Sunday, October 10

my lack of empathy: on laws and DUI's and the loss of profits

There’s a new law here in BC. It lowers the legally acceptable blood-alcohol level for drivers of motor vehicles from 0.08% to 0.05%, gives police more authority to require breathalyzer tests and, in the absence of compliance or the failure of the test, impound cars, suspend licenses and give tickets. Even refusing a breathalyzer is now an offence. It’s making a big stir.

Why, you ask? I mean, it’s only 0.03% difference, isn’t it?

Yes, but that difference translates into an actual, practical difference when it comes to managing one’s state of impairment in anticipation of driving home from the restaurant or club or pub or casino. 0.05% means that, to be legal, we could have one drink with dinner, and then only if we wait half an hour or so after finishing it before we get in the car to drive home.

This difference has many restaurant, bar and pub owners up in arms. Apparently, this is going to hurt profits in a big, big way. The government, it is argued, has just impinged on the right to make money. Revenues will suffer. Jobs will be lost. It’s not fair.

Imagine my ambivalence.

Don’t get me wrong: Where people actually will lose jobs, I understand the stress and complication that eventuality will cause. I’m all for employment.

And I have nothing in particular against business owners making their profits…

(…even if I also think that most of them could do better things with said profits than get fat and own Hummers from which they phone into the radio station to complain about their lost revenue due to new blood-alcohol level laws in direct contravention of the other BC law that prohibits the use of handheld electronic devices while they drive.)

It’s just that I don’t see a real downside to this law that can be argued without said arguments making us all look like real dicks. (Because, remember, there is no ‘them’; there is only ‘us’.)

Here’s the thing: Laws are society’s way of managing the behavior of those of us who don’t care enough about our neighbors to do the right thing. If we were all reasonable, intelligent, compassionate human beings, then we wouldn’t generally need many laws. Pretty much every religion/belief system/philosophy recognizes the simple validity of the golden rule (or a version thereof): Act towards those around you in the manner that you would have those around you act to you. In “I-learned-everything-I-need-to-know-about-life-in-kindergarten” terms, this means that we should all play nice in the sandbox. If everyone could do that – hell, if even almost everyone could do that – there would be fewer laws. Common sense and empathy would prevail.

But we aren’t all reasonable, intelligent, compassionate human beings, so we need negative reinforcement to encourage us to play nice. We need the looming, impending doom of the law to try to keep our baser instincts in check.

And in this case, the law has been changed because too many of us bent or simply ignored the previous law. We did it when we didn’t imbibe responsibly. We did it when we over-served without giving a fuck. We did it when we didn’t take keys away and make people take taxis.

For the record, I’m guilty of all three charges. I got away with it. I know people though, people that weren’t so lucky.

And people will try to bend and ignore this law too. We’ll drink too much, get behind the wheel of our cars and trucks, and then we’ll drive, sometimes home, sometimes to other places for more drinks, sometimes to other people’s homes where various lascivious acts may or may not take place. Many of us will get away with it.

But some will not. Some will be caught. We’ll lose our cars and have our licenses suspended. We may even face jail time. It will be inconvenient for those of us that get caught. Life changing.

Some will have our lives changed in a different way. We’ll be the drivers, passengers, and innocent bystanders. We’ll be counted among the injured, the paralyzed, and the dead.

For families and friends, it will have everything to do with absences – lonely visits to graves, terrifying anniversaries, and gaping, monstrous, bleeding voids in our lives that will never, ever completely heal.

In time, the number of those that think we can bend or break the law will diminish because of those of us that try and fail. In time, the law might make a real difference. Not soon enough, but in time.

So if my compassion for those of us who make our livings selling alcohol is somewhat restrained, you’ll understand why: That inconvenience is somewhat minor compared to those of us that will be injured, or die, or remain behind after someone we love is killed. That inconvenience, in the face of all the suffering, is simply selfishness.

My apologies, forgive my lack of empathy.