Saturday, November 8, 2014

Molding the Stepford Citizen

How do you get someone to do what you want them to do?  That's an age-old philosophical question ranking right up there with "What's the meaning of life?", "Is there a God?", and "What universe did my spouse come from?" 

Everyone's full of advice and voluminous books have been written to answer the question of how we get others to do what we want them to do.  Despite all the philosophical ponderings, the art of persuasion, for all practical purposes, boils down to one dirty little word, a word so vile we make its practice illegal - bribery. 

If you want your child to bring home all A's and B's, you give your child money for every A and B your child receives.  A's pay higher than B's, which gives your child the incentive to work even harder at getting good grades.  If you want your employees to be more productive, you pay a minimum salary to entice qualified applicants to the position and then offer awards and bonuses if they meet or exceed production goals or minimum performance standards.  If you end up in the dog house with the person you are dating or with your spouse, you bring home something nice.  If you are a man, you bring home flowers and chocolates.  If you really screwed up, you throw in a piece of diamond jewelry.  If you're a woman, you bring home a twelve-pack of beer.  If you really screwed up, you throw in a platter of finger foods and invite his friends over for a game of poker or an afternoon of football.

We don't call such practices bribery, which is why such practices aren't illegal, but it is bribery all the same.  You are molding studious behavior in your children, molding productive work ethics in your employees, and molding faithfulness in your other half so he/she doesn't up and leave you.  Instead of calling it bribery, we call it a system of rewards for good behavior.

As natural as our tendency to mold other's behavior around us through a system of rewards is, it should come as no surprise that those in power take our natural tendency to an extreme.  Corporations and special interest groups have the money and influence to persuade our elected officials to do their bidding by offering rewards of campaign contributions, networking connections that become valuable after the elected official leaves office, and, of course, valuable votes so the elected official doesn't need to leave office, which means they can continue to bring home A's and B's for the corporations.

The elected official, however, hasn't mastered the art of persuasion through a system of rewards.  Instead, they have mastered the art of negative persuasion.  Instead of offering rewards to the average citizen for doing what they want the average citizen to do, they make laws stating what the citizen will or should do, and then levy penalties if they fail to behave properly.  Penalties come in the form of fines, community service, jail, or a combination of all three.

Examples abound.  Everything blatantly obvious from seat belt laws to where we can smoke and to the more obscure of dietary habits to how we vote are all efforts by our elected officials to get us to act the way they (and corporations) want us to act so that they and the corporations can increase their bottom line.

If you're like me, you probably like to read concrete examples and skip all the vague and esoteric talk.  In fact, you're probably trying to reach through your computer right now in an attempt to shake some examples out of me.  Relax.  I got you covered.  I started with seatbelt laws so let's start there.

Back around 1968, the federal government decided to get in the car business and mandated auto makers to install seatbelts in all vehicles.  It took about fifteen years for the government to figure out that while all cars were equipped with seatbelts, only 14% of drivers and passengers were using them.  Always concerned about your safety, the federal government threatened a "passive restraint" mandate on all auto makers.  Auto makers vigorously opposed the mandate, better known as the "airbag mandate."  A compromise was reached between the auto makers and the US Department of Transportation - if auto makers could convince enough states to pass mandatory seatbelt laws that would protect 80% of the people on the road, the airbag mandate would be put on hold.

Automakers and insurance companies began in earnest to convince lawmakers to pass seatbelt laws.  Automakers were protecting their bottom line by encouraging seatbelt laws to avoid the added expense of equipping their vehicles with airbags.  Insurance companies were hoping to grow their bottom line by reducing the number of serious injuries and fatal accidents that increased their liability.  Lawmakers went to the people and sold them on a two-prong deal: seatbelt laws would lower drivers' insurance rates and the laws were secondary offenses so it's not like people were being asked to give up their freedom of choice.  It was during the 1980's campaigns to get seatbelt laws on the books that we heard police officers say, "I've never unbuckled a dead person."  For many people, those statements by law enforcement left a powerful impression. 

End result of the campaign saw the insurance companies come out on top.  They pushed for the secondary offense stipulation knowing that would not meet the USDOT's demand for 80% compliance.  Not only would the insurance company protect their bottom line by creating safer drivers who would comply with the new seatbelt laws, but the drivers would be further protected by airbags.  Of course, as more years passed, most states rewrote their seatbelt laws to become a primary offense with stiff penalties.  That rewrite increased the states' bottom lines, ultimately making them winners in the seatbelt campaign.

The losers were the automakers, who ended up being required to equip all their vehicles with airbags despite the newly enacted seatbelt laws.  Even though seatbelt laws have increased seatbelt usage from 14% in 1983 to 88% today, automakers still have to equip all their vehicles with airbags.  And by the National Safety Council's own statistics, the oft repeated claim by law enforcement individuals that they never unbuckled a dead person was an intentionally misleading slogan.  In 2007, forty-two percent of those killed in a vehicle crash were unbuckled.  That means fifty-eight percent who died were buckled so there must have been plenty of law enforcement officers out there unbuckling dead people.  They mustn't have been the ones chosen to do the seatbelt PSAs. 

The top loser, however, is the average citizen.  In some states, you can choose not to wear a motorcycle helmet, but you can't choose not to wear a seatbelt.  You also can't choose to buy a vehicle without airbags or request the dealer to disengage the airbags.  And, of course, we all pay for the mandated safety features, whether we want them or not, by the added couple of thousand dollars to the price of a car for all the safety features mandated by those who believe you can't make safe choices for yourself.

Ok, so we're a lot safer in vehicles today than we were thirty years ago.  Broken noses and eye sockets when an airbag deploys are a small price to pay because, you know, those seatbelts might fail.  Just curious.  Did anyone see their insurance rates go down when the seatbelt and airbag laws were enacted and mandated?  The insurance companies said the rates would go down, but mine always seems to go up.

You may be one of those who would argue that mandating seatbelt use and mandating airbags in vehicles is a good thing and not an example of taking one's choices away nor modifying their behavior.  That would be a good, Saturday night round table discussion over a couple of beers. You're welcomed to come.  Please bring the beer. 

One thing we do know is once the government gets away with doing one thing, no matter how good and noble the reason may be, the authority of the government will expand to other things.   This country was built on precedents.  It is inevitable that the tactics used and accepted to institute seatbelt use would be expanded to tackle other issues, like smoking.

Tobacco was a big farm crop in this country from the early days of the settlers.  Tobacco plantations from Maryland to North Carolina helped build the wealth of those states.  Ironically, though, smoking didn't become big in this country until after WWI.  By the 1940's, a little more than half of the country were smokers.  Two out of three physicians were smokers.

With so many smokers, particularly among doctors, it didn't take long for the first reports on the dangers of smoking to surface.  When the first reports were published in 1950, smoking rates leveled off and then began to decline.  About 56% of the adult population smoked in 1955.  Ten years later, only 42% of the adult population smoked.

Not happy with the rates at which Americans were giving up smoking, the war on cigarettes began.  In 1965, warning labels were required to be printed on every pack of cigarettes.  In 1969, a ban on cigarette advertising on TV and radio was signed into law.  Even Hollywood jumped in and ceased airing smokers on TV...unless they wanted to portray smoking as a bad habit or a habit only thugs and criminals partook in.

By 1985, twenty years after the war on cigarettes began, adult smoking had dropped to slightly more than 30%.  Not happy with the pace of the steady decline in smoking rates, then Surgeon General Everett C. Koop took his spot on the national stage and declared a goal of a smoke free America by the year 2000.  He also was the first public figure to unequivocally state that second hand smoke caused cancer in nonsmokers.

Armed with the new evidence and led by a powerful public official, "America's doctor", the anti-smoking forces came out in full force, guns blazing.  Banning smoking was now a health safety issue for the 70% of nonsmokers who had to share living, recreational, and work space with smokers. 

Even though smoking was (and still is) a legal activity, smokers didn't have a right to jeopardize others' health.  Installing proper air exchange equipment in bars, restaurants, and workplaces wasn't an option.  Allowing business owners to decide if they wanted to cater to the smoking customer, even with proper air exchange equipment installed, wasn't an option.  Banishing smokers to the outside was the only option.  Nonsmoking employees and customers had a right to breathe clean air.

For many nonsmokers, there was a problem with forcing smokers outside.  They had to walk past the smokers to get inside.  Banishment to the back of the building by the dumpsters became the designated smoking area to solve that problem.  For many companies, banishment to the back of the building wasn't good enough because customers or VIPs might see an employee smoking even though no one goes back by the dumpsters unless they have to.  Smokers are now being banned from smoking by the dumpsters or anywhere on company property.

Twenty-six years after Mr. Koop set the goal for a smoke free America, smoking plummeted from 30% of adults smoking to 19%.  Even though many studies since 1985 have at least cast doubt, if not disproven, Mr. Koop's claim that secondhand smoke causes cancer and causes asthma in children, the CDC has a plan to continue the fight against the "epidemic of smoking"  and protect the public from the "dangers of secondhand smoke".  They have hopes of reducing smoking rates down to 12% or less by the year 2020.

Myth and propaganda has replaced science.  If you don't smoke and still die, any number of reasons caused your death.  If you don't smoke and still die - but you lived with a smoker - secondhand smoke caused or contributed to your death.  If you smoke and still die, smoking caused your death.  Smoking and secondhand smoke are responsible for everything from lung cancer to asthma, from vision loss to hearing loss, from heart disease to tooth loss, and from impotence to leg cramps.  If Jeanne Calment were a US citizen, her death at 122-years-old would've probably been attributed to smoking.  She didn't quit smoking until she was 117-years-old.

While smoking bans centered on the argument that everyone has a right to clean, indoor air (which is why many of the bans were named Clean Indoor Air Acts or some variation), the antismoking forces have decided that smokers have no rights to their legal activity of smoking.  Smoking bans have been enforced in parks, on city sidewalks, in hotel rooms, on the beach, and even in cars.  Yes, at least five states ban smoking in cars when children (most likely the smoker's children) are present and many smoke free work places ban their employees from smoking in their cars while on company property. 

If you think all these bans don't apply to you because you're happy with smoking your pipe before going to bed or chomping on nicotine gum, think again.  The growing trend across the country is for companies to refuse to hire anyone who tests positive for nicotine in their drug test, even nicotine obtained from chewing gum or wearing the patch.

Tobacco means cigarettes.  Smoke means
anything else including e-cigs and vaporizers
Companies and elected officials haven't stopped at banning cigarettes, either.  The newest trend, one gaining popularity and, at least anecdotally, getting people to quit, is vaping or e-cigs.  Some conclusive studies may be coming soon to back up the anecdotal evidence, but preliminary studies appear to back up the anecdotal claims that vaping gets people to quit smoking.  Our elected officials and many companies, however, have decided that vaping is too much like smoking, at least in appearance, and have included e-cigs in smoking bans.  Even though the e-cig "smoke" is simply water vapor that quickly dissipates without harming those around the "smoker", and they only contain one-one thousandth of the carcinogen levels of a cigarette, and there are no ugly cigarette butts left behind on the ground, vaping is smoking and is still a nasty, filthy habit to the militia of nonsmokers.

Now, you may still debate that getting people to quit smoking isn't necessarily a bad thing.  No argument here.  The debate is over the methods, propaganda, and lies being used to force a smoker to conform to set rules of behavior.  Again, that would be a good Saturday night roundtable discussion over a couple of beers.  Please bring the beer.

Remember the statement made that everything in this country is built on precedents?  It's probably a forgone conclusion that the war on junk food is coming, complete with a fat tax and everything.  Take a look around.  New York banned trans fats and tried to ban Big Gulps.  An appeals court struck the Big Gulp law down, but you can bet the fight's not over.  This past election, California pushed for Proposition E, known as the soda tax.  Had it passed, sweetened beverages would have been assessed an additional two-cents per ounce of beverage.  You can bet that fight isn't over, yet, either.  The war on junk foods have all the makings of paralleling the war on smoking.  The healthcare industry and insurance companies will be all over the effort to dictate our dietary habits to make us healthier, which will grow their bottom line.  Of course, politicians will jump onboard for a free ride so they have something to boast about on their political résumés. 

Don't think the war on junk food is being fought through a few, localized skirmishes, either.  The CDC is stockpiling ammo for the bigger battles coming.  They are arming the anti-junk food troops with detailed statistics and costs and have a plan, Steps Program, to tackle the three leading causes of preventable deaths - smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.  Yes, America, our government wants to get you moving, but if they can't get you to exercise, for now, they'll settle on you snacking on vitamin fortified water and trail mix instead of beer and chips while watching Sunday afternoon football.

Our elected officials, media, and corporations have even found a way to influence how we vote.  When you dissect the two-party system, you realize Democrats and Republicans are structured nearly the same on fiscal and economic matters.  Sure, one party may want to spend a little more money on this program instead of that program the other party would rather spend money on - and they all agree they'll need a pay raise this year - but when you balance out both parties' economic and fiscal plans, they are still going to spend about the same amount of your money, and your taxes are going to go up somewhere to pay for it all.  The only real difference between the two parties is on the social issues, which serve to distract the average voter from the fact that their taxes will be going up to pay for something they probably don't need nor want, whether it's this program or that program.  The media jumps in the fray by fueling the distraction with their editorials and talk shows while building a sense of party loyalty.  Corporations end up funding the party that will cost them the least amount of money.  Really, our political system has become an elaborate game of fantasy football.  We all want to be on the winning team so we pick sides and fight hard to convince everyone else to join the winning team come election day, even if we have to exaggerate or lie about the opposing team.

Our founding fathers had a simple notion of what government should be - a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  They believed elected officials were public servants who served the public.  Somewhere along the way, our elected officials have lost sight of that simple notion.  To many elected officials, the average Jane/Joe is their personal ATM machine to be manipulated for the average citizen's own good.  The federal government is Daddy and the state government is Mommy and us citizens better be good little boys and girls and keep spitting the money out to them.

Daddy and Mommy have a new social engineering weapon at their disposal to ensure you behave the way they want you to behave - your driver's license.  Driving, as every driving test makes sure you understand, is a privilege, not a right.  For many citizens, particularly those living in rural areas where public transportation is sparse or nonexistent, driving is a necessity.  To the federal and state governments, suspending your driver's license is simply a powerful tool to get you to behave properly, whether you need to drive or not.

Our legal system was built on the concept that the punishment should fit the crime and the punishment cannot be excessive, cruel, or unusual.  In fact, the eighth amendment guarantees protection against excessive bails and excessive fines in addition to the protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

To the average, non-lawyer citizen, we understand that if we don't pay child support, our tax refunds may be withheld and our wages garnished.  We understand that if we are ticketed for jaywalking, our unpaid fine could result in a summons to appear in court to explain why we didn't pay the fine.  We understand that if we don't pick up after our dog and get a ticket, our unpaid fine could be turned over to a collection agency.  We understand that if we don't pay a library fine, we are banned from the libraries until the fine is paid.  What we don't understand is how all these non-driving offenses could result in the suspension of our drivers' licenses.

It's all too easy to argue that we should pick up after our dogs, stop jaywalking, and pay any and all fines and child support.  Problem is if we let the government take away drivers' licenses for non-driving offenses, what will they be suspending your license for in the future?  Remember, everything our government does is built on precedents.  Would you want your license suspended because you love pizza and beer and now you're twenty-five or more pounds overweight?  How about getting caught with a joint in your pocket while you were in the park walking your dog?  How about not picking up after your dog?  How about you're a drunk redneck rousing anti-government sentiment through your writings on a blog? 

Ok, no state we are aware of will suspend your license for being overweight - at least not yet.  The other three examples, in some states, will get your license suspended.  We wouldn't be surprised that if you don't pick up after your dog and the cop finds that you are also carrying a joint, the length of your suspension will be double.  If you start spouting anti-government rhetoric while he's writing you up two tickets, he might surprise you with a third ticket and the length of your suspension would be tripled.

Seriously, none of this is a laughing matter.  What we are allowing our elected officials to do undermines the very basis our country was founded on.  The Constitution will become nothing more than a piece of paper and your right to choose and live your life the way you see fit will be confined to the mold of the Stepford Citizen.

For the TL;DR folks:

The powers that be (those in the government and corporate America) have decided how you should live your life.  From seatbelts to smoking and from dietary habits to voting, they want the perfect citizen.  Money is usually the motivating factor with elected officials wanting their personal ATM machines (that's you) spitting out as much money as possible as you wade through a myriad of rules and regulations - many of which corporations pushed for to increase their bottom line by making you as safe and healthy as possible.  Plans for what is coming down the road are just as scary, if not scarier, than all we've seen so far.

For your listening pleasure:

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

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