The Cult Of Knee-Jerk Reaction

Erik Brown
Apr 8, 2019 · 7 min read
Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

Somebody must do something!

Whatever that something is, doesn’t really matter. Whether that something actually really takes care of the problem as well doesn’t really matter either


Think how often you hear that comment made on social media, television, radio, and between neighbors.

The outrage machine’s wheels start turning, generating momentum on Facebook, Twitter, and Hamster. Or whatever platform is popular for the moment.

The news media picks up on this outrage. Before you know it, the perfectly styled anchor man or woman are next in line. They show scorn and concern on their faces and repeat the mantra, “Someone must do something!”

Of course, they do this for a day or two, before they move on to the next outrage so they can keep their ratings up.

Technology has made our world so easy and things move so quickly now. Social media is a relatively new invention, but I can’t remember the world without it.

Messages pass across the earth with the push of a button. Trips that may have taken weeks in the past now take hours. In addition, you can watch a movie while you travel so you don’t get bored.

Even the concept of boredom works into the speed of our world. We’re so conditioned to get instant gratification, if we don’t get it we’re instantly bored. Maybe we even get outraged.

Was society meant to move this fast?

Think about how you deal with things in your personal life. How many times have knee jerk decisions you’ve made turned out well?

You know how experts recommend that you should make critical decisions when you’re angry and disturbed? How they tell you to make decisions as quickly as possible without review?

Actually, most I’ve read tell you not to do that. Sleep on it they say. Take a walk. Calm down and think clearly before you make a decision.

But, somebody must do something!

We Need To Get Rid Of Plastic Straws

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Did you know that Seattle is banning plastic straws in July of 2019? Seems a bit random and odd doesn’t it? It might appear this way if you haven’t heard the campaign.

Americans use 500,000,000 plastic straws a day. Those straws all end up somewhere, mainly on our beaches. The level of pollution these small plastic wastes are accumulating is horrible.

As Reason Magazine notes, this story was reported by:

CNN, The Washington Post, Reuters, People, Time, Al Jazeera, National Geographic, The Guardian,The Independent (UK), Seattle Weekly,
San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee, The Los Angeles Times,
Saveur, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

You know where I’m going with this.

Somebody must do something!

Well, a number of local governments did. Seattle for instance quickly worked to put a ban of straws together. The New York Post reported that New York City is considering one as well.

If that’s not enough, the majority leader in the lower house of California introduced a bill to take care of the straw situation. In his bill, waiters would be fined $1,000 or sentenced to six months in jail for giving out unsolicited straws. I’m not kidding.

Now where did this statistic come from, you know the 500 million? Reason Magazine did some research on this too. Well, many attribute the stat to the National Park Service. However, they say they got the statistic from the recycling company Eco-Cycle.

Where did Eco-Cycle get the stat from? They got it from Milo Cress, who started the Be Straw Free campaign. This campaign was hosted on Eco-Cycle’s website.

All in all for Milo Cress, this was a pretty impressive undertaking — being that he was 9 years old at the time.

Wait a minute, what!?

Yes, that statistic that all those high profile magazines and news outlets reported was generated by a 9 year old. Where did Milo get that specific stat? Well, he called straw manufacturers and asked.

Generally, they couldn’t answer his question about how many straws are used a day. However, one person he called gave him a roundabout number off the top of his head. That’s where the 500 million statistic came from.

Now, that random person Milo spoke to on the phone could have been dead on accurate. However, think about when a 9 year old asks you repeated questions you can’t answer; sometimes you just say something so they stop.

No matter the correct number, this entire campaign that may have waiters getting fined $1,000 was generated by a 9 year old.

Now, you may say, what’s the big deal if we just get rid of straws.

“What has happened here is a situation that happens time and time again when it comes the disability community, and that is ‘out of sight, out of mind’. If people don’t personally need straws, they fail or neglect to realize that there are people that do.”

— Lawrence Carter-Long, the director of communications at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund; quote from the Guardian

Even though an able body person may be capable of easily doing away with straws, it’s not as easy for someone with disabilities. Some of these people actually depend upon them, as the article in the Guardian shows.

The next problem would be that are currently no good replacements for plastic straws. As the Guardian article reports, compostable straws don’t hold up well to hot drinks. Another popular replacement straw retails for $2 each, as opposed to a penny each for a plastic straw.

Just Pass A Bill Dammit

Web Search About The Number Of Laws Passed By Congress

I’ve noticed something over recent years. People running for office tout how many bills they’ve passed. Often they’ll wax poetically if the particular Congressional body they’re in passed a lot of bills.

However, the politicians I’ve mentioned above never say if the bills they’ve passed are any good.

Even the Google search I’ve done above seems to slam the 112th Congress because they’ve passed fewer bills than usual.

What if Congress passing less bills is actually a good thing? What if the body shot down possible laws that would have been disasters? That never seems to be mentioned. It appears that Congress and law makers like people to see them being active.

That takes us back to the “somebody must do something” chant from earlier. There is somebody who likes doing something — Congress. They’ll pass bills at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t matter if they solve a problem, it just makes it look like they’re doing something.

Photo by Ken Yam on Unsplash

In my recent memory, I remember a debate over the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This branch of the Federal Government was created to protect the airlines after 9/11.

I remember this so clearly, because so many approaches were being talked about. Namely, I remember a group of politicians talking about studying how Israel handles security on their flights. The first and last hijacking of an El Al flight took place in 1968. They’ve developed a reputation for having an incredible security apparatus.

However, this idea was quickly blown off, because somebody had to do something. A bloated federal program of 50,000 federal employees was thrown together.

In 2015, in an internal investigation by the Department of Homeland Security, it was found that the TSA failed 95% of breach tests. Agents were able to smuggle weapons, fake bombs, and other contraband easily through various checkpoints.

A 95% failure rate might get somebody fired at a private company, but not the federal government though. The acting administrator of the TSA was reassigned.

In a 2017 test of the TSA, they did better. They only missed 70% of the weapons being smuggled through.

It didn’t really matter if what was instituted worked, as long as somebody was doing something Congress could say they were protecting us. Patience and studying better options wouldn’t quell the chant of “somebody must do something”.

Slow Down And Think

Photo by Nick Abrams on Unsplash

The United States government was designed by the founders to move slowly. The process of government was set up to be a marathon, not a sprint. The designers of our constitution saw the problems generated by tyrannical governments that moved too quickly.

They also saw the problems that passion can cause; pushing logic to the side during knee jerk moments.

Our quick moving world of technology has fed us a diet of instant gratification. When we see something askew, we want something done immediately.

Perhaps this isn’t the best way. When we see the masses on social media and the news shout that “somebody must do something,” maybe this should be our que to slow down and think.

Do what? What’s the ramifications of this plan? How will this affect us in the future?

When you slow down and look at a problem deeply, you may realize it’s actually not a problem at all. You may also realize the proposed solution being rushed along might make things worse.

One thing is for certain, the cult of knee jerk reaction will only be emboldened as technology and society move quicker. Be a counterweight against this and slow down. Ignore the chants of “somebody must do something” and think about situations.

As the government is fining villains for straw abuses and missing weapons being taken on to flights, think about the lesson this teaches us.

Being slow and deliberate doesn’t mean inaction. It means you’re thinking about a problem and trying not to make a rash decision.

Thank you for reading my ramblings, if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read please share. By the way, there is no social media network known as Hamster…yet.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse.

Erik Brown

Written by

Work out fanatic, martial artist, student, MBA, and connoisseur of useless information.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Erik Brown

Written by

Work out fanatic, martial artist, student, MBA, and connoisseur of useless information.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

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