something youre better-than-average at. Better yet, something
youre good at. Now imagine being required by law
backed by the threat of violence for failure to comply to
dumb yourself down to the level of the average. Performance at a
higher level puts you in violation and subject to punishment.
But that doesnt prevent it from being the basis of traffic
law (and other laws besides).
The law says this occurs when a pedestrian crosses a street before
an ok to proceed light tells him he may. The legal premise
is that the average person is too low-performance to gauge when
he may safely cross the street. And he may well be. But and
heres where it gets interesting rather than using the
situation as a teaching moment, our system immediately, reflexively,
puts up a crutch (the walk/dont walk light) and
much worse turns a punitive eye toward the able and
competent pedestrians who dont need the light. Incentives,
on the one hand, are created that encourage passivity (mindless
compliance) while on the other, another salvo is fired at the exercise
of initiative for the sole purpose of defeating it and encouraging
an ever-more-passive populace.
And I choose
the word think very deliberately.
Why, if the
way is clear, should one not cross the street irrespective
of signs and lights? Because it is The Law, will be the reply of
the authoritarian equalizer type I call Clovers.
And The Law does not consider it relevant whether, in fact, the
street was devoid of cars and it was safe therefore to cross. Not
only reason but a defense based on the assertion of no
harm done is no defense at all. Submit and Obey. That is whats
required. No matter how arbitrary, no matter how unreasonable. Just
do as you are told.
speeding are now similarly premised. There used to be a legally
viable defense which amounted to convincing the judge that even
though you may have been driving faster than the posted speed limit,
the speed you were driving was not unsafe for conditions. The road
was a major highway; the day was clear, traffic was light. You get
the cop to concede your car was under control, that you were not
weaving, drifting or otherwise doing anything obviously dangerous
trying this line of reasoning today.
most speed limit laws are what lawyers call per se speed limit laws.
It means youre guilty of speeding regardless
of whether it was safe under the specific conditions. In other
words, your actual driving is irrelevant. All that matters, legally
speaking, is that you have been caught exceeding whatever speed
the bureaucrats have posted. Guilty. $300 fine plus court costs.
Well be sure to let your insurance company know, too.
because its both unjust and corrosive. Unjust, because arguably,
no one should be subject to punishment absent provable harm having
been committed. A truly guilty person (provided hes not a
sociopath) will feel guilt if he has done something to cause harm
to another person. And he will accept his punishment with equanimity.
he deserves it.
or was a fundamental tenet of Western (and American) law.
It found expression in the old saying no harm, no foul.
That has been upended. Now people who do no harm are routinely judged
guilty who have committed no foul no harm
at all. And they resent it rightly. You are just driving
along, in full control of your vehicle, in no way causing or threatening
to cause harm to anyone. But you are traveling faster than an arbitrarily
decreed number. A cop observes you, not driving dangerously, merely
driving faster than legally allowed. He pulls you over with much
sturm und drang (usually accompanied by a cant-choked lecture
about The Law) culminating in the issuance of a piece of paper ordering
you to pay a large sum of money for no reason at all other
than your having exceeded the posted speed limit.
It makes you
angry. Think about this. Most of us who are not sociopaths
would not be angry at being caught (and punished) for having
done something to harm others. But to be threatened by an armed
man (or woman) merely for flouting some arbitrary convention
some law when you know in your heart (and mind)
that you were no threat to anyone? That the law in question
is a technicality at best and an absurdity at worst? That will make
any reasonable person very angry indeed.
anger of that sort is no good for the health of the system. It undermines
legitimate law and legitimate enforcement. It creates enmity
where none ought to exist. It is responsible for the transformation
of what used to be peace officers into law enforcement officers.
Note the distinction. It is important. Peace officers maintain the
peace. This is something all but the sociopaths among us would probably
agree is desirable. But what does it mean to be a law enforcement
officer? It means, to be a guy (or gal) with a gun and a badge who
enforces whatever law happens to be on the books. To be callously,
robotically indifferent to reason.
It does not
matter to an LEO whether you are peaceful and
harming no one. Whether you are competent and your judgment
sound. Whether as in our original example there was
no traffic around and it was perfectly safe to walk across the street,
even though the walk light hadnt turned white
All that matters
to the LEO is you guessed it The Law.
even if provably sound, makes no difference. Your
demonstrated ability to handle something with skill and competence
especially, higher skill and competence than the officially
decreed safe average (however defined) will only
cause you problems if exercised. Slow down. Stop thinking so much.
Wait for the light.
with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.
[send him mail] is an automotive
columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2011 Eric Peters
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