Dutchís Laws of Just About Everything

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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All stereotypes have at least some basis in fact

Correct the factual basis before trying to "educate" society. I recently read an essay by a woman whose husbandís child support had just been doubled. His ex-wife was employable but chose to live on welfare and child support. She wondered why her husband was held responsible for supporting his children, but his ex wasnít. The author, incidentally, was black. So outrageous abuses of welfare do happen. Maybe not as often as stereotype suggests, but they do happen.

Welfare abuse is a problem. Don't complain about stereotypes until you have done everything possible to root out abuses. Minority crime is a problem. If you don't like seeing minorities stereotyped as criminals, eliminate minority crime. White racism is a problem. If you don't like having minorities stereotype whites as racists, then speak out every time you hear a racist remark. Professors who get tenure and then coast, crooked lawyers, and flim-flamming televangelists are real problems, too. Don't complain about the stereotypes if you're not devoting maximum effort to reforming the problem.

All stereotypes have a basis in fact? Maybe not, but if I said "almost all" or "most," people would have wiggle room to rationalize that their particular problem stereotype was entirely due to somebody else's prejudice.

Just about everything your opponents say about you is true

Republicans are more concerned about the wealthy than the underprivileged. Democrats are more concerned about the rights of sociopaths than they are about ordinary citizens.

Hint: Republicans, you get elected because you offer the public protection from social predators and regulatory micromanagement. Donít make the mistake of assuming you have a mandate to ravage the environment or cut taxes for the wealthy. Democrats, you get elected because you offer protection from the abuses of the wealthy and powerful, and a social safety net. Thatís not a mandate for gay rights, abortion on demand, or overriding every local decision in the courts.

Suppressing discussion is always more dangerous to the suppressor

Stonewalling, shouting down opponents, or outright suppression of criticism is like slapping a Band-aid on gangrene. The wearer may be fooled, but everybody else can still smell the corruption. The problem simply goes underground where you canít see it. Two words for anyone still inclined to doubt: Soviet Union.

If you ignore a problem, it will eventually go away. Then it will sneak up behind you and have you for lunch.

Every time I read an op-ed protest piece on welfare reform, the same nagging question keeps coming back to me. Supporters of welfare programs have known for decades that abuses were festering sources of discontent among the public. Also, they have known that the actual number of real abuses is very small. Enacting reforms to stop the abuses would have had no effect on most welfare recipients. So why didnít they support responsible reform while they had the chance? Why did public discontent with welfare have to spiral out of control before changes were made? Did welfare advocates believe they were so invincible they could ignore criticism forever? Did they enjoy seeing their critics angry and frustrated? Probably yes to both.

Another case in point: unions. I remember when unions were very powerful. Some were riddled with organized crime, stole their workersí pension funds, intimidated and occasionally killed reformers, and were among of the most vicious opponents of equal opportunity. Critics charged that unions were driving high inflation rates and would eventually price workers out of the market, and that corruption and disruptive strikes alienated the public. Pish, said unionists, everything is just fine. So now unions are in a shambles and jobs are being exported to other countries. Happy?

Still another example, the Constitution Project. This is a bipartisan coalition of supporters and opponents of capital punishment who seek to ensure that if we do have capital punishment, it will be fair and do everything possible to prevent innocent people from being punished. An eminently sensible approach. One of the Project's goals is to eliminate legal technicalities that prevent new evidence from being heard. Great. Where were these guys when criminals were being routinely released on technicalities? Did it ever occur to civil libertarians that, instead of dismissing public anger over this issue, it might do to take it seriously? Did it ever occur to them that the way to prevent injustice was to stop perpetrating it themselves?

This principle has been displayed in spectacular form in national politics over the last decade or so. George Bush had a 90 per cent approval rating after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, ignored public discontent over the economy and job security, and lost the White House the very next year. The Democrats won the Presidency, brushed off complaints about social issues once too often and lost Congress only two years later. Then the Republicans, having learned absolutely nothing from the Bush debacle, tried to give it all back as quickly as possible. Fortunately for them, they gave it back to Bill Clinton, who gave it right back.

Are universities vulnerable, too? Well, how long have we been rationalizing away criticisms of tenure and the publish-or-perish syndrome?

If you donít fix a problem, donít complain if somebody fixes it for you

A simple consequence of the principle above. Stay home on election day if none of the candidates are satisfactory to you. Thank you for making my vote more effective.

Eternal vigilance is not the price of liberty. Itís the price of everything

Every object you own has to be maintained. In society, there will always be people who oppose whatever you hold dear. They will try to overturn, evade or weaken your reforms. Others will seek power, wealth, or status without doing any work. The only way to keep what you have is to guard it constantly.

If you think the price of liberty is steep, check out oppression. In 1988 I had a chance to tour what was then the East German frontier. From the guideís narration, I got the distinct impression that the East Germans were just plain exhausted from trying to seal their country off. We were all lucky that Communism died with a whimper and not a bang, but it collapsed from exhaustion.

There is no perfect system

I am completely unable to conceive of any legal or social system that canít be subverted or abused. People who crave power or status will gravitate toward whatever confers those rewards. And they will always discover ways to get the rewards without paying their dues.

One of the great chimeras of the Sixties was the drive to replace The System. The search for a perfect system is the search for a system that can be put on autopilot and then ignored while everybody goes out to play. No such system exists. People who search for The Perfect System want the benefits of a perfect society without doing the work necessary to protect it or keep it running.

The best example I know of was a game called Anti-Monopoly. It was taken off the market after Parker Brothers, owners of Monopoly, sued. And with good reason. Players collected not money, but Social Consciousness Credits. In all other respects the game was exactly like Monopoly. So if we did away with money and gave out Social Consciousness Credits instead, we'd soon have people hoarding them, trading them, counterfeiting them, and scheming to get them without actually displaying any social consciousness. In short, all the evils of money plus a self-righteous smugness that we had done away with all the evils of money.

Sometimes you lose

Not every position can be, or deserves to be, accommodated. You lost. Maybe that means you're in the wrong. Get over it.

You have no right to an uninformed opinion

Patriotism is not the last refuge of the scoundrel. "I have a right to my opinion" is. It's amazing how often people, backed into a corner by logic or evidence, will resort to "I have a right to my opinion," asserting their right to cling to their opinion despite the evidence.

You have no right to an uninformed opinion. If you are going to hold an opinion on an issue, you have a moral obligation to make it an informed opinion. You have no right to go into a voting booth armed with half-baked, unsupported opinions. I'd love to see literacy tests come back - tough ones. The best idea I ever heard was that voters should have to recite the Bill of Rights verbatim before being allowed to vote. Failing that, we could attach a ten-question multiple choice exam to each ballot. Votes would be weighted by percent correct. With electronic voting, we could scramble the questions to prevent cheating. Certainly if you're too dumb or slack to follow an arrow from the candidate's name to the correct punch hole, or make sure the ballot is correctly done, you have no right to complain about the outcome.

Think about it. Would campaign finance reform be necessary if people only held informed opinions? How could any amount of money make a bad idea good? Money isn't the problem; superficial, uninformed, lazy people are.

If you believe there is a problem, it is your responsibility to fix it

Most "activism" is glorified freeloading. The activist says, in effect, "Hey everybody, drop what you're doing and solve my problem for me. Divert funds from your programs to pay for mine."

What do you get by clinging to a demonstrably wrong idea?

Do you think it fools your opponents? Do you think it will somehow prevent reality from having its way? Do you think denying the energy crisis will keep the price of oil down? Or that denying the destruction of the ozone layer will serve as a substitute for sunscreen? Do you think insisting your theology or ideology is infallible fools the people who can see your evasions and rationalizations?


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Created 6 February 2001, Last Update 02 June 2010

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