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Promising to save us from ourselves

By Mark Christensen - posted Thursday, 8 April 2010

Memo to Tracey Spicer regarding her put-your-brain-into-gear-before-opening-your-mouth advice for Mark Webber (The Courier-Mail, March 30): mocking laws and regulations doesn’t mean one wants a lawless world of chaos; it is about trying to have us see that rules, however well-intentioned, cannot make us completely safe, happy or anything else of serious value.

Rules are necessary but not sufficient. It’s necessary, for example, to specify which side of the road to drive on. There’s also value in posting a stop sign at a dangerous intersection.

But these rules are always contingent on individual circumstances. If someone is coming at you head-on, for whatever reason, it makes sense to momentarily drive on the wrong side of the road. If you have a good view of oncoming cars, then it may be fine to pull into traffic without coming to a dead stop at the sign.


It’s an irony lost on Spicer that the worst drivers on the road are those who believe safety is about driving by the book.

The problem with this country, the problem alluded to by Webber, is that we’ve lost faith in the capacity of the individual to learn from their mistakes.

When I was growing up there was still a sense that getting it wrong was a crucial part of becoming a worthwhile member of society. There was space in your world to stuff up.

Today, it’s perceived there is too much at stake to allow such a philosophy. An unconditional, larrikin nature has given way to self-importance and a seriousness that actively discourages all the characteristics that made this country great.

Life is now more important than how we live it.

True, reckless driving is a problem. Justin Williams, the hoon responsible for killing a family of three in Queanbeyan, was quite possibly a dickhead, as Spicer suggests.


What matters here, however, is how truthful we are about why he was this way and what we, as a community, choose to do about it.

Maybe, just maybe, young blokes, in part, drive like ratbags because they’re trying to send a subtle message to those who claim to know better.

There is a fine line between rules needed for structure and those designed to control people because we fear their mistakes will be too costly.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on April 5, 2010, under the title “Wheel-spinning Webber right to question the rules”.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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