There is no conclusive proof as yet, but there are clear signs that the world is going crazy — and most of us are too polite to say anything.
A woman and her daughter walk into a trampoline park. She signs a waiver that she and presumably her daughter understand that trampolines, while fun, can also be dangerous if used improperly. By her signature, she signals her understanding that serious injury and even death can result if trampolinists attempt to do something above their skill level.
The mother shells out her money, and her daughter bounces happily for a while and then decides she is ready to do a flip.
Of course she hurts herself. She breaks a limb.
So her mother sues. “They didn’t warn us sufficiently about the risk,” she says. “How were we to know that people could hurt themselves on these things?” She decides to take her story to the newspapers. People need to be told, she says.
When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11, my parents used to take me camping. Camping was OK. We’d sit around a campfire (which I knew, without even signing a waiver, was hot enough to burn me badly.) The greatest thrill was jumping in the car and going to Martin’s Fun House on a Saturday night. There, you could play pinball and eat penny candy and jump on a trampoline for a quarter per quarter hour. Martin didn’t make us sign any waivers. It was pretty obvious that doing something stupid on a trampoline could result in some serious pain.
I somehow managed not to break any bones or sprain anything. But if I had, my parents wouldn’t have sued. They wouldn’t have gone to any newspapers. They would have just said (and I paraphrase, as my mother would never use such crude language), “Why were you such a dumb ass? Maybe next time you will be more careful.”
People are dumb asses for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because of ignorance. Sometimes it’s because of ego or entitlement or maybe even some more sinister reason.
When I was learning to drive, I’d tramp on the gas as soon as the light turned green.
“What are you doing,” my dad would ask.
“I’m going. It’s my turn.”
“How do you know the other guy is going to stop?”
“Because it’s my turn to go. It’s my right to go.”
“So what do you want to be, dead right?”
My dad didn’t call me a dumb ass. It was implied, though.
So now, I look left, I look right, I check for true dumb ass drivers, and then I go.
Same thing at crosswalks. A crosswalk is supposed to be a place where I can cross the road safely, right? Drivers have to stop. It’s a law, written down somewhere. It is my right, as a pedestrian, to push that button, step out into the road, and get to the other side in the same number of pieces I started with.
I shouldn’t have to check to my left to make sure that guy looks up from his smartphone in time to come to a complete stop. Drivers are supposed to stop.
I still check, though. I don’t want to be dead right.
There once was a time when being a dumb ass was something you tried to shed as you grew up. Now it has become something to cherish and fight for and sue for. It has become a right. An ideology, even.
There is a university campus in British Columbia where several women have been attacked by a sexual predator while walking alone on campus at night.
Police have swarmed the campus. University officials have improved the lighting.
They’re working hard to catch the pervert. But until they do, they have suggested that women try to stay on well lighted sidewalks and walk in groups at night whenever possible, just to be on the safe side.
Uh, oh. Shouldn’t have said that. That’s blaming the victim. That’s excusing the attacker. And saying such things is oppressive and demeaning to women. It’s infringing upon a woman’s right to walk wherever, and with whomever, she pleases.
(It’s really very much the same as telling me I have to check to make sure cars are stopping before stepping out into the crosswalk, but I digress.)
Remember Slutwalk? It was meant to strike a blow for women’s right to walk wherever they want AND dress in whatever they want without being attacked, raped, groped, catcalled or labelled. A person does have the right not to be subjected to those things, obviously. So, when the call went out, some women (and men) dusted off their leather corsets and fishnet stockings and hit the street. Others went out in their sweats. One Winnipeg women just put strips of hockey tape over her breasts.
The Slutwalkers formed into a large group, joined up with a police escort, and walked along a designated, traffic-controlled route in broad daylight. They got their pictures taken for TV and the papers.
They made a point.
It was an annual event, for a couple of years.
But this year, there was no Slutwalk in my city. There were sharing circles and panel discussions. But no walk. Organizers had decided it was time to move on.
Why? I don’t know. I didn’t get the memo. But I’ve got a theory.
I think somebody realized Slutwalk was essentially a meaningless gesture. Yeah, look at us, we’re doing this, guys. But only in a large group. Only in daylight. Only with a friendly police person nearby. And the Slutwalkers were drawing a lot of attention, some of it unwanted — exactly the conditions that the whole Slutwalk movement was protesting.
The only way to make Slutwalk meaningful would be for each woman, however she is dressed, to go out alone at a time of her own choosing on a street of her own choosing — even that dark back lane behind the seedy motel.
That would be a meaningful gesture. And it would probably be OK. I know I’m not going to to anything inappropriate if I see somebody doing that. A majority of guys won’t either. But I can’t vouch for everyone.
Maybe the world isn’t going too idiotic — it’s going too ideologic. And ideology can be complicated and nuanced and hard to argue against unless you have a competing ideology of your own. So most of us just bite our tongues until the ideology starts to feel normal.
Until we end up with a situation in which ideologues get all righteously indignant when police officers ask women to avoid walking alone on darkened sidewalks until they catch a rapist who is known to lurk there.
They are ideologues. They’ve got an agenda to push when they are in the public spotlight. But let’s hope they tell their daughters and friends in private: “Don’t be a dumb ass.”