The parking lot theory
Published August 24, 2023
By Lib Campbell
In Disciple I Bible Study, the lesson on Obedience is set around the law of Moses, the Ten Commandments and the subsequent Levitical law that fills the Old Testament. Obedience and adherence to the rule of law was an expectation of the ancient people. Law was a way of ordering civil society, and a faith community that benefitted the many over the few who would break the law. Remember, there was a golden calf in the story of Moses. Golden calves were a major no-no.
The rule of law continues to hold a people together for the good of all. Until it doesn’t. Lawlessness often begins in small ways. Minor infractions, some of them as simple as traffic laws, point to the human bent of pushing the limits, thinking we are above the law. For some people, many of whom are news makers, the law is for chumps. Law is broken with impunity and too often there is no accountability for the wrongdoing. Some people see themselves above accountability and the law.
There is a civics example I use in teaching obedience. I call it the parking lot theory. People park their cars in parking lots every day all over the world. The parking lot is painted for diagonal parking. The parkers comply without complaint. One day, the parkers show up and the parking lot has been re-painted for parallel parking. Many people will go along, but there are some who buck the parking lot lines and say, “I will park any doggone way I want to park.” And they do.
The elevation of the individual desire for parking in a certain way, despite the order called for in the new painted lines points to a fundamental issue that disrupts our life together. This small infraction is not actually a big deal, they say. Neither is driving twenty miles an hour over the speed limit. People get away with it all the time.
The penalty for speeding in the city is speed humps intended slow us down. It’s funny to see how people rev-up their engines between humps, then slam on brakes to go over one. If we followed even the simplest traffic law, it would be so much more pleasant and safe for all of us.
I always think of the tortoise and the hare. I love to be on the highway when somebody whom I’ve seen weave in and out of cars trying to “get there first” ends up at the light the same time I do. I learned the Highway Patrol’s mantra, “Drive to Stay Alive,” a long time ago. Driving within the limits of the law is a small price for a safer highway system.
People cheat in all kinds of ways. Sins of omission and sins of commission fill our tax filings, our transcripts, our resumes. The worst of human nature is unleashed as people flout the law to live self-interestedly. What do we think will happen when the rule of law is increasingly ignored?
When distrust is sown and disinformation is mainstreamed, it is easy to lose trust in systems and democracy itself. We see the great deconstruction of democracy happening all around in the stripping of voting rights, the perpetuation of a great lie that Donald Trump won the election in 2020, when history is white-washed and spin-masters twist a story into winners and losers, the marginalized are just plain left behind.
Autocracy is rising around the world. But the autocrat playbook is always the same. There is a ruling class, with an exalted leader, and the rest of us peons left with few choices, no voice for dissent, and constant fear of reprisal from the top. If you have ever read The Hunger Games, this is what autocracies evolve into.
There is little question that our republic, our democratic way of life, has not reached its full potential - the more perfect union, where all people have a vote and a voice and even the least among us has an opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America and North Carolina, are yet unrealized shining cities on a hill. Adhering to the rule of law, keeping our oath to uphold the Constitution will continue to benefit the most of us. As primary season begins, be aware. Several of our presidential candidates are wanna-be autocrats. Wonder what Inauguration Day will look like if any of them wins?
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader, columnist and host of the blogsite www.avirtualchurch.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org