One of the most interesting questions that I ever received during a job interview was from an ad agency. The question was “Talk to me about a trend…” Of course, there were obvious trends that I could have talked about: the baby shortage, the aging population, and obesity. I can’t remember my answer at the time, but the question stuck with me. Tonight, I will comment on something that impacts the obvious trends.
It was 19 something
When I was a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, I remember racing my wagon down steep hills, building forts which were later used as defensive empires in mud-ball flights, swinging from ropes of the tallest trees, amassing giant artilleries of snowballs to be used in snowball fights, jumping off cliffs on motor bikes and bmxing off ramps. I remember traveling in the back of my parent’s wood-grained-panel station wagon (where there was no seat), sitting in between my parents in the front of our old Ford where there was no seatbelt, and cuddling with our sick dog on the way to the vet. I remember lighting firecrackers to blow up ant hills, playing organized ice hockey in -40 outdoor stadiums and competing hard to make hockey teams. Some times I made it, sometimes I didn’t. But, along the way, I collected my share of scrapes and a lot of bruises - but they all forge an extremely happy collective of my childhood. Even the bloodiest moments would end up well because of a loving hug from my mother, a “This is what it takes to be a man, son” command from my dad – or a cup of hot chocolate from my grandmother.
We’re now in 2010. I don’t need to say a lot has changed but I will say that a lot of the trend lines are absurd. Schools have been on the attack against basic child-hood games. Dodge-ball, tag , soccer, and even balls have been banned from school yards. Sparklers have banned from public places. There are movements to assign warning labels to Coca-Cola, Big Macs, and iPhones. Law suits are sure to follow. There are campaigns to ban preservatives on apples. There are fines for not wearing a bike helmet (1,2) or riding in a car without a seatbelt. By today’s standards, most of my family’s trips of the past would have been illegal.
So what are the implications of this? We’re becoming society of sissies and driven by fear. Kids’ favorite games have been taken away from them resulting in less exercise and more inside time. Instead of playing dodge-ball, a lot of kids are dodging fiery bullets in bloody, violent video games. Instead of competing and learning how to be gracious winners and losers on a soccer field, kids ain’t doing what kids ought to be doing. Worse yet, kids become conditioned to accept the big brother mindset on things that are incongruent with their nature.
But, this trend of “big brother knows best” has a lot of far reaching implications. Just think what a simple regulation on mandatory child restraint seats means to a new family. To have a 3rd child, the family requires larger cars for transport- which is a financial tax on having an extra child- exacerbating our already low birth rate. This, in turn, has implications on the nation’s aggregate future tax base which impacts social policies for dealing with our aging population. And what about warning labels and bans? Well, reduce the preservative and the supply of available apples will go down - driving up prices. Of course this will affect the poor and working classes disproportionately while the affluent shift to organics. All of these rules are part of the "big brother knows best" mindset. But as long we do not resist this mentality, we become compliant in its issue - and complacent on regulations that intrude on individual freedoms and personal responsibilities. We accept laws that limit choice and by "being boiled slowly" (starting in our school system), we get sissified, and lose our gumption to resist attacks on individual freedoms and personal responsibilities. These are precisely the values that our ancestors shed blood to defend.