Disclaimers and warning labels have their place.
Above all, they protect companies from getting swamped with lawsuits brought by customers seeking compensation for harm or injury incurred in consequence of having been insufficiently apprised that operating electronic devices while taking a bath may result in electrocution, that drying a wet cat in the microwave will harm the cat, or that abandoning the driver’s seat of an RV in order to go brew oneself a cup of joe in the back as the vehicle is coasting along at 70 mph raises the risk of coming to a sudden and unscheduled halt against one of the cedars lining the highway.
And then, of course, there exist all manner of rating systems for entertainment products; to give, say, a heads-up to “Christian readers” that a particular novel contains references to extra-marital congress, or to aid parents in selecting age-appropriate materials for their children.
Speaking of protecting children—a laudable objective, no doubt—check out the following marvel of a disclaimer that appears in this edition of the U.S. Constitution published by Wilder Publications:
This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.
Before “allowing” their children to read this classic work? What kid would even want to read it so badly that the question of whether or not to “allow” it were to come into play at all? Can you imagine little Johnny pestering his mom for permission to read the nation’s founding documents, and mom finally caving in on the condition that he clean his room, whereupon the nipper dashes off like a rocket to fetch the broom in eager anticipation of, at long last, getting to read the DOI and the Constitution as a reward for completing his chores?
Assuming an unsupervised child were to get his hands on this classic work, obviously there’s far more danger he’d fashion little paper airplanes out of its pages and launch them at his siblings, possibly hitting one of them in the eye, than that he’d actually settle down and start reading the thing—so where’s the warning label that covers potential ophthalmological trauma from paper aircraft, a small but at least a somewhat realistic hazard this classic work might pose for children?
Even in the unlikely event that—Heaven forbid!—some kid were to volunteer perusing all or parts of it and did so without parental guidance, he or she wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of the constitutional language anyway. Difficult enough for adults to tease out from between its lines what values exactly the Constitution espouses—forget about a nine-year-old’s views on issues like abortion or gay marriage or race relations being in any way shaped by what the Constitution says, as opposed to getting those views hammered into their little minds by their parents and society at large.
Nothing wrong, of course, with parents discussing the evolution of societal values with their children, but none of the topics listed in the disclaimer are specifically addressed in any of the documents included in this classic work anyway—where are the sections that deal with “sexuality” or “interpersonal relations,” for example?—save in those constitutional amendments which explicitly guarantee equal rights and equal protection under the law for all persons regardless of race, gender, or previous condition of servitude; and no pre-teenager is going to figure out on his own what class of persons the term “other persons” in Article I might be referring to, assuming a he or she (a) were even alive to such minutiae and (b) never made it to the amendments that officially invalidate such otherness.
Slapping a warning label on the Constitution as if it were a plastic bag seems neurotic in the extreme, and I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to providing theories aimed at explaining its genesis … could it be that Wilder Publications is seriously worried about getting sued by incensed parents who might claim that reading this classic work without parental supervision had turned their kids into raving Republicans?
Tags: U.S. Constitution