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Problem estates? The confusion of public and private behaviour at the heart of the problem of feckless driving

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  • S Baddeley
    Most of us continue to be puzzled as to why our society continues so tolerant of feckless driving. By tolerance I don t refer directly to public discourse
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 2, 2002
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      Most of us continue to be puzzled as to why our society continues so
      tolerant of feckless driving. By "tolerance" I don't refer directly to
      public discourse which generally deplores bad driving, though there is a
      libertarian rhetoric that opposes any regulation. I mean the way that
      nebulous notion "society" is expressed in legal judgement and court
      sentence. Neither judges, magistrates, politicians or juries seem in
      practice to regard killing and injuring by car - whether these be passengers
      or those outside a vehicle - as serious enough to use sentencing to raise
      the deterrent tariff or lobby for changes in the law, rules of evidence and
      methods of evidence collection that would make conviction more possible. We
      know this.

      Few drivers are seriously convinced by the Association of British Drivers
      argument that speed is not a problem. So far as drink driving is concerned
      even the ABD has no argument with other road safety campaigners. The view
      that reckless driving (including speeding) increase risks for drivers and
      those outside cars is not a matter for serious disagreement.

      So the problem is that there is not a critical mass of electors for whom the
      restrictions needed on personal freedom - the only argument used in defence
      of feckless driving that weighs with influential politicians (apologies to
      those MPs who are very much on side, by the way) - to balance the increases
      in freedom that would result from their introduction.

      I am feeling in need of some original thinking on this or possibly some
      thinking that may be out there but which I haven't come across.

      Is it possible that a powerful unconscious (unconscious because to entertain
      it publicly even to one self would be unacceptable) source of the dynamic
      conservatism that affects our society when road safety measures are
      contemplated is that we do not mind the statistics as they stand, indeed
      could tolerate even worse ones. The risks involved in motoring, walking and
      cycling are "part of life" giving it its frisson and enlivening sense of dan
      ger in a world where we are indeed safer than any previous generation. Note
      the degree to which that astute broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson plays on this
      sense of danger as "joie de vivre" placing all who disagree with him in the
      camp of the rotten spoil sports - and not how easily he allows us to use
      this familiar ploy to rattle the bars of a cage that is actually his rather
      than ours.

      The problem for policy makers is that these mental contradictions at the
      heart of the speeding phenomenon are difficult to address and easier to
      ignore - give the traps laid for those unwary in their mode of rebuttal.
      Everyone tends to agree - vehemently - that dangerous driving is a bad thing
      and everyone goes along in public with the view that the statistics of death
      and injury must not be ignored. But like our Victorian forebears we are
      masters of double standards in this matter, tending to tolerate many private
      behaviours we would not accept in public - and there's the rub.

      We know we can mobilise many policy initiatives to reduce public danger. A
      succession of high profile responses to single figure fatalities on the
      railways demonstrates this. Publicly and privately we marvel at the
      disproportionality of the public response to rail crashes compared to the
      far greater social and personal damage caused by road crashes. But we
      continue to find it hard to grasp why this shocking disparity exists. My
      wife says you entrust yourself to a train or plane or bus in a way that you
      don't entrust yourself to a car. This creates very different expectations
      and assumptions about responsibility for others and one's own safety.

      So it is not as if the means do not exist to stop this problem, but the will
      to stop it is sapped by powerful psychological inhibitions of which the most
      powerful is that speeding is enormously stimulating - or rather the loss of
      the opportunity to speed relative to the potential speed available to you at
      a touch of your accelerator creates such distinctively uncomfortable sensory
      deprivation that policies designed to reduce the sensory experiences of
      speeding and the opportunity to speed are felt as far greater infringements
      on freedom than the relatively remote infringements that might be imposed on
      someone elses' freedom by killing or injuring someone as a result of
      speeding.

      The car creates individualised private space and by creating an area of
      mobile private space in public the car as surely as other intoxicants
      removes inhibitions that would normally moderate behaviour in public space.
      The same things has been said many times in different ways, but thinking
      about it this way helps me understand why legislation designed to regulate
      public behaviour for the greater freedom of all does not work easily on the
      motoring public (sic), because individual drivers experience such
      legislation as interference with what they experience and value as private
      space.

      It is a cliché that an Englishman's home is his castle. The phrase is used
      to signal the issues of personal liberty that arise when legislation (such
      as that against domestic violence and child abuse) is formulated that
      entails regulating private space. We have legislation to deal with a whole
      repertoire of anti-social behaviour in and around the home - racial
      harassment, making noise, burning toxic waste. Such legislation is variable
      in its success with things working best where there are close communities
      and disputes are settled by discussion rather than legal intervention, with
      a tougher range of laws trying to balance civil liberty of parents vs.
      children. When we get this fatally wrong the whole nation tends to know
      about it. The regulatory backing is helpful in giving people guidelines and
      fall-back recourse to law, the court. social workers and environmental
      health officers.

      Some places are almost unendurable - famously so. TV programmes are made
      about fragmented estates where people do not care for each other and where
      any one who can leave does, because the law is helpless to protect people.
      The trouble with this equally anti-social behaviour in cars is that being
      mobile, it permeates the urban and rural road transport network, and is
      pervasively impervious to social inhibitors that might apply to
      geographically defined spaces. The car is a technology for enabling
      individuals to do things in public which they would normally only do in
      private - and indeed this point goes way back to those jocular observations
      in the US about how many of the population were conceived in the back of a
      car.

      Given this anomalous and toxic confusion of private behaviours in public
      places it may be that the most effective strategies to reduce road danger
      are those like "Living Streets" , "Green Spaces, Better Places" and the
      "Carfree Cities" movement which very clearly seek to reclaim public space
      from private space whether it be the recovery of a piazza from a shopping
      mall, a boulevard from a dual carriageway and a sidewalk from a parking
      space.

      Simon
    • prometeus57
      ... some thinking that may be out there but which I haven t come across.
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 4, 2002
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        --- In carfree_cities@y..., "S Baddeley" <s.j.baddeley@b...> wrote:
        > I am feeling in need of some original thinking on this or possibly
        some thinking that may be out there but which I haven't come across.<

        Theory #1: Auto Lobby.

        In this theory, a conspiracy (errr ... lobby) exists to prevent
        progressive action on the issue.

        Such conspiracies are easily documented. For example, the broad
        conspiracy to prevent useful action against massacres conducted
        by "allies". Here's how it works:

        Phil Lesley, author of a handbook on public relations and
        communications, brilliantly describes how state-corporate propaganda
        works to maintain public passivity:

        "People generally do not favour action on a non-alarming situation
        when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and there is a clear
        doubt. The weight of impressions on the public must be balanced so
        people will have doubts and lack motivation to take action.
        Accordingly, means are needed to get balancing information into the
        stream from sources that the public will find credible. There is no
        need for a clear-cut 'victory'. ... Nurturing public doubts by
        demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut situation in support of
        the opponents usually is all that is necessary." (Lesly, 'Coping with
        Opposition Groups', Public Relations Review 18, 1992, p.331)

        From http://www.zmag.org/content/Mideast/edwardsjenin2.cfm

        Now, Conspiracy is a good solid theory but unfortunately for us, it's
        distinguished by what it doesn't explain more than what it does
        explain. After all,

        1. why do people 'prefer' to be passive when something is 'non-
        alarming'?
        2. what makes something 'non-alarming' in the first place?
        3. why do people listen to the media at all?
        4. why is it that we don't fit the profile?

        All of these questions are about people's psyche so we must turn to
        psychology for an answer to that question. And it happens that my
        favorite psychologist is Lloyd deMause so I'll be speculating based
        on his work.

        > Is it possible that a powerful unconscious (unconscious because to
        entertain it publicly even to one self would be unacceptable) source
        of the dynamic conservatism that affects our society when road safety
        measures are contemplated is that we do not mind the statistics as
        they stand, indeed could tolerate even worse ones. The risks involved
        in motoring, <

        Let's be much more radical than that. Instead of assuming that people
        tolerate blood, gore and death, let's assume that people
        subconsciously *want* blood, gore and death. Hardly a controversial
        premise when you think about it. Just look around you at the carnage
        in the media, in movies, in computer games. Just look at how many
        wars the USA gets involved in on a regular, clockwork basis;
        averaging about 1 war every 4 years, as opposed to every 5 years for
        France, and with no wars *ever* started on the first year of a US
        President's term. The only question is *why* people want motorist
        fatalities.

        So Theory #2: Bloodthirst.

        Well, it could be part of the regular infanticidal ritual which is
        generational warfare (WW2, Vietnam, et cetera). A lot of casualties
        seem to be kids after all.

        Or it could be more direct. After all, cars are symbols of wealth and
        freedom (we know they're not but they're symbols all the same) and
        what do people do when they have wealth and freedom? They go on a
        rampage of self-destructive behaviour in order to punish themselves
        and destroy the wealth (a well-documented dynamic without which
        history is simply incomprehensible). Drive a car? Then the death of
        some innocent pedestrian is just part of "the price we pay" for that
        freedom.

        > We know we can mobilise many policy initiatives to reduce public
        danger. A succession of high profile responses to single figure
        fatalities on the railways demonstrates this. Publicly and privately
        we marvel at the disproportionality of the public response to rail
        crashes compared to the far greater social and personal damage caused
        by road crashes. But we continue to find it hard to grasp why this
        shocking disparity exists. My wife says you entrust yourself to a
        train or plane or bus in a way that you don't entrust yourself to a
        car. This creates very different expectations and assumptions about
        responsibility for others and one's own safety. <

        For one's own safety, maybe. For others' safety, no way. The fact
        that drivers feel like they're in control of their own cars shouldn't
        affect how they view other drivers. And it doesn't; consider how
        common it is for people to think that "everyone else is a bad
        driver". So even if you trust your own safety to yourself, why should
        you trust an innocent bystander's safety to all those bad drivers out
        there? You wouldn't.

        The crucial difference between trains and cars is that trains are
        neither signs of personal wealth and status (because they are not
        personally owned or used), nor are they symbols of personal freedom.
        That would explain why people don't feel the need to offer blood
        sacrifices to the great train gods.

        Additionally, when there's a train accident, it's not possible for
        people to imagine themselves in the place of the perpetrator. A train
        accident is something like an Act of Nature. It's a tragedy and
        should be avoided at all costs.

        In contrast, when there's a car accident, then it's possible (easy in
        fact) for motorists to imagine themselves in the place of the
        perpetrator. At that point they can sympathize with the perpetrator,
        expressing "how horrible" it must have been, blah blah blah. And
        hell, they probably *want* to be in the place of the murderer!
        Because ultimate it's better to be the victimizer than the victim!

        With trains, there are only victims so that's a tragedy. With cars,
        it often seems like there's only victimizers. Subconsciously, that's
        a Good Thing.

        > So it is not as if the means do not exist to stop this problem, but
        the will to stop it is sapped by powerful psychological inhibitions
        of which the most powerful is that speeding is enormously
        stimulating - or rather the loss of the opportunity to speed relative
        to the potential speed available to you at a touch of your
        accelerator creates such distinctively uncomfortable sensory
        deprivation that policies designed to reduce the sensory experiences
        of speeding and the opportunity to speed are felt as far greater
        infringements on freedom than the relatively remote infringements
        that might be imposed on someone elses' freedom by killing or
        injuring someone as a result of speeding. <

        The problem with this psychodynamic is that it requires an enormous
        amount of rationality on the part of motorists, especially motorists'
        subconscious. And that rationality just doesn't exist.

        When people rationalize tobacco smoking, they do so on a conscious
        level. If there is any subconscious input, it's completely irrational
        like the desire to fit in, or pure self-destructive impulse.

        People's subconscious desires are not /pleasant/. If they were, they
        wouldn't have to be subconscious in the first place!

        When people engage in other self-destructive activities, such as
        cocaine use, the part of them that finds it pleasant is the
        *conscious* part and it's their subconscious that seeks to destroy
        itself.

        People's subconscious desires are typically irrational and
        unpleasant. There is no evidence nor argument to indicate otherwise.
        The "subconscious pleasant thrill" doesn't have any evidence backing
        it, and contradicts all good psychology. Incidentally, there's one
        famous case where a psychologist argued that subconscious pleasure
        caused them to become neurotic. That was Freud in his
        infamous "delayed response(?)" theory where children are supposed to
        *want* to be sexually abused.

        > It is a cliché that an Englishman's home is his castle. The phrase
        is used to signal the issues of personal liberty that arise when
        legislation (such as that against domestic violence and child abuse)
        is formulated that entails regulating private space. <

        Now *that* (domestic violence and child abuse) is much more easily
        explained in terms of the Cycle of Abuse, repetition compulsion,
        growth panic, persecutory alter, et cetera ad nauseum.

        You wouldn't be far wrong if you said that people *want* to abuse
        their children, at least subconsciously. It's a powerful dynamic and
        people don't want interference with that dynamic. Not for any
        abstract libertarian "no state/public interference" principle but
        because they *need* to abuse their kids.

        Again, if most people don't believe libertarians' "no interference"
        principle in the case of cars, what makes you think they believe it
        in the case of their homes?

        The notion that "a man's home is his castle" isn't so much an
        explanation of anything as it is something which needs explanation.
        One such explanation might be that ownership and privacy provides
        people license to do what they subconsciously feel the need to do
        without the activity ever entering an arena where it would have to be
        rationally (consciously) justified and debated.
      • S Baddeley
        Many thanks for this. It s just the kind of speculative thinking I was looking for to factor into my attempts to understand what s happening - I am reading it
        Message 3 of 3 , Jun 7, 2002
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          Many thanks for this. It's just the kind of speculative thinking I was
          looking for to factor into my attempts to understand what's happening - I am
          reading it and digesting.

          This is not a response but an additional observation based on a talk given
          by a BBC journalist who was speaking about this at a conference in London
          yesterday organised by RoadPeace. He asked us why editors would score the
          headline "Train Crash: 3 dead" far higher than "Road Accident: 3 dead".

          When you go on a train you put yourselves in the hands of a public body -
          which even though its now private is perceived as public. You entrust
          yourself to it. Furthermore, and perversely, death is more of a news item on
          the railways because so increasingly rare. He quoted small attention given
          to rail crashes in the 1920s when they were more frequent. On the roads
          drivers see themselves as "mutually complicit players in a game of risk."
          This view persists even where there is no or minimal mutuality as with cars
          and walkers or cyclists.

          Furthermore journalism likes victims and it is easy to depict a decent
          motorist as victim of speed cameras. He may have been driven over the limit
          ("fast is not automatically unsafe - otherwise we'd ban fire engines and
          ambulances", he argued) but otherwise safely as a victim of a system for
          collecting fines that won't even be spent on making the roads better for
          motorists. He agreed it was bizarre that such people could be painted as
          victims alongside people killed and injured but this was part of the "logic
          of journalism".

          Simon






          ----- Original Message -----
          From: "prometeus57" <prometeus57@...>
          To: <carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com>
          Sent: Wednesday, June 05, 2002 4:12 AM
          Subject: [carfree_cities] psych - heavy


          --- In carfree_cities@y..., "S Baddeley" <s.j.baddeley@b...> wrote:
          > I am feeling in need of some original thinking on this or possibly
          some thinking that may be out there but which I haven't come across.<

          Theory #1: Auto Lobby.

          In this theory, a conspiracy (errr ... lobby) exists to prevent
          progressive action on the issue.

          Such conspiracies are easily documented. For example, the broad
          conspiracy to prevent useful action against massacres conducted
          by "allies". Here's how it works:

          Phil Lesley, author of a handbook on public relations and
          communications, brilliantly describes how state-corporate propaganda
          works to maintain public passivity:

          "People generally do not favour action on a non-alarming situation
          when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and there is a clear
          doubt. (snip)
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