Lacking a predator, we take on each other. As children we learn to beat up our brothers and sisters. As adults we go to war and kill each other.
Wars are not just those episodes we see on the news. There are many wars going on, permanently raging on several levels. Each war, in its own way, shows how brilliant and ingenious we are as a species, displaying the manifold methods we’ve dreamt of to screw ourselves up physically, mentally, spiritually and financially.
Each war has its own battles. In fact, there’s a small battle being fought around our lovely city at the moment. This war is between the realms of Order and Freedom, both ancient and noble causes. The battle, which sounds so mundane as to seem almost innocuous, concerns the replacement of roundabouts with traffic lights.
When I told you it sounded mundane I wasn’t kidding, but actually, far from dull, it’s a battle for the way our minds work.
Yesterday I left my mate’s place in Ballybane at 4.30 pm. I needed to drive right across the city, just when schools were emptying and workers were leaving their shifts (because those who today work in the engine rooms of the economy don’t actually have jobs with security and benefits, but mere shifts for which they are made to feel grateful ... don’t get me started!) and out the other side to the Clifden Road.
I know my way around Galway, so I zig-zagged, always aiming to be going the opposite direction to most of the traffic, and sure enough, I barely had to use my brake.
Crossing the river at Quincentennial Bridge, I took the right-hand lane for the roundabout. The left hand lane was packed with Ring Road and city centre traffic, but my side was clear, so I sailed around the roundabout and headed for home.
Hardly the stuff of Pulitzer prizes, but the point is that it felt good. I’d used initiative, knowledge and experience to avoid the endless (what is the collective noun? ‘Frustrations of’?) traffic lights. I’d been able to use my skill and judgement to drive smoothly, quickly and safely where, had there been a red light, I’d just have been stuck in a stagnant queue of traffic, staring at a completely empty junction, but unable to reach it.
I’m beginning to wonder if Geldof and his Rats weren’t spot on with their “Walk Don’t Walk” Rat Trap spittle back in ‘78.
At what point do we lose everything that makes humans splendid, by simply blindly obeying the rules? Where once a car-free roundabout gave you the chance to sail through and feel human, you’re now sitting in front of a red light that’s forbidding you to drive through a completely empty junction onto an empty road.
Little by little, water through limestone, our free spirits are eroded into canyons of conformity.
It’s too simple an excuse to say this is making mountains out of molehills. It is of course a tiny squirmish (Thanks Sarah Palin!) in the great war between Freedom and Order, but it isn’t insignificant.
Brains are like muscles. They waste away if they’re not used. We need to exercise our spirits, our emotions and our intelligence. We need to get out there and have a go. We need to see and feel less red lights in life, and be awarded more trust and open roads.
Here in Ireland right now our collective self-worth has taken an almighty beating. We’ve been battling away in the background, quietly trying to make an honest living or often merely survive throughout an almighty financial collapse.
Even though there’s not vaguest notion of the public being culpable, we’ve seen our benefits and salaries and wages go to pay a debt we didn't create, to appease people who earn in a day what we dream of earning in a month.
Being forced to pay the debts of the rich doesn’t do much for our self-esteem. Those who govern and sell to us clearly think we’re worthless scum, and even though we know we’re not, there’s that water dripping through our limestone again, dissolving our pride and enthusiasm, alongside our will and desire to express ourselves.
Yet still we’re told we need more traffic lights, more roads, more ways for the people who live west of the city to go to work in the east. Apparently we need a fifth bridge, adorned doubtless with frustrations of traffic lights, and a new ring road.
I drove on London’s orbital M25 motorway the day it first opened, and instantly knew it already needed more than its 6 lanes. Even now, with 8, 10 and sometimes 12 lanes, the M25 is completely jammed. It always will be, because roads create traffic.
Here’s a thought: if so many people live in the west of the city yet work on the east, why not spare the kazillion you’re going to spend on that new bridge and ring road, and invest it in industry on the west side of the city?
That way people in Knocknacarra can work near their homes, saving petrol by eliminating their commute, and more importantly, increasing their leisure time and enriching their lives.
Meanwhile, on the eastern side of the city, the unemployed masses of Doughiska and Ballybane can fill the jobs vacated in the Ballybane and Parkmore industrial estates.
Hey, I think I’m onto something. Move the jobs to the people.
No, that’d never work. If things were done for us that actually improved our lives in any substantial or meaningful ways, it would make us feel far too good about ourselves. We might start gaining confidence and drive through red lights, and that’d never do.