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Against Speed Traps

By James M. Larkin, None

Consider the silver Volvo 940 station wagon, getting on in years and miles, but not yet spent. At certain moments—full of folks, lacing homeward through more or less verdant New England highlands—it seems almost joyful, purring the meaningful purr of a world-weary cat. Now, consider the capped and casual New Hampshire state trooper perched alongside Interstate 89 who, with a radar gun and a wave of his mighty hand, might snare that family vehicle just as Tony Soprano might spear a bit of veal on the end of a fork.

We live in a nation of laws. This much is understood, and none among us would argue the fact. Still, only very few among us would argue that our edicts are immortal, immutable, or even always pertinent. As our sitting attorney general once said: “Not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime.”

If Mr. Mukasey’s mind can harbor such considerable doubt on the applicability of the law over which he nominally presides, the upstanding citizen must be permitted a degree of skepticism with regard to the more picayune demands of that same law (for example, speed limits, and the pettier larcenies).

It may prove helpful to think of the various penny-ante admonitions of the powers-that-be in a given free nation-state as ‘strong suggestions,’ rather than written legislation or penal code, even if in every case they are of the latter class. With this perspective in mind, one can think of various infractions not as crimes, but as differing viewpoints being vocalized in a long and robust debate about what should and should not be tolerated by the agents of paternalism.

Of course it follows that the trooper already conjured is predisposed to feel very differently about the speed limit. He likely has some incentive to racking up a certain number of dollars in traffic violations, reaching into the pockets of those very libertines—modern-day Patrick-Henries, all—whose tax-averse lifestyle the Granite State so loudly pretends to endorse. Perhaps this individual only likes seeing road-trip bonheur melt into something worse. There’s really no way of knowing.

The point is that the power dynamic is such in the modern day that our hypothetical driver, the classical Ubermensch, has lost all his purchase in these misguided States. Let us not forget that ours is the land that once acquitted Aaron Burr, a former vice president and notable murderer, of his active conspiracy against the United States and his plan to become the ‘Emperor of Mexico.’ Surely the same nation must tolerate a little overzealous acceleration?

Even if not, shouldn’t the system be a little more meticulous and franker than the arbitrary placement of police cruisers beyond kinks in the road, under bridges and behind bushes? If my original plan to permit quick drivers in question a ten-second ‘head-start’ will not be tolerated—and I’m sure it won’t be—then mightn’t we at least trust motorists to cope with highly accurate and high-visibility cameras, placed nearly everywhere? We would save taxpayer dollars, reduce payouts to detail police workers and no longer have to rely on ceaseless human error. This plan worked for Great Britain and it could work for us, once we got over the incredible initial intrusion.

My point is this: if America were really America today, I wouldn’t have received that speeding ticket. If, state of New Hampshire Police Department, you can all sleep soundly knowing that you took Felipe’s money for a week on some trumped-up charge, all while your license plates proclaim their libertarian ethos, then do so happily. But the Old Man of the Mountain is gone, and nothing’s going to bring it back. I’ll see you in court.

James M. Larkin ’10, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is a social studies concentrator in Quincy House.

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