There are, believe it or not, a couple of things with which I agree within the stated Republican philosophy. In particular, I like very much the idea of personal responsibility, an idea which members of that party often claim as a fundamental tenet. And while in practice that usually translates into “screw the needy,” there’s a lot to be said for the non-sinister application of the idea.
We had this quirky little thing we used to do back when I was just a young adult. We’d make plans, and then . . . my, it was old-fashioned . . . we’d meet at the appointed time and place to keep the appointment. It wasn’t until I lived in Los Angeles that I encountered the request for a reminder call. After carefully checking calendars and choosing a time and a place to meet, the other party would ask, “Will you call me the day before to remind me?” “Absolutely,” I’d respond as I crossed out the plans in my datebook.
We now even get reminders of important appointments (see “Don’t Remind Me”) such as those to see doctors, teachers, or tax preparers—appointments we’ve made, and of which we are the beneficiaries. These are the types of commitments which we all used to take personal responsibility for keeping, showing up as scheduled without needing assistance to do so. Of course, that was way back in the old days when we weren't quite so busy playing Fortnite Battle Royale and acting as photojournalists of our own fascinating lives. Back then, we had more brain space for things like basic adult responsibilities and so forth. Now we get reminders.
And the problem with that, you see, is this: If we know someone is going to help us think, then we don’t need to think for ourselves.
So we don’t.
And that’s why a TV commercial featuring a stunt driver doing mad figure eights, squealing around cones on an uninhabited stretch of road, leaving a trail of gravel and dust in his wake needs to add “Professional driver on a closed track. Do not attempt.” at the bottom of the screen. Without that warning, viewers would have to apply reason and common sense lest they head out to the driveway and attempt to replicate the stunt. Or they’d have to take personal responsibility for the consequences of failing to think through the possible flaws in that plan.
It’s said to have started with the famous case of the woman who won a lawsuit against MacDonald’s when she was scalded by hot coffee purchased at a drive-through. And though the popular version of the tale is largely apocryphal, since then, companies are going to positively nutty lengths to avoid liability, with warnings of dangers which any thinking adult should be able to detect for himself. For example, anyone with a brain knows that one should not hop in the family’s 1997 Sentra and do high-speed figure eights just like on TV.
The clearest example of our absolution from personal responsibility can be found in today’s drug commercials. These epic advertisements rival entrants in the short-film category for length and have lists of warnings that take up far more screen time than the drugs’ lists of benefits. We’ve all heard the basics: “Do not take if you are pregnant.” “Do not operate machinery.” “Do not take if you’re taking [this non-compatible medication].” From there, they escalate in obviousness: “Stop taking immediately and consult your doctor if you experience chest pain, dizziness, amnesia, loss of limbs, an attraction to grapefruits . . . ” Wouldn’t all that be fairly intuitive? I hate to assume, but it seems to me that if you’re taking something and you have a terrible reaction to it, you’d stop without needing to be told. But the warning that crowns them all is one I heard only recently: “Do not take Cosentyx if you are allergic to Cosentyx.” Now listen, we’re about one step away from the drug companies sending representatives to hold our hands while we walk to the pharmacy to make sure we don’t pick up talcum powder instead of our prescription or get lost on the way home. Are we not smart enough—please, God—to decline a medication to which we know we’re allergic? Have we lost the capacity to process on our own even something as logically simple as that? Must they now tell us not to take Cosentyx if we are allergic to Cosentyx? Let’s all go to our mirrors right now and take a good look at ourselves. Let’s all say, “I can take responsibility for my own allergies. I can remember the appointments I’ve made. I can use my good brain and think.”
Or am I setting the bar too high? It occurs to me that I may be overestimating the intelligence of a generation that elected a president who once explained that Hurricane Florence was tremendously wet because of the tremendous amounts of water and that it was, in fact, “one of the wettest we’ve ever seen from the standpoint of water.”
On further reflection, just to be on the safe side, perhaps I ought to add a disclaimer . . .
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