Sunday, November 19, 2006

No rules, just right?

Of course, "no rules, just right" is the slogan of an American imitation Australian restaurant chain, but it seems that it could well be the slogan of a new way in which some European cities are approaching traffic regulations.

While American society is becoming at the same time both ever more authoritarian and more violent and lawless, this may be something we need to consider - especially given the phenomenon of "road rage."

The argument that less regulation leads to more order - though counter-intuitive to those of us in a society that trumpets "zero tolerance" and fills the media with warnings about crackdowns on seatbelt violations, not to mention requirements that children wear helmets just to ride a bicycle around the neighborhood - does make a certain amount of sense.

The problem we Americans have in our social discourse is a lack of civility. We are isolated in our hermetically sealed vehicles, we avoid all eye contact, are often stressed out, on the phone, and are quite often focused only on our needs of the moment, and are often always five minutes late. In addition, more and more aspects of our lives are mandated by the federal government - removing the authority of local people to regulate and manage their own affairs as they see fit.

Perhaps what we actually need is more human contact, more cooperation and a greater reliance on manners than on regulations and harsher laws coming out of Washington.

Who knows? Maybe greater awareness, politeness, and a mutual desire for safety will save more lives than mandatory helmets, required seatbelts, and a gauntlet of traffic lights, signs, and threats of punishment to transgressors.

In 1866, General Robert E. Lee predicted that the ever-increasing centralization of government authority would not bode well for the cause of American liberty. Interestingly, he was writing to his European friend, Lord Acton when he made this prophetic observation:

"I yet believe the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it a chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it."

Isn't it ironic that the United States, which prides itself on rugged individualism and liberty has become the "nanny state," while the Europe that our ancestors left in seach of freedom is moving away from the police state toward a social contract of personal freedom and responsibility?


Margaret said...

Hi Father,

Interesting observations. However I don't know that Europe will maintain it's freedom through civility for very much longer. It seems to me that Europe has lost it's zeal to protect many of the freedoms it enjoys, and leans heavily toward attempting to pacify the growing Islamic population there. I don't endeavor to make a "nanny state" sound like a good thing, but many of the concessions Europe has made seem to me to be paving the way for Sharia law in the future, especially in France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Thanks again for a thought provoking post.

Father Hollywood said...

Hi Margaret:

Excellent point. Western civilization seems to be going in opposite directions at the same time. London is filled with surveillance cameras, and it is increasingly becoming difficult for a business owner to allow smoking on his own private property in most places in Europe.

On the other hand, there are places that adopt a more "live and let live" attitude. Then there are efforts to curtail religious freedom as a way of dealing with Islam - such as the push to outlaw religious attire and jewelry in a heavy-handed attempt to secularize society.

It will be interesting to see how extreme left-wing feminists in Scandinavia who insisted on opening their borders to Muslims out of "tolerance" will react once they make demands that women's rights be curtailed.

It does seem that the only way for such diverse peoples to coexist (if it is even possible) is for the government to back off and allow people to negotiate coexistence in a more laissez faire fashion.

It would be interesting to see a similar experiment (traffic anarchy) in the U.S. It's quite contrary to our increasingly authoritarian mindset.