Thursday, July 28, 2011


"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
-C.S. Lewis

A father of an Oregon boy took his son to a doctor. His son was 11 years old and weighed 400 pounds, clearly in the "grossly obese" category. He talked to the doctor about various treatments and changes in diet, and went home.

His doctor called child services and told them that the man took his son to McDonald's too much. Children's Services showed up at the man's house, and took the child away. Recently an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association encouraged doctors to do that more often, for the children.
Even relatively mild parenting deficiencies, such as having excessive junk food in the home or failing to model a physically active lifestyle, may contribute to a child's weight problem. Typically, the potential harm involves an increased risk for obesity-related chronic disease later in life.
Clearly, the only answer is for the government to step in. How else could someone solve a problem? Only big brother the government can fix anything.

National Review Online recently had an article by Daniel Pipes about a passage from a book written in 1970 about England in the early 20th century:
Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police.

Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913-14, or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income. … broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone.
How did England get from that point to having a camera on every corner, a bureaucrat controlling every aspect of life and laws detailing every slightest behavior? Simple: its for your own good.

This well-meaning effort to make life save, comfortable, and controlled at the cost of liberty has incrementally destroyed nearly every vestige of freedom once-proud countries once knew. Think through an average day in your life. You wake up to an alarm carefully built to avoid any materials that might harm a child, with a safety plug to prevent possible shorts and fires, in a tone that is not too harmful to your ears, from a bed regulated by books of laws in its construction and shape.

You step out of bed onto a carpet regulated to be fireproof and made of certain non-allergenic materials, into slippers built in another nation because the costs of making them were driven so high in your home country by regulations and lawsuits that industry was destroyed. You step out into the hall in a home with regulations on what kind of paint you can use, what kind of siding, what kind of flooring, what insulation, how much, and where, what kind of window glass, how big the spaces can be in the wall struts, using what materials, in what configuration, with permits to confirm it all from the local government.

You might have an animal, but maybe not, because your local laws might prevent owning pets in your kind of building. If you do, you probably have to have a collar on it by law, and even a tracking chip in some places. That animal cannot be treated in any way except how the law permits, or you can go to jail.

And you haven't even made it to the bathroom yet, where your low capacity toilet and low-flow showerhead await you.

We're so surrounded by laws and regulations we swim through them like a fish without even noticing it these days. Someone fought against every one of those regulations and laws, warned about every one of those tiny restrictions on your liberty and was called a monster for wanting to kill the children and harm people. Someone tried to defend your freedom and was considered evil for being the kind of person who'd oppose decent, just, and reasonable laws for our own protection.

Every step of the way, tiny bits at a time, nibbling away at the edges, our liberty has been corroded until now we're wrapped in a cocoon of protective laws and regulations that keep us safe, but won't let us move or breathe, like a child so wrapped against the cold their arms stick straight out. You're safe, now go play.

"Our passions are not too strong, they are too weak. We are far too easily pleased."

And every day, someone wants to add more regulations, more laws, more restrictions, and ultimately take away more of your liberty. For your own good. Because they not only don't trust your judgment, but have worked hard to create a society and education system which necessarily removes your judgment and self-reliance.

We're so used to a culture which handles everything for us that we'd be aghast at having to deal with and make the decisions people just a hundred years ago took for granted. In the name of safety and ease, we're living in a culture where we've had our freedom cut so short we'd be lost without the government's hand holding ours every step of the way.

The one exception to this? The internet. Its wide open, wild, and free. It has almost no restrictions. There are horrible things on the internet, and wonderful. There are awful people on the internet, and good. And despite the bad and the near total liberty, it is not just an amazing tool, but an incredibly powerful engine of progress and economics.

As liberty is crushed more and more in the world, the internet step by step takes over more of the business and transactions we used to handle in person. And it does so very successfully because it is so free and open. It is so dangerous for the same reason, and as a result requires each of us to take responsibility for what we do and how we care for ourselves online.

Avoid certain sites, set up your own protection, restrict your use so you can get other things done, all hallmarks of personal responsibility, all things we used to do in the rest of life, but the government handles instead.

If the internet were like the rest of life, you'd have to get a permit to set up a website, which would have to have certain elements, avoid others, and within specific parameters. If you wanted to do it yourself, you'd have to get a special license, pay a regular fee, and all the content on the site would be subject to not just government approval, but government scrutiny. And all the while, it would be taxed.

Think that's not in the future? Think that isn't what people yearn to do, for your own protection? Think about the spam, the viruses, the horrible manners, the hate mail, the ghastly websites. Think about the dangers out there. Wouldn't it be better if the government had a minor oversight power, just to protect us from those evils?

If you said yes, you're so in chains you don't even recognize it. Because that's how it will start, and grow. Each new limitation on your liberty will be well-meaning and for your own good. Each step will take away what you can do and why, and replace it with government control. Each step will take away your freedom. Think it can't happen? It already did, everywhere else around you.

And at this point there seems no way out short of violent, catastrophic disaster that ruins almost the entire infrastructure of our culture and civilization. Which would also destroy the internet and all it contains.

Sometimes losing your chains is painful. Just ask the former Soviets who couldn't figure out what to do without an all powerful government guiding their lives every step of the way. The freedom was overwhelming, and they were utterly unready for the responsibility. The same thing would - and perhaps will - happen to each of us, should we find that freedom that has been taken away.

It would reduce many, perhaps most of us to helpless confusion. It would have many of us turning to a strong leader to obey and follow them, for safety and comfort. It would have some, perhaps many of us die just out of starvation and exposure because we don't have a clue how to survive without that cocoon.

That's the price we've paid for that feeling of stability, reliability, safety, and comfort. Like a child released on the world too soon, too many of us would be utterly unready and unfit for real freedom. And often, that's the very argument against liberty that's used by people who supposedly are leaders and trustworthy with the power we've given them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice blog and very nice post.

I won't post a full excerpt, but my dog-eared 1990 Vintage Books edition of Tocqueville's Democracy in America Vol. II describes in great detail how despotism comes to a democracy. Every time I read it I can't help but think that Tocqueville was a prophet.