Nanny State not progressive enough

A new California law will require that children must use car seats until they are 8 years old or 4-feet-9 inches tall, up from the current requirement of 6 years or 60 pounds. Assume you think the law is good and necessary, why have an age limit and a size limit? Presumably, those less than 4’9” are put at risk, so perhaps all short people should use booster seats.

There are lots of other ways the state can help us out. For example, it is illegal in some places to use I-pods with headphones while driving. The idea is that the headphones interfere with hearing. Yet we allow people with hearing deficiencies to drive and we let everybody use the radio. Shouldn't the state step in and protect us from whatever it is we are in danger of doing?

We have strong sanctions against drunk driving, but we let lots of people drive who have deficiencies similar to intoxication. One of my older aunts has reaction time, along with vision & hearing to match, slower than most drunks. And one of my friends is subject to epileptic seizures that can come upon her unexpectedly. What is the state doing to address this?

What about the cars themselves? New cars are much safer and they make less pollution than old cars. Maybe we should not let any cars on the road that are more than ten years old. It would be better for people to drive newer cars. Couldn't we just make it a law?

Of course, some cars are small and uncomfortable. Tall or heavy people don't fit well in them. Maybe we should have a rule requiring a certain amount of clearance, i.e. the tall or the fat guy would need to have a bigger car. Government could pass a law about this. On the other hand, there is a lot of wasted space for short or skinny people. Maybe they should be required to have smaller cars.

I have thought about this in airline seats. Is it really fair that a guy who is 6'4'' gets the same size seat as one who is 4'9''? The tall guys is disadvantaged with almost no space, while his shorter friend is privileged with maybe a foot or more of leg room. This is a great source of inequality which surely the government should address.

But what Hair? The follicle challenged (i.e. bald) community suffers ridicule and are put at significant disadvantage compared to our follicle privileged fellow citizens. Since it is evidently impossible for everybody to grow hair to the same extent, the progressive and equal solution would be to make everybody shave their heads. Not only would this equalize outcomes, but it would also save a lot of money. Think of all the greenhouse gas that is emitted in the production and transport of things like shampoo, hair dye, spray etc. Not to mention the health risks. Sometime you get hair in your food and then there is the growing resurgence of lice. Of course, it is also a question of race. Difference ethnic groups have different sorts of hair.

The more you think about it, the better the progressive baldness solution sounds. We could hold head shaving classes and universities could be encouraged to set up "smooth" study programs. In fact, we should start now by banning the hurtful term "bald" and start calling those denied the privilege of luxuriant hair "smooths".

But the biggest source of inequality is intelligence. Smart people just usually have an easier time in life than dumb ones. There must be something a progressive government can do to make being smart less an advantage or make being dumb less an impediment. Why shouldn't stupid people get to be successful doctors or college professors. Actually some do, but not in proportion to their numbers in the population. This problem will only grow in the future, as the stupid and lazy communities are expected to grow as a result of progressive programs in our public schools.

Demanding competence and ability has a disproportionate impact on both the stupid and the lazy communities. There is no doubt that stupid people are seriously underrepresented in many of the better jobs and they tend to concentrate in places where skills are less important. Is this fair? It is often even worse for members of the lazy community. Wouldn't it be worth the cost to have an affirmative action program that would take some of those with the lowest grades and test scores and just give them medical degrees w/o that oppressive and unfair time in class.

There remain lots of challenges for a progressive government.

Posted by Christine & John at December 30, 2011 5:01 AM
Comment #333874

You really ought to do some research beyond the Conservative Sphere before you express your contempt.

The basic reason for booster seats for young children is physical: adult seatbelts run too high on a child’s body, restraining them in places that can cause them injury. (like across the waist, rather than across the hips) It’s not even a question of whether it reduces injury to the child. The child is sixty percent less likely to suffer injury than if they used the belt alone.

Health problems, eyesight problems, reaction problems and age all are addressed in most state laws.

As far as the age of cars on the road, that’s a problem that typically solves itself. Half of cars get replaced before your time limit. Now we did successfully experiment with getting people to replace their old gas-guzzlers with new ones by offering financial incentives to do so, but as this is an option the current congress is too good to consider, it will just happen at a slower rate.

I don’t think we need to force people to get new cars, I think market forces will encourage that, and we should encourage those market forces in turn.

As for the rest?

I think the bell curve is the best we can do on that front, if we want to make the most people happy in the most cases. You could design seats and cars for the comfort of the tallest, or the convenience of the shortest, but then a lot of other people would be discontented. The tendency is to design for the most common heights, weights, and body forms.

As for intelligence? Neuroscientists are seeing more and more evidence that intelligence is not a simple fixed quality. Nutrition is important. Access to education is important. Restriction of pollutants that disrupt neurological development, like lead and mercury, are important. These things government can help with, and should help with.

But you know what? I think the most important thing we can do to encourage the intelligence of our nation’s kids is to stop validating a culture that considers intelligence, studying, and education as violations of social norms.

I’ve found that when I explain things properly to people, there’s a lot folks can understand that they didn’t think they could. A lot of times I learn about things well simply because I don’t tell myself that I can’t learn them.

Americans need to stop seeing their intelligence as some sort of set, inherent quality, and understand that regardless of their socioeconomic background, they have most if not all the capacity to learn that everybody else has, and that in this modern economy, those who perform the least taxing intellectual labor are in the greatest danger of being outsourced or automated out of a job.

Anti-intellectualism and a rejection of book-learning should not be held up as social assets. We are no longer a nation of people who can get by being unskilled factory workers or farmers, as those who came before us could be.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 30, 2011 11:36 AM
Comment #333875


I understand the logic behind a the seats. However, where do you stop. If the adult seat is too big for someone less than 4’9” that implies that all really short adults also should be using booster seats, as I wrote.

Re car - just make it illegal to drive a car that makes more than a determined amount of pollution or does not pass safety inspection. This is actually something that SHOULD be done. But older cars are grandfathered in.

Re intelligence - no matter what the exact mix of hereditary and environment are involved, some people are smarter than others and tend to do better in life. It is “unfair”.

I figured out a reason for my “luck”. I can figure most things out. I have found that this is not true for some people.

Re learning - I can learn ALMOST anything - but I have hit limits. I could not get good at differential calculus, for example. I worked hard, but it never made sense. There are some things you cannot do, no matter how much you want it.

Re encouraging intelligence - we should stop dumbing down curriculum and be more concerned with excellence than equality. Do we agree?

You didn’t mention the unjustness of bald discrimination, or the needless suffering a tall guy like me faces in trans-Atlantic flight on seats made from little guys.

Posted by: C&J at December 30, 2011 11:51 AM
Comment #333880

Look, I don’t understand why you think every impulse with liberals like me is a slippery slope to absurdity. We’re not that mindless in our pursuit of progressive policy, not as a whole, at least.

You think you’re the only ones who know life is unfair? Let me disabuse you of that idea. The question is, how much of that unfairness is actually unavoidable?

I don’t note a lot of Liberals legislating to end baldness, or requiring everybody to join in the cueball party. Odd, isn’t that? That you have to come up with this idea in order to suppose a liberal might actually push it.

Evidently your rhetoric wants to build more resentment than it has substance to justify.

The answer to your question might be this: even liberals understand there’s a limit to what level of regulation that is justifiable, that is workable in real life. There are doubtlessly some liberals who are cluelessly zealous on trying to achieve equality and everything, but they aren’t the most common kind.

Engineers build things for the most common categories of people. If you’re unusually tall (I don’t have this problem), you’ll find most seats are designed for smaller people. Same thing for the unusually short. There are both models of car and accomodational devices that allow people to deal with those issues, but it’s really a matter of what fits the curve. We’re not that quixotic that we’ll mindlessly try to defeat all such inconsistencies.

The question I would follow that with is this: because life is not fair, does that justify further unfairness, beyond what simply comes because we can’t have the world the way we would like it? When is it just people extending personal prejudice into a realm where it need not even be relevant?

You don’t need to be indulging the apologetic language of racists, sexists, and other malcontents of that sort. You don’t need to be making light of the real challenges people face by highlighting the innocuous and silly.

As far as intelligence goes? Well, you never know. The brain is above all else an instrument of adaptation, and the skills we learn often rely on several different cognitive aptitudes at once. For me, visual things like photography, and verbal things like writing are unusually easy. I understand them intuitively. I can spell some rather big words without even having to resort to spellcheck.

Social interactions, though, can be troublesome. Now I could take things to the extreme of indulging my lack of talent in those regards, but instead, I’ve learned a certain degree of ettiquette and charm by effort and experience. I’m comfortable being solitary, more than most people, but I like being social, and sharing things with people. Blogging for me, in part, is something like that.

The real question is whether you can take what you can do well, and use it, unconventionally perhaps, to make up for what you don’t do well.

By all means, we should not dumb down the course-load. But we should recognize that there’s a difference between challenging our children and confounding them. It’s not enough to do sink and swim, in my opinion. Education’s not some linear download of data. In many cases, it’s about teaching a process of learning that the student can take with them thereafter, giving them the ability to pursue novel solutions to their problem, rather than give up in frustration.

Last, let me make a note: many folks talk about survival of the fittest. I think there’s some element of that at work, but there are a number of things to observe. First, that’s fitness over generations, not merely immediate and singular fitness. Second, there’s no way to be entirely sure about either what inherent qualities you have, nor whether the mix of qualities in one’s genes is for the best, or breeds a bad sort of synergy instead.

Third, last, and not least, there’s plenty about human character that is not inherited, that is learned, gained through experience, or comes as the product of interaction with the environment. Some advantages are transferable from rich to poor.

Long story short, I think Social Darwinism is a dull, spectacularly limited way of looking at human potential, and a incredibly misguided way of justifying current privilege. The realities of cognitive abilities, genetic inheritance, and real life fitness to survive take the idea that the rich are there simply because of their superior breeding, and drop-kicks it out the door. There are all kinds of ways to win the competition to survive and prosper.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 30, 2011 1:34 PM
Comment #333882


Simple question, not slippery slope. If the State has determined that it is unsafe for someone less than 4’9” to travel in a normal sized seat, why exempt adults of that size or smaller? Not many adults would fall into that category, BTW.

Re Social Darwinism - I am against it. We have complex societal systems not based on the survival of the fittest individuals.

However, I do note movement in the directions I was laughing at. There is a significant movement for fat people rights, including moves to set rules that airlines must accommodate the bulky. Our Canadian neighbors have enacted laws requiring airlines to give the fat-assed two seats for the price of one. Where I work, we had to make special accommodations for fat people who could not walk up the stairs.

Re the smart-stupid thing - we have eliminated and dumbed down many of our standards and specifically emphasized bringing up the bottom rather than enhancing excellence at the top. This has essentially been national policy for at least twenty years.

Posted by: C&J at December 30, 2011 2:10 PM
Comment #333883

Stephen, well said. Both comments.

Posted by: Adrienne at December 30, 2011 2:18 PM
Comment #333917


“If the State has determined that it is unsafe for someone less than 4’9” to travel in a normal sized seat, why exempt adults of that size or smaller?”

Theoretically a “child” has a skeleton that is still forming, and even a 5 point harness designed for an adult could conceivably cause serious injury in the event of an accident.
I would think adults should be capable of making the risk assessment, and make that decision for themselves.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at December 31, 2011 1:19 AM
Comment #333920


I understand the idea that an adult can make a decision. Presumably an adult parent could make that decision too.

I think that much of our problem with rules has to do with a kind of whipsawing of statistics. I know this is a boring subject, but let me explain.

We aggregate the idea of risk and terrify ourselves with small probabilities. For any individual, the probabilities are vanishingly small. In a very large population, some people will be hurt or die in unusual ways. So somebody figures out that in a population of millions, one person will die if we don’t use a particular piece of equipment.

This is a valid statistical analysis. But then we bring it back down to the individual, which is not really valid. We say, “isn’t even one death too much if we can prevent it for $300?”

But this statement mixes the aggregate and the individual in ways that are not valid. It aggregates the risk but then applies the whole aggregation to individuals. It also doesn’t take into account opportunity costs.

There is statistical truth and real truth for you. Statistically, there is a 100% chance that someone will win the Powerball Lottery. But you would be wise NOT to base your retirement planning on that lottery ticket you just bought.

Forcing everyone to buy and use seats may cost $billions. It costs families millions of hours of extra time. And it infantilizes children up to eight years old. These are the aggregate costs to be compared. NOT $300 to save the life of your kid.

Remember when Skylab was falling from the sky. I remember that some people were scared. There was a 1/150 chance that a piece of the Skylab would fall on somebody. Some people thought that this meant there was a 1/150 chance it would fall on them. This was just the result of innumeracy. But the fear was real. There was no reason why anybody should have feared this. But they took the a risk so small I cannot really figure it and made it real.

It reminds me of a comedy where the pretty girl says to the geek that there is not a one in a million chance that she will go out with him. His response, “So your are telling me there is a chance?”

We should compare like things. For example, you could tell parents that if they fail to use a car seat there is a one in five million (or whatever it is) chance that their child will be hurt or killed on this trip to the store. Let them assess the risk.

Posted by: C&J at December 31, 2011 5:59 AM
Comment #333925


When we were kids we rode our bikes and skateboards without helmets. In many cases our parents smoked in the car and home. We rode in cars with no seatbelts. We played outside all day without worrrying about some pevert abducting us. IMO we have turned over our right to make our own decisions to a grroup of busibodies. We now rely on others to keep us safe, rather than asses our own risks, and decide for ourselves. When something bad happens we now point the finger at our elected officials and ask why they didn’t do something about it. IMO the progressive nanny state is without doubt the single biggest risk to individual liberty that we will ever face.

Posted by: dbs at December 31, 2011 9:19 AM
Comment #333927


I agree. Most of the risks we worry most about publicly are not very significant.

Various pressure group and political allies like to make things sound much work in order to raise money and gain power.

Posted by: C&J at December 31, 2011 12:05 PM
Comment #333938

When I was growing up, people depended almost exclusively on authority for protection. The exception was usually a lost child. Once, when quite young, my younger sister got lost and mothers turned out on mass to search. Within a few minutes, my sister was found, unharmed, where she had wondered off to. This still happens in my home town.

Today, there are more perverts, more criminals, more millionaires, and many more people as well.

Today, the courts are more lenient on criminals of all types. It reminds me of the Bush/Obama guns across the border scheme. It is amazing, the leniency that is given to criminals who are also law enforcement informants.

The war on drugs has seriously eroded our criminal justice system.

Another issue is the tremendous cost to taxpayers for incarceration and the over crowding of prisons, resulting in a revolving door parole system.

Posted by: jlw at December 31, 2011 5:46 PM
Comment #333942

When I was young, most mothers worked at home. Fathers pay supported the family.

Boys had the run of the community, cowboys vs Indians, Americans vs Japs/Germans, exploring on the hill or on the river bank.

Girls did not have the same freedoms. Why? Partly because there were perverts out there and people knew it.

Economic necessity changed that as more and more mothers had to go to work to help support the family. As a result, children were given a key and often left to their own devices, with less parental supervision.

It isn’t perverts that keep our rotund children indoors or keeps them from hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Posted by: jlw at December 31, 2011 6:08 PM
Comment #333962

One thing to keep in mind is that our greatest fears tend to be less about what is actually plausible, and more along the lines of what we really, really don’t want to happen to us. That’s how you can use jobs as a means to get people scared about doing anything about the environment, especially on something future-oriented like Global Warming.

Of course, that changes if you have a Katrina or other big disaster. Then people feel scared that it could happen again.

Statistics show that family members tend to be the molestors more than strangers, but we tend to trust our family (putting that fear beyond the pale of rationality for us) and the predatory outsider has the nice flavor of being terrifyingly unrestrained by ties to us.

I do think parents are getting a bit too controlling nowadays, and that, however well-intentioned, is depriving kids of the experience they need to develop to make good judgments separate from their parents.

However, I also see all too many folks getting nostalgic for the crash test dummy days of automotive travel. I mean, seatbelts and other safety restraint systems have a proven record of saving lives and preventing injuries. Booster seats have a proven record of minimizing injury. A sixty percent reduction is a hell of a thing to scoff at!

The thing to understand about children should be easy to understand if you look at them. They tend to be more slender, at least in their bone structure, than even adults of the same height. They’re also less developed, muscularly speaking. Muscle is part of what protects the abdomen, the neck and shoulder areas.

There’s something else to consider, which is the number of children as oppose to the number of adults who are of that height and build. I think you’d find you have more people to worry about in terms of child safety than adults.

As for what keeps kids indoors these days? Video games and TV, I would guess. The irony is, though, newer video games and video game systems are relying more on physical controls, so games look like they’re going to become more of a workout!

As far as dumbing things down? My sense is that years of being told that America is a particularly stupid culture and taking that to heart probably has done more damage than anything else. Hell, worse, some have taken up being mooks as the default mode of behavior.

I think people respond better to intelligent material than they think. We just have a massive inferiority complex about our brains in this country. It’s an inferiority complex I’m glad not to share, and it’s nothing anybody else has to have, either.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 1, 2012 8:13 PM
Comment #333981

The booster seats work to the advantage of the insurance companies, the police and the state governments which is the real reason they have been instituted.

It starts with a law but not a law that will allow the police to pull you over and ticket you for, unless of course they pull you over for another reason. Then the law will be revised to allow the police to pull you over and ticket you for the booster seat offense.

Then you will be charged with child endangerment or some such and pay a penalty in the $200 to $300 range and/or probation. Without being in an accident and actually endangering the child. With a child endangerment charge you are now a criminal and part of the social services and/or probation system so the state makes money handling you case and your in the same boat as more serious abusers and violent offenders.

Posted by: j2t2 at January 3, 2012 11:51 AM
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