By NICK PARKINS—
The idea of someone or something controlling our every thought and action is so 1980s. Let’s face it, we live out our modern, technological lives with access to instant communication and information that allows us to enjoy greater control and freedoms of thought and expression than at any point in recorded human history; right?
Each of us draws comfort from the decisions we make, sure in the knowledge that we are individuals, masters of our own destiny. We mock those that aren’t as under the thumb, as easily lead, or weak. Underlying this attitude is the principle that no person or system has the right to influence or determine the free will of another. This may be true, but what if this truth was naive; that even the strong-minded could not trust the direction their thoughts were taking them?
A Fabric of Lies?
Why for instance do we accept laws that govern conduct and shunt every aspect of human experience into a narrow band of monotonous conformity? What if we were to strip society of its rules and regulations governing conduct; what then? Would we fall into anarchy? This social consensus maybe misplaced.
Consider road signs and signals. Substantial reductions in traffic incidents and fatalities have been recorded in communities that have adopted a rather novel approach to road safety by removing street clutter. If this idea of so-called ‘naked roads’ seems counter-intuitive to you, just ask the resident exhibitionists of Christiansfeld, Denmark.
In 2004, local libertarians stripped traffic lights and other road markings from a notorious crossroads in a bid to improve road safety. Surprisingly this simple act of faith saved Danish bacon, reducing the death toll to zero on a road which throughout the previous decade had claimed three lives every year. It is believed the fall in casualty figures was due to uncertainty over who had right-of-way.
The late Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman did much to inspire this rethink. He devised schemes in the Netherlands that removed all traffic lights, signs and markings, and other driver instructions from the small villages of Drachten, Makkinga and town of Oosterwolde; all with great effect. Perhaps unsurprisingly removing red lights from a particular district in Amsterdam has yet to catch on.
Interestingly, naked road studies like those in Christiansfeld suggest a re-think; that road signs, in some instances, offer about as much protection to the elements as the Emperor’s new clothes. Of course the Danish subjects in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale who saw through the head of state’s veiled attempt at modesty were considered subversive. So are road signs as useful as non-existent clothing? Does that make me subversive?