A Theory of Road Rage

Ten years ago I was in Guangzhou, China, and next in line for a bus ticket. As the teller came free some lady comes out of nowhere, brushes past me and glides up to the wicket. Like I wasn’t even there.

I was astonished. And infuriated, but what could I do? I turned to my guide (from Hong Kong) who didn’t even wait for the question: “they don’t queue, here,” his lip curled in disgust. Queuing being the height of civilization, this only confirmed to my HK Chinese friend that mainlanders are a backward bunch.

I think about what annoys me about this episode and three things come to mind:

  1. Someone broke the rules and I got effed over
  2. There was nothing I could do about it
  3. As an uncommunicative foreigner, I couldn’t even shame the perpetrator for breaking the rule. I was helpless.

To me this is exactly what road rage is. As your avatar on road, a car can’t tell someone to go f$%# himself. Or, more likely, a car can’t shoot someone a dirty look after they cut you off. Better still, the other person’s car can’t exactly look back, realize it cut you off, blush and sheepishly shuffle its feet.

We live in an incredibly complex social world with incredibly rich communication technology (body language, facial expression, language, etc) for enforcing its norms. And the urge to keep your neighbors in line is powerful.

Road rage is when that urge is frustrated and compounded with a feeling of helplessness.

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