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Monbiot rants
December 20, 2005 10:29 PM   Subscribe

"They call themselves libertarians; I think they're antisocial bastards". George Monbiot goes on a considered rant against individualistic road users and groups.
posted by wilful (48 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Has a big serve at Jeremy Clarkson too.

It's an interesting set of links he draws in this culture wars debate.
posted by wilful at 10:32 PM on December 20, 2005


It's a pretty lame rant against a strawman version of libertarianism. His willful confusion between neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism and libertarianism isn't particularly conducive to rational debate on the matter, either.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 10:56 PM on December 20, 2005


well, shit, as a lefty-libertarian I'm torn down the middle.

One the one hand, capable people shouldn't be penalised for people who don't know how to drive at speed safely, hence omnipresent speed law enforcement is "fascist" encroachment of the necessary liberty of getting somewhere in a timely manner.

On the other, reckless speeders do smash a lot of stuff up and kill a lot of innocent people.

Stumped.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:01 PM on December 20, 2005


Oldskool speed humps were a nightmare. Glad people were mad enough to lobby about that.

Cyclists rule! But shouldn't be on busy roads at busy times.

Er, and speed cameras are often revenue-raising devices. Saw a cop yesterday with a speed gun, standing about 20 meters inside an 80 zone - just before it changes to 100. How 'bout trying to catch a real criminal, moron?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:06 PM on December 20, 2005


pseudo: neocons?

The writer didn't confuse neolibs and libertarians, he assigned them as neighbors on a continuum.

I fail to see the strawmen; libertarians are always ranting on about state lowest-common denominator limitations of freedoms... this vs. this.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:06 PM on December 20, 2005


Until such a time as we're able to create at least two classes of legislation, one for idiots and one for sensible people, all laws are going to have to respond to the lowest common denominator of potential lawbreaker.
posted by wilful at 11:07 PM on December 20, 2005


Until such a time as we're able to create at least two classes of legislation, one for idiots and one for sensible people, all laws are going to have to respond to the lowest common denominator of potential lawbreaker.

Testify.

I am an extremely competent drunk driver... ;)

Damn you all, you two-can Fangios!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:12 PM on December 20, 2005


Heywood> When he starts talking about Thatcher. Thatcher's generally considered to be a neocon, not a "neoliberal". The two aren't exclusive, but the bit he talks about - about attempting to consciously rework the human soul through economics - is more properly neoconservative than neoliberal.

And he _does_ conflate neoliberalism with libertarianism. He calls libertarianism the "next phase of neoliberalism".

These are three different political groups who at times collaborate, but are in general very different groups with mainly different aims.

The strawman is in his treatment of libertarianism. Most libertarians wouldn't support destruction of private or state property, nor harming other people. One can find members of any group who are on the fringe, and advocate all sorts of ludicrous things. It is generally not sensible to draw broad conclusions about society as a whole, or even a philosophical group as a whole, based on its most extreme and irrational members.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 11:19 PM on December 20, 2005


What's this about librarians now?
posted by jonson at 11:28 PM on December 20, 2005


The Bookmobile killed George Monbiot's mother. Now, he's out for revenge.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 11:30 PM on December 20, 2005


pseudo: gotcha.

dunno about Thatcher, I guess; I think neoliberal laissez faire policy can devolve into libertarian minarchy easily enough.

disagree about "Most libertarians wouldn't support destruction of state property" ... these cameras are solely tools of infringement of their liberties; their mere presence is an affront to libertarian ideals of individual responsibility ... the tree of liberty needs to be periodically watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants...

libertarians are perfectly happy seeing higher societal costs as long as their liberties are preserved. Eg. opposition to seatbelt and helmet laws that save the public significant amounts of money at the end of the day.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:48 PM on December 20, 2005


Well, one can jump between camps, or even be a member of two of the groups if one really wants. There's no neoliberal ideological purity force (libertarians and neoconservatives tend to browbeat dissenters en masse, to be perfectly blunt).

But, I think drawing distinctions between the groups is in general more useful than not - conflations are guilty until proven innocent. They're bad because they contribute to a monolithic impression of the other side of the debate. I'm sure you've run across the whole "'Nazi' is short for National Socialists. Thus, they're socialists!" nonsense before, and I consider it to spring from the same source of shoddy intellectual methodology as "Everyone on the right is a neoconservative or a fellow-traveler of the neocons!"

And I don't disagree that libertarians can be selfish, foolish assholes just as anyone else can. But insofar as they, say, bust up public property, it's improper and ill-founded to use libertarian philosophy to justify that. Even public property is still someone's property (the government's, generally) and thus is protected by property rights. To a right-lib, property rights aren't supposed to be contextual - that the government, or the Space Warriors or Joe Average owns a particular thing is an absolute, so long as they came by it without using force or fraud.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 11:59 PM on December 20, 2005


still don't see the 'conflation', the author's "libertarianism is the next phase of neoliberalism" describes a continuum.

so long as they came by it without using force or fraud

but when there is no available non-initiation of force to recourse to righting injustice, what do you do as a libertarian?

Destruction of property in the abstract is verboten, but destruction of the very tools of oppression is applying force at the very root of the causal chain of compulsive force (camera -> ticket -> men with guns -- remove the camera and the world is righted).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:25 AM on December 21, 2005


I should perhaps clarify something. I'm not really much of a libertarian - my bio is out of date. But, I'm familiar with all the talking points and developments of the theory, if you don't mind me standing in for a "real" libertarian.

but when there is no available non-initiation of force to recourse to righting injustice, what do you do as a libertarian?

The libertarian would insist that unless force is used by the other side first, or the use is imminent or otherwise easily predictable (I say "I'm going to shoot you in five minutes" and start reaching for a gun or something), it can't be legitimised. If they're being consistent, they would say that such injustices should be righted by appeal to law or civil torts or by people voting on it (but such a vote would only be legitimate if it agreed with the libertarian).

Destruction of property in the abstract is verboten, but destruction of the very tools of oppression is applying force at the very root of the causal chain of compulsive force (camera -> ticket -> men with guns -- remove the camera and the world is righted).

This is problematic, because causal chains are not a strong point of libertarian philosophy (with the exception of Robert Nozick, who drew many conclusions from them that were unacceptable to other libertarians). A consistent libertarian would have to say that force would not be justified to destroy the camera. Responsive force is only justified at the point of application of compulsion (so, when the men with guns show up to fine you, or whatever), not anywhere else. This is because only the particular compulsion is "real" in their view - the others are unpleasant, but only support compulsion or coercion, they don't cause it.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 12:37 AM on December 21, 2005


I hope when Clarkson dies he's all alone and the emergency services don't quite make it in time to cut him from the wreckage of his latest shiny compensator.
posted by bouncebounce at 12:39 AM on December 21, 2005


The only group I loathe more than libertarians are lentil-eating George Monbiot readers.

Give me Jeremy Clarkson over this tofu-scarfing, sandal-wearing, holier-than-thou hippie any day.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:01 AM on December 21, 2005


pseudo -- good answer :)

with more thought I guess the libertarian way would be to somehow sanction or embargo the agency which is installing the cameras, like stop driving cars or something.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:02 AM on December 21, 2005


Heywood Mogroot: possibly refusing to deal with traffic wardens and police in the social realm - send them to Coventry?

(If people who became traffic wardens found all their friends dropped them, they wouldn't take the job).
posted by Leon at 3:53 AM on December 21, 2005


There is evidence, which I can't currently find a direct link to but is cited in Deep Simplicity by John Gribbin, that speed limits not only improve road safety, but can also increase road capacity. This is the basis for the variable speed limits on the M25 around London.
posted by ibanda at 4:02 AM on December 21, 2005


I found this little piece interesting. He quotes Thatcher:

a man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure

So sad.

Anyway I find it hard to believe the road rage in England is anything to complain about. Do they have little men in big four wheel drive trucks with bull bars tailgating them when they are driving at the speed limit + 5 mph?

I miss riding the bus. The people I saw at the bus stop and on the bus were usually the politest people I saw all day.
posted by bukvich at 4:28 AM on December 21, 2005


"Consider the man on horseback, and I have been a man on horseback for most of my life. Well, mostly he is a good man, but there is a change in him as soon as he mounts. Every man on horseback is an arrogant man, however gentle he may be on foot. The man in the automobile is one thousand times as dangerous. I tell you, it will engender absolute selfishness in mankind if the driving of automobiles becomes common. It will breed violence on a scale never seen before. It will mark the end of the family as we know it, the three or four generations living happily in one home. It will destroy the sense of neighborhood and the true sense of Nation. It will create giantized cankers of cities, false opulence of suburbs, ruinized countryside, and unhealthy conglomerations of specialized farming and manufacturing. It will make every man a tyrant."

R.A. Lafferty, late 1800s.
posted by Acey at 4:55 AM on December 21, 2005


The libertarian would insist that unless force is used by the other side first, or the use is imminent or otherwise easily predictable... it can't be legitimised.

This is completely untrue. There is no such thing as "the libertarian" in this sense. Libertarians, like anarchists, share only the desire to be free of arbitrary constraints. If your quote represents your own feelings, speak for yourself.

Acey: "late 1800s"? Have you even heard of R.A. Lafferty?
posted by languagehat at 5:42 AM on December 21, 2005


One the one hand, capable people shouldn't be penalised for people who don't know how to drive at speed safely, ...

On the other, reckless speeders do smash a lot of stuff up

It's pretty simple, really. The sane solution is to penalise the people who don't drive safely. A fixed maximum speed limit has little relation to road safety. After all, when there's a snowstorm on and you're driving a Miata, driving the speed limit would be incredibly dangerous. The speed at which it's actually safe to drive varies widely. If it's sensible to set a maximum, then it should be well above the speed at which people would usually want to drive. Exceeding it could then become strictly enforced until it was socially unacceptable to do so. To give out the same number of traffic tickets as is currently done would not be all that difficult; the people going too fast in less-than-ideal conditions could be a good first target. Then there are those who follow too closely, fail to signal lane changes, drive through yellow lights, and so on. Perhaps slightly more difficult to enforce than simply "10km/h over the limit", but such is the price of justice.
posted by sfenders at 5:56 AM on December 21, 2005


Anyway, I don't really mind speed limits that much. Not an ideal situation, but I wouldn't go out of my way to protest it. Speed cameras on the other hand do seem a rather sinister mechanism of brute enforcement. They're such an ugly, inelegant kludge of a mechanism of social control. Imagine, a computer enforcing the law. It seems thoroughly wrong. That Britain has fallen so low as to put this kind of thing into place is exactly why her people are driven to libertarian principles.
posted by sfenders at 6:07 AM on December 21, 2005


The sane solution is to penalise the people who don't drive safely.

Well, yes, but everyone drives unsafely at some point (fatigue, disctraction, confusion, simple human error) because we're humans: we're not very good at sustained, focused concentration and we make mistakes. It's in our biology. Given that, it is reasonable to try to develop ways to ameliorate the damage. Slower speeds mean less death when people are hit, as they always will be.

How about this for a libertarian argument: the problem is identification and persecution, not fines for speeding (or "charges for greater speed" if you want!). So take the people out of the equation: speeding fines are levied against cars, not people. A car has to have an address against its licence plate, and any infraction is billed to that car/address. The state doesn't need to know about who was driving: if no-one pays up the car is seized and scrapped. Fines increase with frequency, pricing lousy drivers off the road and encouraging other people to drive more slowly. The state doesn't get to visit criminal proceedings on its citizens or know where every car is and who is driving it at any time, and lots of people are saved from ending up with criminal records on a some database for being dumb a couple of times while young.
posted by alasdair at 7:02 AM on December 21, 2005


Can we please declare a moratorium on these links to Monbiot articles? Metafilter has more than enough of him and all his articles seem to be more polarizing than provocative.
posted by Heminator at 7:03 AM on December 21, 2005


bukvich : Do they have little men in big four wheel drive trucks with bull bars tailgating them when they are driving at the speed limit + 5 mph?
Yes, oh yes we do.
England has a population of 50 million in a land area smaller than New York state, and most of those people are concentrated in a much smaller region of that. The rail network is barely functional after years of neglect, and costs a fortune to use. Outside of London, public transport is a joke, so anyone who can afford to is pretty much forced into buying a car. The result is a severely overloaded road network full of angry drivers (and increasing numbers of those are in big four wheel drive trucks, too).
So we get real road rage; several people have been killed for nothing more than irritating other road users. I've seen people leap from their cars in rush hour and hit other drivers through open windows, or attack their vehicles. I've been shunted into a busy junction by an impatient van driver. And I'm not innocent of it myself either, I get very angry driving sometimes, and have had to pull over to calm myself down before now.
Frankly I hate driving in this country most of the time, but I have no real choice; if I want to work I have to use a car. Monbiot may not exactly be helping matters here, but he is talking about a real problem.
posted by tomsk at 7:13 AM on December 21, 2005


So where's the great freedom loving libertarian societies out there? I'd like to see these road ragers spend some time in the lawless 'freedom' of many parts of Africa and, if they survive, realize that their broken ideology not only rests on the shoulders of responsible citizens but if taken seriously would lead to increbily oppressive "states" run by warlords and dictators.

But try telling that to the so called "South Park" generation.

Government is bad, mmmkay.
posted by skallas at 7:14 AM on December 21, 2005


tomsk, I don't think you know what you mean by public transport being a joke in the UK. The fact that you actually have trains or buses, and that they run on an hourly or better service, is better than most of North America.

ABD are a hopeless bunch of spoiled wankers. They're not even being very good at being libertarians, which takes some doing. That anyone even listens to them is actually pretty amusing.
posted by scruss at 7:25 AM on December 21, 2005


OK, this guy needs to take a big toke and calm the fuck down ... then take a trip to Germany, where speeds are higher, yet the roads are safer, or take a trip to Italy, where it pretty much is an ungoverned free-for-all, and there are still less traffic fatalities than England.

Monbiot needs to take the bus, and leave the driving to those who are more capable.
posted by Relay at 7:57 AM on December 21, 2005


Give me Jeremy Clarkson over this tofu-scarfing, sandal-wearing, holier-than-thou hippie any day.

please take him. in fact, we the british people, hereby bequeth every foaming daily mail reader (not just Peter McDermott), the right to take with them, their very own Jeremy Clarkson.

hopefully, that might help keep the ever-opinionated gobshite off tv and out of the papers for a nanosecond.
posted by rodney stewart at 8:39 AM on December 21, 2005


Relay: that's simply not true: According to the UK Office of National Statistics in 2001 the UK's road death rate per 100,000 (6.1) was much lower than in Germany (8.5) and nearly half that of Italy (11.1). This table from the European Commission Community Road Accident Database tells a similar story. Even adjusted for vehicle miles, I bet those numbers still won't stack up against the UK.

scruss: okay, whilst our public transport's not as funny a joke as yours, it's still pretty laughable. Granted it's not physically impossible to get around by train or bus over here, it's still not a practical option for most people, hence the overstretched road network.
posted by tomsk at 8:50 AM on December 21, 2005


Have you even heard of R.A. Lafferty?

Put that down to sloppy research and hurried googling. The point was that what he said came true in some ways. Maybe it was going to anyway and it had nothing to do with cars, or maybe cars were a direct cause. His predictions on the effect it would have on peoples' aggression however proved to be worryingly accurate.

tomsk: Outside of London, public transport is a joke, so anyone who can afford to is pretty much forced into buying a car.

I can accept this excuse in America, where you really do need to be able to drive these days, but not in Britain. People drive too much and now we are feeling the heat.
posted by Acey at 10:01 AM on December 21, 2005


It is about the rise of the antisocial bastards who believe they should be allowed to do what they want, whenever they want, regardless of the consequences... When you drive, society becomes an obstacle. Pedestrians, bicycles, traffic calming, speed limits, the law: all become a nuisance to be wished away. The more you drive, the more bloody-minded and individualistic you become. The car is slowly turning us, like the Americans and the Australians, into a nation that recognises only the freedom to act, and not the freedom from the consequences of other people's actions.
I've never heard of this Monbiot chap, but he's got us Americans (at least) completely dead-to-rights here.

Responses of this kind:
Monbiot needs to take the bus, and leave the driving to those who are more capable.
Serve to illustrate Monbiot's point. "If you don't think saturating the country with cars is a good thing, then by all means get the hell out of my way!"
posted by Western Infidels at 10:12 AM on December 21, 2005


The point was that what he said came true in some ways.

No, the point is that he was writing in the 1960s, when the "future" had already come to pass, and he wasn't predicting, he was putting words in the mouth of a character. Note that Mark Twain, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, "predicted" the 19th century!
posted by languagehat at 10:21 AM on December 21, 2005


thanks for clearing that up, languagehat. Hooray for Monbiot's agitprop!

*eats lentils, scarfs tofu
posted by eustatic at 11:05 AM on December 21, 2005


on topic, I did in fact enjoy the socializing, we're all in this together, aspect of taking Japan's trains for 8 years.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:18 AM on December 21, 2005


Can we please declare a moratorium on these links to Monbiot articles?

I vote for a moratorium on moratoriums.

We all need to ride the bus more.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:25 AM on December 21, 2005


How the hell do you figure out who can drive safely at high speeds? Everyone who drives at 90 mph probably thinks that they are capable of driving at that speed but some of them aren't. Some of those people that aren't kill people.

It's so difficult to ascertain what speed any induvidul can safely drive at that it's almost certainly not worth the bother. Whether or not lower speed limits increase safety is somewhat contentious, but lower speeds certainly would increase safety. The problem with current speed limits is that they are so unevenly enforced and uniformly broken. We need to set speed limits to a level where they can be consistantly enforced. I'm not saying that speed limits might not be too low, but actually limiting speed is a good idea.
posted by I Foody at 11:48 AM on December 21, 2005


Acey: I can accept this excuse in America, where you really do need to be able to drive these days, but not in Britain. People drive too much and now we are feeling the heat.
Couldn't agree more, I'm not trying to defend it. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that our public transport can't compete with car ownership in most cases, especially not for the people Monbiot is talking about here.
In fact, perhaps that'd be a good punishment for persistent speeders: force them to use busses and trains for a few months instead of just fining them...
posted by tomsk at 12:48 PM on December 21, 2005


Clarkson reminds me of my father (whose favorite punishment for any crime is "shoot the bastards" delivered in such dead-pan you'd really think he was serious if you didn't know him). Clarkson's bark is worse than his bite and half the things he says are designed to get a rise out of people like Monbiot.

As for the traffic, as a veteran driver of quite a few of America's big cities (L.A., Boston, Houston, N.Y. and others) when I drove in Southern England for 2 weeks last spring, I came away with the conclusion that the English are the living equivalent of Mr. Walker and Mr. Wheeler in "Motor Mania".
Quite polite and calm in person, but stark raving nutters in a car.
The whole place was too many rats in the maze.
posted by madajb at 12:52 PM on December 21, 2005


Languagehat> I'm talking about right-libertarians who are philosophically consistent, "the libertarian" was shorthand for that, having brought up those conditions elsewhere in the discussion with Heywood. Yes, left-libertarians and anarchists would disagree with that.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 2:55 PM on December 21, 2005


tomsk: In fact, perhaps that'd be a good punishment for persistent speeders: force them to use busses and trains for a few months instead of just fining them...

Christ tomsk, I hope youre joking! Some of us actually have to use public transport you know! Keep those anti-social fuckers in their cars, thankyouverymuch.
posted by lowest.common.denominator at 4:00 PM on December 21, 2005


About the Lafferty Quote - Looks like it may be circa 1960.
posted by missbossy at 5:48 PM on December 21, 2005


A fixed maximum speed limit has little relation to road safety.
and
We need to set speed limits to a level where they can be consistently enforced.

An appropriate range of speeds should be recommended to the driver by an onboard computer that takes into consideration the weather, the lighting conditions (time of day, etc.), the traffic report concerning the road you're on (including construction warnings and accident reports), the type, age, and state of repair of the vehicle, and the age, health, and driving record of the person driving the car (as testified by biometrics). The computer should also keep track of how recklessly you drive, based on the information above and on how hard you stop and start and swerve and corner, because you might stay within the speed limit and still drive like an idiot. And local authorities should have the right to lower the speed limit automatically (transmitted to your onboard computer), regardless of how fast your computer thinks you should be able to go.

The onboard computer should rat on you in real time (to the police and to your insurance company). There should be no need to pull you over; if you've done something bad enough, the police should come to get you at home, and the insurance company should adjust your rates or cancel your coverage as stated in the agreement you signed with them.

Maybe it should be entirely voluntary, in that everyone who wants to drive like Jeremy Clarkson's snuggle buddy should be allowed to opt out of the onboard computer system, but I think the insurance companies should have particularly high rates for such people, while people with the computers would enjoy particularly low (almost zero?) rates because they would always be driving like you would drive if a police officer was sitting in the passenger seat.

And buses and trains? They should be free, paid for by road tolls.
posted by pracowity at 2:04 AM on December 22, 2005


Sorry to harp on about the Lafferty quote, but was it really from the 1960s!? If so it seems... redundant and out of place. Colour me confused.
posted by Acey at 3:47 AM on December 22, 2005


> Sorry to harp on about the Lafferty quote

Apparently the person who says "I have been a man on horseback for most of my life" is a character in a piece of fiction by someone named R.A. Lafferty, who, judging by a quick google, appears to have been a sci-fi writer who is now in vogue as a sort of rediscovery.
posted by pracowity at 4:06 AM on December 22, 2005


missbossy: Nice find, but just to keep the dating straight, that site says the quote is from "the late 1960s."

Acey: You have heard of fiction, right?

someone named R.A. Lafferty

Ouch. Well, I guess I can't expect wide awareness of someone who wasn't exactly famous even in his heyday, but Lafferty was one of the best writers ever to grace the field of science fiction (and he didn't write only that—he had a fine historical novel about a fabulous 19th-century Choctaw, Okla Hannali). If you want to find out more about him, try this site.
posted by languagehat at 5:37 AM on December 22, 2005


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