O safe new world – the flipside.

In response to a post from me about the Yale Halloween kerfuffle, a friend of mine who is currently a college student wrote this:

“Our lives are controlled extremely, why wouldn’t we think they have authority over us, when they’ve implemented dozens of measures to control us in every other aspect of life?”

Which is almost precisely the flipside of my last blog… I don’t think it contradicts it, but it looks at the other side of it, which is a side I’d missed.

I grew up at a time when if you did something and messed up, it was your fault. You climb the tree, you fall off, too bad, what were you thinking? You’ll have a broken arm and a thick ear from your parents.

Then there came a time when if you did something you were supposed to and it went wrong, you got comfort and support. The swings in the play area are not supposed to break, so you’re not responsible for checking them first. If you did something you weren’t supposed to do and it went wrong, on the other hand, it was all on you. The swings are intended to be use with your ass firmly in the seat. If you misuse this piece of equipment and get hurt, tough doo-doo.

Then there came a time when we somehow collectively decided that everyone was a moron who needed to be protected from his/her own stupidity. We not only needed to warn people of impending dangers (I’m eagerly waiting for a “beware of gravity” sign), but we needed to actively prevent them getting hurt no matter what they did. It didn’t matter whether they were using equipment as it was intended or not, or whether they were being idiots vs. taking calculated risks. All that mattered was them not getting hurt doing so. So we started regulating the living daylights out of everyone and everything.

Alas, if you take over someone’s life, if you start excessively controlling their behaviour, if you deprive them of their right to make their own choices and mistakes, you also become responsible for them. You can’t infantilise someone without taking up parental duties. That would be straightforward oppression, and we’re way too good to do that, aren’t we?

So we end up with, in essence, a total mess, and a self-contradictory mess too, because instead of being rational we’re rationalising. We can’t say “excuse me, I’m taking over your life because I can run it better than you” because that would make us sound like totalitarian dickwads. So we introduce this rule and that rule for your own safety and comfort, and slowly but surely reduce you to the level of a child.

For instance, learning institutions may strictly regulate not only your daily obligations, but a large chunk of your private life: who you can visit with, what you can wear, how and when you can speak, what you eat, when and where you eat it, etc. Oh, and they charge you a pretty penny for the privilege, with the knowledge that what you learn may never get you out of the financial hole they’re helping you dig. Is it then so unreasonable for students to turn around and demand of an institution to take steps to fix their lives when they feel broken?

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