Jack Marshall has a site called “Ethics Alarms” and has posted Distracted Driving, Pot, and â€œThe Great Debateâ€ — a reaction to the Barney Frank, George Will, et al debate.
First, he takes up the issue of federal regulations against distracted driving.
Talking on a cell phone, texting, reading a Facebook update and other forms of distracted driving do endanger others, and making laws that punish fools who think keeping up with the Kardashians is worth risking the lives of my family is an easy call, ethically speaking. So a driver has to pull off the road and park before answering a call or reading a textâ€¦big deal. George needs to get out more: if he was behind the wheel with any frequency, he would know that the number of inattentive drivers weaving in and out of traffic, shifting speeds and missing lights and signals because of the Blackberry in their hands is frighteningly high.
Ethically, the trade-off is minor inconvenienceâ€”-in most cases, minor to the point of irrelevanceâ€”versus human lives saved.
He then demonstrates his scientific/ethical/analytical bona fides by stating:
Ethics, in the end, are determined by rational conclusions, based on observation, experience and analysis, about what kind of conduct and standards most benefit individuals, society and civilization. Doctrinaire elevations of minor infringements of principle to priority over undeniable risks to human life are not ethical. Ideological purity divorced from reality is no friend of ethics.
This is to show that he’s taking a rational calculus to determine the proper balance of risks and inconvenience (not sure who gets to set the scales, though).
However, this is also where his arguments turn as dumb as a box of rocks.
Let’s say he was able to show that all the various items discussed (texting, cell phone use, checking email, etc., while driving) are actually dangerous to lives, and we, for the moment, won’t bother with little technicalities like differences between people, technical solutions, etc.
In that case, I’d be perfectly happy to agree that not doing those things is worth the inconvenience.
However, that has absolutely nothing to do with a federal law.
Acting ethically is not equal to passing a law requiring people to do so. Marshall acts as though it is.
To play on his own words: laws should be determined by rational conclusions, based on observation, experience and analysis, about what kind of impact that they’ll have on the risky action, what other separate impact they’ll have, unintended consequences, and whether the risky action can be addressed in another way (such as reducing tobacco use without criminalizing it).
Unfortunately, most risk-prevention laws have no rational analysis, and this kind of idiocy is far too common. A law against doing something is actually seen as equivalent to not doing something. It is never considered that the law may have costs of its own, that it might not work, or that something other than a law might work better.
It may be that an education campaign is a better approach – getting people to choose not to ride with distracted drivers, or expressing disapproval (friends don’t let friends drive distracted). It may be that the law is unenforceable in any fair way (how will police tell the difference between GPS use and texting, etc.) or that new technology can play a part.
But saying “I’ve seen people weaving around, therefore we need a federal law” is not only irresponsible, it’s as dumb as a box of rocks.
This whole rant is just to set up the real stupidity of the piece. Next, he talks about marijuana, and it really gets surreal.
I’ll let you guys in comments have first crack at that. I may play around with it later. There’s way too much fun here to leave alone.