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Monday, October 03, 2005

Absolute Societal Compliance

I often wondered when I was growing up, 'What would America be like if everyone followed the rules?" OK, so maybe by "when I was growing up" I mean last week, but it's still a valid question.

We are a nation that loves the Gotti's, Capones and Dillingers of the world. We think of Bonnie and Clyde as a sweetly murderous Romeo and Juliet.

In that vein, we had no problems cheating on our taxes -- millions of children 'vanished' overnight when the IRS said social security numbers had to accompany any deductions for our kids -- speeding on our roads -- why ELSE would the speedometer have 140 miles per hour on it? or calling in "sick" to our jobs in myriad creative ways.

Why? The simple answer is because we wouldn't be caught. But, technology is starting to change that. We have 'cameras' that can look through our walls and computer systems owned by utility companies that can tell if we're growing "some hemp for our smoking" simply by our energy consumption.

The latest frenzy is to have cameras follow our cars' movements and have tickets issued based on those pictures.

I coined a phrase -- ASC, or Absolute Societal Compliance, to understand these things better. I mean, there have always been ways to keep tabs on the citizenry -- especially when our population was much smaller. What I'm feeling is a growing pathological insistence that no one get away with anything.

Forget the technology for a second; on a very real social level, we have empowered our governors to demand absolute compliance from all. What I fear is being lost in this mad scramble to ASC is that compliance demands norms. And, who sets those norms?

I'm not allowed to speed, or operate a vehicle without a safety belt or smoke weed or drink and drive or declare more than a 50% deduction on my expenses for my home office... OK. But, we are also encroaching on a mindset that says one can't end one's life, no matter what the circumstances and one can't criticize government.

This amazes me because I was brought up in America where, when you were speeding down the highway, you threw your trash out the window and smoked and drank at 75 miles per hour. Call it an evolution from that point, call it positive, but call it a day -- soon. I don't want to impart my mores onto anyone who doesn't want them. I'm fine that there are people who hate me because they are hate-filled bastards; I feel bad for those who feel their biggest aim in life is to control their fellow humans. But, I don't want to wrest the controls from them. What I'd like to do is use our 'bad boy' and 'bad girl' genius to make this hugely messy, imperfect American experiment continue on its merry way. Collectively, individually and everything in between. A healthy relationship, like a healthy government, adapts to its times without (in my opinion) resorting to nuclear options at the drop of a hat. Your kid sneaks off once -- you don't get to lock them in a cage. You don't.

If I have to say "Yea" to societal compliance, let's make it the big things: don't kill people; take care of our least fortunate when you can; try not to be a complete ass and understand that cooperation is what makes a society work.

That said: no photographs (of me running a red light) please!

link | posted by Jae at 5:40 PM |


Blogger Olive commented at 11:43 AM~  

As long as we’re sharing ‘what if’ fantasies…

I often wondered when I was growing up, “what would it be like if the real world were like TV-commercial world?” -- a place where all problems are expressed and solved in convenient 30- and 60-second bites. No more having to look at unattractive people (sure, the gene pool was much smaller in TV-commercial world, but what you lost in variety you gained in certainty), no more having to deal with mean people (the sexism, racism and homo-ism present in commercials of the 60’s and 70’s was so inexplicit as to be rendered completely toothless -- no one actually suffered at the hands of his likable tormenter) and no more having to worry about death (public service announcement people died, but not TV-commercial people).

What I found most appealing was the idea that there were no unsolvable problems and all solutions were pleasant tasting and fast acting.

What I didn’t understand as a kid was that the instinct to find solutions is the engine that propels us as a species and as individuals. So strong is the drive to find answers that, if we can’t identify problems to solve, we make them up -- which is why a healthy educational system that rears critical thinkers is so important (as Eleanor Roosevelt said, "great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people").

I think part of the problem – the reason we have come to this sad state of affairs known as Bush’s America – is that we’re a suggestible TV-fed nation, easily persuaded to buy into concepts that run contrary to our best interests.

Who knew, for instance, that normal household odors were such a problem? Luckily Johnson and Johnson identified the problem AND the solution. Now every-other household light socket in America emits intermittent puffs of toxic chemical that are supposed to evoke Clean Linen, Mountain Berry or Vanilla Garden.

But according to the EPA, air fresheners do little or nothing to actually freshen the air. They work in one of four ways: “by killing your ability to smell by way of a nerve-deadening chemical; by coating your nasal passages with an undetectable oily film; by covering up one smell with another; and (rarely) by breaking down the offensive odor.”

This reminds me of the Bush administration style of problem-solving. It’s trotted out a myriad of problems we didn’t know we had – Social Security, Gay marriage, the teaching of evolution in science classes, Iraq – and then promptly presented unreasonable solutions. The solutions have rarely had anything to do with the so-called problems, but we don’t seem to care. As long as they’re packaged together, are fast acting and pleasant tasting, we’re buying.

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