Caveman Logic

A look at the scary and entertaining ways in which our primitive minds are mismatched to the modern world around us.

Speeding Tickets and Other Injustices

We may pretend otherwise, but most of us do expect the world to be a fair place.

You don’t have to be an Evolutionary Psychologist to know that none of us, regardless of race, religion or national origin, likes to be treated unfairly. It’s what we call a “human universal.” There are enough such things to make Evolutionary Psychology a highly credible approach to understanding human behavior.

This is a column about being treated unfairly. It makes for a good story because it’s like a movie plot. It sets you up to feel a growing sense of outrage at an unfair system. But just at the point where you’re ready to scream at the heavens or politicians or beaurocrats or whomever you think is in control of this outrageous mess, everything gets fixed. Justice prevails. The universe, or at least your little corner of it, becomes sane again. It’s safe to go back into the water. You can again count on consequences to be fair. But just think how, for a few moments, it felt when nothing seemed fair and there was nobody to take your complaint or your logical case to. In that moment you learned a lot about yourself and, indeed, about the human condition. Can you imagine having to adapt to living in circumstances where you couldn’t count on Justice and Fairness? Fortunately, most of us don’t have to. But there are people in this world who do.

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With that preface, let’s narrow the focus to the relatively trivial circumstances that prompted this column. They could easily have happened to any of us. I’m suggesting that the events themselves are of little concern. Once that “outrage at unfairness” circuit or “module” as Evolutionary Psychologists are likely to call it gets triggered, we are going to experience some pretty strong feelings. Here’s what happened to me and how it turned out. Never mind that the location was Toronto, Canada. I promise you that your home town is as likely a setting as mine was.

The story starts simply enough: I got a speeding ticket. That alone pissed me off. It’s not like I wasn’t speeding, because technically I was. But there was more to it. Driving across town in Toronto can be brutal. It doesn’t even have to be during rush hour. Sometimes it seems the whole town is under construction. Pavement is being torn up everywhere. Streets abruptly go from two lanes down to one. New buildings are springing up like mushrooms.

The bottom line is that traffic was moving at a crawl for what seemed like hours. Bumper to bumper. Nerves frayed. And then the logjam finally ended and there was a collective shout of glee as we broke free from the flypaper that had held us back, and we drove straight into a speed trap. We didn’t have a chance to taste very much of our new freedom. I was pulled over for driving 50 Km in a 40 zone. Let me hasten to add for my American friends that Canada runs on the metric system. That’s 50 Km, not miles. 50 Km translates to about 30 miles per hour. I got a ticket for going 30 in a 25 zone. And that’s after being confined to crawling along at about 5 mph as the city underwent construction. In short, I was frustrated and annoyed.

The cop was nice enough. “I was only doing my job,” he said. He encouraged me to have my day in court, and pointed out that there was a special new program for people like myself who lived more than 75 Km out of town. “Just check Box 2 on the back of the ticket when you send it in and they’ll give you a call so you don’t have to come back into Toronto. You can discuss the offense over the phone.” Sounded fair to me and that’s just what I did. He did note that it may take a while to get the call since they were quite backlogged. That, too, sounded fine. I was in no hurry. And so I returned the ticket with Box 2 duly checked and waited for a phone call that never came.

After a while I forgot about it. At least until December 27th, about seven months after I got the ticket. A letter from the Province of Ontario dated December 19th arrived telling me that my license had been suspended. Huh? In fact, the notice was retroactive. I hadn’t had a license to drive since the 19th. I had been driving illegally, including a trip we had just made to New York to see Prometheus Books, the publisher of Caveman Logic. Might as well work in a little plug here.

It turns out that the call I had patiently waited for was never made. Instead, a letter had gone out sometime in August telling me a Court date had been set in Toronto – the very thing that “new program” had been set up to avoid. Note that I said a letter had “gone out.” I didn’t say it had been received by me. Big difference, there. The reason I hadn’t received it – as I was later able to discover – is that the letter had been mailed to “Hanil David.” It sounds like a cool ethnic name for an ethnicity I am not part of. My name is Hank Davis. And it wasn’t just the “name” part they had gotten wrong. They also bungled the “address part.” Zero for two by the Toronto Civil Servants.

But there was little time for righteous indignation (that would come later). My “unfairness” detector was working overtime. I wanted to tell the story to everyone I met, and I came pretty close. But despite all the social support I received from friends and strangers, I was still stuck with no driver’s license, a traffic conviction and fine that seemed to be increasing by the week. And then there was the “reversal of suspension” fee of $150 added to the whole mess.

Little of this was my fault, but it all had to be corrected by me. The Municipality of Toronto was not going to seek me out to apologize for their incompetence. They weren’t going to stop tearing up streets, shut down speed traps and grind to a screeching halt until Hank Davis (or Hanil David) had his driver’s license reinstated. There would be no apologies here. This was not a place to bring out my outraged inner child armed with his Just World view of the universe.

I soon learned that December 27th was not the best time to seek justice – at least the kind meted out by Provincial Courts. Nothing would open again until January 5th. I could bloody well wait ten days for this suspension to be rescinded.

And so I waited. With the help of a very supportive partner, I went to visit the local Provincial Offenses Office in my home town when it opened. They commiserated with me and told me there was absolutely nothing they could do. They had no jurisdiction. I would have to drive to Toronto and visit a Court office there. They were helpful, though. It was there I learned about the whole “Hanil David” mess and the wrong address. There was actually what used to be called a paper trail for this woeful tale of incompetence and they were willing to print a copy I could take to Court with me.

So armed with all this paperwork we made the trip to Toronto, spending the original unpaid fine in gas and parking, and arrived at the Courthouse. I went through the metal detector wondering if such things were really necessary in Canada, and finally got to tell my tale, not to a magistrate, but to a young woman who was there to triage my story and point me in the right direction. I have to admit I was eager to tell my story. I had been practicing it in my head for close to two weeks. She listened to me and didn’t seem particularly surprised by any of it. She offered to see the magistrate on my behalf and call me at the end of the day to let me know the verdict. “If you don’t hear from me, call me back and ask,” she added. I got her name and direct line.

My partner and I sat on the metal bench and discussed the whole thing for about five minutes and were about to leave the Courthouse when the young woman emerged from a back room. She spotted us and said “I took it in for you and he lifted the suspension. It’s all done. Just go pay the fine in the next office. You can pay the original one, not the increased ones. If you want to fight the conviction in court, they’ll give you a date, but it might just be easier to pay the fine at this point.”

It was, and I did. I still have to wait four business days for my license to officially appear unsuspended but, for all intents and purposes, it’s done. It ended with a whisper, not a bang. I never got to tell my story, unless you consider complaining to my friends or talking to a clerk as “telling my story.” I wanted my day in Court. I wanted a gavel to fall. I wanted some kind of cosmic justice. Instead, I got my license back.

 

Hank Davis, Ph.D, is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Guelph in Canada and the author of nine books.
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