So, I’m sitting at a red light when it happened. Three cars blow through the red light. They came up to the light, stopped briefly, and then drive through the intersection and on up the road. I was stunned. Now, most people have heard the age-old hypothetical ethics question – “if you are in the middle of nowhere, there are no other cars, and it is dark, do you run the light/stop sign?” It is always interesting to me to see the hypothetical occur in real life.

But, the incident I witnessed was not in a remote area. It wasn’t dark. There were other cars present. The light wasn’t malfunctioning and was just about to change to green. And, the three cars were nearly clipped by a car approaching from the left. All factors would imply that the law wouldn’t/shouldn’t be broken…and yet it was.

Now, despite having observed the faces of the drivers of the three cars, I won’t go into that aspect. Suffice it to say these probably weren’t recent immigrants, potentially unaware of the law. Nor were these teenagers out causing trouble.

So, what happened? My theory is that even in the most ideal of situations, people have it in their natures to do what they know is wrong. And, ultimately, if they observe that the civil authority is absent, people willingly break the law. All political correctness aside, I don’t believe these people were fleeing bad regimes. I don’t think they were suffering personal traumas. I don’t think they were pseudo-elites and thus felt themselves above the law. These were people making a free-will choice to break the law…while knowing there’d be no repercussion.

While President of Team Bicycles Inc., a local cycling team, I was an advocate for a set of published rules. So, admittedly, I am of the pro-legislation group when it comes to societal controls. But, I also admit that when answering the ethics question at the top, I have sometimes been on the slippery slope of the lawless.

This topic, obviously, is top of mind because of the recent events in the Gulf Region. Stories from there were all about how the social structure quickly broke down in the absence of civil authority. (Now, I am heartened to read that some of the stories may not have been completely true. Check this article from The Guardian for more detail.) Scavenging/looting did occur. Many people have told tales of law-breaking incidents they experienced or witnessed. There were people toting and shooting guns. It was probably as close to chaos and anarchy as is possible.

So, ultimately, what is the role of government and legislation? And, in the absence of effective enforcement, can we control ourselves?

Since the power was out in NOLA, at least we know no one was running red lights.

Copyright (c) 2005 Jamoker. All rights reserved.

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