Thursday 25 December 2008

Hail the nanny state!

A few days ago the story of Hannah's parents went through the media.

Last October the two-year-old girl drowned in a swimming pool and since then her parents "lobbied vigorously" to strengthen the pool safety laws in Queensland. Pool owners face the compulsory installation of added locks and regular inspection by the authorities, all at their own expense and regardless of whether they have children of their own or not and whatever their age and swimming skills.

"Vicious hate mail" came their way, and state premier Anna Bligh was "shocked" at such a response.

Loosing one's child is tragic, but it is interesting no-one has touched upon the deeper reasons for the on-going attempts to impose more and more controls in our lives in such a general and pervasive manner.

One or two incidents of some kind are hardly a sign of a culture, but have the events multiply and there is reason to look more closely.

An unsupervised and untrained child drowns and everybody is meant to bear the consequences. An irresponsible driver fails to negotiate a curve and the Roads Department is lambasted for its negligence. Someone slips on a wet rock in a river and Parks and Wildlife Services are taken to court. A pedestrian trips over a kink in the footpath and the Council has to pay. Some people cannot handle their alcohol and the opening hours in the entire city are reduced.

See the common denominator?

Generally speaking, in the face of a potential danger one of two reactions is possible. Either the individual is held to account and leaned upon to be prepared, or the environment at large is modified to reduce the danger.

The question becomes, what is the overall cost in both cases? A danger might be so unforeseeable and complex that training everybody would be unfeasible and so the focus is on the threat itself. On the other hand, the act of preparing can be so trivial that individuals rather than society can be expected to take responsibility.

Clearly, in the examples above society at large has been forced to address the issue, with the added onus of needing organisational and administrative entities to cope with the extra burden - a measure individuals do not need. Therefore, a society in which each and every member is up to the task of daily life will have more resources at its disposal than one that assumes the role of general supervisor, guardian, and nanny.

The source of both approaches can readily be found in human existence, and for good reason. A child in its first few years does not have the capacity to understand the wider surrounds and needs protection, most immediately supplied by the mother – the female. Rather than expect the child to master every eventuality a mother will concentrate on the surrounds to make them safe. When the father – the male – takes over in later years the focus shifts to the child, to be trained and thus prepared for what is to come. Hence if a young child falls off a swing a mother seeks to change the swing, if an older child does the same a father changes the child.

Through feminism the female mindset has spread out from the home into society and with it carried the values and priorities of its bearers. As a consequence society has become the ‘home’ and its members have attained the status of ‘child’ in so many ways. No longer is it desirable to have strong and independent youngsters – they must play the role of children for as long as possible. No longer is the drive to adult life seen as a sign of vigour – it is being decried as irresponsible and being deprived of one’s childhood.

Just as a mother will always see the young boy in the grown man, so does society now view its members as children who need to be protected at all costs.

“If only one child is saved by...” has become the war cry of nannies of any ilk as soon as some measure is contemplated which yet again lowers the standards for us all. Nobody can, or dares, question the effect of such a sentiment. If out of 100 children one cannot manage a roundabout, does this mean all the other 99 must be dumbed down as well?

If out of 100 children one manages to find a questionable website, does that mean every ISP in the land needs to install filters? The idiosyncrasy becomes particularly poignant in cases like these: on one hand we – however grudgingly – admire the technical savvy of youngsters, yet on the other we impose limits on their inventiveness (whether these limits actually work is of course another matter again).

Now consider those dangers that do need a collective effort to counter; climate change, terrorism, scarcity of resources, population density come to mind. If we all run ourselves into the ground trying to sustain a female-friendly nursery, what then will be left to address the real problems – the ones outside the newly-pervasive ‘home’?

Even more to the point, societies which do not cater to the inward-looking narcissism to the same extent are better placed to pursue their intents. While the West drowns in its self-imposed navel-gazing they in turn fulfill their ambitions at will.

While we pledge obeisance to the eternal Mother, they are free to take advantage of our weakness.

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