What next for the nanny state?

Here in California, the hands-free cell phone law went into effect July 1.  (By the way, does anyone know whether there was an actual increase in traffic accidents after cell phones became popular?)  This morning, I heard a story that said that 1,800 fires and dozens of injuries resulted from fireworks last year.  Of course, in most communities around where I live, most fireworks are already illegal.  Yet, I also heard a story this morning that in California alone 50 people died last year from boating accidents, but I’ve not heard a call for a ban on pleasure boating.  And, a few days ago I heard about the latest of the frequent fatal accidents at amusement parks, but I haven’t heard any calls to ban amusement parks.

A few questions:  How do does our government select which forms of entertainment to protect us from?  What is next on the nanny state agenda?  I suppose the next logical step is banning cigarette smoking by drivers.  Hard to picture a hands-free cigarette.  But what else?  And why is the government in the business of protecting us from our own (and, I suppose, each other’s) stupidity? 

This issue has deeper ramifications than one might think.  Perhaps the biggest cause of the decline of American civilization in the last 50 years is that we’ve gotten very soft.  We don’t have the stomach for a serious, protracted war.  When challenged economically, we don’t step our game up a notch, we run for the cover of protectionist legislation (conservatives are especially guilty of this one).  We use social promotion and grades-free systems to protect our children from their own failures.  We teach unearned self-esteem, rather than stressing the need to actually accomplish anything to earn self-esteem.  We ban running, active and competitive play on the playground.

At all levels, we excuse failure.  It’s the parent’s fault.  It’s society’s fault.  It’s the government’s fault.  It’s the fault of stuff that happened to our great great great grandparents 150 years ago.  It’s the UN’s fault.  It’s the EU’s fault.  It’s OPEC’s fault.  It’s the fault of all those other nations who engage in “unfair” trade practices.  It’s everybody’s fault but our own personal fault.

We’ve gotten so soft, in fact, that we expect the government to protect us from ourselves and to give us everything we need, whether we’ve earned it or not (think the push for universal health care, for example).  We think safety, security and even comfort are inalienable rights.

At bottom, all of the various threads I’ve pointed to are attacks on personal responsibility, and there do not appear to be any limits placed on the attackers.  This cannot be healthy, can it?  If we decide government is responsible for everything and no one is responsible for himself or herself how will our society survive?  In a nanny state, we all become children.  And no society of children can long survive.  Does this make sense?  And what, if anything, can we do to prevent the increasing infantization of the American public? 

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  • Ellie2

    I think a good place to start is to take back our schools. The boomers will be retiring, we need to replace them with teachers that will teach instead of propagandizing.

    In High School, I was taught Civics by a first generation American who loved this country, and told us this every day. This was in 1964. He taught us our duty as citizens of this great country.

    He taught us that America had given each and every one of us the opportunity to be whatever we wanted to be. But, he taught us, with this freedom came responsibility: to be educated on the issues, to get involved and to vote.

  • http://www.writingenglish.wordpress.com judyrose

    I think one factor that plays a role in why people allow government to control so much of our lives is that many of us are scared to death. The media and certain industries and institutions have invested a great deal of time and energy in making sure to publicize every (real and imagined) threat that comes down the pike. And every study that comes out of any research facility (some of which are paid for by manufacturers who have a certain result in mind before the testing is done) that implicates a product or lifestyle choice as a possible cause of death gets the “oooooooooh, watch out” treatment. The following week when a contradictory study is published, we all do an about face and get exercised about the next threat.

    When you’re scared of half the food products on market shelves, of the very air you breathe, of your own shadow, you’re a prime candidate to fall for every Nanny-State remedy that’s proposed.

    I think John Stossel has done some reports on this on “20/20” and I think he may have a book that explodes some of the myths that are widely accepted as conventional wisdom. One of his points is that we walk around in a panic over things that have very little chance of ever hurting us, and we ignore some of the very real things that do us damage.

    Anyway, to wrap it up, national gullibility goes a long way toward accepting the kinds of intrusive laws that are passed. If we can combat that with better, more reliable information, realistic appraisal of the actual risks, and a questioning/suspicious attitude, we might prevent what you call the increasing infantization of the American public. (Great phrase, by the way.)

  • Ellie2

    BTW although I do not know if there are actual statistics on accidents caused by cell phones, there have been studies on a closed track that conclude talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.


    But idiots on cell phones is a whole ‘nother topic!

  • Danny Lemieux

    Great subject, DQ. I don’t know if this problem could be pinned down to any specific reason. The schools? My wife is a teacher and she told me that her local school is fending off any number of lawsuits on any day of the year because some parent or other feels their kid got dissed by the system.

    I believe a big problem is that we suffer the disease of wealth, where people no longer need to struggle to survive and instead believe that life is meant to be pain- and risk-free. Ergo they are entitled to such. C.S. Lewis reflected upon this in his “The Problem of Pain” [http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0032.html] wherein he comes to view “pain” as an inducement to learning. We learn from pain and we become better for it. In this, perhaps, he builds upon Nietzsche’s “that which does not kill me makes me stronger”. Without setbacks, without pain, we do not learn, nor do we fully grow as human beings. Heck, nature and life is that way: immune system only becomes stronger when stimulated by disease. Life doesn’t adapt until it has been threatened.

    My spouse and I tried to raise our kids to appreciate that setbacks and pain are a normal part of life. For example, when they came home as little children with cuts and bruises, we discouraged crying. Instead, we taught them to laugh about it and see their cuts and bruises as evidence of “having had excessive fun”. Other parents, unfortunately, might look at the same as an opportunity to sue someone. My kids are stronger for it. And, if I look at all the (big) setbacks that I have had in my own life and career, each of those setbacks made me stronger and (I hope) a better person for the experience.

    You are right, DQ. We have become soft and I fear that we are destroying our national immune system in the process, to the point where we just may become incapable of resisting malignant threats to our existence. To turn it around, we the people need to accept that sometimes, ***t happens.

    Happy 4th of July!

  • Oldflyer

    Danny, your points are well taken. We can observe some of the dynamic at work today.

    Several family members and very close friends have faced serious medical problems in recent years. In almost every case the person involved has demonstrated exceptional fortitude and cheefullness in the face of their challenges. For instance, yesterday I was seen by a Nurse Practioner in my medical practice. Although I have seen her at work ( particularly caring for the elderly in the home where my mother-in-law lived) and respected her for many years, I don’t see her often. Yesterday she came into the room riding a scooter with one leg and foot in an elaborate brace. When I asked if she had an injury, she replied that “no it is called Lou Gehrigs’s disease”. I was shocked of course. She, on the other hand, was very cheerful, matter-of-fact, and indicated that she was–doing fine.

    So, am I just fortunate enough to know exceptional people? Or do humans typically respond to adversity beyond their expected capacity? I suspect it is a bit of both.

    Perhaps as a society that is remarkably free, in the traditional sense, of adversity we artificially create dragons, and windmills, to slay.

  • suek

    >>she told me that her local school is fending off any number of lawsuits on any day of the year >>

    “First, kill all the lawyers!”

    Actually, I think the legal system _is_ much to blame. For the very reason Danny mentions – everyone becomes terribly overcautious because there’s risk of someone suing them for something. We have an antagonistic legal system – someone has to win, and someone has to lose. I don’t know of a better way, but this one has its problems. Judges should be throwing some of these cases out, but they don’t. Why not? personal egotism? I don’t know.

    >>when they came home as little children with cuts and bruises, we discouraged crying.>>

    Heh. I didn’t discourage mine from crying, but _NO BANDAIDS UNLESS THERE’S BLOOD!_
    They used to wear those bandaids like badges! J&J used to come out with all sorts of neat designs for the kids to wear – as if they needed designs! and of course, 15 minutes later, they had to peel the bandaids off to show their friends and see if their cut/scrape looked any different…!
    Kids do stupid things – and thereby learn not to do stupid things.
    Really stupid kids do really stupid things – hence the Darwin awards. One hopes that if they do the stupid things when they’re small, the results will be small. If they wait until they’re older, I’ll gurantee the results will be bigger and badder as well.

    Maybe we should be looking at word definitions as well…

    Just because you caused an accident doesn’t mean you were responsible for the accident. A tire blows out and your car goes out of control… was the blow-out preventable? does someone really have responsibility for the blow-out? Maybe, maybe not.

    I remember problems with my kids on this…”who did this”… “it wasn’t my fault because Johnny made me trip”…
    eventually, I realized that the underlying thought process was “I did it but I didn’t intend to, so I’m not responsible”. It’s made me _really_ conscious of politicians answers on TV interviews….when they’re asked a “yes” or “no” question and they _don’t_ answer yes or no, I have to wonder why they’re _not_ answering yes or no. I sometimes yell at the TV ” answer the d*mn question!!” It doesn’t help.

    Have you read “Tribes” at Eject!Eject! Eject! ? Definitely worth reading. Too many sheep, too few sheepdogs…!

  • Ymarsakar

    A few questions: How do does our government select which forms of entertainment to protect us from?

    it’s usually traded in for favors and what not. It’s not the law that matters, but the exercise of power. And if you wish to see how power is exercised, you must look to the individuals leading the charge on new bills and what not. Eliminate those individuals, and you eliminate the law from being written.

  • Ymarsakar

    Hate speech and gun bans are going to be the next big ones.

    After all, hate and guns have harmed all too many of us, correct?

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    Good point, Y-man, although I can’t for the life of me figure out why speech, unaccompanied by action, is viewed as so harmful. You can say anything about me you want to and you may anger me, but you won’t hurt me.

    Suek, you’re right about judges. There are ways to get a case thrown out (demurrer, motion for summary judgment) but demurrers are usually granted with leave to amend and summary judgment motions usually fail, often when they really ought to succeed.

    As usual, great comments, all.

  • Tiresias

    Always loved the locution: “hate speech.” I assume they had a contest to name this new sin, and someone in about the third grade won. What a perfect, whiney name!

    Agree with Sue: lawyers are much to blame. We already pay a lawyer tax on every single thing we buy; this is merely the logical extension of that.

    Hard to blame it solely on judges: you’d expect (or at least hope – generally in vain) that when people came in with issues that are assinine on their face the lawyers would turf them the hell out of their offices – but they don’t. They nose around hunting for dollar signs, and if there are any in the neighborhood, off we go to court.

    A law license has elided into a license to become a millionaire, and there isn’t much societal good or responsibility attached to it. Damn few Atticus Finches in the landscape.

    The word “accident” no longer seems to appear in most municipal dictionaries. My favorite example of which is that last fall an elderly guy driving along in our state had a heart attack at the wheel, and crashed, damaging another couple of cars. The state cops, after ascertaining that he’d survive, (I guess), actually cited him for: “driving while distracted.”

    I suppose a heart attack counts as a distraction.

    But the point is, they had to have somebody to blame. Couldn’t be the fault of the designers and engineers who built the road. Couldn’t be the fault of the tire manufacturers. Couldn’t be the fault of the auto manufacturers. 42 fat-assed cops in stupid hats with tape-measures couldn’t establish from skid-marks that he was speeding, so “speed wasn’t a factor.” (For a change. 99%+ of the time it is, according to them.) So the best they could do was “driving while distracted” in order to successfully place blame, and find an insurance company to sue.

    And that’s what it’s about. Blame. The word “accident” no longer appears in the dictionary, and we need to find someone, or something, to blame. If you successfully make a law against practically everything, then someone can always be found who’s in violation of something or other, and blame can be affixed. Everybody goes home happy.

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    Blame is an interesting thing. Everybody wants to be a victim and blame somebody else. Nobody takes responsibility for their own actions.

    As for your comments on lawyers, the office I work for has the luxury of turning away unmeritorious cases, because we have more work that we can handle. I’m not at all sure we’d be turning them away if we needed the business. It’s a lot easier to stand on principle when you can afford to (kind of like the self-righteous rich folks in their hybrid cars, or Al Gore buying the right to have a super-high energy consuming house), but that’s another post.

  • Tiresias

    But that’s the point, Don. Should turning away unmeritorious cases be a “luxury” – or should it be routine, because they’re damned well unmeritorious?

    We are rapidly attaining (“rapidly attaining” – hell, we’re already there) the state wherein NO idiocy is seen by the legal eye as unmeritorious.

    And we all pay. And the only way to secure any level of protection at all is increase the nanny state to the point where it’s so intrusive that absolutely everything’s covered.

    The government is in the business of protecting us from ourselves because it’s too expensive not to. After all, how far off is the day when the government will find itself being sued for NOT having outlawed some previously-normal but potentially dangerous bit of human behavior?

  • Ymarsakar

    Good point, Y-man, although I can’t for the life of me figure out why speech, unaccompanied by action, is viewed as so harmful.

    I do not believe it is a coincidence that the First and Second Amendments were at the front of the list of rights people wanted to enshrine and protect doubly.

    Speech is also a form of thought and a form of behavior. Control speech, and you control thought and behavior. Any totalitarian government worth its salt would be after that.

    Yet, it is extremely hard to control speech without fear or intimidation. The 2nd Amendment protects individuals from fear and intimidation from several originating points. The Left does the same, except by draining people of their political power and free will. The 2nd Amendment achieves protection by empowering individuals and respecting their free will and conscience.

    Compared to the two big ones, speech and gun laws, all these little fluff about smoking and what not are small potatoes. Get those two, and you also get everything else in the list of government goodies.

  • suek

    >>I’m not at all sure we’d be turning them away if we needed the business.>>

    And of course you’re aware of all the new competition that will soon be turned out by the new school of law in Irvine…

    Why a law school? why not a school of medicine? with all the talk about health costs, why not increase the supply of doctors? when is the last time you heard of an increase of openings for med students? or a new school of medicine opening? The standards for med students are rididulous – why not expand entry levels so that anyone with an A average – instead of only 10% of A+ averages can be accepted? (made up numbers, but I know they’re very small) No need to lower standards for graduates – just for entries.

    Of course, even with the number of lawyers out there, the cost of lawyers per hour hasn’t decreased…!! so maybe numbers isn’t the answer. Still, if there are lots of them, maybe instead of suing them, we could get some of the incompetents thrown out. As in “remove their license”.

    DQ – what does it take to get a lawyer disbarred? I think I know of “unethical” behavior being a cause, but is “incompetent” ever “unethical” or is there any way of getting incompetent lawyers thrown out? There should be one for judges as well…!

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    Hi Suek,

    Every attorney must be a member of, and is governed by, the bar association of the state in which he or she practices. Attorneys have very high ethical codes, but they are relatively loosely enforced. In fact, I think I’ll write a post on the subject. Thanks for asking.

  • suek

    >>Attorneys have very high ethical codes, but they are relatively loosely enforced.>>

    That says to me that they _don’t_ have very high ethical codes. If you make a law and don’t enforce it, you effectively don’t have a law. If on the other hand, you enforce it occasionally or selectively, you have an even worse situation – you have a corrupt organization.

    That doesn’t answer my question though – when does incompetence rise to the level of unethical? Can a lawyer get disbarred for incompetence?

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    Hi Suek,

    Attorneys can be disbarred for incompentence, but that rarely happens. Usually, the marketplace takes care of incompetence. The truly incompetent attorney fails in the courtroom and does not get clients. The bigger problem is with incompetent judges, who can theoretically be removed, but, in fact, it’s nearly impossible to get rid of them. And there are lots of incompetent judges!

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    Hi Tiresias,

    Of course rejecting unmeritorious cases should be routine. I’m just saying that if putting food on your table depends on taking on an unmeritorious case, it’s very hard to do the right thing. Thank goodness I’ve never been in that position, but I suspect it’s pretty easy to convince yourself the case has merit when your livelihood depends on it and a client believes in the case enough to be willing to pay you for it.

  • Tiresias

    Which of course leads straight to the question: where’s the ethics committee?

    If putting food on my table requires me to rob a bank, I can expect a consequence.

    Tying up the court system, wasting everybody’s time, and imposing a penalty for no particular reason (penalty being: “they’ll pay us rather than pay lawyers to defend themselves”) – incurs no consequence?

    Evidently not. Misuse of system used to be something that was considered counter to ethical behavior, but I see little evidence it still is.

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    The problem, Tiresias, is that the law is not all that cut and dried. If you rob a bank, you’ve pretty clearly committed an immoral act. But any lawyer worth his or her salt can find some honest to God legal merit in the vast majority of cases. Think of all the cases in which the judge or jury’s decision seems completely outrageous. Every one of those cases, as outrageous as they were, had enough legal merit to survive to trial and persuade the decision maker to make what appears on its face to be a meritless decision.

    As I mentioned in answer to your comment in another thread, my boss is one of those who can honestly persuade himself of the merit of positions that I think are meritless on their face. Sometimes I convince him not to go forward; other times he goes ahead and makes what he thinks is a meritorious argument anyway. Most of the time when he does this the arguments fail, but they succeed often enough that I’d be hard pressed to say he is unethical for even trying them. Sometimes he steps over a line I wouldn’t step over, but the line is not nearly as clear as the line involved in robbing a bank. Honest people can and do differ over the merit of legal positions all the time.

  • Mike Devx

    DQ asks:
    “If we decide government is responsible for everything and no one is responsible for himself or herself how will our society survive?”

    My answer would be, we will survive, of course, but we will not prosper. We’re too powerful, and there is still too much strength to us, for us to simply disappear quickly.

    It will take a rebirth of common sense virtues among the people themselves to avoid the long, slow, whimpering death. I see zero chance of that happening. Once a civilization becomes this decadent, I don’t think it recovers.

    The one big measure that could spark a change is for every voter to simply “Throw The Bums Out”. But that won’t happen either, because I continue to (sickeningly! nauseatingly!) hear, “MY Congressman is not the problem, it’s those other ones! MY Congressman is perfectly fine.” And so the Congressional Scam continues. And it is everyone’s fault. What you can do is to Throw Your Own Bum Out, no matter how much you’ve had the wool pulled. No one gets out of the vast 1998-2008 Corruption Game free. They’re all guilty. Throw Your Bum Out.

  • Ymarsakar

    Sometimes he steps over a line I wouldn’t step over, but the line is not nearly as clear as the line involved in robbing a bank. Honest people can and do differ over the merit of legal positions all the time.

    Given that law, the analysis of it, the making of it, and the modifications to it, is no longer accessible to the public, there can be nothing “honest” about it, for when one clique holds a monopoly on reading the law, it is the same as the Church refusing to translate the Bible into the vernacular.

    “If we decide government is responsible for everything and no one is responsible for himself or herself how will our society survive?”

    We’ll survive by exploiting black people, Mexicans, illegal immigrants, and foreigners that are militarily weaker than us. That’ll last for about as long as Rome had crazy Emperors.

  • Ymarsakar

    Tying up the court system, wasting everybody’s time, and imposing a penalty for no particular reason (penalty being: “they’ll pay us rather than pay lawyers to defend themselves”) – incurs no consequence?

    The justice system is designed so that judges, juries, prosecutors, defending lawyers, and appeal courts hold no personal responsibility to the acquital of the guilty or the sentencing of the innocent.

    There have been many systems or codes of law, and this aspect of American law has been the historical progression of the law for the entirety of human history. It has progressed more and more from vindictive personal revenge motives to impersonal “we don’t care what the verdict is so long as the process is followed” equal protection.

    Any system or even any anti-system (anarchy) can be taken advantage of by the greedy, corrupt, and ambitious. The only virtue of America’s adversarial legal system is that it can only be taken advantage of by lethargy and nihilistic beliefs.

    The adversarial system assumes that everybody involved in the system is going to try to do some selfish shenanigans to get their side favored over all others. There is supposed to be a balance of powers preventing any lawyer, judge, or jurist from corrupting or taking advantage of the system more than any other element.

    THe balance of powers does not work, however, when one or more elements in the justice systems says “I don’t really care about the US Constitution, I’m just going to become a slave to International Law”.

    What happens now? What happens to the lawyers, defendants or prosecutors that are interested in greedy and power to manipulate the weak? They get more power, that’s what. Cause the judges are out in the boondocks screwing something that wasn’t even included in the legal system to begin with.

    The system, thus, breaks down not because of human flaws like ambition, greed, evil, and what not, no, it breaks down because somebody cheated and destroyed the balance of powers.

    Just like they are destroying the balance of powers between Legislative, Judicial, and Executive.