On the Road

Watch out!  He is cutting in front of you from the right, from the blind side.  From the lane that was marked as ending a long way back.  Other cars merged in as instructed, but not him.  He is bent on getting ahead.  Getting there a car-length earlier means a lot to this guy.  There isn't really space for his car in front of you, but he makes space.  He makes space because you chicken out and hit the brake as he swerves.  He is more aggressive than you which is why he is now in front of you.  He throws a casual wave as if to thank you, to thank you for being a sap.  You are mad at him and mad at yourself both.  You frown and fume and mutter various characterizations for this man.

Being thus acquainted, you follow this car down the road, observing.  You imagine that he feels your displeasure behind him and is now ashamed of himself for his rude behavior.  Then you scold yourself for having such a stupid thought.  Then you imagine that he is laughing at you and gloating.  You are a poor slob of a driver he has beaten.  But then you know that he does this all the time with little notice of other cars.  He is a superior car, a privileged car among them, and he gives them, gives you, little thought.

But he does give thought to the car in the new merge lane that just passed you and seems bent on passing him as well.  Same situation as before, only the roles are reversed.  The new car wants to do the same thing, pass him and cut in.  But there is no way he will let this happen.  His bumper is almost touching the rear of the car ahead of him, riding it, as we say.  The ambitious car gives up, slows down, and pulls in ahead of you.  Congratulations, you are now two cars down.  Of course, you could have fought off this new car like the guy ahead of you did, but you are not that kind of person.  You are a good person and a courteous driver, although sometimes you hate yourself for this behavior.  Were you to play the aggressive driver you would feel guilty as a result, but now you feel cheated.  Those seem to be your choices, guilty or cheated.

It is strange how the anonymity of driving allows these games to be played.  If they were driving their grocery carts to the check-out station, and you were ahead of them in line, they would not push in ahead of you like this.  The contact is too close and personal for that.

We do things as strangers that we would not do as neighbors.  A few of our family or neighbors wronged is a big deal; thousands of strangers wronged is but a passing concern or thought.  Our dead soldiers are carefully counted and tracked because they are ours and we know them.  The greater number of others dead is not counted or tracked.  They were strangers.

In theory most religions assert that we are fellow human beings and children of the same god.  But the practice is much different.  In theory we would treat each other on the road as we would in the supermarket.  But the practice is different, as we know well.

So how do we handle ourselves in such a world?  Do we "do it unto others before they can do it unto you," or do we treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves?  And further complicating this choice is the factor of anonymity.  There are a lot of people who will choose to be kind and fair with others when they are in close contact, but will easily support the torture and killing of strangers.  So we behave morally as individuals and immorally as societies.

Living in the South in the 60's, I had friends who would vote for every segregationist who came along, call Martin Luther King a Communist, and say that civil rights protesters were only getting what they deserved when beaten or killed.  But individually, with known Black people in their community, they were kind and respectful and helping of those in need.  This is the paradox of moral man and immoral society.  This is the hypocrisy of practicing our personal morality while supporting public immorality.

And these were my thoughts while driving down the road.

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