Aug 01 2013

On the Infantilization of Our Society

Recently, I have noticed a few situations where people who are supposed to be responsible adults, often in positions of power and responsibility, have been unable to speak directly, make decisions, or accept that they must be responsible, or more importantly that society isn’t responsible for them.

Following the catastrophic flooding in Southern Alberta in June 2013, some of the people who had their homes and businesses damaged or destroyed feel that the rest of us should bail them out.   They shamed insurance companies into paying out on policies that clearly excluded damages from overland flooding or natural disasters.  They are demanding that the government make them “whole”, not just providing them funds to remediate homes from water and mold, but replace the homes as they existed, including luxuries like granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.  All the while while thousands of their fellow citizens were volunteering their time to clean up and save their homes at all.

The problem is that these individuals (by no means every person directly affected by the flooding) believe two things:

  • That they should not be held responsible to signing contracts for insurance policies that had limitations
  • That the state (i.e. the masses of taxpayers) should absolve them of unfortunately events

If you are looking for a home, you should be aware that insurance policies (at least reasonably priced ones) are not all-inclusive and zero risk.   If you cannot buy overland flood insurance, perhaps the risk profile of buying riverfront property is different than buying a house on a hill.

The second point is that life isn’t fair.  It never has been.  You don’t always get the job you want, business ideas sometimes fail and sometimes events beyond your control make your life more difficult.   Just because money can replace a home shouldn’t mean that your fellow taxpayers should have to “bring back your house” any more than they can bring back your deceased love one who got cancer and died too young.

My second group of people are those in government who hide from the real decisions.  Members of the Alberta government ignored the recommendations of a report into flood prevention commissioned after the 2005 floods – ostensibly because they fear the political impacts and cost of acting and because of the meme that those floods were a one in a hundred event.  The problem is that flooding in Calgary and other southern Alberta rivers happens pretty regularly.  Major flooding in 1876, 1897, 1915, 1932, 1946, 1995, 2005 and 2013 doesn’t sound like a rare event.  It’s common.  How to you thing the town south of Calgary got the name “High River” anyway?  We should have stopped building on the flood plains decades ago and built spillways to dissipate floodwaters could have been done long before the 2005 floods.  But we and our leaders would rather pretend it won’t happen again.

Related to this is the problem of not budgeting for natural disasters – again on the basis that they are unpredictable and rare.  Except that the Alberta government has spent nearly $500MM a year for the last number of years on disaster response and reconstruction.  2013 will be much higher.  Perhaps this needs to be a budget line item and an “emergency fund”?

FInally, the inability of large corporations, governments and other groups to make decisions baffles me.  The political correctness of making sure that “all the stakeholders” have input, making decisions by consensus and trying to find the “perfect” solution has resulted in paralysis.  Projects like Northern Gateway, Energy East, Ring of Fire mines in Northern Ontario or oil sands projects are being stalled or killed because any one of dozens or hundreds of “stakeholders” is given veto power.  While many believe the risk of a representative democracy is tyranny of the majority – in truth it has become paralyzed by pandering to the loudest complainant.

We say that every citizen is equal in the voting booth – and that must be held sacrosanct.  But that does not mean that every citizen’s opinion or viewpoint should be given equal weight.  Not everyone has the understanding and knowledge to provide valuable input on every topic.  I forget who said it (or wrote it), but we truly live in a technological civilization created by a few hundred geniuses, and populated by a few billion fools.

In decades pass, government got more done, businesses worked faster and we made progress.  Today, government is synonymous with waste, businesses take three times as long to make decisions and our economy is slowly stagnating and people are not better off than they were a few years ago.  It’s time to reset the clock and free ourselves to DO, instead of just talk.


  1. Gordon

    Good take!

    You should read:

    “Death of the Grown-up”
    How America’s Arrested Developement is Bringing Down Western Civilization

    by Diana West

    for an excellent analysis on the theme of society’s infantization

    A theme echoed in Mark “Steyn’s After America”

  2. Ira

    I think saying “life isn’t fair” is unnecessarily simplistic. I would argue that life is absolutely fair, but that most people haven’t bothered to investigate what fairness actually entails.

    If you wilfully expose yourself to risk, then that risk occasionally manifesting itself negatively is entirely consistent with fairness. In fact, it would be unfair if people who paid to protect themselves from risk (even if that payment was only through opportunity costs) found they derived no relative benefit from that payment.

    Indemnification has value.

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