Thursday, September 24, 2009

Texting versus Statism

A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting while driving is more dangerous than drunk driving. Citing such reports, a growing number of people are calling for a ban on texting while driving. Yesterday, the Chronicle joined that chorus.

The argument for such a ban is rather simple: texting is a huge distraction; distractions cause accidents that can threaten the welfare of others. Therefore, texting should be banned.

I don't think that any reasonable person will deny that texting is a distraction. But so are many other activities that regularly occur while driving, such as listening to the radio, or talking to someone in the vehicle, or drinking a cup of coffee. The fact that an activity is distracting is not the issue. Nor is the impact of our actions on others the issue, though advocates of a texting ban would like us to believe otherwise. As I previously wrote, if we accept the premise that actions that affect others may be regulated by the government, then every human activity is open for regulation.

Some, such as the Chronicle, try to take the argument a little further. The paper quotes Russell Henk, program director of the Texas Transportation Institute's Teens in the Driver Seat program:
Regardless of your age, texting and driving is simply a foolish and deadly thing to do.

Again, I don't think any reasonable person would deny this. But so what? Many activities--such as eating hamburgers everyday, or refusing to exercise, or dropping out of high school--could be considered foolish or potentially deadly. Should these be banned as well? If we accept the premise of the advocates of banning texting, the answer must be a resounding "yes".

The threat posed by an activity should not determine its legality. The applicable principle is individual rights--the right of each individual to act according to his own judgment, so long as he respects the mutual rights of others. Texting--no matter how foolish it may be--violates the rights of no one.

The fact is, those who advocate a ban on texting, or prohibiting trans-fats, or mandating the use of seat belts, are promoting a far deadlier premise--statism. In all of its variants, statism has destroyed more lives and lead to more deaths than texting will ever cause.

The premise underlying statism, that the individual's life belongs to the state, lead to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, the gulags of Soviet Russia, and the killing fields of Cambodia. That same premise has lead to the welfare state of America and the belief that the government should regulate the actions of individuals. The application and degree of implement varies, but the principle does not. And until the principle is rejected, along with its moral base of altruism, America will creep ever closer to the complete and consistent implementation of statism.

If this strikes you as extreme or paranoid, consider the growth of government controls and regulations in recent months. Locally, Houston city council has tightened restrictions on signage, imposed more controls on taco trucks, enacted a yard parking ordinance, and much more. On the state level, private property is being seized, apartment owners face growing controls, and political donors face more restrictions. Nationally, the federal government has taken over the auto industry, wants to take over health care, wants to dictate the salary of executives in the financial sector, seeks to limit carbon emissions, and much more. The trend--on the local, state, and national level--is for more government control over the economy and the lives of individuals. The trend is towards statism, and that trend is accelerating.

Anyone who is concerned for his well-being should be opposing this trend, rather than promoting it by calling for bans on texting. Texting while driving is certainly foolish. Calling for our enslavement is more so.

Update: Clarified last paragraph.


Eric said...

Can you clarify how your position on texting while driving differs (if it does) from driving while intoxicated? Aren't there some behaviors that pose a legitimate, objective threat to the well-being of others on the road that should be prohibited?

Brian Phillips said...

I would argue that texting while driving is not an objective threat. The fact that it is distracting is irrelevant--many activities are distracting (or can be). Listening to the radio, changing a CD, dealing with the kids in the backseat--each can be distracting.

Texting while driving does not violate anyone's rights. To ban texting implies that it does violate someone's rights. If we ban activities simply because they pose a potential threat, then every human activity is open to regulation.

Now, if someone causes an accident because they are texting, they have violated someone's rights. But this is true regardless of what they were doing at the moment of the accident. The same holds true of driving while intoxicated.

Texting while driving and DWI are both extremely foolish, not because of the potential threat to others, but because of the threat to one's own well-being. A responsible person would do neither.

Finally, if the roads were privately owned--as they should be--the owner would set the rules. If he wished to ban texting, that would be his right and drivers could decide if such rules were acceptable or not.