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Save the World! Mind Your Own Business

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"Mindin’ other people’s business seems to be high-toned I got all that I can do just to mind my own Why don’t you mind your own business (Mind your own business) If you mind your own business, you’ll stay busy all the time."

~ Hank Williams

Despite being as prevalent as cockroaches and having a known penchant for gibber and gab, the mindset of your average statist is not easy to determine. I recall once summarizing for a coworker some of the exceptional arguments contained in Peter McWilliams's Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society. My resuscitation made no impression upon her. She listened with irritation and when I was done quipped, "Well, if we don't keep fighting the drug war then we'll have a nation full of addicts. We'd all sit around doing drugs all day."

While logically challenged, statists are transcendent in contemporary America. They have succeeded in altering society to an appalling extent via a Byzantine avalanche of laws and credos. Their state-sponsored vice suppresses freedom under the auspices of enhancing public safety. These saintly persons actually believe that each regulation, and each thought they have, saves lives.

There is little mystery behind their methods. The first thing they do is find a problem – which, in all likelihood, was never a problem – and then emotionalize it until the press takes notice. From there it’s cream cheese for activists because our nation's slanted journalists and politicians are only too happy to extinguish liberty on their behalf.

When questioned, statists usually cite the callousness of their critics as a means of rejoinder. They also contend that the problem (trans fats, smoking, obesity, drinking, pet refuse, green eggs and ham, etc.) is so urgent that we no longer have time for debate. They bellow, "A consensus has been reached. Off! Off we must go to the state house to enact legislation which shows we care." Indeed, the act of arguing with them allegedly prevents them from "saving lives." They then brand their foes as contributors to the problem because, as every half-wit who still holds the 1960s dear fully comprehends, if you're not part of the solution then you're part of the problem.

Such a weltanschauung has given rise to a plethora of useless government agencies which exacerbate the very same social conditions they were empowered to combat. The Leviathan's aggrandizement currently sucks up 36 percent of our GDP and is a major reason why the dollar's worth has plummeted as fast as President Bush's approval rating. At this point, whenever I hear the words "there ought to be a law" I reach for my keyboard.

If one had any delusions about the effects of the new paternalism on the American people and our way of life they would find them dispelled after devouring David Harsanyi's crafty and engaging, Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children. Of course, the book does not tell the story in its entirety but it certainly shares as many lowlights as one can comfortably digest in a given six-hour period.

The specifics of our "low-grade, feel-good tyranny" consistently horrify. Shortly after the namby-pamby phrase "something needs to be done" is publicly uttered, all manner of faux sensitive acts of negligence and oppression are then committed.

As readers may imagine, the central tenet of the nanny state is not "live free or die" because freedom is anathema to its structure with its subsequent loss never a cause for concern. Leaving people to their own druthers is deemed anti-progressive by our modern Committees of Public Safety whose legislators regard the average citizen to be no more than a child. We are in need of leadership and the direction must come from government bureaucrats – the least knowledgeable, creative, and wise persons in our society.

Harsanyi compellingly depicts the invasive and arbitrary nature of this new dispensation. As has always been the case, if one wants to better the common man the worst way to go about doing so is to get government involved in the process. Regulators and enforcement officers "save" practically no one, but are astonishingly effective at producing false positives, false negatives, and atrocious errors of judgment. This is to be expected as bureaucrats excel at incompetence.

Yesterday saturated fats were a great evil but now they are a godsend because the trans fats are the lipids we must now avoid. Nannyists look upon our daily wares and see much to crusade against. Their obsessive eyes fix upon bunk beds, playground equipment, upholstered furniture, pellet guns, bath seats, and water filled yo-yos. Instinctively they sense that someone somewhere is not safe. The response is to ban or regulate the offending items. A warning placed upon a small rack used for the storage of CDs is a testament to their accomplishment. It guides us to not use it "as a ladder."

The Leviathan's decades-long legal stance on drinking and driving reads as if it were an excerpt from a Jackie Mason performance:

Yes, we absolutely know that a .15 blood alcohol level is the main determinant of being drunk. Of that we can be absolutely certain. There could be no questioning of it…except for when it became politically expedient to lower it to the .10 level. That was something we had to do. We were wrong before but now we're right. Trust us because we're in the business of saving people. We had to lower it. With the new decimal marker we are now 100 percent certain that we have identified who really is drunk at the wheel…until the MADD lobbyists convinced us otherwise. Now we know the error of our ways. The .08 blood level is correct and what should have been in place all along. We were wrong before but .08 is something you can cite, quote, and celebrate forever unless…

It would be hysterical were people not being sent to jail for such idiocy.

Drinking while driving used to be the primary alcohol related behavior that nanny staters wanted to micromanage but that is not the case anymore. A war has been declared on drinking in general. In Washington DC, the police enacted a policy of a zero tolerance towards drinking and driving, but made a point of not telling anyone about it. That was a good move on their part because, even within the confines of that particular urban nightmare, the general populace would have undoubtedly regarded as lunacy the notion that having a minute amount of alcohol in your system was a crime.

South Dakota recently attempted to make it a felony for a pregnant woman to order a drink, but the measure failed to pass. Yet in Wisconsin alcohol has been classified as a date rape drug so having sex with someone under the influence means that they were by definition incapable of giving consent. Dissatisfied persons can go to the authorities and the unlucky partner (read: the man) could awake the next morning to discover that he faces charges of second-degree sexual assault.

A New Mexico representative has even tried to pass a bill mandating every car to be affixed with an ignition interlock – regardless of whether the driver has ever had a drink or not. It too was voted down, but similar statutes are being proposed in other states. A MADD advertisement had the audacity to claim that there is no difference between spirits and heroin. Such a claim is risible as no study ever found that a positive relationship existed between longevity and the daily ingestion of burgundy opiates.

Today, even drinking in the privacy of a bar is under attack. In suburban Dallas and Herndon, Virginia police sting operations targeted tavern patrons on the basis of their appearing soused. One of the determinants for who was in need of juridical remediation was the number of times they visited the bathroom. Harsanyi does not mention whether or not the traveling inquisition went over to Starbucks as the same tactics applied there would have trapped an even larger horde of lawful criminals-in-waiting.

Turning normal people into felons is the eventual result when politicians believe that the purpose of government is to perfect the lives of the populace. From there it is just a small irrational leap into accepting that every act of paternalism is a good in itself.

Tobacco is a substance for which practically no one has an encouraging word. Despite cigarette usage declining significantly in America since the sixties the campaign against it continues and illustrates the perfectionists' lack of nuance along with their zero threshold approach to problem solving.

Condemning smoking was not enough of an intervention so a war had to be waged upon second-hand smoke as well. Their reasoning was obvious. They presupposed that if lighting up was bad then it spelled death for those around you. Except that it doesn't. Science has not validated such a hypothesis. The variables that confound the effects of secondhand smoke are profuse. Equating the health risks of being in the vicinity of a smoker with actually smoking is a specious proposition.

A former director of the Centers for Disease Control concluded that "Free will is not within the power of most smokers." Is this accurate? Nope. Your weak-willed reviewer quit of his own volition on July 1st 1996 as have millions of my fellow Americans. No wizardry or bureaucratic dictates were involved in our choices. This eventuality does not sit well with statists, however, as they revile the idea that humans are capable of independent thought. A t-shirt Harsanyi once encountered reveals great insight concerning this subject: "smoking is healthier than fascism." Amen.

The fusion of PC and nannyism is both predictable and hilarious. Take Disney's plot to supersede the character of Christopher Robin on My Friends Tigger & Pooh. They decided to replace him gradually with a six-year-old girl named Darby. Not surprising in the current environment as there's no equivocating about joyful Robin being a white male. Yet what made the affirmative action move particularly ludicrous was that the producers outfitted Darby with a safety helmet to wear on the new show.

One envisions their executives bantering about the matter beforehand: "Yes! Yes! This is perfect! She's a girl, but, unlike the boys…she's safe! A condom around her bike's handlebar?…Hmm, interesting and tantalizing…but it won't go over right now in Jesusland. Let's wait until next season to introduce that angle. But this Darby is going to save the series! Pooh will be a good old boys' club no longer. Darby's smarter, sleeker, more sensitive, and powerful. Why she's practically a grandma on wheels. A vibrant young lady on a skateboard will sell to soccer moms like Tiffany jewelry!"

Not all of it is funny though. Harsanyi asserts that "there is no way to legislate the kid out of kids" but I'm not so sure. The jackboot of the state can deaden a child's spirit and stultify his imagination which is something that nanny staters have been highly effective at doing. Some Ohio municipalities even require the acquisition of a Halloween license before kids can go out trick-or-treating.

We also find that dodgeball is going the way of the highball. What was once known as rough and tumble play has become a red flag indicating anti-social inclinations. Wrestling and tackling are equated with bullying, victimization, and mindless aggression. That sports are a prosocial means by which humans channel their aggression is something lost on many a contemporary educator.

A member of my own organization was quoted in the book. The luminary claimed that tag was harmful to children because [you guessed it] the game occasionally can be a conduit for bullying and victimization. I wonder what the representatives of my profession would make of the rollicking playground diversion the lads and I engaged in during the late seventies called "Smear the Queer?" Well, they'd make short work of it. No doubt that pupil participation would be followed by accusations of homophobia, sensitivity training, and ten days of external suspension.

I guess it has to be this way as teachers instinctively want to mold pupils in their own image. This means, based on the demographics of today's public schools, that tykes should strive to become rigidly conformist females in the throes of varying stages of obesity who regard physical activity with the same disdain they would have for the collected works of Friedrich von Hayek.

In such an environment intellectual curiosity is not recommended and largely superfluous. Modern students are advised to define the truth in trendy and non-accurate ways. Chicago sage Oprah Winfrey reconstituted truth in a fashion which undoubtedly appeals to many teachers. She defined veritas as "that which feels right and good and loving." Following this "rubric" necessitates our personal emotional experiences becoming the outer and innermost reaches of the world. Thus, what we know is all we ever will need to know.

What can we do about the nanny stater? Not much unfortunately. Intellectually, they are vapid bantamweights but politically they remain omnipotent cruiserweights. These folks are motivated chiefly by the need to display contrived moral superiority and a sick need to control others. Despite their claims, promoting the health of the populace is pretty far down on their list of priorities. Domination alone is what titillates them. Their dictatorial efforts will not halt until we all become safe and free to lead lives unworthy of living.

December 10, 2007