Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Divinipotent About Egoists at the Wheel

“The truest characters of ignorance are vanity, and pride and arrogance.”
~ Samuel Butler

Divinipotent Daily has noticed a peculiar trend lately — drivers who pull up to red lights, stop briefly and then proceed on through. This is happening in broad daylight in New York City, not in the middle of the badlands of South Dakota. A growing number of people apparently consider themselves exempt from the traffic rules the rest of us must follow.

This brought to mind another trend. Here in the home of Wall Street, when the global economy first hit the skids it was common to see expensive European cars hurtling down the Long Island Expressway at breathtaking speeds, weaving in and out of traffic with inches to spare. Divinipotent Daily wondered whether the financial sector's mass despair had soaked itself in rage and gone for a spin, turning investment bankers into four-wheeled missiles.

"Stupidity combined with arrogance and a huge ego will get you a long way."
~ Chris Lowe

A rash of local highway tragedies suggest something even more pernicious than rage may be to blame. In the past few weeks, in two unrelated incidents, booze-sodden off-duty police offers have mowed down and killed unsuspecting pedestrians. (We have laws that penalize bartenders for serving alcohol to already drunk people, but it is easy to see how a barkeep might be intimidated by a drunk with a badge and a loaded weapon.)

But that's not the worst of it. Last July, drunken mother Diane Schuler got behind the wheel of a minivan filled with children and drove the wrong way down the Taconic Parkway, killing eight people. Just last month, another mother went for a drunken drive with seven young girls onboard and flipped the car, killing one child and sending the others to the hospital; survivors reported that she taunted the children about the odds of having an accident just before the crash.

"He was like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow."
~ George Eliot

Last month, at his New Yorker Festival talk, Malcolm Gladwell discussed drunkeness. He said the common belief that alcohol lowers inhibitions is incorrect. Instead, studies show that excessive drinking makes people focus on what is immediate and close at hand and, as a result, lose sight of longer range consequences.

With or without alcohol, the drivers described above seem focused on one thing only: their right to do whatever they choose. Divinipotent Daily wonders if they might be connected by some shared psychological dysfunction. Is it possible that road rage has mutated into road arrogance, and we are now sharing our highways and neighborhood streets with imperious, self-important egoists who consider themselves immune not only to human laws but the laws of physics as well? Perhaps someone will launch a study. However, the concurrent increase in the popularity of toxic sociopath Ayn Rand does make one wonder.

"As individuals and as a nation, we now suffer from social narcissism. The beloved Echo of our ancestors, the virgin America, has been abandoned. We have fallen in love with our own image, with images of our making, which turn out to be images of ourselves."
~ Daniel J. Boorstin


  1. I've witnessed the same phenomenon recently, as well as rude gestures and unprintable words directed at me when I pointed out the color of the stop light to the offender. When they sport Jersey plates on the bumper, I think they may be unaware of NYC's no-turn-on-red laws... but it still irks me. And while we're at it, what about the bicyclists who regard traffic lights and signs as suggestions rather than commands? I'm an avid biker myself, and it disgusts me to see the arrogance and sense of entitlement many of my fellow two-wheelers display when stone cold sober.

  2. The right turners are bad enough, but the drivers I've seen lately aren't even turning, they're going straight. It's insane. And funny you should mention the bicyclists. I'm working on another post about that and talked to 311 about getting a copy of the bicycle rules (yes, they exist). They're supposed to mail them to me. We'll see.