Tuesday, July 15, 2003

 Return of the 'Road Closed' illiterates 

Followup from last week:

Well, they completely closed off the railroad crossing again - but this time, instead of one they put three big road closed signs at the north intersection, including one which very explicitly states, 'ROAD CLOSED 1500 FEET AHEAD'. They even put these signs square in the middle of the street as it heads southward to the crossing. And still, as I write this, a few cars every minute are trying to get through, and getting thwarted utterly at that railroad crossing. Amazing.

I talked about this with Cindy for a while, and I pondered whether this phenomenon was a Santa Cruz thing, a California thing, an American thing, or just a human thing. What is it that promotes exceptionalism in people's minds, at least when it comes to challenging a 'Road Closed' sign? The drivers obviously see the sign, but for whatever reason they don't think it applies to them. Of course they figure out soon enough that it does, but where does that exceptionalism come from? Do all these people doubt the veracity of the sign's claims? What would it take to make them believe?

I tend to think exceptionalism is a more distinctly American trait - after all, this nation is replete with notions of exceptionalism. Some might call it "rugged individualism", but that word choice seems to ennoble what is frequently just selfishness or shortsightedness. I'm curious as to how commonplace this particular behavior is in other parts of the country, or the world - and I bet it wouldn't be hard to do a fuller sociological study on it (assuming no one has already). My hunch is that given the same amount of signage that we have on our street today, but placed in similar settings in other parts of the world, you'd find far fewer attempts to sneak through the closure than what I can see right out my window.

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