Saturday, 19 October 2013
An Epidemic of Irresponsibility
A transcript of this video can be found here.
Thomas Sowell explains the how the lack of personal responsibility is the path that leads to dictatorship, because as individuals become more and more reckless and irresponsible the nanny state has to step in to "take care of them". Once it is easy to blame externalities and never oneself for one's problems, the finger can then be pointed at the nebulous entity called "society", which basically means that the state can and should use its coercive powers to bring about the desired utopia in which no one has to feel responsible for their actions.
Thomas Sowell further explains this phenomenon here and here.
What Prof. Sowell is saying dovetails nicely with what is called the Peltzman Effect, named after University of Chicago economist Sam Peltzman:
In brief, the safer people feel the more recklessly and irresponsibly they will behave, as explained very well in this blog post. This is another example.
One only has to reflect on various state services to see examples of the Peltzman Effect. For example, in London there is a special ambulance, aptly called "the booze bus", that picks drunks up off the street. Some of the people these paramedics pick up are women:
Not a pretty or dignified sight, but more dangerous and disturbing is that the girl is easy prey for a passing attacker. Paramedic Brian Hayes shakes his head: "Look at the state of her. These young women just don't realise what risks they're taking when they go out and get smashed. They're so vulnerable."
But how will these young women realise the risks they're taking if the nanny state is always there to take care of them? Isn't the very existence of the booze bus encouraging this type of behaviour? Without it, the very real threat of being mugged or raped would dissuade women from acting so irresponsibly. In the short-sighted vision of the state, citizens are being "taken care of", but the long-term effect is that they are being infantalised.
The wider problem of state-sponsored healthcare is that it generally leads to irresponsible behaviour in terms of lifestyle and eating habits. If one never has to pay directly (i.e. as opposed to via taxes) for a visit to the doctor or a stay in hospital, the incentive to keep oneself healthy is greatly diminished. When people have to pay directly for such things, you will notice how much more concerned they are about eating the right foods, dressing properly and maintaining a generally healthy lifestyle.
This attitude also extends to schools, as parents can now blame teachers for their children's vile behaviour. While teaching at an "Islamic" school in the UK almost a decade ago, I often received complaints from parents about how their children were misbehaving...at home. For example, one parent complained that his son didn't wake up for the fajr prayer, while another said that while his son behaved during the school day, he was not the same when he arrived home. I responded by asking this father, "Do you ever go out with your son and spend time with him?" The father responded with an incredulous look on his face, "I work seven days a week!" Obviously, in his mind, anything beyond providing his son food, clothing and shelter was not his responsibility, so it can't be his fault that his 14-year-old son smokes, skips classes, only prays when monitored and told to etc. A boy like that may very well become a pimp and drug dealer later on, but again, this would be the fault of his teachers, his classmates, the government, "society" etc., but never the two people who brought him into this world.
"Safeguard yourselves and you families from a Fire whose fuel is men and stones." [Taḥrīm 66:6]
In short, we are responsible for ourselves and our families. We can't blame others. To many of us it may be instinctual to place safety nets in as many places as possible, but in most cases those very safety nets are the cause of the problem. The attitude that "someone else will do it" or "someone else will clean up the mess", or "pick up the bill", must die and die hard. It should have no consideration whatsoever in any of our personal decisions, i.e. decisions that effect us directly, from major decisions such as what to study at university and whom to marry and start a family with to relatively minor ones such as whether to eat certain foods or to be at a certain place at a certain time.
We must learn and understand that our actions have consequences, and this valuable lesson must be passed on to our children.