Wednesday, December 12, 2007

of men and norms

one of last week's most bizarre incidents was the death of a motorcycle rider who hit a standing truck wearing no helmet.

so far, ordinary is it not? by law, motorcycle helmets are compulsory in turkey, and to my knowledge, all european states. here, especially in summer, the mandatory condition tends to evaporate with the heat, to the degree where even mounted cops ride wearing only a baseball cap, because some genious desk-jockey has not included the helmet as part of their hot weather uniform! in america, some states require it and some leave it to the rider. in many parts of the u.s., there exist sizable movements to repeal the helmet requirement on grounds that "protecting my life is my own privilege and concern, not a domain of intervention by the state". ok buddy. you free to croak... jes don't do it in, on, under or over my vehicle... drôle, drôle, drôle...

but our guy in question had just left a conference -which he had joined on his own free will - extolling the virtues of safe motorcycle riding with full protective gear, helmet, boots, knee pads and so on...

events like this raise the question of the relationship between men and rules.

excluding such accidents of political history, as saudi arabia, iran or pakistan etc., where rules exist to keep -often naturally submissive- peoples subdued and supplicant; and are, more often than not, arbitrarily enforced, just as they are arbitrarily made, norms serve to establish some sort of an order over impersonal social relations. in general, legal structures favor extant power structures and serve the interests of power wielders. still, there can be no societal order, even in saudia, where the normative structure does not also answer some needs, albeit at the most basic, of the general public - there is your basic gramsci for you.

as power becomes more diffused, so that society can maintain some effective control over the state and its political machine, norms begin to order social life in an inevitably "reasoned" (*) manner, that is more instrumental in serving the interests of almost everyone concerned. as reason wins over rulers' whim, although qualitatively more efficient, norms become fewer in number. even in the european union, there (probably) exist laws that favor big business, but there are also quite live rules that protect the common consumer. every ordinance is rationally designed to best avoid violating third party concerns, while solving problems for -hopefully- the entire populace.

drawn under such rational systematics and methodology, also open to alterations or even abolition, through equally rational and methodical criticism, such normative structures create a collective intelligence and collective wisdom that not only orders but also facilitates social organization and cohesion. a german or a dane refrains from diving into a one way road from the reverse direction, not because he is not stupid but because he recognizes that if that becomes a habit, he will end up losing far more hours than the few minutes he can gain. the "ever-clever" turk (or, still, the mezzogiornian) who tries to cut a corner eventually gets to block a whole road, a whole junction, a whole traffic flow and still sits on his horn in total indignation.

in short, individuals' control and sway over their social life-domain arms them with an armor of collective wisdom, so that they do not even have to be clever. in the third and a half world, however, a quasi-clever band of malfed nincompoops forever perpetuate a guagmire of total collective idiocy continously pissing into it.

no wonder such pathological personality manifestations occur, where one attends a meeting that propagates safe riding bike and on his exit, bangs his bike barehead into the back of a garbage truck.

like getting out of an alcoholics anonymous meeting and hopping into the first watering hole next door.

(*) inevitably reasoned because otherwise the social machine will not function and be wrecked.

1 comment:

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