When A Legitimate Movement Goes Overboard

Here’s Harvard’s Steven hrezszshnr
musing on what happens when a legitimate movement —  the movement to improve child safety, for instance, or to awaken sensitivity to minorities — achieves its main goals, but insists on acting as if today’s dangers and insults are on par with those of the past.


His point about child safety — that it’s good kids are no longer coal miners but ridiculous that in the name of the self-same “safety” today they not longer get to play at the park alone — is a building block of the Free-Range Kids movement. We, too, want safe kids. We just don’t want to pretend as if working as a chimney sweep and waiting in the car while mom gets a gallon of milk are both dangers that require alarm and societal intervention.

The inability or unwillingness to distinguish between something that is egregiously wrong and something that, just possibly, might  be imprudent/mean/unsettling/imperfect is what makes parenting such a minefield. So how about if, instead of hunting for ever smaller problems to over-react to we give each other the benefit of the doubt instead? What an easier, happier time we’d all have. – L


The unflappable Steven Pinker. (Photo credit: Rose Lincoln / Harvard University)



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35 Responses to When A Legitimate Movement Goes Overboard

  1. M January 2, 2017 at 6:22 pm #

    Steven Pinker is great! He’s spot on about people finding what they need to keep their movement going.

    I’d read about conservative groups who have achieved their goals (saved an animal and their habitat) but when the population actually reaches a healthy state, they tend to continue to want to keep the animal in protected status, and maybe even expand the protections. Why? Because they are invested both emotionally and financially in keeping the donations coming in. If you are the director of “Save the FillintheBlank”, your job would be gone if blank no longer needed saving.

    Helicopter parents are invested in looking for new dangers. How else will they win the Mommy Wars?

    Product manufacturers are invested in creating a new “need” for new parents, and fear sells.

    Parenting magazines love having a new flashy headline “Owning a toilet brush could cause brain damage in your new baby” that everyone will rush to read.

    Everyone is invested in their ’cause”.

  2. Bob Davis January 2, 2017 at 8:56 pm #

    This discussion brings to mind the “homeless advocates” who would be out of a job if all the “financially challenged” denizens of our street encampments were provide with safe, clean housing, and all the “mentally disturbed” homeless were taken to state hospitals where they could be treated and housed.

    Or, imagine if all the “bad guys” were rounded up and locked away permanently–think of the layoffs in our police departments and public defenders’ offices.

    We can also consider what would happen if various currently illegal drugs were legalized and taxed like booze has been since 1933. Think of all the narcs who would have to find more productive lines of work.

    A comment on M’s remark about “conservative groups”. This should probably read “conservation groups.”.

  3. donald January 3, 2017 at 12:21 am #

    He hit the nail on the head. He’s not alone. The world is waking up to this over-reaction. The extreme political correctness has it’s days numbered. The over-protectiveness of children will also have a downturn. Unfortunately this will take a bit longer. This is because The Safety Industrial Complex doesn’t want the over-protectiveness of children to decline.

  4. donald January 3, 2017 at 12:33 am #

    I’m looking forward to the days where you could pay your 8 year old neighbour to wash your car.

    1. Kids earn pocket money.
    2. They start learning the job market.
    3. You get your car washed at reduced rates. (although usually reduced quality)
    4. kids learn to be adults.

    People like to scream ‘child labor’ or ‘take advantage of the youth for reduced pay’.
    The same people like to scream, “There is a child in a car without an adult! Call 911”!

  5. En Passant January 3, 2017 at 2:56 am #

    Lenore wrote:

    His point about child safety — that it’s good kids are no longer coal miners but ridiculous that in the name of the self-same “safety” today they not longer get to play at the park alone — is a building block of the Free-Range Kids movement.


    The golf links lie so near the mill
    That almost every day
    The laboring children can look out
    And see the men at play.

    — Sarah Cleghorn


    The park’s so near the station house
    That almost every day
    Police can come arrest the mom
    Who lets her children play.

  6. Katie G January 3, 2017 at 6:17 am #

    He’s said in understandable and academic terms simultaneously,exactly what I’ve thought!

  7. theresa January 3, 2017 at 8:57 am #

    Here one for the going overboard list. Some bad parents that homeschool starved their kid so now all homeschoolers must be checked on to be sure their parents are good.

  8. Powers January 3, 2017 at 9:35 am #

    I’m so glad Steven Pinker thinks the rights movements for African-Americans and women and LGBTQ people are no longer necessary. I’m sure African-Americans, women, and LGBTQ people will be happy to hear that.

  9. Stacey Gordon January 3, 2017 at 9:44 am #

    Eric Hoffer said something relevant:
    Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates ..

  10. Chuck J January 3, 2017 at 11:56 am #

    I’m so glad we have people like “Powers” to completely mischaracterize Dr Pinker’s point, and and in doing so prove his point.

  11. Dienne January 3, 2017 at 11:58 am #

    Oh, good lord, Bob Davis, it’s the homeless advocates who are the ones advocating for … wait for it … housing the homeless! It’s the neoliberal austerity-minded governments (both Democrat and Republican) who are trying to “save money” by not housing them (thereby costing far more in the long-run).

    And *what* state hospitals are you even talking about? Those were closed in the 80s, remember? (Thanks Reagan!) They were supposed to be replaced by “community” mental health centers, but most of those were never built/funded.

    As far as “rounding up the bad guys”, we have by far the largest per-capita incarceration rate in the world – how’s that working for you? We can’t incarcerate our way to safety from “bad guys”. The worst “bad guys”, in fact, will never spend a minute inside a jail or prison – the politicians (again, both stripes) and corporate executive types who are raping and pillaging our country dry.

  12. Pippi January 3, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed! Bravo!

  13. JTW January 3, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    @Dienne, housing the homeless at whose expense exactly? Are you willing to pay 75% income tax and 40% sales tax on everything so those unwilling to work can get free housing, food, healthcare, and everything else (not including those incapable of work, they’re not just far fewer but few people would disagree that they need help).

    And those state mental hospitals? Good riddance. The vast majority were horrible, the inmates (not patients, their “treatment” doesn’t deserve them the title) were subjected to serious and systemic mental and physical abuse by often sadistic staff.
    Many of the local centers to replace them were built but people were understandably (knowing what went on in the places they replaced) very wary of going there, prefering other avenues of getting psychiatric treatment, and without the large number of forced incarcerations that had kept the state institutions going they mostly whithered and died.

    Of course now prisons are doing the duty, with more than a few people with serious mental disorders being locked up “to prevent harm to themselves or society”, often on trumped up charges and forced to accept a plea bargain they don’t understand will get them put in prison for decades.

  14. bmommyx2 January 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm #

    Yes to all of the above. Why is it that 99% of the population is blind to this

  15. elysium January 3, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

    @JTW – Most people who are chronically homeless have other major problems, usually mental health issues and substance abuse issues (self-medication). It’s actually cheaper to pay to house such a person and provide them with supportive services than to keep them homeless. Housed people with support = less use of psychiatric wards, jails, and emergency room (all very expensive ways of providing care). Housing people also = more likely to have some level of remission of symptoms, lowered substance use, and maybe even some paid employment. (How hard is it to work with no place to properly store work clothes, shower, etc.?) So house the chronically homeless and actually you’ll probably see your taxes go down (well, maybe not, but less of your tax dollars go to provide more humane care for this group of people).

    I know lots of people who work with this population and they would gladly work themselves out of a job.

  16. lollipoplover January 3, 2017 at 2:39 pm #

    I think with almost anything in life (overeating, overthinking, overdoing, over-controlling ) there is a tendency to go to extremes. I call it getting sucked into the vortex. Volunteering at school, kids sports and leisure activities, wanting what’s best for your kids that you need to control all aspects at your own personal peril. Didn’t the BBC release a report on parents in England, that 8 out of 10 were depressed or overweight and out of shape because they worried to much about their kids? What good is that for your kids?? It’s getting sucked into the vortex and overdoing it.

    We had it with kids sports, where they enjoyed an activity and excelled at it, then did it at the travel level competitively for too long and no longer loved it, especially at that intensity. Taking a step back and doing rec leagues was the best choice for everyone- they actually enjoy and look forward to it. It should be fun and easy.

    Parents are making things way WAY too hard on ourselves instead of leaning on each other to help out. It really does take a village and my best advise is to try to find a village with the least amount of assholes who will call the cops on your kids instead of contacting you first. Surround yourself with cover dished friends and carpool buddies, people who will look out for your kids as you will theirs. Be an emergency contact for local latchkey kids.

  17. Dienne January 3, 2017 at 3:34 pm #

    JTW – the costs of *not* housing the homeless are *far* greater than the costs of housing them. Crime, incarceration, not to mention aesthetic and moral issues. Furthermore, many homeless people are mentally ill and/or substance abusers, whether as a cause or an effect is not entirely clear. But study after study shows that these problems can only be addressed *after* people are housed. Why on earth would someone give up drinking if they’re going to have to spend the night on the streets or in a dangerous “shelter”?

    Once treated, however, most homeless people can become contributing members of society (and many homeless people actually are contributing members of society, so how’s that for your ideas of the undeserving poor?). Once people get back on their feet, they can get jobs, pay taxes, buy things and contribute economically. In fact, treating people and helping them back on their feet pays for itself – someone being able to work and pay taxes beats the heck out of paying to incarcerate and otherwise treat them.

    So not only do you lack compassion, you lack common sense.

  18. Dienne January 3, 2017 at 3:54 pm #

    Incidentally, this is one of the most bizarre accusations that gets leveled against seemingly anyone doing humanitarian work: “…the “homeless advocates” who would be out of a job if all the “financially challenged” denizens of our street encampments were provide with safe, clean housing….”

    Really? Do you think that doctors spend their weekends out breaking kneecaps and poisoning food and water supplies to drum up business? How do you explain the number of diseases we’ve cured in the past 100 or so years? (Thereby putting people who treated those diseases out of work.) I guess social workers spend their off hours promoting child abuse so they have something to get paid for during their working hours. Marital therapists must rejoice at the high divorce rates.

    Does it occur to you that some people go into helping professions because they don’t like for other people to suffer and they want to do whatever they can to care for such people and stop the suffering? Does it occur to you that those people would be the first to jump for joy if there was no more suffering in the world? The helping professions are businesses that need to drum up customers. It says a lot about the commidification of humanity these days that people even think like that.

  19. jimc5499 January 3, 2017 at 4:17 pm #

    If you really want to help the “homeless”, you might start by looking at who the Government considers homeless. I was doing aircraft maintenance contracting and came home for a visit between contracts. During this time my Father passed away, so I decided to stay to help out my Mother and sisters. When I applied for unemployment, I was asked a series of questions, that determined that I was a “homeless veteran”. When I questioned this, I was told that it was just for “statistical purposes”. I found out later that the “statistical purpose” was to obtain more funding to increase the staffing at their office.

    I’m not saying that there are not people who need help, I know that there are. There are several websites that rank charities by how much money actually gets through to help the people that the charity is for. This is called through put. I’ve always wondered what the “through put” of Government is. A VA hospital in Arizona spent $400,000 in art for a new hospital, while turning down people who needed medical care due to a lack of funds.

  20. donald January 3, 2017 at 4:43 pm #

    Dienne and JTW both have good points. The argument to ‘help the homeless’ and ‘do not help the homeless’ have good points in them. Either extreme has a curse. We need to find a happy medium between the two.

    Unfortunately the government isn’t so good at this. Bureaucracy has a habit to over react, politicians have a habit to grandstand, and consultants (rule makers) must continue to make rules/changes in order to justify their existence.

    In elementary school, the 3 R’s stand for Reading, wRriting, and aRithmetic. However when you get a government job, they stand for Reorganise, Rename, and Redecorate.

  21. Dienne January 3, 2017 at 4:56 pm #


    Right, the private sector has a *much* better track record. Laughing.

    Anyway, exactly how much help is too much? What do you think, we’re putting the homeless up in the Ritz Carlton or something? If you think the homeless are getting “too much help”, I invite you to try it sometime. After all, it should be a cake walk with all the help they’re getting, right?

    I live in the Western Suburbs of Chicago which has a pretty good homeless program, comparatively speaking, called Housing Forward (formerly known as “PADS”). It’s housed a collection of churches that open up their fellowship halls for one or two nights a month to throw out a bunch of thin mats on the floor, segregated male and female/children. Doors open at 7:30, meal served around 8:00, people have to be out the next morning around 7:30 to spend the day in the cold or whatever public place they can find. Some of the churches have showers, but not most. Sometimes they can get clothes, or at least underwear. The churches are clustered in about a four or five mile radius and no transportation is provided. Entire families show up together, but are separated because men can’t stay with their wives/children. Do tell me, is this “enough” help for the homeless or “too much” or what?

  22. donald January 3, 2017 at 5:29 pm #

    Years ago I took a ‘survey’. It wasn’t actually a survey but it was disguised as one. It’s purpose was to make you think. The answers that you had to choose from were ridiculous. At first, I thought this survey was incredibly stupid. (I didn’t know it wasn’t a survey) I later realized that it was a brilliant way to show us about how our thinking goes from one extreme to the other.

    This is an example of one of the ‘survey’ questions.

    How do you feel about homosexuality?

    A. I’m a homosexual
    B. I hate them all and want to kill them

    These were the only two choices. Notice how there is nothing between the two extremes.

    Unfortunately, life can be like that as we divide ourselves into ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. In other words, if you don’t agree with me then you are the enemy. I will use propaganda against you.

    For example

    I think that children should be supervised at all times. If you don’t agree with me then it means that you don’t care if they get kidnaped and sold in the sex slave trade!

  23. Kenny M Felder January 3, 2017 at 5:47 pm #

    Oh, man. He hits so many nails at once that it’s hard to believe he has only one hammer.

  24. Nicole R. January 3, 2017 at 6:45 pm #

    I think the video was spot on! We’ve taken childhood from one bad extreme straight past the sweet spot toward the other bad extreme.

  25. AmyP January 3, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

    While I can agree with him when it comes to the part about children, I just have some problems with what he’s saying (or what I think he’s saying) overall. When it comes to “political correctness” I have noticed that the opposite extreme seems to be in effect more today. That is, people confusing political correctness with basic human decency. Somehow people complain about not being able to say sexist and racist things about people because “political correctness.” No! I mean nothing can stop you from doing/saying things, don’t pretend that it’s okay, that you’re just not “politically correct” and expect others not to see you as bigoted. I’m also a little put off by the part where he makes statements about causes pretty much won. The things he mentions, racist jokes, seeing women as sex objects….um, those things are still happening. So, I guess in terms of FRK the videos okay, but I don’t know. The overall idea when trying to apply it to everything, bothered me a bit.

  26. lollipoplover January 3, 2017 at 10:39 pm #


    Parenting becomes a minefield for many reasons but many in this article are spot on. So many dog their heels in on being *right* all of the time. It’s a lot easier to be flexible and teach our kids resiliency and let them make mistakes. I still make mistakes, and learn and grow.

  27. JTW January 4, 2017 at 12:21 am #

    “Dienne and JTW both have good points. The argument to ‘help the homeless’ and ‘do not help the homeless’ have good points in them. Either extreme has a curse. We need to find a happy medium between the two.”

    Mind, I don’t say to let the homeless rot. But don’t give them free everything. That’s counter productive. It doesn’t give anyone an incentive to do something with their lives, quite the opposite in fact.
    The salvation army here has a program to provide free meals and shelter for the homeless. Guess what, in several cities they had to close those programs, 90% of those turning up weren’t homeless at all but tourists drawn to the “free hotel” and foreign dayworkers dropped at their doorstep by the busload by criminal “recruitment agencies” (most run from their own countries) bringing them in with promises of “housing and meals provided”.

    There are people that really need help, and they should get it. But don’t make it a free for all and tailor the help to the individual.
    Instead of free houses and foodstamps for anyone who wants it, a dorm like environment with a set meal, take it or leave it (with some variety to cater to allergies and dietary restrictions) and only have people who actually qualify receive it (and a lot of people will refuse it, by which you can pretty well determine who doesn’t really need the help).
    Remember such a program should be aid, not reward… And it should be designed as a temporary situation for those who receive it. Monitor those people, provide them with more than just a bed and and some food, try to help them find a permanent solution. For some there may be no way they can ever find a job, a real home, for many I hope there would be.
    And for those a sort of group home, assisted living, environment may be the way. Teach them to care for themselves, prepare meals, clean house, etc. without having to care about the source of the money (but put them on a budget, so they have to care about how to spend it). That prepares those people for a return to a more normal living arrangement, something many of them need (and a lack of which knowledge may well have caused them to lose their homes in the first place).

  28. sexhysteria January 4, 2017 at 2:11 am #

    Only witch hunters are entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Suspected witches are guilty until proven innocent.

  29. JTW January 4, 2017 at 5:27 am #

    @Donald, I’ve seen too many surveys with just such ridiculous questions come out of commercial and government opinion polls to doubt they’re intended as anything other than a survey designed carefully to result in a predetermined outcome.

    I might just be paranoid, but when 90% of the questions in a survey lead you to either completely support a position or portray you as a xenophobic sociopath, I know where it’s going 🙂

  30. JTW January 4, 2017 at 5:29 am #

    “Only witch hunters are entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Suspected witches are guilty until proven innocent.”

    One should never doubt witch hunters. Doubting them proves you’re a witch. Was signed, a witch hunter 🙂

  31. Stacey Gordon January 4, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    All of the LAWS that supported racism and homophobia have been taken off the books. Therefore everyone has the same legal rights. Now, whether or not other people with think in a racist or phobic manner, treat others poorly due to race or perceived sexual orientation, is a different issue, but thoughts cannot and should not be addressed by law. Is there still racism or homophobia? Sure. Can you legislate it out of people’s heads? No. That racism exists is NOT equivalent to the notion that people do not have rights.

  32. Sarah January 4, 2017 at 6:04 pm #

    Great video – I have to agree – society always takes things from one extreme to another. Difficult finding a happy medium where our kids are respected and cared for, but also allowed the freedom to be creative and grow independence.

  33. JTW January 4, 2017 at 11:51 pm #

    “All of the LAWS that supported racism and homophobia have been taken off the books. Therefore everyone has the same legal rights.”

    Not any more. We now have tons of laws enforcing “positive discrimination” or whatever it’s called these days, which gives certain minority groups and/or women an advantage over men and especially Caucasian men in most any aspect of life.

    There are laws requiring companies and especially government agencies to hire percentages of certain population groups, often percentages higher than the actual representation of those groups in the communities those agencies serve.

    Or try setting up a men only or whites only sports club, you’ll get sued successfully for discrimination. But a women only or blacks only club with otherwise exactly the same statutes is untouchable, even hinting that it’s discriminatory can get you arrested and tried for “hate speech”.

  34. James Pollock January 5, 2017 at 12:05 am #

    “Not any more. We now have tons of laws enforcing “positive discrimination” or whatever it’s called these days, which gives certain minority groups and/or women an advantage over men and especially Caucasian men in most any aspect of life.”

    You should leave wherever it is you are and come to America, instead. Us white men are doing just fine, here.

  35. John B. January 5, 2017 at 12:36 pm #


    “I’m looking forward to the days where you could pay your 8 year old neighbour to wash your car.”


    I think you can still do that Donald without repercussions. A couple of years ago, my niece paid her 11-year-old neighbor boy five dollars to shovel her sidewalk. But I do think there is over reaction here in America over child labor. Yes, some of it in countries like India and Thailand can be brutal but not in EVERY case. Not EVERY kid working in India and/or Thailand is doing so in a sweat shop 14 hours per day. Problem is, we here in America see these extreme cases overseas and then we over-react to kids doing a little work here in America calling it “child exploitation” etc.

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s not gonna kill a kid to do a little work to earn money. I used to caddy for my dad on his golf weekends back when I was 8-years-old and it was tough pulling his bag but it certainly got my legs strong and became easier as the summer wore on. Plus, dad gave me a dollar a round and coca cola between nines. Oh, and the wife of his golf partner bought us Dairy Queen malts and delivered them to us on hole number 6! Those golf weekends gave me the opportunity to bond with my dad but today some idiot would probably accuse my dad of “child abuse” if they saw me struggling to pull his bag up the steep hill on hole number 1.