libertarian at the stoplight


Returning from taking my long-lost cousin to the airport this morning, I approached the intersection that takes me from primary road A to primary road en route home. Needing to turn left, I was greeted by a left-turn red arrow. It was 6 am. I shared the road with no one.

Now, I tend pretty strongly libertarian–as in, classically liberal, not militias and tin foil and Ron Paul, mind you–and it was traffic that both inspired said viewpoint and continues to reinforce it. In the trade-off for public safety, the answer was to create limits on automotive freedom: stop signs and lights, speed limits, rules of the road. The problem is that, if the speed limit is 35, and everyone goes 35, then everyone is subject to the same stoplight, meaning that the traffic problem is exacerbated and the very safety provisions put in place actually serve to create more risk and problems than they intend to mitigate or solve. Such is the way of governmental meddling: a solution looking for a problem. For the record, slow drivers cause more accidents. Look it up.

This is not to say that I blow every stop sign and light I can, either. Freedom requires personal responsibility, meaning that I shouldn’t need a stop sign to tell me to stop for oncoming traffic; that a yield is not necessary when there’s so much traffic that I couldn’t merge into the other roadway even if I wanted to. I don’t need to go 80 through my neighborhood and I certainly don’t want to run over a child or someone’s dog. I’m certainly not heartless or cruel. I can be safe without needing to be told to do so. My parents did a good job with me (and what I do now is certainly not their fault. Sorry, Freud.)

All of that then culminates with the advent of the red-light camera and surveillance. If no one is present to personally see the incident, how can it be tried? Such rationale caused the Minnesota Supreme Court to declare red-light cameras unconstitutional and, frankly, if there is no one at an intersection, who cares if the light is red?! A yield sign means nothing if there is no oncoming traffic, a school zone speed limit is void if there are no children and it’s July (or January), in the state of Missouri, a work zone is up to the spot where actual work is actually going on for the work zone speed limit to be enforced, thus nullifying their respective law-enforcing capabilities. Should not the same apply within proper contexts to stop signs, no passing zones, red lights and speed limits? Further, should not we be able to determine the context in which such actions would be appropriate? Does the husband with wife in labor get hit with a speeding ticket en route to the hospital, or is that fine rolled into the rest of the zillions of dollars it costs to poop out a baby? (Timely!)

The script was flipped: it’s not liberty with limits put on it, rather, limits with certain liberties, which is to say, it is not liberty at all. We are all checked in to the daycare of the byway, and if the mirrored-glasses, donut-chomping po-po with quota to meet, radar gun in hand and a properly-placed chip on his/her shoulder has his/her way, we will be funding the next effort to create a soon-to-be gently-used skate park on the other end of town. This is the biggest problem with law enforcement and traffic: while the shield might say ‘protect and serve’ or something flowery along the lines of community service, they don’t exist in praxis to uphold public safety or order, but to find new and ingenious ways to balance civic budgets. Actuaries with guns.

And, when married to technology, notions of freedom and liberty are completely buried. If you blow the red light and no one is around, what does it matter? A few days later, a ticket comes in the mail, though no one or no one’s property was harmed, damaged or even under duress. Safety of citizens, or switching up to Taco Bell-grade meat from Kal Kan at the local jail? What is wrong with this country, anyway? This is Jesus country! These people are blue insofar as they’ve got the red, white and blue running through their veins, with apologies to WCW-era Hulk Hogan. Might as well be San Francisco or New York!

When it comes down to it, left, right, red, blue, science, evangelicalism, whatever, it’s not ‘murica they seek to uphold, but power through which they seek to control. From downright laughable federal legislation to local ordinances, from Bloomberg’s soda ban to Bob Jones’ sharing the sidewalk with the opposite sex, the point isn’t anything beyond the fact that they have and they can. Such is the state of the grand American experiment, a pig-boy of which Dr. Krieger would most certainly be proud.

Then the arrow turned green. It didn’t take that long.

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