Applied anthropology

On my way to an anthropology lecture today, I learned much more about humans than I could expect of the lecture. To clarify: the content of the lecture was great yet, with respect to understanding humans, engaging in applied anthropology is inherently unsurpassable.

While I was cycling through Upper Street in Angel, there was a couple (or maybe three) high-end SUV automobiles, all of whom driving aggresively. The engine revving scared me. I was in the front. The car propelled ahead and predictably and immediately stopped at the red light 30 meters away.

I’ve always dreamt of facing these people who drive aggressively — and I have a number of times — not with the intention of insulting them — purely out of curiosity and to let them know the effects of their actions. Admittedly, at times I want to swear at them but it wasn’t the case today. I was calm and in a good mood.

“Can you please not drive so aggresively? It’s scary!”, I told the guy in the front passenger seat with zero bad vibes. “We don’t care”, he said, matter-of-factly, almost satisfied that they don’t. I laughed. “You don’t? Why not?”. “We just don’t… Do you want me to come outside?”. The guy at the back opened the door with the intent of restoring justice with bodily interactions. My bike, however, was in the way and I think he didn’t want to traumatise his friend’s glossy car by forcing his way out. The driver delivered his own statement too: “Oh, fuck off!”. I looked deep into his eyes with the intent of knocking on the door of his soul. He didn’t let me in. I smiled and discretely waved goodbye while cycling away.

To start with, I was shocked how fast things escalated. I wasn’t angry at all and wouldn’t want to fight; even though, I must confess, it has occured to me multiple times that it would be satisfying to play punches with aggressive car drivers — and cyclists too.

In retrospect: how should I have responded? Ideally, what should I have done? Practically: what will I do next time there is an aggressive driver behind me revving the car in high traffic central London?

Do I want to punish them? No, there is no point in punishment. Do I want to change them? Maybe, but first: do I understand them?

I think it was some kind of celebration. There were many similar cars honking and revving, all of them fancy SUVs, and I think also people talking with each other. It’s ok to make some noise when one is celebrating something, right? I think society can accomondate that and I hope society can accomondate that. I can understand and I have experienced something like one’s team winning at a sport and everybody shouting because of that. An honest and authentic exclamation of excitement.

Then a random guy on a bike comes up and says “don’t drive aggresively”. Like someone sober at a party at 3 am asking what time everybody is planning to wake up tomorrow.

Ok — we can accept celebration but what is much more common is that people show off their beloved cars by forcing everyone to pay attention to them. Not to mention scaring everybody else around them, either driving, cycling, or, of course, walking. How do we respond to them? Let’s say the same things happens again: I politely ask for less aggression and someone comes out of the car with intentions of touch.

One option would be to accept them as they are. Maybe it’s ok for people to honk and rev their engines once a while — what’s the harm? But it's kind of an egotistical act at everybody else’s expense.

Another option would be to accept that one cannot do anything the moment it happens. The solution is a process that takes place other times. Maybe that’s true and maybe I can conclude to this. But something doesn’t feel right with this conclusion either. There is something missing: the fact that the feeling I’m left with after an engine revving is the feeling of being silenced.

Here’s where I conclude. Next time I encounter a revver, I will come up to their car and politely ask that they stop driving aggressively. Then, they say “fuck off” and proceed to exit the car to fight. At that point I avoid fighting by running around while asking them to consider their actions and reflect on the fact of whether their actions are justified. Does a simple ask warrant punching me? I didn’t even throw an egg to their car, which I have sometimes considered.

However much both the driver and myself would love to fight, this would be a loss for everybody in society except for our ego. It is exactly for this reason that I want to resist punching them. It is exactly this kind of urge one must fight off to achieve democracy. This, along with answering the question: how can we help this person feel they were listened to, that they matter, and that they are loved without the need to prove physical overpowering?

I’m sure one day we’ll figure it out.