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At our current moral intersection, we must invest in trust-building
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|At our current moral intersection, we must invest in trust-building by Kenyans247(1): Sat 14, November, 2020 09:26am|
What you need to know:
At the moment, the problem of corrupt organisations has been compounded by the problem of suspicious leaders.
We need to remind ourselves how much credibility and legitimacy lies in just doing the right thing, consistently and impartially.
We must reprise the wonderful feeling of decades past, when the system actually worked.
The Highway Code is a comprehensive document that anticipates and arbitrates many motoring scenarios. Like all rules, it is principally framed in terms of rights and obligations that apply to road users and, in particular, motorists.
It is also an admirable attempt to regulate all behaviour on the road to ensure orderly and peaceful use of an important public good, and to ensure that economic activity is not impaired by conflict, misunderstanding, negligence, arrogance or ignorance.
Nonetheless, violations still occur, and accidents abound.
To explain how this comes to be, consider the altogether trite scenario of a four-way junction. Four sets of motoring lanes enter the intersection, and four others exit it. It is expected that along each lane, dozens of motorists flow smoothly through the junction. Because they drive in different directions, collision must be avoided. The code therefore prescribes who has the right of way at a given point, and who must stop, or yield.
Motorists must rely on their assessment of the conditions to determine whether to give up their right of way or proceed. At this point, the law reaches its limit, and gives way to common sense.
Alas, common sense is not common at all! Drivers evaluate the circumstances differently. Whereas many drivers are reasonable folk, quite a few are basically uncouth. Some recklessly barrel forth regardless of how inconsiderately they are treating others.
Others have no respect for reasonable expectations of responsible behaviour. In any event, collisions at junctions occur too frequently. The resulting chaos can spiral endlessly, since any slight obstruction on Kenyan roads is guaranteed to activate collective insanity, paralysing the entire road network for miles all round.
The solution to the problem has been to install traffic control lights at intersections. However, there are motorists who still play loose with constraints of controlled intersections, unwisely scooting into every gap, clogging the entire system.
For this reason, the Traffic Department also installs police officers at junctions to prevent and arbitrate violations of the traffic lights.
So here we are, ladies and gentlemen: coppers overseeing compliance with traffic lights, which arbitrate right of way, to harmonise idiosyncratic applications of common sense at Kenyan junctions.
I am hesitant to conclude that our struggles at the intersection are solely due to the failure of common sense. One does get the feeling that a greater worry is in play.
The law designs a framework of dos and don’ts for every conceivable scenario. How we comply with these rules is often a matter of expectations: we are quick to claim our rights, but reluctant to discharge our obligations. Yet, implicit in our litigation of rights is an expectation that somebody else has a duty to discharge their obligation. Similarly, our reluctance to discharge our obligations contradicts the expectation that rights must be honoured and enforced.
Rights and obligations follow each other symmetrically in the moral economy, just as debits and credits follow each other in financial accounting. None can exist without the other.
Our problem at the intersection, then, is a problem of asymmetry of expectation: we have no confidence that the other motorist — a total stranger, to be fair — is going to do the right thing by us.
What about the police officer, the lights? They represent at once the material presence and inherent absence (limits) of the law: however robust a legal and policy framework is, we simply cannot legislate the one thing most needful here: trust.
The intersection problem is a pervasive malaise in our body politic. We are an intensely low-trust society. The reforms we perennially pursue fail because they prescribe in vain. At the end of the law, social trust matters.
The only reform left must be a policy requiring our leadership to mindfully engage in trust-building behaviour. Like the copper and the lights, leaders are at a favourable vantage for effective virtue-signalling — their actions are visible.
Unfortunately, our leaders are immensely invested in VIP culture — glorified impunity writ large — which only exacerbates our trust problems. Yet the same leaders are always championing reform campaigns to restore ethics and integrity in our national life. The irony of it all boggles the mind.
At the moment, the problem of corrupt organisations has been compounded by the problem of suspicious leaders. We need to remind ourselves how much credibility and legitimacy lies in just doing the right thing, consistently and impartially. We must reprise the wonderful feeling of decades past, when the system actually worked.
Beyond following the rules, we must learn to trust and do right by people whose surnames are different from ours. Arguably, we are already over-legislated, yet there is hardly any change in our culture. At our moral intersection, the law is not enough: we must rediscover social trust.
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