Monday, April 07, 2008

The Herd...

Jordan and I were talking about cycling and driving one evening last week. He wanted to know if he could become a League cycling instructor, and I advised that it would be a good idea to have more cycling experience. “How many times did you ride your bike last year?” I asked. “Once or twice?”

That was the extent of his riding last summer, and he only did that because his sister and I were gone. There was no one to drive him to work.

Is it cool to ride a bike at seventeen?” I asked.

He replied, “No, it's not. Everyone drives. They drive to school. They drive to work. They drive to parties on the weekend. I'm the only one who can't!”

I felt overwhelming sorrow at this because it exposed my deficiencies as a parent. I have the audacity to put limits on where and when he can drive. I'm heartbroken at the thought of putting such a crimp in the boy's social life.

Sure I am.

Being a devious parent steeped in Socratic method, I asked, “So in order to express your individuality, you have to dress like everyone else, think like everyone else, and act like everyone else?”

The kid knows when he's about to step into a minefield. His answer was slow in coming, but predictably, he gave a long, drawn-out sigh at the sheer obtuseness of his father, and said, “Uh, yeah. It is.”

So it's a bad thing to split from the herd, be different, and not be concerned about fitting in. There are only two types of animals outside the herd, predators and prey, but the herd is never anything but prey. Be different. Be a wolf.”

(Note to self: Socrates' teaching method wasn't very popular with his fellow Athenians. He had to drink hemlock, remember, and Jordan gave me a look that was pure hemlock.)

Originally, my intent was to write a piece about the astonishing conformity I see in our local teens. They not only avoid thinking outside the box, they don't know the box exists. But a couple of things came up that made me reconsider this piece.

Prosecutor: Tell the court why you think he is a traitor to this country.

Miss America: I think Mr. Mellish is a traitor to this country because his views are different from the views of the president and others of his kind. Differences of opinion should be tolerated, but not when they're too different. Then he becomes a subversive mother..............Woody Allen's “Bananas”.

I work in an industry that's been security obsessed since 9/11. Although reading about security issues is interesting, it's not part of my job. But Bruce Schneier often writes on the absurdities of security theater, measures that don't actually enhance security so much as they give the appearance of doing so. The “war on liquids” is a perfect example. The security services reacted to a perceived threat that later turned out to be largely imaginary, but we've been stuck with the ban on liquids ever since. Are these measures sensible? In a word, no. But if you object to them, you've just left the herd, and the TSA is waiting to pounce.

TSA is fond of saying that their security personnel are trained to spot those “people and things that stand out from the norm...”

TSA's officers have experienced more passengers and bags than anyone else on earth and that knowledge is priceless. They know what doesn't seem right. In a calmer checkpoint environment, hostile intent stands out from the behavior of regular passengers just trying to navigate the system. Behavior detection officers and document checkers will use their training and skills to identify people and things that stand out from the norm and give them added scrutiny.

This story was in the news, so I won't go into detail about it. Just think about what I wrote about being outside the herd, being a non-conformist who doesn't quite fit with the usual societal norms.

TSA posted a story about their “Behavior Detection Officers” making an arrest in Orlando. It should be interesting to see how this develops when they go to court and the defense asks what specific behaviors led to their suspicions. Until now, TSA has refused to describe the criteria for suspicious behavior. Their officers are supposed to be specially trained, and it will be instructive to see how much of the training is actually used. Given their history with such nefarious items as nipple rings, breast milk, and laptop computers, I won't have high expectations. But it may be equally instructive to consider that the other passengers were saying the suspect was acting very oddly and it's highly unlikely that any of them are 'trained to spot people and things that stand out from the norm'.

Then there was the Case of the Terrorist Nipple Rings:

Every time that I think that TSA can't possibly get any dumber, its employees top themselves. Case in point, Woman told to remove nipple rings for SoCal flight:

A TSA agent told a woman she would have to remove her nipple rings if she wanted to pass the security checkpoint. The woman has retained Gloria Allred as her attorney.

A woman was forced by the Transportation Security Administration to remove her nipple rings before she was allowed to board a flight, an attorney said on Thursday.

"The woman was given a pair of pliers in order to remove the rings in her nipples," said Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred. "The rings had been in her nipples for many years."

The original reference was this:

Schneier on Security

We've opened up a new front on the war on terror. It's an attack on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected; it's a war on different. If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested -- even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong. The problem is a combination of citizen informants and a CYA attitude among police that results in a knee-jerk escalation of reported threats.

...Of course, by then it's too late for the authorities to admit that they made a mistake and overreacted, that a sane voice of reason at some level should have prevailed. What follows is the parade of police and elected officials praising each other for doing a great job, and prosecuting the poor victim -- the person who was different in the first place -- for having the temerity to try to trick them.

In a society that values conformity “über alles” it can be dangerous to separate from the herd. Those who don't conform, those who are different, those who cannot or will not fit in are immediately suspect, subjected to ridicule, hostility, interrogation, and even arrest on the basis of little more than bias and suspicion. This can be on an organized basis like the illegal attempts by NYPD to suppress Critical Mass, or it can be as simple as a hostile county deputy trying to use his authority to bully a cyclist off the road. It can involve road rage and assault that police refuse to investigate. The message is – you're different and you deserve what you get.

Sadly, too many cyclists view themselves as second class citizens when it comes to using our public roads. The herd mentality is that motorist's rights are dominant and cyclists should simply know their place. In my tortured analogy, cyclists are the wolves. They travel in packs and they're capable of swarming over an antagonistic motorist. Perhaps commuter cyclists are the coyotes since they travel solo and live by their own cunning.

Finally, there's this from Dave Moulton:

...The media reflecting public opinion take on a “Blame the Victim” attitude. Although not in this specific case, but in talking about cycling related accidents in general. Public opinion after a cyclist is killed or injured is often, “He or she asked for it by being on the road.”

...The press and public opinion go hand in hand. The media can influence public opinion, but at the same time, they pander to popular opinion. Newspaper columnists know if they write an anti-cyclist piece it will get the support of the anti-cyclist public, and sell newspapers.

When Matthew Parris wrote in the London Times, advocating decapitation of cyclists with piano wire, there was an outcry from the cycling community, but little support from the general public.

Mr. Parris is not the only one to have written such inflammatory anti-cyclist articles. If these journalists used the words, Black, Jew, or Moslem in the place of “Cyclist” they would have been hauled off to jail.

...There would also be public outcry if there was a racially motivated attack on a black man and the police failed to pursue the matter. Yet in Tucson, Arizona police refuse to pursue a case after a cyclist was struck with a baseball bat. Even though the victim provided a license plate number, and the cyclist’s lawyer knows who the assailant is, and where he lives.

In America a person can no longer attack a black or Jewish person, or a gay guy without serious consequences, these are hate crimes. Why is it then a driver consumed with road rage can take a baseball bat to a cyclist and the police look the other way?

..Viewed in this light, isn’t the whole issue of people riding bikes on public roads a human rights issue? Cyclists are human, and they have a definite right to be on the road. Yet I have never heard of a cycling advocate pursuing it in this light, or a lawyer arguing that a cyclist’s civil rights were violated.

Cyclists, adult cyclists at least, are already outside the herd. Riding a bike on the road is not a socially mainstream activity. Join the wolf pack, or at least become a coyote. Road cyclists have to develop an attitude. No, I'm not saying that we need to be aggressive, arrogant, or rude. We have plenty of people like that already, both on and off the road. Road cyclists have to believe they have just as much right to use the road as anyone else, and they simply must be aware of the laws governing their travel.

Stop caring about impeding traffic and realize that you have a right to use the road in safety and comfort the same as any other road user.



Blogger Fritz said...

I have a post in mind, too, about teen conformity. It's not so much about expressing individuality as finding an identity, of finding the "right" group to conform to. They want to fit in with the group that they think they identify with. That's why "goths" all wear black, why the fixie crowd all have top tube pads and go brakeless, and grouchy old men like us wear loose fitting Dockers.

Being a part of the herd is protection for the prey. Even predators such as wolves are part of a pack. The lone wolf is a dead wolf.

If your son reads this comment, he owes me a tall vanilla latte.

4:01 PM  

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