Nanny Diaries

      In 1965 a Member of Parliament named Iain Macleod coined the term “nanny state” to refer to governmental policies designed to protect the individual from themselves. The term has been used ever since to disparage government actions that are criticized as overly intrusive mandates on how to live one’s life. It’s a great phrase.
      Even though Macleod put a name to it, the idea he expressed has probably been a constant criticism of government since Plato was a gleam in his parents’ eyes. We’ve all grown up and lived under governments at various levels that think we can’t look out for ourselves, but things are getting ridiculous. Or more ridiculous, I should say.
      Recently, the Illinois General Assembly saw the introduction of a bill (HB 4520) that would ban people from sending text messages while crossing a street. Seriously. Representative Ken Duncan, who introduced the bill, defended the proposed legislation by stating “it’s becoming more and more of a common problem with people haplessly crossing an intersection and almost killing themselves.”
      There’s a term for that kind of stupidity: thinning the herd.
      If someone is too stupid to realize that sending and receiving glorified e-mails while crossing a road is potentially lethal, then if they die it’s really just natural selection. News flash for people who send text messages (really at any time, anywhere): you’re not that important. It might seem archaic but you can go several hours at a stretch without talking to people outside your immediate vicinity. Try it. You might develop some interpersonal skills.
      The cities of New York and Los Angeles have taken major steps to tell you how to live in the recent past. This week the Los Angeles City Council is poised to take a vote on whether to impose a moratorium on new fast food restaurants in impoverished South Los Angeles. New York banned trans fats in restaurant foods in 2006.
      Smoking bans are ubiquitous. Before New York imposed a state law in 1984, seat belt use was haphazard; within the next six years 37 other states imposed similar laws. In 2008 New Hampshire is the only state to not have a seat belt law for adults, rightfully earning the state its motto “live free or die.”
      Don’t even get me started on drug use, especially marijuana, prostitution or gambling, each of which is a victimless crime.
      I’m not arguing that everything I’ve mentioned is good for you. Most of it isn’t. Gambling can be destructive, prostitution in general is just sad and drug use tends to impede one’s ability to do, well, anything effectively. If you don’t wear a seat belt you’re an idiot, but that doesn’t mean a government should tell you how to live longer. And if you want to eat McDonald’s or Burger King every day, why should I care?
      I know, I know, some of these activities have residual effects on the rest of society. But everything has residual effects on society. If you play a pickup game of basketball and blow your knee out, your insurance company is going to be paying for something that was avoidable. If you get into too much credit card debt, that could affect my interest rates. And so on and so forth.
      The nanny state has always been around and will always be around. The only saving grace we have to look forward to is the fact we’ll all be dead before it gets really out of control.

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