Friday, August 5, 2011

Chaos on Wheels

I'm on a bit of a roll these days about two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles, and the half-witted drivers who operate many of these on the roads of Bali. Now don't get me wrong. One can find half-witted drivers anywhere and everywhere in the world. The difference is that they will often be found (and stopped, and corrected, or even arrested) elsewhere in the world, whereas on the island of Bali they are for all appearances free to go their merry and all-too-often deadly way without interference from the police, who are much too busy collecting roadside fines from bule motorists whom (they hope) do not have a proper local license or a vehicle registration or are otherwise lacking in some less than pertinent way. Pertinent to what? Well, pertinent to the actual ability to safely operate a motor vehicle within the parameters of good reason.

Where enforcement of the law does not exist, neither will adherence to the law. This is also the same in every country, state and province over the whole of the wide world, for the mass of men do not obey laws by choice or through some innate sense of moral or communal responsibility, but through fear only along with the experiential effect of negative reinforcement--i.e. the application of a sufficiently unpleasant penalty in the form of the traffic ticket, the court summons, the license suspension or the impounded vehicle. Take away the penalty, take away the threat of consequence, and every man becomes a loose cannon, and therefore a reckless driver.

People’s thoughts and actions are bent toward evil from childhood.

There you have it, from the big book itself. I didn’t say it, God did.

So what are the choices of men in the absence of meaningful application of law?

I will offer a few examples by way of illustration.

The two-lane road becomes a four-lane road, the four-lane road an eight-lane road--despite the visible presence of those funny white lines on the tarmac. Vehicles travelling within the confines of the white lines are not longer in the right, they are merely in the way. And so you go between them, elbowing through like the jammer on a roller derby team. Maybe you clip a couple of side mirrors as you squirt on through, but oh well. Catch me if you can, right?

The driver of the car now betrays his secret dream--that his car has somehow become a motorbike. Darting in and out, from far right lane to curbing strip and beyond, at speeds generally unavailable to the smaller two-wheeled impediment, the driver of the car employs the ever popular nyelip-nyelip tactics of his erstwhile nemesis. Ah freedom! Which in due time very likely ends in serious injury or death to the motorbike driver and whatever passengers, men, women or children, he might be conveying.

Walking on Legian street the other night, my friend and I were suddenly confronted by a motorbike--not because we were walking in the street, but because he was driving straight toward us (and almost through us) on the sidewalk. My friend informed him, with a yet unlearned English sense of propriety, that streets are for bikes and sidewalks for pedestrians.

“Well this is my shop,” the man objected, pointing to the warung just beyond our legally and reasonably positioned feet.

We just happened, you see, to be blocking his way, and the pertinent point has nothing to do with walkways or streets, but with the fact that a motorbike is bigger and more powerful than a person, and so you’d better get out of the way.

Why not? Where law is absent, might is right. It’s the survival of the fittest (or the fastest and fleetest).

Overcrowding on the roadways is a problem. Traffic congestion is a problem. The uneducated driver is a problem. The hotdog youth is a problem. But the root of the evil is man himself, unbridled by the civil responsibility that only law, and the officer of the law, can enforce.

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