L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 265, April 4, 2004
Boycott Verizon Communications!
Taking Baby Steps Toward Freedom
Special to TLE
Some close friends of mine had an exceptional weekend. They've just became the proud parents of a beautiful baby boy (who, unlike some newborns, actually is beautiful). Mom and baby are just fine; Dad is as proud of both of them as you might expect him to be.
Although the new parents are quite understandably focused on the near termdiapers and late night feedings are doubtless intertwined with the amazement and joy they both so clearly feel babies more truly represent the long term. They are, after all, the future. As I held the little one, I thought about what might lay ahead of him as he slept. I couldn't help holding out some hope that the past would have a greater effect on him than will the present.
When wethe baby's parents and Iwere young, things were quite different for us and our own parents than are the circumstances we see today. For example:
Our parents were able to deduct some of the costs of having children on their income tax forms (I have no argument with those deductions feel free to ask me what I think of the income tax itself if you dare). But today, the new little one's parents will be unable to do so unless they make sure he has his very own Social Security number. I didn't have a Social Security number until I got my first real job at 16, and then it was reasonable to get one. It is the wages earned over a lifetime, as reported to Social Security, that determine benefits to be paid out after we reach a certain age. (You may also feel free to ask me what I think of Social Security sometime...) But I don't believe that the baby I held yesterday is going to be headed out to earn a few bucks anytime soon. So why the number? Quite simply, despite assurances over the years to the contrary that Social Security numbers would never be used as identifiers for anything but Social Security, they're now being required as surprise!identifiers.
When I was in elementary school, I got my first bike. I went through training wheels and quite a few bumps and bruises, but I was riding a "big girl" bike in relatively short order. We lived in a very rural area, and I rode on gravel roads that weren't always in very good condition. Both my sister and I fell with some regularity due to rocks, patches of soft sand, or just because we were doing something stupid (and which of us didn't try to do tricks, hmmm?). Despite the fact we never wore helmets, knee pads, or gloves, both of us made it to adulthood alive and unscarred. But the new baby? His parents don't have the option of choosing a helmet for him. While my mother made such decisions for me, the government is making those choices for children now.
Speaking of elementary school, I was never particularly athletic and often had to sit out during various events held on city-wide athletic "field days". Other kids got ribbons for placing first, second, or third, while I typically went home without any. But the year I was in third grade, a girl named Geraldine and I placed third in a three-legged race at one such multi-school competition. I treasured that little slip of white ribbon for years, and was inordinately proud every time I looked at the grubby thing. The new baby, on the other hand, will probably never know such a thrill. He'll be given a ribbon along with everybody else just because he showed up. After all, schools today don't want anybody to feel bad about their abilitiesor lack thereof!
For the moment, let's forget about some of life's little pleasures this child will never know. Let's consider instead some of the things he'll consider perfectly normal because he'll likely not know anything different.
When the baby's parents and I were teenagers, the only way somebody was fingerprinted was if they did something very, very bad. Now it's become de rigueur to fingerprint children "just in case" something happens to them (as it happens, the incidence of kidnapping hasn't increased; the reporting of kidnapping has). Only a few weeks ago, there was a widely publicized news report that one school system is actually going to fingerprint kids as they get on the bus! Ostensibly, they're saying that they're doing so because they want to be sure each child gets on the right bus. But through my entire school years, I never once had a bus driver on our full school bus who didn't know each and every kid by face if not by name. So why fingerprint anyone if it's not to collect biometric data or, even more frightening, just to get kids used to giving a scan anytime anybody asks them?
I can remember classes where teachers actually announced the top performers on a given quiz or test. We all looked around, saw who was doing the best, and then tried to do better than them next time around. It was a matter of both pride and determination generated by a healthy spirit of competition that got us all to learn more and to learn better. But today there are actually schools that no longer have class valedictorians because it might make other students feel less intelligent! Back when the slower kids never got to raise their hands when the teacher asked who'd received a 100% on their paper, those slower kids tried harder the next time and our schools, on average, were among the best in the world. Now that nobody has to try because everybody gets a good report lest anybody feel left out, our students are among the worst performers in the developed world. This new baby, whether he turns out to be academically gifted, perfectly average, or even just a little slow, will receive a substandard education accordingly. But he'll feel good about it, I bet!
A part of that substandard education will almost certainly include such "facts" as the First Amendment only applying to speech that's not "hateful" or "offensive," and that the Second Amendment is applicable only to police officers or the Army. The little one will eventually learn that the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to schoolchildren at all, and it doesn't apply to the rest of us, either, where the War on Drugs or the War on Terrorism is concerned. He'll be taught about the "historic" Fifth and Sixth Amendments, both relegated to history class thanks to such measures as the PATRIOT Act. And he'll have no concept of personal privacy whatsoever because he'll be electronically monitored by cameras or scanners everywhere he goes, as well as through databases like MATRIX that will record his every action and transaction.
Babies represent, more than anything else, hope. And there is, indeed, some small hope. More and more people are demanding reform in their public schools, are opting for private or charter schools, or are homeschooling their children. Many people are beginning to overtly express resentment of a government that's become as much "Big Mother" as "Big Brother." Grassroots organizations are springing up overnight and across the country to address matters ranging from the repeal of the PATRIOT Act, to the shutdown of MATRIX, to the demand for the return of such unalienable rights as those of genuinely free speech or self defense.
Much of the political movement to restore liberty under the Constitution and Bill of Rights is very much in its infancy. But like my friends' little boy, there is great potential and hope for growth. On the occasion of his birth day, I wish for this sweet child love, happiness, and a swing of the pendulum once again toward liberty. Like all of our children, he deserves no less.
His parents, I know, will love him without restraint and work tirelessly to see that he gets everything he needs to grow up to be a good person and a responsible citizen. It's up to all of us, though, to see to the rest of his future. Do we really want to relegate him to the place that appears prepared for him? Let's remember that freedom is a gift as precious as a baby, and that it, too, requires care and attention to flourish. Mom and Dad will take care of the baby. Which of us will work as tirelessly to nurture the young and fragile regrowth of liberty?