January 30, 2011
The Nanny-Staters at Life's Dangerous IntersectionsBy Selwyn Duke
Increasingly, our government reminds me of a certain old Star Trek episode. It was titled "I, Mudd," and in it, the Enterprise explorers find themselves in the grip of seemingly perfect androids determined to serve man. The automatons informed the crew that humans are "self-destructive," need the androids' "help," and can't be trusted with freedom. One of the mechanical masters concludes by telling Captain Kirk, "we shall serve them [humans], and you will be happy...and controlled."
I don't know if the episode was meant as big-government allegory, but it could serve as such. And there's no shortage of nanny-state intrusion stories to bring it to mind. For example, consider a proposal by a state senator from New York City to prohibit citizens from using gadgets such iPods, cell phones, and music players while walking. You read that right -- not while driving or operating buses or trains.
The senator is Brooklynite Karl Kruger, and his proposal is in response to the death of Jason King, a hapless 21-year-old man struck by a truck while listening to his iPod. Kruger said, reports CBS News, "We have people who are literally dying in the street." Yikes.
Now, while it doesn't match the number of people dying in NYC wombs, the senator is onto something (or on something). Why, I can think of four people I've known (including myself) who were hit by vehicles. It should be pointed out, however, that none of them were using electronic devices at the time. But there was a common thread: They all had unlicensed legs.
Such proposals aren't unusual for nanny localities such as NYC. We all know about the android Mayor Bloomberg's desire to serve the flawed beings and about how San Francisco is unhappy about the Happy Meal, and last year, a New York state senator proposed that a person shouldn't be allowed to smoke in his own car if children are present. (There really does seem to be something in the water up here, which is why I'm glad I drink only soda and other sugary drinks...which, incidentally, NY State wants to tax for our own good.)
While Kruger's proposal probably won't pass, even in NYC, this story follows the blueprint for enabling nanny-state intrusion. We have a statesman who thinks success in politics means authoring as many laws as possible (everyone likes seeing his name in print), when it actually should mean authoring as few as possible. After all, a law by definition is the removal of a freedom. And then we have a media outlet, CBS, doing the marketing. CBS begins its reportage by tugging on heartstrings, quoting friends of Jason King who talk about how wonderful he was and how they miss him. He is the poster boy for the anti-walkie-talkie bill. The news outlet then discovers a couple of people sympathetic to it, which, given that virtually all of the hundreds of respondents below the article are opposed, may be an investigatory accomplishment in league with finding bin Laden and oil in Israel on the same day. One of these two people is fourteen-year-old Charles Tabasso, who says, "I would probably get run over right now if it weren't for my awesome parents."
Well, the humility is refreshing.
The other is his mother, Tullia Tabasso, who chimes in: "As a parent, I am definitely in favor of banning these things." Translation: I'm not an awesome enough parent to say no to my child and control his behavior, so I want the government to do it for me.
Now, some will say I'm insensitive. But I'm sure Jason King had many fine qualities, and death is always tragic. I'm sure the Tabassos are probably nice people. I'm also sure, however, that this should have nothing to do with legislation affecting millions of other nice people. But try telling this to liberals.
Here's how it works in their universe: Some tragedy or mishap instigated by one person occurs in our land of 308 million. It hits the news. It could be something innocent such as what befell Jason King or the evil perpetrated by Jared Lee Loughner, but whatever the case, the lone incident is somehow thought to be cause for legislation. Forget about how haste makes waste. A deep breath and a count to ten before acting? That's a big New Yawk fugetaboutit! Something must be done. Now. Can't you see that, you idiot? Lives are at stake!
The problem is a common one. People instinctively think about achieving new levels of safety but seldom worry about losing old levels of freedom. And the result is not necessarily greater safety, but greater levels of tyranny. I call this the New Red Light Syndrome. This is because it's much as when a locality identifies the most dangerous intersection in town. The traffic planners, realizing that something must be done immediately lest a person who means so much to those around him meet an untimely end (as opposed, I guess, to someone whose demise is desired by all and sundry), erect a new traffic light as remedy. This does seem to make sense and is hard to argue against. It saves lives, right? The problem is that even if it does, now some other spot is "the most dangerous intersection in town." Thus, there can always be justification for another red light.
But trying to eliminate life's every perilous intersection is a dangerous road to travel. There's a Brazilian saying: "It's better to live ten years at a thousand mph than a thousand years at ten mph." Those raunchy-in-Rio Brazilians can be a bit racy, you say? Okay, but oughtn't we at least be able to live life at 80 mph and leave our departure from this fold up to God? But the nanny-staters want a red light at every "dangerous" intersection...when gun meets hand, when hand meets unruly child's behind, when unruly child walks and talks or trespasses on property with swimming pool.
And when child meets world.
Remember that the biggest cause of danger to human life is conception. When life becomes a reality, so do danger and death, as the world beyond womb -- and increasingly the one within it -- is a perilous place. You risk your life just by living.
And there is always a most dangerous intersection. When guns are gone (from legal hands), hand will still meet knife, and the next red light will be knife control, as proposed in Britain. When spanking is outlawed, harsh words will still meet child, and perhaps the self-esteem police will monitor parenting with cameras, as is being done with "troublesome" families in Britain. And when cell phone use is banned in vehicles, the next red light is to forbid the two-legged walkie-talkies, as New York mimics the land of the first York.
So do we want a traffic cop at every life corner? If not, we have to give lawmaking the red light because nanny-state lawmakers have no brakes. Just consider, for instance, Senator Kruger's justification for his anti-walkie-talkie law: "When people are doing things that are detrimental to their own well-being, then government should step in," said he. Wow. If the senator really believes this, he'll have to mandate how much fat, sugar, and other unhealthful foods people can consume; how much TV they can watch; how much exercise they must get; and he must ban them from riding motorcycles, going hang-gliding and rock-climbing, and engaging in other high-risk activities. And this is the danger of having such busybodies in office -- people who, as C.S. Lewis warned, "torment us for our own good [and thus] will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." Mr. Kruger's statist mentality will give us a nightmare on every street.
Of course, we do need a few red lights at both literal and metaphorical intersections. And if we want but a few, we must realize that old levels of freedom require old levels of virtue. But our nanny-staters are content to destroy virtue and make the whole nation a red-light district, a place defined not just by licentiousness, but also by license to do little but indulge it. Their government will change the signal to green if and when you can go. And you will be happy...and controlled.