Go Play Outside

if you cannot govern yourself, someone else is going to come along and do it for you, good and hard, for he who adjudicates grievance may easily rule the plaintiffs and demand ever more baroque and debased prostrations to whatever is passing for “authority.”

Go Play Outside
Capital Thinking | Go Play Outside!

Capital Thinking • Issue #1197 • View online

in praise of lawn darts


"the basis for a civilization of free people resides in the skills that children learn from the benign neglect of unsupervised play in an un-nerfed world."

many things are better since the days of disco, but child rearing is not one of them.

i speak as a child of the 70’s.

this was our cathedral.

it was carnage. kids flying off, blood, bruises, fun.

there was not a parent or a teacher in the entire country that cared.

this was normal.

this IS normal.

childhood is supposed to have sharp edges and pointy parts.

that’s where the most important learning takes place.

The Learning Place | El Gato Malo

today’s endless coddling and cosseting and suppression?

you are not going to like what it raises.

you can see this and laugh:

Courtesy El Gato Malo

but is it even really a joke?

Courtesy of El Gato Malo

we have stolen growth from our children by nerfing their world.

we have addled their sense to the point where they wear masks (but not helmets) on a scooter. what does this tell you about their ability to assess risk?

nothing good, believe me…

when i was a child, this was considered a toy. these things are BIG, like the size of your shin.

Courtesy El Gato Malo

it was marketed as “fun for the whole family.”

fun fact: it was.

it was bocce that could send you to the ER.

we owned these. i played with these. alone, without an adult in sight, without a parent even being home.

there was not a parent in town that objected.

today you’d be in guantanamo bay on some kind of WMD charge for even discussing the idea of leaving your 9 year old and his friends alone all day in the summer with these, much less with the additional armamentarium of bikes and skateboards and the bewildering variety of janky hand made ramps and jumps we used to build for them.

i did not know a single kid who owned a helmet. one kid had knee pads, but he was kind of a weirdo…

Courtesy El Gato Malo

hell, i’ll bet i can get half the moms reading this to hyperventilate into a paper bag by describing the in-ground pool with a 10 foot deep end and a diving board we were left alone with. our friends all came over. we spent summer after summer alone, unsupervised, doing cannon balls on each other’s heads and playing a game where you had to try to dive into the pool while other kids threw dodge balls at you. bonus points for doing tricks. we did not even have a fence around this wonderous valhalla.

we were 10 years old.

there was not a parent of my peer group that even found this comment-worthy, much less worrying. they knew that we were not little idiots and that if something went really wrong, we’d let them know.

and we, the lords of the flies took it as our birthright to run wild and invent our own games, find our own fun, and see to our own well being.

we literally owned spears of our own making.

that was how it was.

Courtesy El Gato Malo

parents tossed you out of the house and said “go figure it out. be home for dinner.”

the idea that they would help pick our friends or our games or settle our disputes was absurd. the word “play date” did not even exist. we got left in cars while errands were run. tattling to mom was the one true and unforgivable sin.

this was normal.

it’s more than normal, it’s healthy.

it’s vital.

perhaps this seems like “neglect” to the parents today who schedule and plan every moment of their children’s lives with appointments and lessons and classes and structured activity while swaddling them in helmets and supervision and safetyism.

and perhaps it was, but it was “benign neglect” and the tigermoms (oddly named as no tiger would raise their young in such fashion) and safetydads of today are missing the things that they themselves are neglecting:

they are neglecting neglect and that is raising weak, authority dependent children.

sure, their kids can make a papier-mâché diorama that would not look out of place at the smithsonian, speak 3 languages, and play 11 musical instruments that i have never even heard of, but can you push them out the door in the morning and say “i do not want to see your noisy, sticky faces around here until dinner. go play!” and have it not only work, but result in another great summer day of adventures, mis and otherwise? because i do not think you can.

and that used to be a pretty typical day.

Courtesy El Gato Malo

when i was 10 years old, my parents had a sort of generalized 5 mile circle of an idea where i was and a reasonable but far from complete conception of with whom. we went to the beach by ourselves. we went rock climbing by ourselves and swam and skateboarded and biked.

i say this not as complaint. this was what we wanted. and it served us well.

unsupervised is how you grow, it’s how you learn. it’s where ALL the important stuff comes from.

you learn to explore new places, learn new stuff, meet new people, and build and sustain relationships and interaction.

it’s not that we were magic or made of some sterner stuff.

we could do this because we had learned to do this. it’s a skill, it requires practice and confidence and above all reason. this is what you get from being left alone, and it needs to start young.

when you meet new kids, you have to figure it out.

when you need to decide what to do, you have to come up with ideas, build consensus, and make it happen.

when you argue, you have to resolve it.

these are the micro societies in which humans practice being civilized. from the anarchy of childhood emerges societal order as we grow and get better at planning and the implementation of our ideas.

but to gain this skillset, we must be free to scrawl our own designs upon the world. we must face the difficulty of doing so, the responsibility for failure, the lessons of losing, and the triumphs of getting stuff right.

that is the most important lesson in all of growing up. not piano or soccer or interpretive headstand watercolor painting and certainly not indoctrination into the grievance cults of wokedom:

what must be learned is how to become self-governing.

and it has been stolen from our children.

it has been stolen by overbearing structure and supervision. every edge has been dulled, every pointy part wrapped in 4 layers of padding, every head helmeted, every scary image and idea painted over or hidden from view while every need, no matter how performative indulged.

everyone gets a trophy.

we have taken from them not just the glories of doing it yourself and winning despite difficulty, but the actual skillset prerequisite to undertake such things. and that is the true damage.

every game was taught to them by someone instead of invented.

it was supervised by authority figures: parents, teachers, coaches, referees.

disputes were resolved by these authority figures.

and THAT is a serious, serious problem.

system creation and dispute resolution are skills. they need to be learned, they need to be practiced. so does resilience. it’s stuff you have to figure out and grow into.

Courtesy El Gato Malo

a child of the 70’s would be shunned for the dire moral sin of “tattling.” it simply was not done. you rat the other kids out to an adult, you’re done here.

being the wussie kid was as low as low status got.

sure, it’s tough. it can be nasty and unfair and everyone got bullied and beat up at some point. but, consider the alternative:

every kid yells “MOM!” at the first sign of trouble and mom wades in and regulates. so no one ever learns anything except how to yell for help in more compelling fashion than the other kids.

no one ever toughens up or gains the skills that allow independence. instead, they cultivate helplessness and stunted dependence. they do not learn to solve their own problems, they learn to rely upon authority figures to order and regulate their lives and engage in performative behavior to curry favor with the umpires. it’s a tattle tale arms race and it lasts a lifetime. he who tattles first usually wins and that’s a rotten incentive set.

then they go off to college and mom is no longer in yelling range. so they learn to yell “DEAN!”

then they graduate and learn to yell “BOSS!” or “GOVERNMENT!”

what choice do they have? they never learned to do this themselves, to handle and adapt to a plurality of views, to learn compromise and respect and conflict resolution. every disagreement is a threat you cannot assess or resolve. and so, you start to drown. worse, you start to adopt ever more absurd poses and positions to gain leverage in the “battle of tattle” and get to punch first or declare “no punchbacks.”

we’ve all seen how THAT is going.

it’s the equivalent of allowing scholastic “social promotion” whereby kids who cannot read keep getting passed up to the next grade and fall further and further behind because they simply lack the skills to be where they are.

one day, you have a high school senior who reads at a 2nd grade level and has failed to understand all his classwork throughout because of it.

one day, you have a college graduate who has never learned independence or to resolve her own disputes and who functions like a 7 year old because she never got to practice and develop these skills and resiliencies throughout the period that should have comprised her growing up.

and this generation is ripe for predatory authoritarians and totalitarians.

if you cannot govern yourself, someone else is going to come along and do it for you, good and hard, for he who adjudicates grievance may easily rule the plaintiffs and demand ever more baroque and debased prostrations to whatever is passing for “authority.”

they never learned to make their own games, so now they need someone to tell them what game they should be playing, who their friends should be, someone to settle their disputes and hand out praise and prizes, determine virtue and vice. they cede agency for safety and that evolves into totalitarianism.

far too much of what should be internal is instead external.

and this spirals into everything.

if you cannot assess risk because someone else always did it for you, you are reliant upon others to tell you when and of what to be afraid.

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in praise of lawn darts
the basis for a civilization of free people resides in the skills that children learn from the benign neglect of unsupervised play in an un-nerfed world