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terça-feira, maio 03, 2005

The Psychology of Los Angeles Freeways and the Effect of Recent Shootings

If nothing else, these good driving manners express the centrality of the freeway system in the consciousness of Southern California. I've begun to think of those lanes as a giant public square spreading all across the city, a square where most people try to contribute their mite of civility in hopes of keeping the overall experience as tolerable as possible. But there's another way to look at it. The civility on display may reflect nothing more than the profound hostility lying just below the surface.

As a friend from Fullerton puts it, you drive politely, without challenging other drivers even implicitly, because "they're packing." No one honks because no one wants a fight. People use their turn signals to say, as innocently as possible: "Changing lanes now! Not cutting in! No disrespect intended!"

There is something insidious about the promise of these freeways. The release I feel when I slip into fifth gear and hit 75 is fleeting. There is no lighting out for the territories in these lanes, only the discovery that you've entered a different version of civil society, as constraining and limiting as any you find on the surface streets. Sometimes the traffic locks up solid. Sometimes - which is every bit as maddening - it moves in clots and pulses. That is enough to drive some people crazy.

But these shootings change the underlying psychology of driving here. Taking the on-ramp onto the freeway means accepting a certain degree of unintended randomness, putting up with the fact that accidents happen. These shootings involve something very different: a randomness of intent. It feels as if no amount of care or vigilance or respect for other drivers will protect you.

Secretly, everyone wants to believe that the shootings are motivated by a violation, however slight, of automotive honor. That would leave the rest of us on our best behavior, which is pretty much where we already are.

What we really fear is that they are genuinely unmotivated. If that is true, then suddenly we all live in a very different neighborhood.

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial Observer: The Psychology of Los Angeles Freeways and the Effect of Recent Shootings


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