One of my friends and I occasionally discuss our perceptions this is not the same country we grew up in. And it's not like we're old fogies; we're not old, or fogies, whatever a fogy is. But it doesn't seem to be that much fun for kids today, compared to when we were out wreaking havoc.
We don't see the kids doing the things we used to do -- dirt-clod or snowball fights, King-of-the-Hill, wrestling with each other, racing downhill on bikes as fast as possible. Or riding our bikes ten miles from home without telling anyone. A lot of kids today appear to be inside, addicted to video games. I'm sure that's not such a good thing.
Most of the things we did as kids were risky, but risk had a lot to do with making it fun. It was a controlled (and at that age, a mostly mild) risk, but it was still a risk.
Here's an example: when I was a kid, there were no such things as bike helmets. Do I see helmets as a bad thing? Mostly I don't, but in some ways, I do. I've never known a kid to hurt his brains by not wearing a helmet. I'm sure it's happened, very rarely, but is it worth it when you can't get on your bike without worrying, "I have to put my helmet on so I'll be a vanishing fraction safer"?
Here's another, more interesting example from when I wasn't a kid, but about 21: my car starting spinning on the highway after I hit an unseen patch of black ice hidden by the night. I spun around, went off the road and rolled a few times, and came to rest with the car on its side. I remember the motor was still running and the headlights still on. I wasn't afraid the entire time, even though I could have gotten killed, just in a state of disbelief
In that state everything dropped into slow-motion, and my perception grew very acute. After the car was lying on its side, I opened the door like a tank hatch, got out, and went "Woo hoo!" Everything was very bright and clear and intense. In a way, it was one of the most fun things that ever happened to me. The thrill was beyond description, and from that accident I learned why guys jump out of airplanes and engage in other extreme risk taking. It's some of the most fun play there is.
Is life supposed to be about being safe and bored all the time? Always feeling anxious and thinking, well, I'd better worry about doing this irrelevant thing, or that meaningless thing, so I'll be just a teeny-tiny bit safer? As compared to never giving it a thought? Which is more fun? Thinking the whole world is out to get you, or thinking it's a place where you can have a lot of fun?
I still drive all the time, and never worry about getting into an accident.
The problem, really, is thinking the whole world is an unsafe place, out to get you. I am reminded of cartoonist Gahan Wilson's book, Nuts, which is about young kids. One of the cartoons in particular sticks in my mind: a little boy, in bed with the sheets pulled up below his chin and a look of terror on his face. Why? Because many little oozy monsters are crawling up his sheets, grinning as they tell him, "We're germs, kid. We're going to kill you."
When I was a teenager we rode horses and mini-bikes (which had lawnmower pull-start engines), swam in lakes, sailed our goofy Sea Snark Styrofoam sailboat, jumped off of cliffs into rivers. Nothing bad happened, no one drowned, or even came close. The most unusual thing we did is inflate one of those inner-tubes off of an 18-wheeler, then six or seven of us would stand on it in the middle of the lake and rock it back and forth until it upended. Only once was I was on the low end, and had every one fall on top of me. I remember I was so far down under the surface people were kicking me in the head. When I surfaced, everyone had concerned looks on their faces, because it took so long for me to come up. But I wasn't in danger, even that far down.
Not once as a teenager do I remember thinking, "Maybe I shouldn't swim in this lake. . .I could drown. . .maybe I shouldn't ride this mini-bike. . .I could fall off and cut my knee." The latter I did do; even today I have a three-stitch scar on my left knee. So what? Scars are permanent souvenirs.
What would life be like if all the fun and excitement and risk and adventure were sucked right out of it, in the name of safety? Would it be worth living, if the ability to play was eradicated? And doesn't play always involve some risk? All animals play, not only when young but when adult. In their case, it always involves teeth and claws. Would they ever stop playing because of the possibility of a scratch? You already know the answer: no.
One image I often have is that I'm looking at an attempt to return us to the womb. That's even more regressive than being a swaddled baby in a crib. There is no fun or adventure or excitement or risk in the womb. There's also no intelligence either. It sounds like an attempt to return us to the Garden of Eden, and contrary to the conventional wisdom, I would find it a heck of a boring place.
Here's what I wonder: is the desire for play and excitement and adventure in any way related to intelligence, the desire to learn, the desire to explore, to invent? Are they the natural outcomes of freedom and liberty? Seems so to me. And if you take away risk and fun and adventure, what happens to those good qualities of exploration and innovation? I think they go away, for the most part. After, hasn't it been the free countries that have produced just about everything in the world?
Dr. Stuart Brown, who has spent his career studying play, thinks it's essential. He writes:
"In my career I have reviewed more than 6000 life histories, looking specifically at a person’s play experiences over his or her life. In studying these histories it has become vividly apparent that play is enormously significant for both children and adults.
"I began thinking about the role of play in our lives while conducting a detailed study of homicidal males in Texas. What I discovered was severe play deprivation in the lives of these murderers. When I later studied highly creative and successful individuals, there was a stark contrast. Highly successful people have a rich play life.
"It is also established that play affects mental and physical health for both adults and children. A severely play deprived child demonstrates multiple dysfunctional symptoms-- the evidence continues to accumulate that the learning of emotional control, social competency, personal resiliency and continuing curiosity plus other life benefits accrue largely through rich developmentally appropriate play experiences. Likewise, an adult who has “lost” what was a playful youth and doesn’t play will demonstrate social, emotional and cognitive narrowing, be less able to handle stress, and often experience a smoldering depression."
Who's behind this attempt to make the world out of Nerf - to take the fun out of everything? Politically, it's leftists. But what's leftism? Isn't it just Mommy by another name? And don't Mommies want to make the world all safe 'n' snug, even though they don't understand they're taking all the fun out of everything? And maybe removing our brains, too?
It's not Daddies who're trying to rid the world of BB guns, and attempting to put little boys on Ritalin because they're acting like little boys and not little girls. It's Mommies who are trying this. And, to his everlasting shame, Daddies are letting Mommies do this.
Fred Reed has the perfect comment about this kind of Mommy: "censorious, moralizing, self-pitying, endlessly instructive, and so achingly tedious that men find themselves thinking of moldy bath sponges."
Men in general are far more risk-taking than women. The schools, for that matter, are trying to turn little boys into girls. And get rid of playing, to boot.
Maybe those boys on Ritalin just need to go outside and have some rough-and-tumble play for a few hours instead of being forced to sit motionless at desks, which little girls can do far more easily than little boys.
Another image I have is that of “Star Trek's” the Borg. The components of the Borg are completely safe womb-to-tomb, always taken care of - and they have no excitement, no adventure, no fun, and no consciousness or intelligence. And it's completely in character that the Borg Cube (which is just a huge womb flying through space) is ruled by a Queen, one who is motherly and concerned for the welfare of her little worker drones. To me, her most frightening and eye-opening saying was when she commented: "Why do you resist us? We only wish to improve the quality of your lives."
The welfare state is Mommy. And the bigger her welfare state, the more play will decline and with it our intelligence, and along with it will go innovation, and fun, and excitement, and adventure. What a life, if you can call it a life. People will go from playing chess to checkers, then finally have problems with "Go Fish."
Does play, even if it involves risk, stimulate our brains. It serve a deeper, more profound function than simple recreation. And it is necessary throughout our lives, especially as a baby and a teenager. All societies are damaged when Mommy takes over, because our brains go plop right out of our heads. It's too risky otherwise.