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The Tyranny of the Nanny State, Where the Government Knows What's Best for You

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Surveillance cameras, government agents listening in on your phone calls, reading your emails and text messages and monitoring your spending, mandatory health care, sugary soda bans, anti-bullying laws, zero tolerance policies, political correctness: these are all outward signs of a government that believes it knows what is best for you.

Indeed, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this is the tyranny of the Nanny State: marketed as benevolence, enforced with armed police, and inflicted on all those who do not belong to the elite ruling class that gets to call the shots.

This tyranny disguised as "the better good" explains the recent rash of parents getting charged with negligence and arrested for leaving their kids alone for any amount of time, whether at a park, in a store, in a car, or in their front yard--another sign of what C.S. Lewis referred to as tyranny exercised by "omnipotent moral busybodies."

For example, working mom Debra Harrell was arrested, spent 17 days in jail, lost custody of her daughter, and if convicted, could spend up to 10 years in jail all because she let her 9-year-old daughter play alone at a nearby park. Single mother Shanesha Taylor, unemployed and essentially homeless, was arrested for leaving her kids in her car during a 40-minute job interview.

For the so-called "crime" of allowing her 7-year-old son to visit a neighborhood playground located a half mile from their house, Nicole Gainey was interrogated, arrested and handcuffed in front of her son, and transported to the local jail where she was physically searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held for seven hours and then forced to pay almost $4000 in bond in order to return to her family. Gainey now faces a third-degree criminal felony charge that carries with it a fine of up to $5,000 and 5 years in jail.

A Connecticut mother was arrested after her 7-year-old, who wasn't wearing a helmet, fell off his scooter and allegedly injured himself. Patricia Juarez was arrested after letting her 7-year-old son play at a Legoland store in the mall while she did her shopping. Tammy Cooper was arrested, jailed overnight and charged with child endangerment for letting her kids ride their scooters alone in the cul-de-sac outside her suburban home.

These incidents are worsened by what journalist Josh Harkinson more broadly refers to as the "criminalization of the working poor," oftentimes targeting parents "struggling to make ends meet with no better child care options."

Nevertheless, despite the arrest-driven uproar over what constitutes negligent parenting and the government's attitude that it--in concert with Social Services--knows what is best for your kids, it turns out that kids aren't really in any greater danger today than they were 40 years ago, at least not from abductions by strangers.

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Unfortunately, having allowed our fears to be codified and our actions criminalized, we now find ourselves in a strange new world where just about everything we do is criminalized, not just our parenting decisions. As with most of the problems plaguing us in the American police state, we are the source of our greatest problems. We have relinquished control over the most intimate aspects of our lives to government officials who, while they may occupy seats of authority, are neither wiser, smarter, more in tune with our needs, more knowledgeable about our problems, nor more aware of what is really in our best interests.

Yet having bought into the false notion that the government does indeed know what's best for us and can ensure not only our safety but our happiness and will take care of us from cradle to grave--that is, from daycare centers to nursing homes--we have in actuality allowed ourselves to be bridled and turned into slaves at the bidding of a government that cares little for our freedoms or our happiness.

The lesson is this: once a free people allows the government inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny.

When our own government no longer sees us as human beings with dignity and worth but as things to be manipulated, maneuvered, mined for data, manhandled by police, conned into believing it has our best interests at heart, mistreated, and then jails us if we dare step out of line, punishes us unjustly without remorse, and refuses to own up to its failings, we are no longer operating under a constitutional republic. Instead, what we are experiencing is a pathocracy: tyranny at the hands of a psychopathic government, which "operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups."

So where does that leave us?

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Having allowed the government to expand and exceed our reach, we find ourselves on the losing end of a tug-of-war over control of our country and our lives. And for as long as we let them, government officials will continue to trample on our rights, always justifying their actions as being for the good of the people.

The choice before us is clear. It is the choice between tyranny and freedom, dictatorship and autonomy, peaceful slavery and dangerous freedom, and manufactured pipe dreams of what America used to be versus the gritty reality of what she is today.

Most of all, perhaps, the choice before us is that of being a child or a parent, of obeying blindly, never questioning, and marching in lockstep with the police state or growing up, challenging injustice, standing up to tyranny, and owning up to our responsibilities as citizens, no matter how painful, risky or uncomfortable.

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John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more...)

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