One of the great conservative gripes about government interventionism is that it sucks the marrow out of the capacity for self-reliance. If the government tells millions of Americans that licensing is required for hair care, Americans begin thinking that people without government licensure will surely singe them to the bone. Now, Oregon has proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

This week, Oregon’s legislature voted to allow people in small towns to pump their own gas. Yes, in Oregon, laws on the books have forced you to allow an attendant to pump your gas, a bizarre fact I learned when I worked in southern Oregon. But now, liberty has been achieved: retailers in small counties can have self-service gas pumps, and drivers in most of those counties can pump their own gas. A few counties will still be forced to use attendants during daylight hours.

The outpouring of insanity on Facebook has been simultaneously hilarious and sad. Here are a few samples from outraged Oregonians:

  • “No! Disabled, seniors, people with young children in the car need help. Not to mention getting out of your car with transients around and not feeling safe. This is a very bad idea. Grrr.”
  • “I’ve lived in this state all my life and I REFUSE to pump my own gas…This [is] a service only qualified people should perform. I will literally park at the pump and wait until someone pumps my gas.”

This drew widespread mockery, as well it should: I’ve been pumping my own gas since I began driving, and my 3-year-old daughter helps me work the machine because she likes to push the buttons. But it speaks to a far deeper problem in the psyche: the notion that once you’ve been taught you can’t do something, you refuse to unlearn the lesson. Why should it require a government license to pump gas? This insane make-work program has relied on millions of people with one hand and a functioning prefrontal cortex to unlearn what they are innately capable of doing.

And yet this is the message constantly promoted by the Left more broadly: that without the government, we’d all be dead. If not for the FDA, we’d all be poisoned; if not for the EPA, we’d all be ridden with tumors; if not for government licensure for basic tasks, we’d all be murdering each other with kitchen implements. It’s nonsense. It doesn’t only distort the market, it also teaches people that they are incapable — and an incapable people isn’t capable of liberty.

But that, of course, is the point. Making people believe they are dependent ensures a population of people voting for a master. Oregon is a wonderful case in point. The only question is how far such re-education can proceed without blowback from people who finally stand up on their hind legs and begin to pump their own gas.