TCS Daily


The Fear of Living Dangerously

By Lee Harris - December 20, 2007 12:00 AM

Many American boys will be getting a dangerous book for Christmas this year—so dangerous that it is frankly labeled "A Dangerous Book for Boys." Published in the USA back in May 2007, it immediately hit the number two spot on Amazon.com, and a quick check shows that it still hovering close to the top of the chart. By some, the book has been hailed as the cure for our kids' sedentary addiction to video games. By others, it has been criticized as being...well, too dangerous for our boys. The book teaches them, for example, how to build a go-cart from scratch, and then it encourages them to use the go-cart to descend rapidly down steep inclines at a precipitous pace, risking both life and limb in the process. Fun, of course; but not as safe as sitting in front of the boob tube.

The book's popularity tells us quite a lot about the current state of our culture. At one point in the American past, we did not need best-sellers to tell our boys how to endanger their lives; they had a spontaneous gift for discovering all sorts of perils, both the obvious and the unsuspected.

Consider the following observation made by the English writer, Harriet Martineau, during her travels in America at the beginning of the Age of Jackson, circa 1830. "It is amusing to observe what the ability for self-preservation is among children in a country where nursemaids are rare. It frightened me at first to see mere babies playing on broken wooden bridges, where the rushing water below might be seen through large holes; and little boys climbing trees which slanted over a rocky precipice; or getting into a canoe tossing on a rough river. But I find that accidents to children are rarely or never heard of. The obvious results of such training are a dexterity, fearlessness, and presence of mind, and aptitude for bodily exercises, which are of eminent use in mature life." (Society in America, III, 174)

Things were not all that much different when I grew up in the nineteen fifties. Like almost all boys of that period, I was permitted an extraordinary amount of personal liberty and I was exposed, by our contemporary standards, to an appalling number of risks. For example, when I rode my bicycle, I didn't wear a helmet—because no one did, and no one would have dreamed of wearing one. True, I once fell off my bicycle in fifth grade and ended up with a serious concussion, but I lived to tell the tale.

Today it is illegal in many states for children to ride a bicycle without helmet—and no doubt this law has saved many lives. But how far should we push this desire to save the lives of our children? For example, if making it illegal to ride a bicycle without a helmet saves lives, think how many lives could be saved if children were forbidden to ride bicycles at all. Is bicycle riding really so important that it is worth risking the life of a single child? Outlaw it entirely—and along with it, all other forms of occupation that could, under certain circumstances, lead to the death or injury of a child, such as swimming or crossing the street or (gasp!) riding a go cart the kid has built for himself.

But what kind of boy are you producing if you insist on raising him in a world in which he can take no risks and make no mistakes? Will these overly sheltered boys grow up to possess "the dexterity, fearlessness, and presence of mind" that Harriet Martineau so much admired both in American children raised without nurse maids, and in the adult males that the overwhelming majority of them eventually survived to become?

Harriet Martineau was one of the very few nineteenth century European intellectuals of stature who genuinely loved America and believed in the future of its democratic ethos. As a woman, she was alert to the intimate connection between the way a society raises its boys, and the kind of men it turns out, which is why she immediately saw that America could only preserve its egalitarian ethos by giving boys a high degree of autonomy in controlling their daily affairs—an autonomy that could not exist without danger and risk-taking. A boy who is used to having his daily affairs controlled by the will of others will always be more apt to let others control his will than a boy who has been raised without such control. A boy who is used to being bossed around will be unable to break this habit when he becomes a man.

As Harriet Martineau realized, a nanny-state begins with a nanny. To avoid it, we must stop babying our boys, and even encourage them to live a little dangerously. The Dangerous Book for Boys is not a bad place to begin. I am giving copies to several boys of my acquaintance. I just hope that I can remain friends with their parents afterwards.


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12 Comments

A Nation of Whimps
This is good. When I grew up in the 1960's we did it all, helmets, ha. Go Carts, BB Guns, Pellet Guns, Sling Shots, Tree Forts Pine Cone Wars, Fern Fights. We got whipped for pelting the neighbor kid with rocks once.

Firecrackers, dirt bikes, jeeps. I tis a wonder we made it at all. I still feel the same as I did as a kid.

We are raising a nation of coddled woosies today and it goes right along with the PC liberal crowds group think. Who else passes nanny laws? Which political persuasion is pushing laws against fat foods, helmet laws. No steak knives in schools? We used to carry pocket knives and trade them. I got beat up by Bobby Campbell.

The same groups who have led to the social and moral decay of today are the same ones pushing all these nanny laws. Yet on the other hand they abolish penalties for crime. WA State, a ultra liberal bastion requires you be caught 7 times for car theft before serving time. Thus car theft is rampant.

This same state protects juveniles from any sort of adult retribution and thus juvenile crime is out of control. I have a friend who lives there and had his car vandalized and was verbally threatened by punks. The cops did nothing and told him had he taken action he would have been charged. Yeah, I am sure this helps the kids learn respect. The Nanny State lives.

In my time the adult would have beaten them took us home and my parents would have finished the job. Mom was a ruthless disciplinarian. Loving and caring but you better not cross the line.

So are we really better off now?

The consequences of feminism.
The attempt to feminize boys is coming from three separate sources, all of which happen to be on the same side of the aisle.

The first area is lawsuit abuse. Lawsuit abuse means that a kid playing at your house who falls and injures themselves could wipe you out financially. It means the same thing for schools, churches, the Boy Scouts, and any other group that deals with children. Tree climbing, unsupervised swimming, farting around with fireworks, all of these things are huge liability hazards, and so are all-too-often not allowed.

The second area is the schools. The schools are heavily affected by the lawsuit abuse angle, but they add to the problem of feminization through other means. Most importantly, drugs. Schools regularly demand that boys be put on Ritalin and other ADD medications simply because they are active. Active is what they are supposed to be, boys are designed that way. Another way schools try to turn boys in to girls is through eliminating competition. Grades become pass/fail, special classes for advanced students are eliminated so that other children don't have their feelings hurt, scores aren't kept in P.E. Is it any surprise boys are dropping out at much higher rates than girls? The final way that schools contribute to the problem is through history and social-studies. History books touch briefly on events like the Revolutionary War, and people like Abraham Lincoln. They spend entire pages on bit players like Mme. Curie and Emma Goldman. One would think women and minorities had achieved everything of note, and the men were just there to grow food.

Finally, there is the media and popular culture. The media tells boys that men are objects of ridicule, fat, stupid and incompetent next to a woman. Think for a moment about the last ten years of television sitcoms: Has there ever been a strong male lead who was not a caricature and hopelessly stupid compared to the women on the show? Men who are not portrayed as foolish bumblers are portrayed as abusers, murderers, rapists or sex hounds. Single mothers are portrayed as heroines, and the men who knocked them up as deadbeats and losers. Women in power are portrayed as just and wise, men are usually portrayed as spiteful and ignorant.

All of these factors combine to try to beat the boyhood out of boys. This is a very dangerous trend, and I think it is hitting it's end. Nonsense like the student facing felony charges for bringing a steak knife to school to cut steak, teen pregnancy and the massive overdiagnosis of ADHD are going to lead to a critical mass of angry people. The feminists are lashing out with so much fury because they know that this is their final fight.

I know my own personal goal, that women should be denied the right to vote, will never be realized. However, there is a building reaction to feminism, and I would expect to see some major reforms and repeals of some of the more offensive aspects of feminism.

My wife votes
And she opposes all this hogwash. It is not gender, it is pathetic liberal ideology.

Thank a hippie

"The feminization of american boys'
Wasn't that a whole book about this topic? This is just another one of the signs of a decaying civilisation. The the government actually likes it that they have a bunch of passive, wimpy, poofters because it's easier to control than the guys the British had to face during the revolution, and the guys the naaazis had to face. I've even heard that in former years american boys lived so dangerously that they actually walked all the way to school on their own, instead of being chauffered by soccer moms! I've heard they used to carry their rifles on the subway train to their high school shooting club! Apparently they used to even play baseball without wearing those those silly helmets. Somebody even said that some southern boys even rode on a raft in the mississippi, WITHOUT LIFE JACKETS, and warning lights, and a supply of designer water! And this may not even be true, but I read once where american boys were allowed to go for hiking WITH NO SUN SCREEN on their noses! And this one surely couldn't be true but I've heard that they even used to be able to climb trees WITH NO SAFETY HARNESSES!
No wonder that liberals now when attaked by terrorists think that suing them is an appropriate response.

A Nation of Whine-Bag Babies
I'll tell you exactly what it produces, having seen it in the college classroom. It creates a bunch of whiners who can't take even the smallest amount of criticism without going off and complaining. There's no such thing as "taking it like a man" or "like a woman," for that matter. All this "self-esteem" education has created a bunch of cry-babies who can't take the least little bit of criticism. We have to baby them, or they suffer a complete collapse. Which only goes to show that if you teach children "self-esteem," that's the last thing you get.

Hey, hey...
Hey, hey...

Lee Harris has written something that I totally agree with!

I lived outside the U.S. from 1991 to 2001. Upon my return, I was suprised at the amount of regulation of personal behavior that had been created. Requiring helmets while riding a bicycle was one of them. I never wore one when I rode a bike as a kid or teenager. I am sick of the ever growing nanny-state.

When I was a kid, I played out in the "woods" all day long and returned home when the street lights turned on. I drank water out of the garden hose and built a "go-cart" with a friend. We had a lesson in engineering when the wheels came off once. Live and learn.

Fred Reed occasionally talks about his childhood on his blog (www.fredoneverything.net). My childhood was quite similar to his (although I never had BB gun "wars" with my friends).

I think we do boys a disservice these days when we try to protect them from everything. Boys generally learn best by experience and the school of hard knocks. I certainly did.

I often despise this pussified society we have created for boys today.

I well also say that it really, really helps if a boy has a father to grow up with as well. I was lucky to have parents who never divoriced. Most of my friends parents never divoriced either.

Women cannot control boys, despite what anyone tells you to the contrary. They can barely control girls. Boys without a father grow up either pussified, or out of control thugs. Neither is good for society. I is my personal belief that the gangs that plague many of our cities exist because they are the "surrogate father" for boys who grow up without real fathers.

No Subject
As a woman and a vet I totally agree. It drives me crazy that my little nephew (7) is on Ritalin for being 'hyper'. Tried reminding my sister-in-law that he is being a boy, but noone wants to hear that anymore.
Heaven forbid the little guy jump on the sofa once too often.
I live in NYC and one of the local high schools has/had a rifle range INSIDE!!! Not used anymore, of course.
Just the thought that the Oprahization of the nation is continuing with the possible (heaven help us) election of Nurse Ratchet or the candidate who needed Oprah to stand a chance makes me think that maybe we shouldn't have gotten the vote.

The Fear of Living Dangerously
I love to open TCS Daily and find an article by you - you're my favorite!! Bravo. You've again eloquently hit the nail on its head! Keep up the great, interesting articles.

I never thought of my Mom waling me to school
I walked a quarter mile to elementary school and didn't see any "School Zone" lower speed limits.
I rode my bike a mile to junior high, unless the snow was too deep. We only had one snow day when I was in high school because we got 27 inches overnight.

We didn't have adult crossing guards. We had a student safety patrol that taught the younger children when it was safe to cross.

What's the harm in using a helmit?
Children still fall and still drink from the well of the School of Hard Knocks when they do stupid stuff.

But we parents have a little more ease with teh knowledge that their life is not endangered.

Seatbelts save lives, helmets save lives, protective gear saves life and eyesight, better work environment saves lives,...

We should not lose sight of the fact that the quality of life has increased as a consequence of our paying attention to health physics. There is no reason why we should have to risk killing ourself at work (other than military) or at play. If we have a solution, we should by all means use it.

Now as far as kids playing video games, or watching TV, or smoking pot, etc., that's really up to the parents to regulate. Family values and all that.

The occurrance of many childhood diseases are increasing at alarming rates
It has to do with the environment, perhaps coupled with the incredible stimulation load of living in our modern world.

For example, rates of autism, formerly a rare disorder, are now about 1 in 120 in America.

The incidence of childhood mental disorders is, in fact so alarming that Congress just passed a law to study the problem. The "National Children's Study" is a 20-year project to attempt to answer the questions about why our children are doing so poor.

http://www.nationalchildrensstudy.gov/

Are childhood diseases actually increasing, or are they being more often diagnosed?
I'm too lazy (and possibly not competent) to review the evidence, but it strikes me that much of the stuff I read in the popular press about increases in incidence of disorders seems shaky. Often it seems that a disease becomes a fad and suddenly its diagnostic indications are being stretched to include more patients.

The whole hyperactivity thing is an example. Back in the old days hyperactive kids were basically beaten into submission by teachers or parents, or else they were pulled out of school.

Also, due to the advances in medicine, we're saving a lot more premature and physically challenged newborns, and we're saving a lot of former victims of early childhood diseases. It would be surprising to me if many other conditions didn't occur with greater frequency among that added group in the population.

I wonder how carefully they define the terms and control the studies of things like "childhood mental disorders.

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