Out in my new car last weekend, I witnessed a fascinating little drama unfolding in my rear view mirror. There were road works on the main ring road around Oxford. Two lanes had to merge into one and the predictable happened. The vast majority of fair-minded, law-abiding, decent folk pulled over to the right hand lane and began queuing. The few, with an innate sense of entitlement, who seem genuinely to believe that their time is more valuable than ours, and that the rules of fair play do not apply to them, began speeding down the left. In doing so, they greatly slowed down the progress of the queue. We in the right fumed silently, swore under our breath, but otherwise did nothing.
And then, on the horizon, appeared the silver-clad knight on his white charger, in the form of a modest Black Renault hatchback. He (I’ll bet my last tenner it was a bloke, women just don’t do this sort of thing) pulled out into the left lane and stayed where he was. Nothing could get past him. The queue of traffic continued towards the lights, order and fairness had been restored. We breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Only for a few minutes. Rage began to build in the wings-clipped cars of the left hand lane. Horns started to sound. Lights to flash. Fists were shaken. Surely the Black Renault would crumble and pull over? No, he stood firm. A counter attack was staged. A large silver Mercedes mounted the kerb, swung its way past Black Renault and thundered on ahead, yelling abuse from his open driver’s window. A second and a third car followed suit. Black Renault pulled closer to the left kerb and further insurrection proved impossible.
By this time I was agog with admiration. I desperately wanted to pull out into his lane and travel at his speed, just to show solidarity but didn’t quite dare. Well, I was in a new car and I didn’t want it scratched. I’m also a bit a wimp about confrontation. I was praying for someone else – a bloke, in a bigger car, to do it, but no one did. Black Renault made his stand alone.
This all went on for quite some time. It took probably twenty minutes from the queue forming to my getting through the lights and pulling away. I was desperate to see whether Black Renault would hold out.
It became a compelling little parable for everything that’s wrong in the world. Most people do the decent thing. The selfish few ignore the rest and gratify themselves. One lone ranger stands up for what’s right. He’s attacked, he’s vilified. He’s made to suffer for his courage. The rest of us admire, wish him well, but do nothing.
I got to musing (to the extent it was possible, I could hardly take my eyes off the mirror) about whether what I was seeing in the action of the impatient car drivers, honking, swearing, furious at being thwarted, was actually the true nature of evil. I spend a lot of time, unsurprising given my job, thinking about what evil really is, and I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that it isn’t to be found in the sadistic, psychotic serial killer or the deranged mass murderer. For one thing, there are very few of those around anyway and for another, most you can name will be very damaged individuals themselves.
I don’t think it’s to be found in the crime of passion, a momentary loss of control in the face of great provocation is hardly evidence of evil.
I think evil is much smaller. I think the con artist, who systematically and relentlessly preys upon elderly folk, tricking them out of their much needed savings, is evil. I think the ruling men in Muslim countries, who force their country’s women into leading shadowy, servile lives, are evil. I think those who hide behind the anonymity of social media to kick with impunity at those who are suffering, are evil.
Evil, I think, is a combination of a personal sense of entitlement and a disregard for the rights of others. It isn’t big and grand and impressive. It’s small and selfish, rather pathetic really, except in the impact it has upon others. And, except in the possibility of its escalation.
Black Renault stood his ground. He held the left lane. They did not pass. He is an unsung hero of our age, as far as I’m concerned. I salute him.