Sunday, November 28, 2010

You are What you Consume

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Over on Arstechica, where I used to hang out quite a bit, they have an article about how the California Supreme Court was hearing  Oral arguments in violent game case focus on nature of violence. (Okay, yucky English skills; I blame them for making the headline so poorly.) The thing is, states keep trying to single out video games as the root of all evil and that they must be legislated against. This is California's laughable attempt. Why laughable?

Because like every other state that's tried to impinge on Free Speech so far, they haven't done anything remotely in the public's interest, unless you count spending millions of taxpayer dollars to draft such poorly defined garbage, or PROPOSING to spend many MORE millions of taxpayer dollars to conduct kangaroo court cases. Really, guys, it's not that hard to define exactly what you want and then draft a law that says just that, and is still fair. A law that's unclear isn't a law.

The problem, of course, is that it's illegal to do what they're trying to do because some stupid piece of paper called the Constitution is in the way. Nuts!

All right, let me dial down the rhetoric-o-meter a little bit and give you the straight dope before you mistakenly believe my particular stance is what you think it is.

For some time, there has been a fervor about exposing kids to sex and violence. (And child labor. And personal responsibility. But we won't get into those right now.) The Nanny State is being created to protect us from everything except itself. It's the modern equivalent to the Bread and Circuses that killed off Rome. And right now there are a lot of people wanting the State to protect their kids from violent or sexual material. Hence, we have ratings on movies and music and video games. However, it's not ILLEGAL for kids to have access to those things. Because there have been a handful of high-profile cases lately about sex and/or violence in video games, a number of states have tried passing laws against them, and every single time, the Constitution protects Free Speech, and every single time, the people who wasted all that money to make a law they knew wouldn't pass muster aren't held accountable for the money they just wasted trying to break the law.

There are some heated passions on either side of the debate, and you'll see a handful of them if you check out the comments on the Ars article. Some say all this has no deleterious effect, some say "it didn't hurt us" (usually angrily and with insults, HA!), and some say it's worse than child rape. We went through all this with movies, do we really have to go through it again with video games?

I'm going to take a different route here.

We've all heard, "You are what you eat," right? It means that if you eat the right stuff, your body will be strong and healthy and able to fight off diseases, but if you put junk food in your body, your body will become all mushy and tired and ugly. When you eat right, you feel good. When you eat crap, you feel bad. I'm going to extend this idea a little bit to say, "You are what you CONSUME."

When you sit in front of a brain-deadening TV show, your brain turns to mush. One need only watch an installment of "Jaywalking" to find out we're getting dumber by the second. When you're exposed to lots of inappropriate behavior, without proper supervision, you never learn that those are BAD things.

For instance, watch the movie Unforgiven. Early in it, Clint Eastwood's character leaves his two kids, who are not even 10 years old, in charge of the farm while he goes out for a few weeks. Those kids were allowed to kill a few chickens if they needed to. Nowadays, if you leave your kid alone in a car for 2 minutes, you'll get arrested! What changed between back then and now? Parental supervision. As in, there's none of it now, and so kids have no idea what good behavior is.

If you're a parent, you have to raise your kids, right? That means spending time with them, teaching them right from wrong. That means spending their formative years being sure they are kept away from things they shouldn't be exposed to, like violence and sex and alcohol and foul language and all that other garbage. But when they ARE exposed to it, which they will inevitably be, you don't terrorize them with it. Explain to your kids, without scandalizing things, what's going on, why something is bad, and why you're not going to let them do that.

What damages kids is not sex and violence, what damages them is the way you react to those things and the way you raise them to treat them. Sex and violence are a part of who we are; applying them in a proper way accomplishes important, constructive goals, while applying them in the wrong way creates adults who have no idea why they can't get a date.

The most important thing you can have as a parent is the trust of your child, and when you tell that child something that turns out not to be true, they question everything else you tell them. Eventually kids look for their own answers, and when they do, if they find out you've been lying to them or overreacting to something, you've just driven them to seek more forbidden fruit.

I've got one more point to make: Just as you are what you consume, so too are you what you expose yourself to and spend your time thinking about. These are simply different types of mental consumption. If you're worried about losing your job, you're going to get nervous around the boss, act suspiciously, and then the boss if going to look at you when something goes wrong and think you did it and fire you. And if you spend all your time fighting monsters, eventually you become one. It's well known.

You remember those Chilean miners who were trapped for a few months? Imagine being one of them. Imagine having no way to see your family, no way to spend the day at the park, no way to enjoy the sunshine, no way to tuck your kids in at night, no way to hang out with your friends. All the little things that aggravated them - paying bills, taking baths, dodging political phone calls, walking the dog, taking out the trash - when they got out of that mine, I bet they were really glad to be able to do those things again.

If you instead focus on the good things in your life, how great it is to be alive, and how much freedom and control you have over your destiny, things will come together for you and opportunity will lean on your doorbell the same way temptation does now. Clear out the garbage, and fill your life with good. And teach your kids the same, and they won't even be interested in dangerous and destructive things because those won't be as fulfilling as the lives they can create for themselves.

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Other articles you'll find interesting or amusing:
The War on Cleanliness and Privacy 
Holiday greetings
Solar System - Mars 

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