Protecting Privilege

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Some people will do anything to preserve their privileges. For instance, an engineer working for the Department of Transportation of the state of North Carolina recently initiated an investigation of a private citizen after the citizen presented a well researched and documented argument supporting the installation of traffic lights at two intersections near his house when the state engineer felt there was no such need.

Kevin Lacy, the chief traffic engineer for the DOT of NC apparently felt threatened by these yokels who had presented a solid case indicating his own research to be inadequate, flawed, suspect, etc. Of course, we can’t just let anybody go around making informed decisions and reasonable arguments. I mean, unless we stamp out such uppity paupers, what good will all those expensive college degrees do?

Read all about it at

“When you start applying the principles for trip generation and route assignment, applying judgments from engineering documents and national standards, and making recommendations,” that’s technical work a licensed engineer would do, Lacy said.

Lacy is right. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if we let just regular, unlicensed people use sophisticated arguments when petitioning their government.

This made me think of a bit of the conversation I first had with deirinberg, the most recent and vocal commentor on many articles here on I, Pandora.

Deirinberg stated his belief that it is a good and necessary thing that those who have attended superb schools, those who have achieved superb things, in short, the elite, run the country. Better than you and I, better than the bumpkins that seem to populate the Republican platform. Initially I agreed with him. There are people far more intelligent, far more well read, far more able in many, many ways, than I, to take the reins of power and steer the great ship of state.

But thinking about this topic more in light of this article I see there is a weakness in that argument. The weakness is that it assumes that what it is I do not know that the elites do know is capable of making a significant difference were we to compare our relative abilities at leadership.

Like getting married, one is never quite ready, even as you’re walking down the aisle hand in hand. As the bloom comes off the rose you are faced with serious issues that are growth or failure opportunities. What is necessary at the outset is not some omniscient knowledge regarding marriage, but a basic level of maturity. A basic modicum of appropriate character.

So it is with leadership, responsibility, power, skill, even engineering: what matters is not the initials after your name or the school your diploma came from, what matters is whether or not you are capable of doing the task. This is also the great fallacy regarding government regulation. The faulty assumption is the same in either case. The government assumes there is somebody who knows best regarding how houses ought to be constructed or stop lights arranged or whatever the case may be.

But, you say, those houses constructed according to standards and regulations survive in “act of God” situations far better than those not so constructed.

The problem with this argument is that those who are most likely to have better ideas which are illegal or do not meet standards and regulations are also those most likely to desire to act in a manner consistent with the law. It’s the same with firearm regulation: when it is against the law for people to own firearms, only those who don’t care for the law will have firearms.

Regulations, standards, bureaucratically determined directions for who things ought to be done are inherently incapable of allowing technology, innovation, fresh ideas, positive growth to improve quality. Instead of pointing out how well standards-built houses survived storm X, Y, or Z, we ought instead to be asking why so many of them failed if they were built the best ability of our amazing technology.

Back to the elites, though. Anytime someone or some group finds themselves more interested in the preservation of their own position than they are in fulfilling the obligations of that position, be they Kevin Lacy, Chief Engineer, or Charles Rangel, Corruptocrat, or anybody else, they have exceeded the point of benefit. And you and I and any others with sufficient clarity of thought and purpose, regardless of our education or aptitudes, guided only by our responsibilities and choices, may step in and do the job we are called to do.

Oh, and reading Kevin’s Myspace profile, it seems like he and I would agree on a lot more points than we’d disagree on.  And he probably has excellent reasons for why he did what he did.

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5 thoughts on “Protecting Privilege”

  1. Thank you for thinking about me, Matt. However, I don't recall ever using the word "elite". I'm not a snob like that to think that an education makes you elite. In some ways, sure it does. In others it doesn't. I won't get into those ways, we'll save that for another time. What I will say is the problem is not the fact that we have regulations and laws. The problem is that the regulators, in most instances, are way too closely tied to those who they are supposed to be regulating.

  2. Take Wall Street for example. How is it that every single regulator is an ex-Goldman officer? That is the problem. It's not with the educated, it's that Big Biz has lobbiests write our policy. The recent "Financial Reform" that was passed (I use quotes because it reforms nothing, all it does is swindle more of our hard earned dollars into the pockets of big banks, all of whom seem to have grown substantially since the bailout, has anyone else noticed new monthly fees on their checking accounts?) was not written by our elected officials. Instead, over 75% of it was written by Big Bank lobbiests and passed by both sides of the isle in return for favors that will never be known to you or I. We do need educated regulators, but we need to seperate them from those they regulate. You know, we're the only country in the world who "elects" judges. Again, I use quotes because it's not fair elections. Companies fund the judges they can control and in return those judges rule in favor of those companies. How's that for pure Democracy for you?

  3. Side note Matt, you need to do something with your blog so that I can write longer comments and not have to split them up.

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