Melanie Phillips’ latest article is entitled “The drowning of common sense“. It was written after a young boy named Jordon Lyon drowned while emergency workers allegedly dithered rather than trying to save him. Not surprisingly, the police have a different understanding of the tragedy. Somehow it seems difficult to lay blame on the police now and from this distance, though Phillips believes otherwise.
Melanie goes on to write brilliantly about a problem in British society that is prevalent here in the U.S. as well – the “compensation culture” that demands that someone be made to pay for every unfortunate event that happens.
The truth is that unpleasant things happen and it’s not always an individual’s fault or indicative of a problem with business, government, or society. Wondering why the opposite opinion so often rules the day in our media, courts, and legislatures, Phillips says:
The answer surely lies in a far broader and deeper transformation of British society that has taken place. From being perhaps the most independently minded, practical and commonsensical people on earth, we have become a society which is increasingly unable to act at all unless someone gives us permission to do so.
Across the board, our professions have become paralysed by rules, regulations and red tape. Their ability to use their own judgment has been steadily undermined by rules and codes governing their behaviour which are handed down from above and ruthlessly enforced.
Teachers and doctors thus got so tied up in red tape they were unable to attend properly to pupils or patients.
Human rights law further undermined the ability of all in positions of authority – from teachers to park attendants, from care workers to police officers – to enforce discipline, since it made it an offence even to touch a child.
This has resulted in the absurdity of delinquents thumbing their noses at authority while those trying to restrain them are prosecuted.
Such law has had an even more profound effect than fuelling the ruinous compensation culture. It has actually changed the default mechanism that governs assumptions about behaviour.
This is because it is based on the belief that rules governing behaviour have to be explicitly codified. This happens to run directly against the grain of the English common law, which holds that everything is permitted unless it is specifically prohibited.
The process of legalization that Phillips describes is the enemy of democracy, innovation, and personal freedom. We’re told too often that we have no right to prefer one way of living life to another, to hold standard as being inherently more valuable than another, or to value one person more than another. We have no right to choose, we’re told, and too often we don’t.
That is a mistake. The ideology that says that our individual reason is less valid than the combined multitude’s ethereal consciousness is incorrect – no such group mind exists. Neither is there any discernable “common good” save for the general uplifting of society that results from improved corporate profits, resurgent stock markets, and increases in individuals’ take home pay.
The wealth and comfort of western civilization has been on a steady climb upward since the end of the Dark Ages. This progress was and is fueled almost exclusively by people who wanted a richer, happier life for themselves and their loved ones and the freedom to worship as their pleased. Remove the freedom to think and choose and act from these same people and the result would be, on a world-wide scale, equal to the economic and social devastation of the failed Soviet Union and its satellites.
Indeed, the Russians showed the world the danger of over-thinking a problem when their planned economy, built on lies as it was, inevitably collapsed. But the problem of legal calcification in western democracies is no less insidious.
If a doctor is sued for malpractice after stopping at a road side emergency how many physicians will stop at the next crisis? It’s obvious what the result of our improper application of legal remedies will be and the Lyon case may well demonstrate that outcome in action.
Ms. Phillips says:
At the heart of this obsession with codifying rules of behaviour lies a fundamental loss of trust in people to do the right thing. Instead the state – and, increasingly, the courts – believe that they must tell them how to behave.
We clearly see this in the United States when the federal government expands its powers to peer ever more closely into the minutia of ordinary peoples’ lives, the judiciary fails to curb its own ambitions and actively seeks to dictate what should be personal choices, and groups like the ACLU use the legal system as a weapon to dictate patterns of behavior in schools, offices, and public venues.
Ironic that this agenda of control is championed by the generation that ranted about they hated “the system”. Evidently it was only talk. Under their control the tangle of laws and regulations and the brain-dead policy of of group-think has become more oppressive than ever.
What should we expect from our governments? Do we need endless volumes of legal approval that grants us permission to act in every aspect of our lives?
No. What free people should demand from their leadership is amazingly simple: We need less of it. Fewer rules, laws, and taxes. Fewer entitlements, programs, and projects. Less of everything save for the single purpose for which a national government is suited: the common defense.
In all else the government should get the hell out of our way.
Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette