Mediocracy: Inversions & deceptions in an 'egalitarian' society. 19 July 2008
MARGARET WENTE, "Watch out! Here comes the sun." Globe and Mail. 22 July 2008
Toronto's citizens will be relieved to learn that the city's elected leaders are determined to stamp out a grave threat to children's health and safety. Can you guess what it is? No, not pedophiles. Not lawn spray (they've already banned that) or Coke in school vending machines (on the way out). All of those can harm your child, but now officials are on to something much, much bigger.
The sun! That's right. Sunlight is bad. Too much of it can kill. Parents can't be trusted to limit their children's sun exposure to the appropriate amounts. So the City of Toronto will do it for them. Not even the most powerful bureaucrats can regulate the sun -- yet -- but they can, and will, regulate the shade.
As you read this, city workers are fanning out to playgrounds and other public spaces to conduct what are known as "shade audits." These audits will measure the angle of the sun at different times of day, as well as the amount of direct and reflected sunlight, the quantity and usability of shade from trees and other structures, and how many children are likely to be in attendance. Then they will determine where our little ones are likely to be most at risk from dangerous UV rays that cause deadly skin cancer. I can guarantee it's not my part of town, where conscientious parents cover their children with so much protective goop and gear that it's a wonder they don't get rickets.
But why take a chance? As councillor Gord Perks argues, "It makes no sense to me that people would object to fighting an epidemic of skin cancers among children." Also, not all children get to live in the leafier parts of town. As another city councillor reminds us, we have a special duty to protect the less fortunate children who live in high-rises, because they are forced to play in hazardous sun-drenched public parks.
Personally, I think we should be happy the little tykes are outside at all. If you ask me, what we really need is a public-health campaign to pry them away from their video games. But public-health officials are so busy whipping up imaginary dangers it's a wonder parents ever let their kids out the door. Heat alert! Heat alert! Any day the mercury hits 32.1, they declare a heat alert. Where did these people grow up? Iqaluit?
The city's sprawling Shade Policy Committee (which includes environmental planners, foresters, meteorologists, dermatologists, architects, parks personnel, oncologists and a healthy lifestyles nurse) is a bureaucrat's delight. It is the logical offshoot of a mindset that believes ordinary people are completely incapable of exercising common sense, combined with the belief that the right policies, devised by wise public officials like themselves, can save the world. These policies have been years in the making, and have generated mountains of pilot projects and reports. So who am I to gripe? Personally, I adore the shade, and I think we ought to have more of it. But I wonder if we really need this many experts to figure out where to plant a tree.
Sometimes I suspect that in between pandemics, the main job of public-health officials is to dream up new menaces to make themselves indispensable. These are the same folks who warned last week that too much cellphone use could give your kids brain cancer (and, after all, nobody can ever prove it won't). They're always there to remind us that in summer it gets hot, in winter it gets cold and in spring it gets smoggy.
Whatever did we do before we had qualified experts to tell us how to cope? How did we survive before the healthy lifestyle nurses came along to nag that junk food is bad for us and exercise is good? Oh, yeah. We had Mom. But what does she know? If you leave it up to her, the kids will probably get skin cancer.
This is more than just silliness. The danger is that in this world-view we come to see the meaning of life as that given to us by those who are better qualified to live our lives for us and our children than we are. We lose our right to make our own meaning of life. We lose our freedom-- and our meaning in that loss. This fad of idealizing the Gnostic Philosopher Kings is a danger we too often bow to uncritically in the usual social manner of most good citizens. We half-listen to the words, hear the sounds, pick up on the vibe, and we go along with things we are often too busy to concern ourselves with in our busy lives.
Experts know about our safety? Well, who are we to object and decide to do something stupid and unhealthy? Why should we stand by and let others do such things? Yes, we are infantalized, and increasingly so by Velvet Fascism. But it's for the good of all. Freedom? That's for stupid people.
Count me really stupid.