Like other John Stossel fans, I await each new ABC program eagerly, always surprised by his choice of an unusual subject and impressed by the support he apparently gets from a television network for his provocative, essentially libertarian investigations. (I’ve also been pained by discussions of him that grossly misrepresent his work, such as a critique in The Nation that portrayed him as a tool of corporate interests, blatantly forgetting that his feature on freeloaders concluded by identifying Archer- Daniels-Midland as the biggest mooch of them all.)
His recent documentary, “The ‘In-Crowd’ and Social Cruelty,” begins as a gritty expose of teenage nastiness that is scarcely unfamiliar to anyone recalling William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, not to mention his own experience. The climax is an interview with the parents of a daughter who committed suicide purportedly because of her schoolmates. The program concludes with less familiar institutional attempts to alleviate “social cruelty,” which is an apt epithet that might catch on.
Two things were missing from the documentary: first, the alternative of pulling the socially disfavored kid out of school entirely, the libertarian alternative of home-schooling, and second, the option of simply changing schools. I know from my own experience in switching schools around the age of eleven (and moving from the city to the suburbs) that I could be an insider in one” place and an outsider in another. The truth absent from Stossel’s program is that a teenage outsider need not be an outsider forever. Though all schools might be prisons, they surely differ from one another. Why Stossel missed the option of changing schools mystifies me.
Even as an adult, I’ve likewise noticed that I’ve “clicked,” as I succInctly put it, with some social situations better than others, for reasons that have little to do with me per se but more with timing, values, culture, competition, and other factors that are unidentifiable; one difference between now and then is that now I’m generally free to move.
What was missing from this latest Stossel was libertarian intelligence.