Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Robot State

One common theme among conservatives is their supposed abhorrence for "nanny states," where the government rules our lives and tells us what to do. Yet, if anyone prefers the nanny state, it's conservatives. I mean, how is a safety net a nanny? Social Security, Medicare, and many other liberal policies are solely designed to make sure that if things go bad for you, that you don't get ruined.

Social Security will prevent you from becoming an old beggar. Medicare to make sure you don't suffer needlessly. They don't tell you how to live your day-to-day life. They're just there to make sure that if things go really wrong, you're not destroyed. But they're all safeguards of last resort. And as long as you look after yourself, you won't even need them. And all the same, it benefits society to not have poor and sick old people begging in the streets. It helps the economy that you're able to spend money as an old person. There are all sorts of benefits to them. But they're not really nannies any more than the nets a trapeze artist uses somehow guide them on the trapeze. They're there in case you need them; they don't tell you how to live.

But conservatives really do like the government telling people how to live; not all of them, but most of them. They want the government to enforce their religion on nonbelievers. They insist abortion isn't a choice and that birth control shouldn't be allowed. They don't trust you with your own body, and think that you can't even decide for yourself if you're in too much misery to stay alive. And god forbid if you have two drinks and want to go driving. You might be a better driver than a sober person, but if you fail an arbirary limit, you're toast.

Crashed and Burned

And I was thinking about this while reading about a rootbeer keg party designed to mock the anti-drinking nanny state. And I've always thought our anti-drinking policies are dumb. I don't know about you, but underage drinking laws really don't do much to stop drinking, other than to make it some exotic goal. If you want beer, you'll get it; or at least I usually did when I was underage. And while most of us older folks don't even think twice about getting a six-pack, many teens consider it an exciting quest to find some way to get booze. And here I am in my mid-thirties, and get carded more often that I did as an underage drinker. (I'm fortunate to have looked mature as a teen, yet haven't aged much beyond that; though I think they just card people more now.)

But the worst part was this quote from the police chief, who was trying to justify how they drunk tested everyone at the party:
"It was a tremendous waste of time and manpower, but we still had a job to do, and our officers did it," Joling said. "If one kid had come there, even hadn't drank there, but had come there and had been drinking and had left and crashed and burned, then what would the sentiment be?

Yet by that rationale, police should drunk test everyone, everywhere. What was magical about that party that made it so that people would blame them if someone happened to have come to the party drunk? Because everyone might be anywhere drunk; yet we don't use that as a basis to drunk test everyone. And the truth is that they were just upset that the kids were mocking them with this party, and wanted the kids to suffer alittle. That's all this was about.

Do As I Say

But we see this kind of thing all the time. We expect teens to act like adults, but then insist that they have absolutely no rights and that they have to obey our orders at every turn. They have to wear what we tell them to wear, go where we tell them to go, say what we tell them to say, and most of all, do what we tell them to do. And then we act surprised when they don't take responsibility for their lives.

A robot denied autonomy cannot be held responsible for not being autonomous. If you insist "Because I said so" is a rationale for even the most senseless orders, then you shouldn't be surprised when they wait until you tell them to do something before they do it. We order them about like robots, and then thrust them on the world when they turn eighteen or nineteen and act surprised when they can't take care of themselves. What else could be expected?

And of course, "for the sake of the children" is also used to allow them to order us around. Even as adults, we're told what movies and shows we can watch, what music we can hear, what substances we can consume, and all sorts of other things "for the sake of the children." A sports star can't even behave like a normal human because they're "role models" who will teach bad behavior to children. His choice of profession somehow inhibits his rights.

And this is all bullshit. If they can't control their children, screw 'em. I don't see why I should be denied the right to watch some movie just because their kid might sneak out and watch it. And if they actually taught their children to be responsible for themselves, rather than obedient robots, we wouldn't have these problems. But if you teach your kids that rules only need to be obeyed when someone is there to enforce them, they won't obey the rules when you're not around. It's that simple.

Adult Bullies

And in this case, we have a police force that decided to be a-holes because of a joke these teens were playing. Hell, I can't believe there was a whole party of teens and not one of them had shown up drunk. But that's no thanks to the police. They behaved like authoritarian bullies, even though no one had done anything wrong. And the message they sent was clear: We don't care if you act responsibly; we demand your obedience. They don't want responsible teenagers and only use public safety as a rationalization. What they want are robots. And then they continue to act surprised when their robots don't behave properly when the master is away.

But they have no one to blame but themselves. Conservative society has devised a game where they are responsible for the actions of our youth, and it's the youths' job to get away with as much as possible. And because conservatives demand absolute control, they'll always lose this game. But of course, it's all of us who lose. We need to teach children to take responsibility for their own actions, but that requires us to allow them to do so. That's just not something most conservatives are willing to do.

And so tomorrow, my children will be told yet again where to be, what to wear, what they can say, and never really told why they should; and even I as their parent have absolutely no say in any of this. We're told that this is all to make them responsible adults, but I know the truth: They just want obedient robots who aren't allowed to think for themselves. Is there any surprise why such people rarely do.

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