“Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”
— Robert A. Heinlein
Unfortunately, there are a lot more of the “idealists” out there these days (Heinlein must have had his entire tongue shoved in his cheek when he wrote that line), trying to tell us what we can eat, where we can live, how we can build or not build our houses or even what we should think. Worse yet, to my mind, is that there are plenty of people in the government system who believe that once elected they have no responsibility to listen to the electorate, because they know best.
Given the current mess in Washington, not to mention various messes in various states – one of which I happen to live in – I’ve been giving Heinlein’s words some thought lately. Just what should be the role of government in the daily affairs of its citizens? Do we need laws when common sense would handle the situation? Of course, common sense seems to be less and less common these days…
There is no way to legislate safety if the people involved don’t give a damn about it. For example, you can make dozens of laws regulating the production of medication. But if the company producing the drug is willing to suppress or falsify the data about side effects, the law means nothing. Yes, eventually they will probably get caught (maybe) and might have to pay settlements or fines. That doesn’t replace the lives of people who have died or the health of those who developed complications. Maybe we’re going at it from the wrong direction. Maybe we should be putting more effort into creating a culture where people act honorably and honestly. Laws don’t seem to have much effect on behavior except to make people more inclined to cover up what they’re doing or hide the results. Even sensible laws have little to no effect. Take cell phones, for example. Basic common sense should tell you that talking on a cell phone while you’re driving, even if it’s hands-free, is distracting. Texting while driving is just plain stupid. The laws are there, but people ignore them.
At the same time, I will never understand why people think that life should be without risk. You cannot legislate safety to the point that no one will ever have to worry about germs. Cleanliness isn’t next to godliness, but it was once the primary way we prevented infection. Then antibiotics came along and people got careless. Now we have antibiotic-resistant bugs that are really nasty, and the antibiotics that will kill them either don’t exist or are pretty darned toxic to humans. What I don’t see most people doing is working on the internal part of infection prevention: improving individual immune systems with high quality nutrition, adequate sleep and other healthy habits. Clear back in the early 1900s Sir Albert Howard proved that cattle fed properly did not get hoof and mouth disease even when stabled with infected cattle. The problem was not infection, the problem was poor nutrition.
Note to the idealists: please read Sir Albert Howard and Robert Heinlein. Maybe you’ll learn something.