The anonymity of rage

Driving to work can really shatter the nerves.

If you take the road personally and interpret everything people do from behind the safety of their car doors as a personal slight, you just might find yourself miserable. You must relax. Drive smoothly, do not try to overtake Time. If you can’t enjoy the ride, at least tolerate it as your own personal journey which must be breathed one mile at a time. In a city like this there are thousands of drivers on the road at any one time. Most of them have no cognizance of anyone else. Their only concern is getting where they “need” to be and the road is the Obstacle. Some drivers, intent on creating maximum conflict and tension, wear their egos rather shallowly on their bumper like a loud bumper sticker which announces, basically, “get out of my way” or “you’re in my way” or “speed it up asshole” or “are you an idiot?” Still, it’s not strictly personal. In fact, it’s “depersonal.” Depersonalization is the only humanly manner civilized human beings can treat strangers in such an overbearing and primitive manner.

Have you ever driven behind someone who you knew personally? As you drove behind them, witnessing their style and their maneuvers, do you ever wonder what you would think of them and their driving if you did not know them? Would you consider them idiots? Morons? Assholes? Any manner of demeaning labels?

This is an interesting mental exercise in that it invalidates your privilege (except for the most cold-hearted) of depersonalizing, hence judging, the normal suspects so harshly. It doesn’t let you bastardize the other driver because this time it is your mother or father or best friend. In fact, I thought of this the past weekend when I was following my mother to an event a few miles south of here. I followed her along a long, two-lane industrial boulevard with moderate traffic and signals. Casually, I put myself in the shoes of a complete stranger and I wondered what this random driver might think of my mother’s driving. He would probably think she was slow. That she was a deliberate older lady. They might think worse and punch the accelerator loudly in order to pass. Anonymity breeds contempt, especially on the roadways. I’m not generally a fast driver, and her pace suited me well, but I am always tailgated in this town. Which leads me to believe that I drive “slower” than the average bear. Not “slow” per se…just slower than the normal frantic Angeleno. The tailgater, the rushed beast, expresses anger and frustration in not knowing me. Not knowing or experiencing my humanity and my personal life. Anger is best expressed on the roadways as a sliver of displaced frustration against human nature and all that is “them” and not me. Rage against facelessness and namelessness is the most insidious for it allows you to express an anger that has no motive and no owner.

Have you ever been driving along, perhaps on the way to work or an event, and you found yourself next to a driver who did something that just irritated the hell out of you? You cursed them and belittled their intelligence or physical acumen. If you were fortunate, you did not honk or give them the finger for a short while later you discovered that they were going to your destination as well and that you knew them or someone they knew? Ha! Now there is the rub and this is when you realize just how paper-thin and heartless is the anger you volunteer so easily and just how suspect its veracity is. Your own human limitations are foisted upon you because the sudden the ugly nature of your emotions is plainly illustrated and you see that all those people you’ve yelled at, fingered, cursed, stared down, were representative of precious individual lives that mattered. To someone; just not you.

The roadways are a monstrous zone of inhumanity. I fear the cyber-highway is becoming this, if it’s not already there. We are an amorphous blob of humanity brought together within the discreet and wondrous tentacles of this global silicon medium. We are names, we are pseudonyms, we are disembodied identities. We don’t know anybody. We are an image and we are a character. We are our thoughts, our eyes, maybe our voice, but we are less than human in this virtual wasteland. And thus able to extend an element of dehumanization over the pall of all we encounter. For a long time I indulged in such facelessness and the celebration of asocial non-involvement by closing down my comments. I opened them up recently and have received comments which essentially humanized this damned blogging experience. Opening the comments has allowed me to know the person in the other car. It is important for the blogger to keep in mind that sometimes your rants and rabid generalizations are best suited to implicating groups of faceless hordes; but which may fall to pieces when you consider that they also implicate individuals as represented by individual commenters.