The Bell Tolls For Thee (When Your Head Smacks It)

Because we’re human, we’re capable of transmitting and receiving communicable diseases from one another. That means we’re only as safe as the most vulnerable among our population.

Because we’re humane, we understand that ideas like removing vulnerable people from the gene pool, putting afflicted* people in leper colonies, shunning immigrants out of fear they’ll bring disease, and purposely infecting everyone around you, are all incompatible with living in a “developed” society.

* Note: conversely, there’s nothing unethical about putting people who wear Affliction shirts in leper colonies. That’s just common sense. They’ll steal your zoo if you let them roam amongst us.

In fact, the very least empathetic among us who would support such bad ideas (Affliction shirt-wearing included) are protected from being murdered by the rest of us as an existential threat to the herd, solely by this same ethos.

Without the reality that 99%+ of humanity is empathetic and ethical, the sociopathic minority would be perceived as a danger to our society’s continuance, and as such, might not be permitted to remain a member of society. Or, for that matter, to remain a member of my favorite club: the Club for Humans on This Side of the Dirt (CHOTSOD).

In America, we’ve always had a few juxtapositions to deal with. The juxtapositions are universal; however, our solutions are unique.

We want as much freedom as we can get. But, we want your exercise of your freedoms to conform to our vision of what’s right, which we often disguise as policy differences.*

* For reference, see (in varying degrees): abortion, gay marriage, slavery, prohibition, legalization of marijuana, prayer in schools, evolution, statues of Baphomet on state capitol grounds, women’s rights, civil rights, immigration, Big Gulp consumption, prostitution, gun rights, interracial marriage, taxation, polygamy, deed restrictions, nuclear waste disposal, and tiger ownership.

Then comes the real ‘murican part:

We all want as much freedom as we can get, but we also don’t want to fund any government programs to support our families when our exercise of laissez-faire freedom predictably kills us.

We want as much freedom as we can get. But, we want your exercise of your freedoms to conform to our vision of what’s right, which we often disguise as policy differences.
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This is namely because we view ourselves with great deference, and everyone else with great scrutiny.

I’m not gonna splat, ‘cuz I know how to ride my got-damned bike. It’s all those dumbasses out there you gotta worry about.”

– The man whose family will rely on GoFundMe to raise enough money to bury his closed casket someday.

So, the “as much freedom as we can get” part of our American equation must be reined in by actuarial science.

If society has to keep enough money on hand to support Buford, Jr. when Buford Sr.’s melon predictably splatters on the interstate, AND we don’t want to pay taxes for that, then we have to control the number of splattered Buford melons out there. Anyone who can count to 19 can tell you, the math doesn’t work any other way with the constraints at hand.

Thus, we get things like helmet laws, speed limits, licensing rules, and the like. They’re all written in the hopes of permitting dangerous activities while limiting the amount of children-of-deceased-motorcycle-head-trauma-victim-related payouts we have to dole out from our intentionally bare coffers.

“I can get 70 miles to the gallon on this hog.” – Lloyd Christmas

A less humane society might say that Little Buford’s impending starvation in re: his pappy’s 78 mph face-skid down I-95, is simply not “our” problem.

A less free society might ban motorcycles altogether, given their propensity for costing society a ton of cash when they fling our delicate citizenry haphazardly upon asphalt.

America chooses—rightly or wrongly—to meet in the middle. We let some dipshits kill themselves. We just limit how many are likely to do that via laws, like forcing all of them to wear pompadour-ruining helmets.


– Hypothetical Friend-o.

I hear you, Friend-o. The problem isn’t you, per se. I’m certain, statistically, that you are unlikely to become road kill. And while this isn’t really a good example of workers seizing society’s means of production and redistributing the proceeds equally among all according to their needs, I’ll take your point of to mean you’re dissatisfied with what you perceive to be government overreach vis-à-vis (peers over bifocals, consults notes) wearing personal protective equipment when riding a motorcycle.

No, it’s not you we’re worried about. The problem is the stochastic certainty that a predictable number of people will die, and a predictable number of the costs of those deaths will come skidding in at the feet of We The People.

Follow along at a safe distance, please:

Of all the people riding motorcycles, relatively few have accidents. Per 100,000 riders, about 1,100 get injured on their bikes. It’s surprisingly similar to the number of people injured in automobiles, when looking at the rate per 100,000 licensed drivers of each. It’s just that a lot more four-wheeled cars are on the road, hence your correct assumption that bikes are more dangerous than cars.

The problem is the stochastic certainty that a predictable number of people will die, and a predictable number of the costs of those deaths will come skidding in at the feet of We The People.
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Roughly 1.1% of the people riding motorcycles get in accidents that produce injuries. And of that small number, a tiny number—55 people for every 100,000, actually—end up dying.

Well, they all wind up dying sooner or later, lest we clog the streets of Earth with leather-clad immortals. Please, focus, we’re trying to stick with one apocalyptic scenario at a time. Very, very few of them die specifically from motorcycle accidents.

But let’s take it a step further…

The odds of a flyin’ Buford, catapulted from his crotch rocket at speeds not meant for human travel, killing himself, and, via impact, killing someone other than Buford, are rather low. How low? Lower than the number of commas in that last sentence? Probably. I learned to, write, by watching Star Trek, sorry.

I don’t know an exact number, but I can tell you with confidence that of all the riders out there who become Buford-shaped projectiles, very few make contact with and kill non-riders in the process. Some do, sure. But let’s say it’s one in a hundred.

That means for every one hundred dudes (it’s almost all dudes, because of course it is) wrecking their bikes, leaving their corporeal existence behind, and jettisoning their still-mostly-solid remains into a bystander, only one of those bystanders would join Buford at the Big Hootenanny In The Sky.

And since we’re being ridiculous (my forte), imagine that for every one hundred people killed specifically by being hit by a heretofore living crash test dummy, one of those victims in turn bounces and kills someone else. And so on.

In “transmission rate” terms, that means the spread of “death by flying dipshit” is 0.01%. Even if we let it run rampant, it’s still a rather small percentage of a very small number.

Let’s say in a given year, 100,000 riders take the road. That means 1,100 of them will get injured. Further, 55 of them will die. And given our 0.01 transmission rate, if we round up, one bystander will be hit by a flying corpse and die from that. It would take 100x the riders to produce a tertiary death, e.g. someone being killed by someone else who was killed by a motorcyclist.

All of that is a silly, roundabout way of saying that given a transmission rate less far less than one, the risk of secondary and tertiary deaths from the “pathogen” at hand will approach zero rather quickly. It’ll never reach zero, but it’ll get infinitesimally smaller and smaller with each successive level away from the initiating Buford.

Given a predictable risk pool where society knows how many people are riding, the average risk of death, and the transmission rate of secondary and tertiary deaths is far below one, the potential loss is foreseeable, calculable, and thus, controllable.

And even though Americans don’t want to invest in metaphorical safety nets to protect Buford Jr., we don’t have to restrain Americans’ rights too much to tweak the actuarial and financial realities into a realm with which we’re comfortable.

In other words, we can let riders ride, and the rest of us can walk freely down the sidewalk, all without worrying that we’ll wind up with a crazy flying-motorcycle-rider-ricochet-related pandemic on our hands. Most accidents will end with just Buford dying. A very few will result in Buford taking out someone else as he dies. And a tiny fraction, almost zero, will die from being hit by Buford’s victim.

Toss in a few helmet laws, licensing restrictions, speed limits, and other “metering” measures, and we only need to be on guard against truly freak accidents. We’re more likely to die from purposefully ingesting fish tank cleaner than we are to die from the issue at hand. And that’s a risk society is willing to take. Enjoy your hobby, friend.

You still with me? Wow, I’m surprised, this is pretty absurd, even by my standards. Good on you. Let’s keep going.

Now, let’s say instead that for every 100,000 riders, 55 die (just as before), but of those 55 that die, all of them now ricochet around and kill, collectively, 61 bystanders. That is, each of them kills at least one person, but a few of them kill two people. I’m a big dude, and I am confident I could take out two bystanders if I became airborne. #goals

And let’s say of those 61 bystanders, amazingly they also bounce around and kill 67 new, different bystanders.

And that 1.1% transmission rate continues ad nauseam.

Suddenly, society has a huge interest in keeping motorcyclists from dying. Society has a legitimate reason to restrain the rights of bikers, because when a mathematically predictable number of them die, they are now also killing massive numbers of innocent people along with them.

And since we don’t want to pay taxes to insure the financial repercussions of flying human…um…literal repercussions, controlling the fallout becomes an economic necessity, too.

“We want as much freedom as we can get, but we want your exercise of your freedoms to conform to our personal preferences. […] And we also don’t want to fund a government program to support our families when our exercise of laissez-faire freedom kills us.”

– Me, several paragraphs earlier. I like to consult the real experts when I write, okay? (points at own head, pupils fully dilated, skin glowing unnaturally).

Here’s the thing: no one gives a White House Rose Garden rat’s ass about your “freedom” if exercising it results in a chain reaction that kills untold thousands upon thousands of people. Your freedom must be restrained, for the survival of all of us.

My personal preference, with regard to freedoms and such, is living. Further, I value keeping my grandma and mom and dad alive. I enjoy keeping my nephews and niece alive, too.

I’m willing to accept some risk in daily life. That’s why I drive a car, walk on the sidewalk, and use elevators. There’s a chance I could die from any of these endeavors, but it’s a tiny chance that is mitigated by safety measures. The risks to myself, but more importantly, to you and your kids, are tiny compared to the efficiency brought about by doing those activities.

But if it’s an actuarial certainty that your “freedom” will kill lots of nieces and nephews and grandmas, it becomes society’s obligation to make your exercise of your freedom conform to our collective, legitimate preference to remain members of CHOTSOD.

And since you’re not willing to pay an exponentially larger tax bill to insure against the predictable consequences of your actions, it’s likewise in society’s economic interest to use its muscle to keep the number of ricocheting Bufords and Buford-adjacents as low as possible. To do otherwise is to knowingly, willingly allow mass deaths and bankrupt the economy.

If these crazy numbers were the case, it would be understandable to ban motorcycles from the freeways. It’d be reasonable to require helmets and give $1000 fines to people who flouted the law. No one would decry the common sense measure of putting a moratorium on motorcycle sales while we tried to get a handle on why we went from a 0.01% to 1.1% death-by-catapulted-person transmission rate.


– Man holding a Confederate flag and a semiautomatic rifle, for some reason unrelated to the matter at hand.

Your desire to exercise the freedoms you had before ceased to be important when the cost of exercising that freedom—in lives and dollars—spilled over to everyone around you.

Bottom line: if we’re only as safe as the most vulnerable among us, and you’re insisting on amplifying the risk to yourself and vulnerable populations, society would be justified in turning on you for the good of our herd.

Society would be justified in thinking you’re short-sighted for demanding to get your way in the light of scientifically provable, actuarial certainty that “getting your way” is a death sentence for the population and the economy.

And society would be justified in dictating what you’re allowed to do, given your demonstration that, left to your own devices, you would do the exact wrong thing for yourself and the rest of us.

* Revs engine on sweet hog and speeds away.

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Need some more Hitting The Trifecta right now? Try this one: Deliver Us From Upheaval. Or how about this one? I Did It My Way (And Failed). You’ll like this one, too: A Letter To My Younger Self.

5 thoughts on “The Bell Tolls For Thee (When Your Head Smacks It)

    • Thanks Ken! Finding myself with a little more time on my hands these days…for better or for worse. Glad you enjoyed it. Hoping to write more in the next week or so.

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