Thursday, July 27, 2006

Parent, help thyself.

Here's one of those stories that, on its surface, sounds like a good thing--and a good thing only--but leaves me feeling ambivalent. It describes another facet of American society's ever-expanding attempt to equip parents with resources in the ongoing battle against the sexual predators who live in our midst. As a grandfather to four beautiful, innocent grandchildren, I naturally wouldn't want to see them (or any other children) sexually abused or hurt in any way. At the same time, I am gravely concerned by the vital privacy issues* that have gotten swept under the rug, as a class, since 9-11. Though child molestation has nothing to do with 9-11 per se, the cultural ethos since then has veered sharply away from the individual's right to privacy and sharply toward our overarching right to know virtually everything about the people who live next door, so that we can discern who may pose a danger to the rest of us. Pedophiles just got carried along in the current.

But really, that's a complex debate in itself, and not at all the point of this post. The point of this post is that regardless of where you come down on the issue, this latest effort on parents' behalf embodies self-help** in its traditional, legitimate sense--that is, before the term got bastardized by the folks I talk about in SHAM. The new database to which the article refers gives parents a means of taking action to protect their children. This isn't about whining, or rationalizing, or repeating affirmations, or any of the other elements that distinguish the more familiar SHAM programs. It's about people perceiving a need and doing something about it in order to protect their families.

Pictured above, by the way, is this family's latest acquisition, little Ava, now five months old. As the editorial voice of this blog, I reserve the right to gloat.

* as well as other issues, like freedom of movement and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
** which is mentioned specifically in the article.

P.S., THURSDAY AFTERNOON. On a totally unrelated (and possibly tacky) note, SHAM seems have found its way back to Amazon near-respectability--No. 12,416 as I write this. I'll never get this figured out.


Anonymous said...

As usual I have my doubts about the sentiments expressed, but the baby is ADORABLE!

Cosmic Connie said...

Gloat away, Steve – that is one gorgeous little girl.

It's wonderful that parents have such a potentially powerful resource to help them protect their children, but I share your ambivalence. The technology we love can be, and often is, used against us – even those of us who are not terrorists or sexual predators.

(An aside: I have noticed that most people have a double standard when it comes to "the right to know" -- they want unlimited access to all the dirt on their neighbors, potential employees or service providers, while demanding complete privacy for themselves. They want to see, but not *be* seen. Human nature, I guess.)

Overall I think the Adam Walsh Bill – and the database – are good ideas if the bugs such as those that have plagued the Pennsylvania database can be avoided. And for the most part, I think the “civil rights movement for children,” as Professor Hamilton put it, is a very good thing. One down side, though, is that it is creating a climate of suspicion, of “guilty until proven innocent” – to the point that it is no longer even acceptable for a kindergarten teacher to hug her students or touch them in any way. A small price to pay for safer kids? Perhaps. But I think we need to be very careful not only with how we use this technology, but with how we define “sexual predator.” I personally know a decent guy who, though innocent of anything remotely resembling child molestation, predation, or any type of sexual or physical abuse at all, had to register as a sex offender. This was due largely to some quirks in the laws of his state, but no matter; it ruined his career and his life. That doesn’t seem fair.

PS – Those Amazon sales rankings are even more obscure than the system for determining airline ticket prices, aren’t they? I would love to explain to you how they work, but there’s just no telling. My best guess is that Amazon has some sort of random number generator.

Steve Salerno said...

CosCon, I agree with just about everything you say here. That doesn't mean we're right, of course; it just means we agree.

As to your comment about human nature, the problem, to my mind, is that we often fall back on "oh, that's just human nature"--as if such an observation justifies whatever behavior we're discussing at the moment. But I guess it's just human nature to do that. :)

I am reminded of former Gov. Mario Cuomo's insightful remark about the death penalty, which he vigorously opposed (this is probably not the exact quote but it's very close): "Government should not be in the business of elevating people's basest emotions to the status of law." I think that, since 9-11, we've been inclined to do that--the operative base emotion being fear. As a nation, we have rationalized behavior (and policy) that would have been unimaginable as recently as the turn of the millennium. It's funny, too, last night I was debating this very topic with the wife, who passionately supports "anything to protect the kids," and I said to her, "You know, we could probably stamp out crime entirely simply by assigning a policeman to stay in every house and accompany each of us on our daily rounds." And she said, "So? The world is getting out of hand. If it makes things safe, I'm all for it. I have nothing to fear..."

And I thought: If we don't watch out, we're going to reach the point where we're turning America into something even worse than what the Colonists came here to escape back in the 1600s....

Cosmic Connie said...

I realized even as I was writing it that the "human nature" statement is the ultimate cop-out. In my case, it wasn't an attempt to justify what I was complaining about; just a hasty (and lame) attempt to write a concluding remark to my "aside."

Although admittedly I am looking at the child safety issue from the perspective of one who only has four-legged "children," I am of course concerned about the safety of bipedal children. I am also concerned about terrorist threats that affect all of us. But I think we are giving up way too much in return for an illusion of safety. Self-help? Maybe, but I think that in the process, we are helping ourselves to a police state.

And for those who think they have nothing to fear because they're not doing anything wrong...I know many who feel that way. But I think Big Brother will eventually find something criminal or at least fine-worthy in the actions of even the most upstanding citizens. And most of these things are none of BB's business (or shouldn't be).

Somehow this makes me feel like watching "Demolition Man" again (the only Stallone movie I could ever stand). The movie portrays a utopian society where all the citizens are watched over, all problems have been solved, and even cussing is a fine-worthy offense.

I am afraid we are well on our way to turning America into that "something worse" you imagine...