When I was taught philosophy in the secondary school I found the subject irrelevant and detached from the reality. Then, at the university, I found it ambiguous and speculative. Some distinguished chaps attempted to fit the world into their way of thinking. But this is what all people usually do to answer the basic questions of what are justice, order, human being, and community in a changing environment. Richard Brunstrom, the Chief Constable of North Wales Police in the years 2001-09, is also a philosopher. One of the most unequivocal materialist pragmatists. To combat speeding and introduce more order on the roads he decided to increase the number of speed cameras so that every violation is recorded. Why, actually, not?
In their turn, Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond – all three mature idealists – questioned this approach. Because why, actually, yes?
At the end of the day, all of us are philosophers. All of us have their thoughts on how to improve personal life and lives of our communities. But only few decide to build careers on this thinking ability. Think on a daily basis for the sake of the humankind. And then act or inspire others for actions.
Coming back to my problem with philosophy at school. The root of it resided in the way the subject was delivered to me. Good teachers are priceless, mates! In the times of my puberty, I became immediately bored when hearing the only word “philosophy.” Then all these distinguished chaps sounded stupid with their thoughts! Finally, my teachers seemed to be lost in the mazes of philosophy by themselves. Things have changed now... after I gained Ph.D. in political sciences.
So, let me raise the flag of philosophy high and defend its power! Let me take Aristotle’s views on a perfect ancient society and outline what would happen if he implemented them… in a contemporary North Wales.
I bet, North Wales would become the driver's heaven! And here is why.
According to Aristotle, all of us are social animals. We can neither live outside, nor avoid contributing to our communities. We are in charge of inventing rules, implementing them, and obeying to them. Therefore, never believe those who say: “I'm not interested in social and political life.” This is a blatant lie! We cannot escape our nature. If we attempt to, this will lead to a disaster of an uncontrolled society.
Looking from another perspective: Whom of you are ready to forfeit your smartphones, cars, central heating, shoes, toilet paper, and return to the forest? Start living in a cave, hunting badgers, running naked, and drinking unbottled water? I bet none. We cannot live outside of the society any more. Our forest is the city. Our natural environment is jammed junctions, not the pristine lands. We are in charge for living in and improving this environment. We cannot go truly wild, unless we go wild at a party. Citing Aristotle:
“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”
Yet, another alternative to being a non-social creature is being a self-sufficient god. Personally, though, I met no chap who could be that cool.
Ekklesia. Painting by Philipp Foltz. Sourse: https://imgur.com/gallery/o31Ki3m
Social animals feel themselves comfortable in a cosy little place they can govern with no major efforts. Such a place, for example, was the city-state (polis) of Athens in 431-322 BCE. Comparing the size and the population of Athens to North Wales (40K to 700K people), as well as considering the community-building potential of the Internet, the Aristotelian self-governance could work fine in the Brunstrom’s fiefdom!
But let me speak in detail. The Aristotelian self-governance in the ancient Athens – the direct democracy or the Politeia – meant that every citizen was supposed to express and vote on socially important issues. To do so, all Athenians above 20 years were invited to the council sessions (Ekklesia) scheduled ~40 times per year. Moreover, all Athenians were encouraged to apply for the governing posts! The rotation of ~500 administrators of the polis took place every year with only new faces elected. Therefore, everyone could become a chief jury, secretary of the council, high-ranked general, or the police boss. For the Athenians, doing politics was a compulsory activity. That was their way to develop qualities of a respectable and dutiful citizen. In other words, the direct democracy was the system of civic education, social engagement, and individual maturation.
In the case of North Wales, this would be the Drivers’ Council, not the Chief Constable, who decides on the safety of local roads. The role of the Chief Constable would be limited to setting agendas, issuing recommendations, and monitoring how decisions are implemented. Every new year would start with electing a new Constable. I bet, the Drivers’ Council would make everything possible for the drivers to enjoy their journeys and for the journeys to be safe. The speed cameras could have occasionally emerged on the agenda, but they would never collect enough votes to become a reality. Instead, building additional motorways with soft barriers, as well as widening public roads seems a much sounder solution to me.
Aristotle also analysed other types of governance pairing them in groups: Monarchy vs despotism, aristocracy vs oligarchy, polity vs uneducated democracy. If I were to allocate Brunstrom in this system, I would present him as a pragmatic monarch. The one who takes care of the common good but in a very unilateral way. He would probably have banned all cars and built an underground line instead. The citizens – squeezed and condensed – would be moved between stations in a fast and safe manner. No decapitated motorcyclists! Perfect! The opposition to monarchy is represented by tyranny. Imagine a narcissistic king wo owns McLaren F1 and drives it on the road he built for himself. No pedestrians, no other drivers, no speed limits. Then Aristotle wrote of aristocracy, which is the rule of the educated few for the common good. These people would, probably, build a diversified system of public transportation. Hundreds of busses, thousands of taxi cabs. But again, no private vehicles. The latter would complicate the governance. The aristocracy, if spoiled, degrades to the oligarchy. This would take a shape of a few private luxurious buses cruising on empty streets with rich people on boards. Buses with huge steel bumpers to roll over the inattentive (protesting?) pedestrians. Then we have the direct democracy – or the Politeia – which means that all citizens would drive cars they want on the roads they decided where to build and how to maintain. The uneducated democracy stands in opposition to the Politeia. It can be portrayed as a social havoc triggered by the poor and greedy individuals. Almost everyone would have a car, the majority would drive stolen cars, no rules, no authority, and the corrupted police.
Politeia is where all citizens drive. Source: https://www.caranddriver.com/features/lightning-lap-2017-19-hot-performance-cars-attack-vir-feature
Developing the Aristotelian ideals and projecting them onto the automotive world, it is safe to deduce that all people above 20 years should drive. As the social animals, they have no other option. Driving would constitute a vital part of their civic identity. Driving would educate them on the technologies of internal combustion and principles of co-existence on roads. In this light, the Chief Constable would be obliged to popularize driving in North Wales. This paves the way to social excellence.
To paraphrase, owning a car would become everyone’s social responsibility and the only way to obtain a well-rounded education. Gaining the driving license would equal gaining the passport with the subsequent right to speak and vote in the Drivers’ Council. The decisions of the latter would be compulsory for everyone. Cars would give superpowers!
But let me now expose drawbacks of the Aristotelian philosophy. To begin with, the direct democracy was very slow at adopting decisions. As many people wanted to express themselves, it might have taken days before the voting took place. Secondly, the meetings of the Council were dynamic and emotional. Shouts, screams, blackmailing, and threats – everything was in place. There also existed demagogues: Masterful speakers who deliberately fractured the public or promoted bad decisions. Thirdly, if a bad decision was adopted, no higher authority could correct it. This once ended up in a fact that the Athenians beheaded their most experienced generals and were heavily defeated in the very next battle. Fourthly, there remained a significant number of the Athenians who decided to skip the Ekklesia meetings. They imminently agreed to follow the rules, but did not want to invent them. I bet, this retains its relevance up to now. Fifthly, the Athenians were slaveowners. That allowed them to invest a lot of time into policy-making, not in the daily routine (such as the earning money). Finally, not every dweller of the ancient Athens was a citizen. Women, slaves, and foreigners never had the right to vote. This constantly kept the social tensions heated.
With all its democratic flavour, though, the ancient Athenian order did fall.
But this does not mean that the same would happen to North Wales. If Aristotle, not Brunstrom, served as its Chief Constable.
Cars gift citizens with superpowers! Sourse: https://www.whichcar.com.au/car-style/superhero-cars-reimagined-for-the-real-world
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P.S. Matt Parsons can be reached here: www.behance.net/Matthew_Parsons_SA