Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Society of Sissies and a Bloodthirsty lot

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.


  1. That's nastalgification, not sissification!!! ;) I promised to be against this one, so I have no choice but to stick to my guns baby!

    First of all, definitely loved the article and your view, it's a very interesting view on the costs of safety on society. This is the first blog that I have read and will follow, so thanks you've converted me!

    Having said that, I don't really agree that seat belts or helmets are bad.

    Here are some random comments I have:

    Helmets - There has been a recent increase in head injuries at the MUHC, which is being directly linked to Bixi and lack of helmets being used. My friend, who's a doctor, had an interesting Darwinism view on this. He said all of the idiots that don't wear helmets or seat belts, will eventually die/not reporoduce, and therefore the problem will be taken care of.

    I grew up living and breathing hockey. I made all of my friends playing hockey, and have incredible memories. But, I had 3 concussions (I know that might explain alot), and another pretty big injury that stopped me from playing contact hockey. The last injury was bad enough, I had to stop playing contact in order to be able to go to university and take your class! Point is, would it be imperative that my kid play hockey in order to have such a great childhood like I did? I don't think the bruises, fights, body checks etc... is what gave me all the joys of a great childhood, it was probably more competiting, dreaming about NHL, making awesome friends etc...

    The seat belts will cause less deaths or crippling injuries, translating into kids that have a greater likelihood of growing up and becoming productive for society!

    I think less preservatives in society would have positive health impacts, which could translate into lowering our increasing and excessive medical costs.

    Couldn't you also argue that "sissification" is just a part of "civilization"?

    What are your thoughts on bullfighting and banning in Catalonia? Think about all of the bullfighters that have great memories growing up, do you think that Spanish people will now no longer have any good childhood memories? I think they definitely will, it just won't be bull fighting, it will be something else.

    Becoming civillized costs something, that's for sure, but I think the benefits of living in a civilized society outlive the costs. If you don't like it, you could live somewhere in Africa, you definitely don't need to wear a seat belt or a helmet!

    What about extreme sports? This is something that has become excessively popular in the last two decades, and the foundation for the sport is it has to be dangerous! Street luging and base jumping, those are new sports.

    I didn't know there was a problem with soccer, and if there's a problem because people think it's too dangerous, I completely agree that in some regards, it is getting a little ridiculous.

    That's all I could think of for now, back to work! Loved it and look forward to another one!


  2. Nice post Bob, nostalgic but also true.

    For me it all comeback to the "let the kids be kids" sentence in some sense. I agree with DB that some of this sissification comes with civilization, but at one point having too much boundaries can simply kill creativity, uniqueness and the desire to grow as someone different instead of a clone of the actual society.

  3. I like your posts when you hit up these quirky topics. It got me thinking...

    DB- Are you placing slaughtering a bull in the same category as tag, soccer, and not wearing a seat belt? I do not see it that way at all. Bullfighting is designed to end in death. Soccer, tag, ping pong or whatever are designed to give life.

  4. Of course Bixi rentals are going to increase the number and severity of head injuries. That is pure stats. The more bike riders, the more accidents. And the more accidents, the wider the distribution of intensity of injuries (both minor and major). I don't think we should ban Bixis because of this. Sure, if you want to wear a helmet- good for you. But it should not be law.

  5. What I like about this is that it demonstrates two important components of trends. First, trends are only clearly visible in hindsight (making getting ahead of them difficult). Does the school teacher consider the actions of the automakers in banning balls in the schoolyard? Did the naturalist who dislikes artificially preserved apples do so based on the previous behaviour of the FDA who decided to call-out McDonalds as the source of childhood obesity? Of course not.

    Second, it demonstrates that a trend (primary) can really be nothing more then a collection of other trends (secondary). For instance, the scrutiny on apple preservation and fast food regulation are really simply components of a movement toward greater health consciousness. From a marketing perspective, you could liken the potential implications of this to the metaphor of "missing the forest for the trees".

    Great article. Very thought provoking.

  6. The helicopter parent is making education impossible. I agree with Mark Twain, "Don't let education get in the way of your learning".

  7. Set limits but be realistic!
    The culture of the 21st century is quite different from the culture that was used in the 20th century, our life and behavior norms have changed, and one of the hallmarks of this is radical changes in the children's game culture.
    Childhood games that were customary in the past (Hide and seek, sport games, etc) led to social interaction between children, creativity, imaginative, curiosity and thinking. So, why ban it?
    In addition, today, children's games are mainly based on video and computer games and I am not sure whether these games are able to provide the same goods.
    I totally agree with JF- "let the kids be kids"!
    Great article