Government by Emotion

by | Apr 18, 2004

Q: As you argue, the only proper role of government is to protect our individual rights against fraud and brutality, foreign and domestic. At what point does government intervention “cross the line”? One is not allowed to commit slander (or libel), but what about a lie to a friend or family member? One is not […]

Q: As you argue, the only proper role of government is to protect our individual rights against fraud and brutality, foreign and domestic. At what point does government intervention “cross the line”? One is not allowed to commit slander (or libel), but what about a lie to a friend or family member? One is not allowed to rape, but what about committing (consensual) adultery? What is the rule of thumb for the “grayer” areas?

A: The specific answer is contract. The deeper answer is objectivity meaning, essentially, evidence.

A written contract is objective and can be evaluated by an independent, impartial third party. Evidence can be ascertained through DNA testing, credible eyewitnesses and the like. Contracts are not vague or open to interpretation–not unless it’s a poorly written contract in which case its legality will likely not be upheld. Evidence is evidence and must, by its very nature, submit to an objective standard.

Government cannot and therefore should not try to resolve problems such as hurt feelings, misunderstandings or he-said/she-said types of situations which occur in the privacy of one’s home or office. Lying to a friend is wrong; but it does not involve the violation of a written contract. Consensual adultery, since both parties consent, is not a crime like rape is a crime–though it’s not without relevance in the legal context of a divorce.

Concepts such as “sexual harassment,” “insider trading” and “monopolizing” are gigantic examples of alleged crimes that cannot be proven and are not supposed to be proven; instead, they are merely used as clubs to hammer away at a person who is not popular with either the government or a pressure group of which the government approves.

It’s not a question of gray areas versus black-and-white areas. It’s a question of where government can intervene–in the case of physical force and objectively proven fraud–and where government cannot intervene, where evidence and contracts either do not exist or are beside the point.

This is where the American system started to go wrong. People began to look to government not just to hold people accountable for honoring objectively clear contracts that they voluntarily sign. Today’s Americans look for government to uphold whatever values or standards they feel are fair. You hear typical Americans say things like, “Why shouldn’t Martha Stewart be prosecuted? She’s stuffy and arrogant. I don’t like her TV shows” as if these had anything to do with her guilt or innocence in a legal context.

Irrationality is all around us, and it enjoys relentless indulgence in an increasingly beleaguered legal system. If you feel that somebody is talking to you in an insensitive way, then you should be able to sue them for it. If the stock market goes bust, you should be able to sue your stock broker. If you choose to drink hot coffee while driving 60 mph, you should be able to sue for the consequences when the coffee spills.

Missing from today’s concept of government is any remote sense of objectivity, contract and limitation. People are sued for disappointing results, not merely for negligence. It’s as if the government’s job is to soothe hurt feelings (psychologically) and to transfer wealth (legally, in the form of dubious or outright ridiculous lawsuits). Somebody is actually suing for emotional discomfort caused by Janet Jackson’s recent self-exposure on television; does it get any more irrational than this?

There are few objective limits or boundaries to what most Americans today demand of government, whether it’s the court system or political candidates for office. Just ask most people why they vote as they do, even if you agree with their choice of candidate. You will find that they vote based on a feeling rather than an objectively clear principle. “You voted for Perot–with those ears of his?” Or: “I can’t believe you like Bush. Do you hear how he speaks?” Much of Bill Clinton’s popularity was his ability to convince voters that he “cared” about them.

Emotion, not adherence to objective principles such as freedom, individual rights, or the Constitution, is the new Absolute Standard. As a result, the government Americans get is increasingly inefficient, expensive and inadequate at delivering even the minimal things it can properly be expected to deliver. Just as anarchy leads to chaos, so does expecting too much of government. Few Americans yet realize it–or probably even know how to realize it–but the problem is growing.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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