The blog formerly known as The Dobbs Method

Societal Norms: What do Parkour and blowing through a red light have in common?

Posted in Culture by Taylor Dobbs on 01/15/2009

Many people have stumbled across YouTube videos of parkour. I don’t claim to be an expert on the sport/art, but as far as I have seen, it’s the act of running, jumping, or otherwise getting yourself from A to B in an unorthodox yet fluid way. Something experienced by fewer people (hopefully) is the act of driving straight through a red light. In most cases this is done by accident, but there are a few of us who have done it on purpose.

Have you ever stopped at a red light, checked that you were clear for traffic and/or police, and then driven right through?

I’m not advocating this, but people who have done it probably experienced an odd feeling afterwards. While you have broken a relatively major traffic law, you have served the purpose of that law: safety.

What strikes me about both parkour and the above mentioned driving habits isn’t their “stick it to the man” qualities but the fact that they both require the doer to completely let go of years of socialization. Since before children can walk, they are taught that red means stop, green means go, they’re taught not to jump off buildings or bound from rooftop to rooftop. The socialization process in western society is so effective that many people do not see options in very simple situations. When the “up” escalator is backed up and there’s a line to get onto it, but the “down” one is completely clear, how many people would hop on the “down” one and jog up it like stairs? Not many. Generally, in those situations, the escalator stays clear. The situations I present are simple and have obvious answers. There is often a rent-a-cop around to yell at anyone who tries to go up the down escalator, for example. Applying similar thoughts to a larger scale yields interesting results

The “free your mind” concept has been around for years. The Matrix took this concept to the edge in 1999 when it stated that when you free your mind of all constraints, you can do anything, including dodge bullets and defy gravity. Now I don’t go as far to see how I fair in a gunfight as long as I “believe” that I’m faster than the bullet, but The Matrix brings up a very interesting concept.

If you apply the concepts raised in The Matrix to society and social norms, you arrive somewhere between the world of Neo and Trinity and the world of parkour. You become – as a friend put it – less of a “person” and more of a “homo sapien.” By this I mean that instead of operating at the maximum capacity that society will let you as a person, you begin to operate at the maximum capacity only of your body. Obviously, this new freedom must be used selectively. One shouldn’t, just because they have freed their minds, knock out the first person to offend them on the street. There are many cases, though, where a situation could be dealt with more efficiently if you were able to free yourself of societal norms. Have you ever walked into a store to make a regular purchase and stood at the counter with the exact change for your item, holding the thing and waiting for a staff member to just check you out? Total deviance in this situation would be to just leave the store and keep your money. What if you just left the change on the counter and walked out? You haven’t stolen anything, you haven’t hurt anything, you’ve simply skipped the relatively arbitrary step of scanning the item and letting the staff member hand you a slip of paper telling you how much you’ve paid.

Hardly anyone will do this, because it’s a very unsettling experience for many people as well as for anyone working in the store, but try going through a normal day, though, and thinking about why you’re doing what you do. Do you have to do it? Could it be done faster if you broke a norm, but not necessarily a law or rule?

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