I BELIEVE IN MAGIC

Posted in Rants on March 31st, 2015 by Ed

Midwestern states haven't done a great job of passing useful laws lately, but Illinois is making progress toward a law to ban "rolling coal." For those of you who live in areas that are populated by people who read books and have hopes and dreams, let me briefly explain: that is "the act of modifying a diesel vehicle, usually a pickup truck, to spew black smoke and soot." Last summer a number of viral videos of homemade smokestacks on otherwise normal pickup trucks inspired this insipid trend, giving morons everywhere a new way to warn people of their existence.

If this is the kind of thing that seems fun or amusing to you I'd recommend a nice, tall glass of acetone before bed tonight.

I read a lot of auto-themed blogs and look at a few Euro car message boards on occasion. Between the comment sections and the general level of discourse on any male-centric message board you can imagine the kind of stupidity one can come across in those corners of the internet. It's not quite as mind-numbingly bad as what you see on sports-oriented stuff, but it's still about what you could expect in terms of political and social commentary from an interest that appeals mainly to men, mostly white, of average or better income. Let's just say The Unions are to blame for a lot of things wrong with various cars and car companies.

When the topic of "rolling coal" comes up, as it does periodically, two things stand out. One is that the idiocy of the people who do this is agreed upon as close to unanimously as anything I can recall seeing on the internet. Even the troll-iest of trolls can bring themselves to say "lololol awesome!" or "I don't see anything wrong with this u bunch of whiny pussies" on this topic. Americans do not appear able to agree on anything save that people who do this are idiots. Second, people believe some very strange things about how incentives work.

The mantra of the Internet White Guy is used a lot: "I totally disagree with this and think anyone who does it is awful, but I don't think it should be illegal." You know, because Freedom or Big Government is Bad or (insert nonsense interpretation of some part of the Constitution) or Obama or whatever. Coal-rolling is far from the only subject on which you will hear this. Government is bad, laws are bad, so we should condemn unacceptable behaviors and…what, shame people out of doing them? Wait until they see the light? Live with it indefinitely?

What, for example, other than a harsh fine is going to convince people to stop doing this? We are not dealing with logic here, nor are we dealing with rocket scientists. Right-wingers always go on and on about how stupid The People are, and yet their preferred "Let The Market handle it" solution depends entirely on individuals being rational enough to realize that their behavior needs to change. And in this case, that change needs to take place in the absence of any incentives to do so.

To be clear, if you're not comfortable with the idea of making certain behaviors against the law then you are comfortable living in a world in which they continue indefinitely. No matter how many times you click your heels and make wishes, people aren't going to stop doing terrible shit just because you tell them you disapprove. People stupid enough to do something like this have the irritating tendency to fail to respond to reasoned arguments.