Reading the news the other day I was reminded of Tom Robbins’ clever definition of politics. He said it is essentially: “the ambition to preside over property and make other people’s decisions for them. Politics, in other words, is an organised, publicly sanctioned amplification of the infantile itch to always have one’s own way.” OK, there’s a lot to be said for enlightened self interest. But we all need to be a bit more vigilant when it comes to letting other people have their way when it may run contrary to our own way. And when it comes to most of the recently proposed anti-terror and anti-social legislation which is being shoved down our throats, my way is to simply say ‘no way’.

Sure, it’s not the first time in history that we’ve been subjected to idiotic legislation. Many years ago there was that clever anti-terrorist law that said if someone accused of witchcraft was dunked into a river and drowned, it was proof of innocence. If they didn’t drown, they were burned at the stake because it proved they must be a witch. The methodology evolves, but unfortunately, the level of thinking doesn’t. Under those sort of laws, Steve Wozniak’s recent comments about why the first Apple computer was priced at $666.66 probably would have resulted in an unpleasant dunking. Today, under proposed laws to combat the incitement of religious hatred... well, who knows what could be made of that?

Although the law is in many ways a blunt instrument, it can still do a lot more damage then most of us probably ever imagine. And unfortunately, these days legalised malicious prosecution is all too common – particularly by large corporations with a penchant for crushing the little guy. For example, a huge company can actually make someone bankrupt for a debt of just £750. And there’s very little they can do about it.

The concepts of thoughtful compromise and conciliation have apparently been lost in a growing morass of litigation and greed – and nearly everyone seems to want to play. Apart from Steve Jobs’ clashes with record companies over levels of greed, recently a number of iPod nano users in the UK and Mexico filed a class action suit against Apple claiming the device’s screen is defective. The suit, filed in a US District Court in San Jose, California, claims that with an elevated level of wear, the device is rendered unusable and the user cannot comfortably see the screen. The lawsuit charges that Apple violated California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, and Consumers Legal Remedies Act, as well as expressed and implied warranties when it began selling what plaintiffs say are defective devices. Further charges imply that Apple knew of the fault and did not properly recall the defective devices. The suit is also seeking a long list of ‘compensation remedies’, including punitive damages, restitution and, of course, legal fees.

Bizarrely enough, this whole action seems to have been brought about by Steve Jobs’ handling of the nano in a webcast and a TV ad where he reaches into his pocket and removes the device. The law suit alleges that by his actions, Uncle Steve misleads the public about the durability of the nano because the device’s screen could not be placed in a pocket with other objects or in a briefcase without being scratched. And? I mean think about it. If I put my mobile phone in a pocket with a bunch of keys or in a bag of nails, any idiot knows that the screen will get scratched. But I don’t see any class action suits against any of the mobile phone manufacturers.

It seems that the alleged defect in the nano’s screen lies in the resin used to produce it and the supposition that the amount of resin in the nano was less than the amount in previous iPod products and not enough to protect the screen from scratching under ‘normal’ usage. Well, normal usage probably wouldn’t include putting it in a pocket full of keys or pens, let alone a bag of nails. And I would be curious to know who did the scientific tests on the resin to determine that it was less than that used in previous iPods or that it was insufficient to protect the screen from scratching under those circumstances anyway?

Unless you happen to be an absolute moron, most people would realise that the sort of small plastic or resin screens on mobile phones or iPods will scratch if you don’t look after them, dump them into an overly full briefcase or carry them around in a pocket full of shrapnel. Consumer legislation is certainly beneficial and probably a necessary safeguard against the mis-selling or mis-representation of consumables.

However, there is also a necessity for at least a basic level of due care and attention and, certainly, a bit more individual responsibility when it comes to looking after products after they’ve been purchased. Always looking for blame outside ourselves or someone to sue for self-inflicted damages or neglect is not the best way to further a civilised culture or to enhance consumer protection. There are plenty of real causes out there that could do with some legal attention without making lawyers fatter than they already are with mindless, moronic greed suits.

OK, so maybe Apple could have put an extra layer of resin on the iPod nano screens. But even that wouldn’t stop them getting scratched if they weren’t looked after properly. Like it or not, our whole consumer culture is built on the notion of disposability and nothing lasts forever. Let’s worry a bit more about all the current legislation that is really imposing restrictions on our civil liberties without proper charges or hearings. Let’s not just blindly give even more power to a bloated and arcane legal system that has apparently forgotten why it was set up in the first place. And if nothing else, how about taking a little more responsibility for our own actions and spending far less time trying to apportion blame for them. As Tom Robbins also observed, among our egocentric sadsacks, despair and blame are as addictive as heroin and more popular than sex, for the single reason that when one is unhappy or able to blame someone else for your own problems, your simply get to pay a lot more attention to yourself. MW