Thursday, February 08, 2007

Announcing the first "State-Worshipper Award"

I always loved Frédéric Bastiat's term "worshipper of the state," which he used in The Law to describe those confuse, pervert and ignore the true purpose of law:

Law is justice. And let it not be said—as it continually is said—that under this concept, the law would be atheistic, individualistic, and heartless; that it would make mankind in its own image. This is an absurd conclusion, worthy only of those worshippers of government who believe that the law is mankind.

Nonsense! Do those worshippers of government believe that free persons will cease to act? Does it follow that if we receive no energy from the law, we shall receive no energy at all? Does it follow that if the law is restricted to the function of protecting the free use of our faculties, we will be unable to use our faculties? Suppose that the law does not force us to follow certain forms of religion, or systems of association, or methods of education, or regulations of labor, or regulations of trade, or plans for charity; does it then follow that we shall eagerly plunge into atheism, hermitary, ignorance, misery, and greed? If we are free, does it follow that we shall no longer recognize the power and goodness of God? Does it follow that we shall then cease to associate with each other, to help each other, to love and succor our unfortunate brothers, to study the secrets of nature, and to strive to improve ourselves to the best of our abilities?

My blogging and replying to e-mails has been sporadic for a while now, but if you all find this "award" interesting, and if you'd like to send me nominees, I'll try to give one every day. It's imperative that we learn of the little things in each other's lives through which government exerts more control over us. Tyranny rarely manifests itself all at once. It creeps slowly, and this is a prime example.

The first winner of my State-Worshipper Award is New York State Senator Carl Kruger, who wants to "ban using an iPod — and any other electronic device that is a distraction — while crossing traffic, he told FOX News on Wednesday." It's a shame we can't instead ban stupid politicians like Kruger, or ban the stupid electorate from voting such politicians into office. What the hell are we supposed to do, then, hang up and call back repeatedly?

Matthew Sheffield at Newsbusters says that if Kruger were a Republican instead of a Democrat, this would have been splashed all over the news as the stupidest legislative idea. Maybe, maybe not. It's been getting a lot of coverage all over the blogosphere and in some news channels, and I think people of most political persuasions will agree that this is one of the stupidest legislative ideas ever. Sadly, I'd expect most liberals and conservatives would oppose it merely because it would make their pedestrian excursions inconvenient, failing to realize that the real argument lies in the principle of personal liberty.

What prompted Kruger's madness? A few people in New York City, clearly Darwin Awards candidates, were killed crossing the street. So Kruger thinks that banning electronic devices which may induce "distraction" will help? What about people who are simply inattentive even when not talking on cell phones? Will Kruger seek to ban "inattentiveness" regardless of the source? Probably not, because that would come down to a general ban on stupidity, in which case he'd have to ban himself.

Some will no doubt argue that if only these people had been prevented from crossing the street while "distracted," there wouldn't have been damage caused to the vehicles that struck them. But law and government can never prevent violations of life, liberty and property. They can sometimes deter, but only in the way that the present application of punishment will naturally make future offenders think twice. We have myriads of laws against bodily harm to others, against property violations, but when did those laws ever stop infractions? Only the threat of punishment (the fulfillment of the promise of enforcing the law), makes criminals think twice -- and typically only some criminals, anyway.

No matter how much you warn people, no matter how well you "idiot-proof" crosswalk signs and signals, you can't prevent everyone from being stupid. The best you can hope for is ensuring that, if a pedestrian pulls a moronic stunt and damages a vehicle that hits him, the vehicle driver can seek compensation. That's assuming the vehicle driver is not at fault in any way, which we can't really tell from the news reports that cite these "distracted" victims. If a pedestrian is listening to music or talking on a cell phone while crossing the street, it might not matter if a crazed driver speeds through a red light.

We also have the question of who defines "distraction," or will it be the same way the NYPD can define "suspicious" however the hell they want? Also, what will this legislation do, except enable the police to go on even bigger power trips? Never mind stop-and-frisk quotas -- if it's a slow day for a pig, and you just happen to be holding your "electronic device" in your hand but not using it at all, I can see the usual tricks of making shit up to issue a $50 or $75 ticket. Most people would rather mail a check than fight over such a relatively small amount.

Last year, the pigs started enforcing new subway rules, particularly one forbidding placing objects on seats, even if empty. Everything government does comes down to the "Law of Unintended Consequences," and while this regulation was meant to ensure all seats can be available on crowded trains, it instead allowed the NYPD and MTA police to issue tickets for the most ridiculous reasons. One woman was given a $40 ticket, as I recall, for placing a bag of groceries on the seat next to her, traveling on a nearly deserted train. She refused to accept her $40 ticket and eventually got it thrown out, but not without heavy cost to her in time. Now imagine if she hadn't been deprived of her Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Do you think some flatfoot would have bothered her, or someone whose only "offense" is to talk on the cell phone while crossing the street? Just a little something to think about.



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