Gabrielle Shiner on the remarkable achievement of Laura Dekker both in circumnavigating the globe and in getting around the “authorities” which were determined to stop her for her own protection:
Last month, Dutch teenager Laura Dekker became the youngest sailor ever to complete a solo circumnavigation of the world. This was a phenomenal achievement, requiring incredible personal courage and endurance. But marring her celebrations was the fact that the Guinness Book of Records failed to recognise her achievement on the grounds that it was deemed ‘irresponsible’. Furthermore, Dekker has claimed she may never return to her home country due to the treatment of her, and her parents, by meddling Dutch authorities.
[. . .]
The Dutch authorities’ reaction to Laura Dekker shows that they have become a Frankenstein of the mentality that inspired the introduction of menacing tobacco labels and countless similar policies. The doctrine that individuals need to be saved from themselves has unleashed a swarm of crusading bureaucrats who relentlessly raid our private lives. Joost Lanshage of the Netherlands Bureau of Youth Care exemplified this pervasive creed as he protested, ‘If Laura had drowned we would be accused of not doing enough to protect her.’ Lanshage assumes his responsibility over both Laura and her parents with uncanny ease. More alarming, however, is Lanshage’s testimony that this is what society has come to expect from public authorities.
Forfeiting judgment to a faceless state erodes the importance of personal interactions as it undermines our dependence on family, friends, and community. The state’s hijacking of the responsibility for our lives also robs us of the ability to exercise and develop our personal judgment. This crucial aspect of our development is being debilitated by the craze to squeeze individuals into the shrinking mould of acceptable citizenship. Denying us the right to take risks, enjoy successes and suffer through mistakes restricts our ability to act according to our individual values and develop purposefully. We’re sacrificing our individual autonomy for the comfort of apathetic mediocrity.
As this process continues, unique approaches to life and education increasingly become unacceptable. After Dekker mentioned on her blog that she had to temporarily put schoolwork aside in the face of dangerous storms at sea, Dutch authorities mounted their high horses once again and summoned Laura’s father to court. While the 16-year-old conquered innumerable challenges that the vast majority of adults would not be capable of facing alone, authorities back in the Netherlands fretted at the idea that she would fall behind with her school work. As Dekker rightfully reflected on her blog towards the end of her journey, ‘Now, after sailing around the world, with… the full responsibility of keeping myself and [her boat] Guppy safe, I feel that the nightmares the Dutch government organisations put me through were totally unfair.’