Monday, December 10, 2012

Crossed Wires: Grouped, Dehumanized, Depersonalized Transport

Time for transformation, time to connect on a different level
"Drivers should...."
"All cyclists are...."
"Cars always..."
"Bicycles just don't..."

You hear these all the time. Probably say them. I'm sure I do. But these ways of speaking and thinking dehumanize, depersonalize, and group humans into objectified buckets that are more easily dismissed, more easily hurt, easing their quick diversion into angry little pigeonholes of ire and rage.

The familiar recipe follows: rapidly bucket everyone not in your car (or on your bike) into an outgroup with detestable habits, name them with a cold collective noun related to their means of transport (for example), and depersonalize whatever remains by ignoring individuality and any positive traits while hyping the negative into caricatured micro-actions which ignore any greater context, history, culture, or tradition. You may want to disavow any personal responsibility while you're at it.

I tried to watch the BBC "War on Britain's Roads" as research for this,  but found it so upsetting and discouraging that I couldn't last more than a few minutes. It was like the BBC collected ten years of sensational cop and reality shows, trimmed out anything even remotely nice, distilled them into their vile essence (l'eau de l'enfer), and poured this essence onto bicycles, and onto speeding cars and trucks aimed at bicycles. While, simultaneously, performing surreptitious conscience-ectomies, or humanity excisions, on everyone portrayed.

mindful mule got me thinking further about it, too. He's onto something, and I've experienced something similar to what he found by sticking a reflector on his helmet. Once you can be identified as a "person-shaped, with head and body" rather than merely "dark shape moving through the night," people in cars do seem to be more aware of you. 

But, carrying this to an extreme actually illustrated the problem more deeply for me. I imagined some sort of face display which would cause a human face (or faces) to light up in the area of my head, clearly visible to people driving cars at night. This variation on a "heads-up display," the FACE-UP DISPLAY, would very clearly identify me as a human being who just happens to be riding home in the night. This could be done on the sides and back such that my vision was not impaired. In front, perhaps the Face-Up Display could be projected above, or below, my actual face. Maybe with my name below the face: JOHN. Or even better, HUMAN. 

Think about that, though. Other than being technically cool, and possibly working for the first few of us who did it, eventually, once cyclists and pedestrians all sported Face-Up Displays at night, we'd be back at square one. Or two. In any case, there's plenty of face-to-face, up close and personal, violence and anger every day, already. At least in terms of purposeful, intentional, directed acts of anger (PIDAA). The Face-Up Displays might decrease nighttime collisions related of the SMIDSY (Sorry Mate I Didn't See You) flavor, but clearly PIDAA start inside.

So, here's the work to be done. With equal protection under the law required, let's do away with the outgrouping step. Combined with the Duty of care, anyway, we'd all be further along already. Let's start thinking and talking about people and humans on the road, rather than cyclists, motorists, drivers, or even cars and bicycles ("that car tried to hit me!"). Then, let's seek out the personal and specific facts relevant to a given act or event, before we project motive or intent that we have no actual basis for assuming. Often there is actually a reasonable explanation. Innocent until proven guilty. 

Finally, purge all stereotypes from thought. One "driver" does not bear the sins of the sum total of evil acts done by all people who have ever driven cars, for all of car history. Obviously. Yet, if you parse out some of the things people say, it sounds like they think they do.

But this is notably all superficial. Similar in effectiveness to all us night riders lighting up our FACE-UP DISPLAYS. After all, it's really the PIDAA, the purposeful, intentional, directed acts of anger, that are not so readily diagnosed and dealt with. PIDAA are human, all too human, right? 

But there may be something in the anger-response sequence that we could profit from if we understood it better. We are so wired with fight-or-flight, self-defense reflexes, amygdala, and dumps of hormones and enzymes that resisting them directly seems futile and somewhat self-defeating. Furthermore, those quick responses just might be life-saving at a critical moment. 

But what about when Bubba in the 4x4 truck cuts me off on my bicycle in a near-miss, what then? The sequence: physical, quickened heart rate, sweat, adrenaline, cortisol, glucose, dumped in all at once, sure. Then the initial raw anger rising. It's there, let's acknowledge it, but now slow down just for a moment to observe this sequence coming up next. What I notice is, just about now is when the consciousness kicks in and starts to catch up with all the news and information coming in from all sources, all the data, all the noise and fury all piled up. Now, take a step back. There's only one chance to do so, it's all going to come down in the next tick. This instant is what interests me, the moment of opportunity for consciousness to turn in observation of consciousness itself along with the rest of the organism to ask, with one clear loud voice like a pure bell, the question: What is it that I would will myself to do in the next moment, if I could carefully consider the facts of the matter, and with that information to guide my decision, do right?

This is the time-stopping instant: in the face of it, how do we do right? It's hard, with so many wires so crossed up.


  1. How did that show compare to the earlier "Road Rage?" Also a British product. RR is on YouTube in several parts.

    1. I don't recall that other show, Steve, I'll (try) to check it out.

  2. It seems as though the question you are asking here is a very old one. About this moment, this consciousness. How to take a step back, away from our fear-responses, and yet still be in the present, moving forward, well-ly. Perhaps the practice of meditation and/or prayer leads in the right direction.

    1. I think you've hit on a key point, mindful. A pause to de-rage is not a strong skill for most people, it would seem, yet it is a straightforward practice of mind that is available to all, free, and feasible. It's possible there's a rage arms race going on, and to try to meditate / pray the way out of it looked at a disadvantage, or sign of weakness. That point of view looks like the path to destruction, to me, though.


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