Another reason that people hate the government

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.

2 thoughts on “Another reason that people hate the government

  1. I hate that they are doing this. They say not to give children mixed messages. You blast your children with tolerance. Tolerate the bully, the homework, the schedules, drugs, other parents, every thing and everyone. But then, their is no tolerance for you. Have they managed to fire or force to quit all the good teachers? My god! “I had no choice, my hands are tied.” Yeah, right. Just following orders. Don’t they know what this does? The superintendent of schools told my parents I would only be “winged” academicly. What year was it…1996-97 school year. I still have the paper that mentions me as an honor roll student. Expulsion puts a year of F’s on your HS transcript. Sharpening colored pencils for geography class with a pocket knife. Columbine happened in 1999. The super wanted to “make me an example”. I ended up applying for colleges with a 2/something GPA. You don’t qualify for anything with that low a GPA. No grants, no scholarships. Everybody thinks you’re a dummy. I joined the Army and told my folks to spend what money they had for me on my brother. Years of dealing with, “You should be in college.” Yeah, well…I’M AN EXAMPLE!! It closes doors in a child’s future nobody thinks about. It teaches them intolerance. I could go on forever. If ever I become wealthy, I vowed long ago, I will sponsor some of these kids. Cowards. Teach kids as fast as the dumbest kid in class with No Child Left Behind. Fools. Punch a kid in the face, suspension. Throw a rock threw a window, suspension. Mug a kid for lunch money, suspension. Take asprin to school and there goes your future! The fun part is it puts fear into children who want to succeed so if a child sees someone with a real weapon, they probably won’t say anything. They won’t want to be involved, especially if it is a friend of theirs. It removes trust between teachers and students. It instills the need to be secretive and aloof. Builds rifts between parents and the educators. That right there is positive in preventing violence, right? It carries over into workplace violence, sexual harrassment, domestic abuse and discrimination. Be a victim as an adult at work. Report it. Then try to get coworkers you know are witnesses to come forward. Nobody will risk their job for it. HR can spell out that no ill will come of it but nobody will believe it. This goes into the value of a human life. Nobody has any sack except the bad guys. Maybe the Army was good for me.

  2. I think you said it better than I ever could. There’s such a terrible human cost to all this stupidity.

    Developmental psychologists say that a person becomes moraly mature when they learn to follow the spirit of laws rather than their letter–to break a particular regulation if that’s what’s required to preserve a higher value. And maturity, it seems to me, is the issue here. The teachers, the administrators, the prosecutors, the social workers, all these people complicit in destroying young lives–they’re not evil per se, they mean well on some level, they probably even know that what they’re doing is unconscionable, but all of them are waiting for a grown up, an adult, a real authority figure to step in and tell them to stop. Cult leaders and conspiracists put themselves forward as authority figures and they have no trouble finding people who will obey them. But our real challenge is to learn to become authority figures ourselves.

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