Gnomes and big government
It was ex-Prez Ronald Reagan who once uttered the nine most terrifying words in the English language: “I’m from the Government and I’m here to help”. Whenever I think of Reagan’s words I think of the current state of Governments, particularly in Australia and the UK (and increasingly the US) – over-regulated; massive Government spending; massive Government debt; massive Government intrusion into our lives. BIG Government. Massive. Here to help. Scary.
Government regulation should be a balance or a partnership between the state and its citizens. If the balance is right, then Government provides the rules and regulations and its citizens are free to challenge or debate them. But in our over-regulated society, the scales have been tipped towards Big Government and the increasing tendency to monitor, surveil and control the behaviour of its citizens. The duty of a citizen (in a democratic society) is being taken away from us. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “The State must follow, and not lead, the character and progress of the citizen”. As citizens, we have rights and responsibilities. Aside from paying taxes and respecting the law, the most treasured responsibility IMHO is to maintain constant vigilance over the Government the citizens have elected and which SERVES its citizens. Was it not Thomas Jefferson who said: “Lethargy [is] the forerunner of death to the public liberty”.
Hang on: I’m getting carried away. Because this is actually a post about gnomes and BIG Government. Yes, really. So let me get into it.
Have you ever seen a gnome spontaneously combust? Have you ever seen one of these:
catch alight and burn down a house? Have you ever witnessed some evil little gnome purposely trip someone down a flight of stairs? Or lurking in a garden late at night, waiting to pounce on some poor unsuspecting person as they make their way up the garden path towards their front door?
Nope?? Me either. But apparently, local Council chiefs in the UK have been doing some serious gnome investigation and decided to ban garden gnomes…because….they are an elf and safety issue. Sorry, I mean health and safety issue. Seems some woman in Tipton, West Midlands is guilty of excruciatingly bad taste rather than possessing two 6-inch gnomes that are a fire hazard. But the local bureaucrats, nosing around in people’s lives and extending the reach of BIG Government, considered that gnomes in the communal area of the block of council flats could catch alight (what the? aren’t gnomes usually made of pottery?) or block an exit.
Now, if there was a congregation of gnomes busy blocking some fire exit or if the little dudes were plotting and scheming evil things to inflict on residents, then I might understand the banning. But since when did a couple of gnomes, desperately trying to tart up the appearance of low-income homes, constitute a fire hazard? Council were also busy investigating welcome mats, a welcome plaque hanging outside the same woman’s home and a pottery tortoise. These items were also identified as serious health and safety risks and their removal was demanded by council officials. Seems all this offending stuff was just outside the door of the woman’s flat.
Now, here we have a perfect example of government intrusion and waste of tax payer money. To be fair, the local council has admitted it was somewhat over-zealous in interpreting fire safety rules but this isn’t the point. Contemporary society is in the grip of health and safety neurosis. The Conservative leader, David Cameron, has woken up to this fact. Things are out of control when good samaritans can be sued; when railway staff refuse to help carry a baby buggy up a flight of stairs because they weren’t insured to do so; or (and this is unbelievable) a local council orders the removal of tinsel from a school crossing patrol officer’s Stop sign for health and safety reasons.
Yes, well…I’m sure you can see how the Christmas tinsel would be a health and safety issue. Perhaps the patrol officer might inadvertently hang himself with the tinsel as he catches sight of that evil congregation of gnomes heading towards him.
There are many good reasons for health and safety regulations but not ridiculous actions that are more reminiscent of an over-protective parent. Over-regulating leads to a burden on business and citizens; it leads to a feeling of powerlessness; it shows that we are out of balance with the state, which does not trust our judgement or good sense to do the right thing. It was Durkheim I believe who made the link between suicide and an over-regulated society. An individual who feels oppressed, persecuted or powerless in the face of a society weighed down by complex rules and regulations is more prone to fatalistic suicide.
Let us recall the words of Jefferson about lethargy. And let us recall the duty of the citizenry to be vigilant over the actions of those we have elected. If we don’t give a toss about the intrusion of Government into our daily lives and if we continue to allow government at its many levels to dictate to us…then we get the government we deserve.
Louis Brandeis said: “The most important political office is that of the private citizen”. There is a decline in political participation by citizens (read this book if you don’t believe what I just said) and a growing disenchantment with political parties. Post 9/11, we have been in the grip of what Frank Furedi rightly calls the culture of fear – fear of terrorism, fear of swine flu, fear of environmental devastation, fear of stranger danger, fear of the future, fear of immigrants – and this has allowed BIG government to swoop down, particularly when it comes to intrusions and surveillance of private activities.
Now it seems BIG government is telling us we need to worry about gnomes.
UPDATE: catching up on my RSS feeds – I didn’t think anything could top the absurdity of the gnomes and tinsel business – but yep, the Brits (again) can come up with more inanity. A grandfather was on some rickety old UK train and went to the cafe bar on the train to find something to eat. Having spotted an egg sandwich, he was told he couldn’t have it. Why? he asked. This is the answer from the steward – get ready for it:
“Don’t you see? If the train has to be evacuated you could choke to death on the sandwich”.
YEEGADS…can the Brits get any more ridiculous with this health and safety neurosis? If you think dudes are going to choke on some smelly old egg sandwich, THEN DON’T OFFER IT FOR SALE IN YOUR TRAIN’S CAFE. Duh.