Rant and Rave


It Won't Be Long Now...

by Tom Magliozzi

Actually, it may be too late already. Here's my opinion, as I sit pondering the cosmos whirling about me. What I see is disturbing, or maybe it's simply the natural order of things. What I see is a continuing deterioration of respect. Respect for people, authority, laws, rules--and ultimately, in my humble opinion--for civilized society.

After all, what is a society except a group of creatures (not necessarily human creatures) who have decided on a set of rules by which they will abide?

It's rather fragile. Who will decide which behaviors are acceptable and which are not? In the wild, it's usually the biggest and most powerful of the creatures who "decides." In human societies, the same is mostly true: the biggest and most powerful decide. We would hope, though, that in human societies, large size and power will be somewhat tempered by reason--a characteristic that, we like to think, separates us from wasps, wolves and the like. But, maybe not.

In nearly all societies (including animal societies, primitive societies and more sophisticated "advanced" societies), it becomes the responsibility of the "leaders" to teach others the difference between what is acceptable behavior and what is not. The mother lion teaches the cubs to be quiet when she--the mother--is on the hunt for food; in primitive societies, those exhibiting unacceptable behavior are punished or ostracized.

But what happens when a larger, stronger creature decides to challenge the norms of acceptability? Can it not replace the previously held views of acceptability with its own? In societies where groupings or coalitions form, cannot the new faction, given enough power, supplant the old views with new? And thus the society becomes different. Existing members of the society must either leave the group or learn to conform to the new rules.

In so-called democracies, the rules of acceptability appear to be determined not by the wisest members of the society, but by the largest coalitions--be they wise, foolish or something else. For it is their numbers, not their wisdom, that imbue them with the powers of leadership.

And so, here is my prediction--with a warning--or perhaps a call to action.

The coalition with the largest numbers--or so it appears--is a coalition that is choosing to abolish the rules of respect. The members of this coalition are attempting to supplant existing rules of respect. Supplanting such widely held and accepted views in a society is a risky business. One may secretly hold a view that is deemed unacceptable--but how can one tell if his views are shared by others? For, if he is alone, he risks being ostracized by the current leaders. To minimize this risk, he must "test the waters." One method of testing is to express the questionable view anonymously. If it elicits support, he can then identify himself as the source. If others object in large numbers, he is safe, since they know not whose view it is.

And where, in our current society, is one to find a veil of anonymity from which to expose his views? One relatively anonymous venue is one's car. We see on our roads a spectacular display of selfishness and lack of respect and consideration for others--all anonymous. This disrespectful behavior is gaining the support of others who also care only for themselves. They support the position of disrespectfulness by following the lead of the new order--the Disrespecters. Every day their numbers grow.

Their position is one of utter and complete selfishness and appears to be this:

Do whatever you want to do if it gets you what you want. Take whatever you want. Have no regard for the rights, feelings or desires of others. If you must "push and shove" to get your way, so be it. If you don't feel like waiting for the light to turn green, don't. If you don't want to stop for the stop sign, don't. If you want to drive faster--much faster--than the law allows, go ahead. You will get away with it most of the time. And don't forget, you're anonymous. The police mostly won't see you, and those private citizens who do see you are powerless. Sure, they can report your behavior to the police, but the response from the police is, "We can't punish someone for behavior we did not witness." The risks of this behavior are few.

Two things have changed in the past few decades. One is that most people used to behave in accordance with the rules simply because it was "the right thing to do." Conscience? Superego? These concepts are unknown to the Disrespecter.

Secondly, it used to be that the scofflaw was admonished for unacceptable behavior. The police gave tickets and respectable members of society ostracized the violators. No more. The violators now appear to be the establishment, and those attempting to follow the traditional rules are the ones being ostracized. Try to drive at the speed limit--you can't. On the circumferential highway that circles Boston (Route 95, formerly Route 128), the speed limit is 55 miles per hour. Not a single vehicle follows this rule. Not one. Try it at your peril. Disrespecters will surround you, flashing lights, blowing horns and making obscene gestures. The police do nothing.

And it will get worse. Because as the Disrespecters gain numbers and therefore power, they will expand their behavior beyond the roads. Leading ultimately to, "If you want something--anything--take it."

It won't be long now; actually, it may be too late already.

It seems that if any members of the old order--the Respecters--still exist, they are silent. Or frightened into paralysis. Unaware if they are still a majority or are now a small minority in the new order.

Should there be any Respecters still among us, it may be time to act. To take back the society we once had. We evidently cannot rely on the police to defend the old ways. They too have succumbed. They are not on our side. If something is to be done, we few must do it. Perhaps we will discover that our numbers are not so few. For we too have been anonymous. We have been frightened into the belief that we cannot identify ourselves as members of the old order for fear of reprisal from the new order.

But what to do?

I've thought about this a little. Specifically about the behavior on the roads.

In nearly all cases, we are indeed powerless. When a Disrespecter goes through a stop sign--cutting us off--he is soon gone. Should we chase him? And if we catch him, do what? If he cuts into a line of traffic illegally, he is, again, ahead of us and soon gone. Anonymously gone.

It occurs to me that there is only one situation where we have a slight advantage: tailgating. It is the only situation in which we have the position of power, for we are in front of the perpetrator. The only situation in which we might possibly be able to exercise some semblance of control. It seems to be the only situation in which we can identify ourselves as members of the old order, and in so doing, seek support from other members of the old order. By identifying ourselves, we offer an opportunity for others also to identify themselves.

And to make a statement: "We are members of the old order. The old order is powerful. The old order will not allow or condone the behavior of the Disrespecters. We are many. We have greater numbers than you."

I ask your advice regarding this call to action. What can we do?

There are various approaches. Here are some:

We could, for example, immediately express our disapproval to a tailgater--by immediately slowing to a crawl.

We could use bumper stickers identify ourselves as the old order. And, since there is strength in numbers, we would gain new power by identifying ourselves. On roads like Boston's Route 128, we could form a "moving roadblock" traveling at the speed limit. Doing the job the police refuse to do.

We could speak to our legislators; this isn't my style, but it might be yours. For example, a "manifesto" of some kind with 5,000 (voters') signatures attached might get someone's attention.


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