An online journal of politics, policy, and society with a special focus on Maryland -- Contact: on_background at yahoo.com.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Unnecessary Deference

A friend calls America the do-it-yourself society. She applauds (with reservations)the willingness of Americans to get things done, to try to do it themselves. But somehow that breaks down sometimes.

Too often people put things on a pedestal, they defer to experts or to the presumed expertise required to do or understand something. This sudden lack of do-it-yourselfness can run the gamut from not putting your music onto your computer because you are sure there is some complex process involved, to assuming that your state legislator is actually taking care of the community and dealing effectively with policy because it is so complex.

One can certainly understand that we are all busy and that the number and variety of things to think about has exploded in recent years, and sympathize with the reasonable urge to draw lines at the borders of our experience or expertise, beyond which we admit our ignorance. Despite that, the willingness to give up, to throw up one's hands in defeat strikes me as a strange turn of events for an otherwise reasonably proactive people. Why assume that you can not or that you need not?

When one looks closely, it appears that the opposite is true. We spend our limited funds so that a highly skilled professional can repeat for the umpteenth time the simple prescriptions that we could have learned from the instructions included with the product or from making a basic attempt on our own. When we ignore or trust that our officials are doing what they should, we not only disempower ourselves, we give free reign to the worst impulses of those in power.

In so many cases it seems that refusing to stand up, to think, to do it ourselves leads to the worst possible outcomes in our individual and public affairs: waste, excess, corruption, and sloth, among others.