A Bridge Too Far for the Nanny State

Suicide is tragic from any perspective. It is saddening to think that someone's emotional state could decay to the point where death appears preferable to life. Loved ones and acquaintances are left to sort out feelings of helplessness and try to fill holes in hearts and minds--holes made emptier by memories both bad and good.

The disturbing reality is that people who see nonexistence as an attractive option will always live among us. Suicide is a human thing. And human things follow humans wherever we go.

Lying north of Taos, New Mexico, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge carries vehicular and pedestrian traffic over the river gushing 650 feet below. During an almost five-decade existence, the bridge has been the site of many suicides. Those deaths have now been thrust into public focus by two suicides within the last several weeks. The recent instances inspired renewed calls for government to erect jump-prevention barriers.

New Mexico State Senator Carlos Cisneros and fellow senators are preparing a bill to fund a barrier design study. A 2009 study commissioned by the New Mexico Suicide Prevention Coalition already proposed four designs. The call for new designs raises an important question. If installing jump-proof barriers makes leaping from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge a thing of the past and people begin jumping from the cliffs above the river, will the New Mexico state legislature propose barriers along both sides of the gorge?

Some New Mexicans are raising questions in a similar vein, questions involving costs versus results. Due to the likelihood that no measure, physical or otherwise, can guarantee that determined people will find no way to jump from the bridge, barrier opponents suggest that officials consider the negative impact of barriers on the bridge's appearance and on the site's draw as a tourist destination. But this concern upsets Taos's volunteer fire chief, who says that cost-benefit critics need to "see what we go through" in cleaning up after bridge suicides.

The chief's argument is understandably emotional. And emotions can be powerful. Yet in truth, the best that might come from installing jump barriers would be that suicides move to other venues. Taos area first-responders then might not have to deal with the gore that the chief wants barrier opponents to see, but first responders somewhere else probably would.

If proof exists that government intervention can eliminate self-destructive behaviors, then that proof is not obvious. Speakeasies during Prohibition, illegal prostitution, and illegal narcotics usage vividly illustrate that when people feel compelled to engage in an activity, government cannot stop that activity.

Senator Cisneros admits the futility of using legislation to eliminate suicide. "We won't be able to prevent every attempt, but we can mitigate the cost." The senator adds, "Unfortunately, we're a long way from solving the problem."

But embedded within Cisneros's statement is a false assumption that illustrates the liberal politician's mindset. The implication that "we," meaning government, could actually solve a problem like suicide speaks volumes. A liberal is, after all, a rudimentary thinker, one who advocates "solutions" that make the advocator feel good. After implementing a solution, the advocator savors the feel-good, moves on the next problem, implements another solution, feels good, moves on to the next problem, implements another solution...

But throughout the process lies an insidious phenomenon: liberals never notice that they are "solving" the same problems over and over again.

Liberals skip through life, ricocheting from cause to cause. All the while, the manifestations of human behavior that they pretend to address simply relocate. In the new locales, other liberals view the same manifestations as opportunities to feel good about addressing the same presumed causes.

At the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, jump-prevention barriers would probably reduce the number of jumpers--specifically, the number of jumpers from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. But sadly, taxpayers will have been tapped to pay for yet another futile effort to wish away ugly reality with good intent.

A writer, physicist, former high tech executive, and Cajun, Chuck Rogér invites you to sign up to receive his "Clear Thinking" blog posts by email at http://www.chuckroger.com/. Contact Chuck at swampcactus@chuckroger.com.