Of course you don’t have to be clinically paranoid to hate the government. This article about a six-year-old who is facing a stint in reform school because he brought a cub scout tool to school is a case in point–although the story about the third-grade girl who was suspended for a year because her grandmother sent her to school with a birthday cake and a cake knife (the teacher used it to serve the cake, then reported the girl to the principal) seems even more outrageous. On the one hand, you can’t believe that the same people who prosecute children for possessing cub scout tools and cake knives can’t see the necessity of regulating firearms, on the other, you begin to understand why gun owners are so terrified of the very idea of gun control.
I guess what stories like this really illustrate is the perils of democracy–a system that not only insists on the fairness and equity of applying every rule across the board, whether the circumstances warrant it or not, but that also, as the Federalist Papers warned us, allows too much latitude to the transient, over-heated passions of the moment: “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” Society has a problem with addictive drugs? Pass zero tolerance laws for possession, with mandatory minimum sentences. Crazed high school kids shoot their classmates with their parents’ guns? Prosecute six-year-olds whose well-meaning parents send them to school with cake knives. Taxes are onerous? Require a public referendum for every tax increase, no matter the circumstances.
It’s not Fascism, it’s not Maoism; they’re illustrations of the law of unintended consequences and instances of institutionalized stupidity. Though right wingers exaggerate the defects of the so-called nanny state, there’s no denying the soft tyranny of so much of the sort of legislation that’s passed to encourage good behavior, or to make the unnecessary point that a group of law makers deplores a particularly egregious kind of bad behavior (which is usually against the law already).
It’s a real dilemma–you don’t want to encourage too much discretion on the enforcement side, because that would mean relying on the wisdom of the government, an attribute that’s always in short supply. On the other hand, you don’t want to tie the government’s hands. I don’t have the answer, except to say that these anecdotes are really troubling.