Monday, April 09, 2007

Irish Road Safety and John Waters' Metaphysical Ramblings

BBC's Top Gear programme is a popular programme because of its focus on high-speed cars. Presenter Richard Hammond has returned to the programme after a serious crash last September in a jet-powered car while filming for the programme. Hammond had been in a dragster-style car capable of reaching speeds of about 300mph at Elvington airfield near York.

A noticeable difference between my school days and today is that on a weekday afternoon, it is rare these days in Dublin, to find people staggering blind drunk out of pubs and proceeding to drive a vehicle. In contrast, it was far from rare in Bandon, West Cork. Twenty miles west, Dunmanway had a reputation for the amount of gargle available at funerals and the bottles of poitín or whiskey would be passed around in the graveyard.

While the amount of driving while being blind drunk, has fallen significantly in recent decades, most Irish teens regard the consumption of a lot of alcohol as an essential part of socialising.

Young men and not so young men are smitten by fast cars as the popularity of the BBC programme can testify to. Presenter Jeremy Clarkson's sidekick Richard Hammond, having recovered from a high-speed test car accident last year, is back on the testosterone-fuelled programme.

So for young Irish male drivers, the combination of drink and fast cars is a powerful cocktail.

An example of poor attention to public safety - Dubliners are very familiar with cracked pavements that can go unrepaired for months or years. There are also plenty other examples of the lackadaisical attitude to public safety. Dublin City Council has a marked car space directly in front of the south exit of the Merrion Inn pub on Merrion Road above. Motorists swinging left into the petrol filling station, sometimes without significantly reducing speed, put pedestrians at risk. Think of the risk on a dark wet night, with pedestrians exiting the pub and a moving car with limited or no visibility on its left, just about to cut across the footpath.
Irish Times columnist John Waters looks at the world through a more opaque prism.

This is part of what John Waters presented to readers in today's issue:

...a comparison between our out-of-control male driver and the suicide bomber in some Muslim cultures. The context is different, but they seem both to be expressions of a perversion, a short-circuiting of meaning.

Ideally, a child needs to grow up in a coherent tradition which, while transmitting its own principles with love and conviction, is open enough to enable the testing of its value system against others. The element in Islamic cultures provoking the emergence of the fundamentalist extremist appears to be the rigidity of the tradition and its poor adaptability to different forms of reality.

When Islamic culture is transplanted into a secularised, hyper-liberal environment, a host of complexes are created in the minds of some youngsters, who react by plunging deep into the tradition. Our culture is, in a sense, the opposite.

Having recently emerged from rigid tradition into a virtual free-for-all, we have replaced our prior insistence on the conveyance of a singular notion of meaning with a pick-and-mix culture in which the child is left struggling to comprehend reality. This, for the reasons already stated, affects males more than females.

The signals picked up by the young man tell him that he may find his meaning and identity as an entrepreneur, a sportsman or a plumber. But, because he is primed with questions that go far deeper than business, sport or plumbing, this provokes in him an extreme reaction not dissimilar in psychological terms to the reaction of the young Muslim man who, unable to reconcile the eternal culture with what he has been taught, dives backwards for reassurance into the deepest, darkest parts of the tradition.

The young Irishman, lacking this option, plunges forward in a hedonistic rush, and, because he finds himself on quicksand, speeds up to stay above ground. The two are equally out of control, but seek different ways to answer back.

One straps himself around with explosives and walks into a city. The other, perhaps less consciously, gets behind a steering wheel, puts the pedal to the metal and explodes onto a country road.

- isn't life complicated enough without having to jump on a pop-psychology bandwagon?

The recent change in the attitude of the Government to road safety issues will take a long time to have an impact.

The obsession of each new generation with drink will not change in just a decade or two. In addition, in our system of governance, where there is little public accountability, the evidence is everywhere of a lackadaisical attitude to public safety as exemplified by the Merrion Road case cited above.