Tribal Oxford

Tribal Oxford

By Jake Backus

What defines you? What are your values? To what extent do you think about what’s best for you, or for others and society? Are you convinced that your views are right and just? (No doubt we all are.)

We don’t all think the same or have the same view of the world, but increasingly we can find people who share our values online. These loosely defined groups can coalesce around a particular issue such as Brexit and then we are part of a team. This team is defined partly by not being like other groups. We are not like you. This is our “tribe”. You are not of our tribe.

Suitably emboldened we enter the fray and go on social media to berate the people who don’t think like us, perhaps hiding behind an anonymous Twitter or Facebook name.

Cyclists vs drivers?

In this way, people who prefer to cycle and people who prefer to drive have formed their tribes. Cyclists are annoying and don’t obey the rules, and drivers are dangerous, take up a lot of space and cause pollution. Consequently, “cyclists” go through red lights, (although not all cyclists go through red lights), and cycle without lights and a helmet. “Vehicle drivers” speed and use their mobile phones while driving (although, again, not all drivers speed or use their phones).

But the reality is that many people both cycle and drive, and ultimately, some people are just badly behaved (let’s call them idiots). You get idiot cyclists and idiot drivers (although idiot drivers tend to be more dangerous to others, while idiot cyclists are most often a danger to themselves). So, the debate goes around in circles, with little compassion or empathy for each other. Ultimately, we share the same space, and we need to be considerate of one another. 

Competition or cooperation?

At the basic level, do we believe in “survival of the fittest” or “survival of the friendliest through cooperation”? Two big camps indeed. Are your views formed from a moral, religious or philosophical standpoint of equality? Or do you feel that people tend to look out for themselves to maximise their personal advantage, and that the resulting competition promotes general welfare?

Where is the debate about what is best for society, best for the health and safety of our children and old people, and what is socially equitable and inclusive?

Moving forwards

Ultimately, if we want things to get better, we will need to make changes, since by definition, something needs to change to get better (unless of course you think that others should do all the changing). Our environment is changing whether we like it or not. For example, if we continue to build more housing around Oxford, will people still be able to drive into the centre? Can we fit more vehicles in our limited space during peak times? Can we tolerate the air pollution and its impact on our children and elderly? What then, is the best solution? How flexible to change are we? How adaptable are we to alternative futures?

While it may generate engagement and conflict online, tribalism isn’t helping us to make any progress. Maybe one day cyclists and drivers can have their own segregated space, and if more people cycle, then vehicle drivers will also benefit with less congestion. A win-win. Meanwhile, the eighth woman has been killed in Oxford in recent years while cycling. Let’s make the health and safety of everyone the key priority, share the road considerately, and discuss things in a moderate and empathetic way so that we can agree how best to move forwards, literally.


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