Like many who make our abode on these islands of ours, I spend a good chunk of my day stuck in traffic. Traffic, and how I behave in its midst, defines me as a Maltese resident. It alters my moods; it exhausts me unnecessarily; it impoverishes my quality of life. I have strove to make more bearable the time I spend surrounded by metal monsters by inventing guessing games with people’s number plates, or by observing the stupor of fellow drivers.
I have tried transforming sheer waste of time to logic moments of profound reflection… you know, like, breathe in … breathe out … before anger and frustration make me do the unthinkable. But as hard as I try, as much as I attempt to rationalize the absurdity of my predicament, I can’t help knowing in my heart of hearts that I am entrapped in the belly of a beast that is merely a microcosm of our culture at large.
For, you see, in Malta traffic is not merely a logistical problem. It is the jungle that defines our collective ethos. Through the way we interact with each other when protected by metal armour, we portray a sad picture of an uncivilized people that has little respect for rules and institutions because we have little respect for each other (and presumably, for ourselves). “Safe” in our battered cars—symbols of glorious past battles,
I’m sure!—we fight over half a meter of road space; we posture like mad peacocks; we size up each other, anticipate each other’s moves, and sniff for any sign of weakness or indecisiveness. As a symbol of the way we think and act as “Maltese” people, on the road we all play by our own rules, re- inventing them as we deem fit, in order to assert a smug sense of self over the collective.
The irony of this twisted attempt at “autonomy” is that it reflects not only little intelligence, but much weakness of character. Anyone with a shred of common sense knows that rules (“good” rules, that is) are there to protect the general public… including myself. The speed limit is not merely the bad joke of “the law” that seeks to frustrate my hunger for speed. “No Parking” signs (or those infamous double yellow lines that prohibit any stopping) are not street decorations that inconvenience me, and thus can be ignored at will. And most certainly, rules are not there to be broken, thwarted, or redefined based on the randomness of my “but-I-feel-like-it” standards, or simply to make exceptions for myself (or my “friends”).
In other words, autonomy as asserting “self-rule” (the actual etymology of the word), assumes that we are smart enough to recognize that, irrespective of who makes laws and regulations, they are legitimate only if they are reasonable. We are not monkeys playing monkey games. We are human beings with dignity made evident through the right use of reason. My unreasonable rules can never be a true expression of enlightened “autonomy”, but rather, of my thoughtlessness and selfishness. I demean others and myself by stubbornly insisting that “it’s my way or the highway” or that “only I know better”, if “my way” has no objective (i.e. actual, because “reasonable”) justification.
To put it pointedly, autonomy is less of a right, and more of a duty—the duty to act justly in my interaction with others—because only justice as a standard of reason allows for true civility. And human beings deserve no less.