Monday, September 28, 2009

On the value of minding one's own business.


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There's a fundamental principle of fiscal and, yes, even social conservatism, which may be stated as follows:

"Don't sweat the small stuff."

If you would like it in more Biblical terms - and I do, for it proves just how obvious and old the precept is, it can also be summed up as "straining at gnats and swallowing camels."

That is to say - for explaining the obvious is my lot in life - a fixation on a trivial detail can distract you from large and critical matters. Most of life amounts to doing the best you can with what you have for the largest net effect. This applies to everything, from heating your home to keeping a community running to the essential goal of keeping people as healthy as possible - because plague is a bad thing, and almost always plague comes due to the mistaken assertion that "those people" don't deserve "luxuries" like sewers and access to clean drinking water, and certainly "taxpayers" should not be forced to "subsidize" these "useless and unproductive" people.

Well, if you see sewage-treatment, garbage collection, roads and firefighting to be "luxuries" that should be "means-tested," you really need to go and make your own way in some remote mountain valley. In any urban area, it's irresponsible - and prohibitively expensive - for anyone to maintain a sole-use infrastructure for these basic requirements. The principle here applies to all the general needs of any large collection of people who got there however they got there to do whatever it is they do to become part of that community.

I illustrate this with two different issues, two differing ideological viewpoints, both illustrating the beam in the other fellow's eye - while doing nothing about the mote. So to speak. Both are cases of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Mich. woman warned to get license for babysitting kids until school bus arrives A Michigan woman who lives in front of a school bus stop says the state is threatening her with fines and possibly jail time for babysitting her neighbors' kids until the bus comes, WZZM reports.

Lisa Snyder of Middleville, Mich., says she takes no money for watching the three children for 15-40 minutes each day so that the neighbors can get to work on time.
The Department of Human Services, acting on a complaint that Snyder was operating an illegal child care home, demanded she either get a license, stop watching the kids or face the consequences, WZZM says.

Snyder calls the whole thing "ridiculous" and tells the Grand Rapids TV station that "we are friends helping friends!"

A DHS spokesperson tells the station that it has no choice but to comply with state law, which is designed to protect Michigan children.
Now, we are missing a big chunk of information here - how much a license would cost under these circumstances, and what meeting the requirements to be licensed in the first place would be. But that is almost beside the point. It's what triggered the action in the first place, a complaint. A citizen, using the power of government to interfere in the lives and arrangements of people who were meeting their own needs without having "gotten proper permission."

Perhaps the complaint was triggered by something important, perhaps the investigation found things that the agency - once they were forced to investigate, were legally obligated to address. Perhaps there were even significant, real issues regarding child safety. We should be able to assume that, for DHS should never be wasting their time on matters of less critical urgency, and it should be staffed by people trained and experienced in making these calls for the benefit of children and the community as a whole, empowered by regulations that tell them within what circumstances they may act and to what degree - not authoritarian checklists designed to restrict discretion and ensure that the "wrong people" are not gaining an "undeserved benefit."

You know, like free childcare from someone willing to provide it, and probably no less qualified than they are themselves.

This has the stench of the doctrinaire liberal - who's quite sure that no-one is qualified to wash their own hands without having been forced to read and initial a seventeen-page "training" written in such a way as to ensure that no-one who actually needs to know the information will be able to read it.

And on the other end of the spectrum...
t r u t h o u t | Denying Health Care to Immigrants Would Be Harmful to America: "A 2007 congressional study of procedures used by six states to verify citizenship eligibility for Medicaid discovered that the six states spent $8.3 million to verify applicants' immigration status, only to apprehend eight undocumented people trying to game the system. How many physicals could have been purchased with that money? Our immigration laws prohibit the entry of any person with a contagious disease, or a physical or mental disorder that may pose a threat to others, and deny residence to those who have not received vaccinations against vaccine-preventable diseases."
This is such an obvious issue that I've hesitated to bring it up. It's contentious. It has all kinds of racial implications. It involves illegal immigrants - who are Mexicans, probably Catholic, and who - if not properly restrained - might expect some social recognition. If left unchecked, can full-scale multiculturalism be far behind?

I wax sarcastic - and I do it to illustrate how easy it is to forget the essentials while having a food-fight over trivia. If you do not happen to care for Mexicans or Appalachan Yankees, nobody is forcing you to mingle socially. That's up to you. Mind your own business and allow others to mind theirs. Do not demand that an accounting be made to prove that "those people" are not gaining some diffuse benefit they "don't deserve." Why? Because the accountants have to be PAID. You don't want "your tax dollars going to illegals." Well, if a few dollars pains you, doesn't a million per illegal found pain you more? And if to you "cost is no object" to "ensuring the law" - I reserve the right to kick your ass until your brain is restarted - because that sets the intent of the law on it's head.

If someone is flipping my hamburger or picking my collards, I would very much prefer that they did NOT have tuberculosis or hepatitis or meningitis. I would very much prefer that if their children attend school with my children - and let's not argue the importance of them doing so - I don't want my kids bringing home easily preventable diseases, much less "critters." And I frankly do not care about their immigration status, or even if they are one of the vanishingly small number of illegal immigrants who have gotten welfare benefits (such as they are in the US of A) by means of fraud.

My immune system is not set up to check passports, and neither is yours, so shut the hell up and stop sweating the small stuff.

So health care legislation that is designed with conspicuous malice to deny health-care to "illegals" makes about as much sense as making head-lice mandatory.

I rather hope that I do not have to explain these two cases have in common, but I'll do so anyhow, so that I can tie it to things you can point to when you wish to agree with me in public. As of course you will...

It's Authoritarianism - the distinct and often odious need of a certain fraction of the population to be In Charge and In Control. People - in general - have been so conditioned to respect and defer to Authority that we barely even question whether that authority is qualified - even though our ability to suspend judgment is challenged with every encounter with government or corporate paperwork. One theme that runs through it all is a surprising willingness to spend ten dollars in a probably futile effort to prevent one dollar from reaching the "wrong hand."

But any successful enterprise - public, private, communist, socialist, collective, co-operative, faith-based - whatever their political, economic or social structure and whether their efforts are valued in cash or on some theoretical Social Utility Index - ALL succeed or fail by keeping their eyes on the intended goal and being internally quite ruthless about ensuring that the process doesn't preclude the prize.

This requires a good deal of personal discipline, a willingness to review and revise procedure as advised by experience and above all, never letting the need for control over others to become the primary motive for people to belong to the organization.

The key to maintaining a lawful and orderly society is to have as few laws as possible and a social consensus about "order" that is as inclusive as possible. It's not hard to find operational definitions of what "law and order" look like, definitions that in their origins predate even English Common Law. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is one such expression - but I may not actually want you to do unto me as you would have me do unto you. Indeed, I might find what you want me to do unto you to be challenging or even distasteful. So I prefer the more individualistic "And it harm none, do as you will."

For really, that's what a civilization must require - that it's members agree to conscientiously avoid doing harm, and be accountable for those occasions when they fail to avoid harm. All else is details and window-dressing that is very appealing to those who aspire to large offices in high-status locations. And we should not have any particular objection to rewarding those with such needs in such coin so long as their efforts are responsible and professional.

But when they clearly see their privilege as being defined by the ability to screw with other people without a single thought to what direct or indirect consequence that interference may bring, it's time to renegotiate the power exchange, by means as peaceful and nonviolent as possible. But clearly, it's time to stop suggesting and to start insisting.

For right now, not only does the US social dialog amount to "sweating the small stuff," it's clear that "sweating the small stuff" has become the definition of every aspect of it's government. A government, I should point out, that is a faithful and quivering slave to the sort of people who pay for it's "services" and demand it's sops and token legislation aimed at the habits and liberties of others, with no beneficial outcome other than annoying the hell out of society as a whole. This has the predictable outcome that most people are breaking or ignoring many laws most of the time - often without any idea that there is, or could even possibly be such a law in the first place.

I am a classical, small government fiscal conservative. I temper my Jeffersonian idealism with a foundation solidly resting on the conservative pragmatism of Edmund Burke. And frankly, I favor the rights of the individual over the rights of any group of people, because it's the efforts of individuals that matter, when you get right down to it. Any large group of people - be it Greenpeace or the Tea-Party movement - is motivated by and empowered by individuals. Take away two or three key individuals and the rest will wander off, confused, searching for a new cause or a new Leader.

Well, we need to expect a lot more of those Authorities - and permit them a good deal less of our power in exchange for their services. Clearly, they've been operating at a level that exceeds their executive competence.

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