In a recent article I wrote about the Miami Critical Mass event I stated that the people taking part were abusing the "privilege" of riding a bicycle on the road.
A couple of people called me on this, stating that cycling is a right not a privilege. The argument being that a right cannot be taken away, whereas a privilege can.
My choice of words however, did not change the meaning of what I said, and the word "right" actually strengthened my argument.
If it is a right for us to ride our bikes on the road, all the more reason not to abuse that right by assembling in large numbers and blocking city streets to other road users.
It did however get me asking myself, what is a right? There are so called God given rights, but as people have the right to choose whether they believe in God or not, how does that work?
If you don't believe in God, do you have any God given rights? Are you obliged to respect other people's God given rights? As it is, the only one I can think of is our right to live.
Even that doesn’t count for much as laid out in my last piece, where a young couple riding a tandem bicycle had their lives taken by a person in a Ford truck, who was on the road driving as a privilege.
If you look at The Bill of Rights there are very few actual rights. The right to bear arms, the right to practice a religion of your choice, etc.
After that it appears the function of government (In theory anyway.) is to leave us alone, and we are free to do as we please as long as it doesn't include criminal activities. A problem arises when the rights of one group impede the rights of others.
For example when automobiles first appeared there were no laws or regulations, you could simply buy a car, jump in and drive it. Pretty much in the same way as we can buy a bicycle today and ride it anywhere.
Later because of wholesale carnage on the roads, laws were passed and licenses issued to drivers. Driving became a privilege that could be taken away. Today it seems, this is a privilege that people are rarely deprived of, at least in the US.
It appears to me that rights are rarely granted, they are simply taken for granted. Is riding a bicycle on the highway is a prime example this?
I know to even suggest such a thing will cause outrage among a great many cyclists, but before we all get our anti-bacterial padded shorts in a twist, let’s think about this.
In recent years cell phones have become available and some assume it is their right to own one and talk and send text messages whenever they please, including while driving.
It turns out this is not a good idea so in some places this practice is being outlawed. Have people lost a right, or was it just an assumed right in the first place?
A few years ago, people had the right to smoke just about anywhere they pleased. However, that right infringed on everyone else’s right not to breathe secondhand smoke. So, now that right has gradually been taken away, and smokers are now privileged to smoke in fewer and fewer places.
Because riding a bicycle on public roads is for the most part not a danger to other road users, it is doubtful than anyone will stop us doing it.
Cycling is a good idea. It cuts down on congestion in our cities, it is better for the environment, and it should be encouraged because it is good for the physical and mental well being of the participant.
My point is, are there any true rights or privileges, or just an ongoing daily debate among millions of people, on the streets, on the talk shows and in the courtrooms?
We all have certain rights, and we get to keep them as long as they don't infringe on the rights of others. If they do we may lose those rights, it is happening all the time.
In which case there is little difference between rights and privileges; either can be taken away.