This weekend the Chicago Tribune reported on the death of yet another State of Illinois police trooper when someone crashed into them during a traffic stop. That’s the third death of a state trooper this year.
People keep crashing into state police by the roadside. Scott’s Law in Illinois states that drivers must move over a lane and slow down when flashing lights are present. Road construction crew members have also been injured and killed by motorists that crash into workers.
It’s a sick, sad sign that people are too self-absorbed or distracted to avoid such incidents. But as a longtime cyclist, nothing about the behavior and lack of conscience shown by motorists will ever surprise me.
I’ve nearly been crushed by a car that missed me by less than three inches. I was cycling far out on a country where you’d think the riding was safer. But a motorist staring at their phone while barreling down a country road sees nothing ahead of them. My life was almost ended because some idiot was texting, looking at social media or downloading porn as they tore through Dekalb County on the road to oblivion.
I can’t imagine how angry and disgusted the Illinois state police must be at losing their valued colleagues to mindless traffic accidents. I can even less imagine the tragedy of the family members whose husbands or wives, fathers, mothers, sisters or brothers are never coming home. It keeps happening. Over and over again.
The loss of life is symptomatic of a selfish, self-absorbed society whose only concern seems to be “What’s-in-it-for-me?”
That attitude crosses political lines on many fronts. And there are grandiose signatures of selfishness at work in our culture. The “I’ve got mine” mentality of the super-rich and the “Give me mine” of the populist meme-followers all contribute to the greater problems of a country so self-concerned it even has a name for its selfish brand of ideology: American Exceptionalism. Those words have been used to justify even the most egregiously outlandlish and prolonged wars of self-interest.
The real war is within ourselves. Recently Bicycling Magazine published a story about the dehumanizing ways in which many motorists view cyclists. The article contains some immensely disturbing outcomes of research conducted to survey attitudes toward cyclists.
“To test the results of a dehumanization perspective, researchers asked respondents whether they’d shown any aggressive behavior toward cyclists, from shouting and rude gestures to deliberately blocking their way with a car, driving close to them, cutting them off, or throwing objects at them.
About 31 percent of respondents rated cyclists as “less than human” on the trait scale, but the number went even higher when looking at the picture scale: When asked to answer how “evolved” they believed cyclists to be when looking at either the ape-person or cockroach-person evolution, 41 percent rated them as “less than human.” Both of these measures were linked to the aggressive behaviors, too.”
One third of all people
That 31% who rated cyclists as “less than human” aligns with other cultural stratifications whose worldview is dismissive of anyone outside their sphere. I think of those shouting political chants such as “Lock her up!” or the cries of marching white nationalists chanting “Blood and soil!”
You might think those are dramatic comparisons and possessed of too much hyperbole. But until you’ve been accosted by an angry driver who intentionally threatens you with their vehicle, or been verbally accosted for simply riding legally on the road, it is perhaps hard to imagine what it is like to be “the other” in those moments.
A petri dish of hate
America is a petri dish of tribal hate. The festering growths of stiff-necked religion and political interests spread like germs and do infect and affect the collective behavior of the population at large. That America is founded on a premise that is consumed by hatred of the other by a proportion of one-third is no longer just a theory, and never really was. We’ve been through a Civil War, women’s emancipation and racial riots just to guarantee rights that should have been granted to people all along. Hate is what kept those rights from being delivered.
Hate is the direct product of selfish absorption and a desire for distraction from the need to respect others. The United States has long been a nation that abides these vicarious aggressions. The fact that our country aggressively ignores the first phrase of the Second Amendment, “A well-regulated militia…” in favor of tossing around the “right to bear arms” as if it had no effect on human life is further evidence that selfish interests far outweigh the daily tragedy resulting from weak and irresponsible gun laws.
Death on the highway
The police on the streets of America are essentially locked in a war with a public where there are literally more guns than people. Every big and little town in American will someday have their own gun tragedy and wonder aloud, “How could it happen here?” Here’s a clue to all those hoping it won’t: It will. It’s only a matter of time as long as we continue to allow self-absorbed policy to rule the land.
But it doesn’t take just guns to kill. State troopers are dying along the highway because people are too stupid, selfish and stubborn to even slow down. It should be so simple. Don’t be so self-absorbed that you cease caring about others. But that’s a stretch for too many people. Fully one-third of America behaves as selfishly as a two-year-old that refuses to share.
Lack of conscience
If America genuinely has any religious conscience left at all, being less self-absorbed would be a great starting point to fix what ills us. But when the so-called Religious Right is so consumed with pursuit of political power there is no room left for moral compassion. Those seeking a political theocracy in America can’t sacrifice their principles fast enough to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle. The Religious Right and evangelicals are turning tricks in return for political favors. The true Whores of Babylon are upon us.
Less than human
In the meantime, I clip a bright light on the back of my bike and hope to heaven no one hits me because they either 1) don’t care or 2) view me less than human. Rather disturbing, isn’t it?