Morally exposed 

Here's a solution to the naked bike ride controversy

Due to circumstances wholly within my control, I will be out of town during the Bare As You Dare bicycle ride. For me, it will be like the event never happened.

Probably I will read about it from afar, and maybe people will still be talking about it when I get back, so in that sense it will be real. But operatively, the naked bike does not exist for me. I mention this because my experience of Bare As You Dare is almost exactly the same as that of the people who oppose it, except those people are going insane.

Perhaps you heard about the recent Missoula City Council meeting, with the outrage and the complaining and the traumatizing of children. Opponents of the naked bike ride spoke for 90 minutes, issuing a variety of condemnations and warnings about our moral fiber.

The pleasingly named Leroy Lowry said he had "never seen anything so disgusting" as the city's decision to permit the event. Valentine Simonovich warned that "our children will be scarred for life if they ever see something like this," which only raises the question of how like a naked bike ride something must be to scar a child.

Spin class? Uncooked dough falling onto a wire hanger? Council did not pursue this line of inquiry, opting instead to give the floor to 16-year-old Tessa Fausett. She warned that people with disabilities, who are "sweet and childlike," will be irreparably harmed, adding:

"As a Christian and a Mormon, I stand for purity. And I would like to ask everyone here what they stand for, and I think when people think of Missoula, Mont., they should think of it as a place that stands for goodness."

With due respect to Fausett, who seems thoughtful and articulate, this is why we shouldn't let teenagers speak at council meetings. It's nice that this child regards disabled adults as children and herself as a symbol of purity, but the role of Missoula government is not to uphold a religious youth group's notion of goodness.

The role of Missoula government is to help us all live in this mountain valley together, with minimal intrusion on one another's lives. And given the problem that some people don't want to see naked people on bicycles, I can think of a nongovernmental solution: those people can stay home.

click to enlarge Opinion_NudeBike.jpg

Bare As You Dare lasts for one hour. It follows a predetermined path described in its permit application, so those churchgoing extroverts who cannot bear to stay indoors for 60 minutes can still stay off the route. With a little foresight, restraint or flexibility—far less than that required to address a council meeting—these people can experience the naked bike ride the way I will: as if it never happened.

But that's the difference between such people and me. Naked cycling is not my thing, so I am content to not experience it. Naked cycling is not their thing, either, but somehow they are bothered that anyone is experiencing it at all.

Here we encounter the difference between ethics and morals. From the standpoint of municipal government, ethics are concerned with how we impact one another. Bare As You Dare is not unethical, since the ride will not affect anyone who doesn't come out to watch. But morals remain insistently concerned with what people do, whether it affects the rest of us or not.

Ethics have no problem with a naked bike ride, but morals cannot bear it. While ethical people worry about how they are treating others, moral people worry about how others treat themselves.

I am here to tell you that morals have no place in city government. We should shut them out at every opportunity, lest a vocal minority of busybodies demand control over all our lives.

Perhaps I am indulging in hyperbole here. But if the very existence of nude cycling threatens to scar children and embitter the disabled, maybe letting church people tell the city to tell people how much clothing to wear is dangerous, too.

This problem is not easily solved, since those of us who do not care what other people do are at a disadvantage in local politics. We tend not to show up, whereas busybodies love a public forum. They have a plan for themselves and a plan for us, too. That's their whole thing.

Our thing should be to make fun of them. With all due respect to their religions, their religions deserve no respect in the corridors of city council chambers.

We already have a system for determining our collective values and what we intend to do about them, and we vote from time to time to uphold it. That's how Missoula decides who will ride a bicycle, and how naked they can be: with permits and municipal ordinances, not a book transcribed from golden tablets via magic stones. City government is for all of us. The guardians of goodness keep appointing themselves, but I don't remember voting for any of them.

Dan Brooks writes about culture, politics and body image at combatblog.net. His column appears every other week in the Independent.

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