Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"Slight" or "Sleight" of Hand?

Yesterday, just as I passed through the tollway booth, I simultaneously converged with two dudes on Harley hogs in the lane to my right. The fellow farthest from me retrieved a toll tag from his jacket and held it up for rightful passage; the fellow nearest me, with practised precision and timing, rotated his forearm and elbow backwards and downwards, slyly moved his left hand to a horizontal position just above his rear tire, and covered his tag number as he illicitly passed through the booth.

Since the North Texas Tollway Authority photographs all violators, here's what they'll see-a thirty something, wanna be hippie, with bandana-tied stringy hair streaming in the wind, astride a yellow Harley with red flames (how tacky!), tattooed arms barren, and the palm of his left hand blocking out his tag number which, by the way, is 3LX 352.

Just a little gesture of deception, a neat trick of deceit, that sleight of hand; not "slight," as in "small of amount or degree; of little substance, importance, or influence; trivial, frail, or flimsy"; but rather "sleight," as in "a strategy or device applied with skill and dexterity for the purpose of cunning or deceit."

I wondered, how often do such "slight" gestures occur on the tollway; it must be a well known and popular ploy to avoid rightful debt. More broadly, how many such "slight" sins of various kinds occur daily in Dallas, in Texas, in the world. The number must be staggering. It's a wonder our planet doesn't fly off course or sink into a dark hole with the cumulative weight of such "slight" transgressions.

That motorcyclist thought no one noticed, even that no one could notice his "slight" transgression so subtly accomplished by his "sleight" of hand. But Heaven watched, and no soft angel voice whispered "slight" in its hallowed halls, but rather a sevenfold thunder uttered, "SLEIGHT!"

"In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, and our "secret sins in the light of his countenance," perhaps that cyclist will get a hard lesson in spelling.


The Militant Pacifist said...

If he was going to sin, he should have sinned more boldly, like this guy(http://gizmodo.com/5045528/ghetto-disappearing-license-plate-hack-rigged-to-avoid-tolls)

Hippie Fringe said...

I would be more concerned about the State road block where the sheep are lined up in nice rows to be sheered and photographed. Isn't the purpose of a license plate & registration tag to prove that we have paid our road taxes and have right of passage? Do the rich now deserve to get to and from their cushy Northern homes faster than the poor? I can think of several reasons one might buck at the gate but I would thank that dude for teaching you his trick just in case the apparatus of control is ever used for a more sinister purpose than shaking down yuppies of a few farthings or conditioning a general response of manageability. The next time you see that, you may do better to roll down your window, blare the Steppenwolf and give him the devil horns!

Hal Brunson said...

Yes, if they've earned their money through hard work and honesty, the rich deserve it, just as the sleight-of-hand cyclist "deserves" his Harley more than the fellow who can afford only to ride a Honda Scooter. You get what you pay for. Toll roads are indeed just another form of taxation, and they are in fact intended to benefit those for whom the roads are most important, and, admittedly, they serve a certain segregational purpose, economically speaking. That's just capitalism; those who can't afford the tolls have other options.

Hal Brunson said...

By the way, you're voting for Obama, right?

Hippie Fringe said...

Hmmm. No, my white guilt will not be salved this term. I guess I will have to live with my misogyny for another four years as well.

A dollar bill does not care if it was earned fairly or otherwise or if it's use is justified. So how do you propose to extradite the dishonest or lazy rich from the world of panglossian privilege? If some deserve to drive the road and others don't, I find it hard to fault the dude for running the toll. I can understand how, if caught, he would be thrashed once for the offense and twice for almost getting away with it but I stop short of calling a civil snub sin.

Hal Brunson said...

Hippie Fringe,

Honestly, I like your writing, including your tone, very much; you'd get along great with the bloggers on this site. I'm even sympathetic to your point of view on this matter, though ultiamtely I disagree.

With regard to your use of "panglossian," do you know Voltaire?

Hippie Fringe said...

Thank you for your kind words. In the best of all possible worlds there would really be no point (or fun) to a blog if we only exchanged agreement. They didn't spend millions in CERN to shoot all the atoms in the same direction. Anyway, I'm not really sure my point of view is too dissimilar to your own. Yes, Voltaire is still one of my favorites.

Shane said...

Allow me to step out of the periphery and candidly answer the panglossian hippie's objection.

Is there a more equitable way to build and pay for roadways than by having the people who use those roadways pay for same themselves? I'd rather the Harley rider utilizing the turnpike pay for that toll road than have the gummint charge me for it.

The forgotten man in the usual system of paying for roadways is not the bug-toothed Harley-rider driving that road, but the the white-collared commuter who lives, works, and drives in another county or state altogether.

Welcome to the site hippie fringe---love the handle.

Hal Brunson said...

Hippie Fringe,

Volataire is one of my favorites as well; I've taught his "Candide" many times, and I find his wit practically unrivaled. I especially like his essay, "well, Everything is Well." Incidentally, I hope that my reference to, and appreciation of Voltaire signals to you that this is not just another typical blogsite devoted to medicore and predictable "Christian" ideas. As the old man of the blogsite, I've yoked up with younger and smarter bloggers who think "outside the cigar box" with regard to issues from a Christian perspective. I don't know your religious persuasions, if any, nor would I superficially or offensively probe them, but I hope you'll continue to drop in and express your points of view.

By the way, on the day that Steppenwolf's first album was released, I was in the record store and was memorably stunned by "The Pusher." My own tastes were a little more traditional-Jimi, Zeppelin, The Dead, Dylan, and the Stones. But I must admit that "Born to be Wild" is a genuine classic for all times.

Hippie Fringe said...

Those were good days in many ways Hal. Magic Carpet Ride was my fav. I also appreciate you sensitivity. Every man should be ready to give account of his faith. I've enjoyed the dialog and will keep up from time to time as my circumstances allow, as long as that is welcome.

Hello Shane, I do have a pony tail at the moment (of the hippie variety) but I would not associate myself with anything panglossian or even monoglossian. Class distinctions aside, my point was not really to debate the fairness of State funding methods. In fact my first post only included this argument as a possible moral justification of civil disobedience (not necessarily mine). If I were to argue the toll, I would probably point out that I believe you have assumed that the road has not already been paid for and the "man" is not just milking everyone because we have become so conditioned that we resent and would probably even turn in any dissenters or at least take down the plate. I may content that the expanding DFW tax base should be more than sufficient to provide a populist solutions such as hi speed rail. Frankly, I don't care too much about the toll. I do care about how we perceive each other and the world around us. Other than that; it’s much to do about nothing. Do you think it is a sin to run a check point? Can you imagine any circumstance that you would run one? Do you perceive blue collar workers (to revive a draconian model) differently than the white collar variety?

Shane said...


A toll road is a service, akin to a subway ride. Patrons of that service are charged a fee. When that fee is intentionally not paid, it is a sin.

Of course, there are exigent circumstances where I'd run the toll, but not where I'd cover my license plate. If you simply run the toll without immediately paying, you are sent a bill. I would gladly pay the bill, and have several times where I've gone through a toll and didn't have change on me. Once I received the bill, I paid it. I don't think Jean Valjean's bolting through that checkpoint covering his license plate. Tough for me to imagine an honorable situation in which (1) the person didn't pay immediately, and (2) prevented a bill from being sent to him by covering his plate.

There is a difference between a blue collar worker and a white collar worker. If there were no differences between the two, there wouldn't be two categories.

The difference I was pointing out, or attempting to point out, is that people generally view the blue collar guy as the forgotten man who needs government assistance. He's in crisis because the world is passing him by. He needs re-education, new training, social security, and a safety net, they say. While the white collar worker is viewed as a mollycoddled, college educated piggy bank, from which the government may make as many withdrawals as it likes. These are, of course, generalities, to which exceptions abound. Many blue collar workers make a killing, and are progressively taxed.

But, policies regarding taxing and highways are based on generalities, so I stand by the post.

Hal Brunson said...

Hippie Fringe,

I think I know you, well.

Hippie Fringe said...

I have enjoyed this discussion. I hope it has been enjoyable for you as well. I guess it boils down to this for me: When we ascribe sin with implications of eternal consequence to a specific person, we have moved out of the realm of of general and into the realm of personal. A crime? Definitely! A sin? Our judgment is tainted by our perception of the parties and their motivations. If it were a Christian with forged papers fleeing a Nazi check point, our perception and judgment would be different, thought the action still a crime. Mans law is not God's law or vice-versa. As for mans law, I tend to err on the side of the individual rather than the government. Shane, I support the fair tax and share your angst up to the point that such arguments can cross over into elitism. I appreciate your points gentlemen; well said. Hal, I do believe we are friends.

Hal Brunson said...


I think you've missed the point, which is not whether failure to pay a toll or lying to Nazis is a sin versus a crime; the issue is deception without ethical justification. This is the essence of Kierkegaard's ethical dilemma at which point a true leap of faith occurs and one becomes "a knight of infinite resignation." Kierkegaard's technical definition of such a moral dilemma he calls "the teleological suspension of the ethical," meaning that, in the throes of a moral dilemma, one may "suspend" a lower ethic, even though it be absolute, toward the "teleology"-the higher purpose-of a transcending ethic. Kierkegaard cites Abraham's ethical dilemma as the preeminent biblical example of "the teleological suspension of the ethical." Kierkegaard notes that the commandment, "Thou shalt not murder," forbade Abraham to slay Isaac; however, Kierkegaard argues, the immediate, personal command of Yahweh to Abraham, "take now thy son, thine only son," ethically transcended the prohibiton of murder (an inexplicable and terrifying mystery except when we consider that God's commandment to Abraham represented a divinely ordained matephor to foreshadow Yahweh's sacrifice of His own Son). By obeying God, Abraham took a leap of faith and became "a knight of infinite resignation" through a teleological, that is, a purposeful suspension of a lower ethic in obedience to a higher one. Rahab's lie would be another biblical example. The classic historical example of "the teleological suspension of the ethical" indeed involves the Nazis, when Corrie Ten Boom "lied" to Nazis to protect ethnic Jews wrongly persecuted and potentially murdered. With regard to the motorcyclist who deceived by the hand-covered tag, he may indeed have rationalized that his act of deception was justified in light of some higher ethic in his mind, such as government persecution or unfair taxation, which seems to be your point, but any armchair philosopher would be hard pressed to prove the absolute existence of such a transcending ethic that justified the sleight of hand; paying a toll threatened neither his life nor limb; it simply asked for three quarters to pay for his use of the road; hardly a Blitzkrieg. In fact, to the contrary, tollroads protect life by providing better and safer highways; but, again, tolls are not the issue; deception is, and without a definitive, defensible, and demonstrable proof of an immutable, absolute, and transcendent ethic that motivated and justified the cyclist's deception, he is certainly no "knight of infinite resignation" but just a pitiable would-be revolutionary defining his life by an adolescent rock song, "full of sound and fury and signifying nothing."

If you are playing the devil's advocate, I understand; but if you are troubled by calling deception sin, I suspect that you are defending the rationalized, unethical actions of someone else.

"Speaking the truth in love."

Hippie Fringe said...

I feel like we are straining gnats but in the broader application the issues are relevant. Personally, I would pay the toll because I believe I should, even if I disagree with it; which I don’t. I agree, that dude was a cheat and I would have probably grinned when I saw it because I have a bit of “fight the power” in me, but I would have also given him a raised “oh well” eyebrow had he been immediately pulled over and handcuffed. I’m not going to get behind his cause, whatever that may be, but I’m not going to carry a tally book and hellfire either. I know that I have slowed down when I saw an officer with a radar gun and then sped up once past, which is not too dissimilar a deception.

I am not offended by the “arm chair” slights as I have a much lower view of sophists these days. It is common to use extremes to examine an issue. Applying Aristotelian logic: if Christians with forged papers is not a sin, then it is at least reasonable to consider that a biker with a shifty hand may not be a sin. Of course the same argument could be used to suggest that monkeys can fly and the similarity drawn between A & B, alone, can not settle the mater. I use this because it has been helpful to me in changing my perceptions and tendency to judge people or go along with the media when it destroys people with limited facts and skewed perceptions.

I believe the issue, as you have described it, is deception and theft without justification. If there had been no deception there still would have been theft which I’m sure you believe is a both a crime and a sin. Ultimately, if there had been no crime, there would have been no sin, so these too are bound to some degree. In fact, the course of much of this discussion has been where that thread unravels. My ultimate point has never been the justification of the biker’s actions or motivations but rather your/our perception and judgment. I do not think that any of us, including Kierkegaard, is qualified to lift the gabble of heaven. Even mans law uses a jury of peers. Subordinate to this, I have argued that our judgment is tainted by perceptions which are fallible, malleable & mutable. I do not think we err to apply tolerance and deference when considering the actions of others, though those actions would violate our own conscience.

Is it sin to commit a crime against a government based on an “ethical” self interest? That depends on the perception (I use “perception” because we are dealing with a 3rd part perspective; if it were a 1st party perspective, I would use “motivation”, “conviction”, “higher law”, etc.). I do not think your illustration is the only ethic that justifies civil disobedience or even deception or that it is a sin to oppose an ethically objectionable law or oppressive government, including one loosely based on Muslim law for example. If you disagree with me on this point, I wonder if you believe that our country was birthed out of sin and that we should ultimately still be an English Colony. Should slaves still serve their masters as long as such service did not threaten life or limb? I don’t think our forefathers sinned when they dumped the tea (I wonder if they wore masks). I don’t think Rosa Park sinned when she refused to get off the bus or that the civil rights demonstrators sinned in Birmingham as they were beaten for refusing to disburse and go home (admittedly, more wild comparisons). If this is indeed where you end up, I can respect that but I respectfully disagree.

Hal Brunson said...

The arm-chair reference was not a slight at you; you last post proves you are not merely an arm-chair dilettante; I meant it only as an illustration.

Yes, I am a Tory at heart, but not loyal to every king.