Who is being Served?

by Fernando Caracena ©2020 Fernando Caracena

Sometimes, while waiting for a traffic light to change at an intersection where there is no traffic, I wonder, "Who is being served here?" I look up there and see the devices hanging on the lines and poles. They represent a lot of data gathering and decision power. There are traffic cameras of course. I know that there are embedded pressure and strain sensors in the road. There are radio communications up there. There is a solar collector to keep recharging batteries. I know that there must be some kind of microprocessor there, which is in radio communications with heftier computer power elsewhere. I see that a fire truck gets green lights immediately everywhere that it goes. Yes, there is all that capability up there; but how much of that power benefits people who are waiting for the light to change when there is no traffic? A cop would just wave me through. A four way stop would not hold me up so long. Ordinary traffic is relegated to a simple timer that switches the traffic signals without having any regard for traffic conditions.

I know that that traffic light could just wave me through. It has that capability. All it needs is that proper programming of its hardware. The traffic cams look up and down the road for at least a mile. They can register traffic flows. Suppose that the camera registered a single automobile approaching a red light. This recognition translated into a sequence of actions could save the approaching driver some time. Suppose that it triggered the light to change, so that on approaching the intersection, the driver sees that light turn green.

A traffic computer intranet system could keep track of traffic patterns to reduce congestion on a system of roads and optimize the flow flow of traffic. For example, it would clear the cross traffic ahead of a long line of approaching traffic, and keep the intersection open to that stream of traffic long enough to prevent stop-and-go traffic from developing. But what the heck, who in the traffic engineering department cares about the poor slob who pays the taxes that supports the whole shootin' match? Instead, there are all kinds of enforcement units using these capabilities to track activities of ordinary citizens who could be violating some code of law.

What the delay at a traffic signal does for me is that it creates a moment of contemplation about where the various systems that we support do not serve the public, although they depend on public money for their existence. What I have noticed is that most of public services support parasitic superstructures that do not serve the public. What good is a police system to the public when it stands down on law enforcement? The purpose of the police is to protect the rights of law abiding citizens. That is what they are hired to do. Citizens in a neighborhood could hire their own private police force. In that case, anyone coming into that neighborhood to destroy property and domestic tranquility would face armed police who answer to the people of that neighborhood.

People talk about a 'Social Contract'. I have not signed any social agreement. What has happened is that people have fallen into patterns of living and interactions that reduce personal animosity and complaints to a minimum-- that is what constitutes the social contract, not really in writing, but in action. If things remain all right with them, people go about their business peacefully, but if change upsets enough people, disgruntled citizens storm the Bastille. The result may be that 'leaders' lose their heads, literally.

Sometime in the past, various layers of government took on law enforcement as one of their duties. The public allowed that. Citizens found that convenient because it simplified their life. They did not have to worry about that aspect of life. At a village level that may have been OK. For example in the village of Romulus and Remus law enforcement was a convenient arrangement until that village began to expand. When the whole of Romulus's village Roma got into trouble with the surrounding villages as a result of the bad behavior of the villages's citizens, the local police became the military that fought off the angry neighbors. That group of defenders became the military that grew enormously, took on a life of its own, and affected the entire known world of that time. The 'Social Contract' of Roma was imposed on the various surrounding tribes and territories whether they liked it or not. Eventually, some of those unwilling tribes struck the weakened empire and defeated it. Rome was sacked by the barbarians. The 'Social Contract' is actually an unstable arrangement that can last over various lengths of time. From the looks of things, the 'Social Contract' is now being renegotiated; but there are many subtleties involved here.

There is more than a 'Social Contract' involved in keeping a just and peaceful world where there would be no major complaints. This involves more than governments and being good citizens. In fact, governments should be monitored constantly. Governments tend to become sources of unrest themselves. Look at the Nazi and Bolshevik states. The world would have been a happier place without them. Whole nations can go rogue. Many good, law, abiding citizens can be trapped inside these rogue states. When the government no longer serves its citizens, then it is evil that is being served.

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