Do-Gooders Left and Right
The House vote to ban Internet gambling is the latest assault on our liberty.
by James Leroy Wilson
July 13, 2006
Last year, a commenter named John at Reason's Hit and Run blog complained of the "eat your peas Yankees." While crediting them with ending slavery and segregation, their legacy also includes the 55mph speed limit and Prohibition, and "they have moved on to mundane and annoying topics like smoking and now obesity, because they have to have something about which to look down and grace the rest of us with their morally superior glow." A month later, John wrote,
There has always been a never ending supply of puritan do-gooders in this country. They come in two varieties, the eat your peas Yankee and the fire and brimstone Southerner. The Yankees have largely renounced religion and have become the puritan secular left. The fire and brinstone Southerners have become the religious right of the Republican Party.
I don't know if John has ever expanded on these ideas, but I will take the liberty of doing so. When you see "bi-partisan"cooperation in Congress, look out. When Democrats and Republicans agree, it is often to invade your privacy and take away more of your liberties. This is the unholy alliance of "eat your peas" Leftists who know what's good for you and for "society," and the religious Right who know what sins will send you to hell and provoke God's wrath on the nation. For our present purposes, I will use "Left" and "Right" as shorthand to represent these "eat your peas" and "fire and brimstone" types.
Why does the Left support the War on Drugs? Because individuals can become addicted and unhealthy. Thus, Society loses the productivity of drug users, and must absorb their health care costs. Why does the Right support the War on Drugs? Because insobriety is itself a sin, and impairs judgment that can lead to other sins which destroy the Family. Permitting recreational drugs can lead people, especially the young, on a path destructive of their own souls, and into behavior - particularly, sexual immorality and social rebellion - which harms the nuclear Family, and for which God will punish the nation.
These differences in emphasis also explains their disagreements. The Left claims to believe in liberty, provided Society is not "harmed," and the Right claims to believe in liberty, provided the Family is not "harmed." So, obviously, both sides believe that the other is against liberty. The Left does not see negative social consequences with abortion or gay marriage, but does see it in tobacco use, obesity, and gun ownership. On the other hand, the Right may frown on tobacco and fatty foods, but do not perceive them as counter-cultural threats to the Family. Sexually immorality however, is perceived to be family-destroying, life-destroying (e.g., abortion) and, ultimately, nation-destroying.
Because of these divisive issues, we hold the illusion that the religious Right and the progressive Left are far apart, but they're not. That's because just about any activity under the sun can be perceived as "harmful" to either Society or the Family, and usually both. If something is a possible threat to the entitlements of minorities, to the status of women, or to the welfare of children, the Left has no qualms with stopping it or banning it, and the Right would do the same to protect the family. Some Leftist feminists want to ban pornography as allegedly harmful to women, just as the Right opposes it because it's allegedly harmful to the Family. The Left may ban "price gouging" of gasoline because of the social inequity of huge corporate profits, whereas the Right would ban it because of the harm it does to the Family's budget.
And this explains why 60% of Democrats joined 92% of the Republicans in the House of Representatives to vote for an Internet gambling ban. Rep. John Duncan, a supporter of the law, said, "The Internet is addictive for many people anyway, and online gambling can be doubly addictive." In other words, gambling (except for horse racing and state lotteries, of course) is bad for you, bad for your Family, and bad for Society. Not to mention that God frowns on it. What "eat your peas Yankee" and "fire and brimstone" evangelical could possibly vote against this?
Unfortunately, if Nancy Zuckerbrod's AP story is accurate, it is more than probable that the real reason for this law is not to advance morality or social justice, but to protect the exempted horse racing industry from competition. It's a typical story: the (sometimes legitimate) concerns of the "do-gooders" are exploited, laws are enacted, and the special interests win.
And that's because the do-gooders of both the Left and the Right leave one significant factor out of the equation: the individual. The do-gooder's notion of the healthy family or good society makes him obsessed with "prevention." Prevent murder by taking away the gun. Prevent addiction by taking away the drug. Prevent obesity by regulating the content of processed food and taxing fast food. Prevent accidental death by mandating costly safety requirements. Prevent poverty by regulating the wages. Prevent cancer by prohibiting smoking in restaurants and bars. Prevent some other country's dictator from possibly becoming "too powerful" at some indefinite point in the future, by invading and destroying his country today.
But stopping evil by preventing individuals from doing what they please is what totalitarian governments do. A free society punishes the actual violent acts, not owning of the gun. A free society punishes the actual theft, not the drugs that the addict steals money to buy. Prohibitions hurt many people who have done no harm to anyone except possibly themselves. Individuals are not statistics, and no one is obliged to live up to some other person's standard of productivity or health. The do-gooders have failed to demonstrate that their prohibitions and regulations actually accomplish what they intend. While dwelling on the "social cost" of whatever vice they want to abolish, they ignore the "social cost" of expanded law enforcement and of the prison-industrial complex. But worse, they have failed to explain how fining and jailing people actually solves anything. For each individual instance of snorting cocaine, owning an unlicensed handgun, or making a wager on the Internet, the law requires severe fines and/or jail time. But whose interest is served? How does this help anyone?
Before we ban activities like Internet gambling, we should ask ourselves whether the activity actually hurts anyone. Not in some aggregate, cumulative sense, but in the individual instance. We will find that persuasion and example are more effective and less expensive means of deterring "immoral" behavior than are fines and jail time.
About the Author:
James Leroy Wilson blogs at Independent Country (http://independentcountry.blogspot.com) and researches and writes for DownsizeDC.org (http://www.downsizedc.org). Opinions expressed here are personal and do not represent DownsizeDC.org.
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