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?