Monday, August 27, 2001

Week of 08/27/2001

For Our Own Good? Like Hell!
- by David Matthews 2

"The anointed don't like to talk about painful trade-offs. They like to talk about happy ‘solutions’ that get rid of the whole problem- at least in their imagination." - Thomas Sowell

There is nothing more annoying than an individual who is hell-bent on trying to "save" everyone.

It’s one thing if there is a real threat involved, such as a building on fire, a car accident, or someone drowning. But when the tragedy is of one’s own creation, whether that tragedy is real or imaginary, then the "help" often is more of a nuisance than an aid.

Religious crusaders are notorious in their zeal to try to "save" every soul they encounter, whether that soul needs to be saved or not. They are not happy until everything around them reflects their beliefs, and everyone they know thinks like they do.

It is because of the religious crusaders that we have this notion of an "activist government." Rather than try to convince people one person at a time, our more self-righteous ancestors discovered that they can fulfill their mission faster and with less effort when they can get government to force their beliefs onto others.

But while the whole notion of an activist government is a wonderful idea for moralists, it has not been successful when put in practice. Oh, yes, slavery was outlawed in America thanks to the activist government in Washington, but the discrimination behind it was not removed. And it resulted in a bloody civil war that is still visible in some parts of the southern part of America even a century after it had ended.

The notion of the activist government is prevalent when government tries to "save" institutions like marriage and the family. So-called "family-friendly" legislation often fail when put in practice. Teenage pregnancy is still an issue today as it was decades ago. Out-of-wedlock children are also still as prevalent today as they were centuries ago when the issue was highly stigmatized. Despite all the efforts by those in government to "save" the institution of marriage, divorce is still prevalent.

Government activists have not likewise "saved" the people when they try to outlaw anything they deem to be "indecent". Banning certain books or movies only make them more popular. I mean, come on, do you really think that people would even know of writers like John Stenbeck, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, comedians like Lenny Bruce, musicians like Emenem, or even publishers like Hugh Hefner, if government wasn’t trying to "save" us from their works?

And then there is "the great experiment" – Prohibition.

Religious crusaders, having already declared victory in their crusade against slavery, turned their attention towards a crisis of their own creation, namely alcohol. The "demon rum", they declared, was a cancer on society. As such, they pledged to have it outlawed, hoping that society would be "saved" simply by obeying the law.

It was a wonderful fantasy. Certainly a delusion worthy of any that could ever be induced by alcohol. All that it lacked were the pink elephants.

In practice, however, Prohibition was a complete failure. Crime did not decrease, as the temperance crusaders predicted, but exploded. Instead of obeying the law, many people turned to criminal suppliers. Bootleg and moonshine suppliers got rich, and criminal leaders like Al Capone got powerful.

Fourteen years after its passage, the "law that would not die" did.

But the bastard legacy of Prohibition, the notion of an activist government, remains firmly in place.

You can see it in the failed "War on Drugs", which is the modern day version of Prohibition. Rather than admit defeat, though, government crusaders are adamant in their belief that they would much rather arrest every single individual in America than to take even a miniscule step back to consider whether or not their efforts are even succeeding.

And now states like Georgia are considering another Prohibition of sorts – a ban on video poker.

Gambling is supposed to be illegal in America… unless you happen to be on an Indian reservation, or visit Atlantic City, or anyplace in the state of Nevada. But that doesn’t mean games of chance don’t exist. Anyone happen to play skee-ball? Ever pay a visit to Dave and Buster’s? Ever play bingo?

The catch, of course, is that you don’t really play for money. Quite often you play for prizes. A stuffed animal, a toy truck, a $50 gift certificate. Something other than money.

And that is how video poker was allowed into stores all over states like Georgia. They were supposed to be played for anything other than for money. A gift certificate or some kind of token that the winner can exchange for discounts on merchandise, food, or gas. Not for money.

But the anti-gambling crusaders in Georgia say THAT is a delusion. They claim that stores are paying winners of video poker with money, which is against state law.

"They’re giving out cash payments!" they bleat out in their cult-like mantra.

Really? Well, this commentator is SHOCKED to hear that! Simply SHOCKED!

So why don’t these crusaders take their allegations to the police? I mean, if these allegations are true, and it is against the law, why don’t they go to the police? After all, video poker IS supposed to be regulated, right? So where are the regulators?

And, yes, the police HAVE been making arrests and shutting down stores that do hand out cash winnings. But, claim the crusaders, the police can’t be expected to shut down EVERY story that breaks the law.

Oh, but why not? You expect the police to stop every drug dealer on the street. You expect the police to stop every underage kid from getting their hands on beer and cigarettes. You expect the police to stop every driver who refuses to put on a seatbelt. You mean to tell me that you supporters of big government have FINALLY found something that the police cannot do?

No, claim the crusaders, the only way we can effectively "save" the public is to OUTLAW these vile machines! After all, we have to think about all of the poor people who spend their life savings on these things! They’re addictive!

So is religion. For that matter, so is ice cream, chocolate, television, aspirin, caffeine, tobacco, campaign contributions, and media publicity. But nobody is ever tossing up the idea of outlawing these things. Regulate them to death, certainly, but never outlaw them.

And for that matter, let’s talk about the idiot who spends his or her entire paycheck on these video poker games. That person has a problem, to be certain. But nobody’s putting a gun to their heads and forcing them to play. If they’re spending all of their money on gambling, how are they getting money to pay for food and bills? At some point, there’s got to be a bottom, right?

And how has this become the government’s problem? If this person went hog-wild on NASCAR commemorative plates, the government wouldn’t be asked to step in, would they? Or the complete Elvis Presley collector’s edition stamps? Or if they spent every penny they had on Reverend Billy-Bob-Ray’s "Feed The Starving Piggy Bank"? Maybe if there was some kind of fraud, perhaps, but not because people are being stupid!

Let’s get brutally honest here… behind every self-righteous "crusade" is an ulterior motive. For religious groups, the ulterior motive is simple: MONEY. No gambling means more money for the collection plate, and more money for their bingo games.

For the State of Georgia, the ulterior motive for banning video poker is equally simple: LOTTO.

The State of Georgia has a very lucrative lottery program set up, funneling millions upon millions of dollars into education and scholarships. Maybe Georgia’s self-styled emperor, Governor Roy Barnes, can explain how someone blowing their life savings on lottery tickets is okay, but doing so for video poker is somehow wrong. Would it help if you got a bigger percentage of the money, like the state does with the lottery? Would THAT make it okay, governor?

The truth of the matter is, there are some addictive personalities out there in the world. They latch on to something and they won’t let it go no matter what happens. It doesn’t matter if that thing is love, sex, food, work, religion, politics, television, computers, video games, or popularity. And once they latch on to it, it will cost them their family, their marriage, their careers, and even their life savings. A blanket ban from the government will not stop that destruction. Only an individual focus will do that.

Supporters of an activist government do not like seeing other people freely walk down the path towards destruction, but sometimes that journey is needed before that person can realize they have a problem. Sometimes what is done "for our own good" only makes the problem worse.

Or as Calvin Coolidge once said, "Four fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear, if we would only sit down and keep still."

No comments: