Saturday, March 28, 2009

Common Sense is alive and well

I received a rather interesting forwarded message today, and based on preliminary research, it seems to be floating around on the internet for quite a while.

Here it is, in its entirety:
Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:Knowing when to come in out of the rain; why the early bird gets the worm; Life isn't always fair; and maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an Aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, sued, and was awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers; I Know My Rights, I Want It Now, Someone Else Is To Blame, and I'm A Victim.

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.
Having some free time on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I decided to find out about each incident referred to above. It is an interesting, and educational exercise. This exercise is also instructive in that it makes one understand that in this age one must not base one's judgment on the reports of incidents carried in mass media, as the reports invariably are meant for entertainment rather than information. The reports of deviant or odd behavior in modern mass media are calculated to elicit a self-righteous chuckle from the ill-informed.

If one is at all interested in knowing more about a particular incident, it pays to do one's own research. The internet is obviously of enormous help in this exercise. Many incidents are more complex than one assumes at first glance, as I will try to show in this post.

1. "Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate"

The incident in question happened in Lexington, NC in 1996. More details here, and here.

There were more such incidents, including one in which a young student was charged with sexual harassment for touching the waist of a fellow girl student. In short, schools were wary of lawsuits and erred on the side of caution. The boy in question was not "charged", he was suspended from school for a day and was banned from an ice cream party. The incident created wide awareness about the factor of age in sexual harassment, and led to new guidelines.

2. "Teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch"

The incident in question (or at least, one of its kind) happened in Loudoun County, Virginia. More details here.

In short, mouthwash contains alcohol. Schools prohibit bringing liquids containing alcohol to school as many teenagers use these to get drunk, or worse. In this particular incident, there was clear evidence of misuse.

3. "A teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student"

I was unable to find the specific incident, so cannot comment on this one. But I did find a large database on sexual harassment and other abuse by teachers in the US.

4. "Parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children."

I found at least one incident reporting a physical attack on a teacher by an aggrieved parent.

It is simplistic to just blame the parent in the above article, even though the violence or vehemence of their reaction is clearly uncalled for.

Bullying and else is very much alive in schools, and parents can no longer physically restrain children from violent behavior, due to the threat of being charged by the police themselves for corporal punishment. Calling police for restraining an adolescent bully is considered an overreaction, but what else is a parent or teacher to do, when a precocious teenager just won't listen? It is a complex question, and while not regulating it can lead to a brutalized child, regulating it can mean, at times, paralysis for the teachers and parents alike.

5. "schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an Aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion."

Conservative parents will not allow abortion in many regions, and the law (forbidding teachers to disclose a pupil's pregnancy to her parents) is therefore at least prima facie of some benefit. As for administering medication to students, parental consent is usually required for evading lawsuits in case the medication has an adverse effect, or if it is contraindicated for some rare physiological condition.

6. "churches became businesses;"

This seems to betray the conservative bias of the forwarded message. What else should churches be if not businesses? In fact, their claimed immunity from auditing and public scrutiny (which is de facto required for normal businesses) has resulted in their corruption. I am all for considering religious places as bona fide business establishments, as they have anyway always been providing a certain perceived value (emotional, spiritual or otherwise), food, song and dance, courtship opportunities etc. to its members in lieu of fees and patronage.

7. "and criminals received better treatment than their victims."

Once again the conservative bias is visible. Perhaps the author wants an "eye for an eye". Criminals must receive a fair and humane treatment, even though they themselves treated others inhumanly or unfairly, because to treat a criminal criminally (as in brutally, violently, etc.) will become a never-ending cycle of crime.

8. "you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault."

This refers to a 1999 incident in UK. Details here, and here.

The statement is misleading and probably comes from a spirited belief in gun rights (Charlton Heston, the NRA chief, came to the rescue of the home owner). Possession of weapons of some sort, self-defense and armed defense against trespassing are all legal around the world. In this particular incident, the shooter did not have a firearms license and shot a large bore shotgun, without warning, in the dark without perceiving the burglars, one of whom he killed. The case was a complicated one, to determine whether the plea of self-defense could be reasonably applied.

9. "a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, sued, and was awarded a huge settlement."

This is one of the most important (and interesting) incidents. Details here, and here.

In short, the cup was not steaming since it was covered. And she didn't spill a "little", she spilled enough to require skin grafts.

McDonalds' coffee was scalding hot, and McDonalds refused a simple payment for the treatment of a 79 year old lady who suffered severe third-degree burn injuries requiring expensive treatments (which itself is an indictment of the skewed health-care system in the US).
During discovery, McDonalds produced documents showing more than 700 claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1992. Some claims involved third-degree burns substantially similar to Liebecks. This history documented McDonalds' knowledge about the extent and nature of this hazard.
I also think that sometimes, the adverse reaction to a payment in a seemingly frivolous lawsuit like the above can be founded in simple envy.

2 comments:

Siddharth Sharma said...

"and criminals received better treatment than their victims."

Once again the conservative bias is visible. Perhaps the author wants an "eye for an eye". Criminals must receive a fair and humane treatment, even though they themselves treated others inhumanly or unfairly, because to treat a criminal criminally (as in brutally, violently, etc.) will become a never-ending cycle of crime.

---------
That is just one way of interpreting this. the original quote could well refer to incidents like the muktharan mai incident or incidents where perpetrators of rape or other crimes can go scot free lawfully for crimes they so obviously committed. Another case in point was the recent rape incident of a 9 year old in brazil, where the doctors who saved the girl by aborting the fetus were excomminicated by the church.

in my view, it could be that the lack of common sense in certain social, religious and legal systems is being questioned in the original quote and it may not be a plea for brutal treatment of all accused.

in modern secular states however, i don't think there is a crisis of justice and the legal systems do an ok job.

bush's invasion of iraq was probably a crisis of common sense though, and such crises aren't exactly uncommon in indian politics either :) reservation for IIT faculty e.g.

cg said...

the lazy saturday afternoon wasn't that lazy it seems ;-) if this is the work of laziness, what on earth do you mean by hard work!