The Great Twitter Debates: Episode 1
Trigger Warning: Contains logic and reason
I made a mistake the other day by logging into my Twitter account and engaging in a conversation with a couple of people who were very passionate about living in chains – the lifestyle also known as lockdown. I am truly surprised that after a whole year of absorbing every misinformation and lie from their telescreens, they haven’t come up with a stronger repertoire of arguments. Instead, they tweet the same long ago debunked and ridiculed opinions as they did in April of last year. Opinions they mistakenly present as facts. One of the most often repeated “arguments”, they treat as gospel, is the Speeding Driver Paradox (SDP), which they think declares them the winner of every coronavirus debate. There could, however, be nothing further from the truth, and I shall explain why. Be careful who you share this with, not everyone can handle logic and reason in such high doses.
The Speeding Driver Paradox, like every other myth and fairy tale, when repeated too often, it too eventually loses its original form. The speeding driver becomes drunk in some translations. In others, he drives a faulty car, and yet in another, he just feels like driving on the pavement, running over pedestrians simply because it makes him happy. The last one was a direct response to my argument that one’s happiness is important and in context of COVID19 lockdowns and restrictions -which lead to depression, anxiety and suicides and medical neglect – it is even more important than other people’s lives and health. The mistake, of course, is that feeling pleasure from purposely hurting people is not the same as happiness achieved through personal and professional fulfilment and living a life of meaning. I have addressed it in my article from a few weeks ago titled Redefining selfishness – why being selfish is a good thing, where I explain why one’s own health, happiness and wellbeing should be prioritised, not neglected. Link to the article will be at the bottom of the screen.
So, the SDP, and its many forms, attempts to compare seeing your partner for Valentine’s Day or your mom for her birthday, wanting to work and support your family to driving like a maniac. In other words, if you want the lockdown to end because it ruins your life by compromising your physical health, financial situation and mental wellbeing, if you deliberately break the restrictions to simply stay sane and alive, to live your life and exercise your freedom to do so, you are exactly like a speeding driver who has no regard for human life. Shame on you!
It originated somewhere around April or May of 2020, when people dared to sunbathe and leave their house for other “non – essential” reasons, such as getting fresh air, but not exercising at the same time. These people just sat on benches and were compared to lunatic drivers. It continues being repeated by those who just want to avoid harder questions and difficult conversations. They don’t want their lack of compassion and empathy to be exposed. They quote this misleading fallacy, which to the untrained eye may seem like a perfectly fitting analogy. The untrained individual will often lose sight of the real conversation and instead try to address the Speeding Driver Paradox and often lose the argument or patience in the process. It’s because this was never the topic of the discussion they were having and it’s unproductive to address points that have nothing to do with it.
Apples and oranges
First of all, it distracts us from the conversation we’re having, where the issue is coronavirus rules. Sure, the SDP tries to argue that rules are there to protect people and “we shouldn’t just let people drive like crazy because they feel like it”, as the argument often goes, but it is, nevertheless, like comparing apples to oranges. Traffic rules protect lives – that’s true – but they don’t cancel people’s individual human rights. For example, traffic rules don’t prevent you from driving your car. They don’t tell you that you are only allowed to drive to work and to get essentials. In other words, you have the right to move around and travel. Coronavirus rules, on the other hand, attempt to take away the very freedoms we were born with.
Furthermore, drivers need the rules to remain safe on the road. Those rules let them know what manoeuvres to expect from other drivers and what they expect in return. It would be quite difficult to drive to work, for example, if everyone could simply choose which side of the road they feel like driving on. They want to stay alive, they want their car to remain in one piece, and they don’t want to live with a burden of killing innocent people, so they must know what the rules are, because doing the opposite is often a life-or-death situation. And yes, if a person is driving irresponsibly, say, speeding, drunk or texting, they are directly responsible for the accident and its casualties. When a person suffers symptoms of an illness, it is often due to their lifestyle choices, daily activities or pre-existing conditions, therefore it is hardly logical to hold the “infector” responsible. Especially when not every infection leads to major symptoms or death. Car accidents, on the other hand, usually don’t end well for anyone involved.
Moreover, traffic rules aim to prevent accidents that may lead to instant death or life-threatening injuries of the participants. It would be hard to apply the same rules to, say, mask wearing in supermarkets because if two people bump into each other when choosing their nutritious ready meals, it’s hardly similar to a speeding car running over a pedestrian – who dies instantly. A person in the supermarket may or may not be infected and they may or may not infect the other person in the isle. Additionally, if someone develops the symptoms after their visit to Morrison’s, can they really know where and when they CAUGHT it? What if they caught it on the train or a bus? When there is a fatal car accident or any car accident at all, you don’t need to ask such questions. And that’s why traffic rules make sense – they prevent instant, undeniable and unquestionable death or irreversible injury.
It is, however, worth mentioning that most car accidents aren’t caused by dangerous driving. Most such tragedies involve drivers who follow the rules and like every other user of the road, try to stay alive. The number one cause of car accidents, according to Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep is, in fact, falling asleep while driving which is the result of insufficient sleep. This can be caused by not sleeping enough the night before, but in the majority of cases, people are “too busy to sleep” and regularly sleep less than six hours per night. This, as explained in the book, may eventually lead to the overpowering urge to close your eyes for a split second, which is long enough for you to lose control over your vehicle.
It would be more reasonable to call it the Sleeping Driver Paradox then, as you could argue then that the accident is the driver’s fault, because he neglects his sleep, putting others in danger. The problem is though – there is no rule against getting insufficient sleep, there’s only advice. But it would still not relate to lockdown rule breakers, though. It is worth mentioning here that many drivers do, in fact, break the rules and drive a little over the speed limit, they use their car even if it’s technically not fit for the road because of, say, a faulty headlight. People, therefore, choose which rules are less important than others.
Cars and rifles
Another reason why this argument falls apart, assuming that dangerous driving is comparable to, say, shopping without a facemask on, is something that will require us to first abandon all logic to even go there. But let’s see what we can do. The fallacy of this opinion is perfectly illustrated when you imagine a firing squad about to execute a prisoner of war. When I was a kid, I asked my mom why it always took a group men to execute one guy. It was simply, according to her, to make sure a bullet reached the target. A single shooter could easily miss all together or only wound the prisoner or his rifle could jam, all of which would make the execution longer and more unpleasant than it needed to be. A firing squad makes sure that at least one lethal shot is fired.
I believe, in addition to that, there was a deeper reason for it. Standing in a group simply takes the burden off the individual in the firing squad. Believe it or not, but even some Nazis refused to execute Jews and many others justified their actions, as demonstrated in Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning. It has also been said that many guns found or collected after the Second World War had never been fired. This shows that soldiers might find it uneasy to shoot at the enemy or execute prisoners. The firing squad provides a release and almost a guilt free fulfilment of the soldier’s task by allowing him to pull the trigger while sharing the burden with others. Only one bullet carries the death sentence. By shooting simultaneously, none of the men ever find out if it is fired from their gun, taking the man’s life or not. They know that only one out of ten rifles fired the deadly bullet, and they can choose the comforting thought that they weren’t the one pulling that trigger. In other words, it takes ten men for one man to execute another.
I’m not trying to compare apples with oranges here, I’m trying to demonstrate why comparing apples to oranges doesn’t work and why the firing squad analogy is far better to illustrate my point than the Speeding Driver Paradox could ever hope to illustrate its own. Let’s compare apples to oranges, however, and see how ridiculous the practice really is.
All of the lockdown restrictions are equally intrusive, and they all equally compromise our physical health and mental wellbeing. Somebody who wants to look after their own health must now live outside of the rules. If you take regular walks to the park, you might have noticed that all outdoor gyms have been closed. Strangely enough, playgrounds have remained open to the public and parents have been trusted to be responsible and keep others safe. The notice on the outdoor exercise area says that people shouldn’t use it because “COVID19 can stay on the surface for up to 72 hours”. I guess COVID19 doesn’t go to crowded playgrounds. It prefers the hardly ever used outdoor gyms. I do still use them, even with the tape around them. I believe it is essential for my health and fitness and I don’t see why I should compromise that. Somehow that puts me in the same category as a lunatic driver. But how many lunatic drivers does it take to kill or injure a pedestrian? When a pedestrian almost gets hit by a speeding car and sees it disappear in the distance, the risk is no longer there. In other words, the pedestrian doesn’t need to wait 72 hours to feel safe to cross that road.
Let’s ignore the obvious inconsistency of restricting access to outdoor gyms but not to playgrounds. Let’s focus on the crime committed.
I briefly covered it above, but let’s explore this unreasonable territory. When you’re involved in a car accident, you know where and when you were hit. It happened on the motorway, on your way to work. You were hit by the blue Sedan behind you, not the red Opel parked a little too close to you at work, not the car in front of you at McDonald’s drive through and not when you were at home while your spouse used the car to collect the kids from school. It also didn’t take ten different cars to finally happen to you. It’s not like the blue Sedan hit a BMW first, then the BMW hit a Ford which then hit a Seat and a Fiat, only for the Fiat to have no symptoms of the accident so it carried on and then hit you. No – the blue Sedan hit you and now you’re in the hospital. Yet, what I’ve just described is what happens when a virus “hits” you. It travels from host to host and you never really know where and when you CAUGHT it. Was it at work? Was it in the shop? Was it somewhere else? Who do you hold responsible? That guy who stood too close to you at the Post Office? That woman who wasn’t wearing her facemask properly or the cashier who touched all your groceries? Or maybe the cashier’s son who notoriously breaks lockdown rules? Or maybe the son’s girlfriend, who got sick, but ignored it, thinking it was just a cold? More importantly, why would you blame anyone?
And before all this? Who really gave your nan the flu? What chain of events led to her getting life threatening flu? Did you bring it to her that Sunday when you were a little unwell? Where did you get it? In the pub? Train? Gym? Work? School? Say, your nan sadly died of the flu that you gave her. If you were able to trace back your infection to the very person who sneezed or coughed on you or hugged you, or simply left their house knowing they were ill, what would you do to that person? Would you hold them responsible for your nan’s death? What if your viral transaction with this person was only a coincidence and your nan actually got sick at her book club? What if you were driving your nan to the book club and the blue Sedan drove right into you because the driver was texting, injuring you and killing your nan. Would you hold them responsible? Surely you can’t honestly answer “yes, I would” to both of these scenarios.
It’s just like with the firing squad. It may take multiple different people, different interactions and places to get infected (with anything). Back in ancient times, when the man flu and common cold still existed, people used a phrase, “Something’s going around”, when everyone they knew was one by one coming down with a cold. Suddenly, your work, your gym, your yoga class, the corner shop, petrol station and your evening baking class became the firing squad and you knew their rifles were loaded with the virus, but you didn’t know who would fire first. Back then, in the pre – COVID19 era, people didn’t expect all these places to shut. They simply accepted their fate or took their precautions to stay safe.
Car accident is instant and often lethal. It affects all participants, not their work colleagues or family. Say, you’re lucky enough to get out of a car accident without a scratch (asymptomatic). You go home and within a few days your spouse develops symptoms of having been in a car accident. He or she now has a broken leg and both arms. See how stupid it sounds?
Traffic rules serve as guidance for all road users so that everyone gets safely to their destination. They are more of a manual that tells us how to use the road. There is nothing restrictive about it because it’s as old as the roads themselves. Without it, there would be collisions every minute. When dealing with heavy vehicles and high speed, they need to move in harmony and agreement with one another. Each unexpected manoeuvre will almost certainly put others in danger, while infecting others (if we assume that people infect others rather than others GET infected), our virus may never actually find its way to the vulnerable person who is waiting for it at the end of this chain of interactions. Therefore, restricting EVERYONE and treating them as potentially dangerous bags of germs is unprecedented, intrusive and wrong.
Furthermore, for the Speeding Driver Paradox to make some sense, we’d have to scrap the word Speeding, since it attempts to illustrate the asymptomatic carriers of the virus – potentially infected and infectious people. As in, people who don’t know they are posing any risk. A speeding car is not potentially speeding, it’s not potentially dangerous, it’s not an asymptomatic carrier of speed. It “knows” that such high speed carries certain death and, if met with an obstacle, will deliver it. Every car on the road right this moment is potentially dangerous (asymptomatic) because as we’ve seen earlier, most accidents happen at regular speed and involve people just trying to get from point A to point B as safely as possible. It is safe to say then, that putting your foot on the gas pedal alone is potentially dangerous. Leaving your driveway potentially puts others at risk. Buying a car at all is potentially dangerous because you might one day cause an accident – even if unintentionally. Perhaps it is the car dealers or car makers who should answer for all the traffic accidents since their products might one day cause one? Or maybe, it just makes more sense for everyone to drive like their life depended on it. Oh yeah, that’s right – it does. In other words, stay alert, keep in mind that there might be a lunatic out on the road today, but don’t get paranoid. Control what you can, which is your focus and hands on the wheel and protect yourself. Hope that other drivers are as focused as you, but don’t take that for granted, don’t assume that they aren’t getting distracted as we speed. This is, by the way, a metaphor for life – protect yourself from what you’re afraid of and don’t count on others to protect you.
As you see, if we agree that wanting to open up your business to feed your family and save what you’ve worked for your entire life is the same as driving while drunk, then we are entering the realm of ignorance and stupidity. The two are not the same. The argument is mentioned, however, to point out that they are equally as dangerous, and many people agree. Some people even think that those who routinely don’t wear facemasks should be put in prison. Some even support the idea of “Quarantine Camps” where the infected would be kept against their will. If you ever need a guide in this realm of idiocy, these people will gladly show you around.
Finally, when we are on the road, we are all vulnerable and there is nothing we can do to protect ourselves from irresponsible drivers. When 2000kg of steel is travelling at 90mph and is going right at you, there is nothing you can do to stop it. You can only accept Jesus as your lord and saviour and hope Christianity got it right. When it comes to your health, there are number of things you can do not only to avoid getting sick when “something is going around”, but also to boost your immune system. This is yet another reason why not wearing a mask is unfairly compared to crazy driving. On the road, drivers are to a large extent responsible for other drivers who can’t defend themselves from unexpected manoeuvres of other cars. In a perfect world this would be enough, but we are only human and we get distracted by internal and external factors. In life, people get sick all the time and everywhere and restricting people’s freedom to stop that is unsustainable and again disturbingly wrong. We aren’t responsible for others and their health. Not like that anyway. Not even in the context of coronavirus. Speed limits don’t prevent accidents. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them, but it’s worth remembering that the majority of accidents happen in regular circumstances where cars aren’t heard before they are seen. We can’t stop driving though, can we? So why should we stop living our lives? We weren’t born to save lives, we were born to live ours.
Share it with those who are still lost in the realm of unreason or if you came from that realm and disagree with me, and if you can construct a time worthy argument, comment below and let’s discuss. Drive safe.
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