Saturday, February 18, 2012

Self-Destrictive Self-Righteousness?

Chris Matyszczyk decided to use today’s post to his Technically Incorrect blog on CNET News to riff about the girl who “fell flat on her nose” while texting under the eye of a CBC News camera resulting in a YouTube upload whose hit rate will probably have passed 1.5 million by the time you read this.  I came away from reading his post with a clear impression that behavior modification by humiliation is not nearly as effective as many of us wish it would be.  For me these are the operative passages from Matyszczyk’s post:

But texting and walking has surely gained a unique place in culture, for its sheer absurdity. Just a couple of years ago, I found myself tempted into bumping into New York text-walkers, just to see if they had any self-consciousness at all. (They don't.)

Instead, I found if text-walkers bump into you, they actually think it's your fault. They truly believe that it is your responsibility to get out of their way, because, in texting, they are proving they have more important things to do than look out for you.

As I see it, Matyszczyk has captured a fundamental law of human nature, even if he never stated it explicitly:

Self-righteousness trumps all.

The behavior of those who text while walking is no different from that of the many bicyclists who have made city streets hazardous for pedestrians and motorists alike.  (No matter how many testimonials I read claiming that these guys are a minority, the statistics of my personal observations just cannot agree.)  Even when those cyclists run smack into a serious (fatal, in at least one case in San Francisco) accident, whether or not the cyclist is the injured party, (s)he will inevitably insist that, no matter how reckless (and/or oblivious) his/her behavior may have been, (s)he was in the right because the other guy was clearly opposing his/her “green” philosophy.  In other words we can rephrase the law as the following corollary:

Being right means never having to check your behavior against reality.

In other words, for anyone who does believe in reality checking, it’s a dangerous world out there!

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