I fancy the notion that, if there is indeed a defining difference between man and animal, it lies in the degree to which we can modulate emotion. And what emotion is more difficult to control than road rage? For driving in traffic, for whatever reason, just brings an unsettling number of drivers very, very close to their animal forebears.
I had a rare and unfortunate “close call” on my way to classes. A red BMW (no, really) almost took me out last week. Luckily I saw the guy weaving about as he approached from behind, recklessly and fast, and I could take evasive action … which meant all but ploughing into the sidewalk.
Some minutes later, still shakily trying to recover, I saw the idiot car waiting in queue at a next robot. I’m sure he was on drugs.
Within the strange universal mind of the biking community, there exists a set of memes describing a despicable but effective methodology that guarantees the rider, given some specific but common circumstances, at least some hedonistic justice after an encounter with a rude motorist. It is based on the obvious fact that even the most modest of two-wheeled snot-separators will easily outrun a fast car in congested city streets. So all you really need is for the offending driver to be boxed into the traffic at a robot (check), a sturdy pair of boots (check), the ability to accelerate in-between two rows of slow moving vehicles just as the robot turns green (check), and finally and most importantly, the flexibility to lift your left foot to, say, the same level as a motorcar’s side mirror. They say you can disappear, Road-Runner-like, before they know what hit them.
Ah, such wonderful fantasies went through my head before I discretely brought my little scoot to a standstill, way, way at the back, and started quietly musing about man, animal and emotion.
Bravo sir, for I know far too many bikers who wouldn’t have thought twice about slamming their fist onto the top of the mirror and driving off.
But on this emotion thing, I differ. To me the ability to modulate emotion doesn’t seem to be very uniform in the human population. It doesn’t seem to me to correlate with age, gender, intelligence, upbringing, etc. It does sometimes seem to me that some people can, and some can’t. Maybe I’m wrong, but I really don’t think this is “what seperates us from the animals”. In fact, if this were so a majority of humans wouldn’t be, well, humans.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Martyrdom?
Ever so slightly more seriously, the question arises why your admirable ability to exercise self-restraint becomes the loophole allowing another to avoid the consequences of behaving like a complete asshat.
Its the philosophy section, boet … over here all of us are wrong. OK, how about this: Animals always act emotionally. Humans sometimes don’t.
Fair question, and a difficult one too. First off, I’m not sure that acting on impulse is nescesarilly “worse” than forcing oneself to act counter-emotionally. Animals act emotionally all the time, and since all animals are not extinct, their emotional natures can’t be too detrimental. Fighting emotion is just something humans tend to do … like plaiting their hair, and disliking vegetables as children, irrespective of wether it’s “good” or “bad” to do so. So maybe the emotional eye-for-an-eye attitude is - inside a closed system - perfectly rational! But in the bigger scheme, I can’t help but expect chaos will reign if everyone feels that way. It’s a bit like that theory that states that a stable society will always have a small criminal element that must be tolerated, paradoxically, so that the larger part of society will remain above board. Or something like that.
Actually, in global game-theoretic and evolutionary-benefit-at-the-species-level terms, it’s more fruitful to follow a head-for-an-eye ethic: Against our better sympathies, the punishment must exceed the crime if bad behaviour is to be discouraged effectively. But yes, the thing that distinguishes humans from animals is our ability to reflect occasionally and somewhat objectively on the potential effects and broader implications of our actions, and then to temper our current conduct accordingly.