Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chapter 30. Citizenship... At The Point Of A Gun

On the traffic message boards on Interstate 94 around the Twin Cities in Minnesota, the following endearing message has appeared recently:

It would seem on the surface to be a polite sentiment from the state known for its "Minnesota Nice" attitude.  In fact, it is an instructive example of "nudge" tactics by the state that eventually dictates behavior that is enforced by punitive threats.

In 1986, the state passed a secondary seat belt law, meaning that motorists could not be pulled over for not wearing the belt, but could be cited if pulled over for a separate, primary offense (e.g. speeding).  The fine was modest, at $25.  As of 2009 belt usage was 87%, according to an NHTSA report.  For nudge-based behavioral modification, however, that relatively high rate of compliance is simply not good enough.  So in June, 2009 the law was "upgraded" to primary status, so that authorities could pull over and ticket a motorist solely for not wearing the belt.  Again, the fine is $25.  Seems pretty reasonable for such an obviously sensible matter.  Nonetheless, this evolution of the power of the state to force motorists into a behavior is an example of the imprudent use of law.

All laws ultimately are enforced at the point of a gun, or similiarly lethal weapon, even in such a small matter as a seat belt infraction.  If you don't pay the $25 fine, and it accrues for too long or you try running away from it, you will eventually be arrested.  Resist arrest and you may be clubbed, tasered or-- if the resistance is severe-- shot.  There is no law that, at the end of some chain of events of disobediance, doesn't end in violence being inflicted on the individual by the government.  This level of seriousness is why passing laws should be reserved to direct those behaviors that truly impact the rights of others:  speeding, robbery, rape, murder, and so forth.

And that is why displaying a disingenuously cordial and Orwellian thank you, when in reality the individual really has no choice but to comply, should be a signal to the citizens that the government really is going too far.

One might imagine a similar sign back in the Hungary 1942:  THANK YOUR FOR SQUEEZING INTO A CATTLE WAGON FOR DEPORTATION.

Quotient out.


  1. Freeman MiddlingMay 27, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    I would have to say that it seems more likely that these messages have more to do with an attempt - effective or not – to address the upcoming Memorial Day weekend’s notoriety for fatal car accidents. I’m not sure I can see anything more sinister really.

    And I’m also not sure if you are more upset by the existence of a law requiring seatbelt use, or the manner in which it introduced and evolved. Maybe you could clarify that point.
    But I did find the following interesting:

    “… passing laws should be reserved to direct those behaviors that truly impact the rights of others: speeding, robbery, rape, murder, and so forth.”

    On the surface this looks to be an entirely reasonable and very libertarian, but I would like some clarification. Could you please define how you are using the words “impact” and “rights”?

  2. Thank you FM. The issue is not necessarily about seat belt use precisely; that's why we said it was "obviously sensible." But it's the fact that the state is using the force of law with punitive reprecussions, to compel a behavior, that is the cautionary aspect.

    The evolution of the law in MN shows that the long-forgotten promises of "oh it will never be primary, but if you get pulled over anyway we might as well check on you," are belied by the inevitable expanse of the state's power over its citizens. This is one seemingly benign case that exemplifies the rule that government continues to grow, in most cases unchecked and unmercilessly.

    Second, you are right that the timing is probably related to the holiday, but the irony remains. Don't thank me for doing something that you're forcing me to do anyway. This really is reminiscint of a dystopian narrative with icy politeness offered by goons with badges and holsters. Yes, the point is probably lost on the pimple-faced kid who programs the signs, but the socialist rule makers in MN are teetering with delight as another behavior-inducing edict shapes our daily lives in their preferred image.

    So, our conclusion is that compelling by law is important enough, because of its implict consequences, that it shouldn't be mis-used. The cases where it makes sense should really be limited to those behaviors of MINE that directly affect YOU. We mentioned a few.

  3. Freeman MiddlingMay 27, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    "… should really be limited to those behaviors of MINE that directly affect YOU."

    I will assume that by "directly affecting" you mean "directly affecting adversely". Please correct me if need be.

    Is it correct then to say that you would support legalizing gay marriage, recreational drug use (smoking marijuana in your home for example), and physician assisted suicide since a strong case could be made that these don’t directly affect someone not participating in them?

  4. We don't support any state action on marriage; why should the government "fix" what's not broken?

    Recreational drug use: yes as long as that penalties for getting behind the wheel or picking up a gun and killing our children, are severe enough. Some drugs logically lead to psychoses and thus are more inherently dangerous in society.

    Physician assisted suicide: We only support penalties against the physician who pushes the button. We don't support penalties against the deceased, although it's out of our hands by that time.

  5. And, in no case would we endorse a big thank you sign on the highway should the state decide to take action: