The state has a fetish for categorizing and classifying things, as if the label you “officially” stick on things changes reality. Yet that classification has legislative teeth. Lately I have become more aware of this destructive power. Not because it comes from the state–I am already used to that, but because often times government agencies, part of the executive branch, are the ones operating under rather wide legislative powers granted by Congress. None of this is new, of course. It just seems that it is becoming more prominent as the number of bureaucracies and bureaucrats continues to increase.
Instead of private law or contracts or generally accepted, time-honored societal agreements, the state corrupts reason and destroys language, replacing common sense with legislative fiat, all while making us more depending on the state to determine what reality is and how we deal with others.
Examples abound. The state controls the definitions of marriage (and of divorce, of course). The state defines who is an employee, who is an employer, and whether you have had “income.” Is Julian Assange a journalist? If he “is,” then according to the state he is treated in a specific way.
Classificationism goes hand in hand with licensing and other forms of control and regulation. If you want to open a kitchen or restaurant, better have the proper licensing. Usually the state will require licenses if you have a certain number of customers or some other category. Then, legally, you “are not” a “restaurant” if you do not meet the guidelines required for the license. But if you do, then magically you and your property are subject to the state’s magical incantation (also known as legislation). The FCC has recently been trying to reclassify ISPs so that they fall under the agency’s telecommunications category, extending the FCC’s power to control the internet.
A rather egregious and recent example of, in this case, re-classificationism, has to do with Obama’s administration trying to “crack down” on companies that treat workers as independent contractors instead of employees (so that unions do not have access to those workers). The IRS and other agencies can determine if someone is a “contractor” or an “employee.”
Even when it comes to the basic rights that the government is “supposed” to protect, classificationism exists. Is email like regular mail?. Is there an expectation of privacy? It all depends on how the bureaucrats massage language in the political arena.
Should e-cigarrettes be regulated like real cigarettes? What “is” a “firearm” or a “machinegun”? Or an “assault weapon”? Where“is” Emmanuel’s “residence”? What is a “controlled substance”? (A toy soldier “is” a “firearm” in British airports, by the way).
One could point out that the agencies in charge will have to have rules and regulations of their own, as the details of implementing and executing Congressional mandates lies with them. That is certainly correct. However, it is striking to see just how much agencies can control by merely moving from category to category entire industries, peoples, occupation, objects and actions. The power to classify is the power to destroy.