Monday, December 18, 2000

Week of 12/18/2000

Target: Moralism
Part 5 - The Expert Game
- by David Matthews 2

"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it." - H.L. Mencken

During the highly publicized sexual harassment lawsuit by Paula Jones against President Bill Clinton, Clinton sympathizer and head cheerleader James Carville likened the suit to dragging a twenty dollar bill across a trailer park and seeing who would take it. The comment was understandably criticized as being crude and insensitive, especially after liberals spent all that time trying to make the issue of sexual harassment a serious social problem. Carville’s comment was a cheap shot, and completely unrealistic. Just ask anyone who worked with daytime talk shows.. it takes more than just a twenty-dollar bill to bring out the trailer park residents. It often takes airfare, hotel rooms, and television exposure.

The point is that many people have a price they’re willing to pay that they would otherwise not want to just to get exposure. For some people, it’s getting into a cat fight on the Jerry Springer show. For other people it’s doing a string of lame-ass sitcoms until they find the right motion picture.

And for some people, it’s putting your name on a study or a law that would otherwise make them look like fools… all to get some exposure.

Once upon a time, the moralists who lorded over the people didn’t need any justification for their actions. It was the mere fact that they were who they were that gave them justification. You hear that today with several Christians who proudly proclaim "THE BIBLE says it, I believe it, case closed!" There is no other justification needed for them. That’s it. Leaders back then were considered accountable to nobody except to themselves and to God, so they had essentially unlimited power.

Unfortunately for the self-righteous among us, today’s movers and shakers no longer have that absolute power to play around with. They need justification for their actions, and this time something more substantial than that parental retort of "because I told you so".

Ideology is often not enough. A nation that is founded on ideals of freedom and liberty require something a little more substantial to break away from those ideals. You can’t promote censorship to a land founded on the notion of free speech, unless you give people a reason to set aside that idea.

That’s where the "experts" come in. Doctors, researchers, scientists, criminologists, all out there with one purpose - to try to give credibility even to the most ludicrous of laws and ordinances.

Case in point: the Montgomery County Council in Maryland recently approved a local resolution to ban all smoking in outdoor areas maintained by local government. This is not just a ban on smoking in buildings.. this is a ban on ALL outdoor areas. Parks, sidewalks, streets, schools, public parking lots.. anyplace "maintained by local government" would be designated non-smoking areas.

This whopper of an anti-smoking ordinance was spearheaded by a doctor by the name of Al Muller, who claimed that the ordinance would protect people with health problems. It should also be noted that Dr. Muller is also the mayor of Friendship Heights, the town that the ordinance will take effect in.

Now let’s get brutally honest here… where’s the health problem? We’re talking about open spaces here! How about some facts here to back up your claim, doc? Perhaps the good doctor could cite some actual cases where someone with asthma or allergies suffered breathing difficulties because someone was smoking a cigarette a hundred feet away in a park.

What is really annoying about the passage of this ordinance was not that it wasn’t based on any reasonable facts, but that county commissioners simply passed it to respect the "wishes" of the town leaders. In fact, several county commissioners said that it WAS a bad ordinance, but they passed it anyways because they didn’t want people to question the "spirit" of their laws.

Insane, isn’t it? But that’s good old-fashioned moralism for you! Even the most pathetic of rationalizations get instant gratification simply because it supports a law or ordinance!

Here’s another example: The Tampa City Council, in their effort to shut down strip clubs, banned lap dancing and required that dancers stay at least six feet from any patron. An expectation as unrealistic as the rationality behind the ban. The so-called "expert" was the local health inspector, who claimed that the ban would eliminate the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Uh, excuse me Doctor Quack, but could you set aside your framed diploma from Cracker Jack Medical University for a second and explain how sexually transmitted diseases could be spread if one person is clothed and there is no genital-to-genital contact?

Of course, nobody questions the "experts" as long as they’re for the government. That’s the biggest problem when confronting moralists. So-called expert opinion is simply accepted and taken as gospel as long as it supports whatever legislation moralists want enacted.

And for the expert, there is a reward for their endorsement of a risky piece of legislation. That reward is credibility. No matter how eccentric the reason, and no matter how flawed the legislation, the "expert" opinion is rarely questioned, and used quite often for other such legislation. Moralists have used studies as old as thirty years past to enforce new legislation today. They use it because they know that nobody will question it.

That has to change. If we are to confront moralism and restore individual freedom and individual responsibility, we have to attack the credibility of the moralists.. and that means attacking the experts themselves. Especially if it involves some of the more asinine laws like those in Montgomery County. If rights are going to be made null and void, if people are going to risk fines and a possible loss of freedom, there had damn well be some pretty solid reasons behind them. If not, that action should be shut down immediately, and the people behind them should be held liable for any damages or loss of property or freedom incurred.

Look, not everyone who works lame sitcoms become the next Tom Hanks or the next Jim Carey. Not everyone who appears on the Jerry Springer Show deserve to have their 15 minutes of fame. There is a level of risk involved with those things. There needs to be risk in government as well. Risk for the moralists, and also those who support the moralists in their efforts to destroy freedom for the sake of their own egos.

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