Boys of Boise

By Jim Selman | Bio

A long time ago (in the late 60s I think). I read a book by John Gerassi called The Boys of Boise, Furor, Vice and Folly in an American City. Basically, it was a shocking journalistic reporting of how a city’s fears can create a kind of mass paranoia. Boise, Idaho isn’t quite the Wild West, but to this day it has a kind of ‘cowboy’ feeling about it. In the 1960s, same-sex anything (other than drinking and football) was something that just didn’t happen. You’d rather be a Red than Gay in those days—long before “Brokeback Mountain”. The book chronicles what happens when Time magazine reports that Boise is a mecca for homosexuals in America. The bottom line is that anyone and everyone was a suspect, the City hired a Gestapo-type investigator, and McCarthy-like prosecutions followed. If you want the details, get the book.

I am reminded of this because to my shock and dismay, I read recently that child protection measures in the UK will be expanded with the implementation in 2009 of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which will increase the number of adults to be vetted by the criminal justice system to 11 million. You can also read David Wilson’s opinion piece about institutionalizing the need to protect children at the Guardian. 

Both writers make the very real point that these kinds of policies, while no doubt well intended, have an adverse affect of making everyone so paranoid that they undermine healthy and constructive communication and relationship between the generations. At a time when older people should be connecting more and more with young people as mentors, surrogate grandparents, community models and Elders, the rule is that you have to be “cleared” of any wrongdoing or nasty addictions first to assure you are not a predator or pedophile.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

I saw the same kind of thing happen in the 80s when feminists took on sexual harassment in the workplace. I am certainly against harassment of any kind and sexual harassment should be punished when it occurs. However, when the abuses of the few become the fears of the many, then the cure can be worse than the disease. I would have preferred to see the problem addressed on a case-by-case basis by management in much the same way as I would prefer that some of the behavior problems of the young be addressed by parents.

When this doesn’t happen the default is to pass laws, hire enforcers and try (once again) to promote ‘good behavior’ by force. Moreover, there is very little or no evidence that ‘laws’ promote virtue. If anything, the evidence suggests that we get what we resist. The fact is that we cannot and never will be able to legislate behavior and each time we do, we erode the principle and practice of personal responsibility. Anything we are not responsible for (own), we are a victim of. More often than not, we become trapped in a vicious cycle of fear of whatever ‘it’ is and the belief that we are entitled to have someone else take care of us.

As a young man, I had to deal with a few attempts to seduce me. l learned to trust my instincts and avoid difficult and dangerous situations. Most women have to learn this very young. This is not to say that abuse doesn’t happen to both genders, but we should educate—not over-regulate.

© 2008 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.