The recent announcement by the National Transportation Safety Board that it was unanimously recommending that all state governments ban cell phone or other mobile device use by drivers on the nation’s highways and byways has generated a lot of commentary. See Erick Brockway’s splendid critique of this move here. When this came out, in addition to Erick’s proposition about banning talking to your significant other over there in the passenger seat, all kinds of other possibilities came to mind, like banning crossing your eyes while driving, the ever- popular banning applying makeup, banning scratching that nagging itch, banning the thinking of impure thoughts, and, well, the list goes on.
This tendency of officious types to get into our lives, get into our business, now to get into our cars is what we on the right side of the equation often call nannystatism. Big Nan always wants to get up close and personal with us, usually under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, or protecting others from our inattention to detail. It’s an old complaint. We citizens are just too doggone negligent.
But it is part and parcel of the Big Government, Statist philosophy that extends into all matters of public concern. In commerce and transportation and public health matters, even protruding into communications and speech. The intent, it is said, is to protect us or others from self-created or self-assumed hazards. When it comes to matters of due process of law in socio- political intrigues, it is often portrayed as a justice, or ‘social justice’, or sometimes even a national security, rationale.
Anyway, how is it that the envelope keeps getting pushed and stretched as far as Big Nan telling us what to do and not to do? Did they just all of a sudden, some forty-odd years ago, hold a meeting and say “We are going to commence an ever-tightening regimen of rules and regulations designed to control movement, action and activity so as to minimize disruption, harm and randomness in the affairs of our citizens, as we define it?” No. Well, at least we don’t know of a specific Chicago Summit or issuance of a manifesto on the subject, although the modus operandi has been eerily consistent in our adult lifetimes. What happened of course is that the statists began to seize on little things, little modern advances, primarily in industry and transportation and interstate commerce that generated a lot of freedom and mobility and convenience for the folk, but which may have also increased, however minute, some element of risk, and began to play up and tabloid those risks to garner public support for the relinquishment of some portion of their freedoms.
An example. How many of you who read this, while thinking yourself fiercely independent, nevertheless feel the government has every right to demand that you buckle yourself and your passengers into your vehicles? And ever so especially when children are involved, right? Fine. Do you know that when the State of Indiana finally overcame the last objections in the legislature and made it mandatory that drivers of pickup trucks wear seat belts, they put out ads on the radio with a snarling announcer warning offenders that the police would be looking for the terrible offenders and would be issuing citations and people had better start buckling up because its the law, dammit! Or words to that effect. We have never heard public service ads before on any subject, including drug abuse, robbery or any other violation of law, so stern. And we are not making this up. In addition to striking fear into the hearts of pickup truck drivers, the purpose was to categorize the offenders, in the minds of the public, as lawbreakers, as a threat to public safety and probably world peace.
Well, that’s just fine. Protecting people from themselves, and protecting the public from non-seatbelt-wearers is going to cut down on health care costs and so it’s all good, right? Just like the smoking bans and the trans fat bans and obliterating all traces of lead, mercury and carbon from our solar system so that we will be a super race and live forever. Because it’s the right thing to do, can’t you see? It’s for the children. It’s for the elderly. It’s for the infirm. It’s for our precious environment. It’s all so ….altruistic, on Nan’s part. Nan loves us and wants us to be okay.
And those purveyors of all those things that hurt us, the tobacco and the internal combustion engine, and the grease we cook our food in and the coal we burn to heat our homes, those people are all evil, aren’t they? Except. Except, curiously, those purveyors of the mobile devices. And the ones who come up with the programs, the ‘apps’ that make them so appealing to people. That make them want to use them, continuously, over and over, all their waking hours, even, it seems, when they are operating motor vehicles. Talk about severe addictions. Do you see Steve Jobs being vilified as the personification of ‘Big Cellphone’, or iPad,Pod,Pot or whatever all those things are? As a ‘pusher’? No. Jobs is a heroic figure. And Bill Gates is going to give away all his money, we promisecrosssourheartshopetodiewhydon’t yougiveyoursawaytoo? Yeah. So it kind of depends on what the narrative is as to how dire the straits and who the villains are, doesn’t it? And perhaps of course how small or great your allegiance, and usefuleness, to Big Nan might be. McDonalds and kids toys, now there’s your problem.
As reported, even those devices which are classified as ‘hands free’, which can be utilized without taking the hands off the wheel or the eyes off the road, will be banned, except, curiously, those devices installed in some manner, not specified, by the manufacturer of the vehicle. Now, picture yourself as a State Trooper, involved in the high speed chase of a murder suspect when, out of the corner of your eye, you see a motorist travelling down the highway apparently blabbering away to someone, even though he is the only one in the vehicle. What to do? Well of course you must break off the chase and go after the possible offender in order to get to the bottom of whether he was using a personally installed mobile device to talk to Republican Party Headquarters or a government-approved, Government Motors- installed device and engaged in a brainstorming session with Obama for America in Chicago.
Now imagine your horror and dismay at the thought of the ruination of your career when you find that the driver was not using any device at all, but was merely lustily singing to himself and for his pleasure the anthem known as the “Internationale”. You have just mistakenly and egregiously infringed on the civil liberty of a Communist. You’re done. See, this is where that discretion, that common sense thing, which used to be applied, and which used to be written into the laws, and which used to be soundly and appropriately applied by the officials, indeed in most cases usually was left up to the citizen himself as long as he wasn’t intruding on someone else’s space, once upon a time was our most precious commodity. Doing what you want to do, and allowing others the same courtesy, within reason, if it makes you happy and keeps you out of mischief, maybe even advances the human condition in some small way. Taking all factors into account and proceeding in measured and temperate blissful purpose, of your own choosing. It was known as liberty. Responsible liberty, yes. But first and foremost, liberty. And it was not a bad thing.