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Nanny State Revisited

Entry 637, on 2007-11-08 at 22:05:37 (Rating 3, Politics)

A recent coincidence started me thinking about how much people should be looked after by the laws of their country. The coincidence involved a podcast from that interesting and amusing series, Quick Hitts, and a current discussion here in New Zealand involving the sale and use of fireworks (every year at this time we celebrate Guy Fawkes Day by using fireworks).

Before I go further let me briefly explain this day for those of you who aren't so familiar with British customs. The day celebrates how the authorities thwarted an attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up the British parliament (or at least the Palace of Westminster) on 5 November 1605. More recently the people might be quite happy to have their parliament blown up given the lack of regard they have for their politicians, but back then the failure of the attempt was apparently worth celebrating!

Anyway at this time every year there are numerous extra fires started by stray fireworks and inevitably people either hurt themselves, other people, or animals by misusing them. Each year more rules are introduced in an attempt to control the situation but now there are serious rumours that fireworks might be banned for public sale altogether.

So to the second part of this story. The podcast I mentioned was a reading of a short story which described a future world where butter had been banned to prevent obesity and other health effects of the consumption of fats. Of course, butter becomes a black market commodity in a similar way to how drugs are today. The story describes an incident where an officer attempts to arrest a butter dealer but is bribed to ignore the crime with a buttered muffin!

Many people would say that banning fireworks is OK but banning butter is just silly. Maybe that's true, but many people die from heart disease each year (partly attributed to foods such as butter) but none die from fireworks injuries, so which should really be banned?

In another coincidence a report showed that alcohol is much more dangerous than party pills (which are also likely to be banned soon). If alcohol was examined by the law today it would be classified as a dangerous drug and probably be made illegal, but although party pills cause far fewer problems they are being banned instead.

Obviously there are no objective fair rules about what the government wants to protect us from and what it backs away from. An additional element in the equation is that we will have an election here next year and the government (already widely regarded as a "nanny state") might not want to curtail our freedoms further by banning an activity many people enjoy (I mean the fireworks here, not the party pills which are mainly used by younger people who are often too young to vote).

I can understand the wish to prevent injury through the use of protective laws, but there has got to be some balance. We should prosecute anyone using fireworks (or party pills, alcohol, or butter) in a way which puts others in danger but outright bans are too draconian in my opinion. Let's forget about banning anything more and work in the opposite direction to make some relatively harmless vices (such as the use of marijuana) legal instead. I often hear references to us living in the "free world" but that label is increasingly inappropriate!

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Comment 1 (973) by Jim Cable on 2007-11-09 at 12:41:57:

You'll probably be surprised to learn that I didn't disagree with anything much at all.

A few minor points, ie. it's more the lack of exercise among butter eaters that contributes to their problem - but that's hardly worth bringing up - and the fact that margarine is one molecule off being a plastic - so, between the two, if you've got to have something between your jam and the bread, butter is certainly better.

As to your main thrust - you're well on safe ground - banning isn't an adult solution for anything - it's far better to teach individual responsibility and awareness of how one's actions can impact on the enjoyment of others - but, such solidity of thinking has been long extinguished by the pettiness of rules that, with the state's enthusiastic encouragement, have been inflicted from the cradle on, for several years.

Having said that, I think there are things like hard drugs which should be subject to bans, with dire penalties for transgressors, as in Singapore. For something to be worthy of banning, the criterion should be that it's exceptionally harmful and warnings as to its potential are unlikely to effect restraint. I can't imagine how NZ youth would respond to free availability of say P for instance, and I'd rather not find out - the damage from experimentation could never be put right.

We have politicians so dumb they cannot even pass effective legislation to control domestic terrorism, who'd be so silly to trust them to decide what should or should not be banned. Such style of education has to begin in the home, be augmented in the schools, and then allowed to flower under proper guidance as the products of it venture forth to make their own way in the world. I don't see any basis now for that to happen - stupidity is inherent and flourishing.

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