I just spoke to someone who actually left sunny Southern California to take a midwinter vacation above the Arctic circle. As a psychiatrist I can assure you that she is not certifiably crazy for making such a decision. She is my daughter. Recently she and her family visited a magical, much sought after, tourist location in Sweden. Their Scandinavian destination was The Ice Hotel. This hotel, with all of its accessories, is carved entirely out of blocks of ice. Apparently, multiple artistic sculptures and subtle lighting produce an ethereal and extra worldly effect. Reservations have to be made many months in advance.
Although the hotel, literally, has few combustable materials it is outfitted with a sprinkler system. Why? Building codes in Sweden mandate that all hotels in the county have such a fire preventative system. We might say that this is an example of European bureaucrats gone awry. I have been assured by contractors that many American building codes seem to be equally inane. My relatives, who are building a house at present, are encountering multiple bureaucratic demands that seem to be excessive..
Building codes are only one example of onerous regulations. Legislators seem to have a penchant for enacting laws to protect the public against any possibility of being harmed. Perhaps making endless laws is just a part of their job. Yet, at times, it seems that they believe that the earth won’t rotate without the government rotating it. The all encompassing role of government in controlling our lives was described by Reagan. “If it moves, tax it. If it continues to move regulate it. If it stops moving subsidize it.”
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in regulations. A society cannot function without them. What bothers me is the existence of excessive rules, often with results that are obviously ridiculous. For instance a first grade school boy was accused of being a sex offender for kissing the hand of a girl. Young males are being punished for pointing their finger at someone as if shooting a gun. When making rules for adults, legislators become obsessed with creating a totally safe environment. The nanny state insists that labels are placed upon our foods to assure proper nutrition. Signs are placed to warn of the slightest potential danger. Often the potential dangers are so obvious that only an idiot would not recognize them. For instance, I recently saw a sign on the railroad tracks that really made me laugh. It said, “don’t park on the tracks.” Does one need to be told that parking on railroad tracks is not safe or that standing too close to the edge of a cliff might be precarious? Need a motorist be reminded not to pass on blind curves? Do people require a warning not to wade in the water above Vernal Falls in Yosemite? Yet, despite posted caveats, several people are swept over that cataract each year. Some people just seem intent upon winning the Darwin award (doing a stupid thing that leads to death, thus eliminating them from the gene pool). Despite the benevolent efforts of legislators to create a totally safe world, individual stupidity often triumphs over their best efforts.
I came across a quote from Spencer that seemed relevant to this discussion. “The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.” If you don’t shield fools, maybe there will be fewer? Or maybe he was trying to say that overprotecting people from making mistakes will cause people not to think for themselves.