I witnessed a car accident today.
It was a three-lane service road. The right-hand lane peeled off into local traffic. Ahead of me, in the leftmost lane, was a blue compact car. Immediately prior to the point at which the right lane split off, the blue car veered suddenly and sharply to the right, in a clear, last-minute bid to try to make the turn-off.
Unfortunately, there was another car in between her and the turn-off. She slammed right into it.
I pulled over ahead of the two cars, got out and checked with their respective drivers. Both women were fine. I gave my name and number to the woman whose car had been struck and told her I'd be willing to give a statement saying what I had seen.
The other woman was a little shaken. She kept repeating how the other car had been "in [her] blind spot." As I prepared to leave, I told her that if I were asked, by the police or insurance companies, I would tell them that I saw the whole thing and that, in my view, the accident was clearly her fault.
The woman then became pissed at me -- not raging or anything, but irritated and frustrated. She repeated her previous statement, emphasizing that the other car had been in her blind spot.
I almost wish I had had the time to discuss this with her. Clearly, the fact that the other driver had been in her blind spot was supposed to change my assessment of culpability. Leave aside for the moment the fact that she had veered so suddenly there hadn't been a realistic window of time in which she could have adequately checked her path. In her view, it was reasonable to believe that:
a) She was in the right to have driven into another lane without checking to make sure that there was a car in her blind spot
b) The fact that she didn't see the car absolved her of blame in hitting the car
c) Other people (e.g., me) would understand these views.
Basically, she didn't know whether there was a car in her path, and therefore, she wasn't morally responsible for hitting it.
In reality, of course, she had two other options: Slow down enough to look before switching, or don't switch. Instead, her ignorance became her excuse. Ignorance is supposed to -- and, I think once did -- constitute a reason for caution, rather than an excuse for the consequences of lack of caution.
I have no evidence for this, but I feel as though this is not an uncommon mindset. I'm not just referring to the obvious political analogies. I'm also referring to the people who vote for these politicians. I'm referring to everyone out there who thinks they're free of a moral burden to apply rigorous logic to their place in the world and the consequence of their actions. I've written before that I think a stereotypically liberal mindset -- that we're all due respect, every emotion and impulse we have is great and worthwhile, feelings are all that matter, logic is bad, etc. -- has enabled the emergence of a political culture in which people actually vote for president based on the having-a-beer-with criteria, and think that's okay.
Ignorance is not an excuse. We have a moral duty to stop exalting emotion and instinct at the expense of logical assessment. We have to start embracing what once were stereotypically conservative values -- hard-headed rationality -- if we want to get back to a government and a politics that holds people -- politicians included -- accountable for their actions.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
I witnessed a car accident today.