Before mask-wearing and the ecstatic shunning of outdoor mask refuseniks, the safetyism ideology that is currently destroying millions of livelihoods in the name of public health had already taken root. Witness the pre-corona sidewalks of Manhattan. A young child, maybe 40 inches tall, would be slowly wheeled along on a tiny tricycle scooter by his father, the father’s hand resting protectively on the boy’s shoulders. This three-wheeled toy is eminently stable, yet the boy would invariably be wearing a massive helmet, lest somehow he keel over and hit the ground. Given the boy’s lack of both height and momentum, such an unlikely fall would not even produce a bruise, yet every possible precaution had been taken to protect him from calamity.
An antidote to these bubble-wrapped childhoods lies in H.L. Mencken’s luminous memoire of growing up in 1880s Baltimore, Happy Days. It was a time when boys were still allowed to raise hell, explore city alleys and bramble-filled ravines, defend territory, and torment girls — all untethered from officious adults. Mencken’s treatment of boyhood is in the great ironic tradition of Booth Tarkington (Penrod) and Mark Twain. Fittingly, his life-long obsession with books started with the discovery of Huckleberry Finn at age nine: ‘probably the most stupendous event of my whole life’, he writes. ‘If I undertook to tell you the effect it had upon me, my talk would sound frantic, and even delirious…I had not gone further than the first incomparable chapter before I realized, child though I was, that I had entered a domain of new and gorgeous wonders.’
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal, and the author of the bestselling War on Cops and The Diversity Delusion. Follow her on Twitter here.
Photo: Theatre Magazine via Wikimedia Commons