Saturday, July 26, 2008

Protect us from the Grannies!

The problem with politically-induced panics is that as fear spread more and more people act irrationally. Often the panics are about real problems but the panic is based on an exaggerated fear. There is loss of a reasonable sense of proportion when people are in a panic.

The child abuse panic has always lead to this kind of disproportional fear and that is one reason it is a tool which unscrupulous politicians can use for their own benefit. And while the politician may, may not, know that his panic-mongering is exaggerated lower functionaries in the bureaucracy take this sort of fear peddling seriously.

That is what caused problems for 82-year-old Betty Robinson. Betty, and her friend Brenda Bennett, 69, were walking through the local park recently taking photos. Betty thought that the empty pool in the park would make an interesting photo so she started snapping a few pictures. At this point a local government official berated her and ordered her to cease taking photos.

The reason for the orders was that she might be a pedophile putting children at risk. That there were no children in the pool, or anyone else for that matter, did not seem to matter to the official at all.

The local council has backed down slightly but not by much. They suggested employees use more discretion but say they are obligated to protect children from the pedophile threat. The council argues that since people are so concerned about threats to their children (the fear factor) that government officials have to be “aware of taking photos”.

Rob McCaffrey, 50, has a rather innocuous hobby. He’s a bus spotter. He loves buses and has collected thousands and thousands of photos of buses, that he has taken himself, of buses around the world. He says he’s giving up his hobby because of the fear among the general public. Twice in recent months he was subjected to police questioning because of taking photos of buses. He has been seen as a pedophile, if children are on the bus, or a potential terrorist. He says, “it seems everyone with a camera is a potential criminal. It’s very upsetting.”

Oddly McCaffrey says he doesn’t mind the terrorist accusation so much “but when they start saying you’re a pedophile it really hurts. We just want to enjoy our hobby without harassment.”

Dorothy Judd is a psychotherapist who works with children regularly. She is also a grandmother. When her young grandson came to visit her she took him to the local woods to play. Just as she was telling the boy that they had to return home for afternoon tea she was approached by “a large policeman in a flourescent jacket” who started asking her grandson if he was alright.

Apparently two different people reported them to the police saying it looked suspicious for an adult to be playing with a child. The police officer takes her details and those of her grandson and insists that he has to walk with them as they return home. She says her grandson became concerned and wanted to know if they were trouble and she simply tried to reassure him.

The officer told her: “Well, then I’d better see you on your way.You know, complete the inquiry. I’m sure it will be all right. I’ll just pass by the house. You said you were going back anyway.” Judd said she was in “a state of disbelieff and shock” and wondered if she had been stupid to allow her grandson to play in the local park. She tried to figure out why others would report her. “Did they think I was abusing him? Or that I had kidnapped him? Or perhaps that I was crazy?”

She admits that she is more cautious with her grandchildren then she was with her own children. But she thinks “society is losing, especially for our urban children, a sense of freedom, an unstructured and ‘safe-enough’ physical environement with dangers that can be tamed through play and imagination, where worlds -- even a kind o magic -- can be created.”

What she needs to realize is that one can’t play in the words with any joy if one constantly imagines monsters lurking behind every tree. One of the results of the politically-induced panics is that people lose their sense of joy. They become surrounded by a impending sense of doom.

But then the United Kingdom was the place where Yvette Cloete, a pediatrician, was driven from her home because locals didn't know the difference between a pediatrician and pedophile.

If the pedophiles don’t grab your children, then terrorists will blow you up. But then, why worry about that when global warming is going to kill us all? We're doomed I tell you, we're all doomed!

Photo: That is the dangerous granny and her camera.

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