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De-framing the Conversation

March 2, 2017

I’m being specific here in saying ‘de-frame’ rather than ‘reframe’ – because I think the conversation has already been reframed in a misleading way, and I want to bring it back to the centre.

So here we go:  Regulations are, most often, about health, safety, and protection.

I’ve been hearing regulations being thrown about as an epithet, some evil force put upon by malicious entities designed to… well, they don’t really say, do they?  They just keep talking about them like they’re evil and bad and must be gotten rid of or else.

Thing is, they didn’t just come out of the blue.  They’re written into law to ensure a civilized and functioning society that is working to keep all people healthy, alive, and free to pursue what they want.  Without being burdened and oppressed by injury, illness, degraded conditions, financial shenanigans, hoodwinks, or a number of other things to have to deal with.  They are there to release us from malicious actors.

This talk about “regulations are the devil” and “if only there weren’t regulations, everything would be glorious golden roses for everyone” is beyond rose-coloured glasses, it’s disingenuous.

There is an intent.  “Don’t frick other people over.”  Few would have issue with that intent (and if you do, well, that’s telling).  We can talk about the most effective way to achieve that intent.  Please!  Let’s have that conversation. Let’s create that more perfect union.

But let’s not get all BS about it and turn the view about regulations into them being some sort of scourge.

4 comments

  1. Very often, the intent behind a particular law, policy, code or other form of rule may seem to be helpful. For instance, most of us would probably agree that it’s a good thing that we have a rule against murder.

    However, one might come to the conclusion that because we made some good rules in the past, that means that the more rules we have, the better off we are. If I were to use the word filters, like those ones we have attached to our identity, instead of rules (for what are our filters but rules we have put upon ourselves), then you might begin to see that rules for the sake of rules can severely limit what we can accomplish. There is no mistaking that the filters we have created for ourselves – these rules of conduct that we have taught ourselves – are there specifically for our health and survival, at least as far as we are concerned. But when examined from a different light, we can often see that these filters we have created for our person, don’t always work in our best interest.

    This can also be said of rules in other areas. A case of having too many rules can introduce several issues:

    1) it takes the place of wisdom. Instead of considering carefully a situation, we simply make a rule and be damned whether the situation could have been handled in a more meaningful way. See Barry Schwartz’s TED talk on Loss of Wisdom for several poignant examples.

    2) If you consider our current state of law, it has reached the point where you don’t only need a lawyer for its interpretation, you need a *team* of lawyers, The set of laws created by our collective societies has become so complex that there is a huge disconnection between those it is intended to serve and what is actually written down.

    3) Large enterprise and other major players can and do directly influence rules and laws through monetary actions that protect their interests and dissuade competition and change. If I make a rule that says if you want to become a chicken farmer that can sell chickens to the supermarket that you need to build a $250,000 structure that can house 50,000 chickens, you have just created a barrier to anyone who would like to have a few chickens that they can sell. Luckily, there are other avenues by which you can do this, at the moment, but you won’t be selling your chickens in the supermarket as that has been monopolized by large agro-business and if you want to get into that, you better be damn rich to begin with. In relation to this, they want to create a law (rule) that will forbid anyone from being allowed to visit farms, allowing those who abuse the system to remain unseen and left to administer whatever horrors they see fit to a food system that is already the subject of terrible atrocities.

    4) Rules can also have competing agendas. Let’s take an example from the building code. There is a building code that states that, for fire safety, you cannot have deadbolt locks on your doors that lock with a key from both sides, unless you keep the key in the lock on the inside. This is to facilitate easy and quick exiting of the building should there be a fire. So this is a fire safety issue. However, this is a weakness as far as security is concerned. A vast number of household doors have windows, and a would-be burglar can easily break that window, each in and unlock the door if you have the latch variety, or keep the key in the lock on the other side. So here you have a rule that tries to increase safety from fire, but it decreases safety from burglary. Apparently the powers that be decided that the fire issue was more important.

    5) Turning to finance now, here we have a similar situation to my second point where it is overly complicated. However, in the case of finance, the rules can and do often hide a dark side that is hidden where certain entities are using the rules to gain at the expense of others.

    In all of this, simply blindly forging ahead and spitting out new rules without thinking or examining the consequences usually leads to poor rules.

    One might point out the current administration of the U.S. has made a rule banning immigration and visitation rights for several peoples of the world. That rule may have been created with the intention of safety in mind, but one might argue that it may in fact result in the opposite and there has been a lot of backlash from that rule.


    • “rules for the sake of rules”

      Nothing in my post speaks to creating rules for rules sake, nor for the multiplication of rules. Quite the contrary: “We can talk about the most effective way to achieve that intent. Please! Let’s have that conversation. Let’s create that more perfect union.” I never said rules should never change, or be reviewed, or even removed. I simply asserted, “rules are not inherently bad.”

      There is, like everything else, a middle path. This is what I am always aiming towards. It’s a very Niels Bohr type situation.

      Admittedly, there was a bit of context missing in my post: I currently live in the USA. I was responding to the current political climate and rhetoric being blasted across the landscape. And it is that rhetoric that is casting the sentiment that “regulations” are tantamount to Sauron’s black hand.

      Canada has fortunately thus far avoided much of this particular tactic. That said, there are some Canadian politicians who are ready to adopt it, and the influence from media percolation from south of the border will have an impact (as will the other side of the coin, where, as you point out, these same pundits and politicians hypocritically are also happy to enact oodles of new rules (I can remember Harper’s numerous omnibus bills)). So there is advantage to getting this de-framing in place before it can take hold.

      As I noted, let’s start that conversation (start, for there is too much to fully cover here in the short span of a comment blog thread…)

      1) This is a middle path example/moment. And, I’d say, it speaks to potentially bad rulemaking (for it could simply be poor rule making, not necessarily rules itself), and even more so to the context, empowerment, and training of employees, civil servants, and each of us in our everyday lives. This is part of a larger conversation about the easy-ification of our lives, where many are not exposed to and aren’t learning the value of broad and complex engagement.

      4) This is a false dichotomy and poor example, because there are many ways you can make your home both resistant to burglars without endangering life safety in the event of a fire. Plus, in one case, you lose your DVD player, in the other one, you are dead. This one I may not be able to not be righteous about in answering, because Oakland Warehouse Fire. Absosmegginlutely that life safety should win out here. And I don’t see anything contradictory here. You want to theft-proof your home and be safe in the event of a fire? Not a problem. I can think of a dozen ideas right now.

      2) 3) & 5) For (2), I would give the examples of our company, operating in one of the most regulated States of the country, working in a field with a lot of regulation, does not need a team of lawyers to navigate our daily interactions with clients, corporate law, liability law and insurance, or the tax code. We have one lawyer on retainer, and one accountant. Also John Oliver did a nice piece during the Brexit debate where he examined the exit-side’s claim that there were roughly 275 EU (or was it 2000+?) regulations suffocating pillow makers. There were not; there were only a handful.

      And for the dark, hidden rules, there’s a lot that could be explored on how the disengagement of the populous with the rule-making processes and with the governing bodies enables this to come about.

      But these all point to something else, and I’ll employ a statement of your own: “one might come to the conclusion that because we made some good rules in the past, that means that the more rules we have, the better off we are. ” — ergo, “one might come to the conclusion that because there are some problematic rules, that means rules are bad, and therefore the less rules the better off we are.” ? I say not.

      As a person who plays games a lot, I’ve seen the way rules, made in isolation and in seemingly isolated arenas, impact and interplay with each other. The confusion, or lockdown, or exploitable, or any other number of messes it can create. And yep, it happens. And then, they issue errata.

      Governing is an even more complex game, layered atop the complex and shifting world of social beings. Errata, course corrections, updates, will be necessary. Yet broad a simplistic rule (for which it is, ironically, a rule) that says “eliminate two regulations for each one added” is unproductive. Especially since the rules being eliminated are targeted to help a select few, while harming many and dispensing with health, safety, environmental, fiscal responsibility, consumer protection, privacy, and human rights protections.

      Nowhere in my post did I create that “because we made some good rules in the past, the more rules we have, the better off we are” or “blindly forging ahead and spitting out new rules without thinking or examining the consequences usually leads to poor rules.” Holy crap, yes, absolutely on that last one! We should be thinking broadly and complexly. “Rules are bad and must be eliminated” is equally blindly forging ahead.

      The idea that rules are, intrinsically, nothing but hindrances is inaccurate. That is how they are being framed in certain (especially political) discourse, and I reject that simple characterization and invite everyone to see them for what they are, and to take a more active, present, role in the rules we all create, from a government level down to those we have between members of our family. Rules have a great role in forging and empowering our civilizations. And there are sweet spots. When we start from there, we can examine what we have, adjust, and move forward.


  2. Certainly, I agree with you that balance, in all things, ends up providing the best results.

    With rules there are issues with too few rules just as much as there are with rules that have been poorly thought out, or even created with the intent of inequality.

    However, let’s go back to my quote that you used:
    “one might come to the conclusion that because we made some good rules in the past, that means that the more rules we have, the better off we are. ” — ergo, “one might come to the conclusion that because there are some problematic rules, that means rules are bad, and therefore the less rules the better off we are.”

    The ergo part was yours, however it was not what I was leaning towards. I think your gaming example is appropriate for this. What I was getting at is the sheer complexity of many systems of rules, mainly by quantity. That doesn’t make the rules bad, or mal intended, but if you created a game that would take you a year to learn all of the complex rules involved to play, how many people do you think would want to play it?

    We humans have created a society that is complex. The systems we have put in place that structure the way we live are all governed by rules. For any particular individual, there is so much information and so many rules to follow that it can and does become a large source of stress. We must now relegate large portions of our lives to experts because the rules are so numerous that no single person can encompass them all, in all areas of our lives.

    Do we need a rule for every single minutiae of every aspect of everything we know and do? Should there not be some areas that are intentionally left untouched so that we can exercise our wisdom and actually be human beings, as opposed to simply following the rules setup that any machine could follow?

    The world and life, to me, is not black and white. However, every time we create a rule (i.e. you have followed this policy, or you haven’t) we have further defined things in a black and white context. Rules do need to re-examined, re-evaluated and reformed. There may even be cases where getting rid of a rule may be the best course (Does Florida really need to maintain its law forbidding sexual relations with porcupines? Does that really happen a lot?)

    Just the same as with our own personal filters, once a rule is created, those who deal with the rules start thinking in terms of the rules – in the context of the rules. Your friend can come along and look at you and say, “do you realize you’re looking at this particular situation with this filter?” You may listen to your friend, you may not, but the only one affected is yourself. However consider the situation when you have some type of professional practice and someone from outside that industry comes along and says, “Hey did you ever think about this idea?” Group agreements being what they are, often this can be met with dismissal: “oh they’re not trained like us, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

    As history has shown, the field of science has been all over this countless times. How many times have new theories been rejected and thrown down from people who were unknown only to surface later as a much better way of understanding the nature of the world? This is really at the core of what I’m getting at, and I think, that to a large degree, you are saying the same thing: just because we have rules, does not make them absolute. We do need some new rules to further our understanding, but we also shouldn’t just create new rules without also examining old rules. Additionally, too many rules, by their sheer quantity can also prevent innovation or creativity by making the system too complex and rigid. If there is one thing that nature teaches, those species that become too highly specialized, no matter how optimal they seem to be, can and do suffer extinction when the world around them changes.

    I would much rather see a reasonable rule set based on desirable intentions than a rigid set of rules so long that it would take a life time to read. Does anyone ever read the license agreement on a program they install on their computer? tl;dr


    • Indeed, I think we are driving at the same place (while following the rules of the road, I’m certain). The key I’m emphasizing is one’s context for rules, and more poignantly how one approaches the task of finding the balance and refining the efficacy of rules:

      When the very concept of “rules” or “regulations” becomes a weaponized cudgel for selfish (often short-term) gain;

      When one lives with rules as pure villainy;

      When we forget why a rule was instituted;

      When we take an instance of unworkability and paint it the reality;

      … then we’re headed down paths that I assert are detrimental to ourselves and our communities as a whole. And, even detrimental to the true nature of freedom.

      (Ironically, being fixated on “you can’t tell me what to do” ends up seriously limiting one’s personal freedom.)

      Our societies are complex, and indeed a society is nothing but a shared set of references, values, and rules. Everything from how we meet each other, how we converse, how we eat, how we walk, how we dress, how we hold our pens, how we court each other, and so on, are all rules. Informal, yes, not codified into law, no, but rules nonetheless.

      It is how we relate to rules that will lead to us being empowered by them, and to us writing laws and regulations, and revisiting them over time, such that the intent is clear and the outcomes are what we want. Writing rules that strikes the balance to give us agency and the responsibility that entails.

      (To which also how we also can continue to divorce responsibility from blame, and stop trafficking in ridicule, shame, and insults with each other…)



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