Sunday, 11 December 2016

Essay: The Prig; or, A Letter to that Prick on the Tram

At five-thirty on a Friday our tram stopped, and one man deemed this an excuse to abandon civility. Tram officers told us the tram would trundle on unburdened, while we were to board the tram behind. I assume all those disembarking were irritated; some gave their irritation words, irritation at this three minute delay. Mere grumbles, of course, as harmless as scratching an insect bite.

One man (whom we shall call Dick) would not restrict himself to scoffs. Under the near thirty-degrees sun, he made his petty pain known. Speaking on behalf of all us passengers, all us ‘good people’, he shrieked at a tram officer. Hunched over the officer, Dick demanded explanation as to why, oh, why he must switch trams. The officer stated he’d no power over the tram lines, and should call the service’s phone number. Ah, but this was insufficient for Dick. How thankful heroes are never dissuaded by common sense and common decency. He jabbed the officer’s shoulder insignia. ‘Authorised Officer,’ Dick spat. ‘Authorised Officer. I’ve tried your phoneline. No one answers. You are here, and you are a representative!’ 

One wonders why Dick assumed, proper channels being futile, an improper channel would be more effective. His is the logic of the child sociopath: the world has wronged him, and as the world refuses to respond to his cries, he revenges upon small animals. This explanation, however, assumes he possesses an atom of decency, that he honestly intended some result from his hostility. Unless Dick expected the officer to report this to HQ, report Dick’s unforgivable inconvenience, he meant his squeals purely as catharsis. Oh, but that most uncivilised catharsis, that catharsis which needs draw another’s blood.

As I would never be as unfair to Dick as he was to the officer, I shall walk a while in his sweaty shoes. I shall hypothesise what might cause such barbarity:

Had he a place to be that day? Sparing the delay was no more than three minutes (had he a place to be, he was cutting it fine to imprudent degrees), this was not the principle of his argument. His argument centred on ‘inconvenience,’ his inconvenience and that of these ‘good passengers’ he so kindly spoke for. His argument holds, if, like him, we elevate inconvenience to an infringement of our inalienable rights.

Oh, but he talked of his tax dollars, didn’t he? Why, oh, why are his tax dollars wasted on such a slipshod system? Beware a man who speaks of his tax dollars as though they grant him sum and survey of the nation’s soil. We should all appreciate a more efficient infrastructure. All humanity strives to minimise displeasure, be that displeasure as grand as hunger or as petty as tardiness. To lower displeasure, sometimes a lesser displeasure must occur. The invention of the car made redundant the coach drivers. ‘Lesser displeasure’ is the operative term; the good of one’s ends must exceed the bad of one’s means. Yelling at an officer, one unable to tighten the tramlines, cannot improve the world. In fact, in the calculus of pleasure and displeasure, by pointlessly harassing an officer, one makes the world worse.  

I do not argue against blowing off steam, which I am sure Dick achieved. I do not argue against grumbling, groaning, or even open surliness. Surely Dick had just left work, after a day which alternated between sodding rain and searing heat. He had perhaps not eaten since lunch, and are we not all irritable after such asceticism. Some pained expression is justified, like swearing after one stubs their toe. A first-world problem is still a problem, and moaning is a unique pleasure.

On one high-twenties day, I waited an hour for a bus. As three promised buses failed to appear, the crowd beside me grew. Twenty-strong we waited. The bus arrived, though overburdened with passengers from previous stops. All we were irritated, all we were tired, all we wished that after such a wait we all should have a seat to ourselves – but did any of us complain? No, we trudged on board, grumbling, for grumbling harms no one. I am sure it would have been more cathartic to yell at the driver, to aim our irritation at a face – a fact Dick understood. Alas, none of us were Dicks, who believe our own piece of mind more worth preserving than another’s.

What makes scolding a public transport worker so damnable is you will not be the first. Someone else that day, so full of entitlement and ingratitude, has also spat in that worker’s face. While a single prick hurts little, few wish to be pin cushions.

One can easily imagine Dick in his daily life; he very much fits a type. I assume Dick, at home, moans about the ingratitude and entitlement of the younger generation. I assume Dick, to his friends, rails against ‘PC goose-steppers’ and their oversensitivity. I assume Dick, every morning, scoffs through the Herald, incensed at the modern world’s moral decay. I assume all of us who are not like this man have suffered such a man, so bloated is his personality.

I assume all of us have come dangerously close to being Dick, if only for moments. When our petty grievances pile to so high a height, it seems all the world conspires against us. It does not matter who or what we revenge against, for is not the whole world guilty? I, myself, in the presence of Dick, almost became Dick, almost laughed in his face, screamed in his ear, and cursed him with all the world’s diseases. I would like to say I restrained myself, that I did not stoop to his level. But there is a world of difference between berating an innocent and berating a prick. My chin could hit the ground and still stay above his level. I only avoided becoming Dick because of my congenital spinelessness. I can no more yell at a tram officer than I could pick a fight with this emblem of middle-class entitlement.

To those who are not blessed with my cowardice, or not guarded from abrasiveness by decency, I write this essay. In Dick I have found the embodiment of a secular sin the Prig: one who cares much about standards, but not in such a way as applies to themself.

So, readers, I hope, when some petty peril grips us, we remember Dick. Remember Dick stomping aboard the tram, still steaming at a three-minute delay. Remember Dick slouching in his seat before returning to his vital business of playing backgammon on his phone. Although Dick is too past saving, addicted as he is to licking his scratches, we may all consider him, and have our consciences retreat. In Dick priggishness is painted in such sour colours that upon remembering him, none will emulate him.

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