Friday, June 22, 2007

An Armed Society

The National Rifle Association in the US likes to quote Robert Heinlein: "An armed society is a polite society."

Here in Toronto, we have the arms, all right. We (or most of us) frequently tool around in two-tonne battering rams, each powered by enough high explosive to take down a building. We seem to have missed out on the "polite" part, though.

Most drivers behave with appropriate courtesy and respect, but a minority behaves in ways ranging from pushy and disrespectful to homicidally reckless. What did we do wrong? When do we get the "polite" part of our armed society?

I generally disagree with Heinlein every chance I get, but I partly agree with him here. In an armed society, people take their manners seriously, because what they do, and say, can have serious consequences. I think we do not have a polite society on the roads because we do not have a society of armed, self-confident equals. Instead, we have a society of patient, courteous drivers and a minority of motorized yobs. And because the majority has not yet developed an effective way of responding to the disrespectful, even lethal minority around us, violent drivers have impunity. Many people do not take their behavior seriously, because the consequences only go one way.

If we want to respond to aggressive drivers, we can assert our rights on the street, or we can assert them effectively in the courts. Given the consequences of a demolition derby, or even a game of chicken, on our streets, dealing with violent drivers through the courts makes more sense than anything else. If you drive a car, you operate a weapon, and the misuse of that privilege ought to carry the same consequences as the misuse of any other dangerous weapon. The time has come to take the rights and the responsibilities of all drivers seriously.

1 comment:

FixedXorBroken said...

I don't see how you could agree with Heinlein. He seems pretty crazy to me.

Starship Troopers was a thinly veiled diatribe about how only people who have done military service should be allowed the vote.

His later books were mostly pointless ramblings about his fear of death.