Although there’s been some fraying of our social fabric in recent years, New Zealand remains what’s known as a “high-trust society”.
This means interpersonal trust is relatively high, and isn’t imposed by external “contractual, legal or hierarchical regulation” but is based on “prior moral consensus”, while ethical values are strongly shared across the population.
Or, to put it in a less pointy-headed way, New Zealanders have a high degree of confidence their fellow citizens will do the right thing the vast majority of the time.
There’s probably no better example of this basic faith in our other countrymen and women than making the decision to get behind the wheel of a car.
Yes, there are any number of rules and regulations that govern what we can and can’t do on our roads. But as anyone who has been driving for any period of time knows, the chances of being pinged for driving infringements are pretty slim, given how drastically asymmetrical the number of enforcers is to the mass of the population at large.
Ultimately, the only reason it is safe enough for any of us to rationally regard getting out onto the road as an activity that comes with a reasonable level of risk is down to the goodwill – not to mention good sense – of our fellow drivers.
Which brings us to the hordes of hoons who descended on the region – mainly from the Hutt and Palmerston North – to rip up our rural roads the weekend before last.
As reported last Monday, a convoy of cars – up to a staggering 300 – cruised around Wairarapa for hours, doing burnouts on more remote country roads before congregating at the new roundabout at the intersection of State Highway 2 and East Taratahi and Wiltons roads, where they proceeded to ‘drop more rubber’ for around 90 minutes before taking off back to whence they came.
Although police did seek to intervene and put a stop to the anti-social behaviour, faced with a crowd of hundreds of uncooperative and ultimately aggressive joyriders, there was little they could do and had to pull back lest the situation further spiral out of control.
That’s because, when all is said and done, police can only perform their duties if they have the consent of the general citizenry to do so.
[Fun fact: although Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has in the recent past copped flack for talking about “policing by consent” from tough on crime types who like to dismissively refer to him as “Cuddles Coster”, this has actually been a principle of policing since Sir Robert Peel set up a police force for London almost exactly 200 years ago. The alternative is tyranny.]
Now, there are various reasons why individuals or groups choose to break the social contract that keeps a civilised society more or less working for the majority of us, with the most often cited – and understandable – being some form of disenfranchisement, often as a result of poverty and a lack of opportunity.
But that surely wasn’t the cause of those carloads of miscreants choosing to cause havoc on our roads– after all, tricked-out vehicles and new tires don’t come cheap.
There’s something else driving this selfish behaviour, and there needs to be a concerted effort by us as a community to understand and address it – because the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.