May 4, 2007

Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Nanny State

I’m a huge proponent of safety and personal security. I lock my doors and windows at home; I lock my truck when I’m not in it; I wear my seatbelt while driving; I don’t talk on a cell phone while driving; and I have two smoke detectors with the purchase of a third one imminent. If I rode a motorcycle, I’d wear a helmet.

...What I’m not a proponent of, however, is the incremental nanny state that is spreading across the land—all in an effort to save us from ourselves.

...Rush Township in Pennsylvania has recently passed an ordinance making it illegal for both apartments and privately-owned homes to be absent of smoke detectors. If you don’t have a smoke detector, you’ll be hit with a $300 fine. The move seems to have support from some locals, since it’s in the name of safety, after all. One resident called it a “fair idea” since it involves saving lives. The township’s supervisor said that officials won’t be “knocking on doors” to check if residents have the smoke detectors installed, but that “there are ways to enforce it.”

...I can envision school children being asked questions like, “Does your mommy and daddy have a smoke detector at home?” That aside, this seems to be another move to essentially save us from ourselves. Gone is the potential for residents to take the responsibility and install the smoke detectors on their own, and in its place is the idea that if you’re supposed to do something in the name of safety, your local government will just let you know by way of an ordinance.

...Such a situation would give credence to something that was said by Scottish history professor Alexander Fraser Tytler in his description of democracies:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

...Those in a democracy follow a path:

From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again into bondage.

...While I’d sooner argue that as a nation we’re in the “selfishness to complacency” phase, we’re beginning to see dependency creeping in; motorcycle helmet laws and smoke detector laws are prime examples.

...“But James, but James,” you say, “these laws are being passed for safety.” Of course they are, but if we draft laws and ordinances that are designed to control personal responsibility—laws that have nothing to do with keeping Person A from harming Person B—we could quickly create the perfect nanny state. We could pass a law to prohibit eating too much junk food in one sitting; we could pass a law mandating what kind of clothing people wear in extreme temperatures; we could pass a law saying how loud a person can have their music volume if they’re wearing earpieces or headphones. Each law or ordinance could be easily defended by saying that it’s “for safety.”

...Then again, perhaps these laws are next. Perhaps my attempts at being absurd will eventually be adopted under the guise of personal safety.