Good People on Both Sides
Today, picking up our weekly share of vegetables at the farm we support via CSA, a conversation broke out about all terrain vehicles and the push by motorcycle enthusiasts to allow them on country roads.
Now, let’s be clear about this issue: under discussion is the idea that very loud, recreational scooters kitted out for bumping along in the underbrush, or roaring down dirt trails in the back woods of New England, should be allowed to drive on the roads where people who live here live their lives. These vehicles sound like a motorcycle that has been fitted with extra loud pipes on full throttle all the time. They are not licensed for roads, they have no roof, no supporting structure and they already account for a disproportionate number of vehicular accidents every year. By no stretch of the imagination are these things road worthy.
It also bears mentioning that we were at a Community Supported Agriculture pick up day, arguably the most liberal of agricultural institutions. Everyone there paid their money up front to support the farmer through the season, no matter what, and to take a share of the crop every week in return, regardless of the success or failure of the season.
There is a committee in a small town in Vermont speaking to their select board to protest against the possibility of allowing these vehicles to traverse country roads, including state highways, right alongside cars, trucks and bicycles.
I understand my adopted homeland has a pretty loose grasp on the idea of public safety. Anyone who reads about gun ownership in America knows Americans play pretty fast and loose with standards that would horrify Canadians and Europeans alike, but this?
Albany and other areas in upstate NY are already having problems with this issue. You see, people who drive these things don’t typically care about how the noise effects others. It is deafening and they like it that way. But people in Albany don’t like it and now that they’re entrenched in the area, they are having a helluva time getting rid of them.
Anyway, during this discussion at our CSA, I had the temerity to say; “people who drive these things do not, as a rule, have much consideration for others. They are perfectly happy to have the noise, most of them like the way it makes other people cringe.”
Well, no sooner was it out of my mouth than the conversation was whisked away into recriminations about “generalizing.” “I know people with ATV’s” they are responsible people, “you can’t generalize.” In a flash, we were no longer talking about the people who rip up and down the roads of Albany making life miserable for everyone else, the conversation had been shifted firmly onto my shoulders. Why was I generalizing about ATVs? ATV people are good people. They should be allowed to do what they want — and so on.
I waited for a few minutes as this defense of the ATV crowd continued, watching as the woman who is heading the group trying to keep ATVs off her town roads wilted under the criticism of me, a third party, for saying anything negative about ATV owners. By the time we left, she was not standing up for her cause anymore. She had been defeated by the assertion that it is not possible to generalize when we are talking about people.
My last comment in the conversation was to say, “we are discussing a group of people who wish to ride loud recreational vehicles, for which there are already dedicated trails, on public roadways. These are not responsible people. There is no world where responsible people and these people have an overlap.”
Then we left.
In the car, I realized, I too had been completely distracted by this woman’s diversionary tactic. The fact is, the only reason we can have laws as a society is because we generalize.
Generally speaking, Nazis are bad people. Generally speaking, murder is wrong. Generally speaking drinking and driving is an irresponsible act. That is why we have laws against those things. That is why it is possible to keep bad people from running amuck in this society. And if you happen to be one of the rare Nazis or murderers or drunk drivers who is a good person? Well, that is what the courts are for. You can argue your case in front of a judge, maybe you’ll win, who knows?
Our laws set standards of behavior based on generalizations. We generalize in order to have a functioning civilization. In general, murder is bad and in general, people who roar through the center of town on an ATV are inconsiderate and irresponsible. If you can’t say these things, you can’t have any law enforcement. You can’t have a fair society because everyone can just steamroll over your rights in the name of “very fine people on both sides.”
That is how society falls apart. That is how the strong, the greedy and the violent, victimize the rest of us.
So the next time some soft spoken contrarian steps into a conversation telling you what you can and cannot do, think or know? Remember this. Picking on your personal inclination to group people who do a thing into one group is just one way of killing off your resolve to solve a problem. These people are everywhere, on the left and on the right. Their goal is to frustrate progress and stall change or worse, to make this world the worst, most “individualistic” place it can possibly be through the pretense, and it is pretense, of “kindness.