By J. DeVoy
If I had listened to the advice of other people over the last five or so years, I’d have levered up and bought a house, gone to the local law school, started running marathons and stopped eating meat. In short, my life would have been ruined — actually and definitively ruined, stuck in an underwater house within a dying rust belt hellhole, as opposed to teetering on the brink of insanity and ruin as it is now.
Individuals give terrible advice. Facts and hard data, where available, are superior; where they fail, experts suffice. All of the conventional wisdom you have been told your whole life, from buying a house to investing in the stock market to going to college is wrong, or at least critically compromised.
The framers realized the mind-numbing inability of average people, even if well-read and smart on their own merits, to see the big picture. As a result, we wound up with a representative republic instead of a direct democracy, with senators originally chosen by the house of representatives, rather than direct election.
Unsatisfied with the direct election of 2/3 branches of government, groups of people now want to affect the operations of agencies that are supposed to be autonomous and, for institutional reasons, beyond the reach of popular rule. It’s not news that various groups are putting the screws to Attorney General Eric Holder so he’ll ramp up obscenity prosecutions against the adult industry. (The last obscenity prosecution that actually made it to trial failed spectacularly.) Why an appointed official such as Holder should care about public pressure is unclear, and this effort distracts from more pressing matters, such as why Angelo Mozilo, former CEO of Countrywide Mortgage – one of the engines behind the housing collapse that toppled the house of cards constituting America’s economy – has not been arrested.
It’s not just religious crazies who push for these things, either, but support for such prosecutions, even tacitly, can come from unexpected sectors. I remember my first girlfriend from college in situations like this. In the heady days of spring 2004, she was agog with the site BangBus, apparently unaware that it was completely staged. While I was not familiar with § 2257 back then, I was somehow able to intuit that a group of people having sex with women in a van, and then driving off without paying the participants at the end of the clip, would not be filming their exploits and marketing them in what became one of the dominant adult sites on the internet. I couldn’t articulate the legal issues at the tender age of 18, but it seemed obvious to me that waivers and releases were signed, and everyone knew what they were getting into.
My ex couldn’t contend with this reality, or entertain the possibility that it was consensual, economically and personally valuable expression. What made this naivete and revulsion surprising was that she worked at Hooters. Moreover, she’d been approached about entering adult entertainment at least once. And yet BangBus was, to her, the world’s worst injustice for reasons she couldn’t explain.
I see no problem with her having that opinion, curious as it is. That experience, though, showed me how easy it is to get people on board with repressive agendas based on something as ephemeral as “feelings.” People far outside the religious or feminist fold can be seduced into encouraging the state to bully people – with the threat of lengthy prison sentences – into self-censorship for the sake of their feelings. Yet, the collective ego and delicate sensibility of whiny bitches everywhere, both male and female, now demand that the Attorney General do exactly that. In addition to being a perversion of the purpose of executive agencies, it subverts the entire purpose of representative government. Instead of addressing the burgeoning economic crisis now three years in length, our elected officials – and unelected ones – must contend with frivolous bullshit of the most unimportant nature. Individuals shouldn’t just stop having opinions and expressing them. But this kind of obstructive sabre-rattling allows individuals who know nothing about law enforcement to turn the DOJ on its head and follow their whims at the expense of institutional missions.
This isn’t to say you should never consider the advice of other people. I personally have six people I run major life decisions by because I know each will see it from a different perspective, and often a few that I hadn’t considered. My friend Jay (confusing, I know) let me and two other friends occupy his house for a week to serve as his “consultancy.” Just as lawyers are valuable for dispassionate analysis, so too is the analysis of friends, allies and mentors. Considering their advice, though, is a different analytical process than blindly listening without rigorous review, or heeding it just to appease them. No individual should follow those routes, and neither should the government at any level.