- Background Reading: In Brussels, Be Kind … Or Be Fined
We owe our pretty green bike lanes to our love of all things European. I wonder if we could ever see our way to having their sensibilities in matters of societal graces lead us out of our morass of crassness. I doubt it. We are far too brash a society to ever allow ourselves to give up our “bad boy” narrative. But it might be worth a try for at least long enough to stop being arses.
Brussels is a place that among other things is experimenting with trying to “do the right thing”.
The Grand Place in downtown Brussels can be a feast for the senses: the wafting scent of hot waffles, shop windows chock-full of chocolate, exquisite Baroque architecture.
But that’s not all you’ll find on the quaint cobblestone streets as the city that serves as both the capital of Belgium and the headquarters of the European Union. There’s also puke, dog poop, trash, spit, drug addicts, drunks and brawls.
Henk Everaert is an undercover police officer whose main job is to nab graffiti artists. But, like other Brussels cops, he’s increasingly on the lookout for what the law refers to as “incivilities.”
That includes people who are too loud or who are urinating in public — as well as those who are insulting others with homophobic, racist or sexist comments.
Ours is a society given to token gestures. We can call you all sorts of names and insult your gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation and if we can dredge up a kinship with someone in those characters we feel absolved of any guilt for behaving badly. We organize joint rides between Muslims and Jews and then top it all off by declaring (during a high fast day among Muslims) that the bar we are passing is akin to a house of worship.
That is in fact exactly what happened on the Muslim-Jewish Ride we attended that was being hosted in part by the ChainLink. You can read about it here. I remember being stunned that this sort of remark was made and felt embarrassed for not only the fellow who offered up this gem but the Muslims in the crowd who were explaining that many of their faith had not attended the ride instead honoring a fast day according to their beliefs.
Why on Earth would anyone make that big a mistake? It is simply because we are boors. We believe that we can call areas of the city of Chicago “shitholes” and then smooth things over by reciting the words of Martin Luther King in the space we have erased to remove harmful words. And after objections to that sort of behavior we trot out a supposed African-American friend who is supposed to agree with our assessments of what the South and West sides of Chicago should be termed. Bull Conner would be proud.
And after him Lee Atwater.
But both of these gentlemen had the decency to call you a nigger to your face and let you sputter in horror. These men came from a time when Blacks and Jews were considered an incendiary mix that was sure to attempt a resurrection of Communism here in the United States. Today their ideological offspring call the first African-American President a Socialist. It’s just that calling him a Communist is not a fashionable as it might have been coming from the lips of Bull Connor.
But the ChainLink crowd has learned a valuable lesson in that they are as bigoted as any of the folks to whom Lee Atwater made an appeal. The difference is that hailing from a northern state and believing themselves to be activists realizing that they are also racists does not fit their self-narrative. They cringe when one of their own uses the “shithole” term in describing what they believe in their heart-of-hearts to be true about places where they are afraid to ride unless escorted by a multitude of Critical Mass Ride compatriots.
The most telling thing though is that they are more than a bit afraid to “outlaw” this kind of behavior in their midst. And by remaining silent and passive they are providing just the kind of support that the “bad boys” of the forum desire. This is a group that carves out laws for which they have no use and pat themselves on the back for being ethical into the bargain. While at the same time deciding that others (most practiced from their point of view by people of color) should be severely enforced, because it suits their sensibilities to do so.
These are the acts of cowards and morally corrupt people. They cannot and will not say what they feel in their hearts and instead try to convince themselves and the rest of the world that they are Progressives. Their greatest skill is sending one or two folks off to find some reporter to spin their latest efforts as bringing progress of one sort or another but they never address the cancerous behavior that they coddle from within.
It is humorous that once again they are busy addressing issues that really are secondary and not primary. They would like to “dress up their forum” and need $15,000 to do so. What they really need is to take a firm and decisive stance on the task of needing to clean up the tenor of the forum itself. This is a place which no teacher or pastor could reasonably send young kids to find out more about cycling. It is a cesspool of bad language, racist diatribes and sexual impropriety. All of these are suitable only for adults. But the site is open to all. That is a mistake.
Now you can of course provide locks to keep folks out of areas that you wish to be secure and private. But why not simply foster an atmosphere that is suitable for our collective grandmothers to visit without fear of embarrassment? We need to foster civility and mutual respect not only on the pages of the forum but the rides we lead. We need to stop trying to paper over our bigotries by bringing in a token individual to lead a ride alongside us in the hopes that no one will remember just how vile our words are on this site.
We need, in short, to take a cue from Brussels. We need to stop coddling bad behavior and be daring enough to force folks to own up to their behaviors. Failing to do this means that we have no moral authority to ask motorists to behave in ways that we deem proper. Because after all if we can ignore our own shortcomings, why can they not do so as well?