Humans have been inventing things that save and improve lives for a while, but we now realize these items of modernity can also hurt and kill us, and they therefore need to be controlled. Stuff like guns, subways, large sodas, and supermodels.
Two people were murdered by subway trains in New York City recently, having been deliberately pushed to their deaths. Some prominent New Yorkers suggested erecting walls or fences at all subway stations, though this might prove terribly inconvenient for the millions of daily subway riders. Two or three people are hit or grazed by New York subways each week — 138 in 2012, of whom 54 died; however, making subways people-proof is so costly and cumbersome that few are seriously considering the idea.
Unfortunately, such rational decision-making is not generally the case. Governments often, and hastily, impose “cures” for modernity regardless of the cure’s irrationality. Generally, the cure is ineffective or worse than the disease.
Chicago has some of the toughest gun control laws in the United States, and its level of homicides has climbed higher as its gun control laws got tougher. Chicago suffered 506 homicides in 2012, a 16 percent increase over 2013. Connecticut’s similarly tough gun laws did not prevent a school massacre. Yet we now are bracing for an onslaught of irrational gun legislation.
Israel’s parliament passed a law last week requiring fashion models to bring a note from their doctor to every photo shoot stipulating that the model is not underweight and that her bodymass index is healthy. The same law also requires all media in Israel stop using Photoshop or other enhancement techniques to make models look more beautiful. Knowing anything about eating disorders should lead one to the rational conclusion that such a scheme cannot possibly be a fix: eating disorders require counseling and treatment, and adults have the right to free expression. Similarly, consumers will continue lusting for thin women — a law cannot “perfect” human behavior.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes outlawing large sodas will somehow reduce obesity, and so he pushed an edict banning sugar-containing drinks of sixteen ounces or more: “This is the single biggest step any city, I think, has ever taken to curb obesity” said Bloomberg, without having the rational basis for such a statement.
This scattershot approach of legislating every aspect of modern life has never worked. Alcoholism and drunkenness lead to crime and death, but the constitutional amendment prohibiting all liquor was a disaster.
A rational approach: narrow the focus and tighten enforcement, linking it to specific abuse or misuse of a product. Allow alcohol, enact tough penalties for drunk driving.
Do not infringe on the right to bear arms, but crack down hard on illegal gun trafficking and possession by criminals.
As for murder by subway train, gun, or rock: incarcerate or execute murderers. We do not stop arson by banning fire. We try to limit the damage of fires by controlling accidental fires, by teaching people how to extinguish campfires, and by advising people not to smoke in bed. We try to curb deliberate arson by punishing arsonists, not by demonizing those who rub two sticks together for a spark.
We need fire, much like we need subways and guns and the rest of modernity.