Ethics and Morals

Unseen Regulation

I was listening to a podcast, talking about the Emperor of Japan, and what he was warped into during the regime that took over following Commodore Perry’s contact with Japan that basically ripped them out of their somewhat self-inflicted seclusion and took them virtually overnight from a medieval world into the Industrial Revolutionary era. I’ve written before about the European response to the Industrial Revolution, but I hadn’t really considered the response of Japan to it… The podcast is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, if you’re curious. I find it difficult to listen to as a chunk – man does 4-6 hour episodes. I have trouble digesting all that at a sitting – but I do enjoy it for a long car ride. It was fascinating to consider something he brought up, and something that applies to all of us. Well, all of us in a free world. Which arguably the Japanese emperor then, and later, did not live in. He was an avatar of a god, by teaching, and as such his powers were near limitless. But he didn’t – mostly – wield them.

Which is what got me thinking. We all of us have far more power than we choose to use. Mostly, that’s because we realize that using that power is a phenomenally Bad Idea. We are bounded and guided by the unseen regulation of our daily behavior. I was teaching the Junior Mad Scientist, during the drive, some of the laws of the road, and the rules of the road, which are not necessarily the same. Being on an interstate where the lifeblood of a nation’s commerce passes through, we were sharing the road with a lot of semi-trucks. I can remember having these lessons from my uncle and grandfather, both of whom had driven semi-trucks, and now I’m passing them on to her as she’s studying for her temporary license. Don’t crowd the big trucks, I told her. You can, but it’s a dumb idea, it makes the truck driver nervous which isn’t nice… and that’s what it is. It’s the internal restraint that regulates our outward behavior. It’s rude to cut someone off in traffic. It’s also dangerous. With a big truck, as you pass, waiting until you can see both their headlights in your rearview mirror before you come over into their lane is not only courteous, it’s safer for everyone involved. Sometimes you don’t have a choice in traffic, but in general you want to be conscious of giving space, lots of space.

In a car vs semi situation, the semi is the Emperor. In a car vs pedestrian, though, it’s the car driver that is in power. As I said, we all have power we choose not to wield. Except some people do. They break through the internal bounds and go rogue. In a just society, a civil one, this has consequences. Often severe ones, if you are talking about what a car can do to a pedestrian. The Ginja Ninja has seen what being a discourteous driver can do – as she and a group of schoolmates were about to cross a street, one driver stopped (as was the law in that state) at the crosswalk. A car approaching from behind, in a hurry, perhaps not seeing (I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt, here. Personally I’m betting she saw it, and didn’t care) the crosswalk, came around the stopped car to pass them… and struck two young girls, killing one of them instantly. In a world where seconds matter, leave for work in a timely fashion. Don’t rush. You don’t have to be there that urgently. I don’t know what happened to the driver, but I do wonder just what it was she was trying to accomplish that was worth more to her than the life of a child.

There’s a famous quote: an armed society is a polite society. I hear it often when issues of gun control are being discussed. What it is, of course, is the seen regulation of behavior, versus the ingrained societal regulation of behavior that keeps us in check for the most part in modern society. Yes, the guy next to you might be carrying a weapon, but you’re unlikely to see it. Does that invisibility make you more likely to commit a crime he could easily stop? No. What keeps you in check isn’t the threat of violence, although that can be a factor – look at studies on which houses are more likely to be broken into, the ones with signs declaring they have alarms? Or those without? I wonder if anyone has studied this on houses with big barking dogs inside them, or the silly signs declaring the house under the watch of Smith and Wesson. However, a society where the military-style arms are prominently on display is not going to be more polite. On the surface, perhaps. Certainly given the cultural influence of generations, it may make a difference – looking back at Japan, the samurai moving from warrior to oligarchy ruled with an iron thumb that was made possible by their military prowess, and their society was very clean, very well-organized, and near totalitarian with the equivalent of thought police, to enable those in power to maintain their power.

The unseen regulation cuts both ways. It keeps the warp and weft of society intact, but that can mean that the individual, as a thread, is forced violently into contortions they would not have chosen, due to societal pressures. There comes a point when we need to draw that which regulates us to sight, and examine it. make choices about what parts of it we can dispense with – blinkered following of the officials in power – and the parts we want to keep – not cutting off a semi travelling at 70 mph on the interstate.

8 thoughts on “Unseen Regulation

  1. While it may be true that an armed society is a polite society, it does not necessarily follow that an armed individual is a polite individual. Why I can’t recall the name, I don’t know, but the Heinlein work that featured unarmed men wearing brassards, with the average person carrying a pistol, had as a key plot point the intended murder of an unsuspecting person over a contrived incident. I’ve been concealed carrying for mumble years now, and it does tend to make me immune to trivial crap that used to anger me, such as aggressive drivers, However, it only makes ME more polite. It has no effect on anyone else. The rule is much like that in Dr. Strangelove, where the whole value of the Doomsday Device is lost if no-one else knows about it.
    With respect to driving: in 1973, I was told that before a London cab driver could get their license, they had to spend a year traveling the city on a motorcycle, That sensitized them to traffic conditions (a truth, yes it is) as well as gave them familiarity with the streets. I think people would be MUCH less likely to intrude into the path of a semi if they knew just how hard they worked to get up to speed, and how hard it was to stop them slowly. The worst cases I have seen are those cars which dart in front of a semi coming down a hill and then slow down. The semi driver KNOWS that if they don’t have enough momentum at the bottom of THAT hill, they aren’t gonna make it up the next without downshifting significantly.
    I spent several years with a motorcycle as my only form of transportation. It gave me a GREAT appreciation for things like weather, smells left from a dumped load of frozen chickens after a week, and the need for UTTER situational awareness. If it didn’t kill and maim so many of the people who ride, I’d love to make that a condition for getting a license to drive a four-wheeled vehicle.

    1. I think that’s true, about the possibility of your victim being armed being a much greater deterrent than knowing that you’re entering a ‘gun free’ zone where your victims are… victims.

      And I have never ridden a motorcycle and don’t mean to start now. But I was a bicyclist and know how small and frail they are versus cars on the road, so I keep a close eye out. But then again, most bicyclists need taught how to obey the LAWS, much less the rules of the roads, because it seems that most I have shared the road with were idiots. I came up on a whole pack of them one time, on a windy narrow New England road, and it was dark, and I think one of them had some sort of light, and maybe only three had reflector things. It was a mess. I was terrified, and I was the one in a car.

      1. One of the things I did like about East Germany was the insistence that children learn road laws and get a license… to ride a bicycle outside of their own neighborhoods. One of the things they DID teach was if you got hit by a car, expect that you’ll be badly injured at least, if not killed, and you were expected to have a high level of situational awareness, because the car driver might NOT see you, as you were much smaller. The license was either free, or very cheap (perhaps 5 marks, mostly for the cost of the ID photo) and they had a practice road area that included a miniature railway crossing. And your bicycle was required to have two rear-view mirrors, working brakes, and either a horn or a bell. (This was the era before helmets were universally required.)

        One of the things that consistently appalls me is that most cyclists here in Australia don’t HAVE those rear view mirrors. I always have the heebie jeebies not knowing what’s behind me on the road when on a bicycle.

        And I’ve noticed since then that yes, cyclists on the road tend to be giant assholes. I’m like, do you know physics, you flaming idiots? There was a news article about a cyclist riding on the road with the cars… with a very empty bicycle lane next to her. That’s someone I would not be sympathetic to if she got hit by a car and died, since what she was doing was pretty much an invitation for an accident.

        1. Cyclists became assholes in direct proportion to the laws that gave cyclists the right-of-way over motor traffic. Back in the era when cyclists had to fend for themselves, asshole behavior was fairly rare (and you could spot the assholes in advance — they were the ones on the expensive touring bikes), and I’d hazard that car-vs-bike was much less common than it is today.

          There was also a study a while back on riding with or without a helmet. Turns out helmeted riders get into more car-vs-bike wrecks, probably for the same reason — they feel invulnerable, ride accordingly, and besides, in the eyes of the law the car is always wrong.

          1. Bicycles were a very common form of transport when I was there, and in West Germany. Children and adults rode them everywhere. We were pretty free range.

            Cyclists did NOT have right of way over motor traffic; in fact I clearly remember that one of the reasons for the rear view mirrors was to move out of the way – FOR OUR OWN SAFETY! – or get off the road if the bicycle rider deemed it safer than staying on the road (such as in areas where it’s too narrow for both to occupy the road at the same time).

    2. Sadly, a lot of truck drivers today aren’t truck drivers.

      They can’t drive AT ALL– just when they’re in a truck, it’s easier to see. Took me quite a bit of watching to figure out the pattern was that they were driving a loaded simi exactly like the idiots in rollerskate cars that cut trucks off. Same thing with the standard issue idiot driver in an SUV.

      I don’t know how to fix it; I do know they tend to pride themselves on being “great drivers,” because THEY aren’t put out….

Comments are closed.