Monday, May 19, 2008

Cyclist Blames Self: Film at 11

Talk on one of my favorite cycling lists recently turned to being a cycling role model and of the moral imperative of coming to a full stop at stop signs. This quickly turned into a rash of tsk-tsks to cyclists who do not choose to do such things. The basic premiss was that running red lights or behaving impolitely while on a bicycle leads non-cyclists (read - Motorists) to view all cyclists as scofflaws. The belief is that this then causes motorists to behave poorly towards cyclists.

This theory is, of course, one of the standards of slow-news-day local TV coverage in any city large enough to have more than two cyclists. Local AM hate radio gets in on the act from time to time, and there was at least one widely reported call by some on-air idiot for motorists to carry D-cell batteries to throw at cyclists who impede motor vehicle traffic. Regrettable as these "news" items may be, they tend to pop up only when the viewing public has lost its collective interest in whichever poorly planned invation the US has engaged itself at the moment. Fortunately, there's always another poorly planned invasion around the corner, so we cyclists are not subjected to this nonsense too frequently or for too long.

So, imagine my surprise to find a this group of otherwise gentle (and quite often genteel) cyclists adopting the holier than thou condemnation of the straw man "Scofflaw Cyclist" presented by generally mass-market auto-placating media outlets. In their attempt to prove (to whom?) that cyclists DO obey the rules which have been laid out for us, these fine bicyclers fell prey to the slow-news-day premise that cyclists need to justify their place on the road.

We don't.

Nevertheless, these cyclists had found their enemy, and that enemy is NOT the impatient prick in his Ford Killemator 4x4 who blasts past cyclists on the left while making a right hand turn. Nope, some dope on a rad "fixie" who blew through a stop sign without touching Adidas to tarmac is at fault for the bad example he or she has set. When cyclists follow this logic, we buy into the logic that Impatient Prick and his kind use to rationalize THEIR dangerous behavior towards other living humans. With the Scofflaw Cyclists to blame for driving-induced frustration, impatient motorists can absolve themselves of moral responsibility for the violent way they treat others. Why any cyclist would validate this rationalization by turning to point the finger an other cyclist to announce "J'accuse!" is beyond me. At the risk of parroting the personal responsibility mantra of the same hate radio folks who periodically bring "bash a cyclist" day out to raise ratings, I don't think we should make it so easy to pass this particular buck.

To be fair, many good things were also posted about the positive aspects of being a cycling ambassador, and of faithfully and fully following the laws of our cities, states, and country when cycling on the public roadways. Much was said about the degree to which our actions can affect others, and the degree to which setting a good example in public can have positive affects that we may not even be aware of. All of this is true, and it is true in all aspects of life beyond cycling. It is good to be good, of this there can be no debate. I can find no good reasons NOT to obey the law, to stop at stop signs, to pay your taxes, or to say nice things about your mother-in-law. However, I simply do not buy - even for a second - the proposed axiom that stop sign running cyclists increase the degree of motorist mis-deads towards cyclists. That sort of thinking is, quite frankly, too easy. When this sentiment is proffered by cyclists, it reveals a particularly objectionable self-loathing. Impatient jerks are going to be impatient jerks whether they are behind the wheel of a car or not, and if they don't have the Scofflaw Cyclist to use as a crutch, they'll find another crutch in short order.

People, in general, want everything they do to be as easy as possible, and they never want to be to blame for anything bad...ever. People who drive cars are no exception to that rule. With the The Scofflaw Cyclist straw man in place, car driving people have a target for the frustration they feel over the situation THEY have created, but for which they are completely unable to accept the blame. Most motorist frustration seems to be the result of not being able to get from point A to point B easily, and that's simply the result of traffic congestion. Traffic congestion, one might be surprised to discover, is caused by one thing and one thing only - too many cars in one place at one time. Scofflaw cyclists have nothing to do with it. While it runs counter to human nature to sit in traffic and think "I can't really get frustrated with this since I am, after all, as much to blame as every other motorist out here for this traffic jam," blaming Scofflaw Cyclists for the frustration that driving seems to engender is a bit far-fetched.

I refuse to pick up this particular trope, and I refuse to conclude that anyone OTHER than the motorists who endangers me is to blame for said endangermment. Conversely, if I PUT myself in danger by doing something stupid like blowing through a stop sign, I refuse to assign the blame for the consequences of that action to anyone else.

It really is just that simple.