Staring Down the Dangers of Modernity

January 18, 2013 4:04 am 0 comments

Michael Bloomberg. Photo: wiki commons.

Humans have been inventing things that save and improve lives for a while, but we now realize these signs of modernity can also hurt and kill us, and they therefore need to be controlled:  guns, subway trains, ice cream drinks and supermodels.

Two people were murdered by subway trains in New York in the last month, deliberately pushed to their deaths. Some prominent New Yorkers suggested putting up special walls or fences at all subway stations, though this might prove a bit inconvenient for the 8.5-million daily subway riders.

It seems that two or three people are hit or grazed by NY subway trains each week, 138 in 2012, of whom 54 died, according to the Wall Street Journal. However, making subways people-proof is so costly and cumbersome that no one is seriously considering the idea.

Sometimes, however, governments hastily impose their “cure” for modernity, regardless of the lack of logic, and then, over time, it is discovered that the “cure” is ineffective or is even worse than the disease.

Chicago has one of the toughest gun-control laws in the United States, and its level of homicides has only climbed higher as its gun control laws got tougher—506 homicides in 2012, a 16 percent increase over 2013.

Connecticut’s tough gun law did not prevent the school massacre last month.

The simple truth is that passing an intrusive gun law or creating a subway platform obstacle would inconvenience millions of subway riders and create obstacles for those who want to own guns legally and responsibly, but not assure an increase in safety.

Such measures are really loud public relations gestures. They are like firing a shot gun at a room full of flies, creating a lot of noise and missing the target.

Israel’s parliament passed a law this week requiring fashion models to bring a note from their doctor to every photo-shoot stipulating that the model is not underfed and that her BMI—body-mass-index—is healthy. The rationale for the law was that some young girls were starving themselves to death in order to look like the cover-girls.

Speaking of cover-girls, the same law also requires all media in Israel to stop using “photo-shop” or other enhancement techniques to make models look more beautiful.

It’s too bad that few people in Israel’s parliament know jokes in Yiddish, because this law is like the set-up for a Yiddish joke that ends with the words: doss velt holfen azoy vee ah-lokh in kopf: “It’ll help like another hole in the head.”

Anyone who knows anything about the mental aspects of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia knows that laws about fashion models and photo-shop will help eating disorders about as much as a hole in the head.

People with eating disorders need counseling and treatment. Let’s leave the fashion models, their TV programs and magazines alone, PLEASE !!!! They have  rights to free expression and free digestion without a government telling them what to do.

Let us also not forget the rights of the consumers—the women—and especially the men—who  fantasize over these Victorias and their secrets. The real fantasizing is by law makers who think every mishap, every earthly wrong, every exaggeration of behavior can be defeated by passing a new law or government ordinance.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks outlawing big soda and ice cream drinks will somehow defeat the problem of obesity, and so he pushed an edict banning sugar-containing-drinks of sixteen ounces or more (453.5 grams).

“This is the single biggest step any city, I think, has ever taken to curb obesity,” said Bloomberg, and New Yorkers should probably consider themselves lucky that the mayor did not take a page out of the book of the Marquis De Sade who might have recommended sewing shut the mouths of the obese.

The scattershot approach of legislating every aspect of modern life has never worked. Alcoholism and drunkenness lead to crime and to many accidental deaths, but the constitutional amendment on Prohibition of all liquor was a disaster.

Better to narrow the focus and tighten enforcement, linked to specific abuse or misuse of a product. For example, banning drunken driving would be enforced in a tough fashion. First offenders pay $5,000 for example, if no one is hurt, but go to jail for three years if anyone is seriously injured, or ten years if someone dies. No pleas.

Second offenders on drunken driving would lose their cars and their right to drive for ten years along with a three-year jail term. If someone gets hurt or killed, the sentence is severely multiplied. Once a few such sentences are imposed, you can be sure that drunken driving will nose-dive, as designated drivers make a mint.

Similarly, people who drive while sending text-messages on their cell-phones should face tough justice. To control accidents by people taking their eyes or mind off the road, we do not ban alcohol or cell-phones. Instead we must mercilessly punish those who abuse alcohol and cell phones.

Possession of an illegal gun would mean $10,000 fine for first offense, but more effective would be to punish criminals who have guns in their possession during a crime. Possession of a gun during the commission of a crime would mean an automatic tripling of the sentence.

In other words, “grand theft auto” by someone who has a gun while stealing a car would change a three-year sentence into a nine-year sentence. Using a gun during the commission of a crime—threatening with a gun or firing the gun—would mean a five-hold increase in sentence. A four-year sentence for assault or robbing a bank would become a 20-year sentence. No paroles, no pleas.

As for murder by subway train or murder by gun or murder by rock-throwing, we cannot ban subways, guns or rocks, but we can incarcerate or execute murderers. This means tough minimum sentences with no parole or reduction for good behavior.

We do not stop arson by banning fire, because fire is a useful invention. We try to limit the damage of fires by controlling accidental fires, by teaching people how to extinguish campfires and  not to smoke in bed. We try to curb deliberate arson by punishing arsonists, not by demonizing those who rub two sticks together for a spark.

We need that spark.

Dr. Michael Widlanski, an expert on Arab politics and communications, is the author of  Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat published by  Threshold/Simon and Schuster. A former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively at The New York Times, Cox Newspapers and The Jerusalem Post, he was  Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security and teaches at Bar Ilan University.

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