This essay was originally published in 2012. Since that time the stretch of freeway discussed has had its speed limit dropped to 45 m.p.h. and the State Patrol has substantially increased its presence. This has resulted in far fewer moments where advanced civilization teeters on the brink of collapse. However, as the above photo illustrates, traffic still comes to a standstill on occasion. Perhaps it is once again time to reflect on the deeper meaning of this human drama.
[BY S. SALMI]
The interchange between U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 5 running north is an asphalt monument to automotive freedom that descends from the elite cliffs of Olympia’s westside and arcs across the shimmering Deschutes River.
This interchange is a lengthy two-lane affair up until shortly after it merges into I-5, whereupon the right lane disappears. Meanwhile, a Deschutes Way on-ramp also flows into the disappearing right lane.
Navigating this interchange is drama free most of the day as long as you accommodate the occasional vehicle merging from your right. But during rush hour, advanced civilization tends to break down. A few “early adopters” use the right lane to cut in front of dozens of vehicles. Traffic slows each time a cut-and-run artist forces their way into the surviving lane. As traffic slows, more motorists join in the maneuver. When this goes on long enough traffic grinds to a halt. At that point cutting and running become the preferred mode of vehicular self expression.
It’s only a matter of time before this mayhem causes collision-inflicted injury or death.
Social scientists know relatively little about this phenomenon (e.g., see Buttocks, 2005; Chu Mei, 2010) but they describe its practitioners as asss-hoolles. This is a term originating with the ethnographic documentary, Meet The Fockers.
For present purposes, asss-hoolle does not designate everyone who engages in cutting and running. Penske (2008) does not include emergency situations such as getting quickly to the ER, meeting with Gov. Inslee or arriving before a spouse’s surprise birthday party. In addition, Bong (2011) does not consider accidental offenders to be asss-hoolles. In Thurston County these populations primarily include librarians distracted by audio books, confused motorists from Panorama City, and most Evergreen students under 21 years of age.
Review of the literature
What drives people to become asss-hoolles is the subject of heated debate among clinicians within the field of psychology. One school of thought emphasizes the role of narcissism. According to Leery (2001), the narcissist behind the wheel is single-mindedly focused on his or her own convenience and indifferent to the plight of other motorists.
In contrast, Rockefeller (1996) argues that kick-the-dog syndrome plays the biggest role in asss-hoollery. People who feel like they are pushed around all day may feel a sense of power when gaining a perceived advantage over others. Indeed, the longer the line of vehicles getting cut off, the more satisfying the action.
A more recent school of thought argues that asss-hoolles are hiding from their anxiety closet (Breathed, 2010). They fill their waking hours as much as possible with thoughts, actions and caffeine so that they can avoid dealing with unresolved issues they find scary.
Advocates of the anxiety closet school of thought believe that asss-hoollery is an exercise in self-medication. If the patient had to wait in traffic even one or two extra minutes, that could cause dangerous anxieties to escape. This could lead to an automobile accident without the presence of a trained therapist, who generally do not provide mobile sessions due to insurance billing restrictions.
This is why a growing number of mental health practitioners have advocated that Washington state create a new kind of disability permit. When properly displayed on the rearview mirror of a vehicle, holders of a VAH-3A permit would allow its recipients to legally engage in anti-social behaviors such as cutting and running if under the care of a therapist. (Note that hitting other vehicles, using a firearm to shoot at other motorists, and throwing projectiles with the intent of damaging other vehicles would still be against the law.)
The psychology literature may help us better understand asss-hoolles, but it doesn’t offer useful advice about how to keep advanced civilization from collapsing during rush hour at the 101 / I-5 interchange. We must turn to the field of deep ecology for the most far-reaching solutions: the elimination of the automobile (Carnegie, 2001), a reversion to hunter-gatherer societies (Kunstler, 2010) or “co-evolutionary, post-Mayan, thermal-nuclear, population re-stabilization” (Kaczynski, 1990).
A more modest proposal in keeping with the technocratic worldview of Olympia culture might be the complete closure of the interchange’s right lane. That way no one can game the system once they enter the interchange. The unused lane could be transformed into a peaceful Zen garden of plants and rocks and birds and things.
In addition, a nearby rest area with an on-call therapist could be created to assist those motorists experiencing anxiety attacks due to the slower pace of one-lane traffic.
How would we pay for all of this socialistic extravagance? I’m thinking that a small carbon tax would make the most sense.
With these simple steps, we could stop the collapse of civilization at the 101 / 1-5 interchange. Wouldn’t that help restore your belief in the basic decency of Olympian motorists?
CORRECTION: Dickus (2004) was incorrectly cited as inventorying research on asss-hoollery. The correct citation was Buttocks (2005), who has found said research analytically flimsy and rather juvenile. My apologies for any confusion this error may have caused.
This essay is a slightly updated version of a Feb. 24, 2012 posting in Olympia Views.