seat-belt laws

it’s come to my attention that I have a lot of half-formed opinions — particularly in regards to politics and government. as I can see, the reason for this is that it’s so hard to have an honest-to-goodness discussion with anyone about those topics. almost every person I know will argue and defend their position, trying to convince rather than simply explain; and the second person in the conversation (and third, and fourth, and so on) will argue and defend their position, until it becomes black and white: I’m right, you’re wrong. I hate listening to that. as a result, I don’t listen, which means I know very little about either side of a lot of arguments. here’s my attempt at thinking out my opinion on one issue: seat-belt laws.

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I’ve heard a great many people who are opposed to seat-belt laws, mainly because they are against the intrusion it represents of government into private life. they usually argue that hey, they’ve never been in an accident, so no harm done, right?

there are two points to this. one is the government issue, one is the safety issue.

safety: whether or not one has a seat-belt on does not impact whether or not one is in an accident. it does, however, impact how badly one is injured when an accident occurs. if there hadn’t been countless studies on the effects of seat-belts, we wouldn’t have a law dictating that cars be equipped with the belts. simply put, they are for our own good.

government: this is the real point, of course, but the safety point had to be addressed to begin with — merely to demonstrate that yes, seat-belts are an inherently good thing. the question is, does government have a right to require us to make use of this good thing? should government be allowed to save us from our own stupidity in not wearing seat-belts (and bike helmets, for that matter)? how far can we let government go in this direction before they institute a thought police?

underneath that is the question, why does government exist? my personal opinion, half-formed and uneducated though it may be, is that a society implements a government in order to…govern. toss a bunch of people together, and they will form rules, unspoken and vague though they may be. when a society forms a government, they are saying that they need bounds, limits, laws, for the good of the whole. I firmly believe that a society has a right to exclude and forbid the things it finds harmful to its existence and perpetuation. what I’m not sure of is, can it require the things it finds beneficial to its existence and perpetuation?

maybe I phrased the last question backwards. when the government passed seat-belt laws, the purpose was to protect its citizens. for the same reason, we also have laws against harmful substances such as marijuana and strict rules about dangerous weapons. (in case someone wants to argue with my statement that weapons are dangerous, i.e. “guns don’t kill — people do,” I would point out that marjiuana is not harmful when it’s sitting on the counter. just as a gun cannot harm someone unless the trigger is pulled, drugs cannot harm someone unless they are ingested in some form. I think it’s the same principle; therefore I’ve called them both harmful and dangerous, assuming that they are indeed used.) I’ve heard the argument that if people are stupid enough to shoot themselves, or not wear a seat-belt, or something along those lines, they deserve to die; government has no place to prevent those deaths. I take what I think is a somewhat more christian view, that government should actually be looking to protect and preserve the lives of its citizens to every extent possible. that is why we have laws.

the argument has also been brought up that wearing a seat-belt is a personal choice. why should government dictate something that affects only oneself? the proponents of this argument often agree that drunk driving is illegal because it places other citizens in danger, and perhaps even laws against drugs are understandable, because a person under the influence of drugs is more likely to harm others. but wearing a seat-belt or not wearing a seat-belt does not affect anyone else. to this, I can only quote dallben of the prydain chronicles: “nothing we do is ever done entirely alone.”

actually, I do have another response to that argument. I believe that there are freedoms that must be “given up,” as it were, to achieve a greater goal. sometimes we have to concede. but it has to be all of us. we all agree to give up our choice of wearing a seat-belt in order to protect ourselves, and each other — and to preserve the government that in turn preserves us.

the last bit is hazy. I’m still unclear on how I really feel about just how far government can “intrude” into a citizen’s private life. but I do think that a society, and therefore its government, has every right — perhaps a responsibility, even — to make distinctions between what is harmful and what is helpful to its perpetuation, and forbid the former. the problem arises when citizens disagree on the distinction. this will be the root of other issues, like gay marriage.

for tonight, though, that will have to be enough. at least I have some opinons…about something.

and I do wear my seat-belt, in case you wondered.

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