Saturday, June 25, 2011

White Male Privilege and the Daughter Test

From MOMocrats courtesy of Eschaton:

Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame recently wrote that he bases his decisions on whether to support government prohibitions on what he calls the "daughter test":

It wasn't until the U.S. government's crackdown on internet poker last week that I came to realize that the primary determinant of where I stand with respect to government interference in activities comes down to the answer to a simple question: How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity? If the answer is that I wouldn't want my daughter to do it, then I don't mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn't want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don't mind these activities being illegal. On the other hand, if my daughter had good reasons to want an abortion, I would want her to be able to have one, so I'm weakly in favor of abortion to be legal, even though I put a lot of value on unborn fetuses.
That this is utterly ridiculous ought to be so obvious as to need no elaborating. Do we want legislators making laws based on what they would personally want for us as parents, or based on respect for people as human beings with equal rights and autonomy? This shouldn't be a difficult question to answer. Yet a bunch more white dudes similarly privileged as Levitt have since weighed in to debate whether or not his test is reasonable.

More here.

Good essay, go check it out. But beyond the above linked blogger's excellent criticisms of Levitt's "daughter test," it seems to me that this is simply a more sophisticated expression of a dominant American cultural strain that drives me nuts on a regular basis: the desire to child-proof society, which comes from both liberals and conservatives.

Now I'm not talking about sensible child-safety measures for consumer products, about which libertarian idiots like John Stossel and his ilk tend to rant. Rather, I worry about censorship forces from both the left and the right that want to keep depictions of sex and violence cooped up so neurotic parents don't have to deal with discussing such issues with their kids. Bill O'Reilly, for instance, once browbeat a low-key lesbian activist on his show over the issue of lesbian sports fans kissing each other at WNBA games; "What am I supposed to tell my children about this?"

What you tell your kids is that some people prefer the romantic company of others who are of the same gender, and that's the way the world works. You don't have to approve of it, but it's not as though explaining lesbian kissing is going to warp your kid's brain, either. For that matter, I'm extraordinarily annoyed by the patronizing attitude toward children that is often expressed as something along the lines of "Oh, don't talk to them about that; they don't understand."

I remember years ago when I was in fourth or fifth grade, I was attending a parent/son Cub Scout function at the home of one of my den's members. For some reason, I was intrigued by a conversation about President Carter that a couple of adults were having, and I jumped in with an observation that I had heard that some people didn't like his pro-abortion rights stance. The adults involved scattered, and the only one who spoke to me about it disdainfully told me that I didn't know anything about the topic. What a fucking bitch. I mean, she was right in that I really didn't know much about it, but why not tell me? It's not that hard to explain what's at stake for an issue without really taking a side: some people think it's really important for a woman to be able to surgically end her pregnancy if she wants, while others think it's tantamount to murder; both sides have good arguments.

It's not that children are somehow intellectually unable to understand such "adult" issues. It's that adults are squeamish when confronted with explaining the "adult" world to children. That is, lots of grownup Americans project a false and intellectually constructed fantasy childhood of innocence onto kids, a fantasy that serves adult emotional needs far more than it serves children's intellectual needs. In the end, it's insulting. It also stunts intellectual development. All because so many people want childhood, after the fact, to be a waltz through lollipops.

A sort of depraved vicarious existence through offspring.

And don't get me wrong. I cite O'Reilly above, but this bullshit exists across the political spectrum. Lots of Americans, probably a majority, use some form of the "daughter test" for all kinds of issues. It makes society far less interesting, much more dim and gray, and kind of stupid, to boot.