Generation Gap

Concept Creep And Why We Suddenly Are All Made Of Candy Glass

When I grew up, third graders could walk to school, play alone at the park, or bike 10 minutes to a friend’s house without anyone worrying or objecting, so long as they came home for supper or before the street lights came on.

Today, though kidnapping is just as rare, a parent who allows that same behavior is at risk of arrest or even losing custody of their children to their state’s child protective services bureaucracy.

Debra Harrell works at McDonald’s…

For most of the summer, her daughter had stayed there with her, playing on a laptop that Harrell had scrounged up the money to purchase. (McDonald’s has free WiFi.) Sadly, the Harrell home was robbed and the laptop stolen, so the girl asked her mother if she could be dropped off at the park to play instead.

Harrell said yes. She gave her daughter a cell phone. The girl went to the park—a place so popular that at any given time there are about 40 kids frolicking—two days in a row. There were swings, a “splash pad,” and shade. On her third day at the park, an adult asked the girl where her mother was. At work, the daughter replied. The shocked adult called the cops. Authorities declared the girl “abandoned” and proceeded to arrest the mother.

Then there’s the high school senior complains to her Facebook friends about a teacher and is suspended for “cyberbullying.”

Or students at Wellesley who start a petition calling for the removal of a statue of a man in his underwear, claiming that the art piece caused them emotional trauma.

Or the residents of Santa Monica, California, claim to need emotional support animals that the local farmer’s market warns against service dog fraud.

What the hell is this?

I think a psychologist named Nick Haslam may have nailed it.  He calls it “concept creep”.  Basically, he argues, concepts that refer to the negative aspects of human experience and behavior have expanded their meanings so that they now encompass a much broader range of phenomena than before. This expansion takes “horizontal” and “vertical” forms: concepts extend outward to capture qualitatively new phenomena and downward to capture quantitatively less extreme phenomena.

So, as we become educate (and educate others) to the concepts of abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, sexual harassment, prejudice, etc., the behaviors that constitute abuse, bullying, etc. become watered down.

Haslam suggests this happens as a result of a liberal moral agenda.  I don’t know if agree, but I certainly don’t want to suggest that we shouldn’t address — in a progressive way — certain societal problems.  I just think that when we talk about, say, parental abuse — a serious problem — we should not define it so broadly so as to include what happened to Debra Harrell who let her kid play in a park.

It’s like when Ainsley Hayes on The West Wing explains about feminism, and how there are “honest-to-God” problems facing women and calling out the petty stuff gets in the way of addressing the real problems.

So to the extent that concept creep has society tied up in knots, making everyone a whiny victim of [name your poison] , maybe we need to buck up and address REAL bullying, REAL abuse, REAL prejudice, etc.

Here’s the Haslam monograph:

Dear Millenials

Hi.  Welcome to the world you live in.

I get it.  I really do.  You’ve arrived into adulthood and you’re like, “What?!? The planet is getting warmer and warmer and may die?”

Or “What?!? Gay people can’t get married?  What the fuck?!?”

Or “What?!? Cops are killing black people and this is actually a thing?!?”

And then you look at me and my generation, as the former custodian of the planet on which you now live, with contempt.  As if we’re handing you a giant dog turd.

Look, just because you were born within the past 25 years doesn’t make you smarter.  Or superior.  Maybe you need to a crack open a book, or view a documentary or something.  Because if you thought outside of your own generation, you would discover one thing…


That’s right.  When I was born, many black people couldn’t vote in this country.  And I’m not talking about some subtle voter ID thing that has the effect of discriminating against some social segments yada yada yada.  I’m talking about… in some parts of this country, if you were a black person who tried to register to vote, the registrar would look at your skin color and say “no”.  And then maybe a cross would burn on your lawn that night.  Serious stuff.

You see, you live in a world where you have “safe zones” to protect you from “microaggressions”. . . like university professors making you read a book that causes you to challenge your beliefs.  I grew up in a world where college students were shot and killed by soldiers because they disagreed with a war.

And gay marriage?  Are you kidding me?  Just coming out as gay was a BIG DEAL.  Forget about being accepted in broader society.  Forget about marriage.  Even gay people weren’t thinking that far ahead.

My point is that you are standing on the shoulders of progressives who faced bigger obstacles than you can possibly imagine.  We won wars — not the army-invading-another-country kind, but the social kind.  Let me give you an example.

It’s been about 30 years since scientists discovered the massive hole above Antarctica – a hole that was created by releasing chlorofluorocarbons into the air, National Geographic reported.

It was a hole in the Ozone layer, and like global warming now, there were forces that denied it was even happening.  If the hole continued to grow (i.e., the ozone layer in the earth depleted), then we all die from skin cancer or starvation as the ultraviolet light coming from the sun seeped through and killed plants and animals.

But we fought, and eventually, there has been an international movement to reduce the size of that hole, including a ban on CFCs.  And now the hole is closing and should be gone by 2040.

Bottom line:  You don’t hear about “ozone depletion” much anymore.  Cuz we fixed it.

You’re welcome.

So… we did a lot to get this place as nice as we could for you.  Some of us have scars, including both Democratic presidential candidates. Some of us don’t, including all the Republican presidential candidates.

Now, take that for what you will.  It’s your world now.  We’re burnt out.  We know there is more things to fix.  Have at it.  But for God sakes, don’t look down your noses as you stand on the shoulders of those who came before you.  And stop complaining.

That’s all.

For now.

P.S. Get off my lawn.