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Pyle: Big boys with dangerous toys

Published December 21, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. — 1 Corinthians 13:11

When I was a child, I coveted as a child, I begged as a child, I wanted just about every toy that was advertised on TV, in the newspaper and in the J.C. Penney catalog. And I received more than my share.

But when I became a man, well, my toys just got more expensive. Stereos. Walkmans. Cell phones. Big desktop computers. Little tablet computers. Cable TV. Not as many as some folks (we're still struggling along with a couple of squarish, analog TVs), but enough.

I could argue (hey, that's what I do) that these things are not, or not always, mere playthings. Modern electronics are now seen as basic elements of a civilized existence, a conduit to worthwhile music and other forms of entertainment and enlightenment. As well as a lot of the dreck that every communications medium throughout history has been burdened with.

And they often serve as tools that aid both my work at the newspaper and my family's functioning in modern life, via online banking, medical information, filing taxes, travel arrangements, daily grade reports from our son's school, etc.

But all that can devolve into a mass of self-serving rationalization (or maybe that's what I do), depending on the toys in question or the use to which they are put.

Whether it is an unbalanced individual using his mother's gun collection to slaughter first graders, intense lobbying organizations that demand the right to operate off-road vehicles on delicate public lands or super-secret government officials who never met an eavesdropping device they didn't like, the common thread is one that will be familiar to most parents watching their children on Christmas morning: I wanna play with my toys. And (after a day, an hour or a few minutes): I want more toys.

Unless you are a park ranger patrolling remote areas or a rancher checking on wandering cattle, your off-road vehicles are toys. Unless you are a soldier, a law enforcement officer, a subsistence hunter or someone who reasonably fears attack by wild animals or drug gangs, your guns are toys.

And, unless you have probable cause, a warrant and a proper reverence for the Fourth Amendment, your wiretaps, phone intercepts and unimaginable quantities of Internet metadata are just toys.

Dangerous, invasive, destructive and deadly toys, even if, in some cases, they are legally authorized or even constitutionally protected.

The off-road vehicles tear up sensitive landscapes that the scientifically illiterate among us sometimes describe as "lifeless moonscapes," oblivious to the notion that Earth contains so such animal. Until brutal people make it so.

Guns, in the wrong hands, quickly escalate otherwise unpleasant situations into deadly ones, or turn once pitiable, lonely souls into irredeemable demons.

And superpowered communications eavesdropping systems turn people and agencies that are supposed to be defending us into they very illegitimate governments that our enemies always claimed we had.

None of these things are going away. They are too ingrained into our culture, too profitable for those who make, sell and hire themselves out defending them.

Just like the toys that people make, and the children who will give their parents no peace until they are presented with them, on Christmas morning or any other time.

Most folks work hard and fulfill their responsibilities as spouses, parents, employees, neighbors and citizens. Some enjoyment, this week and all year round, is deserved.

But the person who dies with the most toys is dead.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, never wanted a Red Ryder BB gun. But he did accumulate enough stuff to fill your average Deseret Industries for years to come.

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @debatestate