UK: Common Sense Isn’t Common Anymore

Last Tuesday, an ex-soldier called Paul Clarke was convicted of possessing a firearm and may now face a minimum sentence of five years. One day Mr Clarke was standing on his balcony when he spotted a black bin liner at the bottom of his garden, and on closer inspection he found that the bin liner contained a sawn-off shotgun. The reaction of Mr Clarke was instinctual – he went to the local police station and handed it in. Since he had technically ‘possessed’ the weapon on the journey to the station, he was deemed to be in breach of the law and will now be banged up for half a decade.

Also last week, there was Lorraine Elliot, the lawyer who lost her job after it was disclosed she had been wrongly arrested for forging her husbands signature on a nursery application form. Her DNA was taken and placed on the National DNA Database and the record of her arrest kept on file despite her being found innocent of any crime.

Then there was Mary Cooke, a pregnant lady from Staffordshire who was almost ran over by a speeding motorist. After reporting the incident to the police and inviting a policewomen into her home to take a statement, Mrs Cooke was reported to social services for the half-finished state of the wallpapering in her home – it seems that failing to decorate a home to the standards of the police is now indicative of potentially bad parenting.

Even worse is the case of a women from Nottingham who had her newly born child taken away because social services deemed her ‘too stupid’ to be able to look after the baby. Psychologists who assessed the woman disagreed, but non of this made a difference, and a similar case in Scotland has seen a young couple with an unborn child flee from their home town in order to escape the grasp of the local authorities.

There was Sherif Abdel-Fattah, the doctor who was given a speeding ticket whilst rushing to the hospital to save a bleeding womans life after her Cesarean Section went wrong. There was Demetrios Samouris, the Student who was fined £80 for dropping a matchstick. There was the Mother that was followed home by an off-duty policeman, interviewed by police and investigated by social-service Nazis after she threatened to smack her misbehaving children in a supermarket. Finally, (this one I quite enjoyed) there was the police car that was filmed being given a parking ticket for illegal parking.

But why is it that as individuals we seem unable to stop ourselves being Stasi-like jobsworths with a compulsion to enforce the line of the law whilst ignoring the spirit of it? Why do so many ‘public servants’ feel it necessary to leave at home their natural tendencies for common sense when they set off for work in the morning? Put simply, why is common sense not common anymore?

One answer is that we have a state that believes it can improve society through a plethora of centrally dictated targets for arrest, conviction, education, equality, morality, parenting and any other number of things. All noble aims, but all unachievable when the state is the driving force behind them.

The more a government legislates on our day to day activities, the less we take ownership of those activities ourselves. We begin to lose the ability of self-determination in our responsibilities, and as a consequence we have nothing else to fall back on apart from the rigid framework of state diktat. The disempowerment suffered by individuals under the thumb of the state leads to a stupefaction of social intercourse, and a learned helplessness that infects an ever increasing number of our daily interactions.

These observations do not lead me to a negative conclusion in regards to the human condition and our potential for creating autonomous order in a stateless society. Far from it, the same human characteristics that lead to seemingly defeatist and subservient social patterns, are the very characteristics that will enable our liberation from this malaise.

Humans are not fixed moral beings with an unchanging socio-psychological makeup; we are adaptive and complex. We are programmed as individuals to survive at all costs, but the survival methods we adopt are dependent on the environment we find ourselves in. When the state creates an environment where survival of the individual is best served by adopting an ‘it’s more than my jobs worth’ attitude, then community – which is an emergent property of our need to survive in nature – begins to fade away.

In this light, the characteristics of officiousness and subservience that we observe in many walks of life, can be seen as the evidence that individuals have adapted their behaviour to fit in with a social protocol distorted by government. Take away the artificial order of the state however, and society will begin once more to self-order. People will regain their motivation to engage in patterns reciprocal behaviour and mutual support, and common sense will become common once again.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory