call in complaints, armed officers arrive to take the parent to jail and abduct the kids so that they may face the trauma of being ripped from their now impoverished homes (along with possible abuse and neglect) in a series foster homes. Even conceding, for the sake of argument, that leaving an eleven-year-old waiting in a car for thirty minutes, say, is somehow a bad thing to do, how did we turn this kind of routine parental choice into a criminal matter? Possibly leaving a ten-year-old to watch a five-year-old for a few hours, though it too was once quite an ordinary thing to do, is ill-advised parenting that carries some degree of possible risk to the children's welfare. But with regard to the aforementioned welfare, can that really be what we care about when our proposed remedy is to drag the parents away in chains, cause them to lose their jobs, and break up the family?

What would be an appropriate remedy? I don't know, something short of ensnaring the entire family in the (notoriously unjust and corrupt) criminal justice system, perhaps a helpful pamphlet entitled "So, your kid wants to go to the park..." Maybe the nosy neighbors could be encouraged to keep an eye on the kids while you run some errands, instead of acting as the unofficially deputized Eyes and Ears of the State and calling the cops. (That pamphlet could be called "So, your neighbor has to run to the store...")

I know that's crazy. We've left that folksy, helpful social world far behind, if it ever really existed. But this thing that's really happening right now is even crazier.

Like so many other instances of the law's increasingly draconian reach into what were once universally assumed to be private matters, it happened gradually while we weren't looking. And it must be happening, continuing, now, even as I type. Bit by bit, more and more things are being made illegal, many of them quite ordinary, some of the newly invented crimes so technical and abstruse that no one could possibly predict or divine what they prohibit; bureaucrats and their armed agents enforce the prohibitions with brain-dead literalness, just doing their jobs, forsaking common sense and without pausing to reflect on whether the outcome will help anyone or do any good, or if it is even remotely in keeping with the alleged intent of the measure in the first place. There's a kid in a car. Someone must pay.

We won't know where it's all headed till we get there, by which time it's almost always too late to turn back. This is madness, we say, upon learning of each successive outrage, knowing deep down that madness has become normal. It's a small thing, really, and there are many bigger, worse things could be happening and aren't (yet) so that's a relief at least. Dystopia is a process.

Posted by Dr. Frank at July 18, 2014 05:03 PM