Most parents love their children and seek only the best for them. Indeed, the notion that their children could have a better and easier life than did they served -- and still serves -- to motivate countless immigrants to endure back-breaking labor, long hours, and economic deprivation in the interests of their offsprings' futures. Such a tradition forms an integral part of the American vision and for any pioneers who have sought to create a positive legacy for their descendants.
This focus on children and their needs and desires permeates our society. Whether represented by a mother enduring long lines or jostling crowds in order to purchase this year's hottest and seemingly unobtainable toy or by indulgent grandparents spoiling their grandchildren, the trend seems to be intensifying.
As long as these activities are confined to the home setting, no harm is done...except, perhaps, to the family's budget or a parent's patience. Even childless people may gain some amusement, pleasure, or relief when observing the lengths to which modern-day parents will go to please their tiny alter-egos.
Unfortunately, the boundaries of child-centered concern long ago expanded to engulf everyone in our society. Encompassing an ever-widening circle of behavior, the politicization of the intimate bonds and responsibilities of parents to their children has restricted our freedom in innumerable ways and continues to fuel the hue-and-cry of those seeking to limit our liberty.
Many of the policies designed "for the
tail neatly with an
odd fixation on "safety at any cost." The combination of these two
rationales drive us inexorably down a dark road that is becoming
increasingly difficult to exit.
A desire for safety is, of course, no more inherently odd than is an interest in the development and well-being of one's children. In Motivation and Personality and other works, psychologist Abraham Maslow discussed a "hierarchy of needs." Presenting these in the form of a pyramid, Maslow identified five broad types of needs which he felt essential to the full development of one's self. Lower levels of needs occupy one's attention first and must be satisfied before one is able to concentrate on other, higher needs.
The five tiers of this hierarchy are:
Despite some qualifications in applying these needs to individual cases, most people recognize how more basic needs must take precedence over other issues. Thus protecting their children from life's multiple and endless hazards; providing them a secure and stable environment in which to grow; and ensuring their general safety are legitimate goals for parents to seek.
When those values are achieved, however, by violating the rights of neighbors, the polished patina of respectability reflecting these self-professed good intentions quickly chips away to reveal the corrosive essence of tyranny lurking below. Need is not and can never be a claim on wealth, on the property or lives of one's fellow citizens.
Enacting increasingly restrictive and intrusive laws, regulations, and rules strangling civil society, politicians promise to provide bribes that few of their constituents can or will refuse. If challenged that their actions are undermining freedom and replacing it with a paternalistic control, a velvet glove concealing a condescending and demanding autocracy, these dispensers of statist largesse purchased at others' expense reply righteously that they are doing this solely "for the children."
And, of course, who could be against children?
With the debate so skewed in favor of middle-class entitlements and protection dressed up in a facade of benevolence for poor, defenseless youths unable to care for themselves, recognition of the fundamental principles involved in this slow-motion takeover of American family life is lost in a flurry of political sleight-of-hand. Freedom, justice, and equality before the law become disposable abstractions to stressed parents who turn a blind eye to such impediments that inconveniently interfere with what they view as sources able to satisfy their children's needs.
Acquisition of goods provided by unwilling others is transformed by the alchemy of the "child" mantra from theft, robbery, and extortion into caring, compassion, and generous concern. Since few are willing to expose the emperor and his new clothes, these child-welfare motivated assaults on our liberty continue their subversive crawl towards dominance.
A few examples ably make the point:
Implicit in these programs, proposals, and laws is the insulting assumption that parents are incapable of making the best decisions for their children; that only a government bureaucrat who has never met any particular family or knows its unique context is qualified to make such profound and long-reaching decisions regarding the children of this country. Sad to say, too many of those self-same parents, obsessed with safety or the complexity of the modern world, apparently agree with that dismal assessment of their abilities...either that or they drop the responsibility for their lives and that of their children into the eager, grasping fingers of the State, relieved to have someone else do the worrying for them. If confronted with the resentment of those others whose lives and freedom are diminished as they are forced to help pick up the check for another's consumption, these parents evade the consequences of what they do and indignantly claim that anything and everything the government offers to them is theirs as a "right."
Doubtless, many parents are sincere in their beliefs. Equally certain is the error at the base of their reasoning. Engaging in a quixotic quest for a risk-free existence is a fool's errand...even more so when done while violating the rights of others. As Benjamin Franklin said in 1759, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Not only do they not deserve those values, ultimately they will lose what they so desperately seek.
Anyone truly concerned with promoting the welfare of children now and into the distant future should do everything he can to peel away the multitudinous layers of constraints smothering our nation. If safety and full personal development of our future leaders and citizens are the goals, the best course to follow in obtaining them is one that restores justice and the freedom upon which it depends.
Let's do it for the children...