Saturday, November 09, 2013

No, private property ownership does not grant you the right to do whatever you want with your private property

Over at the other day, there was a story about an anti-idling campaign in Ann Arbor. This brought out a whole bunch of people who are (apparently) convinced that anything that stops them from running their cars while parked is approaching tyranny, liberal no-goodness/nanny-state-mindedness, or the heights of hypocrisy (since - as many note - police and service vehicles are likely to be exempted in any future anti-idling ordinances and regional traffic planning creates conditions in which people are left waiting for up to five minutes in order to move through an intersection). After scrolling through many comments that seemed knee-jerk reactionary to me, I saw this pile of paragraphs:
It is my choice to drive and idle my car as I see fit. If I want to sit in the car with the AC on while I am doing work during the summer I will. If you don't like the fact my car, which I paid for and that I pay the gas for is idling, I'm sorry, but that is your problem, not mine. The same thing in the winter where I often have to do paperwork for my work. I am not going to turn my car off to spend 15 minutes doing paperwork when I can leave the car running and stay warm.

The problem is too many people are proposing that we do what is best for everyone, and unfortunately that often means we give up our right to do what is best for us personally.

If someone doesn't like my car idling, tough, it is my car and I will do what I want to do with my car (as long as it is within the law of course).
Ahh... well, someone is apparently of the "I paid for it, so I can do what I want with it, and screw everyone who tells me differently" school of thought. Sorry, but no; society and law don't operate in exactly that manner, regardless of what you might think or want. Of all the comments on that story, this was the one that really made me want to write a response. So, in my longer-than-necessary manner, this is what I wrote:
Waitasec, you say that it's your choice to drive and idle your car as you see fit, because you purchased gasoline and the car. Hmm... did you also purchase the air quality we all breathe and the right to pollute it? Strange, but I don't see that as part of the bundle of goods you purchase when you buy gas or a car...

You ironically state, "The problem is too many people are proposing that we do what is best for everyone, and unfortunately that often means we give up our right to do what is best for us personally." I say that it's ironic, since you *seem* to recognize that you live in a society in which people have chosen to come together to live and operate in proximity (i.e., live in a city), but you then choose to disentangle yourself from that system of relatively close interactions and interdependencies to separate your *personal* actions as somehow more important than (or at least independent from) the curtailed set of actions that one can make (legally, socially, and morally) within the context of a city without a whit of recognition that the two concepts are - themselves - in conflict.

Indeed, you base your argument within a private-property and personal rights framework. However, you (apparently) fail to recognize that your argument from a private property perspective is perfectly well and dandy right up until your private property impinges upon *my* private property and *my* personal rights, which is exactly what you (falsely) say you have a right to do. If you really want to read why, to wit:

Presumably, you do not advocate a right to drive across my lawn in your car, just because you purchased your car and purchased your gasoline. Similarly, you likely don't advocate a right to drive your car into my hose, my car, me, or my family. In short, owning a car and purchasing gasoline for it does not allow you to affect other people's private property or to affect other people. Why? Because it's against the law, and (from a private property perspective) you don't own the property that your car is damaging.

So, too, you likely do not advocate the blaring of your stereo or the constant sounding of your horn (or car alarm) as a right that is inherently a part of what you purchase when you buy a car and the fuel that powers the engine that charges the battery that runs the stereo and car horn (and alarm). Indeed, this is what noise ordinances attempt to curtail. Ergo, owning a car and purchasing gasoline for it does not allow you to seriously and negatively impact the quality of life of society, merely because you own that vehicle. Furthermore, this is - in places - against local ordinances (i.e., the law), but even from a personal rights perspective, such actions are imposing yourself upon others without their consent, much like if you were throwing a raucous house party without the consent of your neighbors; not always illegal, but definitely not respecting other people's equal rights.

Furthermore, you likely do not advocate for lowering the pollutant profile of what comes out of the tailpipe of cars in general. Even if you live in a state (like Michigan) that doesn't have a mandatory car exhaust test at time of re-registering a vehicle, you likely recognize the social nuisance that having a smoke-gushing clunker would have on the standing in your neighborhood (let alone your wallet) and take measures to diminish the obvious costs. Therefore, owning a car and purchasing gasoline for does not give you the social freedom to be a nuisance for the wider community, merely because you own that vehicle. Again, from a personal rights perspective, this is much like the previous case, and from a private property perspective, you are now effectively taking, impairing, or destroying a good or service that you did not actually purchase. That it is something owned publicly does not change the fact that you are affecting more than *your* share of the public good.

The anti-idling movement is merely extending this recognition of tail-pipe emissions as noxious and an unnecessary nuisance that is - in many cases throughout the year - the relatively selfish preferences of the driver imposing costs upon society; and these are costs **that the driver has not paid for.**

In short, using your argument of private property is wrong on its premises, because private property ownership of a vehicle does *not* mean that you can do whatever you want with it. Using a private property argument actually shows that you have a *greater* responsibility for the actions you take, since the negative actions are things that you **have definitely not** paid for, and so - from a private property perspective - you have no inherent rights in taking those actions.
I also noted something strange in the wording of the last paragraph of the comment, which brought about this response:
You state, "...I will do what I want to do with my car (as long as it is within the law of course)," which effectively scuttles the entire argument you laid out previously, since you concede that *if* anti-idling measures *were* made law, you actually *would* follow the law and not idle your car.

This brings to question what your entire point was to begin with.

Presumably, *if* there law that says that you cannot idle your vehicle, and since you state that you *will* follow the law, then your whole preceding argument is rendered moot.

However, if you actually passionately believe what you wrote in your argument (flawed though I personally think it is), then I question the veracity of your statement that you *would* follow an anti-idling law (*if* one were to be implemented).

... or would you decide - based on your own - that such laws can be broken if you don't feel like following them? You know, just like - if you are like any human driver - you don't use your turn lights *every single time* you are going to turn, or you don't always come to an absolute and complete stop *every single time* you come to a stop sign, or that you don't always stop at crosswalks to let pedestrians cross *every single time* you see a pedestrian crossing at a crosswalk, or that you don't drive at the posted speed limit *ever single time* you are out driving, etc. In other words, are you merely *rhetorically* saying "I'll follow the law," but *actually* are going to choose to break the law when it's convenient (just like every single human driver does from time to time)? If the latter, then it raises the question of exactly *which* sets of laws you actually feel you are bound by, and which sets of laws you feel you are allowed to break at your own convenience.
It makes me wonder whether people put such rhetorical devices into their arguments to merely sound reasonable without actually being reasonable, since - when you actually look at their statements rationally - they could not actually be stating truth in both parts of their commentary. In this case, this person cannot be telling the whole truth, since there are times that s/he has undoubtedly chosen to break some part of the law regarding the operation of his/her vehicle (unless this person is absolutely perfect in their driving record since they first started driving). Maybe it was to drive at 80mph on the highway instead of the posted 70mph (since effectively everyone drives at 80mph, and it's safer to drive with the average traffic speed, regardless of it being against the law). Maybe it is to choose not to make a complete and absolute stop at every stop sign or blinking red light, since - in many places - it can be absolutely obvious that the intersection is completely clear and safe to traverse without having to come to a complete stop, but rolling stops are (at least in Michigan) against the law. Maybe it is to choose to be lazy with the use of a turn signal on a back-country road, even though its use is required by law. Maybe it's something else, yet again, but - presuming that this commentator is human - there are undoubtedly many instances in which this person - who states, "I will do what I want to do with my car (as long as it is within the law of course)," is factually lying.

Which then raises the question of what they actually mean when they say that they'll follow the law "of course," especially given the almost certainty that they do not actually follow all the laws. Presumably they mean that they won't drive intoxicated (but how intoxicated?) or drive recklessly (but what constitutes "recklessly"?) or drive in the wrong lane (but what if it's just to go from one driveway to the next, because you mistakenly drove in the wrong one?) or go through a red light (but what if it's in the middle of the night in the country and you can see that no one is coming?) or this (but except when that), or that (but except when this), etc.

Yeah... just seems like a purely rhetorical and almost certainly nonfactual statement.

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