Yesterday while out birding on a country road west of our home, I turned the corner where the asphalt surface turns to gravel and spied a pile of Canada geese scattered in the snow. Some hunter must have exceeded the bag limit on geese for the day and was afraid of being caught in possession of too many waterfowl by the game warden, so they dumped their illegal harvest and left it for the coyotes to consume.
Killing geese that way qualifies as “poaching,” which is against the law, so I contacted the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and reported the incident for investigation.
The reason why I recount this incident on a blog about running, riding and swimming is that I strongly believe that laws matter, and that extends to every facet of society.
For starters, hunting laws matter because wildlife is otherwise susceptible to overharvesting. Just over one hundred years ago, Americans wiped out a species of bird called the Passenger Pigeon. Market hunters killed off of billions of birds in a span of just forty or so years. That’s proof that even with laws in place to protect natural resources, people are often too greedy, ignorant, selfish and dumb to care about them.
I witness the same kind of self-centered behavior every day on the roads where I run and ride. Out of every ten cars that pass by, there’s always one driver that refuses to move over. Illinois law says that motorists must allow three feet of distance between a vehicle and a bike rider. But people suck at separating hazards or respecting the rights of cyclists on the road. More typically they pick up speed to beat the approaching vehicle to the spot where I’m riding and misjudge horribly. That means their speeding car or truck is now forced to squeeze between the approaching vehicle and me. Rather than strike the approaching car, they swerve in my direction…
Purposely or not, they’ve just broken the law. In essence, they’re “poaching” my position on the road.
Even worse, some drivers clearly intend to intimidate cyclists, roaring their engines and passing close while honking their horns. I’ve seen it way too many times for anyone to insist, “Well, that probably doesn’t happen that often.” Yes, it does.
Aggressive, selfish drivers are all over the roads. An article on DrivingSchool.net documents road rage frequency and its effects on even innocent people. Significantly, it also shares this bit of compelling information:
During a recent poll conducted by AAA, half of drivers who shared road rage stories admitted to engaging in aggressive behavior in response. This type of active engagement leads to more accidents, and sadly more deaths. Both AAA and NHTSA warn drivers to avoid giving in to the temptation to seek revenge or intimidate aggressive drivers. This kind of behavior often escalates a minor incident into dangerous combative driving, which can put even more drivers at risk.
On a daily basis, I’ve seen these instincts between the white lines. People come to think they own the road, and every turn at the wheel is another chance to express their disapproval toward the world. Anyone who challenges them or interrupts their notion of ownership is fair game for a show of force. Of power. Of self-perceived privilege.
In other words, rage begets rage. Selfishness begets selfishness. We see it all the time. It’s the only real trickle-down effect that has ever legitimately taken hold in America. That’s a sad fact. When selfish lawlessness and rage are displayed and approved on a consistent basis, it has definite effects on the psychology of a society. People begin to feel their nativist aggression and domination is acceptable. Their vigilante instincts emerge. They either ignore the law or seek to take it into their own hands. We see these outcomes in police discrimination and brutality, gun violence and mass shootings, and political scorched earth campaigns.
Then it becomes part of the mass psychology and tribal instincts to defend such egregious behavior. Those who resist it are gaslighted at crazy for not going along.
But we should recognize selfishness for what it is. It is fear.
Selfish instincts encourage people to flaunt the law because deep down inside, they fear being told what to do or having to be accountable to anyone else. That’s why unethical goose hunters feel justified in blasting away even when their bag limit has been achieved. It’s why some people try to prove their worth by killing off things of beauty as a display of personal power or prowess. They fear being seen as something less than in control or powerful.
This is the sickness of mind that took over America these last four years. People come to think the law no longer applies to them and seek out a tribe that affirms those instincts no matter the cost.
But there is a cost.
I’ve interviewed state police conservation officers who shared harrowing stories of what they find out in the field; bloody massacres and poaching and outright lawlessness and abuse of nature––and the people who visit it. Officers told me it is hard to process what they’ve seen during their jobs once they come home at night. Some things are so horrific they can’t be unseen.
I’m sure the same thing can be said for emergency medical technicians who visit the scene of an accident when cyclists or runners are struck and killed by vehicles. The trauma on the soul is real.
Right now there are first responders all over the country dealing with people sick from Covid-19. In California, EMTs are being told to determine which clients are deemed healthy enough to save. The rest may be left at home to die.
These are tough choices being forced on people trying to do the right thing and take care of fellow Americans of all races, backgrounds and circumstances. Nearly 350,000 people have died during this pandemic, and the lack of a planned response from the President and the federal government under his administration is responsible for a majority of those deaths.
We know why this is the case. The President was so busy trying to poach votes and lay claim to America as his own turf back in February that he refused to concern himself with the lives of everyday Americans. He was so busy blasting away at his opponents and engaging in political road rage that he cared nothing about the carnage he was creating along the way.
The selfish, greedy instincts of this president have finally caught up with him, but he’s still sitting in his blind or bunker or whatever you want to call it, blasting away like there’s no tomorrow. But there is a tomorrow, and he’s not going to rule it any longer. His plans have backfired. Even his loyal aides lay scattered across the ground like gun fodder. It has been a historical testament to the costs of poaching, road rage and political consequences in which we’ve all either been witnesses and participants.
How you view it all depends which side of the road you’re on.