A year or so ago around the holidays I posted an entry called “Holiday Help.” In it, I highlighted the conundrum faced by those bombarded on a daily basis with requests from people in need of various levels of help. (From the hoards of lost tourists in Times Square to the dozens who conveniently become homeless and/ or disabled and beg for money every December). While I am all for lending assistance to the truly less fortunate ALL year round, traveling through the streets of New York City everyday is like navigating a jungle of need, you can easily find yourself stuck in a rut of thinly spread misplaced altruism.
Yesterday I saw this sign on a subway and I had a similar twinge of misguided good tidings once again. I had to snap a picture, I apologize for the poor quality, I may have been shuddering in anger, or diving out of the way for a nebulously disabled person.
The sign says:
PLEASE OFFER A SEAT. IT’S NOT ONLY POLITE, IT’S THE LAW. AT THE END OF EACH SUBWAY CAR THERE ARE SEATS DESIGNATED FOR “PRIORITY SEATING FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES.” THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT REQUIRES THAT THESE SEATS BE MADE AVAILABLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES UPON REQUEST. PLEASE BE AWARE, NOT ALL DISABILITIES ARE VISIBLE.
Well that’s nice. Unless of course you stop to think for just a moment. The tricky thing about making laws, running a country, becoming a politician, etc., is not only gaining fans, but accounting for the consequences of your popular actions.
I was once discussing with someone the damage done to a nation by overtaxing its citizens. The person informed me that there is no way of predicting anything about the world’s financial future, or what policies may or may not insure a healthy one. I said that is unfortunate news for all of the economists out there.
So how does this relate to a sign on a subway? It comes in looking at how the policy denoted on the sign would and could play out in actual practice. The most difficult thing about policy creation is not allowing those the law was not intended to protect to take advantage of it. Inconsequential? The entire profession of tax accounting exists primarily to find ways for us to NOT pay taxes, and the IRS currently employs 100,000 individuals to stop us and our accountants from succeeding. Granted, taking a seat on a train you are not legally entitled to isn’t the same as saving thousands of dollars each April 15, but the legal principal is. Just as millions cheat on their taxes, certainly some will take advantage of the disability laws. Here’s what it looks like:
An apparently able-bodied Citizen X steps onto a crowded train. He wants a seat. Bad. He moves to a seat designated for people with disabilities. Citizen Z is sitting in it. Citizen X asks Citizen Z to get up. Poor Citizen Z finds himself in a bit of a predicament, compliments of our well intentioned but small minded government.
What is the right thing for Citizen Z to do? If he surrenders his seat he may be giving it to someone who has no right to it, and will no doubt not surrender it if someone who truly needs it comes along. If Citizen Z refuses, he may be breaking the law, because as the sign reminds us “Not all disabilities are visible.” With no way of knowing the veracity of Citizen X’s claimed disability, Citizen Z has no choice but to give up the seat to ANYONE who asks for it. As the sign clearly points out, there is no way of knowing who legally deserves that seat more than you.
I suspect Citizen Z could ask Citizen X the nature of his particular malady, if he suspects a ruse, and risk being plastered all over the evening news as cripple hating ogre if his suspicions are wrong. Realistically, anyone willing to kick a person out of a seat he is not legally entitled to, will no doubt lie about his disability anyway. I guess Citizen Z could ask for some sort of proof at this point, and risk being turned into a disabled person himself by Citizen Z and his fellow train travelers.
Who would take advantage of such a law, really? Well apparently we live in a society where kindness and politeness need to be legislated and posted on subway walls, so wouldn’t it only follow that in this kind of society, people pretend to have disabilities to get train seats?
“It’s not only polite, it’s the law” means “This particular type of impoliteness has been deemed punishable by death.” Overdramatic yes, but laws are only effective if there is fear of repercussions, and effective policy making entails taking the consequences of laws in practice to their POSSIBLE unintended conclusions. IE: Citizen Z refuses to give up his seat. Turns out that Citizen X had “Jumping Frenchman of Maine Disorder” which causes individuals to carry out shouted commands instantly and without thought, first observed in French Canadian lumberjacks by G.M Beard in 1878. Between jumps, Citizen X takes Citizen Zs contact information, informs the authorities of the violation who fine Citizen Z $25. Citizen Z refuses to pay or show up in court and a warrant is issued. The police arrive to serve the warrant and Citizen Z explains how ridiculous the situation is and that there is no way he could have known Citizen X had a rare debilitating Canadian loggers mental disorder, and he would rather not spend an evening locked in a cage with actual criminals due to this lack of obscure medical knowledge. Citizen Z continues to resist the arrest until the police shoot him a few times to express their disagreement with Citizen Z's legal opinion of the situation.
Our leaders should have the foresight to know that things that sound good on paper, may not truly be sound ideas. Politics has become the practice of promising everyone everything during the campaign, and then blaming others when no one gets anything, after the election. We once trusted our leaders with tough decisions, we no longer do, we expect them to make our lives wonderful just by being elected. We’ve become impatient, spoiled and stupid, which is no way to serve the needs of a fragile democracy.
-It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.
Whenever someone writes an open-minded analysis of a emotionally charged issue such as affirmative action, welfare, social security, etc. the kneejerk reaction from the short-sighted is to vilify the author as being an enemy of the group who's issue he is addressing; Racist! Elitist! Grandma Killer! respectively, instead of reading the words he wrote. Let me assure the short-sighted who read this entry that in this case they are correct. I, the author, am an enemy of the disabled. Of course only in cases where the disability is short-sightedness and stupidity.
Let’s all give ourselves the best gift anyone could get this year. The gift of PATIENCE, RESTRAINT, and THOUGHT. Just because it sounds good doesn’t mean it is. Just because it feels right doesn’t mean it isn’t going to hurt. This country is about to learn this lesson in a big way, as our government takes down the private sector which has always shielded the people from the governmental tyranny currently in progress. Kindler gentler sounding “public options” and “bank aid packages”, lead down paths only the thoughtful are aware, and afraid of.