Skip to comments.Yes, Mommy: A Well-Regulated State
Posted on 09/15/2002 10:30:25 AM PDT by SBeck
A Well-Regulated State
We tell ourselves that in America we are the Free People. I wonder whether we might not better be called the Obedient People, the Passive People, or the Admonished People. I doubt that any country, anywhere, has been so regulated, controlled, and directed as we are. We are bred to obey. And obey we do.
It begins with the sheer volume of law, rules, and administrative duties. Most of the regulation makes sense in isolation, or can be made plausible. Yet there is so much of it.
Used to be if you wanted a dog, you got a dog. It wasnt really the governments business. Today you need a dog license, a shot card for the dog, a collar and tags, proof that the poor beast has been neutered, and you have to keep it on a leash and walk it only in designated places. Its all so we dont get rabies.
Or consider cars. You have to have a title, insurance, and keep it up to date; tags, country sticker, inspection sticker, emissions test. Depending where you are, you cant have chips in the windshield, and you need a zoned parking permit. You have to wear a seatbelt. And of course there are unending traffic laws. You can get a ticket for virtually anything, usually without knowing that you were doing anything wrong.
Then theres paperwork. If you have a couple of daughters with college funds in the stock market, annually you have to fill out three sets of federal taxes, three sets of state, and file four state and four federal estimated tax forms, per person, for a total of twenty-four. This doesnt include personal property taxes for the country, business licenses, tangible business-assets forms, and so on.
Now, Im not suggesting that all these laws are bad. Stupid, frequently, but evil, no. Stopping at traffic lights is probably a good idea, and certainly is if Im crossing the street. But the laws never end. Bring a doughnut on the subway, and you get arrested. Dont replace your windows without permission in writing from the condo association. Nothing is too trivial to be regulated. Nothing is not some governments business.
I wonder whether the habit of constant obedience to infinitely numerous rules doesnt inculcate a tendency to obey any rule at all. By having every aspect of ones life regulated in detail, does one not become accustomed to detailed regulation? That is, detailed obedience?
For many it may be hard to remember freer times. Yet they existed. In 1964, when I graduated from high school in rural Virginia, there were speed limits, but nobody much enforced them, or much obeyed them. If you wanted to fish, you needed a pole, not a license. You fished where you wanted, not in designated fishing zones. If you wanted to carry your rifle to the bean field to shoot whistle pigs, you just did it. You didnt need a license and nobody got upset.
To buy a shotgun in the country store, you needed money, not a background check, waiting period, proof of age, certificate of training, and a registration form. If your tail light burned out, then you only had one tail light. If you wanted to park on a back road with your girl friend, the cops, all both of them, didnt care. If you wanted to swim in the creek, you didnt need a Coast Guard approved life jacket.
It felt different. You lived in the world as you found it, and behaved because you were supposed to, but you didnt feel as though you were in a white-collar prison. And if anybody had asked us, we would have said that the freedom was worth more to us than any slightly greater protection against rabies, thank you. Which nobody ever got anyway.
Today, the Mommy State never leaves off protecting us from things Id just as soon not be protected from. We must wear a helmet on a motorcycle: Kevorkian can kill us, but we cannot kill ourselves. Why is it Mommy Governments business whether I wear a helmet? In fact I do wear one, but it should be my decision.
And so it goes from administrative minutiae (emissions inspections) to gooberish Mommyknowsbestism (Wea-a-ar your lifejacket, Johnny!) to important moral decisions. Obey in small things, obey in large things.
You must hire the correct proportion of this and that ethnic group, watch your sex balance, prove that you have the proper attitude toward homosexuals. You must let your children be politically indoctrinated in appropriate values, must let your daughter get an abortion without telling you, must accept affirmative action no matter how morally repugnant you find it.
And we do. We are the obedient people.
As the regulation of our behavior becomes more pervasive, so does the mechanism of enforcement grow more nearly omnipresent. In Washington, if you eat on the subway, they really will put you in handcuffs, as they recently did to a girl of twelve. In 1964 in King George County, the cop would have said, Sally, stop that. Arresting a child for sucking on a sourball would never have entered a state troopers mind.
Which brings us to an ominous observation. America is absolutely capable of totalitarianism. It wont be the jackbooted variety, but rather a peculiarly mindless, bureaucratic insistence on conformity. What we call political correctness is an American approach to political control.
Our backdoor totalitarianism has the added charm of being crazy.
Think about it. Confiscating nail clippers at security gates, arresting the eating girl on the subway, the confiscation from an aging general of his Congressional Medal of Honor because it had points, the countless ejections from school of little boys for drawing soldiers of the Trade Centers in flames, playing cowboys and Indians, for pointing a chicken finger and saying Bang.
This isnt intelligent authoritarianism aimed at purposeful if disagreeable ends. It is the behavior of petty and stupid people, of minor minds over-empowered, ignorant, but angry and charmed to find that they can push others around. It is the exercise of power by people who have no business having any.
And we obey. We are the obedient people.
"You know what you are if you're not us, Decker? Little people."
"Stop right where you are. You know the score pal. If you're not cop, you're little people."
And it was Deckard, not Decker.
Make that attempted confiscation. General Foss wasn't about to let 'em take. They're lucky he didn't beat 'em to a bloody pulp with his cane. :)
That's because for many of us, life is too good. Heaven forbid if the economy really goes south . . .
And we obey. We are the obedient people.
It starts in grade school, when you have to ask permission before using the bathroom. Start and stop thinking on command, and only about the commanded block of information. (the material being studied is irrelevent, as long as the habit of obedient thinking is mastered.)
However, the first wave of home-educated adults is hitting the scene, with millions more behind 'em. Folks not trained in habits of obedience to bureaucrats. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The article bemoans the petty oppressiveness we've come to accept as normal with a tone that suggests, to me anyway, that "we" (society) should do something about it. I submit the only time we, as a society, would actually do something about it is when we start to go hungry. As long as economic needs are being met, societies can withstand just about anything. Precipitating most world-class revolutions were dismal economic conditions---in which basic needs weren't being met.
Will people have an honest discussion about this?
I disagree. Prosperity hints that change isn't necessary. During times of prosperity, things work. People are satisfied. Nobody's going to risk a full belly, a comfortable lifestyle, and a bright future over fighting arcane and negligable law like the type this article mentions---over something that seems academic. All that rubbish is middle class blues at best, and the middle class blues is real luxury to most people.
Change---especially revolutionary change---only comes when the result of doing nothing is more starvation. Revolutionary change occurs when people are desperate. Well-fed, well-clothed, well-apportioned people are not desperate.
You won't get an argument from me.
Agree. People become self-indulgent and lose their edge; let their guard down.
I wish I could remember who it was that wrote (long ago), "Mankind cannot long endure prosperity."
Of the big four (British, American, French, and Russian), I'd say 3 at least in theory eventually resulted in a government based on the liberties of the individual. But each was precipitated by one or more of the following forms of oppression or dischord:
- The inability of government to raise money or collect taxes
- An inept government making stupid mistakes---too much administration, favoring one economic course over another
- A shift of allegiance by the intellectuals
- A loss of self-confidence by the "ruling" elites (sympathy for the rebels, convinced system is bad/improper/converted to rebellious causes)
- A separation of political and economic power
- A rift in a system of meritocracy
- Social antagonism
The Davies J-Curve theory of revolutions descibed so that it sounds like a Public Image Ltd. song goes like this: people will accept a modest gap between "what they want" and "what they get." When the gap gest too out of whack, that's when stuff goes down. You could argue--and I certainly could---that we're approaching the Davies J-Curve point of no return in the United States today.
Also, historically most revolutions start from the left, go to the right, and then swing back to the "center." I believe an American revolution would come from the right this time.
It's a fact of life that the people who have it worst are generally the ones who won't revolt: they're too busy trying to survive. Revolutionaries come from the social elite.
Yeah, Fred did it up right. What a dish.