I've received yet another chain e-mail telling me how superior things were in the 1950s. Actually, this one contends that our superior '50s world produced superior people with superior brains. The contention of the e-mail is that "the lawyers and the government regulated our lives" so now there are things we used to do, that were good for us, but our kids can no longer do. These things we used to do were so good for us that they turned us into courageous inventors and thinkers. (Sigh.)
Below, I've taken apart the contention, point by point, and given it a score. It ain't pretty.
First, I'm always uncomfortable when anyone talks about the "good old days," because I don't believe they ever existed and because the writer conveniently glosses over the many ways in which the "good old days" were very, very bad old days for many people (and, for those people, today is far superior to yesterday -- see my post from last week "Longing for the Good Old Days").
Second, I'm always uncomfortable when any one group of people claims superiority for itself, which this e-mail clearly does.
Third, I can't agree that the years 1957-2007 (the past 50) have witnessed the birth of a heck of a lot of great ideas or great thinkers. "Inventions," yes; "ideas," no. It's one of my big gripes: We've become obsessed with making and possessing things and we've abandoned our intellectual, artistic and spiritual lives. In my opinion, we've created a culture that is retarded in the clinical sense--stunted in its growth--and suffering because of it.
But if we ignore those three general objections, and look only at the specific items in the email, we find that the e-mail is a wallow in the logical fallacy of "Red Herring." A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:
Topic A is under discussion.
Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).
Topic A is abandoned.
Let's look at each item and consider whether:
a) it's something we used to do, but kids no longer do;
b) it's something that lawyers and the government have stopped kids from doing;
c) it's something that was good for us to do--in that it made us great inventors and thinkers.
If not, it's a Red Herring-- an irrelevant and misleading logical fallacy.
I've included my comments after each item. There are 19 items and each can be right or wrong in three ways, so there's a total possible score of 57. I give this author a score of 5 1/2 out of 57, which means he or she had 5 1/2 correct, and 51 1/2 false, statements. That's a score of 0.09% correct. Makes you kinda wonder about the claim to a superior brain, eh?
Oh, and if the author got it all correct, the trouble would be that WE would be the ones being criticized -- because, if it were true, it would be WE who have become over-litigious, over-protective and over-regulating. If the world in which we grew up was wonderful but is now dead, it was OUR generation that killed it. (Of course, I don't believe it was wonderful...)
TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED the 1930's 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's !!
First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us.
a: NO--there are pregnant women who smoke and drink today.
b: NO--while doctors are advising against this behavior, because it can permanently damage, and even kill, babies, it is not prohibited by law.
c: NO--in utero exposure to nicotine and alcohol do not produce superior brains, in fact, quite the opposite.
They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.
a: NO--there are children who still take aspirin, eat blue cheese, eat tuna from a can and don't get tested for diabetes (it's not clear whether this refers to the mothers or the children, but it doesn't matter, because there are pregnant women who do all these things, too).
b: NO--not one of these things is not prohibited or mandated by law
c: NO--while eating tuna can, in fact, create superior brains, what we eat tuna from is utterly irrelevant; eating blue cheese, taking aspirin and getting tested for diabetes are also utterly unrelated to inventing things or thinking great or new ideas.
Then after that trauma, our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.
a: unknown--I don't know whether there are baby cribs today that meet this description
b: YES--lead-based paints are prohibited by law. For damn good reasons: ingested lead can adversely affect the development of children's brains, central nervous systems, and other organ systems--causing brain damage, behavioral problems, mental retardation, learning disabilities, growth problems, hearing and visual impairments, and even death. Recent studies have shown that simply breathing dust particles that are in the air because of the opening and closing of lead-based painted windows can be just as hazardous as the "ingestion" of lead paint.
c: NO--exposure to and ingestion of lead does not produce superior brains, in fact, quite the opposite
We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.
a: NO and YES, sort of--there are still doors and cabinets that are not childproof; children still ride bikes without helmets; people still hitchhike; I believe that all legally dispensed medicine bottles have childproof lids, but not all medicines are dispensed in such bottles.
b: NO--no law prohibits hitchhiking or mandates either wearing a bike helmet or having doors and cabinets child-proofed; although medicine bottles are child-proof, I'm not aware that this is mandated by law--and, as noted above, not all meds are dispensed in bottles (consider your typical Z pack).
c: NO--medication overdoses, falling on an unprotected head (usually on concrete), opening doors and cabinets and hitchhiking do not produce superior brains, in fact overdoses and head trauma can produce quite the opposite.
As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.
a: NO--there are children who still ride in cars without airbags (in fact, air bags are NOT recommended for kids) and children who ride without seat belts.
b: NO and YES--air bag technology for kids is not mandated by law; use of seat belts is mandated for all of us.
c: NO--neither riding in cars without air bags or riding in cars without use of seat belts produces superior brains, although the head injuries suffered due to failure to use seat belts can cause the opposite (and death, the ultimate brain failure).
Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.
a: NO--there are kids today who still ride in the back of a pickup.
b: YES--I don't know whether this behavior is not prohibited by law, but we'll assume it is because it should be.
c: NO--riding in the back of a pickup does not produce superior brains.
We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.
a: NO--there are kids who drink from the garden hose (many of those kids are in my backyard from April through November)
b: NO--drinking from a garden hose is not prohibited by law; drinking from a bottle is not mandated by law
c: NO--drinking water from a garden hose has not been shown to produce superior brains; drinking water from a bottle has not been shown to produce inferior brains (and one might wonder whether a person who pays for something that's free--water--has a superior brain)
We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one actually died from this.
a: NO--there are still millions of kids who share their soft drinks, and many of these are in my backyard, too.
b: NO--sharing a soft drink with your friends is not prohibited by law (nor has anyone suggested that it will cause death).
c: NO--sharing a soft drink with one's friends does not, I'm quite certain, produce superior brains.
We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!
a: NO--there are millions of kids who still eat cupcakes, white bread, real butter, pop with sugar; there are millions of kids who play outside (again, check out my backyard).
b: NO--eating cupcakes, white bread, real butter, and pop with sugar are not prohibited by law, nor is playing outdoors.
c: NO--I'm not aware that body weight, one way or the other, affects brain function; eating processed sugars does not produce superior brains; eating processed sugars can temporarily negatively affect brain function; Stephen Hawking, who never got to run and play outdoors, seems to have exceptional brain function.
We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.
a: NO--there are still kids who do this.
b: NO--doing this is not prohibited by law.
c: NO--doing this has not been shown to produce superior brains.
No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.
a: NO on two counts--there are still kids who cannot be reached all day; and many of us were decidedly not OK when we were off on these "adventures."
b: NO--being unreachable all day is not prohibited by law.
c: NO--being unreachable all day has not been shown to produce superior brains.
We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.
a: NO--kids still do this today.
b: NO--building a go-cart, with or without brakes is not prohibited by law.
c: Maybe YES--I would guess that building a go-cart is a great exercise for a child's brain, as is any creative activity.
We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms...WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!
a: NO--there are millions of kids today who do not have many, or any, of these things and who play outside with their friends (check out my backyard).
b: NO--use of these things is not mandated by law; playing with friends outside is not prohibited by law.
c: NO and YES-- I'm a firm believer that watching TV makes us stupid (because it's intellectually passive), but I'm not sure the same can be said for electronic games, cell phones or Internet communication (because they are intellectually engaging); I note, with amusement, that many of these "evils" are the big inventions of the superior brains the writer claims we possess.
We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.
a: NO--kids still do all of this without litigation; we've had a few broken bones and chipped teeth in our house and there isn't a lawyer in sight; frankly, I think this one is an outright lie, because I've never heard (nor can I imagine) anyone suing because their kid fell from a tree he or she had climbed.
b: NO--falling from trees and getting hurt is not prohibited by law; suing when we fall from trees and get hurt is not mandated by law.
c: NO--falling from trees and breaking bones and teeth does not produce superior brains (in fact, can produce the opposite); not suing is also unrelated to brain function.
We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
a: NO--kids still do this today (again, witness my backyard).
b: NO--eating worms or mud pies are not prohibited by law.
c: NO--a diet of worms and mud has not been shown not to produce superior brains.
Note: I don't understand the crack about "worms did not live in us forever." It's utterly meaningless.
We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.
a: NO--kids still do all of this today (my second son got his BB gun on his 11th birthday, and my third son got his on his 6th, but who's counting?).
b: NO--playing with BB guns, sticks and tennis balls is not prohibited by law.
c: NO and YES--I can't see that playing with a BB gun produces superior brains; making up games, because it is creative, imaginary activity, probably does.
We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them!
a: NO--kids still do this, many of them run through our house, front door to back, and back again, countless times every day; more often than not, they stop in the middle to have lunch or snack.
b: NO--visiting friends it is not prohibited by law.
c: NO--visiting friends may be good for the soul, but I'm not aware that it produces superior brains. Maybe it depends on who your friends are. ;-)
Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!
a: YES, but NO--no one gets cut for lack of playing skill from the Little League in which I coach, because Little League is where you learn the skills, not demonstrate them (they do, however, get cut for poor sportsmanship, bad behavior and failure to participate); the idea that you must somehow "measure up" to some arbitrary standard to "earn" the chance to play a childhood game seems silly, maybe even cruel, to me; the kids on my team learn disappointment every time they strike out, every time they miss the catch, every time they lose a game; and frankly most of our lives are so full of disappointment that we have more than enough opportunities to learn to "deal with it."
b: NO-- cutting kids from Little League is not prohibited by law, nor is learning to deal with disappointment.
c: NO--being cut from Little League does not produce superior brains (although it may inspire a twisted sense of what's important in life).
The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!
a: NO--millions of kids are not "bailed out" by their parents and pay for breaking the law (sometimes absurdly so, such as when Texas wanted to execute juvenile offenders and Florida sent a 10-year-old to prison for life); some of us, in fact, turn our own kids--with great anguish and pain to follow for years--over to the law when we could have kept their crimes hidden.
b: NO--making kids responsible for their actions is not prohibited by law.
c: NO--making kids responsible for their actions may (or may not) produce superior adult characters, but it has not been shown to produce superior brains.
This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!
My, aren't we special. I cannot agree that the past 50 have witnessed the birth of a heck of a lot of great ideas or great thinkers. "Innovations," yes; "ideas," no. It's one of my big gripes: We've become obsessed with making and possessing things and we've abandoned our intellectual, artistic and spiritual lives. In my opinion, we've created a culture that is retarded in the clinical sense--stunted in its growth--and we're suffering for it.
And YOU are one of them! CONGRATULATIONS! You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good. And while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were. Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?!
There are 19 items and each can be right or wrong in three ways, so there's a total possible score of 57. I give this author a score of 5 1/2 out of 57, which means he or she had 5 1/2 correct, and 51 1/2 false, statements. That's a score of 0.09 correct. Kind of makes you wonder about the claim to a superior brain, doesn't it? I think, just maybe, our kids will be OK despite those pesky regulators.