In frigo veritas

If the adage is true that people get exactly the government they deserve, then the degree of respect in which a government holds its electorate stands in direct relation to the nature of this deservedness. Over recent months certain governments have showed such disrespect for their own people that one wonders with what mandate, if any, they were hoisted into power. What, one might ask, could the people of nation X or Y, have possibly done to deserve this bunch of clowns? The answer is usually: “nothing”. They have done nothing to deserve them and have thus got exactly what they deserved. Take me, for example, I live in a healthy and prosperous western European nation that seems to be run in turn by either gangsters or suicidal train drivers. What have the Belgians done to deserve this preposterous group of procrastinating pork merchants? Nothing, absolutely nothing except elect them over and over again, however bankrupt their ideas, however undeveloped their projects, however disrespectful they choose to be of the mechanisms that gave them power or the institutions that underpin it. They evade their own laws, short-circuit their own constitution, lean on their own judiciary and usually end up fouling the same nest they have taken such care to feather with plumage plucked from the very people who put them there. And the laws they make bear witness to their incapacity.

I won’t try and explain the BHV enigma to you, or “communes with facilities” (which, by the way, does not refer to the Porta-Loos at Werchter). But let’s try something simple. Here is an example drawn from the Highway Code: the so-called “priorité a droite” law, so beloved of European nations. This codified absurdity has recently been revised and strengthened in Belgium. By this rule, anyone entering a road from a minor road on the right automatically has priority unless otherwise indicated. The rule is intended to slow traffic and make people more aware of the way they drive. In reality it is just a camping ground for insurance companies and auto-repair mechanics. A vast majority of accidents on Belgian roads in some way involve the right priority law.

To cede or not to cede

This fallacious article has now been rendered even more byzantine and preposterous by making it illegal to give away one’s priority to another driver. Imagine, if you will, that I am not Edwin Drood, but farmer Dupont sitting atop my tractor at the opening of a side road and I wish to turn left across the flow of traffic that has now been brought to a halt by this priority issue. I notice that the column of cars thundering down from the right has neither space nor time just now for a forty ton load of hay moving at 15 kmh, so I am obliged to wait. No worry, I’m a patient man who gets his thrills from watching corn grow. But am I allowed to wave the possibly much less patient driver on my side of the road politely on? No, decidedly not! The new, revised law obliges me on pain of prosecution to keep him (and the three hundred rush hour commuters behind him) waiting until sufficient space appears in the oncoming traffic (which may never happen) for me to tactfully slip my load of hay in. By this time my bucolic colleague farmer Collignon has pulled up behind me with his forty tons so the whole charade can begin again. And this is not just a test example concocted to prove the sharpness of Occam’s razor. I’ve actually tried it out and had a furious column of cars, including an ambulance, backed up behind me for a kilometre, all hooting at me to drive on. Meanwhile I beamed serene in my rectitude, smiling seraphically into the face of the bemused man who was frantically trying to cede his priority with a series of ever larger and more frustrated hand signals. “Not I, my friend,” I whispered within my leather cell, “I’m quite literally ‘observing’ the law”.

In addition, anyone who looks a little closer at the priorité a droite cannot fail to notice that it is not only ridiculous but also deeply unfair, as failure to observe it punishes the innocent, not the guilty. If I ignore someone’s priority as they emerge from a side road, they get hurt the most, not me, when I ram two and a half tons of straight-six Miranda into the driver-side door of their silly Cleo. Whereas, if they insist on their priority, even after I have effectively robbed them of it and am right in front of their nose, then this desperate action might afford them the satisfaction of killing my entirely innocent (at least in the legal sense of the word) and probably highly attractive passenger, but is taken at the expense of spending the next ten years with doctors pulling bits of Renault out of their kidneys. Why then do continental lawmakers insist on not only keeping this imposture of safety but even seek to enhance it? Because they are stupid, that’s why. Because they haven’t bothered to think through the implications. Because the far-too-much that we pay them apparently isn’t enough to jump start their cerebellum in the morning. The complete idiocy of the clause is made even clearer when you notice that the British and Australians and others who drive on the left do not have an “opposite equivalent”, but prefer to give priority also to the right (right before left rule), a noble gesture that ensures fair play, increased safety, a more appropriate share of damage and injury to the party actually in the wrong in the event of recklessness … as well as keeping traffic moving!

Banana republics

But, you will say, don’t all codes of law protect the mighty and punish the meek? Sadly yes, because that is what the meek are for – to endure and forbear and, at some very distant and probably fictitious point in the future to receive their just reward. By that time they will have become too humbled and humiliated to appreciate it. “What me, inherit the earth? I couldn’t possibly, dear. No really, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. Surely you must have some more deserving candidates?” At which moment ‘the meek’ turn to vaguely indicate some bulky Ghengis Khan, hulking in the corner waiting for his grim hour to come. Which brings me back to my first premise. If we don’t respect ourselves enough to elect those who merit our respect, how can we expect them to respect us? When Teddy Roosevelt said he could carve a better man out of a banana, he was speaking of just one Supreme Court judge who lacked the courage to limit the grasping power of big corporations. Today he would be addressing an entire political class and its electorate. “Call yourselves a Tea Party?” he would say, “I wouldn’t even trust you to butter a scone.” I firmly believe that there are cultures in an average law student’s refrigerator that are more deserving of parliamentary democracy than most of us humans, and I ate a yogurt this morning that I could swear was more intelligent than two or three currently serving prime ministers I could mention … even if you put them together! Which reminds me: the lack of respect we have for ourselves can be most quickly demonstrated by reading the ingredients on half the things we consider comestible. Show me your fridge and I’ll show you yourself. In frigo veritas. So stop complaining, we all deserve our governments and they, poor things, richly deserve us.

Edwin Drood

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