Monday, 13 April 2009

Car driving considered as libertarian good practice

My brand of freethinking is more concerned with what to do once you’re free of instinctive puritanism and subconscious yearnings for Big Daddy so peculiar to religion than with getting state-subsidised religionists off your back. So, I do like to keep an eye on ‘freethinkers’ in the wider sense, which in turn means I regularly check out libertarians and other individualists too.
The US libertarian community is wide-ranging enough to encompass anyone from Milton Friedman to members of the Grateful Dead, from the organisers of ‘Burning Man’ to the Cato Institute. Sadly, I find that the UK variant means to be as free ranging, but scratch the surface and way too often a ‘Little Englander’ emerges – especially when Europe or immigration gets mentioned.
Still, I spotted this provocative little item on a libertarian blog a few days ago (see and meant to pass it on.
I once used a similar example in more modest form (and more unusual format) on a Manx Radio ‘Thought For The Day’, believe it or not! As I drive to work daily, I’m fascinated that there’s never a traffic jam at a busy and complicated roundabout until a police officer starts to direct traffic, because left to their own devices 99% of drivers have the sense and decency to work things out fairly. Similarly, at one of those temporary traffic lights that accompanies road works, how long before someone gets irritated at a pre-timed red light and drives on when you can see the opposing traffic light 50 metres up the road has nothing coming? I could also mention supermarket car parks with one way signs to each row, so you have to drive up and down three rows to get to the second space to the top on a row where the arrow points the wrong way. Why do so few people just drive straight in when there’s not even one moving car in the entire car park?
The blog mentioned above also reminds me of an item I saw on a newspaper website a few years back, where an English town council were adopting ever bigger and more threatening road signs to stop people committing suicide by driving through or clambering over crash barriers to jump into the river. A Dutch blogger laughed at this, saying that in Amsterdam they had the odd problem with suicide by similar means. They chose to deal with it by a polite little sign on the barrier saying, in effect, that it was your choice and right to commit suicide, but if you failed you would be billed for the damage to the barrier and inconvenience to the emergency services.
Some countries and communities really do have a more enlightened attitude to individual freedom and personal responsibility. Some of us in others, I suspect, will just have to ignore or laugh at the nagging a while longer. All poorly wired machines short circuit eventually.

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