Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Steer Small....The Case for Gentle Course Corrections

©  by Tom King (reprinted from Just One Man's Opinion)

The Apartheid Solution to the Back Seat Unrest Dilemma
Remember when you were a kid and you went on one of those long rides with your parents. You were stuck for hours in the back seat with your brother or sister (or both in my case). Remember what happened when you ran out of things to do back there? Inevitably, one of you began to do the favorite thing that bored kids in the back seat of a 1963 Rambler do. One child always starts poking the others because it is vastly entertaining to hear them squawk. Next comes your sister going, "Mama, he's touching me!"And as the unrest in the back seat escalates, one of several things happen.

In one response scenario, the wise mother and seasoned-traveler-with-children pulls out her magic bag, tells the back seat bully to cut it out if he knows what's good for him and gives each child his or her choice of new somethings-to-do from the bag. With something new to keep their attention, soon everybody is busy and quiet again. The wise Mom smiles and settles back to enjoy the ride, knowing she's got more stuff in her bag and can keep the youngsters entertained for the whole trip. Notice that she gave each child a choice from the bag rather than arbitrarily assigned them a toy of her choice. Remember this. It will be on the quiz.

In the alternative response scenario, the ill-prepared mother turns around and tells the children, "Stop it!" The ensuing quietness lasts maybe 30 seconds if she looks sufficiently stern. Then, because sitting still is not a natural state for a human child, someone starts poking someone again. Invariably, the persecuted child demands, "Mama make him stop!"

The first response to the alternative response scenario is an escalation of the mother shouting tactic. "Do you want me to stop this car?" She asks. This is a stupid question because if she did stop the car, at least that would be something new. When this response fails to elicit a terrified spate of obedience, she issues alternative response scenario first response, part 2, "Don't make me turn this car around!" When this doesn't work, because this tells the children they have the ability to make mom do something and what child can resist that power, we quickly move on to...

The final response scenario: Mom actually stops the car (hey, it works). She gets out, drags the kids out alongside the road and commences to whip them till they squeal, or, more likely, she gets Dad to do it because his arm is stronger. Then everyone gets back in the car and drives on with much snuffling coming from the back seat. The snuffling continues until someone gets bored again, stops snuffling and begins poking someone else and then the cycle repeats.

"Now, of course," you say, secure in the knowledge that Doctor Spock has taught us better parenting skills than that, "Nobody these days would do anything that barbaric."  Yeah? Well I bet I'd win a lot of money on that wager.

What an angry mama looks like!
Now lets look at the progress of civilization juxtaposed against the back seat scenario. The country grows, reaches the limits of its borders and settles down to become more and more crowded. As the frontiers disappear and there are ever fewer new horizons to explore and conquer, the natives settle down and get restless as natives are wont to do when they're all piled cheek by jowl in the back seats that are modern cities.

Someone starts poking someone else. Maybe someone's not being "fair". Someone's picking on or exploiting someone else.  Inevitably, these restless souls appeal to the one entity they perceive as everybody's "Mama" - the bureaucrat-soaked, unimaginative, busy-driving-the-country-into-the-ground-for-its-own-purposes, government.

The government generally reacts in one of two ways just as the Mom driving the car does. Like Mom, the government is busy driving the car or telling the people who are driving the car how to drive it. She does not want to be bothered by the noisy children in the back seat (who are not driving the car).

Rarely, a wise government reacts by finding something for people to do. Whether you liked FDR or not, his Civilian Conservation Corps and Rural Electrification Project at least gave restless unhappy people something to do. President Kennedy, at the beginning of the restless 60s gave us the collective goal of going to the moon which took at least some of the edge off the back seat tantrums that would characterize the next decade. JFK also implemented another keep-them-busy project that at least served to keep people working and to thin out the number of restless young men - the Vietnam conflict. FDR had WWII, Woodrow Wilson had WWI, there was the Spanish-American War, the Mexican War and the War of 1812 to valve off a little steam. The Civil War was an example of what can happen when you delay dealing with problems in the back seat too long. The Great Westward Expansion of the 1800s and the Industrial Revolution kept people busy and relatively quiet back there in the back seat despite the fact that the back seat was often a pretty uncomfortable place to be while it was going on.

Typically, governments react by telling the people to stop being brats (going straight for the alternative response scenario). When ordering folk to stop misbehaving fails as it surely will, they move right along to making empty threats and from there straight on to paddling the miscreants in the grader ditch alongside the car (or in a nice gulag or concentration camp).

Often, the children in the backseat will help insure their own forthcoming flagellation by demanding that the government "do something".  By demanding that the government fix the problem and to do it NOW, the children give tacit assent to the government's assumption of even greater power over them (in the name of doing something about the problem, of course). Government, which firmly believes that you should never let a good crisis go to waste without using it to increase the power of those who hold the reins, passes laws ostensibly to protect the kids in the backseat from themselves. In the process, wherever possible, the folks in power will use the opportunity of creating laws to "protect" us ll, to also make sure that the folks, who are in charge at the moment, remain in charge. After all, who loves you more than your Mama. Certainly not those nasty Republicans. 

When it get's to the "Don't make me turn this car around" stage, you know you're in trouble. In turning the car around, the government takes you out of the public eye and takes you where nobody can see what's being done to you to shut you up and make you behave. Isolation is the prelude to particularly nasty things happening to the kids in the back seat. Examples of these nasty things that happen to naughty children include China's great cultural revolution that resulted in hundreds of millions of deaths, purges of "enemies of the state" under Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot and Adolph Hitler and ethnic cleansing under Slobodan Milosovic, Hitler and Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Every dictator in history came to power believing their job was to bring order to their beloved nation and that order was best achieved by making people compliant. Most of them believed or at least said they believed that they were making things fair for everyone. The started out to make people stop poking each other and ended up in that grader ditch flailing away with the nearest switch they could find because they would not. If the United States winds up a police state in the name of hope and change, remember.....

YOU asked for this!

Disturbing image from a law firm's advertisement

If your government ever comes to believe it's purpose is to make sure the people in the back seat comply with all its orders, we are well and truly in trouble. There is a bit of advice that the old sailing ship captains used to give to their helmsmen (these guys who actually steered the ship).  It applies to how we ought to empower our governments to steer the ship of state. The captain's advice?

"Steer small."

It's not big changes we need, but small course corrections.
We don't need to bring out the lash and start lashing any sailor who complains. We need to choose a course and keep to it. A straight well-plotted course is far more inspiring than one that wanders aimlessly whichever the way the wind blows. Useful work for the sailors to do (or for that matter, the kids in the back seat) keeps both the quarterdeck and the back seat a happy place. You get there by having a government that meddles as little as possible, sets a clear course and allows the children plenty of stuff to keep them busy and content.

Not a terribly progressive idea, I admit.

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

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