Banning unicorns

This week, just for a change, something sad, stupid but utterly predictable happened on the Isle of Man. You can (sort of) read about it at http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/on-the-spot-fine-of-50-for-smoking-in-a-car-carrying-children-1-7281243 Next week can we expect, perhaps, a Bill to ban breeding unicorns without a licence, to be policed by blind agrophobics?

What is it about Manx politicians? Do they just invent pointless and unenforceable laws, aimed at handy scapegoats and based on ridiculous folk myths, to hide their reluctance to tackle homelessness, poverty, health care, education, employment…. you know, all those little things that never affect us which can be safely brushed under the carpet?

But seriously, why introduce a law banning something that is never going to happen and cannot be policed, unless it is to set a precedent for other legislation which will allow sad little busybodies to barge into private spaces, such as our homes, and stop responsible adults doing things prudes do not like?

As a civil libertarian, the first thing I learnt is that prejudices have little or no basis in fact. The second is that they grow so quietly and quickly that the public learn to hate a new scapegoat without even noticing it.

Prejudices arise with no logical explanation, get spread by folk myth, and if – as with, for example, the latest myths about e-cigarettes – they are repeated enough times by the nominally qualified without challenge they may even be passed off as science.

New myths about drugs, alcohol and tobacco products spread quickly for two reasons. One is the growth of a neo-puritan cottage industry, well placed to ‘warn’ government about our sinful ways, but the bigger problem is that such ‘sock puppets’ (government underwritten quasi-charities pushing highly subjective views) never publish their findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals. They prefer to pass off opinion articles in the fringe-scientific vanity press as valid research.

In time, these will be dismissed by the scientific community as no better than phrenology and other quackish Victorian fads, such as the original teetotal movement. But by then the damage will be done, and any idea that adults should have control over their own lives will be long gone.

We do not need new laws to ban things. We just need to grow up, and take responsibility, though whether any Manx politician can ever be trusted to do something as basic as dressing without adult supervision is another matter.

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