Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I now can die a happy man 

I was pretty sure I would die without seeing Leonard Read's marvelous I, Pencil quoted in a major newspaper. The Pioneer Press uses the pencil to skewer the morals of the cyclists who blocked streets in the Cities this weekend (which has made for great theater.)
But the fact that bicycles are available to participants in the Critical Mass ride, and virtually everyone, at a very reasonable cost, like the production of a pencil, results from the labor of thousands of people having differing ambitions, desires and political philosophies, most of whom have no intention of building a bicycle.

Further, not all of the antecedents of bicycle production would necessarily pass moral muster with the Critical Mass folks. Bicycle production depends on mining the Earth's resources (not always in environmentally friendly ways) and using vast amounts of energy (not always clean). Building bicycles relies on the mobility of thousands of people driving automobiles to jobs in factories where bicycles are manufactured.

Indirectly, people involved in oil exploration, drilling, shipment and refining contribute to the process of building a bicycle (not to mention the plastic water bottles clamped to the frames). And all those people and thousands more with links to bicycle production go to work every day so they can buy things like suburban single-family homes with big yards and lots of internal combustion engine-powered toys in the garage, including big boats and SUVs to tow them - and bicycles.

The influence of low-wage foreign labor markets also affects the ability of Critical Mass participants to ride their bikes. If the same standards were applied to bicycle manufacturing as are applied to coffee, we suspect there'd be a lot more Critical Massers sitting on their duffs drinking "fair trade" coffee than pedaling bikes built in or made with components from developing nations.

Our point is simply this: Riding a bike when and where one can is a healthy alternative to jumping, without a second thought, into a 2,500-pound automobile. But doing so does not confer moral authority on bicyclists. It does not confer the right to impede traffic as a way to make a statement or ride up to the border of provocation of police and fellow citizens driving cars on city streets. At least not without bearing the consequences of their actions without complaint.

I see the Mark of Fishsticks on this one. If so, Captain, I salute you. If not, somebody at the PiPress has lunch on me.

UPDATE: Kathy Kersten has memories of the NYC protestors from Annette Meeks.

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