We took advantage of the warm weather Sunday to spend an idle hour at the playground downtown. My youngest child, who will be five soon, brought a fidget spinner along and suggested to her brother that they take turns hiding the thing somewhere on the premises for the other to find.
Hearing this plan, I immediately scanned the perimeter of the park, full of kids of all ages, parents, grandparents and other friends and family, and they all could just have soon been fresh from the ranks of San Quentin.
Now, don't get me wrong - these were all regular people, the same as me, no better and no worse. But one added variable - this cheap piece of plastic and metal, designed to do nothing except spin for a while - and the whole scene shifts.
"Someone's just going to steal it," I said. And I didn't feel good about that. I don't like making a threat assessment in a situation and lumping everybody into the threat category.
Even the baby who can't walk or speak?
Even the baby who can't walk or speak. It could crawl, maybe, or roll, or just make cute noises until it convinces someone else to steal the spinner. Don't tell me it's not possible.
It's partly a protective instinct, and partly a desire to stop any conflict before it starts. I played out the scenarios - the kid hides the spinner, someone else takes it, words are exchanged, one thing leads to another and someone gets power-bombed off the top of the big slide. Not pretty.
Long story short, the spinner stayed in my pocket, the kids did their thing, the rest of the crowd seemed innocuous once again and all was right with the world. The sun dipped behind the buildings on Main Street and we left in pursuit of Happy Meals.
Today I gave it more thought and I remembered a long-ago school lesson, about the 17th century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes, and his famous work, "Leviathan," written during the English Civil War.
"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall," he wrote. "In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."
The solution, in his view, was the Leviathan, a strong civil authority whose will was law. A playground monitor, in other words, with a loud whistle.
Those views were challenged by other philosophers like John Locke, who argued against an absolute ruler in favor of a more democratic system, where citizens' rights to life, liberty and property were protected.
Now, neither Locke nor Hobbes had children, and probably didn't have much occasion to hang out at playgrounds and think about these things. If they did, they may have gotten a more nuanced view of the state of nature they considered.
I'm not really thinking about it anymore. I can't stop playing with this fidget spinner.