Are you feeling powerless? Maybe this is why.

Philip K. Howard has an article in the Wall Street Journal today that explains a great deal about the state of our society. It’s called “How Modern Law Makes Us Powerless.” He begins:

Calling for a “new era of responsibility” in his inaugural address, President Barack Obama reminded us that there are no limits to “what free men and women can achieve.” Indeed. America achieved greatness as the can-do society.  …

And then he comments:

But there’s a threshold problem for our new president. Americans don’t feel free to reach inside themselves and make a difference. The growth of litigation and regulation has injected a paralyzing uncertainty into everyday choices. All around us are warnings and legal risks. The modern credo is not “Yes We Can” but “No You Can’t.” Our sense of powerlessness is pervasive. Those who deal with the public are the most discouraged. Most doctors say they wouldn’t advise their children to go into medicine. Government service is seen as a bureaucratic morass, not a noble calling. Make a difference? You can’t even show basic human kindness for fear of legal action. Teachers across America are instructed never to put an arm around a crying child.

He points out that the rights that now count are the rights of those who disagree, instead of the focus on personal freedom we used to enjoy.  And here’s the nub of it, the reason I am posting the article:

Here we stand, facing the worst economy since the Great Depression, and Americans no longer feel free to do anything about it. We have lost the idea, at every level of social life, that people can grab hold of a problem and fix it. Defensiveness has swept across the country like a cold wave. We have become a culture of rule followers, trained to frame every solution in terms of existing law or possible legal risk. The person of responsibility is replaced by the person of caution. When in doubt, don’t.

If you read RRW regularly, you see how often Ann urges you to act on your beliefs. Start a blog, write something, tell somebody, organize.  But maybe you think it’s not worth it; that you are powerless.

Of course, it’s not just the explosion of litigation and regulation that makes us feel powerless. We are lied to by the media and have difficulty uncovering the truth in many matters. Our elected representatives often pay no attention to our wishes. Or they themselves have little power against the elites who control much of society. There are a thousand reasons to feel powerless. And maybe Ann can comment on how Alinsky’s rules are intended to make us feel (and be) even more powerless.

But diagnosing a problem puts you at least halfway to the cure. Read the whole article, and decide that you will not be controlled by outside forces. You can figure out in what spheres you can act, and what you want to accomplish — and then you can act.

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