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Tuesday, March 2, 1999

Smokey Briggs


By Smokey Briggs

Ad Absurdum

"Ad absurdum."

This phrase comes from the ancient Latin and means to the absurd. It is a phrase usually used by philosophers and law school professors. Often, it is used when the speaker wants to say "If you take this idea to its logical limits the result becomes absurd."

In law and in philosophy this exercise is an accepted test of the validity of an idea. Consciously taking an idea to its logical conclusion is good mental exercise. It also can reveal faults with the idea.

Last Saturday President Clinton held his usually weekly radio address. During this address he unveiled his newest plan to make America a safer place. The idea may not be a bad one, but the underlying logic of the idea is flawed. Clinton's new plan centers around the design of child protective seats and automobiles.

According to the statistics he quoted, 60 percent, or more, of all child protective seats are not properly secured. Clinton wants to mandate new designs for these seats and new designs for automobiles to accommodate the new seats. According to his statistics, some 50 children's lives might be saved each year with the introduction of these "easier-to-attach-properly" child seats.

Now to oppose this new initiative, or even to question it, is to walk on dangerous ground. Clinton has already staked out the moral high ground. His intent is to save the lives of children. Once someone claims this high ground any opponent risks being branded a heartless scoundrel. Politicians have become very good at this tactic in the recent past.

The underlying idea of Clinton's argument, and most arguments cloaked in the camouflage of making the world safe, is the value of human life. Saturday he spoke specifically about children but the basic theme is that human life is the most valuable resource on earth. The unspoken conclusion to the argument is that any law or rule that may make the world a safer place, must be a good idea.

And this is where the idea fails.

It fails when it is stretched to its logical conclusion ad absurdum. Saddle up the idea that any law that protects human life is good and ride it down a trail for a while. The farther down the trail you get the less you are likely to enjoy the ride.

With Clinton's reasoning most human activities should be curtailed and/or strictly regulated especially when it comes to children. The dangers of most school boy sports; riding bicycles; cars that can exceed the speed limit; none of these things can be justified under the President's reasoning. Eventually, laws based on this same premise would have everyone safely locked in their houses except for the most essential of human tasks.

Obviously, the result becomes absurd.

I hope.

I like to think that most folks would agree that such results would be absurd.

So the problem becomes one of line drawing. Where do we draw the line? Where do we say, "Yes, this law might make the world a little safer, but it will stifle an activity that is worthwhile, or it will infringe on the freedom and liberty granted to us by God." By what standard should these lines be drawn? Who should draw them?

I think that the lines used to be drawn with common sense. Unfortunately, common sense doesn't seem to be all that common these days. Originally, when men first started trying to make the world safer with laws, the logic may have been flawed but the intentions and the results were basically good.

The system, poor logic and all, will work so long as common sense prevails. But if you take common sense out of the equation the results can get absurd. Now we have set the precedent for the future and the precedent is based on this same flawed logic. Worse, there is no requirement that common sense be used.

The possibilities are troublesome. I don't think I trust the folks drawing the lines these days. Their logic is flawed and I'm not so sure about their good intentions.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Smokey Briggs is the editor and publisher of the Pecos Enterprise. He can be e-mailed at:

Your View

Some officials not there to teach

I am a parent who is concerned with the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD school system.

It seems to me that some teachers and principals are abusing their authority.

I agree with fair punishment, but some measures of punishment taken by officials just don't fit the crime. I myself went to school, and in my time, chewing gum or kidding around was a simple slap on the wrist. Today, all they want to do with the students is send them to OCS (Off Campus Suspension).

Some punishments are really ridiculous.

I feel as though these officials are in the schools just for the pay, not to teach. Don't get me wrong, I'm not condemning all the teachers, because I thank God that we still have a few that care and are very good at what they do.

Thank you,


Our View

History deserves more attention

Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. (George Santayana, 1863-1952)

There is a lot of wisdom wrapped up in that one sentence. There are lessons to be learned in our history. Lessons that apply to the problems that man faces today.

Unfortunately, if Mr. Santayana was correct, we may be in trouble. The Dallas Morning News recently sponsored a test on Texas history. Most Texans failed miserably.

According to the Associated Press report, more than a third of the people taking the test could not name one of the men who died at the Alamo. Only 16 percent of the test takers managed to name three of the Alamo's defenders. Only 9 percent knew that today, March 2, is Texas Independence Day.

Of course, it is not the dates and names that carry the real lessons of history. Kids don't learn the important part of history by memorizing a list of dates. But common sense dictates that people with a working knowledge of history will remember a few important dates or names.

Our poor showing on this test indicates a lack of knowledge, not just of dates and names, but also of the important lessons sandwiched in between those dates and names. If this is the case we need to take a careful look at the way we are teaching history.

Otherwise we may be risking a repetition of some of the more painful and destructive episodes in our past.

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