Bureaucracy and Stupidity

“The only people who have threatened or abducted my children were the people in Child Protective Services and the police, so I do not believe random people are a threat.” says the mother of two, whose small children were detained for 5 hours by the police for the crime of playing unattended in a park a quarter-mile from their home in the wealthy Washington DC suburb of Silver Spring.

In a civilized country those police officers and CPS employees would be tarred and feathered.

There is allot to comment on here: the wimpification and over-litigation of American culture being the themes that first come to mind.

But I have a distinct theory I want to comment on: societies mostly work on unwritten understandings. Sometimes it becomes necessary to codify the understanding into a law and have impartial authorities sort out the application. But as the laws multiply, the unwritten understandings erode and the authorities become less and less capable of exercising common sense.

It gets worse when laws are considered “zero tolerance”: zero tolerance laws against weapons in schools have lead to such absurdities as small boys being arrested or expelled for drawing pictures of guns or bringing pocketknives for show-and-tell. The school officials are always serene in their judgement that the law is clear and the application was fair.

(By contrast, in Vermont, my neighbor to the North, boys sometimes bring shotguns to school so they can go grouse hunting right after class. Vermont has no guns laws and hardly any violent crime. It seems instead they have a dose of common sense.)


I’m not a fan of James O’Keefe, his gotcha videos are partisan and selective, but he does prove a point: bureaucracies are tend to act inhumanely. It does not matter how outlandish his claims, whether he is pretending to be an Irish terrorist looking for a visa, or a pimp looking to import underage girls from Guatemala, he can always find some government official blandly willing to go along with him, their common sense having been lobotomized by over-regulation.

When we multiply laws, we think we are rationalizing a culture, when in reality we run the risk of making it profoundly stupid.


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