Friday, July 15, 2011

As an Example

Jonah Goldberg puts out a weekly missive that is not linked, but in this case, I think that I need to include the entire thesis on how government is screwed up because it's run by people.
Dear Reader (and those of you who, according to the McConnell plan, will read this "News"letter only after 3/5ths of it has been approved by the president),

I was listening to the "This American Life" podcast the other day and heard a story. I will summarize.

A man is returning from vacation with his wife and kids and some neighbors' kids. They went camping in Texas. Towards the end of the long drive home in the family van, a Texas highway patrol car comes right up on the van, following like an "angry hornet," lights and siren blazing, forcing the driver to pull over. The man can tell from watching Cops that these guys are serious. From behind their car doors, the police yell through their loudspeaker, to turn off the enginge "using your left hand!" When the flustered driver uses his right hand, the cops shout louder. They make the driver get out of the car and get down on his knees on the gravelly shoulder of the Texas interstate. Some of the kids are already crying. The driver is terrified, confused, freaking out. One of the cops approaches with his rifle pointed at the man's head. The other cop, his gun drawn, is talking to the wife.

Finally, after an eternity, the cop who'd been talking to the wife comes over and says to the driver, "Sir, do you know what your daughter wrote on the car?"

It was actually the neighbor's kid, not his own daughter. But to make a long -- but very entertaining -- story short, what was written in the dust on the back of the van was: "Help. Please God. Call 911. I've been kidnapped."

"Well, son, for about fifteen minutes there, you were the most wanted man in Texas," one of the lawmen informed him.

The driver was so furious that, when the cops told him it was a crime to write that on the car, the driver told them, "Take her in."

But it turns out that the neighbor's daughter didn't write the whole thing. It was a group effort. And that's why I'm taking up your time with this story in the first place.

Apparently what happened is that the mother had written, "Help. Please God," several hours earlier because she so dreaded getting back in the car with all of the kids for even more driving. Then one of the other kids filled in after, "I've been kidnapped." And then the neighbor's daughter wrote, "Call 911."

It seems to me that this is a great little allegory for understanding how really, really, really stupid things happen in life, particularly in Washington. Person A has a harmless idea. Person B doesn't completely understand A's idea, but builds on it anyway. By the time you get to person Z, you're selling hundreds of automatic weapons to Mexican drug cartels.

On both the left and the right there's a tendency to assume the other side -- particularly when it is running the government -- is both really evil and really competent. Most of the time it's closer to the opposite -- again, particularly when we're talking about the government. What appear to be conspiracies from the outside are in fact a series of dumb, innocuous, or even somewhat okay ideas that build on each other into colossally idiotic foul-ups, thanks to imperfect information and mission creep. If there's a human being out there who hasn't had some experience with this sort of thing I can only assume it's because you were raised in a refrigerator box and without human contact. And if there's a reader out there who doesn't think this capacity for screw-ups is an important part of the human condition, well, you're free to read this but you're not a conservative.

This is not -- or at least not entirely -- a road-to-Hell-is-paved-with-good-intentions point. The initial idea that gets the ball rolling can be cynical or crass. Rather, it's to note that the more humans you have in the decision tree, the more you multiply the human factor, and that can lead to some pretty inhuman results.
Which is why I would be fine with government control of my life as long as there are no people in government.

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