Govern or Be Governed
Returning home from the Johnston, a couple of weeks ago, I floated along in the fast lane of 195, my mind flitting through political thoughts, and it took me a moment to register the fact that traffic in both of the other lanes had come to a crawl. A sign explained the reason: “Left two lanes closed ahead.” Per highway etiquette, I pulled into the first opening available. Let’s just say that my action was unique among those in the lane that was actually moving.
After a dozen or so cars flew by, I pulled my work van back into the fast lane but kept pace with the slow-moving space that I had just occupied. The two truckers between whom that space had been saw what I was doing, and the one behind maintained my opening while the one ahead modified his speed to that of slowest lane. The mile or so between us and the actual merge cleared like the upper cell of an hourglass, and the traffic began to move at a tolerable pace. As we approached the merge, the cars that I’d blocked alternated politely into traffic, and I like to think that the newly established pattern held at least for a little while.
It occurred to me that those whose advantage I’d squashed may have resented the presumption, but if we individual representatives of society step forward for small and large corrections, it is indeed possible to exist without government officials dictating and directing, waving flags to corral us into functional routines. Two news stories came to mind, the first out of Westport:
The homeowner… found the suspects in his house when he returned from running errands at about 3:50 p.m., police said. When the suspects ran out of the house, he chased after them. When two construction workers drove by, he flagged them down and they joined the chase, police spokesman Detective Jeff Majewski said.
One of the suspects, running with a pillowcase full of jewelry, handed the goods over to one of the construction workers and continued running, Majewski said. Officers, including the Dartmouth K-9 unit and Westport harbormaster, conducted a “massive search” in the area for a few hours before finding [Gerald] Thorpe, he said.
The mugshot of Mr. Thorpe that accompanies a Sakonnet Times editorial on the topic shows a man surprised and confused, cut and dirty, not yet suffering from the poison ivy through which he’d crawled. As the editors wrote:
Police don’t normally recommend that citizens pursue bad guys (things might not have ended so happily had one of these men been armed). But in an age when people supposedly no longer get involved (fear of lawsuits and the like), the response this time was nice to see.
A thematically similar story from Seattle didn’t end well for the indignant citizen, although not in the way one might expect:
A plucky teller foiled a robbery attempt at Key Bank in Seattle. But the story does not end happily. When a small man in a beanie cap, dark clothing, and sunglasses pushed a backpack across the counter and announced, “This is a ransom. Fill the bag with money,” teller Jim Nicholson ignored his training and “instinct took over.” He lunged across the counter and attempted to grab the thief by the throat, or at least to pull his glasses off. The nonplussed would-be robber bolted for the door with Nicholson on his heels. A couple of blocks away, with the help of others, Nicholson tackled the guy and held him until police arrived.
Two days later, Key Bank got in touch with Nicholson. A bonus, perhaps? A commendation? Not quite. He was fired. It seems he had violated the bank’s strict policy that tellers should always comply with robber demands. A Key Bank spokesman has not returned a call asking for comment.
A private company can set its own policies, of course, but it’s an insidious tendency of modern society to discourage folks from acting on their freedom to stand for principle, to take risks that establish social expectations and proclaim an unwillingness to be victimized.