Rules are replacing responsibility in government
by Jim Stern

Guest Editorial Graphic Schilling Show BlogMan has always lived under sets of rules. From the Ten Commandments to the legal code, sporting competitions to board games, in physics and in tax forms, there are rules everywhere guiding our lives.

Deciphering the rules creates knowledge. Early man saw that fire burns, fire cooks, and fire lights; they learned that you can depend on those as fact. Fire burns today and it will burn you again tomorrow—the rule never changes. The ability to determine if a rule was reliable led to early man’s survival and so, to us being here today.

I made a living on rules. As a computer programmer or business analyst, in risk management or as a division head, rules make the workplace easier. In IT development a line of code does not think, it does exactly what it is told to do. Computers live in a world with black and white rules.

In the military I wrote Standard Operating Procedures. SOP’s allow a process requiring no choices or decisions to be made by staff. If you only give staff keys that fit in the keyhole only one way, then to open the door they must put the key in the slot that one way, the rule must be followed, and in reality they have no choice at all. If things go wrong the writer of the SOP was at fault not those who carried it out.

Some rules are personal, some institutional; some rules come from an even higher authority. The king can proclaim gravity has been banished but no man is powerful enough to change a rule like gravity. We can temporarily overcome gravity but the rule remains. Gravity is a fact.

Man-made rules are not fact; they can be bent, changed or ignored, like the speed limit on roads. It is easy to be misled into thinking man-made rules are fact, but without man these rules will cease to exist unlike factual rules like gravity. When people no longer think for themselves and treat man-made rules as though they are fact it allows people to bypass their responsibility and blame failure on the writer of the SOP.

Man cannot accept any rules blindly and should never take any rule man by man as anything more than accepted by some or all people but never as fact. If we desire freedom we must validate every rule each time it comes into play. Questioning every rule does not mean that man-made rules are not required for the common good.

Complete and unrestrained personal freedom is the complete absence of man-made rules. It is called anarchy.

The absence of personal freedom entirely is when every aspect of life is governed by man-made rules. It is the totalitarian state.

Freedom does depend on a low threshold of tolerance for man-made rules. The old adage is that with freedom comes responsibility. Responsibility requires work, hard work. Sometimes it may be acceptable to lose freedom and allow someone else to make the rules because they will bear responsibility for the consequences of the rule.

The attraction for many to accept a king, a dictator, or a totalitarian state is the fact it is easier to follow rules and not bear the responsibility passed to the rule makers. We learn from birth we must follow rules set by others. If you do not follow the rules we naturally blame the rule maker. How many times have you heard a child say, ‘but you didn’t tell me I had to….” Then as you grow up you must set your own rules and suffer the consequences if the rules you choose fail you or others around you.

Just as it is with your parents’ rules, it is easy to just follow rules set by the state. The danger is when citizens bypass any litmus test and rules set by the state are blindly accepted.

If a large enough portion of the citizenry is willing to accept any rule, even foolish ones, simply to bypass bearing any responsibility for failure, personal freedom is what disappears in exchange for the absolution from responsibility. If the set of rules becomes comprehensive enough you have reached total absolution. You are in a totalitarian state with no choices and only one responsibility: “do what you are told.”

At my birth, this great nation was the land of the free and the home of the brave. Now just 52 years later no one is free and few are standing up to demand our freedom back. Few want to bear any responsibility for themselves or others but rather they expect the state to take the weight of responsibility away with a rule.

If I can’t bear the responsibility of my children, or my finances, or care for the elderly in my community the government rules that if you cannot or will not bear that responsibility the state will do what ever is required in your stead. You do not need to feel any pain or anguish, no sorrow because you accept the rule.

My father’s father lied in order to return to combat duty as a 41-year-old man in 1943. He lied about his age. The officer at the recruiting desk had his file in front of him and after seeing his true birth year and evaluating my grandfather, the officer somehow “lost” the file into a trashcan. He did not follow the rules either.

Both men knew the rules. Both men understood responsibility. They both weighed the situation, considered the rules and bore the responsibility on their shoulders. It was their choice and neither man made the choice lightly. But they knew the ramifications of making a choice to follow or bypass the rules.

If my grandfather had followed the rule set by the state no one would have held him in ill regard, the state rule said he was too old to go into combat on a naval vessel. His responsibility was self-imposed, even though he was absolved by the state.

From 1943 to today something has shifted. There are few left who are true “public servants.” Many whose paycheck is taken from the taxpayers have learned to manipulate existing rules and sometimes even create rules in order to shirk responsibility to avoid hard choices. Shirking responsibility by twisting rules takes many different forms in government. Do mind that not all government officials neglect their responsibilities, but those who try to fulfill their duties are overruled when shirkers are in the majority. In the Obamacare sessions of Congress many Democrats learned they could shirk their responsibilities and change the rules for gain, allowing them to extort money and exemptions for their districts in exchange for their vote.

Locally, despite being the gatekeepers to a vault with our money in it, for many years the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has accepted the rule that 60 percent of new revenue goes to the schools. The rule says we do it, so we no longer have to bear responsibility for the money we hand the school system without scrutiny or even asking the question of how it will be spent.

When following the rules is difficult then shirking duties by ignoring those rules is common. In Virginia the rule says adequate coverage is 1.5 police officers for every 1000 in population. For convenience we just ignored that rule for years in Albemarle County. Now addressing the issue will take five years or more to get back on track.

If not bound to rules by the superior state above us then we can simply make up our own rules, even if illogical and clearly only to shirk responsibility. The School Board says it is their rule not to meddle in the details of the school system and only look at the highest-level information. Their rule to only look at the cover and never inside the book allows them to shirk responsibility if the cover is falsely labeled a romance when the true story inside starts as a comedy then ends as a horror novel.

The most dangerous of all responsibility shirking is now the behavior of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library officials who are actively shirking responsibility by blindly clinging to outdated rules made by past superiors and do not even consider alternate paths. This will cost Albemarle taxpayers millions of dollars now and hundred of thousands ongoing and if unchecked will be even worse. Blindly following the rule only because the rules sustain their paychecks—yet they are pococurante to the citizens—these bureaucrats will someday demand to be rewarded for their unwavering loyalty. That too will be at citizens’ expense.

When the Jefferson-Madison Library Bureaucrats are asked why the proposed Crozet Library is larger than the fire house it is because there is a square footage to population rule. There are no considerations to be weighed as long as they follow the rule. These bureaucrats bear no responsibility if they stick mindlessly to the rule. In truth, the square foot/population rule allows them to protect their fiefdom and have no accountability if things go awry, they can blame the rule.

When asked, “why build in the place where a library is least needed by the population?” The mindless answer: “’because that is the designated growth area.” An honest bureaucrat would say: “The rules in place do not require us to consider the needs of the people or any other factor. We have placed the library on this plot because the rules say we shall do so. If you do not like the rule I may not speak with you about the matter, it is above my pay grade. You must discuss this with the rule makers, for I have no responsibility.”

Any question requires no thought on their part just a robotic response.

What if there are true library needs elsewhere? Sorry, the rule precludes that as a consideration.

This proposed library of yesterday is obsolete before the ground is broken. Why not build for the future instead of for the past? Sorry the rule says in the past we are doing enough volume to build the library. We cannot open our minds to even considering what will happen in the future.

An honest evaluation of needs is not required because the rules were not made so libraries best serve the citizens but to protect the library fiefdoms. A library in ten years will be as valuable as the US Post Office in ten years. Instead of a Crozet Library I could have gotten the Jefferson-Madison Library bureaucrats to buy the old Crozet video store and tell them of the demand for VHS tapes, 20 years ago.

But your library rules are obsolete. Sorry they are not our rules, they come from the state. Therefore, we do not question the rule; you should not question the rule either.

This abdication of responsibility by government officials who mindlessly take more and more from the real working people with no justification except “we are just following the rules” is nothing short of a glimpse into 1930’s Germany.

We must choose right now, at this fork in United States history. Will you follow a path back to freedom or does your path lead to Europe’s past?

You may not accept it. But it is your responsibility.



  1. Reading this, I tried to find an actual reason that the Crozet library shouldn’t be built, instead of a mere accusation, sans supporting evidence, that officials are mindlessly following rules and haven’t considered alternatives. The closest thing I could find to an argument is the apparent claim that in ten years a library will be superfluous, but to even begin backing up that claim you’d have to show that existing JMRL branches are experiencing declining usage. Absent evidence of declining circulation, building a new library in a town where the population is growing is just exercising common sense. In an area with as many well-educated people as this, libraries will never be out of date. In a civilized populace, libraries will never be out of fashion.

    Also, the Hitler Rule on the Internet applies to Nazi Germany too – if you liken your opponent to Hitler or his behavior to Nazi Germany, you’ve automatically lost the argument by demonstrating your own irrationality, your own inability to think straight without letting your antagonism interfere.

  2. This was an excellent article. It demonstrates the frustrations I’ve felt for some time, as I am only a couple of years younger than the author. Interestingly enough, I’ve always found the year 1943 to be just about right, regarding when “something” shifted. The beginnings of political correctness I believe, started at that time, in Europe. Gen. Eisenhower, who somehow, without ever having fired a shot in battle, was appointed to lead the Allied Forces. So many times, as he attempted to placate the various ego’s of the British and French, etc, he willing chose to ignore straight forward common sense advice of men like Patton and Macarthur. Alos interestingly, how quickly we threw these great men, and the warnings they gave us regarding Russia, aside. But that’s another article. When the author references hos grandfather, those indeed were the days of “great men”. Men who understood the spirit of the law, not just blindly following the letter of it. Men like that are too few and far between, sadly. We now possess in our culture, a level of highly educated, morally corrupt individuals who’ve managed to raise the level of the “peter principal” to the ultimate degree of mediocrity. Our culture and society are paying the price for it. As far as the claim of ” if you liken your opponent to Hitler or his behavior to Nazi Germany, you’ve automatically lost the argument by demonstrating your own irrationality, your own inability to think straight without letting your antagonism interfere.” If it walks, talks and looks like a duck, then it is a duck. We are now discussing infanticide, and evaluating whether or not it is economically viable for those over 70 to receive health care benefits. We are nationalizing our government through corporate bail-outs, and we have a president and secretary of defense, who would rather seek UN approval instead of approval of those elected to represent the interests of “WE THE PEOPLE.” We’re closer than we think.

  3. Hank, contrary to what you guys seem to want to believe about liberals, we don’t want to kill newborns – or Grandma. You guys, however, have complained for decades whenever we’ve wanted to extend care to the poor.

    Temporarily nationalizing a couple of broke car companies to save the jobs of their innocent employees, and seeking League of Nations approval for invading Poland – sure, Hitler did both, and that’s why he’s remembered as such an evil man! Hey did you know Hitler lost his temper at his kid? What say, you lost your temper at your kid too? What a Nazi you are!

    Nuttier and nuttier.

  4. Whether or not you want to kill the unborn, the fact is, that since 1973, they have been legally killed at the said statistical rate of 1.5 million a year. If that is the amount killed when you’re not even trying, supposedly, God help us in the event of an actual premeditated attempt. Again, I can not help but to remember the past, and it worked. Women were safe and respected for the most part. Children were not tortured and molested and killed. Both could walk down a street after sunset, and reasonably expect to arrive home safely. Men were protectors and providers, not predators. Now I know that you will cite examples to the contrary, but for every one you cite, I can cite thousands more to the contrary. So yes, for the majority, our past was certainly more preferable than our present. I know this, because I lived it. Nuttier and nuttier, I would give anything to have the chance to let my sons grow up in that nutty world. I’ve spoken with both liberals and conservatives, and the one thing that all agree upon is this, our children will not have the freedom nor the opportunities that we did. When it’s all said and done, that is all that really matters. Our posterity will hear us tell of our lives as children, in utter disbelief that such a time could have ever been, and they will think us nutty indeed.

  5. Do you want to talk about infanticide or abortion or do you want to start out talking about infanticide and retreat to abortion when challenged? Likewise, do you want to compare the American present to the Nazi past, or the American present to the American past, or do you want to start out talking about the one and retreat to the other when challenged? As for the social ills you mention, if you want to blame them all on liberalism plain and simple, you ought to be able to come up with some data. Show us that they’re more prevalent in red states than blue states. You can’t.

    As for abortion, since you’re changing the subject, I’m opposed to it, but there is no comparison between the practice in Nazi Germany, in which non-Aryan women were forced to abort their children while Aryan ones were forbidden to on penalty of death, and the practice in America today, in which individual women choose to abort, and choose not out of prejudice, but often for reasons that, insufficient as they are, are good in themselves, like their health or the child’s and the welfare of their other children. Is that clear enough? Abortion under the Nazis was imposed for ideological reasons against the will of women. Abortion in America today, as wrong as it is, is freely chosen, and bears zero resemblance to the practice in Nazi Germany. So the Nazi comparison is bogus and disingenuous, and perhaps the next time you call Rob on the air you ought to leave off shaking your head and your finger about godless liberals ruining the country, and condemn this ignorant and dishonest comparison that your side is so fond of making – if, of course, the decency whose disappearance you bemoan means not just understanding the spirit of the law and acting like a gentleman around women, but also possessing the basic values of honesty and fairness. Don’t just talk the talk, walk . . .

  6. A very long time ago, when new in nursing, I assisted with abortion. It was being used as a form of birth control. I was not mature enough to have opinion. Approx 11 yrs later, I was working in PICU. One night got in a very petty infant girl who if born around the time I assisted with abortion, she would have been flushed down the drain. Even those she was not my child , I loved her as if she was my own. I provide care to allot of infants that if was 11 yrs before they would have been flushed down the drain. Abortion has been used as form of birth control since dawn of man kind (it is a moral decision good or bad). Look at Russian at one time their ratio was 1 live birth for ever 3 abortion.The real issue is government ability to pick and chooce what they want to do.
    The ability of local government to say “It’s not in my job description.”
    Take this for what it worth. To have an abortion is a moral decision. I worked with a couple where the husband had to made the decision to have abortion done ot save his wife live and to be a mom to son that they already had. They when through hell from the people that they new. They came to me and I asked, what would have happen if he decided no. There 3 yr old some was with them and both looked at me, started crying and say,yes, the right decision was made. That was 3 yrs ago and now have a baby girl….. It will alway be a moral decision, should not be made in court of public opinion. This is what socail engeering does!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Good night, almost time to put the garden in.

  7. In regards to:
    Ken says:
    March 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    This piece is not about the Crozet Library. Thank you though for identifying a perfect ‘next in-depth investigation’. I promise I will follow up on the Library.

    I did not liken any opponent to Hitler. You need to be a more careful reader. I was saying that anyone who blindly follows rules is ripe to be the perfect pawn. No more, no less said.

    In regards to:
    Hank Martin says:
    March 13, 2012 at 10:02 am
    Thank you. Eisenhower, the Military Industrial Complex and our treatment of other WW II Generals are each worthy of volumes. You clearly understand that my point was that in the past people knew the rules and they knew what was the right thing to do. Today they often know the right thing to do but use one of man’s rules to ignore basic principles of humanity. Worse they use man’s rules to cleanse their conscience.

    In regards to:
    Ken says:
    March 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm
    I am at a loss for words. On social issues, I am likely one of the most liberal people you will ever meet. However, things like a life long crusade to keep non-violent criminals out of prison is not a passion because it is a Democratic or Republican issue, it is equally ignored by both that current sentences for non-violent crime disproportionately effects minorities, especially the African-American male. I make my choices based on the answer to only one question, ‘What it is the right thing to do?’

    Helping those who cannot help themselves is one of the basic principles of humanity that must be followed. Using the fruits of your labor to give to those who are fully capable of doing the tasks necessary to better their condition is your personal choice and doing so may be the right thing to do in many situations. For you to use the fruits of my labor to give to the same, is not the right thing to do, it is theft.

    In regards to the discussion on abortion:
    I cannot participate in the discussion with an open mind. When I was 24 years old I met for the first time and had the chance to spend some time with my birth mother. I had always known I was adopted but my world was turned upside down when I met my birth mother due to a last ditch attempt to save her life. It was determined that I was medically unqualified so I was unable to give life back to the one who had given it to me. Among many of her words that stay with me to this day, “If abortion was legal in 1959 you would not be here”.

    Access without thought or consequence to abortion in 1959 would erase my existence. So, I have made personal decisions in the matter that I will never be able to fully explain to most people, let alone try to impose on anyone.

    But in the midst of the last comment I find the essence of the entire piece I wrote in one simple sentence…

    votes5200 says:
    March 14, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    The real issue is government(s) ability to pick and choose what they want to do.

    Yes, votes5200 that is it.

    They will force you to follow their rules yet when inconvenient, they don’t have to follow them. Worse, if they don’t like what you are doing they can change the rules in the middle of the game often for no purpose other than as targeted punishment.

  8. Jim:
    The solution is to change government by using the vote.
    However once that vote is cast, the individual end up in to office the rules of engagement changes.. If that individual decide do what they want or be influenced by big money there is really not much we can do.
    Our government(s) have forgot that we are a land of government for people, by people, not the other way around — peopel for government by government.
    I understand your stand on abortion. As I saw on a sign the other day — Remember the 3 “F'”
    Faith, Family, Freedom……

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