But the light told me to stop

Published 12:26 am Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hello, my name is Gary, and I’m a workaholic. Some people are known to drink too much, some people gamble too much. My vice just happens to be that I work too much. However, every so often, I give myself a reprieve and travel the state for a couple of days to get away. Inevitably, though, something in my travels takes my mind back to Washington and business.

So, it was as I stood at a corner in Wilmington last week facing the flashing red hand of authority telling me not to move an inch. Now of course, it serves a purpose, without the flashing red hand some poor foolish soul might step out in front of a bus, car or even a horse-drawn buggy; but there wasn’t a single vehicle for at least three blocks, so, naturally, I crossed anyway. This in and of itself would not mean much except that the handful of other people waiting obediently on the corner stared at me as if I’d just committed a capital offense.

Now surely most people wouldn’t take such a minor incident and ponder it, but I’m admittedly not most people. When I started thinking about it, I realized just how conditioned so many of us have become to surrendering all our common sense to baseless authority. Here I am an educated man in his 30s, an entrepreneur, someone with a brain, and yet I am expected to blindly follow the dictates of a flashing light affixed to a metal pole. What has happened to us?

It’s not just the annoying shift of a light from a flashing red hand to a white pedestrian walking that we have willingly chosen to surrender our common sense to, but also the bureaucracy, particularly city-wide, that seeks not to govern us but to dictate to us on a daily basis the most inane decisions of everyday life. Why make such a statement? Well, firstly, of course, because it’s true. Secondly, maybe because we actually shouldn’t.

Now I am not advocating any type of civil disobedience or anarchy or any thing of the sort. As John Locke wrote of in his “Second Treatise on Government,” the social contract is necessary to preserve individual liberties. But when we allow ourselves to be ruled by the absurdity governing how many feet from a curb we have to place a sign, or whether we need someone’s permission to replace a door knob, or whether we have to beg for an extension on an absurdly high utility bill before a government worker, well, something is rotten in Denmark.

Now, do not misunderstand: there are great people working in our local government — thoughtful, industrious and well-intentioned individuals. It is the system that is broken. And it is ultimately we who are broken. There is no reason to blindly follow rules and regulations that we know defy reason, common sense or just common decency. What ever happened to the concept of being represented instead of ruled? We are not drones who are supposed to do and say whatever we are told to do and say.

Be practical. When confronted with something you know flies in the face of logic, speak up! Talk to your council member, your mayor, your planning director, your utility department head … and remember, yes, they are ‘your’ representatives. We were given the opportunity to think for ourselves for a reason. Let’s not waste it!

Gary Ceres is co-owner of I Can’t Believe It’s a Book Store in downtown Washington.