An abbreviated history of the seat belt:

  • 1922 – Barney Oldfield installs the first three-point restraining harness in his Indy 500 car.
  • 1959: Nils Bohlin invents the three-point seat belt/shoulder harness for Volvo. To encourage automobile safety Volvo gives the design away free to all automobile manufacturers.
  • 1968: Lyndon Johnson signs mandate that all new cars must be equipped with the three-point safety harness into law.
  • 1973: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandates new cars must have a seatbelt interlock mechanism installed, preventing cars from starting unless the seat belt is engaged.
  • 1974: Congress repeals the mandatory seat belt interlock law.
  • 1984: New York State passes law requiring all drivers to wear their seat belts. Between then and now all states except Hew Hampshire have passed similar laws, extended beyond drivers to all passengers.
  • 2000: Nils Bohlin dies. Volvo estimates his invention had saved in excess of 1 million lives.
  • 2021: Some drivers still refuse to wear seat belts because “You can’t make me.” Many Americans refuse to receive COVID-19 vaccinations for the same reason.

Imagine you’re enough of a libertarian to oppose the “nanny state” on principle whether it is nannying about seatbelts or vaccinations.

Also imagine you accept the by-now-overwhelming evidence that the major COVID-19 vaccines are, like seatbelts, safe and effective.

Further imagine you accept that wearing seatbelts mitigates the harm from car crashes, making them less lethal or crippling, just as COVID-19 vaccinations reduce the morbidity and lethality of an infection. But unlike seatbelts, which don’t reduce the odds of being in an accident, vaccines do reduce the odds of becoming infected.

Next: Read or review Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and use it to justify the proposition that even though using seatbelts can save you from death and severe injury, the political point you’ll make is worth the risk. With some ingenuity you can probably manage this, as when you refuse to wear a seatbelt you only endanger yourself … assuming, of course, you have no family that needs you alive and healthy.

Now try to justify the parallel proposition about vaccines.

With FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine for general use, we can expect an increasing number of employers mandating vaccination, following the advice given here a few weeks ago (admittedly, most of them didn’t know I’d given it, but I’ll take credit for it anyway). And with the current surge we can also anticipate a return to mask plus social-distancing mandates.

“You can’t make me!” isn’t much of a moral proposition. It isn’t what you’d call thoughtful. “Childish” seems like the more appropriate adjective.

Bob’s last word: In Horsefeathers, Groucho sang:

Your proposition may be good

But let’s have one thing understood:

Whatever it is, I’m against it

And even when you’ve changed it or condensed it

I’m against it.

For those who miss the point, the song is supposed to be satire.

Bob’s sales pitch: just published another essay from yours truly. I think you’ll like it. But you’ll never know if you don’t read it. You’ll find it here, in “The three IT processes CIOs need most.”