Have We Created a Monster?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Terrye's post on privacy below raises a number of good questions, including this one: "Can the state, federal or local, tell consenting adults what to do in our homes?” There seemed to be general agreement in the succeeding discussion that government can legitimately prevent us from murder and cannibalism, even in the privacy of our own homes.

But I was reminded of another similar situation which occurred to some friends of mine in the last few days. This is a couple whom I have known for years. The husband/father of the two children is one of the best fathers I have ever known. At parties he is always the one adult who pays special attention to the children and makes sure that they are happy and having a good time. He usually leads them in some sort of game to keep them entertained while the adults are talking. While there are many fathers who are so solicitous in India, I've never known a more caring superdad in the US. Every time I've been to their house he's outside playing with the kids; all the kids in his neighborhood love him.

The other day he tossed a book to his eight-year-old son for him to read. It was one of those dad playing sports with his son kind of moments: "Catch the pass". The son wasn't expecting it and caught the corner of the book on his face. It scratched his face, and in succeeding days he's been picking at it so it won't heal and he's been telling kids at school when asked that his dad threw a book at him. Can you guess where this is going?

Social Services showed up last night to counsel these iniquitous parents. The father was made to sign some papers averring that "he wouldn't throw books at his son again" and "he wouldn't take this judgement out on his son". I can hardly think of a less apt use of Social Services.

Horror stories of this sort are legion. We all know somebody who was involved in one. Social Services now have the legal right to break in upon our humble abodes without benefit of search warrant or judicial oversight and to find us guilty unless we can prove ourselves innocent. There isn't much more required for action to be initiated than the existence of a rumor that something is wrong. Apparently if one of our neighbors takes a dislike to us and calls Social Services--without any proof whatsoever--the bureaucrats will come and remove our children on this basis alone. This long and very invasive arm of the state has been instituted on the grounds that abusive parents must be stopped at any cost. Traditional rights must go out the window. Certain voters are eager to institute such laws, no matter how draconian, no matter how inappropriate, no matter how contrary to traditional rights, and no matter how little they may know about child-rearing themselves, because the right to be a busy-body in somebody else's life provides them with a much-needed sense of meaning.

Comparing the two cases, the right to condoms, as discussed by Terrye, and the custody of one's children, I think one would be justified in concluding that in fact American laws and legal proceedings follow no principle whatsoever. The only rule is that whatever the currently fashionable degree of interference into private lives, that is what will be instituted by the state and the courts, and heaven help you if you try to diverge from the ever-increasing tyranny of the majority by "following the beat of a different drummer".

20 comments:

terrye said...

My niece fell down a lot. When she fell down one time too many my brother had some stranger threatening to throw him jail on no evidence whatsoever.

Bureaucrats with the power to invade your privacy and rearrange your life on a whim.

Because the founders did not put a "You have the right to be treated with dignity in the privacy of your home" amendment in the Constitution.

Which of course renders the rest of the document moot I guess.

I just hope the local government is not taken over by fundamentalist Muslims who insist I wear a veil in public. I would hate that and considering it does not interefere with my fourth amendment or ninth amendment rights to be forced to wear a veil in public I guess I would just have to grin and bear it...or move...or stage a coup.

flenser said...

MHA

"..heaven help you if you try to diverge from the ever-increasing tyranny of the majority by "following the beat of a different drummer"."

The majority gets a bum rap most of the time. It's the meddlesome minority of interfering do-gooders who cause these problems. Because, after all, everyone has "rights" which the state has a duty to protect.

I'm pretty sure that no "majority" ever demanded that these kinds of Social Services be set up. Put the blame on the tyranny of the minority, where it belongs.

terrye said...

flenser:

Well then why don't they do something about it?

If all we have to do is go to the state legilsature it should be an easy thing.

But then again it does not say in the Constitution that the father in question as a right to raise his children without the interference of the state.

Rick Ballard said...

Reading this brought to mind that little book whose working title of 'It Takes a Village With an Iron Handed Commissar to Raise a Child' was changed to "It Takes a Village'. Colorado probably has a law making it a criminal offense not to report 'suspicious' occurrences involving children to the 'proper authorities'. A teacher or counselor or any licensed official risks their livlihood by not acting as community commissar. Given the potential penalty for the commissar it is understandable that some of them act on a principle of 'better safe than sorry'.

The coercion exarted by the state bureaucrats under the aegis of 'it's for the children' is as repulsive as many of the coercive acts routinely administered in Cuba or China. These types of regulations are simply not worthy of a nation that purports to be free.

terrye said...

rick:

I live in Indiana, which is a very conservative state.

My health care agency services a large area and we see a lot of people. Sometimes the circumstances we find them in are not very wholesome.

It is a felony for me not to report abuse of a child or a dependent adult.

I could lose my license. Or worse.

But then again... is it abuse for a middle aged man to leave his mother alone while he goes to the post office? It is if she is not ambulatory and there is a house fire.

flenser said...

terrye

"If all we have to do is go to the state legilsature it should be an easy thing."

Yup. That should be all it takes. Are you actually agreeing with me here?

The reason that's not all it takes is that the issue is largely out of the hands of the legislature. The "rights" of the individual, as defined by the courts, now trump the rights of the actual people in a society to make sensible laws.

In other words, if the state suspects that a boy has been abused, then, as self-appointed protector of his "rights", it has the freedom, even the duty, to take him away from his family.

"Due-process" be dammed.



"But then again it does not say in the Constitution that the father in question as a right to raise his children without the interference of the state."

Let me try to explain this again.

The Constitution does, in a sense, say that the father does have a right to raise son without the interference of the state. To be precise, it restricts the Federal government from interfering, although it says nothing about the state governments.

The fathers right to raise his son without governemnt interference is beng violated by exactly the same sort of people and the same sort of thinking which you are defending in the case of Griswald. That is, people who believe that the state has a positive obligation to get involved in peoples affairs in order to ensure that they do not abridge one anothers "rights".

You cannot criticise this and defend Griswald.

Knucklehead said...

This is a topic I've long wanted to blog about but haven't. It is so huge that I haven't yet been able to wrap my piddling brain around it.

It is perfectly clear that We The People do not accept anything remotely resembling an absolute right to personal privacy. We just don't. One can look around oneself and find no end of examples.

If you live in a modern American "subdivision" your right to "privacy" is severely restricted by zoning laws - one cannot even erect a shed necessarily where one wants on one's own property. One can't erect an unlimited height "prvacy fence". One can't make as much noise as one wishes at whatever hour of day or night or burn leaves or any number of activities.

I aslo am aware of a situation where a close relative was acused, and subsequently monitored quaterly for a year, due to a simple matter of a child being injured in ordinary child's play.

The notion of privacy is not one addressed in the US constitution. It just isn't there and it seems clear to me that the founders did not anticipate matters of "privacy".

So where do the limits of personal privacy and public interest lie? Idunno. I do promise that someday I will lay out the 2, or possibly 3, amendments and some of the many SCOTUS cases that deal with the "privacy issue". I've been down the path but never documented it. It is a long and winding road. In 21st century America one cannot purchase simple groceries in "private" in at least a huge swath of the nation.

There really is no "privacy" either by right or reality. Where the limits of government lie and the rights of the citizenry are an enormous matter that deserves, but receives little, public discussion.

ambisinistral said...

flenser,

You are partially correct, and partially incorrect in what you say IMHO. The story that started this post only happens because the middle tolerates it.

I remember sitting in a restaraunt in Hong Kong once... one not frequented by westerners. Naturally, I was the center of the kid's attention, with much curious yanking on the hairy barbarians's beard and what-not. What was interesting was all of the parents watched all of the kids. Watched as in they could yell at other parent's kids without all hell breaking out.

I compare that to the creepy, child-centered, It Takes a Village to Raise a Brat, philosophy and it is no wonder the Secret Kids Police knock on folk's doors over cuts and scrapes. Style over substance.

When Ambi junior was younger I worked with kids a lot -- coached them, took them camping and on field trips, PTO President, the whole bit. There were parents who were amazed I exposed myself to such liability. They were right, one false accusation -- which thankfully never happened -- and I would have been screwed.

So where's "just the fringe" in that attitude? We barely trust other adults to mind our children. The majority tolerates and encourages such paranoia. Go to any any meeting involving kids and listen to the nonsense being spewed. The majority most certainly abets it.

Syl said...

This conversation and the one below are beginning to annoy me.

Gawd I wish I could articulate it.

I feel the Right wants to impose as much tyranny as the Left does. Just in a different manner. Oh, we're doing it the constitutional way so it's okay. Trust me.

All of you be damned. I want my right to privacy to be universal across the country...not to worry that I can use a contraceptive in Massachusetts but not Idaho. I don't want to worry that the law made yesterday, will change tomorrow.

I want you out of my house. Period. Unfortunately, we can't protect everybody from everything. We cannot protect prisoners from being uncomfortable, neither can we protect all children from their parents.

There are just as many busybody conservatives as busybody liberals. Don't try to kid anyone.

Gawd forbid I should put a nude render on my site. The places I frequented daily for my 3D habit have changed considerably since Bush took office. Visa made them do it. They don't want to get in trouble taking transactions from sites that may have a boob or two show up in product listings.

Makes it kind of hard when some of the products on offer are textures for human bodies to wrap around 3D models.

I think it's good to have conservatives to slow the car down, but I don't think they should tie their foot to the brakes.

The world IS different from 200 years ago and I don't think that fact should be denied.

Knucklehead said...

Syl,

I haven't gotten through the conversation below so I can't begin to guess what's got you torqued up but IMHO the entire sex/contraceptive/abortion argument is badly served by being so relentlessly framed as a matter of "privacy".

It should be debated for what it is.

Sorry, I don't have any additional time to expand upon that - someday, someday...

terrye said...

knucklehead:

It is framed that way because the state of Conneticut passed an intrusive and stupid law and certain people in an effort to justify said law have stated that we Americans have no right to privacy, not even in marriage.

But I agree, abortion is about more than privacy.

terrye said...

Syl:

I agree with you 100%.

And what is more if I have to worry that putting strict constructionalists on the bench means that a bunch of right wing fanatics can come into my bedroom then forget it.

I have no desire to go from one extreme to the other.

Syl said...

terrye

"I have no desire to go from one extreme to the other."

Amen.

Oh, I loved this one Terrye...gonna repeat it:

"I just hope the local government is not taken over by fundamentalist Muslims who insist I wear a veil in public. I would hate that and considering it does not interefere with my fourth amendment or ninth amendment rights to be forced to wear a veil in public I guess I would just have to grin and bear it...or move...or stage a coup."

Heh

David Thomson said...

“...and certain people in an effort to justify said law have stated that we Americans have no right to privacy, not even in marriage.”

And who are these “certain people?” I don’t remember anyone saying that Americans do not have a right to privacy. A number of us simply believe that the US Supreme Court should not resolve disputes in this area. It is far better that voters and their elected officials decide on where to draw the line---and not un-elected judges.

I might add that the judicial abuse lead to the horrible Dred-Scot case. Many constitutional scholars also contend that originalist principles could have readily been used to address our challenges with racial injustice. The activism of the Warren Court was not necessary.

itshouldbenoted.com said...

A very interesting post and an important question. In a way, analagous issues come up when you think about one country interfering in the internal affairs of another also.

terrye said...

david:

Well actually flenser said Americans have no right to privacy. For that matter many people who seem to think that the Griswold decision was wrong have stated that.

The Dred Scot decision was wrong, but then again there is no right to not be bought and sold like cattle in the Constitution and the legislature of certain states designated slaves as property so why should the courts interfere?

Sounds pretty damn activist to me.

Syl said...

itshouldbenoted

shouldtakeahike

Iraq was in violation of a ceasefire. He forfeited his own sovereignty.

terrye said...

itshouldbenoted:

Tell that to the UN, the ICC, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and all the other wondeful transnational busybodies out there.

Syl said...

David

"It is far better that voters and their elected officials decide on where to draw the line---and not un-elected judges."

Then let Congress add the Right to Privacy to our Constitution and be done with it.

Or, better idea, let's put our bodies into the commerce clause and let one legislative body, Congress, handle it. This body has already resided in 8 states.

The problem I see with legislatures 'handling it' is that everything they do is restrictive. You can't do this, you must get permission to do that. You pay a fine for the other.

So what do you want us to ask them to do?

All you want to do is restrict things yourselves.

Leave me goddamn alone.

terrye said...

And you know a lot of judges are elected and the ones that are not were appointed by people who were elected.

That is how a Republic works.