We Have Become a Nation of Wimps

Went to the bus station at 8am to go to NYC. They had shut down (all of them) at 1am this morning (without telling anyone). Pathetic.

UPDATE: Obama, “If I had a son I’d think long and hard about letting him play football.”

4 Responses to We Have Become a Nation of Wimps

  1. Martin J. Malliet says:

    Wimps and Institutionalised Irresponsibility

    Imagine a busdriver owning his bus and running his own busroute as a business: not only would he depend on his customers for making a living, he would be proud not to show himself a wimp by driving his bus and serving his customers to the point where he would indeed get scared by the risk he’s taking for himself, his bus and his customers.

    As a unionised employee of a large transport company, his incentives are completely different. As are those of the owners of the large transport company, especially when it is a public sector company. Incentives determine invididual actions, and actions have consequences.

    It is the disconnect between incentives and consequences that is at the basis of what Frank Van Dun calls ‘institutionalised irresponsibility’ in his article on “Hobbesian Democracy” (2005). And it is this disconnect that makes our world so ‘complicated’ and difficult to understand, and incidentally favours conspiracy theories in the mind of those who do not want to abandon the assumption of responsibility (“someone must be behind all this and have planned it for some ulterior motive such as world domination”).

    The natural order of the human world as understood by natural law philosophers on the other hand is entirely built on ‘responsibility’, i.e. on the fact that consequences must always be linked to incentives. ‘Suum cuique’. To each his own. It’s Google-like social technology, i.e. it is perfectly scalable, from 10 to 10.000 to 10 million etc agents (or Google servers).

    Frank Van Dun has been labeled as a libertarian, and he is of course no more an anti-capitalist as libertarians are. But that doesn’t stop him from pointing out that the public corporation and the whole notion of limited responsibility as enacted by positive law give rise to exactly the same sort of institutionalised irresponsibility in public corporations we find in democratic politics.

  2. mika says:

    Would censorship qualify?

  3. w.w.wygart says:

    I can commiserate. It does seem a bit absurd when they start closing everything down before the first flake hits the highway, then can’t figure out how to notify travelers in advance – annoying. I think though we as a group are getting more sophisticated at this sort of thing. In the town where I live we get an automated phone call whenever there is a school closing, or a parking ban due to snow, whatever. I’m not sure how much it costs, but it works reasonably well.

    On the other hand I’m sure that some actuary somewhere can tell you with a reasonable confidence level for every inch of snow that falls how many extra deaths, injuries and disabilities are going to result. If you are a municipal authority it makes a certain amount of sense to limit the predictable carnage by limiting use of various transport systems during exceptional weather, as well as limit the exceptional, but less easily projected carnage do a frozen switch or signal on a rail line & etc.

    I don’t think we want to turn ourselves back into the third world, where thousand of people are killed and maimed every year unnecessarily. For instance in Kano, Nigeria motorcycle taxis were banned recently after they were used as transport for islamist insurgents. The predictable hew and cry from the motorbike taxi operators over the loss of their income, but how about the families of the 2,000+ people killed in Kano every year on the backs of motorbike taxis?

    Martin wrote:

    “Imagine a bus driver owning his bus and running his own bus route as a business: not only would he depend on his customers for making a living, he would be proud not to show himself a wimp by driving his bus and serving his customers to the point where he would indeed get scared by the risk he’s taking for himself, his bus and his customers.”

    Myself, and this is just me, I want to be kept safe from the white knuckle bus drivers of this world. One reason I really don’t like traveling in the third world. As a bus driver my first responsibility should be getting my passengers to their destination safely – arriving in a body bag just doesn’t count. Transport drivers who take unnecessary risks get their passengers killed, or make them late even if uninjured. If the weather is so bad that it is no longer prudent to drive you don’t leave the station. There is only so much you can do about the weather.

    Or for instance being a passenger on a capsized ferry in the Philippines. Yes they managed to cram you on board so you might have got to your destination on time; unfortunately this act raised the metacentric height of the vessel so high that it just rolled over, you eventually make it a day late, but the rest of your family is dead. Wonderful. You’d probably wish the ferry operator and vessel’s master were a bit more “wimpish”.

    I’m not sure about Martin’s assessment, “Wimps and Institutionalized Irresponsibility” is completely correct either. Yes, institutions naturally tend to sweep up individual initiative and responsibility then: collectivize it, agglomeration it, and then screw it up; however, part of the symptom we are witnessing I believe corresponds the the first inklings of “Institutional Responsibility”, that is our governmental institutions starting to figure out how to act responsibly themselves – with our live, property and resources – except they do it in a predictably bureaucratic and inefficient way. Evolution in process.

    Institutions are only as good as the individuals who operate them. Actually it’s more like institutions can operate no better than the level level the people who operate it, or probably even more like the root-mean-square of the level of the people who operate it. Which is why I’m not hugely fond of institutions in general and always in favor of lowering institutional decision making authority to the lowest practical level.


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