Q. What do you call a society that sits still for a lawsuit to prohibit the sale of fast-food meals that include toys?
We have become the caricature curmudgeons and common-sense libertarians warned about decades ago. The day of mindless stupidity and standardized irresponsibility is upon us. Our news media post headlines like this:
“Calif. kids can have Happy Meals, judge rules”
… and we don’t bat an eye. Instead of finding grotesque the very idea of judges ruling on what can be sold to accompany meals, we shrug and move on.
Some of us probably think, “Well, the judge made a sensible ruling, and things could be worse.”
Others have a confused idea that there exists a sort of moral brokerage inhabited by judges, politicians, and celebrities, which occasionally puts up some white smoke and signifies that it has reached a new decision about how we are to live our lives. This idea lurks in the human subconscious, manifesting itself from generation to generation in fealty to the imagined moral brokerage of the day: the emperor and his officials, the priestly class, the state church, the monarch, the parliament, the Party, the media, the cradle-to-grave welfare state.
The human spirit has a very powerful sense that there must be a set of “oughts” and “shoulds” to guide us. Used in our own lives, as individuals and in voluntary congregations, this sense does great good. But when we insist on using the apparatus of civil government to herd our fellow men around like pasture animals, according to the oughts and shoulds favored by a few, we turn into a Stupid Society.
Societies that put government in the roles of father, mother, priest, and tutor invariably descend into stupidity. No generation of humans has ever been wise enough to use the power of the state against the lives of the citizens, on an endlessly interpolated basis, without getting stupid. No generation ever will. If you let the state advertise a food pyramid to you, and if you let the state decide what kind of medical care everyone should get, and who should pay for it, the constituency will always be there to take the next step, and the next, until you have activists petitioning the courts to slap Happy Meals out of other people’s hands, and judges agreeing to rule on such petitions rather than throwing them out because they’re an egregious abuse of law.
We have had heavy-handed, intrusive, intricately detailed government for decades now. Nothing that has happened in the last 40 years has happened in unregulated conditions (and little in the last 80). Other than criminal enterprises, there is no such thing as the left-wing fantasy of businesses running rampant in the absence of regulation. Regulation touches literally everything businesses do and is one of the biggest business costs, in some states second only to employee costs.
The beauty of regulation and regulatory bureaucracies is that they can grow by stealth. The people can tootle along thinking they’re free, and they just want breathable air and food safe from e. coli and salmonella, and the next thing they know, cities are outlawing Happy Meals, and judges are entertaining lawsuits brought by activists for whom city ordinances just aren’t far-reaching enough.
Fifty years ago, such a premise for a lawsuit would have been laughed out of court. Today, everything in our society has been softened up, bruised, corrupted – like rotting fruit – by decades of victory for the twin impulses of statism and regulatory sanctimony.
Neither impulse can be domesticated, and both are incompatible with liberty. If a government you pay taxes to will even consider the idea of outlawing Happy Meals, what else will it consider that could affect your livelihood, your life choices, or your liberty of conscience? (How about a plastic bag ban?) It is useless to insist that our governments won’t go too far; they already have, and specifically, much farther than their apologists claimed they would back in the 1910s, the 1930s, the 1960s, the 1990s, and even the decade just past. Assurances that government would never go that far have always been proven false. They will be again.
The day is here. We have officially become a Stupid Society, at least in terms of the way our government is suffered to behave, from the courts and city councils to the school systems, the vast army of regulators, and the Regulator-in-Chief in the Oval Office. I know for certain that there are many, many Americans who are not fit for a Stupid Society: who see the nanny state for what it is, and reject the regulatory premise refined and glorified in the last century. But there will have to be more, if the nanny state is to be given its notice via the electoral system.
So it’s necessary to point out from time to time where the Stupid Society is manifesting itself. The California judge’s ruling on the Happy Meals is the opposite of meaningless or merely funny; there is a monstrous regiment of false and dangerous statist assumptions behind it. The whole episode should never have even happened. If we want to restore our Stupid Society to a condition of intelligence and liberty, we will have to agree on that – and change our course.