Saturday, September 17, 2016

172. Laws against stupidity.

Should there be laws to protect people against their own stupidity?

Many people would answer "yes" to such a question.

The purpose of this article is to offer some arguments to the contrary.

I think it was around 1965 that the seat belt laws were introduced into South Africa - for the "protection" of the wearer. More or less at the same time the speeding limit of 120 km per hour was also introduced. This too was seen as good. 

The same Government introduced the Group Areas Act, the Mixed Marriages Act and other Apartheid legislation - all laws to protect people from themselves. Laws preventing them to take decisions in relation to how they saw the world and to act in ways that would produce a better society.

The current Government is on the same path - through the Consumer Protection Act, the Usury Act and other legislation they are removing individual discretion from the decision making process for the "protection" of the consumer.

I believe in a society where anything that is consensual should also be legal and that it is not the role of the state to protect me against my own stupidity. I believe in a society where everybody should be free to do as they want as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others to do the same -  and therein lies the rub. Before the general speed limit was introduced it was expected that a person would drive in a way that he would not hurt other road users and the he would take into account road and weather conditions in order to go around safely. Driving at 60 in heavy fog conditions can be irresponsible. After the introduction of the speed limit this responsibility towards others has been diminished.

A distinction should also be made between harming oneself and possibly hurting others through an action - smoking is such an example. In this case property rights come to the rescue (when we are talking about consenting adults). Your freedom to smoke ends at the tip of my nose in a free society. Your freedom to do what you want on your property is virtually limitless as long as the neighbour is not affected by your actions.

So the use of potentially harmful drugs, Ponzi schemes, and other dangerous pastimes are victimless crimes and should not be illegal. I do admit that the fraudulent behaviour of some does make the job of the buyer more difficult, but I also believe that one will develop a much wiser and sophisticated consumer. Such a free society will be in a position to experiment more and develop ways to solve problems much better that one that is strangled by a web ob laws that prevent different experiments in acting because some law may be transgressed.

Say "no" to force and fraud and "yes" to liberty.

If people are stupid enough to do things that harm themselves, I say leave them alone. We don't have to have to pass a law on stupidity.  Or is it our responsibility to protect people who do things that could be potentially dangerous to themselves? 

I think riding a bicycle and especially doing so without a helmet is an incredibility stupid thing to do – and even more so in Johannesburg where drivers are not used to two wheel traffic.  Why do I ride one? Well, I love it and I love the freedom of being out there, unencumbered in touch with the world around me. It brings me happiness, regardless of the lurking dangers.  So, should a law be passed against my stupidity?  No, it's my risk - leave me alone. Too often I believe we try to legislate ourselves into stupidity with all the laws trying to manage risk. Risk is unavoidable, and a part of being alive.
Authorities believe that they know better than you which risks you should or shouldn’t take. I believe they, through those controlling actions, take the fun out of life.

When you go for a swim you are at risk.
When you cross a road you are at risk.
One is at risk when we get into a car, airplane, or bus.
Everything we do in life is taking a risk
When you are alive you are at risk.
Even not doing something creates risk!

C.M. Heydenrych
18 September 2016

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