Our Mad World, II

I just came across this article which further illustrates the madness of this age. I have been walking every day for the past five or so weeks, and I can confirm that very few people are ever on the streets or on the porch for any reason. Mostly what I see are TVs flickering on the wall – usually big flatscreens that are hung up high. Walking my neighborhood has given me a whole new insight into what we are like now. I used to be in an indoor bubble all the time, and most of us are. Anyway, here’s an extended quote from the article:

The sandlots and creek beds, the alleys and woodlands have been aban- doned in favor of a system of reservations—Chuck E. Cheese, the Jungle, the Discovery Zone: jolly internment centers mapped and planned by adults with no blank spots aside from doors marked staff only. When children roller-skate or ride their bikes, they go forth armored as for battle, and their parents typically stand nearby.

There are reasons for all of this. The helmeting and monitoring, the corralling of children into certified zones of safety, is in part the product of the Consumer Reports mentality, the generally increased consciousness, in America, of safety and danger. To this one might add the growing demands of insurance actuarials and the national pastime of torts. But the primary reason for this curtailing of adventure, this closing off of Wilderness, is the increased anxiety we all feel over the abduction of children by strangers; we fear the wolves in the Wilderness. This is not a rational fear; in 1999, for example, according to the Justice Department, the number of abductions by strangers in the United States was 115. Such crimes have always occurred at about the same rate; being a child is exactly no more and no less dangerous than it ever was. What has changed is that the horror is so much better known. At times it seems as if parents are being deliberately encouraged to fear for their children’s lives, though only a cynic would suggest there was money to be made in doing so.

The endangerment of children—that persistent theme of our lives, arts, and literature over the past twenty years—resonates so strongly because, as parents, as members of preceding generations, we look at the poisoned legacy of modern industrial society and its ills, at the world of strife and radioactivity, climatological disaster, overpopulation, and commodification, and feel guilty. As the national feeling of guilt over the extermination of the Indians led to the creation of a kind of cult of the Indian, so our children have become cult objects to us, too precious to be risked. At the same time they have become fetishes, the objects of an unhealthy and diseased fixation. And once something is fetishized, capitalism steps in and finds a way to sell it.

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children’s imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it—nowhere that I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play?

There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn’t encounter a single other child.

Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?

2 thoughts on “Our Mad World, II”

  1. it is sad to see children denied the freedom and pleasure of simply being children and free play that we enjoyed even only 20 years ago or so primarily because of paranoya, feaer and choking legal red tape.

    This goes hand in hand with your musings upon the other website ‘anglican project’; though it may not be quite the done thing to address the issue here, the comment setup here is accessible to one using assistive technology (despite ‘Blogger’s’ incipid and rather useless attempt to level the access playing field).

    You’ve given much to think about and hit the nail on the head once more.

    This; “Beyond the possibility of worldwide destruction, there is a more potent threat of the simple vanishing of knowledge due to self-imposed ignorance and the loss of habits of virtue” ” is a very real concern of mine and many others; it is not merely knowledge that is being lost, but the ability across the English Speaking World at any rate (do not know how the other language groups are faring) to articulately and satisfactorily give expression to thoughts and ideas. When university tutors of my age group (Gen X) are noticing this, there is something to worry about; looks grimly Orwellian if you ask me. if an ability to express the heart and mind in the richness of language is diminished, critical thought soon follows; a people unable to adequately express themselves are vulnerable to loss of freedom, identity, mooring customs, traditions and history – and if these grow dim, God help us.

    In the Western world, where classical Christianity of only a generation ago is seen as dangerous fundamentalism and laws are contemplated to restrict freedom of religious expression, do you truly think in this post modern rebellious anarchical society that sound Christian influence will once again blossom and flourish in Europe, North America and to a lesser extent, Australiasia?

    or, as many denominations believe, do you think we are fast hurtling toward the end of the age, toward that time of trouble that has never been seen nor will ever be seen again immediately prior to the return of Jesus Christ as triumphant King of KIngs and Lord of Lords?

    Just a few questions and thoughts to ponder.

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  2. Sarah, I lean towards post-millenialism which means that the Gospel will triumph over the entire world at some point. So I see this present period as a reversal and a dark one, but think that we might have another 10 or 100 thousand years ahead of us. So yes, I do think that the Church will flourish again, but it is up to us to keep it alive during the down cycle.

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