Monday, May 10, 2010

Quo Vadis Ya'll?

In this country we have been exploring the limits of government for over 200 years and the results are in. There do not appear to be any limits to the power of government. And by any I mean any at all. It is extremely difficult to find an exception to this. I cannot think of any currently pursued activity by the citizens of the western world that is free from local, state, or federal government regulation. Not work, not play, not eating, not eliminating, not sex, not education, not speaking, not living, not dying, not nothin' nohow.

It is true that we live in an interconnected society but in our modernist zeal we have taken this to mean that any activity, however minute, affects some other person or social institution and perforce some governmental entity must regulate that activity. I defy anyone to pick an activity that is entirely free of regulation.

We cannot buy any product, a car, a boat, a steak, television, model airplane, handbag, pair of shoes, coffee pot, bar of soap, vegetable, quart of milk, mattress, financial instrument, computer, telephone, road grader, box of cereal, bottle of soda, tee-shirt, space shuttle, fishing rod, pack of cigarettes, bag of cookies, roll of toilet paper, fan, picture frame, lamp, cow, spoon, ball of twine, tire, weapon, wooden board, broom, piece of furniture, aspirin, ladder, refrigerator, light bulb, can of paint, baseball, toothpick, rubber ducky, candle, condom, guitar, hammer, stick of gum, sex toy, screwdriver, lawnmower, locomotive, egg, jetliner, light switch, faucet, paper plate, toilet, bicycle, steel bar, screen door, piano, etc. etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum and nauseum that does not have every detail of its manufacture and sale extensively ranged about by dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of pages of regulation.

Without vasty reams of regulations pre and proscribing our actions we can not: drive a car, make/get a loan, hire a painter, rent a chainsaw, build a house, send a letter, fire a gun, start a business, hunt a deer, catch a fish, raise a child, dig a well, take out the trash, change our oil, have our nails done or hair cut, fix the plumbing, use a phone, ride a bike, paint the garage, mow the lawn, sail a boat, take a bus, oogle a babe or a stud, tell an ethnic joke, cut down a tree, keep chickens, fly the flag, hire/fire an employee, take a cab, ride a horse, make a campfire, smoke a cigar, fly a plane, etc. etc. unto a google of etceteras.

And in the case of every single product, service, and action there is some segment of the population clamoring for yet more regulation. Government at all levels is happily obliging at a furious pace. I have no doubt that if every page of regulation were counted the total would be in the many tens of millions.

One has to wonder if there is really any meaningful decision that a member of any developed nation that can make at all without governmental guidance. We have rocketed smartly past Orwellianism and entered realms of state control for which there are no sufficiently descriptive terms. Control that would leave Marx, Lenin, and Mao agog at our audacity. Control that bids fair to ape the religious doctrine of pre-destination. Government control has in large part already replaced meaningful discretion in our behaviors and commercial activities. We have decided, by degrees, that we as citizens are incapable of negotiating the modern world without the hand of the state to chivvy us along at every turn. The state has our back, front, top and bottom. We are in its allegedly succoring embrace in all things.

Noisy denigrations of the the "nanny state" abound but the impetus for control spans the political spectrum. Divisions are based on what kind of control is appropriate in any given case and little thought is given to the quaint rapidly fading notion that perhaps we should not regulate this or that something or other at all. Perhaps that is simply not possible any more. We as a society certainly seem to be convinced of it.

This sounds more grim than I really mean it to be but I hope that life extension technologies do not happen so soon that I have to confront the choice of whether or not to be around when the ideas of complete social control reach an inevitable endpoint. It may be a supremely comfortable and safe existence but the vasty unintended consequences of infinite control on the human psyche will almost surely be unpleasant to behold for anyone who once lived in the quaint and unlamented long lost age of individualism.

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