Friday, July 17, 2009

Disagreeing with the Ethicist

I don't always agree 100% with Randy Cohen, the Ethicist columnist in the NYT. (He's no Dan Savage, after all.) Today's advice, however, was especially irksome.

"Name Withheld" drives along a pothole-filled 2-lane road everyday, and sometimes is followed by one particular tailgating douchebag driver. One day, NW waits until the last minute to swerve around one particularly big pothole; the tailgater behind him hits the pothole and gets a big enough jolt that he pulls over to check on his car. Okay behavior?

Randy says no.

I say yes. Enthusiastically, overwhelmingly, yes.

Randy says NW's "pedagogical purpose" isn't sufficient justification for intending to damage someone else's car. But there's so much wrong with that statement. First of all, the other driver's tailgating risks damage to NW's car all the time: if NW were to brake suddenly, the tailgater might well slam into his back bumper. Also, NW didn't intend to damage the other dude's car [or, anyway, nothing suggests that]. He simply stopped subsidizing the behavior of the free rider behind him by refusing to permit the tailgater to substitute someone else's judgment for his own. Such are the risks of tailgating, and the other driver can't complain when the risks of his behavior are realized. Plus, tailgating is really fucking annoying, especially on hazardous streets, and any non-violent efforts to get people to just stop already have lots of value.

Does anyone out there want to take a stab at defending the other side?

1 comment:

navah said...

I said I was going to attempt the other side, but I think this is a pretty solid argument. It also sounds like Old Randy needs to read some Ayn Rand to get a different perspective on ethical.

The only thing I would say in Randy's favor is that there are other, less risky ways for NW to send his message. One example is tapping on his breaks lightly to activate the break light repeatedly. I think it also depends on how big the pothole is. Damage to a car is one thing, but some potholes are dangerous enough to cause bodily damage, and that would definitely be going too far.

As you can tell, I'm stretching it a little here. Overall, I have to agree.