Today is a little off topic for me, but will bode well for helping to understand future topics. I’m just going to come out and say it: We need to ban the words “For the sake of the children…” Ladies and Gentlemen of the court, this is your new four letter word of the century and one that needs to go and be stricken from our language. Maybe it’s harsh, maybe I’m insensitive and maybe it’s the straw man but humor me please.
This subject has been circling my head for a while, it’s not like last night this frame of mind came to me. Two weeks the subject hit me watching a documentary and yesterday reading an article on speed cameras pushed me to this (more on those later.) I have to admit I am biding my time on other subjects I want to talk about, not only because they are serious, matter to me and are important. However, mainly because I realize that jumping right into those subjects without some background will not serve to help anyone understand my viewpoint. It’s not that other subjects are of less importance, but when you scale things you see the difference. I also don’t want to repeat myself. This kind of article serves as a primer, and a base, to where later articles will lead.
So let us begin.
I really like something about message boards and comment sections that I do not like over instant messaging and texting.. That is the time between postings. Texting, instant messaging is one of those things where, at least for me, you feel the inclination to quick fire back. I’m not saying you can’t troll message boards and comments but they lend to a more “think before you speak” type vibe. For some reason the disability to hit enter and automatically send a message versus clicking a “post” button, makes me pause before sending my thoughts out. It’s this kind of “pause before acting” that I try to apply to a lot of my life.
We all (I hope) have heard the “can’t see the forest from the trees” line. It’s a simple understanding, when you are emotionally attached you can’t see the whole picture. In addition, literally, if you spent a long time in a forest you would stop noticing the trees. Let’s also state the obvious also, we are all biased. I remember having this conversation in college with a friend over the subject of history. All history books come down to the authors’ viewpoint. No matter how much they do research, they will still insert their view intentionally or subconsciously. And this is no matter how much research is done, or how many facts are gathered. I’m biased, and I will always admit that. This is why I try to step back and think before I act, get advice from an impartial party and sleep on thoughts.
I had read about, and seemingly berated with, the documentary Food, Inc. Yes, this is the documentary I mentioned earlier. The documentary is about the industry of producing food in America, and as a warning, is not a pretty one. After seeing it pop up in so many articles, I finally watched it. I am the type of person that is willing to give anything a chance. I also like hearing both sides of an argument. Moreover, to get this out of the way: While it did open my eyes in certain aspects, it never really shocked me. There was two things, other than the obvious health issues, that stuck out for me.
Fair Warning: Politics ahead.
First, the issue I like to call the “It’s not fair” syndrome. I found that some of the arguments tended to go into the territory of envy for what others had. Sometimes I am left to wonder what it would be like if the “shoe was on the other foot.” There were times when it seemed that the arguments put forth by interviewees boiled down to wanting to be the top dog. I know some will say I missed the point, but I’m not fully throwing their viewpoint away. They have good, valid points that are not outweighed by this, but it’s something you have to keep in mind. The weight of their points is offset by their bias and agenda. And these are things you have to weigh, and judge when listening or watching someone in terms of a persuasive argument.
The other thing that stood out to me was Kevin’s Law. Not because of the name, but because of the name (sorry I had to do that.) For me the problem did not lay in the law itself, but the name. I have no problem with someone pushing for changes based on personal experience. However, where are the trees?
For those that need the background Kevin’s Law is a law that would give the US Department of Agriculture power to shut down plants that produce contaminated meat. It’s name Kevin’s Law because of the boy, Kevin Kowalcyk, who died from e-coli poisoning.
Call me insensitive, or uncaring, but is there a good reason for having a law passed in anyone’s name? Again, where are the trees? This is an issue for me because we have too many laws, too many boogeyman arguments based on invisible straw men. In addition, when you put emotion into the equation of trying to pass law, so much more can be accomplished away from attachment. Passion is needed, no doubt, but when you are emotionally attached to a personal tragedy, the good that can be accomplished can be overshadowed by personal victory. This is where laws can be undercut from doing the best they can, for the betterment of all, instead of being narrow focused.
Looking at traffic safety solutions for example; How many times is a stop sign erected because of an accident? If your goal is to save lives what good is accomplished by making a two way stop sign, a four way one, when the original need for the four way was someone running a stop sign. The root cause of the accident was not the lack of stop signs, it was the lack of ability on part of the drivers in the this case. Stop signs will not stop another accident from happening, and when one more accident happens the cry will be for a stop light. And this still doesn’t address what really causes the accidents. But because the appeal of one mother crying over a lost child is great, this society seems to throw reason to the wind. We rather have the illusion of safety, versus the cost and hardship of real change. Instead of addressing root causes, we rather calm one set of parents over the many.
A real life example of this is happening with the Rt 73 and 662 intersection in Oley, PA. Most of the accidents come from driver pulling from 662 onto 73. The solution for PennDot was stop signs. The real problem lies in the design of the intersection and how 662 basically merges with 73. The design of the road offers the illusion of merging to drivers of 662 who use the view coming to the intersection as a guide to see if they can beat a driver on 73 to the “merge” point. The solution is to make a dead end of 662 into 73, but because this is a costly, and a possible inconvenience to residents, solution, it never comes up as a solution.
Moreover, coming around to the original point, how many times are these laws made with the thought of children? Yesterday I read articles on the state of speed cameras in Chicago and the whole “think of the children” came into play. Rahm Emanuel wants new speed cameras.
A completely hypothetical politician was being heckled by angry taxpayers. And they dared ask rude questions, like why he wasted all their tax dollars on fat contracts to his pals.
So he decided to flee. Unfortunately, he was surrounded. Then he saw a first-grader in the crowd. He grabbed the child and used her as a shield, holding her before him to ward off angry voters, shrieking, “We must save this child! Help me save this child!” as he sprinted to his car.
I love that quote, but further down facts come into play:
“While we’re speaking, Diamond Robinson, who was hit by a car near a school … they’re actually having her funeral,” Emanuel said in February. “That is a reminder of what we’re talking about today and the full price and consequences of what we’re talking about today.”
But Diamond was hit on a weekend. Emanuel’s new law restricts the cameras near schools to weekdays.
And as another article points out these cameras have little effect:
Denied the city’s research, the Tribune performed its own analysis using city traffic data provided to the federal government and came to a very different and less dramatic conclusion.
Instead of the 60 percent reduction the mayor touted, the Tribune’s analysis of accidents for the same locations revealed a nearly 26 percent reduction — one that mirrored a broader accident trend in the city and across the nation. The difference? The city said fatalities dropped from 53 to 21 in the targeted zones, but the federal statistics showed the before-and-after numbers were 47 and 35.
For all the talk of saving mythical children, we have to step back and ask some simple questions. First, as I stated earlier, “It’s not fair” is the person coming from a smokescreen position. That is their argument really for something other then what they are saying. Second, is the straw man out in full play? In terms of the speed cameras the first question is yes which I‘ll leave to you to draw your own conclusions. The second question is answered by yes, if a child used as an example for why we need something died when the new law wouldn’t have helped, how would the law have saved the life of this child in question?
Finally, we have to stand back and look for the trees and balance the points out. Even if we do not agree with the facts personally, can we still tip the balance in favor of the argument put forth?
So would you join with me and ban the words “For the sake of the children…” fallacy. After all it’s for the children…