Albert Einstein is frequently credited with saying, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” It’s true. People do some really dumb things, often to their own detriment.
We engage in reckless activities, participate in dangerous sports, remain in unhealthy relationships, eat ourselves into obesity and diabetes, etc. I’m of the mindset, however, that people should be free to make stupid decisions, even at risk of their own peril, without a nanny government stepping in to save them from themselves.
Governments have a long history of trying to protect people from their own decisions, and year after year the restrictions get worse. It’s illegal in many states and countries across the world now to ride a bicycle without a helmet (let alone a motorcycle).
Governments tell us what we’re allowed to put in our own bodies (for our protection), douse us with radiation at airports (for our protection), and even tell us what toys we’re allowed to give to our own children (naturally, for their protection). I’m sure somewhere there’s a unwritten motto: “keep ‘em alive, keep ‘em paying taxes.”
One of my favorite examples of nanny government influence is when they issue travel advisories, urging citizens to avoid certain countries or exercise ‘extreme caution and vigilance.’
These innocuous-sounding warnings are usually devoid of any fact or credible threat, and on the rare occasion that a travel advisory does make sense, it’s usually issued after the poo has already hit the fan in that country.
If they were truly interested in safeguarding citizens abroad, they’d issue thoughtful, well-reasoned warnings before-the-fact, not after. “Hey guys, we think that western China may erupt in violent protests based on rising food prices next year.”
Of course, you won’t see that sort of thing on the State Department’s website, it would be offensive to the Chinese. It’s much easier to stick their fingers in the eyes of places like the Philippines, Lebanon, and Colombia… three truly fantastic places that I would recommend to my own mother.
Sure, there are elements of extremism in those countries… but perhaps even more extremism in places like Turkey and Russia which are conspicuously absent from the list… as are several countries in Africa which have horrible rates of violent crime against tourists.
Just a few hours ago in Germany, as a matter of fact, a gunman from the Balkans opened fire on a bus carrying US citizens (including members of the military). Should Germany be on the travel advisory list now?
Bottom line, the guys in government get it wrong all the time, and as I’m fond of telling people, taking travel advice from the State Department is like taking financial advice from the Treasury Department. (keep buying those bonds, boys and girls!!)
That’s why I got such a kick out of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) recent admonition to college students everywhere: “Avoid traveling to Mexico during spring break and stay alive.”
Wow… implication: go to Mexico and die? It’s been a while since I’ve read something so obtuse, especially coming from a state level agency whose primary mission is to harass motorists.
Look, there are obviously problems in Mexico tied to the drug trade, and it’s not exactly Switzerland down here in terms of crime and corruption… I’ll address these issues more next week, but it’s just plain silly to imply that spending time in Mexico is risking death.
I could cite plenty of facts about the similarities between the US and Mexican crime rates, or point out that the majority of drug-related crime is localized in border towns among cartel members, or discuss how the US-led Merida initiative has only made things worse in Mexico, or argue that prohibition is historically counterproductive.
But as I was researching this terse warning that was issued yesterday by DPS Director Steven McCraw, I found something rather interesting. Steven McCraw’s last position before his recent transfer to DPS was as the head of the Texas Department of Homeland Security.
(the fact that individual states have their own departments of ‘Homeland Security’ is a farce and itself worthy of another future missive…)
Once I found this out, I downloaded the 2010 “Texas Homeland Security Strategic Plan“, of which Mr. McCraw had a major hand in shaping as the department’s boss. Coincidentally, McCraw’s homeland security plan is riddled with similarly terse warnings:
“… the State of Texas faces a widespread and ever-changing array of threats, such as terrorism, organized crime, natural disasters and industrial accidents… We must remain vigilant as we adapt our preparedness plans to respond to evolving challenges and threats…”
The report goes on to describe threats from criminals, terrorists, narco-traffickers, weapons of mass destruction, even naming Hamas, Hezbollah, and IEDs as threats. (they must have run out of room before getting to spontaneous combustion and alien invasion…)
Seems pretty scary. Implication: Stay in Texas and die?
The fact is, these fearmongers only know how to play one tune– create a sense of panic among the people in order to instill blind allegiance to government. Inundate them with vague threats and scary sounding uncertainties until they say “thank goodness we have these cracker jack bureaucrats around to keep us safe!”
A rational human being ought to filter out such noise and let common sense prevail.