Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Tuesday, November 30, 2004
I do not like thee Dr Fell/ The reason why I cannot tell. First a quick update on the blogging front: I'm rather busy at the moment, so posting will still be sporadic for a while. Here's one post - a single sporad - to show that I'm still ticking over.

Joanne Jacobs linked to an excellent article about the stultifying effect on children's development when they are physically over-protected.

Without having come to any firm conclusion I am thinking my way round whether the same calculation might apply to letting your children meet - briefly - risky people.

Does it help children develop skills of self-protection against bad characters to interact with bad characters in a limited way? If it does, is it worth the risk that interaction will become infection and/or the bad characters will be able to practise their badness on your precious kids?

Part of me says, no. One massive reason for all the bullying and unpleasantness that goes on in schools is that kids can't get away from baddies. Adult life is nicer because, in general, adults can get away. (Adult bullying, I believe, overwhelmingly takes place at the workplace. Presumably the victims dare not quit their jobs for financial reasons. This is indeed a bad situation to be in but not as bad as being obliged to stay within the bully's reach by law.)

Part of me says, yes. I'm not just thinking of school here. I'm thinking of the way children and teenagers used to roam more freely. In an average childhood this involved some dubious encounters. Like that creep I met in the Victoria & Albert Museum some time in the late seventies. But one did get a feel for bad vibes.

Political correctness denies bad vibes any validity, but I'm a believer in them. I haven't met many criminals. I haven't even met many bad people. But, looking back over my various encounters with folk who - while not necessarily bad - turned out to be trouble, seven times out of ten I had a non-psychic premonition that I really ought to sidle away.¹

Seven times out of ten isn't ten times out of ten, I grant you. Some people are megaton rather than kiloton trouble precisely because they conceal it so well. And some poor schmucks have no harm in them but lousy social skills.

It's also true that cultural differences can cause the bad vibe instinct to misfire. For example a man from Southern Europe can be perceived as sexually threatening by a woman from Northern Europe because he stands so close to her, when all he is really doing is standing at the distance normal to his culture.

But when all the caveats are caveatted I'm still left with the opinion that an instinct that says I do not like thee Dr Fell² is worth developing. I think the lack of it has some connection with the way that young people nowadays go from "muthn't cwoss the woad without holding mummy's hand" to "I'm an adult and I'll sleep with who I like" the day they turn sixteen.

And that means... I'm a little unhappy with where this line of argument is taking me.

¹ Premonitions that I usually ignored until the time came to curse the excessive politeness that had stopped me from running screaming to the hills the minute that Jonah came within a hundred feet of me. But that's a separate problem.

² Poor guy, huh? A distinguished career in education and this is how he goes down in history. Almost as bad as the fate of George Nathaniel Curzon.