Old hippie, nanny-state, fault-finding, problem-centric, negative-minded, knee-jerk liberals -- and I speak only of myself -- were quick enough to jump all over Highland Park school district last week for banning seven books from the high school curriculum. Now I guess we're under some kind of obligation to come back and give them a thumbs-up for admitting a mistake and reversing the decision.
See also: Park Cities Kids Are Already Rich
The books are back on the rich kids' reading lists pending a formal review. HPISD Superintendent Dawson Orr is quoted in today's daily paper saying: "I made the decision in an attempt to de-escalate the conflict, and I readily admit that it had the opposite effect."
So, uh ... thumbs up! There. I think that takes care of that.
But ... you knew there was a but in here somewhere, right? ... two more things in today's daily do merit discussion, I think. And I'm not trying to chisel on the thumbs-up, really. If anything, a long view of the agonies of Highland Park on this issue would have to include some recognition that parents everywhere have a right and an absolute duty to defend their kids against the worst of popular culture.
There was a lot of very interesting comment here in response to my own item on the book ban and to the coverage by Emily Mathis, including a comment by someone whose nom de plume is "noblefurrtexas." He, she, it or they wrote: "It seems to me parents know they are fighting an uphill battle they will eventually lose. But, in their defense, I think it's about all you can do to teach integrity, values, honesty, and empathy."
See also: "Highland Park ISD bans books."
How can you argue with that? He, she, it or they is/are right. Right?
But it seems to me we never quite scratch down to the level of what drives a lot of the news about social attitudes in the society today, and that's fear. Fear is almost always the great animating force pushing up from below, the prime mover and ultimate cause for a good deal of behavior at the level of family, neighborhood, community and nation.
Also in today's daily newspaper freelance columnist and radio host Mark Davis expresses high dudgeon over content he was able to excavate from the formerly banned Highland Park high school books. He offers this passage:
"A 15-year-old-girl disrobes and attempts to seduce an adult man. Her breasts are described in detail, as is her attempt to have sex with him."
Davis says, "I have even heard the argument, from a parent protesting the book challenge, that a standard that keeps stark sexual references at bay somehow cripples kids for college and adult life beyond. This is beyond twisted."
Somewhere lurking beneath the surface of all that dudgeon is a fear that talking about sex and thinking about sex can only cause people, including kids, to have sex. Like you can say the word, "sex!" And everybody starts doing it.
First off, I just think better of us as a species than that. Secondly, that's really not what the data seem to be showing. In an era when kids have to see about 100 times more sexual content than they did when Mark Davis was growing up, a lot of it utterly awful, there are indications that kids may actually be getting smarter about it.
Last April Pew Research published findings to show that the teen birth rate in America is at a record low, which researchers attributed to two possible causes: 1) More abstinence and 2) more condoms (reminding us there's more than one way to skin a cat). I'm not aware of any research showing that a good way to control teenage sexual behavior is just not to tell them about breasts.
Another piece on the op-ed page of the daily paper today is an instant response to a really great essay the paper published Sunday in its weekend "What's the Point?" section of editorials and guest columns. The original essay was a first-person narrative by a lady whose neighbor called Child Protective Services on her because she allowed her kids to play outdoors.
She describes a visit by the CPS investigator: "My kids reported that she asked questions about drugs and alcohol, about pornography, about how often they bathe, about fighting in the home."
What a horror show! Really. She may not even know how lucky she is she didn't look poor. Poor people get their kids snatched for less.
The second piece today is by another person who also agrees that the first lady's story was really horrible and ties it to the rise of a fascist police state. The second writer cites information about police departments acquiring armored vehicles and grenade launchers.
So do I think that's over the top? Are you kidding? Me? No. I don't even know where over the top is. But I don't think it's fair to scream and wail from fear of every single thing around you -- a book with scenes of teenage sex, a kid on a bench who could be kidnapped, or, for that matter, scary bad foreigners doing bad things far away -- and then be surprised when what we get out of it is a police state.
Why do we think the cops want armored cars and grenade launchers? Because they're nuts? Not really. I don't believe that. I think they know that their constituents, the taxpayers, are a bunch of screaming meemies who are going to jump all over them if they don't look like they can defend against a Martian invasion.
Speaking of reaches, it's not a reach to see a connection between all of this and foreign policy. John Boehner, slavering to send ground troops into the Middle East, says, "We have no choice. These are barbarians."
Oh, bullshit. They're just people waging war against us. What's new about that? Why wouldn't we at least consider the possibility that they can be pushed, pressured, and, yes, even talked to and negotiated with like every other human being ever born? What would make us jump to the bait every single time?
Only fear. Terror. That's what drives all this. People like the radio host inveighing against breasts and the neighbor calling CPS because children are outdoors -- and John Boehner screaming for ground troops -- they're all expressing a terrible fear of the world around us and a complete lack of faith in our ability to deal with it with some measure of equanimity.
Why does abject fear always masquerade as macho? Don't you ever get sick of it and want to tell them to go home and take a pill? Just say, "Shut up and let the rest of us take care of this?" Not that that would be easy. But it does seems like it would be a whole lot easier without the damn meemies all the time.