Those words never fail to disgust me, and they usually mean that someone is trying to get away with something that would not survive scrutiny. So what am I to make of a billboard that says the following?
TO PREVENT CHILD ABUSE
This billboard sits above I-35 near Temple, Texas. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture, and I couldn’t find any information online about who was responsible for it. I couldn’t find out what A.C.T. stands for. The most I can do is publish my reaction to it. (Well, I’ll publish my second reaction. My first was not printable.)
That second reaction is:
No. Action without thought is precisely the cause of child abuse.
I wish I could put that on the highway, right next to the current billboard. In fact, if I was on a campaign to increase child abuse, or violence of any kind, I would do everything in my power to promote the idea that we should all act without thinking.
“But they mean well,” I hear some of you saying. “So what if they carelessly chose unfortunate phrasing?” This sort of comment is the reason I unfriended you on Facebook. As if there was anything careless about blowing words up to gigantic size and putting them over the highway. They chose those words because those were the words they wanted drivers to take away with them.
“Yes, but they only meant act without thinking in this one particular context.” Really? Do you really think you can open that back door to the hen house and then control which wolves come in? To act without thinking is not possible unless something is substituted for thought, and there are only two possible options. First, blind impulse, which leads always to violence. Second, blind obedience (which could never kneel before that billboard alone) … and if we don’t recognize that that also leads inexorably to violence, we are deceiving ourselves. Because in the absence of reason, violence or the threat of violence is the only way to resolve differences.
And that’s the absurdity we’re left with: campaigning against violence by advocating a method of action that can only spawn violence.
There is only one way to stop child abuse, indeed, to stop violence of any kind, and that is relentless, ruthless, critical thought — thinking that questions everything and doesn’t shrink from hard answers.
Anyone who has ever been responsible for a child knows that there are moments when that child will shove them without mercy to dramatic excesses of emotion. The best among us will treat those moments as opportunities to stare themselves down in the mirror and face the very worst of what they see, without flinching. Then they will address it with the fullest and most dedicated objectivity they can muster, and do their utmost to find the outcome that is best for their child and their family.
The very worst among us will take the advice of that billboard, and act without thinking.
“But isn’t it important to do something?” No. It’s important to do something meaningful. This billboard can only prevent serious action by creating the illusion that action has been taken. Seeing this billboard should not make anyone think there is a meaningful campaign against child abuse. At best, it shows that some contemptible nitwits wanted to pat themselves on the back for having “done something” (and I consider this the most likely scenario). At worst, they are malignant power-seekers who are using a phony campaign against child abuse as cover to gain unearned prestige and authority.
Either way, thoughtful approaches to a very serious topic are drowned out, and child abuse is not one iota less accepted than before that billboard was erected — but people are fooled into thinking something has been done. The whole spectacle turns my stomach.