An effective response to meddlesome busibodies

published Apr 04, 2009, last modified Jun 26, 2013

Many busibodies want (the government) to punish those who don't wear seatbelts, those who smoke pot, those who have guns, those who dress with saggy pants, those who don't pay taxes. These busibodies are wrong; they are perverse; they are immoral.

First of all, let me start with a disclaimer: I always, without exception, wear a seatbelt.  I know seatbelts will save my life some day.  I know they have saved countless other lives.  I won't be discussing this matter here.  In fact, I will be taking the devil's advocate position here, and pretend I don't or won't wear a seatbelt, just to make a moral point.  The argument within this article is called "The 'against me' argument" and is pretty effective at revealing people's true intentions.

Here's what I'll be discussing: the altogether different matter of the government taking money or putting people in jail cells for not wearing seatbelts.  In this as in many other disputes of public policy, I know we'll all forever be tempted to cast them as "battles of opinions with merits" -- but they simply aren't.  What I am about to discuss is actually very, very simple and substantive.

Let's assume, for just a second, that you're in favor of the government punishing people who don't wear seatbelts.  For whatever the reason -- because it's safer to other people in the road (quite stupid, but many people argue this), because it's good for you, etcetera.  The reason... is really irrelevant; what's relevant is what I am about to tell you:

You want to wear a seatbelt? Wear it. Make love to it. Go nuts. Advocate for people wearing seatbelts. Protest on the streets against those who refuse to wear them. In fact, you can personally drag me to jail if I kill your sister as a result of me not wearing a seatbelt (however absurdly unlikely that is).

Now, I digress with you -- we have a difference of opinion and, as much as you are entitled to yours, I am entitled to mine and we are both entitled to act pursuant to our opinions (otherwise neither of us would have any practical freedoms but the freedom to move our tongues, wouldn't we?). But -- and here's the kicker -- no matter how much we digress, I will never advocate for you to be forced not to wear a seatbelt, because I am consistently against violence and coercion to solve social problems, because coercion is flat out wrong. Never.  You can be assured of that.

So, the question boils down to: if I haven't touched you or otherwise damaged anything belonging to you, and I'm not willing to use force to get my point across, will you be willing to extend me the same adult, reasonable courtesy I just extended to you?

If you are, if you're really willing to respect my choice not to wear a seatbelt, great -- you get my respect and commendation; we are in agreement.

But if you aren't, if you openly advocate for people like me to be jailed and my money wrested from me, then you're no better than the thugs who execute your wishes (and you're actually quite the shameless coward, since you want others to carry out the enforcement of your preferences).  You see, as much as you'd like to call your advocacy and vote "noble" and "reasonable", what you're proposing is actually, directly, verifiably, personally harmful to me.  So it's pointless to debate you any longer, since you have already admitted you're willing to use coercion on me.

You can yell that I'm wrong, you can call me stupid, you can disagree.  But the minute you start moving to punish me directly, don't pretend you're being civil anymore and don't complain if I'm not civil in return.

And you can use the very same reasoning for censorship laws, dress code laws, the drug war, et cetera.  So go, start using it.

I leave you with an epic quotation from the genius Robert Heinlein:

Thing that got me was not her list of things she hated, since she was obviously crazy as a Cyborg, but fact that always somebody agreed with her prohibitions. Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please. Rules, laws— always for other fellow. A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up. Because not one of those people said: "Please pass this so that I won't be able to do something I know I should stop." ... was always something they hated to see neighbors doing. Stop them "for their own good"—not because speaker claimed to be harmed by it.