Monday, November 01, 2004

Trust and Democracy

Can a nation of people that have no good faith in each other long remain a democracy?
Can a nation that doesn't let people make mistakes and bad choices really be free?
If you can't make a wrong decision most of the time, what will you do when you can?

Our country has decided that the public's interest is in protecting individuals in all circumstances - not only from invasion, but also from each other (violent crime, negligence, etc.), as well as from themselves.

Something as simple as a cheeseburger is heavily regulated, as are doctors, insurance companies, pillow manufacturers, et al. We create barriers to error to prevent them from happening in the first place, yet by doing so, do we erode the natural disinclinations to these behaviors that would otherwise exist? I think that this is a reasonable assumption.

People are not taught that they must bear the costs of their behavior as often as I would like - instead, an imbecile that scalds themselves with hot coffee is given thousands upon thousands of dollars, and wastes countless more in court fees. Someone that takes up smoking, decades after the link between tobacco use and cancer was revealed, is not asked to bear their own medical expenses, but are permitted to ride on the backs of others, and on the backs of the cigarette companies themselves. We can't even turn off the warning beeps in our cars that sound when we have the keys in the ignition and the door is open.

Remember: the less responsible you think of people and treat them, the less responsible they're likely to act. Ask any ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find. Just be careful what you ask for; as foolish as people may be, stupidity is often magnified by the context in which they operate. It's not, I'll propose, the person that's really so stupid as much as the situation that they exist in that permits them to be so. Most people when their actions hurt themselves will modify their behavior.

A little faith in humankind would do us all a world of good.


Anonymous said...

Same as I responded to an earlier post of yours "People are not taught that they must bear the costs of their behavior as often as I would like - instead, an imbecile that scalds themselves with hot coffee is given thousands upon thousands of dollars, and wastes countless more in court fees. "

That woman got a marginal ammount of money(>$100,000) from a multibillion dollar corporation. Still, by hitting their pocket books she single handedly stopped them from serving unreasonably hot coffee. I know you aren't quite old enough to remember old MacDonald's coffee which is probably why you don't understand the problem. The woman wasn't retarded, she had an accident(intelligent human beings can have mishaps!), and was injured such that the product was not safe for general consumption.

I love your argument. For instance, if people want to buy SUVs, they should know that it's possible to back up over a toddler without noticing them because the cab is so high. Possibly even your toddler. Thusly, when you back up your SUV and you end the young one's life, that shows that you made a mistake buying an SUV when you had a toddler, or one was in the neighborhood. Clearly, making that mistake was important for your moral development and you are a better person for it.

I on the other hand, would like to make rearward detection systems mandatory in SUVs(an alert if something is detected while in reverse), thus saving a few toddlers and large dogs. I wish to stunt the moral development of SUV owners because I value the toddler's life more than the full realization of a good SUV owner's possiblities as a moral human(indeed, would he truly be free if his life was regulated so?). I also wish to force an extra 100-200 dollar deFacto tax on SUV owners, because obviously it would cost money to put these systems in the SUVs.

We regulate seatbelt usage in Wisconsin, but I think that it's a $20 fine. People still go without. And when you make that bad choice, and your car flips, you don't get to learn from that. We are regulating people a little bit, but our freedom is not limited in real terms. If you are willing to risk your life to do something, you are willing to pay $20 dollars to continue doing it.

When a person is dieing of lung cancer from smoking, they don't smoke $100 bills with a grin on their faces. They made a bad choice, that they can't ever correct, and their lives aren't happy. They still pay for their choice. Only the children and families of the fallen learn from the choice, and they are hardly happy about losing a person, their unhappiness hardly lessened by being able to afford some treatment.

David said...

Anonymous, I understand your arguments-I've heard it a hundred times-but I doubt you're asking yourself the tough questions.

It common logic: human lives have infinite value thus we must do everything in our power to protect them; everyone makes honest mistakes thus all honest mistakes should be forgiven; and if people use a product they know are bad for them, they are victims. Let's take these one at a time.

A human life is not priceless. If you believe that, then I need to remind you of rapists and murders. For a step closer to home, the selfish, reckless and genuinely stupid aren't worth every effort to save. In fact, no human life is infinte because no person can contribute an infinite value to society. It may be hard or impossible to measure, but it's difficulty isn't because it's divine. Now I'm all in favor of people. A greater population is good for society in general but I'm not in favor of "doing everything possible" to save everyone/anyone. Some people don't like seatbelts. They get in the way, they're annoying. Everyone knows that seatbelts save lives but some people are willing to bear the risk. It's their live; punishing them because you disagree isn't the mark of a free and accepting society. It's none of your goddamn business.

Now the average person doesn't want to hit a child with an SUV. Companies know this; that's why I doubt making a detector a requirement will help anyone. And some people don't want a detector; maybe they live in a place that doesn't have any kids or they're religiously careful about detecting their blind spot (like I am). Forcing people to buy a product (through legal requirements) does nothing but make things more expensive for no actual reason (just the pretend one that we are safer). It does hurt people because they have to pay for something they don't want or need. And we haven't even touched on logistics: you just legally protected an industry and sheltered them from competition and accountability. I can't imagine that making us safer.

Yes, people make honest mistakes, and sometimes people die as a result. It sucks. While the McDonalds thing is a legal issue (you could say that the company had an unwritten contract to provide food that wasn't so hot and providing it violated the contract, in which case I have no problem for it), the overarching idea needs careful analysis. While accidents happen, they can still be prevented. They are not the arbitrary results of a deity. I've been in two car accidents. Haven't been in another one for over four years. I learned and I didn't demand the state to pick up the tab for my mistakes. This points to a larger issue: people tend to blame others before they blame themselves, and it's usually their fault. I know people that if they can't find something, they assume first that someone stole it, not they forgot where it went. It's an honest mistake, true, but no special effort should go forth to prevent the reprecussions.

You say that people don't smile when they smoke. That's a bald-faced lie; people smoke because they like it. And lots of people have quit--they can do somethign about it. (The market actually provides products that aid quiting, as they provide solutions and assistance to other addictions, like gambling.) Everyone knows that cigarettes (and heroin, and marijuana and so forth) are addictive and dangerous. Like not wearing selt belts, some people are willing to bear the cost. If they regret it later, I feel for them, I really do, but I'm not about to blame anyone but them. They bought it, lite it and smoked it. How can you blame someone else??? It's a hard way to learn a lesson, I agree, but a lesson is learned.

Anonymous said...

It gives me such dissatisfaction to hear that what was once consciousness and possibilities turns to nothing, that I value human life more than many things. There are some things that I value more, but these are very big things. This has no relation to whether a person was good or evil to me. Obviously psychopaths are a special case, but I don't think they should be killed either. They should be locked up forever though, because they can't operate in the same world with us safely.

You say that it would be an illusion to believe that we would be safer if we had rear detection. What if there were quantitative studies that show decreased accident rates? I think it would still be an illusion for you.

You also believe that it is possible to "guard" your rear so well that nothing could go wrong. I don't think you've driven an escalade recently or you wouldn't say that that. SUV != car.

My point about the seatbelts was, we really aren't restricting people's freedoms when we do a seatbelt law, because they still do it, a lot, and we aren't really stopping them. What we're doing is taxing them for using states services in their post death condition.

I agree with your point that people do place blame elsewhere sometimes where they should be learning a lesson. I take issue with you taking that concept, and acting like it always applies. In other words, I am only asking that you be a little less self righteous and anti trial lawyer and investigate some real cases, real statistics before applying blanket statements. Of course, sometimes I might completely agree with you.

Anonymous said...

I said people aren't smoking hundred dollar bills grinning when they have smoking illnesses, not while they are smoking. Or maybe that guy with no jaw and a half gallon of muccus flowing out of that hole in his neck really is grinning as he continues to smoke.... macabre it is.

Smoking falls under a murky continuum. Many people (my father for instance) started smoking before health hazards were known. He used to smoke a lot, got quite addicted, has cut down since he had kids, chews niccorette, but still smokes an unknown number of ciggeretes a day. The line of choice vs. addiction is blurry, depending on your brain chemistry, though I'm sure you have no sympathy for addicts.

Tim said...

Anti-trial lawyer? Hell no! Go and sue somebody, please! It's a good thing that we're able to do so, just so long as the costs are carried by the party in-the-wrong (which may be shared, of course).

If companies make mistakes, say, by producing the Pinto (or Aztec - but that's not so much a safety hazard as an eye-offending monstrosity :)), they should pay the price; do you think they should be shielded from the consequences of their actions? That's essentially what you seem to want when we're talking about people - permit them to do stupid things and then force someone else to pay for it.

And about the McDonald's coffee: What's unreasonably hot coffee? As far as I can tell, no such thing exists objectively. They offered coffee. The customer accepted the coffee, and had an accident - one which, given a bit of prudence, could have been avoided. Because of these facts, the combination of assumed risk with lack of reasonable prudence, I can't agree with the court that awarded the damages in question.

Another example: If you're at a hockey game and get pucked-up, if you'll pardon my euphemistic device indicating a head-injury due to taking a stray shot off the ice, nobody's liable (at least they weren't when I took my business law course 7 years ago). It's an assumed risk of attending the game, since any reasonable person knows that the chance exists for getting hit.

The SUV example doesn't really map out because it's not an example so much of an individual hurting themselves, but hurting another because of their stupidity; in that case, they're the liable party. Of course I support the inclusion of safety devices - but I don't want the government to mandate it. I'll vote with my dollars, than you very much, and just buy the safest car - certainly not an SUV. My tastes run more towards the sedan, anyway (though Paul Hogan was a great spokesman for Subaru, IMHO, and I'm fond of the Outback due in part to him).

Ug. I need coffee.

Tim said...

About addiction and smoking:

A distinction needs to be drawn between addiction and dependency. Chemical dependency can be described as the physical consequences of drug use (or any activity - you can become dependent on activities, since they can release endorphins in your brain - essentially morphine-like opiates). A good example is the headache you might get when you go cold-turkey on caffeine.

Addiction is the human component, and the fuzzier one. As a sociologist by training, I'm inclined to view addiction as principally a social phenomenon, a cultural artifact or program run by individuals in that society. In America, we have serious alcohol abuse problems, generally speaking. The Jewish community consumes great quantities of alcohol, however, yettheir use is generally not pathological, or considered "abuse."

I'll attribute the difference to the status and role of alcohol in the respective communities described; to most people, it's a potentially dangerous thing that can take control of your life, makes you drink more, lose control, etc. To the Jewish community it's used in certain circumstances, doesn't relieve one of serious responsibilities, etc. The behavior of an average drinker in each of these communities will tend to reflect these ideas.

My own experiences with alcohol reflect this: you don't "lose control" except in the sense that you might choose to lose control. Purposive action becomes more difficult, and motor control and sensation is degraded, but mentally, you can still choose to act sober if you wish to. I've done it, you can too. Of course, it's no fun to do that, but then again, that's not my point.

Alcohol acts as a agent of perceptual distortion to some degree, but the great and mysterious powers attributed thereto are mostly a consequence of our belief that that's what will happen when we imbibe. You think you'll lose control? You probably will. People can be made to act drunk when they think they're drinking alcohol, or even to ameliorate their symptoms of withdrawal.

The physiological effects are undeniable, but the consequences aren't predictable, due to the human element.

Tobacco is much the same, but so are the activities of dirt-biking, sex, and basketball. You can become addicted to shopping or web-surfing, which really goes to show that the addiction is a phenomenon not primarily of substances, but of our internal reactions to them.

You mention that your father started smoking before the health risks were known - I'd like to point out that as far back as 1889, smoking was associated with cancer.

In 1947 this idea was scientifically validated. I don't know how old you are, but my father couldn't have started smoking before, say, 1965, say.

I'm not trying to be insensitive - I've lost a handful or relatives to smoking myself - but I'm not convinced that people were ignorant of the effects of cancer a generation or two ago. More likely, I think that they never bothered to consider the consequences, or that there were other factors in play that served to make the activity more attractive than it would otherwise have been.

Anonymous said...

Shit, I don't know why my dad smokes. He's been studying cancer for 30 years. He knows all-right. I think he started smoking when he was 12 though, and that's quite young.