Elliot Lake: A Nannyist Tragedy

This society’s insistence on overvaluing incompetence has taken its toll again. The tragedy of the collapsed shopping mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario underscores all that is wrong with the present system of public oversight over private concerns, which has all the traits of textbook fascism: “an authoritarian, collectivist political ideology which stresses the importance of the national interest over the rights of individuals. [W]hile a collectivist ideology, fascism attempts to preserve private property rights and some of the associated benefits, such as the profit motive, but only when they do not come into conflict with what the political authorities deem to be the national interest.”

The fallaciousness of the idea that paid strangers manning so-called public-sector agencies can play the role of the “brother-keeper” has yet again been exposed. With reports estimating 20 or more possible survivors trapped in the collapsing mall, rescue efforts were aborted on Monday, June 25, 2012—three days after a rooftop parking garage collapsed on a food court—by the authorities acting under the command of the Ministry of Labour.

Who were these authorities? Police, fire and rescue teams, i.e. public employees hired and paid enviable salaries specifically for the purpose of protecting taxpayers’ properties and lives. Yet, when the situation arose for them to earn their pay, the authorities decided that it was too dangerous in relation to their lives. Taxpayers be damned! The authorities can always get more of them. The fact that none of these public employees—so often lionized by our media, the publicly funded CBC in particular—perished or was injured in “the line of duty” may be the saving grace of this tragedy, for Lord knows we’d never hear the end of that, what with all the pomp and circumstance of their state funerals and so on.

As has become customary, apologies for the public servants immediately began pouring in from a sympathetic media. Police, firefighters and rescue personnel are the much glorified, can-do-no-wrong “heroes” of this society because they supposedly risk their lives in fulfilling the duties of overgrown nannies. They represent the most glorified of bureaucrats whose duty is to impose and execute the rules of behavior over the rest of society.

Beyond the failure of the authorities to fulfill what we are told are their “duties,” this tragedy has highlighted what Albert Jay Nock repeatedly warned about in Our Enemy, The State: the deterioration of social power that accompanies the socialization of society.

Indeed, it is by this means that the aim of the collectivists seems likeliest to be attained in this country; this aim being the complete extinction of social power through absorption by the State. Their fundamental doctrine was formulated and invested with a quasi-religious sanction by the idealist philosophers of the [19th] century; and among peoples who have accepted it in terms as well as in fact, it is expressed in formulas almost identical with theirs. Thus, for example, when Hitler says that “the State dominates the nation because it alone represents it,” he is only putting into loose popular language the formula of Hegel, that “the State is the general substance, whereof individuals are but accidents.” Or, again, when Mussolini says, “Everything for the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State,” he is merely vulgarizing the doctrine of Fichte, that “the State is the superior power, ultimate and beyond appeal, absolutely independent.” [Emphasis added] (p. 7)

Reports coming out of Elliot Lake told of “public outrage” at the botched rescue, of bureaucratic petition signing and pleas to higher authorities, yet there where are no reports of a spontaneous taking to action by the citizens themselves. They sat paralyzed, held candlelit vigils, lobbied politicians and so on, yet no one took the action of crossing the police line. Those subjects of officialism have lost the ability to think and act for themselves: they can only act on the command of a government sanction. The National Post reported that veteran rescuers who had done work in Haiti were summoned by a private citizen, only to find themselves—much like the pet dog who is halted by the invisible fence—denied access to ground zero by the all powerful police tape.

On the morning of June 26, CBC Radio 1 ran a story about a man whose fiancée was trapped in the mall believed to be showing signs of life. The report explained how the poor fellow just sat in a corner of the mall’s parking lot, waiting dutifully like a dweeb for the authorities to bring back his loved one. Initiative—that human characteristic that took our kind from being just another animal to being the unique race in the history of the Earth—obviously abandoned this fellow. He’s not to blame: the system is to blame; the system that takes away all the initiative that it can from the individual.

It starts by taking away the initiative to earn and save for child rearing by sponsoring it through baby bonuses and subsidized daycare. Then, the publicly bred child gets fed through the conveyor belt of forced and mutually paid-for, one-jig-fits-all public schooling system where the most important thing that children are taught is not to think things through to their logical conclusions; where they are taught of the virtues of taxation and the evils of individualism; where they are taught about the false dichotomy between the political Left and Right; and above all where they are trained to be obedient servants of the State.

Public education must work in such a way, for it is a means for the State to perpetuate itself. For, you see, the State is a Ponzi scheme. It produces nothing; it only transfers income from one to another. As such, the State constantly needs new entrants in order to perpetuate itself. Public education is the manufactory of new recruits, who, by spending their formative years under the direction of government aggrandizers are doomed to a denial of an opportunity to allow their critical thinking capacities—what Herbert Spencer dubbed “intellectual vision”—to develop freely.

Beginning with rudimentary vision, which gives warning that some large opaque body is passing near … the advance is to developed vision, which, by exactly-appreciated combinations of forms, colours, and motions, identifies objects at great distances as prey or enemies, and so makes it possible to improve the adjustments of conduct for securing food or evading death. That progressing perception of differences and consequent greater correctness of classing, constitutes, under one of its chief aspects, the growth of intelligence, is equally seen when we pass from the relatively simple physical vision to the relatively complex intellectual vision—the vision through the agency of which, things previously grouped by certain external resemblances or by certain extrinsic circumstances, come to be more truly grouped in conformity with their intrinsic structures or natures. Undeveloped intellectual vision is just as indiscriminating and erroneous in its classings as undeveloped physical vision. [Emphasis added] (The Man versus the State, p. 6)

If discovered for what it truly is, the State, like any other Ponzi scheme, would immediately disintegrate. Now, if human beings are rational beings who constantly strive toward accomplishing that which is in their own best self interest, and furthermore, if Ponzi schemes benefit the earliest entrants to the detriment of the latter, how is it then that the Ponzi scheme that is the State manages to keep attracting generation upon generation of new members? Does this fact not prove that human beings are irrational and generally stupid, as most proponents of the paternalistic State would have us believe? No. History shows us that the State is a product of violence and coercion; that it took hundreds of years for states to impose themselves on those outside of them. At present we are witness to countless so-called civil wars and similar acts of aggression throughout the globe where sets of violent armed gangs are attempting to impose themselves as the rulers of vast numbers of people and their land. In general, these armed bandits make claims upon something that developed naturally as part of human interactions in an effort to improve their conditions—language and customs—to impose something quite unnatural upon it: the idea of the nation.

Public education, as administered by, conveniently enough, receivers of the public doles, conducts the critical duty of blunting intellectual vision; thereby disabling the individual’s capacities to classify the State properly: under the class of thieves. “At the period when our intellectual faculties begin to develop themselves, at the age when impressions are liveliest, when habits of mind are formed with the greatest ease—when we might look at society and understand it—in a word, as soon as we are seven or eight years old, what does the State do?” asks Bastiat.

It puts a blindfold over our eyes, takes us gently from the midst of the social circle that surrounds us, to plunge us, with our susceptible faculties, our impressible hearts, into the midst of Roman society. It keeps us there for ten years at least, long enough to make an indelible impression on the brain. (The Bastiat Collection, p. 133)

The lack of individual initiative in Elliot Lake is the embodiment of obedience to authority. This is the stuff George Orwell wrote about in 1984, in whose Oceania the Proles loved Big Brother! Likewise, it is this sort of obedience to authority that leads to the deterioration of social power as evidenced when families de facto abandon their mentally ill members in the care of the socialized healthcare system.

Mindless collectivism and blind obedience to authority were at the bottom of the Holocaust. It must not be neglected that the extermination of the Jewish race was not the end to the Nazi program; it was but a means of strengthening the collective of the Aryan nation. The events in Elliot Lake present a comparable example of drone-like behavior, inhuman enough to stand incapacitated to act contrary to an administrator’s order.

This wretched state does not come over night. Indeed, Mises, Hayek, Spencer, Haziltt and other individualists famously bemoaned the rise of the bureaucrat in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Bureaucracy, Mises gave a short history of the gradual rise of officialism as a desired vocation in continental Europe, where

the bureaucrats have long formed an integrated group. … In all these countries there were many good families whose scions chose the bureaucratic career because they were honestly intent on serving their nation. The ideal of a bright poor boy who wanted to attain a better station in life was to join the staff of the administration. Many of the most gifted and lofty members of the intelligentsia served in the bureaus. The prestige and the social standing of the government clerks surpassed by far those of any other class of the population with the exception of the army officers and the members of the oldest and wealthiest aristocratic families. (p-p. 54-55-56)

Alas, in an all out effort to save face, the authorities have taken parts of the collapsed mall for an investigation. I’ll spare the reader the anticipation of the investigation’s results. It will be determined that the failure was the fault of some contractor or of the greedy mall owner, thereby placing blame again on private enterprise and market competition for “recklessness in the ruthless race for profit.” The fact that the developer jumped through dozens of hoops in an effort to appease building and safety codes, as well as the fact that the construction, and subsequent use was approved by a government official will be lost. Predictably, there are already hints coming out of CBC Radio 1 that the botched rescue will be blamed on cuts to the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team’s budget. The solutions offered by the bureaucrats will, unsurprisingly, be more taxation and more bureaucracy.

There are likewise promises of independent inquiries into the botched rescue. The reader need only be reminded of the public inquiry into the brutish behavior of the Toronto police force during 2010’s G-20 Summit. The inquiry has finally been completed, two full years after the fact; the report boldly criticizes the police and its supposedly civilian overseer, the Toronto Police Board; yet no single police officer or official has or will be assigned any tangible responsibility for the gross abuses of civil rights that took place during the event.

Lastly, no one has addressed the root of the problem. We, the public, are given false assurances every time a public bureau sets and checks the standards for anything; for what are these engineers, architects and scientists manning the public agencies but the bottom-feeders of their respective professions who could not get hired in the real economy, dubbed by the state as “the private sector.” In an effort to boost employment statistics, politicians create unnecessary jobs for these incompetents, the results of which we witnessed in Elliot Lake. Likewise, what are the police, fire and rescue departments, but collectives of overpaid, overhyped meatheads—and potential competitors to the violent apparatus of the State if left on the outside—who have no interest in being anyone’s “brother-keeper.” They’re just looking for the largest paycheque earned with the least exertion of effort—just like the rest of us. Their glorifications are stupid, senseless and downright idiotic.

While as individuals these so-called heroes are restricted by their human instincts to survive and profit personally, as bureaucrats they are constrained by the nature of bureaucraticism. Mises elaborated on these shortcomings when he wrote of their European predecessors.

They developed a character peculiar to their permanent removal from the world of profit-seeking business. Their intellectual horizon was the hierarchy and its rules and regulations. Their fate was to depend entirely on the favor of their superiors. They were subject to their sway not only when on duty. … The emergence of a large class of such men dependent on the government became a serious menace to the maintenance of constitutional institutions. Attempts were made to protect the individual clerk against arbitrariness on the part of his superiors. But the only result achieved was that discipline was relaxed and that looseness in the performance of the duties spread more and more. … Of course, the bulk of the bureaucrats were rather mediocre men. But it cannot be doubted that a considerable number of able men were to be found in the ranks of the government employees. The failure of European bureaucracy was certainly not due to incapacities of the personnel. It was an outcome of the unavoidable weakness of any administration of public affairs. The lack of standards which could, in an unquestionable way, ascertain success or nonsuccess in the performance of an official’s duties creates insoluble problems. It kills ambition, destroys initiative and the incentive to do more than the minimum required. It makes the bureaucrat look at instructions, not at material and real success. (p-p 55-56)

While blame may be shouldered by the vague notion of greed, responsibility will only get dissipated throughout the collective. However, if each person were to be held responsible for their actions—positive or negative—we’d be less likely to witness tragedies like the one befalling Elliot Lake, or like one waiting to happen on the publicly owned and operated Gardner Expressway in Toronto due to falling debris. Yet, a system of personal responsibility is possible only where government interference is absent, for then there is no opportunity to dissipate the blame or confiscate the gain.

Bureaucrats cannot and will not be my “brother-keepers.” Only my brother (literal or figurative) can take that role. This is not to say that society ought to regress into one of autarkic family units. It is to say that social power ought to be allowed to work its way freely inside a society and to allow one to earn their “brother-keeper” by means direct social interaction. The lives lost in Elliot Lake may have been saved if strong personal bonds overrode bureaucratic decrees; or if entrepreneurially minded private rescuers were allowed to offer their services for a mutually agreed upon fee to the families of those trapped under the rubble; or if these same private rescuers were allowed to take a true entrepreneurial gamble in attempting to save the victims in the hope that they may earn a reward from them or their families or friends.

2 Responses to “Elliot Lake: A Nannyist Tragedy”

  1. James E. Miller says:

    Fantastic article Dusan!

  2. Roger says:

    Very astute observations, Dušan. This is another case of death-by-state. And, as you've said, no bureaucrat will be called to account.

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