Throughout all of Scragged's writings, there is one common thread that connects the majority of our opinions and views, and that is an aversion to statism.
Statism, simply put, is the belief that the government knows better than you do about how to run your life. In stark contrast, we and most conservatives feel that each person should have the maximum freedom to make decisions about their own preferences and priorities, paying the appropriate costs and taking responsibility themselves, for good or for ill.
Statism most commonly manifests itself in an overweening bureaucracy, petty regulations, and laws requiring what governments have no business requirng. What possible business does the government have, for example, requiring bicyclists or motorcyclists to wear helmets? If they don't and then hurt themselves, they've harmed no one but themselves.
Likewise, how can a supposedly free government dictate what kind of light bulbs or shower heads you are permitted? If government should stay out of my bedroom, it should also stay out of my bathroom and chandelier.
Regulations, rules and outright bans tend to get people's backs up; even in socialist Europe, voters complain about the "nanny state." Instead of these blunt instruments, more crafty statists tweak tax laws and other regulations in non-obvious ways so as to nudge people into the preferred paths without actually forcing them there.
There's just one problem: By misusing the law and justice system this way, they erode respect for the rule of law altogether, and with it they wear down the very foundational principles of civilization itself.
From England comes a perfect example of a proposed rule that appears sensible on its face, but is corrosive in its ultimate effect.
Times of London columnist Carol Midgley writes:
During a recent visit to London I sat in the back of a black cab pondering the usual questions - why does the meter already say £20? Will the cabbie explode if I ask to stop at a cash machine? Why am I an idle slattern who didn't take the Tube as we've moved less than a mile in 15 minutes? - when something unpleasant happened. There were three loud bangs on the passenger side door as if a randy bull was trying to mount it and at the open window appeared the snarling, fuchsia face of an affronted cyclist.
Through a sally of F and C words it became clear that the cyclist thought that the taxi had been travelling too close. The cabbie, who had stopped, disagreed. So the cyclist started hitting his wing mirror until the driver, now somewhat unhappy, got out. It was then that Mr Bike pulled a fistful of gravel from his pocket, flung it with force at the cab (and us), then quickly sped away on two wheels. Staring at the spray of pebbles on the floor, I realised that this cyclist had come out tooled up. Carrying those stones had been a premeditated act.
Believe me, I'm not in the habit of jumping to the defence of London cabbies, but this was so obnoxious that I thought the driver should go after him. He had done nothing wrong that I could see, but had been subjected to criminal damage and the road rage of a scrapyard Alsatian in go-faster tights. "It ain't worth it, love," he shrugged. "It'd be me that got into trouble, not him."
Those words now seem prescient, given the proposal by Government advisers this week that motorists should be made legally responsible for all accidents involving cyclists, even if they weren't at fault. Cycling England, an agency funded by the Transport Department (presumably from motorists' tax money), wants the civil law to be changed so that drivers or their insurers would automatically be liable for compensation claims even if the cyclist caused the accident. [emphasis added]
Every day we are bombarded with propaganda to "save the planet" by using less energy, most particularly by driving less. Any mayor or legislator who wants to cheaply burnish his green credentials can easily do so by encouraging bicycling, one of those modes of transport considered to be an Environmentally Good Thing.
When most ordinary Americans think of bicycling, they tend to envision suburban tweens tooling gently along leafy suburban streets. That is not what we're talking about here; the sort of cycling the greens want is commuters on their way to and from work every day, but on a Schwinn instead of in a Mercedes.
As Ms. Midgley discovered to her chagrin, an aggressive driver isn't made any sweeter by taking away two of his four wheels. Quite the contrary: not being enclosed in metal and glass gave this bicyclist free rein to physically assault her vehicle with fists and projectiles. How often does one car driver do that to another? Pretty rarely.
The incident described in the article seems to be a clear case of road rage at the very least, if not simple assault and breach of the peace. Rather than punish bad behavior, though, the government proposes to make it worse by creating a halo of legal immunity around bicyclists no matter what they do.
The Times pointed out the inevitable consequence:
The move, intended to encourage greater take-up of environmentally friendly modes of transport, is likely to anger some drivers, many of whom already perceive themselves to be the victims of moneyspinning speed cameras and overzealous traffic wardens.
Many will argue that it is the risky behaviour of some cyclists - particularly those who jump red lights and ride the wrong way along one-way streets - that is to blame for a significant number of crashes.
However, policy-makers believe radical action is required to get people out of cars and onto bicycles or to walk more.
So under this plan, bicyclists would have a free pass to ignore the whole panoply of traffic laws which have evolved over a century? Or, at least, not to have to pay any financial price for causing an accident while doing so?
There is no surer way to create a Balkanized society on the roads than by creating a hated class of privileged, immune individuals who can do as they please. There is no surer way to create peace and good order on the roads than by administering justice with an impartial, manifestly rational, and visibly fair hand that does not come bearing a hidden agenda.
Over on this side of the pond, we can see precisely the same effect in a totally different arena. Recall Barack Obama's notable "race speech" in which he repudiated the odiously racist Rev. Wright after attending his church for two decades. Mr. Obama made an interesting point:
A similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race...
So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time...
To wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns -- this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.
Mr. Obama later ignored his own advice and labeled those resentments as misguided and racist when he said of rural whites that
They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
But Mr. Obama's gaffe doesn't make his earlier point any less true: By giving people preference solely on account of their skin color, the natural result is going to be resentment by those not so favored - and we would be more than human if that resentment did not sometimes manifest itself in unpleasant ways.
Creating an injustice, and then rubbing people's noses in it, is not the way to bring about harmony and peace - on the roads, or in society at large.
There's a reason we envision Lady Justice as wearing a blindfold: to be true justice, it's not supposed to care about who you are, what color your skin is, how big your bank account might be, or what you drive. Of course it's impossible to actually reach that ideal, but we ought to strive for it as best as we can.
Any policy or rule that intentionally goes the other way - that emphasizes, highlights, or rewards differences between people who should be seen as equals - will ultimately have the exact opposite effect from the one we want.
In England, the bicyclists may receive total immunity from legal liability and they can cling to this as they're mashed flat beneath the wheels of angry, resentful drivers who expect a red light to mean "stop" for everybody. The Americans with Disabilities Act, supposed to increase employment rates of the disabled by giving them special rights, actually lowered their employment as businesses moved heaven and earth to avoid potential lawsuits by avoiding the disabled altogether.
Why won't government learn? We return to the core belief of the statist: that the government, and the elites who run it, truly do know better than you do how to run your own life. If they are Right and you are Wrong by definition, it is perfectly logical for them to cram their preferences down your throat by whatever means necessary - and the harm that causes is not their fault, it's your fault for resisting the diktats of your betters.
As we keep pointing out, that is totalitarianism, not justice.