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It can be good to be a little less uptight

  • Article by: WALKER ANGELL
  • October 5, 2012 - 7:19 AM

A cellphone in Europe is very likely to have photos and videos of nude kids -- of all ages. Otherwise many parents wouldn't be able to take photos at home, beaches, pools, parks and elsewhere. And prostitution ads in the paper? You betcha. It's a fully legal service, and they advertise it. Sixteen-year-olds order beer in pubs, pot is sold openly in cafes and 'tweens routinely have wine in restaurants. Cyclists don't wear helmets, and Europeans drive more than 100 miles per hour on highways.

Yet:

European children grow up to be responsible, law-abiding adults, not sexual deviants. Europeans are half as likely to divorce as we are, and their children are more than twice as likely to live with both biological parents, 50 percent more likely to eat meals with their parents and half as likely to live in single-parent families.

You are three times as likely to be raped here in the United States as in Europe, and there are numerous indicators that we have much higher rates of human trafficking. We also have significantly higher rates of unwed teen pregnancy and abortion.

Sexting is pretty much a nonissue in Europe. It's not as popular, and even when it happens, it's not a moral crisis. It's dealt with by parents, if they feel there's even anything to deal with.

Teens in Amsterdam are half as likely to smoke pot as are our teens, and drug use overall is lower. Europeans have no more problems caused by alcohol than we do, or fewer, depending on what reports you read.

Helmetless cyclists aren't being killed by the bucketload. And, Europeans don't have our bucketload of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's and other preventable diseases. They have about half the highway fatality rates as we do; traffic on their roadways flows more smoothly, and they have fewer traffic jams.

Now, would you accept that first list to gain everything in the second?

Consider alcohol. While youths in Europe drink legally and largely within societal norms, we learn to routinely break laws at an early age. A 16-year-old in Europe has a beer with Mom or Dad, a 16-year-old here drinks illegally, with other youths, and likely against his or her parents' wishes. Youths in Europe distinguish among the acceptability of alcohol, the not-so-acceptability of pot and the stupidity of other drugs, but there is little such distinction for youths in the United States, where drugs and alcohol are equally illegal, equally discouraged by parents, and equally available and desirable.

Which of these fosters more respect for law, stronger families and better decisions?

Often, such as with rape, murder, or human trafficking, we must aggressively enact and enforce laws -- the act itself is morally wrong; it violates another or their property. Sometimes, though, we try to control acts that themselves aren't so wrong but that we think lead to something that is. With Prohibition, it wasn't a shot of Scotch that was so bad, but the results of drunkenness.

However, people don't obey laws, they obey their beliefs. What we see as law-abiding is just someone's beliefs intersecting with our laws. If we don't believe in a law and it inconveniences us too much, we don't obey it. This is the crux of those two lists above and why we've had such poor outcomes. Attempts to enforce laws where there is no actual wrong nearly always results in significant increased harm -- directly and by distracting us from the real problems.

Europeans are putting their efforts where they can be successful and make a positive difference, not where they can't and that don't. They can't stop teens from drinking (nor can we), so they embrace them as responsible family members and do their best to teach personal responsibility.

They can't reduce prostitution (nor can we), so they make it as safe as possible when fully consensual and focus on eliminating the nonconsensual -- human trafficking. They can't stop people from smoking pot (nor can we), so more and more they focus on ... well, not much.

You can have a drug and crime problem or just a drug problem; they chose to only have one, then realized that it's not even much of a problem. They can't control highway speed (nor can we), so they focus on proper lane use (keep right) and other things that do make for safer roadways.

Do we really care how fast someone drives on the highway, or do we want them to not hit us? Our current approach creates an inefficient, dangerous, high-conflict system of aggressive drivers vs. self-proclaimed vigilantes. Europe's is a safer, more efficient, cooperative environment.

Are those children in Mankato harmed by family photos, or by a prosecutor and public making a very public flak over them?

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Walker Angell, of Vadnais Heights, is a freelance writer.

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