I ‘get away’ so rarely that I hadn’t realized how proscribed most lives have become – when you only leave your house for short jaunts into civilization, interact with a select few, and then hurry back home on the last bus, people-watching changes from being a relaxing pastime to a zoological behavioral study.
It was fun to leave our stuffy bungalow for a jaunt up to Musselman’s Lake, in the Stouffville area. Our daughter recently bought a trailer, which is parked in the Cedar Beach resort.
The resort has been run by the same family since 1929, and generations of holidaying campers have enjoyed the lake and beach, along with other amenities. It’s a great place to bring a precocious 7 year old like my granddaughter, as the resort is like a small village, with 520 long-term trailer sites, most of which are as cared for as primary residences.
The casual atmosphere, highly regulated, and self-policed by the families themselves, allows kids to run freely, to play in the many playgrounds, and simply behave like kids did before the last twenty or thirty years of increasing parental paranoia.
You don’t realize just how controlled kids’ lives have become until you find yourself, as my husband did, panicking over the sight of a pair of 4 and 5 year old girls calmly walking a doll stroller on a one-way lane. “Anyone could snatch up those two, throw them in the back of a van, and speed away!” he said.
Good lord – is that what we’ve come to? That, even in a small space where entry is carefully controlled, where the speed limit is 10 kph, and most of those present are long-standing renters, in a space that is rife with parents, aunts, siblings and grandparents … even in a space this sheltered, we have to live in constant fear that our most vulnerable and precious could be snatched away at any time?
How has life become so seemingly perilous, even to we who have never known armed combat on our land? Are we now to live under constant fear, and the feeling that we could be attacked at any moment – by our neighbours, by a stranger, by a predator, always potentially lurking in the shadows? Are we now to live in constant dread of ‘what could happen?’ No wonder people in America are so protective of their right to own guns.
But the bigger question is – when did we develop this persistent fear, and why? In a civilization where anything can be deemed too harmful to be legal, (fireworks, lawn darts, unpasteurized cheese … even KinderEggs!) how have we gone from subconsciously knowing the possibility of a rare instance of unforeseen harm into a state of constant vigilance against possible marauders?
Certainly, there are now more people living on the planet than at any other time in history, and we feel that claustrophobia even in our suburbs and towns. But proportionately, rates of kidnaps, rapes and murders haven’t really risen. In fact, the instances of kidnapping of children in the U.S. by non-parental or family members intent on harming the child is about 115 per year … out of 340 million inhabitants.
To put that figure into perspective – during the Vietnam War, every American personally knew at least one of the 10,000 soldiers per year who had died in the conflict. But almost no one personally knows a child that was taken with criminal intent.
So who’s ramping up this fear? Well … it’s astounding how much of U.S. law enforcement is influenced not just by mass media coverage, but by the hysterics of tabloid media, who thrive on rehashing grisly incidents for as long as they can drag out the gory details. Police and politicians have their feet held to the fire to account for the panic brought on by those who profit from tragedy.
Statistics can be, and often are, manipulated by private interests and organizations, in an attempt to boost profits, be they donations to causes meant to comfort sufferers, or by the marketing of items meant to increase private citizens’ feeling of being protected.
A fearful society tends to prefer the status quo, allowing governments to stay in power for perhaps longer than they should be. They will look to the loud and the bombastic, because the posturings of the aggressive allow the frightened to shelter in place.
And it’s certainly no stretch of the imagination to realize that a country in a state of fear and panic is easily manipulated by governments with agendas that might have seemed too radical in times of peace. Look to America’s overly militarized Homeland Security, or Canada’s Bill C-51, an over-reaching bill designed to capitalize on the fear instilled in us, that trumps our free speech with a plan to capture – and indefinitely retain – all of our private phone calls and internet data.
The ripple of fear that circled the globe after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers has never really subsided. Horrifying acts, including brutal torture and murders, were committed on suspects, whether innocent or guilty of crimes, and the attack on Iraq, which had long been a possibility for unrelated reasons, was used as an excuse to punish the masterminds wrongly believed to be behind the tragedy.
There must be a villain, there must be a reason, and so the net is cast further and further, vilifying those who are not exactly like us, the ‘others’ that we scapegoat to try and calm our jangled nerves. Something must be done! we cry … and done now! Save us from the unknown, no matter if it is ultimately we that are harmed in the process.
A fearful society will often turn to religion, and a reliance on a supernatural power to ensure that, even should they themselves be injured or killed, there will be a reward, post-mortem, from the deity of their choice. They will blame and reject progressive ideas and ideology, preferring to trust the writings of the ancients over the possibility that a science they can’t quite understand could hold a solution to their terrors.
A fearful society wraps it’s most vulnerable in emotional cotton batting and bubble wrap, too frightened to allow children to explore their world and learn both the good and bad of their environment, and to experience the emotions and understandings inherent in living in their social order. A fearful society looks with suspicion on anyone who’s not in their personal tribe, and passes that crippling fear on to their children.
Whenever changes meant to move our culture forward progressively are proposed, the rallying cry from those who are afraid of alterations to their reality is “Think of the children!” That plea, originally referring to children’s rights, and real dangers, such as child labour, has now become a plea for pity, and an appeal to emotion. It is a logical fallacy that substitutes emotion for reason, and indicates a culture in moral panic and relentless distress. It is, in fact, the antithesis of what children need – a feeling of security and of being protected.
And in believing that it is only by insulating children from all contact with ‘others’ and other ideas, it is a pious attempt to stop progress by effectively robbing children of their right to childhood. It seems a very high price to pay.
Our terror of the unknown, and our concern for the well-being of our children, must not be the justification of our need to inflict upon them a very real ‘nanny state’ created by our own neurotic anxiety.