We’re almost two weeks into the new year; how are you making out with your resolutions? Are you hitting the gym every day? You haven’t sneaked some chocolate brownies, have you? And the smoking: no cigs this year so far, right?
OOPS. Sorry I asked.
Actually, I’m not. Because there’s a point I wish to make: If people can’t self-regulate for their OWN benefit, how can we expect them to self-regulate for the benefit of others?
Many years ago I owned an early electronic chess set. For many moons while pitting my talent against the black box, I was ever being reminded that I was no Bobby Fischer.* Having one’s head handed to one on a regular basis was no fun.
Until one day when I tested a new opening combination. On my fourth move I adventurously thrust my knight deep into enemy territory, captured the machine’s knight (or bishop, I don’t recall after all these years), willing to see what the exchange (for capture of my horse was a certainty) would open up. To my amazement the machine declined the exchange, making an irrelevant move in some distant corner of the board. What was that all about? What fiendish ploy was being perpetrated? To my eyes it made absolutely no sense—because now it seemed I had mate in one!
I made the move. Checkmate! I won—or was it that the machine had lost? How was it that it had gone so far astray as to not see what was in front of its eyes? Surely, it must just have been a blip, an anomaly, momentary brain fade. I decided to test it out. I made the same opening moves, and the machine countered with its same moves. I struck again with my knight, and held my breath. Would the doomed knight be removed from the board this time?
No. The machine made the same (wrong) response—and so my knight once more slew the dragon of the black box! And again—and again—and again.
And then I quit. Since the chess set no longer stopped me, I lost interest, and I put it away in its box and buried it deep in some closet.
Consider speed limits. You hate them, right? You want to drive soooo fast, but that sign says 60 or 40 or 25. You can follow your desire and go soooo fast, but that police officer with his badge and his radar gun doesn’t care what your heart’s desire is. Whether you like what the sign says or not, you are expected to obey it or suffer the consequences.
During the push for civil rights legislation a half-century ago there were pundits and politicians who argued that equal rights legislation should be preceded by a change in the hearts and minds of the recalcitrants. As my roadside illustration exemplifies, the way to achieve social goals is by regulating actions not waiting for an explosion of Road to Damascus moments to change the internal mind sets of the recalcitrants. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion.Well, there’s half-truth involved here.Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart.But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated.**
“The Deaths That Come When an Industry's Left to Regulate Itself”
The headline of an important article in The Atlantic about the attempt by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to adopt standards for portable generators.*** As the article notes, “Portable generators release more carbon monoxide—which is particularly dangerous because it is odorless and invisible—than most cars.“ In the last dozen years those generators have killed an average of 70 people per year. Although the CPSC has been pushing the portable generator industry to address the issue of adopting standards for its products,
the portable-generator industry fended off regulations that would have required it to reduce the carbon-monoxide emissions of its devices. . . .The industry lobbied hard, and also wielded an arsenal of delaying measures and misdirection, not to mention occasional strong-arm tactics to enforce industry discipline.
It appeared late in 2016, however, that industry regulations would finally be forthcoming. As the article notes, “The commission voted in favor of a rule to force manufacturers to lower their generators’ carbon-monoxide emissions. The vote was 4–1, with one Republican joining the majority of Democrats.”
However, after Donald Trump succeeded to the presidency, he nominated the only commissioner to vote against that rule, Ann Marie Buerkle, to be acting chair of the CPSC. “She is a government regulator who doesn’t appear to believe in government regulation,” according to The Atlantic. Buerkle claims that voluntary standards are “a better way to go.” (It seems that Buerkle isn’t all that fired up about regulating against monoxide poisoning. Which product hazards are her priorities? Buerkle says: “Fidget spinners are a big deal.”)
The Cookie Jar
If mama won’t slap your hand for sneaking cookies from the cookie jar, you’re gonna keep doing it.
The world has been the cookie jar for anti-social, anti-consumer, anti-environmental industries for too long. They act with about as much self-regulation as a five-year-old with chocolate-chip cookies in his sights, or an adult toward his resolutions two weeks into a new year.
In sporting endeavors the rule is: “If they can’t stop it, keep doing it.”
The same in life.
“It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.”
*And thank goodness for that, for I haven’t ended up as much of a whacko.