Thomas Sowell
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To a small child, the reason he cannot do many things that he would like to do is that his parents won't let him. Many years later, maturity brings an understanding that there are underlying reasons for doing or not doing many things, and that his parents were essentially conduits for those reasons.

The truly dangerous period in life is the time when the child has learned the limits of his parents' control, and how to circumvent their control, but has not yet understood or accepted the underlying reasons for doing and not doing things. This adolescent period is one that some people -- intellectuals especially -- never outgrow.

The widespread and fervent use of the word "liberation" in a wide variety of contexts is one of the signs of the adolescent belief that only arbitrary rules and conventions stand in the way of doing whatever we want to do.

According to this vision of the world, the problems of all sorts of individuals and groups -- women, minorities, homosexuals, children -- are to be solved by liberating them from the restraints of laws, rules, conventions and standards.

They are to be liberated even from the threat of adverse judgments by other individuals. We are all to be "non-judgmental."

Two centuries ago, the great British legal scholar William Blackstone pointed out that there are some laws so old that no one remembers why they existed or what purpose they served then or now. But the bad consequences of repealing some of these laws have often made painfully clear what purpose they served.

Some of the painful consequences of various "liberations" that began in the 1960s have included the disintegration of families, skyrocketing crime rates, falling test scores in school, and record-breaking rates of teenage suicide.

A long downward trend in teenage pregnancy and venereal diseases sharply reversed during the 1960s, starting a new trend of escalating teenage pregnancy and venereal diseases, climaxed later by the AIDS epidemic.

Sometimes bad things happen because of adverse circumstances -- poverty or war, for example. But our post-1960s social disasters occurred during a long period of peace and unprecedented prosperity. Murder rates, for example, were much lower during the Great Depression of the 1930s and during World War II than they became after various "liberating" changes in the 1960s.

One of the signs of maturity is the ability to learn from experience. Some of us have learned and we have halted or reversed some of the adverse trends. For example, the quest for those elusive "root causes" of crime, so dear to the political left, has been put aside in favor of locking up more criminals -- and the crime rate has declined.

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Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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