Okay, so Diane Duane posted an essay entitled ‘The Eyes in the Peacock’s Tail’. She also posted a link to a The New York Times article by Mark Bittman. Interestingly, she did so without further comment. It is reasonable to presume that she intended to showcase it positively, though, since there’s not a word of displeasure, condemnation, or the slightest hint of disapproval.
Mr. Bittman asks whether children have the right to a healthy diet. Couldn’t we just as easily ask whether children have the right to a healthy intellectual diet as well as a comestable one? Or even a moral one?
Whether Ms. Duane considers her childhood to have been a healthy one with the benefit of hindsight isn’t the issue. Nor is whether we happen to agree with her assessment. Nor is even the retrospective opinion of her parents, if they were able and willing to have one, truly relevant. What matters is that Ms. Duane’s younger self took the matter into her own hands and negated her parent’s (or parents’) efforts to keep her away from what they perceived at the time to be a danger to her well-being.
Under no circumstances am I questioning a parent’s right or responsibility to protect his or her children from danger.
Nonsense. Her younger self rejected the concept of an absolute parental right, as does her current self. As I do as well, as it happens. I agree that trying to keep kids away from certain kinds of knowledge, trying to establish a ‘forbidden fruit’ that will dangle tantalizingly out of reach, is inevitably self-defeating and usually ineffective. ‘The Eyes of the Peacock’ clearly establishes that Ms. Duane believes there are significant practical and ethical limits to a parent’s right to protect. But that’s not the point.
I may advocate for giving people knowledge as they become capable of seeking it, but I don’t delude myself that there will never be negative outcomes from acknowledging the power of choice. Some people will make poor decisions, and as long as it’s possible to be hurt, someone will choose paths that result in injury or harm. And that applies as much to teenagers’ reading habits as to everything else.
I find it easy to grant for the sake of argument the teenaged Ms. Duane’s smarts and good judgment, and consider it most probable that her literary interests were healthy and harmless – at least, by my standards. But knowing something about human nature, that will not always be the case. Knowing something about teenagers – how their repressed drives towards self-determination tend to overcompensate when they steal a bit of freedom, how their relative lack of experience informs their choices, how their ancient genetic inheritance leads them to take risks that are unreasonable outside the perspective frame of Darwinism – makes the case even stronger. Many people’s interests are neither healthy nor harmless, to themselves and others.
This is a particularly salient point in the case of Ms. Duane, whose website once included a chat room that had to be closed because too many young adults used it for chatter of a sexual nature. And as she is a former psychiatric nurse, I cannot imagine that she’s not intimately familiar with the human ability to make poor choices. Even more so in the case of teens.
So: how is it that a person can so powerfully make the case for freedom of choice and the futility of restrictions, then turn around and either condone or approve of the exact opposite thesis in the slightly different context?
Is it merely that she doesn’t care about food as much as books?