Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Recognition of a Necessary Evil

While rising from my sick bed this morning and resuming the trip to work I encountered many a red light; not having the energy to rage pointlessly at them as I usually do (it keeps me occupied until the light turns green) I pondered the institution of the traffic light. Who created it? When did he/she do it? Why do we obey it?

Traffic lights have been around longer than I thought. According to the source of all knowledge of worth on the Internet, Wikipedia, the first traffic light was installed outside the House of Parliament in London in 1868… it later exploded and killed the policeman who was operating it (green light, proceed to heaven). How awesome is that? Well not so much for the policeman and his family I guess.

That first murdering traffic light was conceived by one J.P. Knight. You wanna blame someone, blame him? The light was “improved” to its modern day incarnation and has remained the same since roughly 1920 with a few alterations, turning signals, traffic cameras, targeting lasers… you know, improvements.

So now we know who created it, and we can guess why – but why do we obey it?

Inherently we can all see the sense in the traffic light – x number of cars get a chance to go one way and then y number of cars gets to go the other way. Now that chivalry is dead there has to be regulation; people aren’t going to let other people go through from the kindness of their hearts – there has to be a reason.

And that reason? Fines. Money. Moolah.  You don’t break you pay for it.

Sometimes as I’m sitting at one of the extraordinarily large number of red lights I seem to get I wonder what would happen if we all just stopped obeying the traffic lights. It would be chaos, insurance companies would be raising rates all over the place and it would be the degradation of another societal symbol.

The traffic light brings order to the chaos that is traffic – I can see this from my desk (but not so much from my driver’s seat). If there was no traffic light there would be an accident and traffic would slow down that much more.

In a way, by slowing you down, the traffic light speeds you up; an interesting irony.

And because I can, here’s a pox upon the red light:

Cursed progeny of amber light
Why must I encounter thee this night;
Were thee green, or even yellow,
I might have passed that other fellow
But now I languish, wasting time
To run through thee, t’is a crime;
While I wait, rage boils my marrow
Ah God, there’s even a turning arrow!
Aha! Now you’re green, my waiting’s done!
Son of a bitch! Another red one!

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