Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Word of Warning

While I appreciate Mr. Jonathan D. Septer's reference to the post regarding criticism of proposed helmet laws in Minnesota, I feel I ought to point out that Et in Arcadia Ego is a vehicle for the things I think about while staring off into the distance. At best, I'm a minor bicycle dilettante, and certainly don't speak for any organized group of bicycling activists. My views may not best represent the tenor of feelings in Minnesota. The blog here is mostly read by a few friends and family of mine, an astonishing number of Russian spambots, and someone I don't know who posts comments in French (who may or may not be a Russian spambot). I'm hardly the unspoken voice of my generation.

As it is, wearing a helmet while bicycling is probably not a bad idea. I'm comfortable in concluding that one will reduce the severity of any head injuries experienced while cycling, bathing, or walking through the kitchen. However, there are two factors at play here that are of some concern to me.

First of all, nearly every human activity carries risk. Bicycling incurs risk. So does driving an automobile, skateboarding, or downhill skiing. Sex incurs risk, bathing incurs risk, cooking incurs risk. Heck, lying around in bed all say incurs risk. It's nearly impossible to make anything perfectly safe, and foolishness to try.

The trick in being human is to decide what risks are acceptable, and what measures are acceptable in reducing risk. We live our lives in a near-constant state of risk management, despite the fact that humans as a whole tend to be very bad at it (Zero-risk bias, psuedocertainty effect, neglect of probability, und so weiter...) There's some question that making people feel safer means that they take more chances, for instance. And it's an open question of just how risky riding without a helmet really is, compared to how risky riding with a helmet might be. It's something for each rider to decide.

The second factor is one of enforcement. Every time a law is passed, one is giving more power to law enforcement. Each new law allows them to intrude just a little bit further into our lives. A helmet law implies that law enforcement will be required to enforce the law (note the circular defenition?) Of course, when writing a ticket for helmet non-compliance, the officer will want to know who you are to put your name on the ticket. Of course, as police officers tend to be the suspicious type, you'll be expected to produce some sort of government-issued ID to prove your identity. And so we lose one more mode of transportation that was open to everyone, regardless of legal status. Gone is the elementary school kid getting out of the house to get some exercise: not without your bicycle ID and license plates, little Timmy! Gone is the sense of freedom and self reliance that non-driving teenagers can capture. Gone is the one more way that non-citizens, non-persons, and nobodies can get around while being left alone by the government.

All in the vain and illusory hope of eliminating the ever-present risk of living.


Googlebombing for a cause: