Friday, February 20, 2009

This bug in my ear

As of July first the State of California has required all drivers to use a hands-free cell phone device. The police are enforcing this decree of the legislature aggressively, and imposing heavy fines for its violation. The argument is that such devices will reduce the rate of traffic accidents - this despite the fact that studies have shown that cell phone use is only the third cause of accidents, the first two being talking and listening to the radio. However, the neo-socialist busy-bodies in the State legislature cannot regulate talking and radio use in cars, and so they do the third best thing by penalizing cell phone use.

Now I have lived long enough in this democracy and have become sufficiently cynical about politics to suppose as a matter of course that the manufacturers of hands-free cell phone devices have greased the palms of our assemblymen and -women in the certainty that passage of the bill would lead to significant profits for them. As I say, of this I have no doubt. But quite beyond the banal fact of commonplace corruption in government, this new turn of events has a sinister edge.

The first point is that, in my now month-long employment of the hands-free device which I was forced to buy, I have more often and more alarmingly come close to having what would be my first traffic accident in thirty-five years of driving. Now, I have to point out that I deliberately did not purchase a Bluetooth device, which I feel makes people look like cyborgs from Star Trek, or some hybrid species of automaton from an Aldous Huxley novel. I refuse to wear the damn things, and chose instead to buy an earplug attached to a wire that loops over my ear and connects to my phone. Every day now, I engage in a struggle with the infernal device, which invariably drops off my ear, falls between the seats and has to be retrieved at sixty miles an hour on the freeway. Or the wire gets caught in the seatbelt which causes it to come unplugged from the phone, cutting off my conversations and, of course, falling between the seats as does every other loose object in my car. And so, more than once, I have nearly come to grief in my efforts to salvage the filthy thing in order to comply with the law and avoid a hefty fine.

But the larger point is this: Our state legislature, in passing this bill and forcing this intrusion upon us, claims to be acting in our own best interest. The honorable members tell us that we will be safer, happier and freer with this device, even though the facts show otherwise. But the facts mean nothing to those who believe they know better than the rest of us how we ought to live, and who have the power to force us to comply whether we want to or not, whether doing so makes any sense or not. And while we struggle to keep up with the dictates of their meddling, they become more and more righteous in their absolute belief that they and only they should have the authority to tell us how to organize our lives.

This hubris is what drives people away from politics, depresses the election turnout, and reinforces our cynicism about the competence and intentions of our politicians. Government is not our mother. Politicians should not be legislating our way of life, but rather enabling us to make our own way in life without interference from authority. In short: the damn government ought to leave us alone. That is one of the founding principles of this nation, and the desire to live without meddling from government is one of the motives that drove people at great sacrifice and risk across this continent to California in search of liberty as well as gold. Leave us alone - stop telling us what is good for us. Let us organize our own lives and we will be safer, happier and freer, and we might even go to the polls in greater numbers and with eagerness.

Meanwhile, tomorrow I shall drive to work along the 134 Freeway with a bug in my ear forced there by a bunch of interfering busy-bodies in Sacramento, with loathing in my heart for all politicians and one hand free, to do what? To search for the damn device that has once again fallen down between the front seats.