The Internet is a wild and woolly place, filled as it is with countless crazies howling at the moon on any given night. Although I’m usually impervious to the nuttiness, sometimes a particular bit of blight gets through and spatters my windshield.
This time, a reader took the time to email me a critique of my “wear a lot of lights” advocacy. In essence, he calls it victim blaming. “When you put the focus on what the rider did wrong, instead of what the driver who killed him did wrong, you are blaming the victim.”
The reader went on to point out that this is exactly what newspapers do when they report cycling deaths, never failing to mention that the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet, and almost never pointing out that it wasn’t a car that killed the cyclist, but rather a negligent (drunk/stoned/distracted) driver who did. In the same vein, he said, my advocacy for lights blames cyclists, who are the true victims, and takes the pressure off the drivers who maim and kill them.
Therefore, Wanky is bad.
That much we can agree on. I am bad. It’s been years since I’ve been swatted with a rolled-up newspaper, but the charge still stands.
But am I victim blaming when I point out that the single best thing you can do to stay alive on city streets is to be well illuminated, especially during the day? Maybe. Kind of the same way in which I’m victim blaming when I tell people to wear seat belts in my car. Because you know, the focus should be on the drunk who plows into us, not on what we can do to keep from slamming face-first through the windshield.
In fact, victim blamers are everywhere, especially in places like the aviation industry, where victim blaming FAA regulations require flotation devices and oxygen masks, rather than ensuring that no operational problems ever occur. The military does lots of victim blaming, too, requiring infantry to wear helmets and body armor, instead of focusing on the real wrongdoers, i.e. the snipers and the people who plant the I.E.D.s.
Our society has become one of victim blamers, I guess. Every time you advocate for a measure that might mitigate harm to the potential victim or avoid it entirely, you are victim blaming: Putting scent in the gas lines, home fire detectors, protective goggles in the workplace, lawyer locks on front forks, kiddie-proof caps on household cleaners, anti-lock brake systems, airbags, kill switches at the gas station, anti-slip pads in the shower, narrow grates on home paper shredders … all these things are just victim blaming. If we really cared about people being poisoned to death, we’d focus on gas leaks themselves, for example, and make sure that there never was one, ever. Then we wouldn’t have to blame victims by putting scent in the gas lines so the victims could detect the gas and escape instead of dying in their sleep.
Your orthodoxy suit doesn’t fit
Of course the real problem isn’t that I advocate using daytime lights (along with lane positioning and a host of other preventive measures), the problem is that a lot of people can’t accept that even the slightest deviation from their agenda isn’t necessarily an enemy.
We see it everywhere, all the time. If you’re not 100% for me and in agreement with everything I say, you’re against me. Trump, anyone?
Never mind that lights make you conspicuous and keep you from getting hit. Never mind that with lights you can start saving lives today, whereas with infrastructure, social change, nationwide mandatory bike education curricula, and other long-term (some would say pie-in-the-sky) solutions, it will be years before the effects are felt. And never mind that lights are something that almost everyone can afford and easily slap onto their bike.
Never mind all that.
Because we cyclists are victims, and perish the thought that we take steps to do anything about it. You can’t be a martyr if you’re still alive.
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