Is Stupidity Killing America’s Productivity?

When a society makes it a huge priority to protect people from their own stupidity, it will eventually grind to a slow, bureaucratic halt. I have to show my ID to buy Sudafed, spray paint or glue because someone has decided I might use these items to do something stupid.  However, I can buy bullets without an ID. I was talking to a policeman the other day and discovered I could be thrown in jail for the amount of decongestant I had in my house. Seriously!

When it comes to the safety of society as a whole, I’m much more concerned about a couple lunatics running around with an unlimited supply of bullets than teenagers armed with nasal decongestant and super glue. Yes, I know that teenagers can use those items to make drugs, get high, and glue all their fingers together.  Using drugs can cause permanent brain damage–but seriously, with all the anti-drug education, if they don’t realize doing drugs is dangerous, don’t they have some type of damage already?

If things continue, we will eventually have to show an ID to buy almost anything. If you try, you can come up with dangerous uses for just about anything.

  1. Super-soaker Water Gun – Could be filled with dangerous chemicals and sprayed in people’s eyes.
  2. Bleach – See item number one.
  3. Disposable Camera – The flash mechanism has a capacitor capable of delivering a shock of 300 volts. (I know this from experience)
  4. Hair Dryer, Toaster, Electric Drill, Coffee Mug Warmer – If you drop any of these in your bath water…goodbye cruel world.
  5. Rope – Could be used to hang yourself.
  6. Coffee Mug – Could be filled with boiling hot water and thrown at someone.
  7. Computer and Internet – Could be used to read this list.
  8. Telephone – Could be used to call and taunt a bully who comes over with a super-soaker full of bleach and sprays in you in the face.

Let’s try to protect the weaker people in our society, but not at the expense of choosing a path where everyone is eventually protected from doing just about anything.

I know a farmer  who is a very intelligent no-nonsense type of person. He feels that all of the warning labels were contributing to a decline in human IQ.  If warning labels are the only thing preventing you from raising a running lawnmower over your head, ironing your clothes while wearing them, or trying to cram someone into a clothes dryer, your genetics would probably do more damage than benefit to the human gene pool.

I’m not saying we should just remove all the warning labels and let the cards fall where they may, but I think we need to look down the road 30 years and think about the logical outcome of where we are currently headed as a society. We may be hampering our growth in productivity and technological advances by spending too much time trying to legislate common sense.

Originally published on March 21, 2007.


  1. says

    This has been going on for a long, long time. I call it the “victicrat” culture, or the “monetization of the victim”.

    Once lawyers started to realize that Leftwards-leaning judges and communities (i.e., juries) would extend the limits of ‘wrongful damage’ suits, these suits became more common, more lucrative, and have now been taken to absurd extremes.

    Once you start to believe that the bad things that happen to you aren’t your fault, it becomes easier to swallow the concept that NOTHING that happens to you is your fault, yet someone else must be held accountable, and should pay. Now we find ourselves in the paradoxical situation of any given individual not being responsible for personal decisions that affect what happens to that particular individual, yet that individual is held fiscally (or perhaps criminally)responsible for personal decisions made by others, over whom the original individual has no control.

    Example: you spill hot coffee on yourself while driving – of course it is not your fault, it is the fault of the vendor who made the coffee so hot.

  2. Willie says

    It’s stupidity combined with laziness. Add in a mix of “won’t somebody think of the children” and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a nanny state that is trying to eliminate death in all arenas.

  3. says

    I don’t know that it is productivity related, but you have written about a concern of mine for several decades. Cildren are being coddled too much these days and they aren’t allowed to learn a few of life’s lessons on their own.

    If I told anyone the sort of lunacy I engaged in as an adolescent, many in today’s society would be: a) in awe that I survived, and b) curious if my mother had been arrested for not watching me and my 2 brothers more closely (um, no.). I’ll give you a few of the tamer examples.

    Some of my friends and I decided we would play war. We built a little fort, a 2 foot tall wall around slingshots made of small trees and bicycle inner tubes. They were set up about 50 feet apart. We would happily fling bricks (that’s right, bricks. The little red ones you see in some homes) at each other all day. No safety gear, knee pads, helmets or eye protection. Just paying attention and a quick reaction time. We lived and no scars that I’m aware of.

    You should have your 9 year try this (maybe not). Have him climb up a tree as a far up as he can go, then chop the tree down. It’s one heck of a ride. The kid who climbed the highest wins.

    Of course I will have to admit that there wasn’t much in the way of safety labels back then. Mostly on gas cans, acid bottles and such. But, again, we survived. We had a lot of fun as well..

    Did I mention there was railroad tracks a couple of hundred yards from our house? Oh yeah….

  4. says

    It’s not just America – I live in Ireland and the other day I bought a carton of eggs in the supermarket. The warning label read “WARNING: CONTAINS EGGS”.

    The mind boggles. I definitely agree that if someone really needs a warning label like that then they shouldn’t contribute to the gene pool. However, I don’t think this has anything to do with the ‘nanny state’ but more to do with the litigious society that we live in – yes, they’ll sue or claim for almost anything here too. It’s sad really.

  5. says

    @Geri – Well on one hand I’m glad to know it isn’t just the US. Mexico seems a lot more reasonable. Lawsuits aren’t a common because the only thing you can win is wages for the time you were off work. Since there isn’t huge incentive to bring silly lawsuits most people don’t sue unless they really need to and they know they can win easily.

  6. Chris says

    On Number 3
    4 years ago when i was 15 i took apart my disposable.
    i tried to take a picture while everything was exposed, charged the flash and ZZZZZ, my arm was numb for a couple hours.

    up until now i had no clue what had happened.

    thank you mark, you have stopped me from trying it again to see what shocked me

    maybe i should do what so many of us american’s love to do and sue the camera maker for my stupidity

  7. says

    In general, I think making any kind of object illegal is silly. Taking the pointy edges out of life makes it harder for people to learn responsibility. And people are still going to find plenty of ways to get hurt and do harm.

    Instead, let’s make actions illegal. i.e. Killing and stealing are illegal.

    My 2 cents.

    P.S. I get IDed when I buy ammo in my neck of the woods. :(

  8. says

    @Chris – I took one apart while riding home from school and handed it to a friend. His arm was numb for quite awhile. After I got home I shorted it with a knife and it took a small chunk out of the blade.

  9. Frank says

    I don’t see any problem with requiring ID for paint and not for bullets, it surely makes it easier to shoot graffitists. That’s all win as far as I can tell.

  10. Keith says

    Last year I went to Wal-Mart to replace my old slingshot. They are right out in the open on the shelf in sporting goods. I picked one up and took it to the front to check out. The cashier asked for ID and I refused. She said she can’t sell it without ID, so I asked her to call a manager. The manager told me that they can’t sell it without ID. I called shenanigans on her. I literally said shenanigans out loud to her, the cashier, and the people in line behind me. Then I told her that she is going to sell me the slingshot, and I am not going to show any ID. She told the cashier to ring it up. When the register asked for ID the manager punched some numbers in, probably a fake birth date, and told me to have a nice day. Ridiculous. Ever since that day I have made it a point to give every kid I know a slingshot for a birthday or Christmas gift, along with a sack of glass marbles for ammunition. I haven’t shown ID to buy any of them.

  11. guest says

    Bit of an oversimplification huh? Sudafed is used to make meth and if asking for an ID is going to stop some dipshit from contaminating an entire neighborhood – so be it.

    But, you have a point on the guns. We have a grandfather clause in Ohio that I believe, allows you to buy guns without ID from individuals at Garage Sales and Flea Markets. Crazy shit.

  12. Eli says

    I totally agree. Forget the paint, a really dumb one is having to show your I’d for a bottle of plastic bbs. Seriously what am I going to do, swallow them?

  13. says

    I hate to point out that it’s the Chris and Mark’s shocking the hell out of themselves THEN suing the camera company for not warning them to NOT be morons. That, of course, is why we have all the stupid warning labels. It’s the morons like the lady who sued and won her lawsuit against McDonald’s for not warning her that the hot coffee she bought WAS hot. A fact she apparently only discovered after she stuck it between her legs and it spilled as she drove off giving her 3rd degree burns.

    • says

      @Tom – The thought that hurting myself taking apart a camera was something I could sue over didn’t cross my mind once in the past 20 years until you mentioned it.

  14. GeoCrackr says

    Oh, see, I saw the title and I thought you were talking about something serious — like, say, Circuit City still wanting to pay its executives bonuses (which I just read about today) because they did such a good job destroying the company. Or how the Wall St firms who just got a mult-billion dollar handout of your and my tax dollars want to give it to their executives as bonuses, presumably because they did such a good job of destroying our economy. Or, since you alluded to the “War on Drugs®”, how the DEA can seize and keep your cash if you are carrying a large amount of it around on you, no matter what legitimate reason you may have for doing so.

    But no… warning labels and showing ID. Somehow doesn’t make the cut as “really destructive stupidity” for me.

    • says

      @GeoCrackr – My point is that as a whole we are introducing more and more friction into doing very simple things because we are afraid someone might be an idiot.

  15. j. p. says

    let the idiots get shocked or hit in the head. let them swallow paint and whatnot. it’ll teach’em, and it’ll clean the gene pool.

    like mover i had train tracks not to far behind my house. it was a train coming from a rock salt mine. as 6 year old’s we ran alongside the train and tried to jump on it. my 1st grade friends and i were out all day walking around. none of our parents got the idea that we were abducted. we were kids, and we were having fun. no gps tracking device needed for us. past the train tracks was a shooting range. we usually snug in to collect the spent brass. it made awesome cannons for our toy soldiers. there were no helmets, knee pads or elbow pads for you to wear when you rode your bike.

    people are idiots! and parents nowadays are so damn overprotective. i’m a photographer. at a picnic of my wife’s agency i took photos of the people that were attending. just simple snap shots. after a while she came up to me and asked me to stop photographing the kids. people were looking at me funny. they might think i’m a pedophile. wtf?

    anyhow … as i said. people are idiots. if you need a warning label to life your live you deserve to get shocked or hit in the head!

  16. says

    What about gas, surely one should require ID for that, perhaps even a DNA sample. Gas can be used to set things alight, it can be inhaled, the possibilities are endless.

    Perhaps people should all be required to take an IQ test every 2 years and every product should have a minimum IQ requirement to be able to purchase.

  17. TheMightyQuinn says

    This is all very true. We see warning labels on everything that they’ve become meaningless, and we just skip right past them. I mean, the instruction booklet for a handgun warns that shooting yourself could kill you! Who would have thought!

    Oh, and btw, in the United States you must be 21+ to purchase handgun ammo and 18+ for long arms ammo. (I’m assuming you means “ammunition” when you wrote “bullets”.)

  18. Peter Molyneux says

    Spot on!! I love it.

    This is the kind of thing we laugh our heads off at and say “crazy Americans”. It is slowly spreading to the rest of the world though. For example we get the “Warning: Coffee can be hot” on the Mc Donald’s coffee.

    I think it comes from the possibility for people to sue companies for just about anything.

    Good article!

  19. Michael. says

    Your argument has a fallacy of being a slippery slope. We do not know for sure that these things will happen, and they are ridiculous to suggest. However, yes, the gun law in America is way out of line.

  20. says

    When I was a wee youth, living in Manhattan, I used to carry my socked rifle to school on the public bus. I would leave it in my locker, and shoot on the team, in the school basement.

    I can remember getting into a good solid fistfight maybe once every three weeks or so, someone would get their ass handed to them, get up and be alright with it. Never once did I think to go to my locker and shoot the guy.

    Firearms are a tool, for self defense (I live out int he woods, takes the police 35 minutes to get to my family, on a good day, what can a bad guy do to your family in 35 minutes?) – Don’t buy into the fear.

  21. says

    I live in Washington State. Over the Holidays I went to a liquor store to buy some alcohol. My brother-in-law from Europe was with me. He did no bring his ID. Since this balding 28 year old was with me without ID, they would not sell me, a 35 year old, any alcohol. If I had a 15 year old child they’d sell it to me. Government should step out of the way. If someone wants to huff paint, give them extra and let evolution do it’s work.

  22. says

    Its not really about letting idiots do these things because all of these incidents have turned into legal matters. Some guy suing Mcdonalds for getting fat or the other stories you hear.

    Society has turned into a legal matter environment, where everything needs to be written on paper.

  23. Dennis says

    You may be able to buy bullets without an I.D, but you CAN NOT buy powder without one. Until a bullet is pressed into a cartridge with powder and a primer, a bullet is useless. What are you going to do with it, throw them at people? Stop with the knee-jerk reactions and use your brain.

  24. says

    That list was hillarious.

    In all seriousness no amount of warning labels are going to prevent people from doing something incredibly stupid. You have to make a few stupid mistakes before you start to learn from them. Common sense used to be a lot more common than it is now and I find that highly disturbing.

    I still remember sitting in the back seat of my parents car as a kid without a seat belt and holy shit they were still smoking at the time. Here’s the outcome of that bad behavior – NOTHING I was never hurt in a car accident and the minimal amount of second hand smoke I received didn’t do me any harm. Does it mean we should go back to this? No; those things are generally bad but you don’t need to be excessive about it. Parents should stop relying on warning labels and teach their kids to behave and not do stupid things.

    Rather than all of these warning labels they should make common sense the law and if you break it your fines should help pay off all the stupid lawsuits that exist as a result of stupidity.

  25. says

    This article is hilarious and terrifying in its accuracty. We live in a world that feels it needs to legislate to the lowest rung of common denominators out of some mealy mouthed fear of Darwin and I’m tired of it.

    Lick a light socket and get killed, our collective IQ will keep rising until one day on some distant shore we can all tie our shoes and chew gum at the same time.

    Example: I lost my mind last night trying to buy Vicks at the HEB (read grocery store).

    While using the self checkout to avoid the barrage of dumb dumb’s, the 11 year old running the at self checkout counter not only wanted my ID –since I obviously looked under 21– but she had to check my out of state license against a book with pictures to confirm I wasn’t pulling a fast one…

    WTF is wrong with people?

    Did she really think a single bottle of Vicks was my master stroke?

    If I had pooled my resources to create some new identity where I was old enough to buy something with an age requirement I didn’t meet, I’m guessing it would be a case of beer not something for my cough…

    This is some serious slow poking mongoloid-*********ry… anybody know where I can pick up a supersoaker and a bottle of bleach?

    No reason…

  26. Patrick says

    @Dmitri Honestly, from what I’ve been reading recently – the UK is worse about “Nanny-ism” than we are here. But I’ll admit I can’t say that we’re lagging far behind.

    I’ve long held the opinion that laws exist to protect you from the maliciousness of other people – not from your own stupidity.
    Unfortunately, such a stance won’t get you elected to anything other than a BBS moderator.

    • Jeff says

      now i have been noticing this… decline in the intelligence of the general population as a whole. some of these people dont even think before they act.. or yes the fact that they are either A)stupid proofing something or B) taking the sharp corners off as you have put it…. such as cars who park themselves for someone who cant handle the simple task of putting the car in the parking spot. they are trying to make the world a safer place. i completely agree with your statement about them not needing to contribute to the gene pool…and these people who ate Mcdonalds and got fat or spilled hot coffee on themselves and sued. i dont even think that should have been allowed into the court room.. these people need to be held accountable for their own actions. now im not entirely sure on this one but last i checked if i spill hot coffee on myself at home i cant go suing the pants off maxwell can i?? so why does the court even bother allowing these idiots into the court house? Personally we need a Standardized aptitude test after which if they fail they lose all reproductive organs. but hey thats just me…

      (o and btw LOL at the eggs with the warning label reading :may contain eggs..)

  27. says

    This society in America has become to litigious ; suing companies for every little thing and it’s why these rules get into place. I understand that there is def. some good concerns with some lawsuits but most of them are just people looking to get something for nothing.

  28. says

    Mr. Snead,

    I agree there is too much intrusion by government in the lives of Americans.

    Somehow over the years Americans have come to rely on government to implement every “there ought to be a law” that has crossed anyone’s mind. Marry that with representatives who require important issues to be used to garner your support, their need to spend other people’s money on things that are none of their business, and homes where the kids are unsupervised and both, if there is two, parents working to pay taxes and you get the environment we have today.

    The government will tell you they have a vested interest in making laws to protect the uninformed from damaging themselves. Recall that your tax dollars are paying the medical bills for a lot of those emergencies. Young adults don’t buy health care insurance. I didn’t have any until I was 25 years old. Children from poor homes don’t either. So, the government is picking up the bill. We wanted it and we got it.

    BTW: I support the idea of safety labeling for nearly every kind of product and material the people can come in contact with. Our society doesn’t allow for families to teach children what is hazardous and how to avoid being injured. Parents have to work to pay taxes so the government can take care of all this stuff.

  29. Poopsie says

    Common sense is not that common ~ why is it called Common sense then??
    I am a firm believer that the common sense gene has been mutilating as stupid people are breeding and society is not allowing kids to scrape their knees anymore.

    I rode my bike EVERYWHERE through the woods at night and all but when mom told me to be home, i was and if she didn’t, i was still at home between 6P and 6:30P no matter what.

    Clean the gene pool a bit and only allow lawsuits that make sense like criminal stuff, family things and such but by golly cut out the BS suits about people suing about cutting of a body part with a chainsaw because it did not state “WARNING: May cut off body parts.”


  30. says

    I walked into my neighborhood pharmacy to purchase my daughter Sudafed per counsel with her general practitioner. It has been more than 10 years since I required this over-the-counter medication and was stunned when I found a group of paper cards with Sudafed advertising that read “take to pharmacist”. I sincerely thought that pharmacy staff were keeping the medication behind the counter so that tyrants would not tamper with them…boy am I naïve.
    I handed the cashier the Sudafed card and she whispered she needed my driver’s license. I was mystified! I asked her why she wanted it and she said “We need to make sure you are not going to make meth with it”. I was beyond furious and incensed. How dare she attack the dignity I have in front of my 12 year old daughter. I asked to speak with her superior and was told that the ID requirement is a federal policy and my information will be kept in a database to track any attempt by me to purchase large quantities at various drug stores.
    I have never felt so insulted and unpleasant than I did right then and there. I have never even smoked a cigarette or been drunk and some pharmacist suspects me of wanting to buy Sudafed to make meth. What has this countries pharmaceutical laws succumbed to? Does this dim-witted policy really curtail the amount of meth being manufactured in this country?
    Perhaps I would not have been so infuriated if Miss. Cashier would have said it in a different way than “We need to make sure you are not going to make meth with it”. I guess a few bad apples really do spoil the bunch!!!!!

  31. says

    @Shannon – I wouldn’t take it too personally. :) The police I’ve talked to say that it really does help them catch people who are making meth.

  32. bptr says

    It’s not left-wing laws trying to protect people that are the problem. It is exactly the opposite. The same thing has been going on and getting worse for decades. Money-grubbing Corporations have taken over our government and society. Corporations want to insulate themselves from all responsibilty (meaning lawsuits finding them culpable) so that they may freely steal money recklessly with total disregard for human welfare and at the same time dupe the stupid and confused right-wing people (who think the riches will somehow trickle down to them) into supporting them. These are the same deluded hysterical reactionaries who also support outrageous draconian laws that “get tough” on crime.

    • says

      Interesting perspective, but I don’t quite agree with you. For example, consider a small company that wants to make good quality football helmets in the US. Their goal is not to “disregard human welfare”–they are trying to make a good product that protects people playing a game. No matter how safe they make their helmets it is unlikely that they will be able to afford insurance to cover themselves from lawsuits. If an idiot puts on one of their helmets and tries to do some crazy stunt on a skateboard, their is a pretty good chance that they will be liable if he hurts himself.

      The end result? No one (as far as I know) makes football helmets in the US anymore.

      Don’t get me wrong–I think corporations should be responsible for what they do, but I don’t think they should be responsible for every possible thing someone might do with their product. If you seriously don’t know it is a bad idea to raise a running lawnmower above your head, I don’t think you should be allowed to sue the lawnmower manufacturer.

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