How do we deal with idiots?

How do we deal with idiots?

 

Idiot: 1250-1300; Middle English < Latin idiōta < Greek idiṓtēs private person, layman, person lacking skill or expertise…

There are lots of idiots out there. More than enough to go around. Idiocy is, in fact, an extremely valuable currency. The media encourages it, employs it, and gets paid by it.

Idiocy gets around. It is not dependent on the mode of transportation taken by the empty vessel that is piloting it. To make this abundantly clear, for our discussion today – there are idiots who drive cars, and there are idiots who ride bicycles. Equally so. Ok? Everyone happy?

Good.

In my part of the world, the conversation about cycling has gotten a little more heated than the usual slow boil. In any case, it is the same one that has been taking place since cyclists started to have to share the road with motorists. Since motorists then pushed them out of the way. And now again, the cycle of life continuing with the resurgence of cycling as a legitimate form of transportation. The extra heat recently comes in the form of a two-week-old safe passing law, and of course, the sky is falling. It is the end of times.

What is interesting about this conversation is that it is taking up so much real estate in the media for so few people concerned. I suppose that is often the case, but here, my impression is that the majority of the population isn’t that bothered about it in any meaningful way, so you have a small segment of the population that is dead-set against legitimizing cycling as a mode of transportation, and a small segment of the population that would quite like this to happen. I suppose it pushes the right controversy/entertainment buttons for most people, and so we have a media that is continually casting lures, baited with idiocy (probably by smart people), and because the bait is cast into the communal body of water, many bite. It seems to me, however, that the quality of the bites differs between the two fish being targeted. Cyclists usually respond with reason. Anti-cyclists, like idiots.

Am I right, and if so, what should we do about it?

Obviously I’m biased towards cycling, but I’m also a big fan of reason. If you want to present your side of an argument, then make your case, but make it with well supported opinions that correspond with reality (ie, not anecdotal “evidence”) and preferably with some facts. Good support in the form of cold hard facts are then presented in a logical way, and one that addresses the subject matter directly, without drawing on fallacies of all kinds. The tactic in the video below is a favourite of the anti-cycling advocates. If you would like to present a counter argument, it should follow the same format.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, please, but I’m going to summarize as best I can, based on everything I can remember reading on the topic, the positions (most usually) taken by pro and anti-cycling advocates in the media.

Pro-cycling

Cycling is good because it is healthy, cheap, good for the environment, alleviates congestion when accompanied by the proper infrastructure, is good for business, is good for communities, is good for property values, is good for the brain, is good for the economy. There are facts for all of these. Facts. Studies done repeatedly the world over. There are also strong examples of how successful cities and communities (and countries) are that prioritize active and public transport over personal motor vehicles.

The other half of the pro-cycling argument, and the one that ruffles more feathers, is the fact that cars are dangerous. Very dangerous. Most notably when they are being driven by people. Dangerous to other people driving other cars, but exceptionally so for people who are not. You don’t even have to go and find these facts, because they are constantly appearing in the news.

With these two positions taken (that cycling is great and needs to be encouraged, and that the environment we have designed around cars is dangerous and needs to be changed), the arguments often made by pro-cycling advocates include: the roads are needlessly (excessively) dangerous, the laws don’t protect the vulnerable well enough, cycling infrastructure needs to be improved in a big way, and this all means that we need to change the way we think about how people move around our cities, which ultimately means limiting the use of individual people driving themselves around our increasingly congested and polluted cities and designing our way out of this mess though infrastructure and policy.

This is putting the cart before the horse a bit, but here is an example of someone giving a coherent and reasonable response to an anti-cycling tanty.

Anti-cycling

And here is where you may make a counter argument, anti-cycling advocates. For this, I will allow Karalee Katsambanis the honour of replying, as she has just made a wonderful example of the rigor and flawless logic that typifies her fellow-crusaders, marching under the various banners of news-media everywhere. She appears to have read this handy guide to writing shoddy pieces about cycling.

Before that, however, I will quickly point out the general points against cycling that have any validity (though not necessarily strength), rather than simply being Ad Hominems, Anecdotal fallacies, Begging the Question, False Dilemmas, Ecological Fallacies… I could go on, of course…

Commonly, the first thing we learn from anti-cyclists who want to appear reasonable is that they are not, in fact, anti-cycling. Much the same as racist jokes are often prefaced with “I’m not a racist, but black people…”.

“I do not hate cyclists”, we are told rather late in the piece, long after she has blamed the “Lycra-clad” and “Lycra brigade” (terms meant to disparage) for holding all of Perth “to ransom”, like terrorists or kidnappers, who are typically the only people to hold anything for ransom. They make her feel “marginalised and disconnected” in her own city. Oh, and they are “crippling business”. Blaming an entire group for something that happens to be provably false, and trying to subtly cast aspersions based on one’s appearance does not give the impression that you are even tolerant of cycling or cyclists, never-mind hateful towards them.

She leads the column thusly:

Cyclists want motorists to treat them with more respect. Well, as a motorist I also want the same from cyclists and I am more than entitled to that respect.

What respect is she speaking of? Karalee launches straight into a lengthy series of complaints relating to the alarming number of annual road closures resulting from charity bicycle rides. To focus in just one aspect of how this doesn’t seem to match the outrage, so far I can only find two (one, two) annual rides that have include a road closure, for about 5 hours each. That’s about 10 hours of an available 8,760 hours in the year that the can’t drive on those exact, isolated sections of road, in one direction, and this is what half of this very long column is about. This is why cyclists don’t respect motorists. Cyclists are disrespecting motorists because, two times a year, isolated roads are closed for a few hours, because they asked, and the local government said OK. Because it is a huge charity ride.

“Closing parts of Perth freeways for these charity rides seems to happen with such regularity that just would not happen in other large cities around Australia or around the world.” It seems unfair to pick on someone so mentally deficient (it sounds like it, but I’m not name-calling – tell me how else would you describe the mental state of someone basing an argument on something so easily proven false, simply because they want it to be true?), but firstly, two times a year is regular, but “regular” like Halley’s comet making a pass of Earth, not “regular” like motorists killing someone, and secondly, you would have to actively try to avoid the many, many, many examples of cities, even very large cities, all over the world, that not only close portions of roads to cars, but entire neighborhoods, some on a monthly basis. And, not even for any other reason than to give the streets back to the people!

Still, Karalee demands more respect, and she’s not afraid to make herself heard! The same kind of respect that cyclists demand from drivers. You know, to not be harassed, abused, knocked off, hospitalized, and killed. And when you do fall victim to any of these, including the dead one, you are not taken seriously by the law. Yeah, if you demand that kind of respect, cyclists, then I demand the very same, in the form of an immediate halt to your bi-annual charity rides!

How about this gem: Karalee can’t control the urge to pull out the well-trodden “cyclists don’t pay for the roads” song-and-dance, even when it directly contradicts what she says later in that same sentence (emphasis is mine).

Perhaps when cyclists contribute to the upkeep of the roads that we all pay our taxes to drive on, then they will deserve a seat at the decision making table.

And that is aside from the fact that you absolutely have to be knowingly lying, because you would literally have to be born yesterday to not have come across one of the millions of places where this foolish twaddle has been clearly proven false, even by your elected officials and the police on some occasions. Not yet finished with the show, I think she is taking the piss with this one (again, emphasis is mine, just in case…):

A suggested 20km/h limit along the newly created shared path on West Coast Highway, Scarborough cannot be enforced and a recent survey found three in five cyclists are exceeding that 20km/h limit regularly.

In fact, there are no legally enforceable speed limits on shared paths anywhere in the state.

Well that’s just embarrassing, but if that’s not enough, cyclists are actually inciting their own abuse in the form of road rage.

“If the bicycling fraternity get one of their wishes for blanket 40km/h speed limits in residential areas, just wait for the congestion and the inevitable road rage incidents to go through the roof.”

Once again, Karalee demonstrates that she doesn’t understand what she is talking about, or at least chooses not to. She has an entirely flawed understanding of what congestion is. Too many cars on the road, accidents, on-street parking, road-works, and the inevitable outcome of intersections are among what causes congestion. Slower speeds usually have the opposite effect (there are many, but here are a few sources: here, here, here).

I’ll leave you with one more argument from Karalee:

Oh, and don’t mention the obvious, that the real estate value of their homes may well go down not up when people wanting to buy a property in these streets suddenly realise that they cannot just get in their car and drive out into a street normally.

The quick few minutes trip down to the local shop instead becomes an interminable trip behind one cyclist who now owns the road…

Firstly, if it’s so obvious, why is she clearly guessing and not referring to any facts? It “obviously… may well…”? Secondly, the fact that you are driving to the local shop when it’s only a quick few minutes away is part of the problem, made easier by the fact that with the bike boulevards she is crying about, you now have an extremely pleasant environment to walk or cycle in, which is the entire point.

This is typical of what appears in the media day in and day out. Inflammatory opinion pieces to sell increasingly irrelevant news rags. Someone has even given her an award on more than one occasion, the paper is quick to point out. The thing is, I don’t ever, and I seriously mean ever, recall seeing a response from the anti-cycling author after receiving a reasoned reply from the anti-anti-cycling advocate. What happens instead is something of a shock-and-awe approach – just keep printing the anti-cycling click-bait and the show will quite simply go on. And on. And on. The responses from reasonable people are quickly dealt with by the army of nitwits who flourish in comment sections everywhere (feel free to comment below, by the way!), but provide nothing more than additional emotionally charged, inflammatory opinions based on anecdotal evidence of the “cyclists always ride 6 abreast/never stop at red lights/don’t wear helmets(?)/don’t pay for our roads/wear Lycra/are running down pedestrians/think they own the road kind.

Fortunately, the real world has a lower concentration of idiots

In real life, as opposed to comment sections and web-forums, things are improving. People are waking up to the reality that surrounds them. Nevertheless, idiots abound. For example…

The media, and small but vocal portion of actual people in Adelaide are responding to this safe-passing law as if it were an absolute catastrophe. It’s bad. It’s embarrassing. People are losing their minds over something that amounts to almost no actual change from what has always been the case: leave a safe amount of space between your car and cyclists, or any other road user for that matter, when passing. It’s always been punishable by law (technically), but now that the law has finally put a number on that distance, people are absolutely, literally, losing their minds. I actually tend to think that it’s not the law itself so much as the idea that it is a win for people who ride bikes (sad as it is that a “win” constitutes people being forced not to endanger you), which obviously means a devastating blow to the fundamental human rights of everyone who drives a car. Or that’s how some people are acting, anyway.

While I was out on my bike last weekend, where there was a total one (1) of me, I encountered a perfect example of how people are reacting to the new safe-passing law. My large group of me was riding on a single lane road in the hills, on a straight bit, but with oncoming cars. I was keeping to the left, not that it would have made much difference, and a courteous 4WD was waiting for a safe opportunity to pass, as nearly every single one of the cars did for the duration of my ride.

Behind the 4WD, however, was a guy on a motorcycle, who, as he went around me, turned and offered a prolonged and enthusiastic shaking of his head in disgust at me for holding him up for the 3-4 seconds that it took to pass. He was agitated. Angry.

The thing that interested me was that never had I had a motorcyclist do that to me before. Usually they are somewhat sympathetic to cyclists, sharing some of the same problems. Now that the safe-passing law is two weeks old, some people are all of a sudden feeling terribly self-righteous about their basic human right to pass in an unsafe manner being denied them.

Just after this, a car ahead of me driving in the opposite direction had to do the exact same thing to get around a tractor driving in the road at a very slow speed. I doubt very much that there was much commotion in the inside of that car. And that’s because most people are reasonable, or at least indifferent, or have real problems to worry about that don’t include slowing down for a few seconds once in a while.

The media has been flooded with stories, but mostly opinion pieces, about this new law and how it has been affecting South Australia’s road users. Many of the stories are bad enough, but the other big problem is the sentiment in the comments.

The comments are always and forever the place where reason is suspended and the worst possible scenario is suddenly the norm. Fiction becomes reality, and opinion is fact. So now cyclists and the government are  forcing you to cross the double white lines and pass cyclists around blind corners in the on-coming lane. The government wants you dead! And the usual, all cyclists are law-breaking, arrogant, dangerous bags of filth. “Why, just yesterday I saw a cyclist…”

So, to get to the original point of this piece, given that almost nothing has changed in reality but (some) people are acting like their lives are over, what are we to do with people with closed minds who can’t engage in a reasonable conversation, who are immune to logic and whose only consolation is to give them what they want?

How do you deal with someone who is completely irrational, illogical, and inflammatory? In other words, idiots?

Perhaps we simply need to treat them like children. Children who throw tantrums. I want something, or don’t like something and I want it to stop because I don’t like it. I will cry and shout and carry on until I get my way.

We need to brush up on our parenting skills.

Selma Fraiberg warned against “too much pressure or forceful methods of control from the outside” in child-rearing: “if we turn every instance of pants changing, treasure hunting, napping, puddle wading and garbage distribution into a governmental crisis we can easily bring on fierce defiance, tantrums, and all the fireworks of revolt in the nursery”.[9]

Wow. That is eerily accurate if applied to society in a broader sense, and to our situation here. So, what are our options?

Option 1

If the tanty can be ignored, ignore it. This works for those with a mental or emotional capacity of 2 years old or less, or who aren’t really that committed to the tanty to begin with. Maybe they’re just frustrated or had a bad day or just pooped themselves.

Option 2

If the tanty has teeth, disarm it, but be cool. Don’t spook it. The advice is to remove the stress as best you can, but here’s where this analogy continues to amaze me:

Not all of these can necessarily be pulled directly across to how we deal with road users, but some are spot on.

Then, we inevitably have the consequences. Ways to deal with children’s poor behaviour effectively should be no different for dealing with adult’s behaviour – whether idiots or not – effectively. This is important for preventing irresponsible behaviour, attaching a cost to it, and seeking to improve it. This is where we need a lot of work. We are fine with taking our misbehaving kids toys away, but when adults hit others with their toys, we’re too afraid to take it from them or at least give them a time out long enough for them to think about what they did, why it was wrong, and how they can do it better next time.

Seriously. I’m amazed this hasn’t occurred to me before. This, and all other good advice regarding tantrums, should be the guiding document for those who decide our laws, and those who design our environments.

Unfortunately we have to deal with children on multiple fronts – the ride to work, the office, our elected officials, and of course, the media. Mixed in all of these are people who have a rather small view of the world and are concerned with only what serves their most immediate desires.

So, for where we can, we should ignore these idiots. Will anything be gained by engaging with these people? Can a good conversation be had? If not, move on, but I would suggest doing your best to provide them no further material to get excited about. If you make nice, that will probably do much more good than offloading a sweet burn on them, though that may feel better at the time.

Should they be engaged? If they are in a position where they can make decisions on behalf of others, then yes. Send emails, make calls, engage them on the social medias, vote, etc. If they are spouting off in the media, then I think if you choose to engage them, it must be done without leaving anything to fight back with. Stick to the facts, be reasonable, make really strong arguments, and don’t get personal. I know I’m probably not the best example as I have an extremely hard time not being sarcastic with everything, but… people respond to reason best when they don’t feel attacked (I can’t decide if I went a bit far with Karalee above… probably…).

Above all, though, we need to relax. Seriously, this is such a non-issue (the not being allowed to threaten and injure other road users) that it should never have lasted more than a day or two in the media, but I suppose in responding to it we are giving it legs.

There will never be a shortage of people with opinions, and there will always be idiots among them. The problem with the media is that they amplify the voice of idiots everywhere when they continue to favour the commotion their views cause in the columns they provide for them. Controversy sells, and it always will, sad as it is, so I suppose we have an obligation to diffuse it as best we can. Ultimately I suppose we need to foster a culture that values good more than bad.

Like a child throwing a tanty, sometimes ignoring idiocy is the best option. When that is not possible, we need to address the cause, present the facts, and give the idiots the opportunity to discover that ignorance isn’t a good look, change isn’t necessarily bad, and learning makes you happy.

 

Header image: source