Thursday, April 16, 2009

Labels, continued

Glancing at the fuel gauge as I was driving today reminded me again of the labels we Americans have been pasting on each other the last few years. Once again we have Left and Right, don't we?

The Left is "empty" - empty old ideas and empty promises that never quite come to pass. And the Right is "full" - full of hot air and full of hot-shot plans for a better America that also never seem to materialize.

The main thing that occurred to me, though, was how much we need to get away from labels altogether. We need to stop trying to marginalize our fellow Americans, stop demonizing each other. We have very different ideas on how to proceed, but we still have a common goal, I think.

If we are going to use a Left and Right "fuel gauge", let's change the labels on it at least. On the left is "Big Government", say; and on the right is "Personal Freedom", say. And the closer our lives get to "Big Government", the less "Personal Freedom" we have.

It is always a trade-off. Having no government at all doesn't work. Libertarians are dreamers who omit the everyday need for all societies to have an adequate authority, a government. Pure "Personal Freedom" doesn't exist unless you are alone on the planet. Pure "Personal Freedom" hasn't existed in America since the days of the westward expansion, where a man could  go up into the mountains and just lose himself, totally alone with no other human contact. Such a man could do whatever he pleased. And with that pure "Personal Freedom" came life or death consequences. No society, no government, no help if you needed it.

On the other hand, we have come too far toward the other direction in our present time, in my opinion. We have come very close to womb-to-tomb reliance on big government, and have given up much in the way of personal freedoms along the way.

I am not necessarily lamenting the loss of certain of these freedoms: I don't think I miss being able to strap on a gun like they did in the Old West, for example. Sometimes I do long to be able to open a business without having to get the government's permission and pay to be licensed and inspected. Here I started to say that licenses and inspections are all for the better and that there is less Snake Oil in the marketplace than in my great-grandfather's time. But that's not really so.

Much of this growth in government is unavoidable. There are Americans alive today who remember when the population of our country was 150 million people. It is double that size today. Twice as many houses. More than twice as many cars honking at each other. So, by virtue of us being twice as large, we have had to cut down on the personal freedoms - just to get along with one another. More or less.

It has gone too far though. A couple of years ago, I replaced the sidewalk that runs in front of my house. I had to go down to the city and get a permit to do this, of course. Or at least the contractor had to do it. In the process, I found that the federal government was involved in my little project too. See... the new sidewalk had to be flat where both driveways cross it to enter my property. Not being able to make the sidewalk slant at the entrances means my car scrapes on the bottom when I drive up into my driveway now, since I live on a little hill and the driveways are steep. There was no problem before when the sidewalk was slanted starting at the road.

Why did the federal government require that I construct it perfectly flat? The city didn't care. The county didn't care. The state didn't care. Well, the federal government some years back passed a law, a very well-meaning law I might add, called the Americans With Disabilities Act. This created many things, such as requirements for ramps instead of stairs, and a certain number of handicapped parking spots in parking lots, and automatic doors, and wide elevators and special bathroom stalls and on and on and on. It lead to city buses having ramps to lift wheelchairs into the bus through a special door, and many more things. America has always been concerned with trying to make each citizen equal with other citizens as much as possible, so I'm not complaining. But what does this have to do with the sidewalk I put in front of my house?

Well, it had to be flat so that all the wheelchair traffic that passes in front of my house will not lean to the side when they cross my driveways. You may be wondering how many wheelchairs have passed in front of my house in the last 50 years. None. And you don't see any wheelchairs downtown using the little ramps that have replaced curbs on each intersection either. Why should they? - all they have to do is make a telephone call and a special van with a ramp comes and picks them up and takes them where they need to go. But if they DID want to cruise the downtown sidewalks (or any other sidewalk in town) they won't be bothered by curbs. And they won't tilt slightly to one side if they ever decide cross my driveways, either.

Of course, when the Feds pass these laws, they seldom fund them. And I guarantee the Feds did not help pay the extra cost for re-engineering my sidewalk. I guarantee the state, county and city did not help either, although the latter will charge me extra for the special inspection and Federal ADA certification. So who does that leave to pay? Hmmmm.

This is just a personal example I can give you of the ridiculous intrusions the federal government has made into the daily lives of citizens. The U.S. Constitution, in which the states gave the federal government certain powers, says, in my reading, that the federal government is established to do two things: regulate interstate commerce and provide for the national defense. Oh! How far they have stretched the former to include my humble sidewalk!

To be continued. I assure you.


A. said...

My sons closed a business which they ran from small, old premises in a small, old town. The government had decreed, like yours has, that all retail premises should accessible to wheelchairs and the business couldn't afford the fairly substantial alterations needed. Many other small businesses have had the same problem. Now the the small, old town with character consists of uniform banks, building societies, estate agents, and chain stores, just like every other town in the UK.

Here in France I notice our local pharmacy has moved out of its old property with two steps up to the front door and into another where access is level. I also notice that many of the small businesses (wine seller, haberdasher, etc.) appear to be doing nothing whatever.

But, you see, I do have a friend who uses one of those electric scooter things to get about and needs access. She can't get everywhere she would like even now. She can cross roads only at certain places. So I can see the need for legislation, because let's face it, nobody would do anything about it unless forced.

I don't know whether France has a more flexible approach to explain why only some premises are being adapted. It seems unlikely, knowing the French love of bureaucracy. But surely there ought to be a middle way, a way that can take account of most, if not all, situations. I've no idea how this would work in the case of disability access, but really only putting it forward by continuing your analogy.

Stephanie B said...

It's hard for me to get worked up over measures to help the handicapped. Not saying it wasn't inconvenient for you, but that it might be your inconvenience vs. someone's insurmountable problem. And the rights of a subgroup often have to be legislated at the top.

To be honest, I'm of more of a federalist mindset (and, by the way, in my opinion, whenever someone characterizes what the founding fathers had in mind, they should bear in mind that there was a diverse group of founding fathers and what they arrived at was a painful compromise for many - most people tend to quote Thomas Jefferson, who was pure agrarian confederalist - but was hardly the main voice. The much unremembered and unlamented confederalist period between the end of the Revolutionary War and the US Constitution was an unmitigated disaster. Probably why little if any is taught about it in school.)

I don't like the labels you chose either. I don't think "big government" and "personal freedoms" have to be mutually exclusive. As your example demonstrates, looking out for the freedoms of handicapped puts a damper on the options for others. Sure, you could be free to make things difficult for this or that minority, but someone is always paying the price.

It's not always equitable and the systems are imperfect. I'm personally more frustrated by the fact that each state's rules are so tangled that you effectively have to learn law over again by crossing a state line. How is that less irksome?

Personally, I agree with your earlier notion about discounting labels altogether. I prefer to discuss each issue independently and on its own merit rather than everything tied to a particular label. There are aspects of "big government" I'm all for; others I would like to see go the way of the dodo. I'd rather discuss my issues individually, just as I prefer to deal with people as individuals, not as a label.

Stephanie B said...

Admittedly, by the way, my take on handicapped is flavored by the needs of my grandfather, done in by asbestosis as a result of decades working in government buildings, and my husband's great grandmother, who both got around on scooters the last years of their lives. Both were active individuals, involved with their community, and the ability to wander about on scooters, my grandfather with his portable oxygen and Lee's great-grandmother to protect her shattered hip, made their last years far less seclusional. Lee's grandmother lived in a dinky little rural town in the middle of nowhere, too.

Relax Max said...

@A. - It's nice to hear other countries are becoming more sensitive to the needs of their disabled and special-needs citizens. There was a time, and not so long ago, that even the simplest things were denied them. I don't know if it is true, but I like to think that is a sign that we as a people are slowly becoming more mature, more caring of others.

I do hope you weren't left with the impression that my little personal story in the post meant that I don't favor this progress; it was meant only to be an example of to what depths the extreme top level of government has permeated to even the most basic everyday lives of individual citizens rather than (in the case of the USA's government, which these posts are about) concerning itself with the various states, and instructing THEM what must be done. This is mostly followed, so I don't have as many complaints as some self-professed "rugged individualists" might have. :)

But I hope you don't think I am naive enough to believe people don't have to occasionally be FORCED to do certain things. They do. I just prefer to deal with the lowest (most responsive) level of government possible. :)

Thank you for reading my long posts. I want to keep them short but it is taking long enough to express myself as it is, and I haven't even begun my argument yet! Take care.

Relax Max said...

@Stephanie - I am so glad you have chosen to read my stuff here. We are going to have a great time together, you and I, because I have come to respect your mind (and even some of your views. Oy.)

We are going to have a good time because I am NOT a federalist, and I DO believe big government and personal freedoms are incompatible.

I am not QUITE ready to start crawling into the minds of our "founding fathers" yet. Not until I lay much more of a groundwork than these two posts. Please come along for the ride, won't you?

A. said...

I do realise you were using it as an example. I will read your long posts if you read my long comments - right to the end, where it says "continuing your analogy".

I am off now, to read up about that place called America and how you govern yourselves...

ettarose said...

How do I even compete with you all? I have only one thing to add though and I am sure I do not have the means (meaning mentally) to delve into the laws and by-laws in my lifetime. Why did I spend my very hard earned money to buy acreage, put a house on it and put a lot of hard work into my patch of forest only to be told I cannot even put a little metal shed up without permission? I cannot give an acre to anyone, or add a sidewalk like you say without someone saying yeah or nay. Yet on MY property which is bordered by a very large creek, I have to have a path cleared if anyone decides they would like to ride horses through my property. How then does this constitute mine? Where are my rights?
There is a man here where I live that converted his car to use vegetable oil instead of gas. Saving the environment yes? He was fined $5,000 because he was no longer paying a gas tax. I understand (I think) the gas tax pays for road construction, but I think there was another way besides penalizing this entrepreneur.

A. said...

I am about to get into trouble on two counts:

1. going off on a tangent, but I'm unable to resist a tangent when I see one.

2. addressing Ettarose directly.

Ettarose, do you mean that you are obliged to let anyone ride along waterways in your country, or your part of the country. Or is this a specific right of way? In the UK, there can be private land alongside a river, but in France there is a public right of way beside any moving water - river, stream. I don't know about maintaining the path though.

Now I'll wait for Max almighty to deliver a thunderbolt from on high.

Lidian said...

Like Ettarose, I am not at all sure I can compete here. And since I am now Canadian as well as American, and live in Canada, I can probably use that as an excuse for just listening in (or whatever the virtual equivalent might be).

I'm listening for those thunderbolts, Max. And I can hear you all the way over here. Which is good. Carry on, please!

Stephanie B said...

Right of way is generally more a function of local laws, isn't it?

I have to admit, ettarose's comment remind me of deed restrictions, often imposed on subdivisions on homeowners. Not big government in that case but one of a gillion little governments and nitpicky to the nth degree.

ettarose said...

A. and Stephanie, actually the right of way is owned by the Army Corp of Engineers. Even if you own a home that is on a lake you must pay a yearly fee to keep your dock and boat. Yes the path where I am at must be maintained for horse riders. I think it is completely ridiculous.

Relax Max said...

Thank you for your comments. I'm not sure any were directed at me. Heh. And I think I will forego the crashing thunderbolts of being a know-it-all for the more peaceful voice of reason. I will try, anyway. :)

A. said...

"And I think I will forego the crashing thunderbolts of being a know-it-all for the more peaceful voice of reason."::eyes narrowing suspiciously::

Stephanie B said...

Wow, I did not know that. Sounds like a military thing to me. Not that we use horses much any more.

soubriquet said...

I saw, some time ago, pictures of Half Dome, Yosemite, and climbers upon the rock face. It troubles me greatly that in a national park, the federal government seems not to have given due consideration to the needs of wheelchair users in accessing this leisure facility.

It occurs to me that the fact that you live upon a hill might be unfairly restricting access to your home by wheelchair users, and the hill might, in fact, be the reason so few chairs pass by. Or might they be going at such perilous speed that you fail to notice them as they flash by?
There is a simple remedy. Federal government must have the hill levelled.

We refurbished some old industrial buildings in England a few years ago.
Because the upper floor is above a certain area, it is required by law to have a wheelchair acces, in this case, a lift that runs alongside the stairs.
This is because, if it did not exist, the tenant might discriminate against a wheelchair user when recruiting employees.
He has no wheelchair using employees anyway and none have applied. The lift cost over £25,000 to have installed, it reduces the rentable floor area, and is required to have a regular maintenance contract.
Because it is a wheelchair access lift, its use for other purposes is forbidden. (Although it made it a lot easier to get a big colour laser copier upstairs.

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