• David Redding

NATURAL LINES OF DRIFT: The Path of Least Resistance

Natural lines of drift are those paths across terrain that are the most likely to be used when going from one place to another. These paths are paths of least resistance: those that offer the greatest ease while taking into account obstacles and modes of transit.


The picture above is a pretty good example of how natural lines of drift work. It shows the southern side of Freedom Park in Charlotte. The sidewalk bending towards the right leads to the southern entrance to the park on Princeton Avenue (which is not shown in the picture). The county put that sidewalk in to control foot traffic through the park.

The dirt path leading through the trees also exits onto to Princeton Avenue, but at a place about fifty feet away from the entrance. That path gets a tremendous amount of foot traffic from people entering the park—obviously, or it wouldn’t be there. The county didn’t build that path and doesn’t want people to use it. It would prefer people to walk the extra fifty feet to the entrance where the sidewalk begins.

The reason why the dirt path exists is that it is the most likely route from one place to another—it is the path of least resistance along the natural line of drift. The county could put up some signs or a fence to discourage it’s use (frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t), but it wouldn’t do any good. People will not naturally abandon a natural line of drift because it would be unnatural to do so. Natural lines of drift are powerful things.

In 1919, the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, prohibiting the production, sale, and transport of intoxicating liquors. It was overturned fourteen years later by the 21st Amendment. In the interim, alcohol was produced and delivered by organized criminal syndicates to the vast portion of the country that was unwilling to abide by Prohibition even though they had to break the law to do it.

Apparently, beer, wine and liquor are destinations along the natural line of drift for a lot of people. The government’s attempt to curtail drinking through the most draconian measures at its command were a failure. There were too many people who were unwilling to stop drinking and you cannot make people depart a natural line of drift by mandating it.

Which brings me to the current issue of mask and vaccine mandates. I’m not a doctor and have no idea or opinion on whether masks or vaccines are effective, although it seems likely that they are and any person who believes it to be true should avail themselves of both. I’m also not opposed to the government encouraging masks and vaccines if it has reasonably concluded them to be effective. Public health is certainly within the government’s scope of responsibility.

But if that encouragement should prove unsuccessful (which seems to be the case so far), I don’t think the government should take the step of mandating masks and vaccines—not because I don’t believe that they are ineffective or dangerous—but because, for too many people, that would require a departure from the natural line of drift. A large percentage of the population would be forced into same type of petty criminality that drinkers found themselves in during Prohibition.

Just as Prohibition did not work and produced the unintended consequence of rampant organized crime, a mask or vaccination mandate would likewise both fail and result in unintended consequences that might be worse than the original problem.

Natural lines of drift don’t change by forcing people along an unnatural path, they change because people recalibrate the path of least resistance—and the only effective way to influence that is through persuasion.