Submission to the Senate Inquiry into Personal choice and community impacts
21 July 15
There are certain basic laws which govern the behaviour of human activity systems. When governments institute restrictions on people's behaviour not only is the cost of such initiatives born by society as a whole, they have the potential of de-skilling the population once personal responsibility is shifted away from the individual to the government. The resultant overall capacity becomes diminished which necessitates further assistance. Yet it is society which ultimately provides the resources, therefore a reduced capacity undermines the resources needed for such assistance. Examples from the areas of education and the current attitudes towards the young demonstrate the deterioration has already set in, especially when compared with other industrialised countries. How continuing assistance without a commensurate effort on behalf of the recipient has led to a precarious situation on a large scale can be seen in the example of Africa. The ongoing obsession with making things as safe as possible for everybody has led to a degeneration of an entire society.
Over the years governments have enacted various measures in response to concerns about safety. Born out of the realisation that any member of society, when faced with a situation that involves a particular danger could be injured or worse because the danger could not have been foreseen, laws were introduced in order to raise the degree of safety.
Initially the focus was on circumstances that related to a particular expertise, presumed to be unfamiliar to anyone not specifically trained in that field. From there it spread to activities which, while potentially problematic, had not involved formal training. Activities such as using a swimming pool, riding a bicycle, or going to a bar to have a drink.
The justification for expanding the official concern about people's behaviour stemmed from the same attitude responsible for the previous kind of protection - preventing injury and the associated costs.
However, with an increasing number of activities falling under such auspices not only was society at large beset with more and more restrictions intruding into people's daily lives, the costs to governments rose in tandem.
Eventually the label "nanny state" was attached to an environment in which people were forced to conduct many of their personal affairs under supervision.
This submission seeks to explain the principles behind such measures, how they affect society at large and what they mean in terms of the role of governments.
Some basic laws
Whatever the rules imposed by governments may be, there are certain fundamental laws governing society. A society represents a human activity system, and human activity systems are essentially complex dynamic systems, hence non-linear. Non-linear systems follow their own laws, just as chemical processes or electricity for example have their own governing frameworks.
As far as the present topic is concerned, a society is influenced by the rules under which its members are meant to function, where the end result is the combined effect on the latter operating under the over-arching laws of nature. Rules designed by humans can be changed, the laws of nature cannot.
Everything has a cost, and that includes any measures a government has decided to take. The more measures that are taken, the greater the cost to the government and therefore the greater the cost to society as a whole, since it is from that pool all costs are sourced in the end.
If a given action performed by government increases the overall efficiency of its society the costs are recuperated and the entire system has become more viable. If the overall output has decreased, not only are the costs an additional burden on society but the overall productivity has declined making the society less viable still.
Sometimes an initiative requires the combined efforts by many in order for the project to be practical. That is to say, the immense costs which would have been born by a few individuals are transferred to the larger body with its greater resources, and the result produces a positive return which transmits back to all individuals. Public infrastructure is a case in point.
The same principle can be applied to different ratios. If the costs which could have been born by an individual are transferred to a larger body, the costs associated with the latter are higher but the effect is concentrated on the individual only. Since an individual can never offer a return similar to one made possible by a larger entity, the overall result is negative; society has made a loss. It would have been more efficient had the initiative remained with the individual.
The more individuals are targeted in this manner, the greater the loss to society because the ratio of individual vs the larger body needs to be largely maintained. Hence the question of what kind of measures a government should take in relation to each of society's members becomes one of balancing the negative effects of potentially erroneous actions by an individual against the greater costs born by society from preventative measures at that higher level.
Not only are the actions themselves significant in this equation, so are the number of actions. A government that spends resources on measures that are beyond the capabilities of a sufficient number of individuals will be faced with ongoing costs that deplete its resources overall.
Depleted resources translate into lower standards, lower standards are the precursor to a diminished overall capacity, and so the demands on a less capable government to provide even more assistance rise in tandem. Society finds itself in a down-ward spiral.
Another potential problem arises from the consequence of applying a relatively higher-level service to a lower-level performer. If the recipient has the capacity to accommodate the service they will benefit, otherwise the situation has become worse.
For example, if a visitor to France with only a few French words in their vocabulary asks a local for directions then the response will most likely be in French. At that point the visitor's limited vocabulary has been exceeded and effective communication breaks down. It would have been better had the visitor made known the lack of knowledge from the beginning and thus alerting the local that things have to be kept simple.
The problem with Greece in the European Union stems from the same principle, albeit on a much larger scale. The dynamics of a French or German economy do not synchronise with those of Greece and therefore certain circumventive measures had to be taken on an ongoing basis, eventually exploding into the current crisis .
Returning to the national context, an assistance at a relatively comprehensive scale presents a similar difficulty. If governments with their larger resources provide assistance to an individual who had problems operating at their respective level to begin with, there is the possibility that the supplied resources make it even harder for the recipient to be organised into something useful. In such cases the assistance has to be provided on a continuing basis, once again drawing on resources that have little chance of being recuperated. As before, such higher-level actions need to be balanced in terms of the contingencies of the resource ledgers against any considerations of the ethical or political kind.
Such is the relationship between those actions and their consequences that a seemingly altruistic assistance can be used to actually destroy its target.
Examples from the real
What follows are examples of initiatives that produced negative results. These initiatives could have originated from the government, or they are the consequence of pressures by interest groups applied to governments. Note that most of them sprang from good intentions, yet the idealism was superseded by reality.
They have already been described in some detail on my website otoom.net and are represented here as links together with a short summary.
Education in Australia
Complex dynamic systems - human activity systems - affinity relationships - the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reports - STEM initiatives - lack of risk-taking - eating disorders - lack of male teachers - the ideology behind it all.
Feminist ideals about society
Health expenditure over the years - parents' guilt - lack of interest in education - slaves to bullying - the ambiguous mother instinct - self-mutilation in the service of beauty - the elevation of the Child - undermining society in the service of ideology - the burdens on welfare - power shift away from the West.
The deterioration of a culture
Dysfunction is celebrated but achievement is attacked - changing the mind of society - grooming children towards weakness - a comparison between 19th century Britain and its present status.
The effects of aid on Africa
Some statistics - the relationship between aid and Africa's birth rate over the years - increase in population density - is altruism used as a destructive force?
Australia's global competitiveness
The Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014 - Australia's position in relation to the world - changing demographics are signposts to the future.
In any society the government seeks to create a citizenry according to its own vision. If the society is a democratic one that intent entails a feedback process via elections and representations to the government, but in the end the overall relationship still holds.
The more effective the means for implementing that intent are, the more comprehensive the outcome. A historical example would be the composition of mercenary armies compared to a nation-wide conscripted military force. In terms of the sum-total the conscripted soldiers form a more cohesive body than a collection of mercenary troops. As a consequence a national army is more effective.
Ideally then the idea would suggest itself that the more synchronised a body of people can be made to be, the more effectively can such a population be administered.
However, soon the non-linear nature of society (see above) presents a problem. While in the case of an army the rules of war, the framework of military engagement, and the stated intent are largely predictive across the entire scope, this does not apply to populations at large.
Especially in an advanced society with its variety of facilities, opportunities, and the spread of individual potentials across its population, what the daily affairs of one member mean to them is often quite different from another member. The notion of homogenising a society in accordance with some overriding blueprint therefore will not produce the hoped-for result.
Not only are the specific situations unforeseeable at any given time, the solution to any problem is equally opaque should it reside with an over-arching body such as a government. Relatively small-scale problems should be left to the individual, since it is at that level that the best version under the circumstances can be worked out. To insist otherwise would not only produce inadequate solutions, the very capacity for problem-solving on an individual basis would be undermined because the individual has been relieved of the need to think for themselves. Furthermore, when the outcome falls below the expectations, on top of everything else it is the government that is being blamed. In the European Union the transfer of an initiative to the local level is termed the subsidiarity principle .
Inadequate solutions make for lowered standards overall and hence society at large is affected. In non-linear systems the change happens slowly and often it is barely noticed until the jump to another system state occurs; in mathematics this is referred to as a bifurcation .
By now the effects of decades of governmental protectionism have accumulated and have found their way into the statistics representative of a range of sectors, from education to health to Australia's general competitiveness; see Examples from the real for the details. The resultant ambience is not lost on those who had the opportunity to compare it with others .
In the article Societal collapse several scenarios are mentioned where certain factors have led to the disintegration of a particular society . Some of those factors are not dissimilar to the ones described here, although the present submission deals with their technical aspects rather than their specific contents.
At the point of collapse the type of response derives from the kind of oppression that had been in place. Prison-filling authoritarians such as Nicolae Ceaușescu  or Hetty Johnston  may differ in their modus operandi but the extent of an artificially created criminality under the dictates of an ideology is similar in both cases. Once a sufficient number of strands of the erstwhile social fabric have unravelled the end is swift. Who would have thought pre-1989 that within days ordinary citizens would smash the wall so stringently fortified over decades in East Germany  - certainly not the likes of Erich Honecker.
A system-wide established template of what is proclaimed as a safeguard by its adherents does not ennoble the society, it undermines it.
It has become a case of trying too hard. Shifting the onus of being challenged towards the wider system creates the opposite effect since in the end the 'system' is us. If we disempower ourselves, how capable can the system ever be in the end?
If someone were to systematically damage the infrastructure of this nation, that person would be treated as a terrorist. Since a nation's human resources are arguably even more important than bridges and power stations, there is no reason why such a person should be treated differently if the target are the people. In effect the current protectionism is doing exactly that, yet without any repercussions regarding the initiators of such actions.
At the same time not only are the effects of climate change, the ageing of the population, and global upheavals putting a considerable pressure on government budgets right now, all the above factors are on track to increase their impact. Without an adequate resilience on the part of the citizenry no government can enact protective measures against the inevitable while at the same time playing virtual parent for everyone. Necessary investments in infrastructure, science, and education take second place. Non-linear systems can digest the deteriorating influence of several factors for a while, but if unheeded a sudden jump by the system to another state is inevitable. At that point society will be markedly different. For our present leaders dismantling the "nanny state" may well become an act of self-preservation.
The attitude held by so many of "after taking care of my indulgences how much do I need to do for society" needs to be changed to "after doing what is needed for society how much is left for my indulgences". Unfortunately, pointing this out is often met with derision.
One should not forget that we owe our existence here today to our ancestors having been subjected to an evolutionary selection process that ensured their survival. We are running the risk of squandering that inheritance.
No doubt there are some who would disagree with those sentiments; yet that in itself is an indication how much society has been allowed to degenerate over the years.
About the author
Bachelor of Information Technology degree from Griffith University, Brisbane.
Bachelor of Information Technology Honours degree (Artificial Intelligence), also from Griffith University.
Conducted research into how the mind works. At first developed within the context of artificial intelligence, the results apply to the dynamics of human activity systems in general.
Since its completion in 2003 the model has proven its validity on hundreds of occasions. Among others it predicted the outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the implosion of so many Pacific Island states, the riots in France (see http://www.otoom.net/parallels.htm).
For more details see http://www.otoom.net/cv.htm.
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2. The principle of subsidiarity, EUR-Lex, 2010, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV:ai0017 (accessed on internet 11 July 2015).
3. Bifurcation theory, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bifurcation_theory (accessed on internet 8 July 2015).
4. B. Groundwater, Australia nanny state: Have we become a nation of idiots?, Traveller, 2015, http://www.traveller.com.au/australia-the-land-of-the-idiot-gi36oy (accessed on internet 13 July 2015).
5. Societal collapse, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Societal_collapse (accessed on internet 13 July 2015).
6. Nicolae Ceaușescu, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolae_Ceaușescu (accessed on internet 14 July 2015).
7. Hetty Johnston, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hetty_Johnston (accessed on internet 14 July 2015).
8. East Germany, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Germany (accessed on internet 14 July 2015).