Anger, Retribution, Oh Crap, Splat.

 Posted on July 05, 2008 in Uncategorized

"I'll show him!" That's the retributive impulse in a nutshell, isn't it? The desire, when someone angers us by making us feel a loss of control or a perceived loss of dignity, to regain control and dignity by "teaching him a lesson"? It's the impulse driving lots of human misbehavior - control and dignity probably come in third and fourth after money and sex as motivators (for some people, maybe first and second - some people might not surrender either perceived control or imagined dignity for sex or money. I can only imagine.).

It drives prosecutors to put people in prison (hold them accountable! teach them a lesson!), it causes domestic assaults, and it results in road-rage incidents.

Today's Chronicle had a good example of "I'll show him!" gone terribly wrong. Three motorcyclists were riding together late Friday night in unincorporated Harris County. A Mazda Miata (that most innocuous of vehicles) nearly collided with one of them. It happens. The three motorcyclists decide to show him, and chase the Miata through a neighborhood and onto a major thoroughfare, where one of them, a 48-year-old male (not the one almost hit by the Miata), "attempted to kick and strike the driver of the car while riding his motorcycle". He lost control (his son, the third rider, "said... that he believes the Mazda driver caused the crash by swerving into his father's motorcycle"), left the road, hit a tree, and died (helmetless).

Granted, a smash-up contest between a car (even a Miata) and a motorcycle is extremely asymmetrical. Real bikers, as opposed to urban wannabes, I've heard, carry a pocketful of ball bearings to chuck at the windshield of an offending "cage"; the motorcyclist who gets in a confrontation with a car and wants to live gets out of range as soon as possible.

Even if the odds are more even, though, being the aggressor in a road-rage incident is a bad idea. Unless you plan to stay in your car and shoot the guy who has deprived you of your precious dignity (a good way to get indicted), you're either going to (A) damage your car while damaging his (explain that to your insurance company. and your wife); or (B) get out of your car and risk getting your stupid self run over (if you get out of your car, in my view the other driver should reasonably assume that you are carrying a gun and intending to use it on him). There is little upside to a road-rage incident. It's much cheaper to swallow your pride and go home.

More to the point, though, there's seldom much upside to trying to teach a grown-up human being a lesson anywhere the retributive "I'll show him!" urge strikes.

As Paladin said, "Never draw in anger. It slows the hand."

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