Traffic Lights, Violent Crimes, Democracy, and Religion


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“Consider ‘traffic lights’. Can you imagine a situation in which traffic could be controlled in greater volume with no police officers whatever at hand – just an impersonal colored light? But what is the advantage? People obey these lights. Think about it. With no policemen anywhere around people obey these blind and dumb bits of machinery as if they were policemen. Are people here so sheeplike and peaceful that they can be controlled this easily?”

This is a condensed observation by the character in Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein.  It’s in regards to the character passing through alternate dimensions. He is unaccustomed to certain levels of technology, traffic lights being one. This passage occurs over about 2 pages in which the character describes how they work. The observation transitions into crime.

“This world has a higher rate of violent crime than does the world in which I was born. Caused by these strange lights? I don’t think so. I think that the people here, although disposed to violence against each other, accept obeying traffic lights as a logical thing to do. Perhaps. As may be, it is passing strange.”

Needless to say, the observation sort of jumps tracks and I don’t really see the point of mentioning violent crime, other than to point out differences in the worlds the character is experiencing. I’m fine with the 2 pages discussing traffic lights, but I don’t fully understand why it jumps to talking about violence. It doesn’t continue on in that direction. It instead goes on to talk about aeroplanos and jet planes.

I’ve mentioned that Heinlein is one of my favorite authors, but when it comes down to it, I think I would actually say, he is my favorite. I wish he was still alive. I would love to have a day (more like a week) to discuss everything under the sun with him. I would particularly like to talk to him about this passage and why he mentioned violence but then never went anywhere with it. The only time there is any sort of violence (not really) is earlier in the book in which the character is confronted by an unknown shady character. It results in the shady guy grabbing his wrist. He ends up falling into a pool and pulling Shady Guy in with him where he then proceeds to make it look like Shady Guy is trying to drown him in order to get the guy to go away. That’s it.

I can only surmise that Heinlein was trying to show that in the past police officers were stationed at major intersections where they directed traffic and were simply a presence which kept crime down. Just watch any older film and you’ll see this. Cops had more of a presence back then. Nowadays, cops are all in cars. Okay, there are bike cops. But how often do you see cops on foot walking around? The only time I ever do is at events where there are big crowds. I’m not sure if there were actually less crimes per capita back then simply because cops were visible. Part of the problem, in my opinion, is urban sprawl. You simply can’t have cops walking around in non-skyscraper cities. Just look how long it takes them to react to a call when they’re in cars.

I would also like to get Heinlein’s opinion on the use of traffic cameras to police intersections, because a problem he didn’t address in the book was the fact that not everyone obeys these wonderous traffic lights. I’d ask him what he thought about the fact that everyone now essentially has video cameras on them at all times. In a way this opens the doors to people policing each other. If cops can issue a ticket because a camera caught you breaking the law, does that mean we’ll reach a point where people can issue tickets to each other? Would the person then get a reward, say, 10% of the ticket? Would this be a better world? If you knew you would likely get caught when breaking a law, would you still do it?

The real life superhero of Seattle, Phoenix Jones, does essentially this very thing, just without the reward. On his free time, he and other self-appointed superheroes police the streets. When they come across a crime they attempt to record/document it, they call the cops, and also try to prevent the criminal from escaping the scene. If the criminal flees, the superhero will then pursue while keeping the cops informed. Phoenix and his group aren’t acting as vigilantes. They’re not trying to take the law in to their own hands and execute their own brand of justice. For the most part they try to work with the police. They’re like a neighborhood watch that simply encompasses the city.

So my question is; Is it still considered a Police-State if it’s the citizens using surveillance on each other rather than the government? Does it then become a Nark-state? Is there a difference? I knew someone who hated narks, but then they had a criminal history. Nothing was worse than a rat, a fink, a nark. I hate to say it, but in a way, society tends to agree. How many times do we tell kids not to tattle? But see, that’s the problem. We want kids to inform us of things but yet we don’t want them to be tattletales. So where is the line between tattling and taking action?

I explain it to my son as thus. If so-and-so is doing something they shouldn’t, or if they’re doing something you don’t want them to do, tell them first. If they persist, walk away. If it’s something that could result in someone getting seriously hurt or damaging something of value, then come tell me or another adult, otherwise if not, let them do it and risk suffering the consequences.

So, if you witness something against the law transpiring, do you ignore it, or do you inform the authorities? For me, it depends on the crime. Here’s a little fact. Everyone breaks the law at some point in their life. It’s inevitable. The biggest reason for doing so is because of ignorance. There are just way too many laws on the books for a person to know them all. It’s why we have the whole judicial system and too many lawyers.

I’ve said for years that when you move you should be given a book of all the laws that apply to where you will be residing. This would include any and all cities in which you will commonly visit. This residential Lawbook would contain the Federal, State, County, City, etc. laws that to you. Think of it like a phonebook, only this would realistically be several books, (more like a library.) Though thanks to e-readers you could carry this law library with you.

Laws – those pesky protective things.

Laws are generally meant to protect citizens as a whole, and therein lies the problem. If there’s one universal truth, it’s this: A large group of people can’t agree on anything. When a large group of people end up making laws, and not everyone agrees on the law, it then becomes a matter of the majority trying to control the minority. Democracy is great, but it has its downfalls. A major one is that direct democracy really only works on the small scale. The U.S., while we promote democracy, is really a representative democracy in the form of a constitutional republic. This essentially means we choose people to represent us because we don’t have the time to spend debating and making laws ourselves. The constitution part is supposed to protect the minority from being dominated by the majority, but this is practically nonexistent.

For example, Prohibition. This is a great case where the majority imposed their will onto the minority. Granted, I wasn’t alive during this time and it affected me in no way what-so-ever. However, in a way it goes against everything Americans promote in democracy. Sure, people had a choice, rather than the President one day deciding he wanted to ban alcohol, the people voted. But the problem is it stripped people of their privilege to drink. I say privilege because in a legal sense, a Right is something that is irrevocable, while a Privilege can be stripped away at any time. Because alcohol was banned, it would therefore fall under the Privilege category. But wait a minute. We can amend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Therefore, in a way, that means there is no such thing as a right.

There are those who would argue that there are God given rights. The Declaration of Independence, the document which essentially grants the right for revolution, says so.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And yet, we still argue about these ‘certain unalienable Rights.’ For starters, it says that ‘all men are created equal,’ but how so? Slavery still existed for almost a century after this document was created, and prejudice still exists over two centuries later. Not to mention the sexist use of ‘men’ to mean all homo sapiens.

On that note, The United Nations has drafted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in order to correct these simple mis-wordings. This declaration instead says;

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,”

Article 1 says;

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

I think the UDHR does a better job of establishing these certain Rights than The Declaration of Independence and The Bill of Rights, but I still think it doesn’t go far enough.

Surprisingly, or not, the Declaration of Independence is the only document that mentions God/Creator. The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights does not mention either. Though The Constitution and the Bill of Rights does mention religion.

Article VI – The Constitution

“…all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Amendment I – Bill of Rights

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof:”

The UDHR does not mention God/Creator, but it does mention religion five times. Basically it says that religion is a personal matter and can’t be used against a person for any reason.

Why am I mentioning religion? Because that’s what Job: A Comedy of Justice centers around. Specifically, evangelical, born-again Christianity. In my opinion, the main problem with religion is the people. The believers. Again, large groups = conflict. Almost every religion has a religious text. For example – The Christian bible. There are hundreds of Christian denominations. There are Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists, Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Quakers, Mennonites, and on-and-on. And that’s only considering Christians which are a branch of the Abrahamic religions. Judaism and Islam also being branches.

Actually, there are thousands of denominations because there are factions of each of these. One of the main reasons for this is language. It’s not precise enough. People disagree whether a passage should be taken literally or allegorically. For centuries there was only the King James Version. Now we have dozens of versions in which scholars have tried to modernize the language. I own several bibles. I even have one that is 4 translations in one so you can compare the differences. Trust me, there are some interesting interpretations.

Lucifer. Is he the Devil? It all depends on your denomination and the translation you adhere to.  Most modern bible translations don’t contain Lucifer. Scholars have come to believe that it was a mistranslation. Instead these new translation either say; morning star, daystar, shining star, or shining one.

This brings me back to the beginning of this post. Heinlein, even though he is my favorite author, he left me unsure and wondering. In my opinion, his use of language wasn’t precise enough. But I’m okay with that. This also circles around to my previous post in regards to Showing vs. Telling. He could have showed more. But if he had it would have become more of an essay and could have become boring, and chances are I would have an issue with that.

Sometimes, you just can’t win.

In case you didn’t determine this, if I could have dinner with anyone past or present, it would be Heinlein. Second choice, not so easily determined, yet alluded to, would be Thomas Jefferson. I also admire him as a farmer, even though he used slaves to achieve Monticello and passed up on the chance to free them. I definitely have questions for him.