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Should councils and governments use our money for their social engineering projects?

Updated on March 1, 2011

Introduction

This issue is largely defined by the following question: are governments and councils elected to run the country effectively, or to effect their political ideologies?

Unfortunately, due to the system we have in the UK, the two cannot be divorced, although in more recent times it would seem that political parties have tended to distance themselves from ideological political manifestos to become more focussed on individual issues. This is almost certainly in recognition of the fact that the voting public, or at least the huge "middle ground" that has to be won over in order to become elected, is not very party politically motivated, and just wants the country to be run efficiently and effectively.

Thus promoting hard left or hard right policies merely serves to alienate most of the voters who they wish to win over; so instead they focus on the things that matter most to the middle ground voters, which are taxes, education, health, security, law and order.

Personally, I think this is a good thing - particularly because I am one of those "middle ground" voters, so I am not interested in far left or far right ideologies, I just want the country run efficiently, so that the tax burden can be kept as low as possible, and the individual can assume responsibility for their own well-being, and how they live their life.

So where do they deviate from this?

Well, let's take a look at the issue of recycling waste. In general, this is agreed to be a good thing - it is better to re-use things rather than re-make them from scratch, it is better to compost organic waste than to throw it into landfill, etc.

Thus, councils in the UK provide facilities for the residents to separate waste into different bins and have it to collected separately and recycled appropriately - e.g. paper, plastic, glass, green waste, and the rest. Interestingly, this policy is forced upon the councils by the government.

Now, our council, like many others, has taken it upon themselves (or maybe it is due to government pressure or funding-linked targets) to start to dictate how much waste each household is allowed to produce. We have one wheely-bin for non-recyclable waste which is collected every two weeks, and if you "overfill" it so that the lid does not close, then they take out whatever they need to until the lid will close, and leave that on your driveway, and take the rest. I've heard that other councils refuse to empty the entire bin if the lid does not close. Others again fine people for overfilling their bin.

Now surely all of this is ridiculous. I pay my council tax to have my bins emptied. I would like them to be emptied weekly, not fortnightly, but I can only have it done fortnightly. The refuse collection is a service that I pay for. I am the customer. Why then do the council (also my paid servants, paid for by my local taxes, and who I may not have voted for) or the government (who I pay for through my income tax and VAT and other taxes, and who I also may not have voted for) think they have the right to tell me how much rubbish I am allowed to produce in a two-week period? How can they possibly have the right to refuse to collect my refuse because they have deemed that I am generating too much of it?

This is social engineering

The answer is that they think that they can do it because it is a "good cause", and, as an elected government / council, they have the right to introduce policies which they deem to be for the general good of the nation. That, of course, is difficult to argue against, as it is exactly their purpose.

The argument comes in the analysis of to what level they should be allowed to interfere in the minute details of an individual's everyday life. Yes, they should maintain law and order, yes they should dictate monetary policy, but should they be able to dictate how much non-recyclable rubbish a household is allowed to produce on a fortnightly basis? I would say, no, that is going too far. Advise on what is reasonable, yes, but please do not enforce a maximum limit.

I take that view because this is only a small step away from enforcing how much alcohol a person can drink in a week, or how much exercise they must take, or how much sleep they must have, or how late they are allowed to stay up at night, or by what time they must be out of bed in the morning.

You will notice that I have been moving the "boundary" to ever more "unreasonable" levels of micro-control over the individual. Some may agree that each person should have the amount of rubbish that they produce limited, and others will agree that the state should control how much alcohol a person is allowed to drink in a week, but very few will agree that the state should control our bed-time and getting-up time - that sounds all too much like the horrific worlds portrayed in the works of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell: state control taken to the extreme.

So where should the boundary lie?

This is difficult to answer, because, as I have already demonstrated, the populus will individually have different views as to where that boundary should lie. If we look at smoking, then we see a "pleasure" (for those who indulge) being controlled by the government for the good of the health of the nation. Do smokers believe that the government should be dictating to them whether they should smoke or not, or where they can do it?

Then look at smoking cannabis. It's arguably not much more of a health risk than smoking tobacco, but it is illegal, and smoking tobacco is not - although tobacco is restricted in terms of people not being allowed to smoke in enclosed public spaces, of course.  However, how much an individual chooses to smoke is not restricted (other than by the price, largely dictated by the tax that the government puts on tobacco).

Where does drinking alcohol come then? .....and taking regular exercise?

Many would argue that the state does not just have a right, but has a duty to promote healthy living, and should be able to stop us doing unhealthy things, like smoking and drinking, but where do they stand on enforced exercise, or being in bed by 10pm every night?

Conclusion

Thus it would seem that social engineering actually covers the whole spectrum from enforcing upon us when to go to bed and when to get up, through to preventing us from murdering each other - the whole spectrum is social engineering, the problem is just where the line should be drawn.   And every individual in the country will draw the line in a slightly different place.   And where that individual will draw their own line will vary over time - who would have drawn the line such that they agreed that the government should stop people from smoking 80 years ago?

Does this mean that we are inexorably being drawn, over time, to the Brave New World or George Orwell's vision of 1984 (albeit a bit late)?   Well, that's what they predicted.    Are they wrong?

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