Its always the little stuff. In previous revolutions and major coups or government changes, the changes were huge and sudden. It would take a few years at most of violent, obvious action for a country to change from, say, a monarchy to a communist dicatorship like Russia became. The revolution was easy to spot.
In the United States, the change took decades and was in small, minor steps each of which did not seem sufficiently destructive to fight over. They were never the hill to die on, none rose to sufficient significance. And always, all were presented as populist, the voice of the people, and so very proper and well-meaning.
It was always little stuff, presented as being so very reasonable and for our good. A license to do this, a limitation on doing that. The cracker of liberty was nibbled at the edges so slowly and subtly that few noticed until it was mostly gone.
And its not like you don't still have a fundamentally greater level of liberty in the United States than most nations on earth. Its that within that great framework of liberty there are ten thousand little threads pulling you one way or another, limiting how far you can move about. Imagine the country as being wide open in 1500, and then each year, a fence on the borders slowly began to close in from around 1850 until now when you still technically can run about as you please... but its the size of a swimming pool now. You're free... within that area.
And these changes took place oddly. They always were in the shape of taking what was once something you were free to choose and attempt and making it mandated. From regulations to little silly laws, each new law built one more brick on that barrier around us.
What kind of showerhead do you want? Well you can't choose that one. What sort of washing machine would you like to buy? Well you have to get this kind. Where can you smoke? Almost nowhere... and now, maybe not even e-cigarettes. What kind of toilet do you want? Well you get to have a low-capacity one. What sort of light bulbs do you prefer? Doesn't matter you can't use those.
In the US Federal Government in the last three years alone, this is the volume of new regulations the US Congress passed:
That's just three years' worth. Imagine trying to open a business. In fact, you don't have to imagine, John Stossel did just that, in 2011. He decided to open up a Lemonade Stand:
It made me want to try to jump through the legal hoops required to open a simple lemonade stand in New York City. Here's some of what one has to do:
1) Register as sole proprietor with the County Clerk's Office (must be done in person)
2) Apply to the IRS for an Employer Identification Number
3) Complete 15-hr Food Protection Course!
4) After the course, register for an exam that takes 1 hr. You must score 70 percent to pass. (Sample question: "What toxins are associated with the puffer fish?") If you pass, allow 3-5 weeks for delivery of Food Protection Certificate.
5) Register for sales tax Certificate of Authority
6) Apply for a Temporary Food Service Establishment Permit. Must bring copies of the previous documents and completed forms to the Consumer Affairs Licensing Center.
Then, at least 21 days before opening your establishment, you must:
-Arrange for an inspection with the Health Department's Bureau of Food Safety and Community Sanitation. It takes about 3 weeks to get your appointment. If you pass, you can set up a business once you:
- Buy a portable fire extinguisher from a company certified by the FDNY and set up a contract for waste disposal.
- We couldn't finish the process. Had we been able to schedule our health inspection and open my stand legally, it would have taken us 65 days.
I sold lemonade anyway. I looked dumb hawking it with my giant fire extinguisher on the table.
He doesn't mention how much all of this cost, but all those tests, certifications, and purchases are expensive. All of this is meant to be for our good, to protect us. All of it makes prices go up, ambition go down, and in the end business less successful. At the time he wrote this article, Stossel noted that the federal government produces 80,000 pages of new regulations a year. And that went up enormously when the writing of regulations for Obamacare began.
Each time this happens, each new page of regulation or new law that is written, means we go from the choices of liberty to the mandates of tyranny. Its not a sliding scale: if you have a choice taken away, you have lost liberty, even if only in a small way.
And none of these are worth fighting over. Who would want to go to war over a law requiring low-flow showerheads? Who would take the time and money that is required to stop this kind of thing from passing, knowing it probably will anyway? Perhaps John Adams, but who today?
Each time this happens, each of us loses a little bit of our liberty.
I recall as a child wishing I didn't have my life so controlled and could do what I wished. That I had more choices, that I could command my own destiny. You can't eat that, we won't go there, you have to be here by this time, you must go to that class. I looked forward to adulthood where I as able to make my own choices and was free to do as I wished.
And yet here in adulthood, our choices are being stripped away by prim, frowning do-gooders who insist they know better than us how we ought to live. We're reduced to childhood again, to protect us. That's not safe, you might hurt yourself, its for your good, shut up and take it, we know best.
In a very real sense, this series of buffers and pillows piled on everything to protect us from ourselves is reducing the entire population to children again. You can't be trusted with those choices, and we'll take care of you all.
Yet on the internet, its still largely true that you can pretty much do what you want. In some ways this is awful and in some its incredible. Without the internet I couldn't have two novels and several gaming books published and selling. Without the internet, I couldn't write to hundreds of people around the entire planet every day.
And I suspect that in some way, the immense open freedom of the internet is blinding people to, or at least reducing the concern over, all we've lost even in just the last few years. The fact that while the world is turning to crap and I can't do what I want out there is offset in some way by what I can do online.
And I wonder if the humorless pursed-lip crowd of regulators and know-betters on the left are aware of that effect. Because they've certainly got their sights set on the internet. That place is too free, too tax-less, and someone might get hurt, without our commissars in charge to control it all.
Its possible - but I fear improbable - that messing with the internet might be the last straw that drives people over the edge, in fury. That taking away this last slice of liberty and openness would be a regulation too far and the legendary, mythical pushback begins.
Its amazing to me how this has happened, just in my lifetime. I was born in 1965, when you could smoke in your office and the regulations were pretty minimal, and watched it all happen right before my eyes. It is truly astounding how much things have changed just in the last ten years, let alone since Carter was president.
That might seem like an awfully long time ago to you younger readers, but it really is not. And growing up in this ever-warming water few even are aware of it beyond a mild annoyance when the next law passes and it hits them somewhere they like. No more incandescent bulbs? But they're all I can afford! Oh well, the water is relaxing.
What we've given up, and the price we're paying, combined with who this most hurts in every instance (the very people the regulators and lawpassers claim to be championing with higher prices and less opportunity), is astounding to consider. And its partly why I pulled back so far from politics in late 2012.
Because there's only so much white hot fury and stomach-lining-demolishing stress that anyone can take. That's all politics really gives anyone. And I'm no Andrew Breitbart, I don't welcome the battle. I don't like the fight, it makes me feel awful and I always doubt myself in the process. Where have I gone wrong, what am I blind to, when have I gone too far myself?
Yet look around you and ponder a moment. What have you given up, what choices have been taken away, for your good, by people who have absolutely no contact with your life, and replaced with mandates and requirements? Are any of us better for it? Do you like being treated like a child by faceless bureaucrats?
Because its hard to avoid the impression that we do in some masochistic way. Thank you sir, may I have another?