Dutch�s Laws of Just About Everything

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof 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. Irecently read an essay by a woman whose husband�s child support had just beendoubled. His ex-wife was employable but chose to live on welfare and childsupport. She wondered why her husband was held responsible for supporting hischildren, but his ex wasn�t. The author, incidentally, was black. Sooutrageous abuses of welfare do happen. Maybe not as often as stereotypesuggests, but they do happen.

Welfare abuse is a problem. Don't complain about stereotypes until you havedone everything possible to root out abuses. Minority crime is a problem. If youdon't like seeing minorities stereotyped as criminals, eliminate minority crime.White racism is a problem. If you don't like having minorities stereotype whitesas racists, then speak out every time you hear a racist remark. Professors whoget tenure and then coast, crooked lawyers, and flim-flamming televangelists arereal problems, too. Don't complain about the stereotypes if you're not devotingmaximum 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 torationalize that their particular problem stereotype was entirely due tosomebody else's prejudice.

Just about everything your opponents say about you is true

Republicans are more concerned about the wealthy than theunderprivileged. Democrats are more concerned about the rights ofsociopaths than they are about ordinary citizens.

Hint: Republicans, you get elected because you offer the public protectionfrom social predators and regulatory micromanagement. Don�t make the mistakeof assuming you have a mandate to ravage the environment or cut taxes for thewealthy. Democrats, you get elected because you offer protection from the abusesof the wealthy and powerful, and a social safety net. That�s not a mandate forgay rights, abortion on demand, or overriding every local decision in thecourts.

Suppressing discussion is always more dangerous to the suppressor

Stonewalling, shouting down opponents, or outright suppression of criticismis like slapping a Band-aid on gangrene. The wearer may be fooled, but everybodyelse can still smell the corruption. The problem simply goes underground whereyou can�t 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 upbehind you and have you for lunch.

Every time I read an op-ed protest piece on welfare reform, the same naggingquestion keeps coming back to me. Supporters of welfare programs have known fordecades that abuses were festering sources of discontent among the public. Also,they have known that the actual number of real abuses is very small. Enactingreforms to stop the abuses would have had no effect on most welfare recipients. Sowhy didn�t they support responsible reform while they had the chance? Whydid public discontent with welfare have to spiral out of control before changeswere made? Did welfare advocates believe they were so invincible they couldignore criticism forever? Did they enjoy seeing their critics angry andfrustrated? Probably yes to both.

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

Still another example, the Constitution Project. This is a bipartisancoalition of supporters and opponents of capital punishment who seek to ensurethat if we do have capital punishment, it will be fair and do everythingpossible to prevent innocent people from being punished. An eminently sensibleapproach. One of the Project's goals is to eliminate legal technicalities thatprevent new evidence from being heard. Great. Where were these guys whencriminals were being routinely released on technicalities? Did it ever occurto 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 toprevent injustice was to stop perpetrating it themselves?

This principle has been displayed in spectacular form in national politicsover the last decade or so. George Bush had a 90 per cent approval rating afterthe 1991 Persian Gulf War, ignored public discontent over the economy and jobsecurity, and lost the White House the very next year. The Democrats won thePresidency, brushed off complaints about social issues once too often and lostCongress only two years later. Then the Republicans, having learned absolutelynothing from the Bush debacle, tried to give it all back as quicklyas possible. Fortunately for them, they gave it back to Bill Clinton, who gaveit right back.

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

If you don�t fix a problem, don�t complain if somebody fixes it for you

A simple consequence of the principle above. Stay home on election day ifnone of the candidates are satisfactory to you. Thank you for making my votemore effective.

Eternal vigilance is not the price of liberty. It�s the price of everything

Every object you own has to be maintained. In society, there will always bepeople who oppose whatever you hold dear. They will try to overturn, evade orweaken your reforms. Others will seek power, wealth, or status without doing anywork. 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 Ihad a chance to tour what was then the East German frontier. From the guide�snarration, I got the distinct impression that the East Germans were just plainexhausted from trying to seal their country off. We were all lucky thatCommunism 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 can�tbe subverted or abused. People who crave power or status will gravitate towardwhatever confers those rewards. And they will always discover ways to get therewards 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 onautopilot and then ignored while everybody goes out to play. No such systemexists. People who search for The Perfect System want the benefits of a perfectsociety 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 wastaken off the market after Parker Brothers, owners of Monopoly, sued. Andwith good reason. Players collected not money, but Social Consciousness Credits.In all other respects the game was exactly like Monopoly. So if we didaway with money and gave out Social Consciousness Credits instead, we'd soonhave people hoarding them, trading them, counterfeiting them, and scheming toget them without actually displaying any social consciousness. In short, all theevils of money plus a self-righteous smugness that we had done away with all theevils of money.

Sometimes you lose

Not every position can be, or deserves to be, accommodated. You lost. Maybethat 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 tomy opinion" is. It's amazing how often people, backed into a corner bylogic 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 holdan opinion on an issue, you have a moral obligation to make it an informedopinion. 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. Thebest idea I ever heard was that voters should have to recite the Bill of Rightsverbatim before being allowed to vote. Failing that, we could attach aten-question multiple choice exam to each ballot. Votes would be weighted bypercent correct. With electronic voting, we could scramble the questions toprevent cheating. Certainly if you're too dumb or slack to follow an arrow fromthe candidate's name to the correct punch hole, or make sure the ballot iscorrectly done, you have no right to complain about the outcome.

Think about it. Would campaign finance reform be necessary if people onlyheld 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, ineffect, "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 preventreality from having its way? Do you think denying the energy crisis will keepthe price of oil down? Or that denying the destruction of the ozone layer willserve as a substitute for sunscreen? Do you think insisting your theology orideology is infallible fools the people who can see your evasions andrationalizations?

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Created 6 February 2001, Last Update 15 January 2020

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