Equality for All?

by Matt Soriano | 7/17/01 5:00am

By about May of this year, there was little that could faze me about New Jersey drivers. Over the course of eleven weeks and 8,000 miles driven on behalf of my mortgage firm, I had been rear-ended twice, I had cursed and been cursed at for using a cell phone at 78 miles an hour and had my life threatened. That last was at the hands of a burly trucker who tried to push me into oncoming traffic, forcing me to zoom in front of him and give him the finger with both hands. He took the logical conflict-resolving step of waiting till we were both stuck in traffic again, then knocking on my window and threatening the lives of me and all who were dear to me.

Returning to Hanover, I have found that things are quite different. For instance, there's this institution of "yielding" which is still boggling me. Apparently, it means that you let pedestrians and bikers brazenly stride on the road as if they, too, had the same rights as a person in a car. Huh! Imagine that. We New Jersey drivers take the North Korean approach to pedestrians -- "re-educating" them through terrifying experiences and constant harassment into getting into a car and driving from point A to point B.

Yet movement in a car here is quite like movement on foot, in that the local motorists can go no faster than about 40 miles an hour, no matter how bright, clear, straight, and unobstructed the roadway is. Even when a local citizen is traveling substantially slower than that speed, other local citizens will not express their displeasure by pulling their oversized sport utility vehicles to six inches from his bumper.

Even if there is no opportunity to pass. Can you believe it?

Driving myself around in this alien roadscape, I've come to appreciate the absurdity of the issue presented by Mark Burnett and Sara McBurnett. In February 2000, the two California drivers were involved in a minor traffic incident outside San Jose International Airport; Mr. Burnett decided to get out his anger by reaching into Ms. McBurnett's window and tossing her dog, Leo, into traffic, where it quickly succumbed to like-minded drivers. After the collection and distribution of $120,000 by vindictive San Francisco dog lovers in search of tips, Mr. Burnett was indicted, tried and found guilty of animal cruelty. He was sentenced to three years in jail for animal cruelty.

Yep, that's right. $120,000 and perhaps $300,000 in incarceration costs were expended for the sole purpose of punishing a dog killer -- a dog killer who, having killed a dog, did not kill a human being. That doesn't seem to matter to Ms. McBurnett. "I also cannot believe and am very dismayed animal cruelty does not count as one of the three strikes as a violent crime, and that needs to change", she reported to CNN.

But isn't all of our existence animal cruelty? Wasn't Leo, the equal of man, committing animal cruelty every time he ate the meat his owner put in front of him? Why aren't I incarcerated for killing deer in the road? Haven't I committed enough crimes just today at DDS to lock myself up and throw away the key?

No matter -- apparently a substantial fraction of California society believes that they can live without hurting our fellow animals. And a substantial fraction of Vermont society believes that "marriage" exists between not just a man and a woman, but between two men and two women. And George Bush has begun to expand the definition of a child to even the unborn. Equality is everywhere. The franchise of humanity and marriage is being expanded yet again.

But expanding the franchise of all these human institutions, including humanity itself, inevitably creates problems like the ones mentioned above. If there are no hard and fast rules for human institutions and this franchise continues to expand beyond logic, then we will create logical absurdities like the Burnett case. We will find, for instance, that marriage in Vermont could be instituted between a man and his Hereford cow. We will find that jockstraps and protective cups need to pass federal impact resistance tests since the protection of the testis implies the protection of the unborn, who have the same right to live as those sitting in car seats.

Democracy is a wonderful thing, but we need to take heed of pervasive equality. While there are logical absurdities in inequality -- one need only look at the institution of slavery and segregation -- there are also logical absurdities in equality as well. For the sake of coherency, we need to take a hard look at where our society is going today.