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.