Legislation and Litigation as Anxiety Therapy for Some

Regarding your article against government regulation of movie volume levels (3/9/14):

You assume that a person will not be permanently damaged by an unexpected experience. I went to a restaurant once and was served food that was so hot that it burned my tongue (no water was served to cool my mouth). It took years for my taste buds to recover. By the time I realized that there was a problem, it was too late to just decide not to go to that restaurant or to wait until the food cooled off or to insist on being served ice water.


This is exactly what I meant when I wrote in the article that people will argue over whether volume level is damaging to the ears, and not whether government should be involved in the first place.

The person who wrote this question implies that government regulation and (rational) liability claims are one and the same thing.

They’re not.

In a free society, people are free to sue for damages or fraud. If a restaurant claims to sell safe food and it doesn’t do so, then it’s guilty of — essentially — fraud. Civil and even criminal charges could apply.

This question appeals to emotion. “I got hurt — or another person could get hurt — so government must pass a law to prevent it.” But on any given day that I leave my house, something bad could happen to me. I could be the victim of anyone else’s negligence, malfeasance or contempt. How does this justify an unlimited government “nanny protective” state rather than a limited government? Why should laws be in place just to make me feel better? (Not that such anxiety will be cured by such laws, any more than drugs or alcohol solve problems.)

The other assumption taken for granted by this question is that no negligence on the part of the diner with the burned tongue is possible. For example, did he test the food to make sure it wasn’t hot? Did he feel it with his hands? Did he not listen to a warning by the server? These are questions that lawyers and courts must objectively consider in a liability claim. But the “oughta be a law” mentality bypasses all of this and automatically makes the customer the victim without having to prove anything.

When government passes a law such as outlawing diet soda or loud movies, it takes it for granted that the consumer or customer has no say or intelligence whatsoever.

With a claim for (objective) liability or damages, it’s different. The onus is on the person to prove, “The merchant claimed he was selling X, but instead he sold me Y — and it did harm.” This is a matter for the legal process to prove.

These “preventative liability” laws assume from the get-go that (1) the business owner is negligent or even malevolent, and (2) the customer is stupid and ignorant. While either or both of these things are sometimes true, they are not always or usually true. If they were, then as a society there would be much bigger problems than hot food, loud movies or too-large diet sodas.

The deeper issue here is that businesses are assumed guilty until proven innocent; only then, they are still guilty. That’s what justifies and fuels, in people’s minds, the “need” for ever-more regulation, litigation and legislation. Notice that as our society becomes more burdened with federal and local laws and regulations every day, people are still more anxious — and no safer — than ever before. If you ask me, this is psychological pathology on a widespread scale.

It seems that people only get what I’m saying when they attempt to open their own business and run into the sort of regulations that plague innovation and profitability. Most people don’t know what business owners are up against, because most people are not — and never will become — self-employed business owners themselves.

Even though most people are not business owners, everyone is a customer or a client in some context, every day of the week. And the ramifications of these regulations are always passed on to the customer, directly (in the form of costs) or indirectly (in the form of businesses that close up, fail to expand or fail to become more efficient).

If you’re going to live in a world where expanding choices and innovation are the norm, then you have to accept a certain level of risk — and self-responsibility. I know those are sinful, dirty words in our post-Oprah, Big Daddy Obama era.

If you don’t like the requirement to think and be aware, then you’re free to stay home. Don’t eat in restaurants that might serve food that’s too hot, and stay away from movie theaters where you find the movies too loud.

But stop demanding laws to impose the consequences of your fears on the entire population. You have no right to make your fear everyone else’s restriction.

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