Lecture 11, May 2024


Number 11                                                                                                                          May 2024

Driving home one evening I happened to be stopped at a red light.  I could see the traffic lights for the cross traffic and as I waited for my light to turn green, I watched the other lights turn yellow and then red.  Three vehicles sped through the yellow light and then a fourth car sped through the red light.  Clearly, a “red-light runner.”  When I was learning to drive, I was taught that when a traffic light turned from green to yellow you were to stop your car if at all possible.  If it wasn’t possible or unsafe to do so it was legal to pass through the intersection, but a red light meant for you to stop.  Last night the first three cars were either just entering the intersection or were too close to avoid entering, but that fourth car had plenty of time to avoid running that red light.  So why did the driver risk putting his life and the lives of others in danger?  We will never know.  Maybe he was late for what must have been a very important meeting, possibly he was distracted, on his phone, listening to something on the car radio, talking to someone riding with him.  He could have been rushing someone to the hospital, not likely, or he just might have the attitude that “although it is risky, traffic laws are meant to be ignored or are ‘just guidelines’ and if I can break them and can get away with it, it is no big deal.”

We are all a product of our environment.  Our primary language is the one we learned from the family we grew up with.  Our favorite foods are the ones our mother prepared for our family, or possibly something your wife learned from her mother, who learned it from her mother.  We went to school not just to learn to read and write but also how to interact with others.  Our family had certain rules we were expected to learn and obey.  In school we learned a whole new set of rules which we were expected to follow.  As we grew older, we learned “new” things.  The older we got the more rules we learned and were expected to follow.

The Bible tells us that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 2-17).  There was nothing new about them.  This was the first time these rules, laws or commandments were brought together and codified for the Israelites.  It wasn’t long before these ten basic laws were amended to many hundreds of exceptions or more specific circumstances.  “Thou shall not kill” except to protect yourself, your family, your possessions or to defeat and conquer an enemy.   In the New Testament Jesus is asked which of these is ‘the most important’.  His response is to sum the ten into one, to love God above all else and to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  We were taught the Golden Rule, (Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12) to treat others as you would like them to treat you.  That concept is, in one form or another, in every major religion on earth.   It is also known as “common courtesy”. 

  “Courtesy” is a catch-all word for a collection of unwritten rules and social mores that define how we are expected to behave in society.  Violation of these rules can vary from a simple dirty look to complete and total ostracization.  The United States’ legal system is based on the British system of Common Law.  We have a legal code that includes all our written laws.  The practice of applying these laws includes how the law in question was applied to previous cases.  Thus, we do not require a new law every time a case includes mitigating circumstances.  Both the prosecution and the defense can present any number of previous court decisions to influence the judge and/or the jury.

Back to the ‘red light runner’, we have traffic laws for good reasons.  Back in the day, when farmer Zeke was driving his horse and wagon down the road there wasn’t much traffic to worry about, When Zeke came to a fork in the road everybody knew which way he would go because everybody knew where he was going.  If there was some doubt you waited until Zeke made up his mind and then you made your decision of which road to take.  Then here comes an intersection and Zeke’s neighbor is driving his rig along the crossroad.  They reach the intersection at about the same time, which one has the right of way?  They will probably sit there a spell, talking about the weather, their crops, etcetera until they finally come to an agreement and proceed on their separate ways. As traffic increased it became obvious that some kind of rule was required to resolve the right of way issue quickly.  The automobile brought another set of problems.  You could never be sure just who was driving the car in front of you so when you came to an intersection you had to rely on that driver to tell you what they were about to do.   First there were hand signals – up meant right turn, out meant left turn, down meant stop and no signal meant straight ahead.  Then Detroit developed the stop lights on the car.  Rolls Royce developed small pointers on the side of the car as directional signals.  Detroit did them one better and the blinking taillight was born.  They also added blinking parking lights so oncoming traffic could also see what you intended to do.  Traffic lights were developed to control the flow and speed of traffic.  Changing from green to red at 186,000 miles per second didn’t allow drivers time to react nor time for cars to come to a stop.  The amber of yellow caution light was added to warn drivers that the light was going to change. 

Today our roads and highways have posted speed limits.  They are there to ensure that traffic can proceed in an orderly and safe manner.  I was cruising along at the posted speed limit of 65 MPH.  Fortunately, US 67 at that spot is three lanes wide.  Four cars sped past me, the first two doing about 90 MPH.  Not only were they speeding but also cutting their way through the other cars on the highway, using all three lanes to do it.  If I am making a 20-mile trip to meet a friend, and the speed limit is 60 MPH the trip will take me 20 minutes.  If my friend was making the same trip but driving 90 MPH the trip would take them about 10 minutes.  So, they get there ten minutes before I do.  What are they going to do for those ten minutes besides wait for me to get there?   You cannot save them up so at the end of the day you have ‘extra’ time.  Study after study shows that excessive speed was a factor in many traffic accidents.  Accidents where people were injured, maimed, or killed. 

An observation:  We have recently seen an apparent increase in violence among our young people.  I am reminded of an instructor, either in high school or college, who spoke of a rat experiment.  The objective was to determine how population density affected a given rat population.  A large cage was prepared with plenty of food, water and room, and a known rat population was introduced.  After a few days, things had settled down and another rat was introduced to the cage.  There was a period of adjustment as the newcomer was assimilated into the population.  The next day another rat was added with the same results.  The experiment continued.  Finally, it was noted that the introduction of an additional rat led to the apparent increase in aggressive behavior among the total population.  There was no way to determine what other factors led to the increase.  It could have been overcrowding, fear of a loss of food, possibly a loss of status among the group. Rats do not express abstract ideas to humans very well.

How does this relate to our young people?  The community could be a school, the family, the neighborhood, just about any group that the young person belongs to.  Something introduced stress into that individual and the result was an increase of aggression.