We Ain't Through With You Yet, or, Sunday the Rabbi Wore A Helmet

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Newsweek web-exclusive columnist Marc Gellman, last seen in these parts not judging atheists but rather feeling sorry for them, now hunts for smaller game: libertarians who "scream" about helmet laws and such:

What can we learn from the general issue of a person's right to have really dangerous fun? The first philosophical/ethical issue is paternalism. Obviously there are clear ethical limits to what we can decide to do that put other people in danger. Base jumping off the Empire State Building is both illegal and immoral because of the danger posed to innocent bystanders. However, what is the moral calculus of an act that only imperils us personally? "Why," the libertarians scream, "is it the state's business if I want to ride without a helmet? It's my life, it's my head, and it's what's left of my brains. Leave me alone! For the state to pass laws limiting what I can do with or to my own body is paternalism. It is a kind of 'Father knows best' attitude that is both condescending and morally indefensible."

What is the proper response to this initially compelling libertarian argument? One could argue that there is no such thing as a purely self-regarding act. Our life and death affects many people, and in Ben's case, a really good football team, so the idea that he was alone on that bike is a myth.

Religious people, like me, would argue that God owns your body and you are just sort of renting it for the duration of your life and you are thus no more entitled to risk your life than you are entitled to pound nail holes into the walls of a rented apartment.

Whole article.

On the question of God's lease on our bodies, as on so many questions, God chooses to remain silent. As for the human question—the connectedness of our lives and the debts and responsibilities we incur—I'm inclined to agree with the Rabbi. However, I note that the same argument, applied to the question of assisted suicide, would yield different results. A hopeless invalid may well find that ending his or her life will reduce financial and emotional burdens on family and friends and leave them in a better situation than they would be if faced with a lingering death, and the many hardships, guilts, and resentments lingering death would entail. (I do not know what position if any Rabbi Gellman takes on assisted suicide, and am not attempting to impute any position to him.)

Link courtesy of the Artist Formerly Known As Gary Gunnels, now presumably known as Philanthropus Lycanthropus.

Jacob Sullum screams about helmet laws.

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  1. werewolf foot that loves human feet?

  2. Gary Gunnels? I thought he was dead.

  3. Big Ben might in fact have been completely self-regarding and not concerned about the safety of others when he crashed his bike. I don’t know the story though and neither does the good Rabbi as he doesn’t know whether he wiped out or hit a nice elderly couple probably out for a drive to get a new Scrabble dictionary.

    Why doesn’t God rent our bodies to someone else instead of letting them wear out and rot? They’re single use and disposable like razor blades.

    God can judge me for my acts plenty well without any mere mortal’s assitance, thank you– not that I’m sure that there’s anyone in the sky judging me.

  4. Sorry Mr. Gelman, but my body is not the property of your imaginary friend in the sky. Make any attempt to derive public policy from such a premise, and I will contend that your “religion” is nothing more than a flimsy cover for your own depraved desire for power over your fellow citizens. Since you ostensibly believe in it, why don’t you go to hell?

    -jcr

  5. Why did God make Rob Corddry bald?

  6. This is the kinda crap that gets people like me rooting for Lucifer when we read Milton.

    Non Serviam!

    Kevin

  7. Religious people, like me, would argue that God owns your body and you are just sort of renting it for the duration of your life and you are thus no more entitled to risk your life than you are entitled to pound nail holes into the walls of a rented apartment.

    Religious people like you indeed. Other religious people note the remarkably libertarian nature of an omnipotent God who watches libertarians (stupidly) drive around on motorcycles sans helmet and doesn’t lift a finger to stop them.

    On the question of God’s lease on our bodies, as on so many questions, God chooses to remain silent.

    What a remarkably libertarian thing for God to do!

    I’m more familiar with Christian theologies, which, in most cases, place our own fates squarely in our own laps. Surely, most would have us place ownership with God, but with rare exception, that’s done willingly. Jesus’ death is supposed to have given us choices we didn’t have before. …not transferred ownership without authorization.

  8. I was going to say that God is a Libertarian, but I haven’t seen the new platform yet.

  9. Religious people, like me, would argue that God owns your body and you are just sort of renting it for the duration of your life and you are thus no more entitled to risk your life than you are entitled to pound nail holes into the walls of a rented apartment.

    This is part of the reason I became an atheist.

    You see, in most religions, God is your master. You obey God. God is your “Lord.” You do as your God tells you or be punished.

    In short, you are God’s slave.

    I am not a slave. I recognize no lords. I am my own master. I obey only myself.

    I have no respect for those who make themselves slaves whether to any authority, be it secular or religious. I have have even less for those who demand that I must be made to obey in the name of their delusion, or else.

    So fuck you Rabbi; you charlatan, you con man. you gorram control freak with a yarmulke and a pork aversion. Fuck you.

    No gods. No Masters.

  10. Oh come on, atheist-libertarian rageaholics: Why so much vitriol directed at a man of the cloth? You can be courteous about the guy’s opinions even if he’s discourteous about yours.

    I mean, I’m not judging you…

  11. What if god wants some people to ride bikes without helmets on?
    How else would God find out how it feels?

  12. It’s rabbis like this one who give me a bad name. Hey, you libertarians don’t like getting smeared with false notions and generalizations either. I could give a flying frick about how you drive or the choices you make. That’s all on you. I’m not up here keeping a record of your actions…who in the hell could do that?…don’t answer that…one minute throwing down lightning bolts the next minute stuffing your stockings or trying to comply with your endless wish lists…I did *not* plant that extra 20 dollars in the street for you to find nor do I have the slightest idea of what you should do with your life. Geez, you think I could sit around all day planning billions of beings life plans let alone what brand of toilet paper they should wipe their asses with?

    I’m just out here grooving to the music of the spheres, reveling in the Beyond all Time- Space-Mental Constructs state I inhabit and cordially invite you to inhabit as well, if you like. It’s the substratum of your being – for you to partake in or not. Now shut up, the Simpsons is starting. Love that Ned Flanders guy, almost as much as Homer.

  13. If your riding a bike without a helmet is going to cost me money, you shouldn’t do it. If it’s not going to cost me (in higher insurance premiums, say, or in rationed health care), then I don’t care what you do.

  14. Why so much vitriol directed at a man of the cloth?

    Because a man of the cloth usually has a congregation of people willing to follow (or vote) the way he tells them in the name of their God. That gives him power; power that he can use to make freedom all the more scarce in this world.

    That’s why I despise him and others like him.

  15. Uh, oh, I’m having one of those flash back/flash forward types of TV moments. Dooh dooh dooh dooh dooh dooh….

    A Reason writer quotes a man of the cloth with an authoritarian and simplistic notion of God, some libertarians write in to rightly spit on such notions, later, others write in with nearly equally simplistic notions comparing all concepts about God to a belief in Leprechauns (could we call this a Straw God argument of false analogy?). This is responded to with statements like, “you see, you see, not only do *all* libertarians hate families, children, boobies, they also hate God and religion and want to punish believers…they, they want to tear down the very fabric this country is based on. We need a powerful government to stop that from happening! Just because I’m a libertarian doesn’t mean I’m against Big Brother” Malkin’s army shows up to concur, “Yep, all youse libertarians are a bunch of flag hating, fag lovin’ commiecrats, and this post proves it.” A few voices of sanity bubble up every now in the rising, boiling swill, to say, “no not all of us dislike religion or are atheists even, but we just don’t want people using their view of God to prohibit behavior they dislike.” These voices are drowned out by shouts of “Burn the witches, burn ’em, burn ’em up real good.”

  16. Akira, do you feel the same way about, say, all Democrats? …because many partisans have a constituency of people willing to follow (or vote) the way they’re told–in the name of their candidate. …and that gives these partisans power–power that they can use to make freedom all the more scarce in this world.

    Do you despise Democrats and other like them? …or is that sentiment confined to men of the cloth?

  17. I’ve got a brother who is an R.C. priest, and even though I disagree with him fundamentally about the nature of the universe, that doesn’t mean that I don’t love the snake-oil peddling sky-pilot.

    Kevin

  18. Ken:

    For the most part, yes, I despise Dems (the GOP too) as much as I despise religion. I have a strong dislike for anyone who thinks that my life belongs to someone or something else. It just a happens that this asshole (Gellman) and religion are the topic of this thread so they’re going be the brunt of my present outrage.

    Rest assured, when a Dem says something as inanely totalitarian as this, I’ll be just as pissed.

  19. Y’all are straight up anti-semites no lies.

  20. I’m intrigued by the notion that there is some sort of religious basis for living a risk averse life. Do you have to invest only in money market funds, too?

  21. Religious people, like me, would argue that God owns your body and you are just sort of renting it for the duration of your life and you are thus no more entitled to risk your life than you are entitled to pound nail holes into the walls of a rented apartment.

    If I can suggest something that might bring the religious and non-religious folks together: This argument the rabbi makes is exactly the argument that was made by pre-Lockean proto-liberals in 17th century England (including John Milton) to lobby for religious freedom: My God owns me, so you, the king/state, does not. By the end of the century, the secularized version of that brief led to the liberal tenet of self-ownership.

    For those thus inclined, check out a book-length exploration in Domesticity and Dissent in the 17th Century. (Full disclosure: I know the author.)

    Two other things: Why isn’t the rabbi upset that Ben R. is playing football in the first place, which has to rank just under motorcycle riding in terms of risk? And damn you to the fires of Gehenna, Tim Cavanaugh, for blogging this first.

  22. When an unhelmeted motorcyclist suffers serious head injuries he often becomes a ward of the state, taking up hospital space, services, and medical attention. Guess how expensive this is if he lives another thirty years. If someone wants to ride without a helmet, he should have enough insurance to pay for his lifetime hospitilization. I certainly don’t want to foot the bill.

  23. He wouldn’t need to if they could just pull the plug.

  24. Why are you so upset that he brings God in? He is a **rabbi**, for goodness’ sake! It is his job to mention him.

    But he does not stop there his argument. And I see little inclination to do so. Ethically he has a point that doing so is uncaring about his family, who would get stuck with caring for him if he became an invalid.

    (There was a Dear Abby letter a few years back, the husband of a woman who had become paralyzed because she insisted in riding without a helmet. I quote from memory “I feel the desire to write a big sign ‘It is my life and I do what I want with it’ so that she can see it from her invalid bed, and shout at her how by her selfishenss the only life I have is as her caretaker, and how much I hate her for it.” Not a pretty picture, but people who vent to Dear Abby are quite often ready to blow).

    That is the argument that the rabbi makes. Address it, and do not fret when he does his job.

  25. I find that Gellman’s articles are more entertaining if you read them in an Andy Rooney voice.

  26. So Akira, you hate Republicans, Democrats, and religious people? That’s what, 98% of the population? Doesn’t that get exhausting?

  27. you are just sort of renting it for the duration of your life

    This analogy only works if God is planning on renting it out again after I move out.

    As far as I know, I am and will be the only tenant, though.

  28. I quote from memory “I feel the desire to write a big sign ‘It is my life and I do what I want with it’ so that she can see it from her invalid bed, and shout at her how by her selfishenss the only life I have is as her caretaker, and how much I hate her for it.” Not a pretty picture, but people who vent to Dear Abby are quite often ready to blow).

    That is the argument that the rabbi makes. Address it, and do not fret when he does his job.

    The libertarian standpoint is not that you shouldn’t wear a helmet,it’s that the government shouldn’t force you to wear a helmet.
    If (and I don’t know the stats) not wearing a helmet is so dangerous then let the insurance companies charge accordingly. A helmet rate for motorcycles and a non-helmet rate for motorcycles.

    If you will not take care of your spouse then don’t or perhaps don’t marry such a risk junky. Would it be different for this guy if his wife had Altzeimers,or she had been paralyzed in a non-preventable accident?

    It’s bringing God into the picture for absolutely no reason that grates at me. Do religious people take less risks or do they just talk about how other people aren’t allowed to take risks?
    Or do more risk-adverse people buy into the religious crap in the first place?

  29. “When an unhelmeted motorcyclist suffers serious head injuries he often becomes a ward of the state, taking up hospital space, services, and medical attention. Guess how expensive this is if he lives another thirty years.”

    I think you whiffed on this one, Jim. I believe (and no, I do not have the numbers, if such numbers exist, readily at hand) that a helmeted rider is more likely to survive, with catastrophic neck or back injuries, than an unhelmeted rider. Consequently, we should make helmets illegal.

  30. “…the husband of a woman who had become paralyzed because she insisted in riding without a helmet.”

    Maybe the thing that’s really pissing him off is that she was out cruising with somebody who isn’t such a twinkie.

  31. Well, lessee: i ride bikes, a lot. 25 years worth. 200k & counting. Im a small l libertarian. im an anti thiest.
    Several things. One: the State profits from handing out drivers liscences to incompetants. Incompetant drivers can wreak all sorts of havoc, over & over again, if they pay off the State & its employers, such as insurance companies.
    80 odd percent of all serious injuries in AUTO “ACCIDENTS” are head injuries. since such “accidents” outnumber bike crashes by orders of magnitude, why not push to make car drivers wear helmets? Or, better yet, why allow incompetants to drive? THINK of all the gas we’d save, & how much longer roads would last, if 30% of the people on the road was walking? Screw them.
    Furthermore, if (here in Ca. & other states) a auto runs a stop sign, or violates a bikes right of way, & KILLS the biker, its a …..misdeamenor. Another motorcycle “accident”. A fucking misdemeanor. YOU DONT EVEN LOOSE YOUR LICENSE, often enough.
    So, Im on my bike. I am SURROUNDED by murderous incompetants who will be at most inconvenienced if they kill me or put me in a coma or a chair. And statist nitwits see me doing ALL I CAN to maximise my safety, which I do be being able to hear, and see, & sense whats around me, & they state The State shoulf FORCE ME to put a box on my head, that intereferes with my seeing, and hearing, & sensing, whats around me. (in Ca I wear the smallest beanie I can get away with, and very good goggles. GOGGLES are a big safety factor. In AZ, Montana, Wi, I take off the goddam helmet. ) As if a helmet would do jack shit when some moron tall enough to push cash across the counter at the DMV runs into me, after violating my right of way, at 60mph.
    And, no, Im not “renting” my body from some cloud dwelling boogieman. Jeez.
    My wife got rear ended, on a bright sunny day, on a straight stretch of road, by a blind, deaf, drug addeled heart patient in a 72 Lincoln. His driving around, incoherently babbling, rearending Tanya, & wreckin her bike, was not enough for the cops to hold him. I HAD TO WATCH as this loon drove home. Fuck you, fuck your nasty trolls & gods, & fuck your helmets.

  32. This current debate began (again) after a famous athlete for a Super Bowl-winning football team could have been killed while biking without a helmet. His value to society, his team, his family, God…all have been debated here. But as far as I can tell, no one has mentioned all the low-lifes-without-helmets-on-bikes whose deaths would be a definite benefit to society. Would the rabbi make Hitler wear a helmet? I think not.

  33. Reb Gellman seems to ignore that Ben R. is a rich man. Unlike some schmoe who can barely afford his crotch-rocket, if he wound up in the vegetable patch for 60 years he could probably afford the medical costs. Sure, riders should carry enough insurance to avoid bankrupting their families or becoming public charges should they lay it down too hard or get hit by some numbskull running a “Stop” sign. But that falls under the category of taking responsibility for oneself, not minding the Property of the Cosmic Muffin.

    Once more, I can’t recommend enough the work of the late Aaron Wildavsky, who often wrote for the Reason Foundation’s Regulation. His Searching For Safety (1988) and other work posited that humans adjust their assumption of risk based on their perception of risk. Frex, mandating seatbelts and other safety features in cars may have saved many lives, but some drivers react to a safer car by driving faster and more recklessly, depending on the technology to keep them safe. You may have heard of how policeman, when first outfitted with “bulletproof” vests, had to be warned against acting as if they were invulnerable. A head shot might still kill them, the body armor isn’t proof against all injuries to the torso, and their limbs were still unprotected. But humans push the envelope of safety, especially a certain subset of us consisting disproportionately of the young, the male and the unmated. Perhaps this is an evolutionary hangover, bravado serving as a cue to potential mates that the risk-taker is a potential alpha-male. I dunno, but no matter how many safeguards we build into our tech, people will still dream up unsafe stunts, if for no other reason than that they are wicked cool.

    Kevin
    (way past the Jackass demographic)

  34. Is the posting software screwed again? Testing.

  35. Oh, good.

    I stated the libertarian theist’s viewpoint over at grylliade’s, which I’d like to restate here:

    Religious people, like me, would argue that God owns your body and you are just sort of renting it for the duration of your life and you are thus no more entitled to risk your life than you are entitled to pound nail holes into the walls of a rented apartment.

    Even if I believe that, that’s wholly between me and God. The state has no business enforcing my “contract” (or maybe I should say “covenant”) with God. The religions I’m most familiar with teach that God has the power and responsibility for settling His own accounts Hisself, in this life or after.

    And in the case of an atheist who does not hold such a belief in the first place, it’s doubly none of the state’s business.

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