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I think that in the US we're pretty lawless as well, especially with the "little things": speeding, talking on your cell when driving (against the law in a number of states and cities). I realize that this is a slippery moral slope, but there's a difference between something that is potentially harmful to oneself versus crimes against others (and when I say others, I mean individuals; we're less likely to worry about a crime against the government or a large corporation). Yes, if I speed or talk on my cell, I might have an accident with someone else, but the likelihood is that I'll just crash my car. If I cheat on my income tax, I'm the one who will have to pay if I get caught. If I steal cable, again, I'm the one in trouble. But if I rob, burgle, or rape, I've hurt another individual and that's far more serious. Again, it's a slippery slope and perhaps by teaching respect for the law in all aspects, the bigger crimes might lessen as well. That was the approach that former New York City mayor Rudy Guilani took in cleaning up the city. If you littered or broke a window or loitered, those crimes were treated seriously. By doing that, the theory went, you would deter others from larger crimes. (I'm trying something like that in my house in order to keep it cleaner--if you immediately clean up the tiny messes, you're less likely to let a big mess occur. Of course, with two little ones making messes, it doesn't work that well!)

Well, I guess it comes down to this: do you want to have a society based on laws and respect for laws, or do you want to have a society based on people just doing what they want? If you want the former, you need to suck it up and put the law ahead of your own convenience.

Having lived in both SA and the United States, I think the petty lawlessness level is about the same. Here in the Washington DC area, people speed and talk on their cellphones (which illegal in DC but not VA)and pirated music and software. It's also very easy to buy pirated DVDs and "designer" purses on the main streets of our capital.

But the one thing that I just CANNOT get over is the high level of domestic violence and rape in South Africa, particularly child rape. Every day in the local PE paper, there is yet another story about a young child being raped. In fact today, there is a story about a case in Knysna involving a 15 year old girl, but I have seen toddler rapes mentioned not infrequently. It is SO shocking but the South African population (black, white, Indian, Coloured) don't seem terribly worked up about it. The white South Africans seem to have the attitude of "ag man, that's the way the black culture is [traditionally very patriarchial], so what can we do about it?". And a admitted rapist, Jacob Zuma, has set his sights on becoming your next president? Why aren't you women (black, coloured, white etc) out in the streets marching and getting upset about this?!?

To me, the real difference between the two countries is the level of complacency with regard to violence against women and children. It seems that South Africa missed out on the feminist movement that swept other Western countries in the 1960s and 1970s because people were so focused on Apartheid. Why is there not a strong anti-rape movement along the lines of the Treatment Action Campaign for HIV? Why has there never been something like Take Back the Night on South African university campuses?

I think the thing here (SA) is that we see others doing what we would not do, for example going through a red traffic light, and think: 'Well the police were right there, they did not stop him, what is the point of the law?' We think that if the police are not policing, why take any notice of the laws of the land. Of course this then makes for lax citizens in general. I would not go through a red light, unless I am on my own, at night and it is spookily quiet.

However, there is the conundrum, where is the line?

I will talk on my phone in the car with my earphones, but if I am not set up, I will NEVER stop, it is not safe to stop beside the road. So, lawlessness creates more lawlessness.

Well, that is my take on it, anyway!

I guess I am a little embarrassed to say that we in the U.S. ignore a lot of "little" laws. I often break the speed limit, and I often talk on my phone while driving. If I get a speeding ticket (which has only happened once before, knock on wood), I blame it on the police officer, instead of just admitting to myself that I'm in the wrong.

I think you make a sterling point and one that I have tried to express many times on SA Rocks.

It is not OK to jump a red robot and then damn the country to hell because someone robbed someone of a cellphone. They are BOTH crimes. End. of. story.

Breaking the law is breaking the law and there are no two sides to the story. For every excuse you have for jumping a robot or talking on your cellphone a thief, hijacker or murderer can blame the political climate, apartheid, previously disadvantaged background, poverty, unemployment. There are a gabillion reasons to break the law and only one reason not to break the law: it is illegal. It is ALL illegal.

In the same way if you don't vote you can't complain about the government, if you break the law you can't complain about lawlessness.

I think it's all about a matter of balance - here in the states you know that you can probably go 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, but any more than that an you will get an expensive ticket. So, we break the law a little bit but not too much. (Well, lots of people still speed more than that, but they know that they risk a ticket).

And I know lots of people that share software, music, etc, but we aren't totally blatant about it (setting up a roadside stand or an online shop) because we know those people get caught.

:) Becky

Yeah, in the States we are really bad about the 'little' lawbreaking, but we sure do love to threaten (or actually call) the cops on each other. It's weird.

And, I have to ask, TV license?

I think its the same in the US, and I've got to say that I disagree with Gerette about American's mostly breaking laws that hurt themselves. I'm not sure I agree that someone speeding or talking on their cell is more likely to just crash their own car than to crash into someone else. Driving irresponsibly hurts EVERYONE, and makes the roads more dangerous for EVERYONE. (Not to say that I never do it.) Likewise, if you don't pay your taxes? You are taking money away from public services. Those taxes are meant to help the country/town/state/whatever RUN, and I'm not sure how not paying them only hurts yourself. And stealing cable drives up prices for all the rest of us. So I really don't buy that argument.

That said, I speed, I occasionally talk on my phone while I drive, I am not against pirating music or movies. I think its pretty normal for there to be some level of 'lawlessness' because there is also a sort of social law about what is ok and what isn't. Like, in the US, smoking marijuana is very very very common, even though its illegal. Socially speaking, its seen as a-okay. I don't particularly see that as 'lawless' in the sense that it doesn't particularly create chaos or a feeling that the country is out of control.

I've also got to say that 'but it's illegal' isn't a very compelling moral argument. The only thing it will do is make me perhaps avoid certain activities in order to avoid getting caught. Unless there is a larger moral significance, the legality of something really means little to me personally.

Someone said to me recently that South Africans have slight anarchistic streak in them.

Jump the queue if they can? No problem.

Keep quiet when the checkout lady give too much change? No problem.

Skip a traffic light? Who saw me?

We're always wanting to poke Authority in the eye, if we can...

Love that you use the word "chap". mwahaha.
I obey the rules at all times. Because I am perfect.

I wish South Africa stood alone in its lawlessness but I'm afraid the U.S. is right there with you, at least on the roads. I'm constantly shocked by the fact I get tailgated if I am going only five miles OVER the speed limit. Here in Los Angeles they just illegalized cell phone use while driving but everyone still does it as far as I can tell. I think the lawlessness is everywhere, not just S.A.

Here in the US there is a feeling that stepping just a little bit out of bounds (like gong ten miles over the speed limit) is fine - and that people should just try their luck when it comes to things like hedge height limits and letting sprinkler water spray onto the sidewalk. People here get so het up about being "over-regulated", but they are also usually selfish enough to just do what they want to anyway.

It doesn't help matters at all that our supposed leader takes his own liberties with the law - and that every day we learn about another corporate embezzler or doped athlete. The tone has been set, unfortuantely.

I think the ignorance of laws, both petty and serious, in South Africa is in part due to the lack of policing to catch the law breakers.

I read the other day that we have a 6% (!!) conviction rate. Well no wonder we aren't afraid to break the law.

I agree that we have double standards, and we point fingers about serious crime, but continue to drive while talking on ours cell phones, or push the limits at that red light. And we think we haven't done anything serious. But this morning I saw the aftermath of a traffic accent where a car - possibly pushing the limit on a red light, maybe talking on a cell phone, I don't know - knocked down and killed a school child. If that were you, and you were on your cell phone, would you let yourself off then? Should the justice system let you off?

We need a firmer collective conscience in this country. Lift our game, and try to get our neighbors do the same. But we can't change a nation that way, at least not anytime soon. We also need a firmer government, and a more effective police force. How do we get that? good question. If you can figure out an answer for that one, let me know. But it won't come by toy-toying and protesting, or email petitions.

And to start doing something about crime in SA means acknowledging it, and while we are still living here maybe we don't want to examine the full extent, because it both scares and depresses us. To maintain a positive outlook about SA, perhaps we don't want to know exactly how bad things are.

It's a tricky situation, but in the meantime I'm trying to keep my part of the deal

Can you buy a bluetooth headset for your mobile phone? When I was a kid I used to think shoplifting was a sport. Got caught a couple of times though which put a damper on it and would never do it now as I would not like to face the police and get a conviction. That's the thing - once caught and taken to court, it is difficult to do it again and that is a real possibility - getting caught and just when you think you're invincible, you'll get caught.

I think you are right ... as a South African living in the UK, I am always struck by the increasing disregard for authority and what "the right thing is to do" amongst friends and family when visiting. It seems the average South African has adopted a view that not paying their TV license is ok (seemily on the basis that apparently half the population don't),that benefitting financially from someone else's error is ok (their mistake, not mine), that jumping the queue is ok (I'm in a hurry ok !). Small things really, not big things in themselves but it seems the boundaries of what is acceptable is ever moving. So taking money that's not yours as a result of a mistake is ok .... but stealing someone else's belongings from their house isn't? Seems a slippery slope to me .... I'm not saying things here are better and the grass is greener etc, but perhaps there does seem to be (generally speaking) more of a general sense of what's right and wrong amongst my peer group here and less of a each person for themselves mentality. Or I could just be being a little harsh and unfair on fellow South Africans but as I say, it's something that strikes me when I visit ....

Sorry, I don't buy all this moral relativism crap. Lawlessness should not be tolerated, regardless of the seriousness of the crime being committed. That's a given. But come on people! Some crimes ARE worse than others. It's so obvious I feel foolish even mentioning it, but after reading some of the comments here I'm starting to wonder if stealing paper clips from the office supply cupboard is, indeed, tantamount to treason.

Judging a murderer or a child rapist far more harshly than someone who drives 10km over the speed limit is not hypocritical or a double standard; it's fair, it's just and it's right. But I guess I still live in a parrallel universe, where moral relativism hasn't made it acceptable to equate someone like Charles Manson with...well...Tertia, just because she has spoken on her mobile phone whilst driving. You broke the law, yes, but do you really need to ask if that makes you any better than a mass murderer?

I'm an American and a some of what people said here I agree with...we do all tend to go 5-10 miles over the speed limit, marijuana is pretty socially accepted even though illegal but on the whole I do not see people blatantly breaking laws every day. Cars seem to give people a false sense of security to do things they would not do in regular life- I have never seen someone cut in line at a movie or at a store but people do that in a car merge situation all the time. I can't imagine someone standing so close behind me that I can feel their breath on my neck but people tailgate in cars all the time.
I have known a couple of people over the years who have stolen cable tv, lied on job applications, cheated on tests, bought stolen goods, etc. But these are difinitely not the norm in my experience.

Miami is still an old pirate town. A sunny place for shady people.

They could never outlaw cell phone usage while driving in Miami, I don't know how they'd enforce it, or get the people off their phones long enough to hear the police ask "license and registration, please" People text and drive here, while jumping the merge line and tailgating some poor minivan. The traffic laws are never obeyed and most sane people wait a few minutes before "going on green" because there are always a couple of cowboys running the red lights. A man shot another man over road rage the other day here.

I think it's pretty easy to be a terrible person in your car with all that steel in between you and the next human over. It's pretty sad. Pray for us!

I love the word "burgle" and it makes me smile.

This is purely a cell phone rant because everyone already said most of what I was thinking...

I never talk on my cell phone when driving. NEVER. Why? Because nothing in this world is so important that I need to talk about it right now while I'm driving a hunk of metal, glass, and plastic that could kill many, many people in one fell swoop (including my own 3 children riding with me).

When the hell did everyone and everything become so important that they started disregarding basic safety to chat about lunch, soccer practice, and what's for dinner? It isn't always about the law. Sometimes things should just be common sense.

I think it was kind of obnoxious for the radio guy to insist that *everyone* in South Africa is lawless and sort of bad. I think we could probably all agree that it's not a good idea to suggest that all black people are lawless and kind of bad. Lots of bad comes from declaring all people in a certain group to be inherently bad--plus it's never true--it's always more complicated than that. It follows then that I don't think it was a good idea for the radio guy to suggest that all people in South Africa are lawless and kind of bad--all of em-every last one. Declaring that *all* South Africans are lawless and bad makes it a bit harder for South Africans (and non-South Africans) to see the good in South African *individuals*.

I think it's fine for a group of people to look at themselves and say "huh, there seems to be a lot of XXX going on in our culture, and that's probably not a good thing". I don't think it's OK to say "huh, there seems to be a lot of XXX going on in our culture--clearly that means everyone in our culture is bad." Declaring everyone lawless is really no better than name-calling if you ask me.

Dani- I completely agree with you. My dad is a college professor and we were talking about how cell phones have become so pervasive. Every semester he has to repeatedly ask students to turn off their phones during class or not text while they are supposed to be paying attention. He thinks that people are getting fearful of being disconnected or out of touch or even alone. I think it's getting too easy to disconnect from the actual human beings around us- I see people every day on cell phones being inconsiderate/rude to people who are actually physically near them. And the conversations I hear people having are usually about nothing! Was the world really so bad when we had to make decisions about purchases by ourselves without calling our parents/friends/spouses? Or waiting til we got home to share a funny story/bad day? I use my cell phone minimally but I seem to be in the minority these days.

I think that it not only has to do with how much people break the laws but also the attitude that comes with it. I don't think you'll really find a society where people don't speed, talk on cellphones, etc. But there's a difference between doing it and knowing you are doing something illegal but taking a risk (I'm not saying it is right, I'm just saying that it shows how the law is regarded in a society, no matter what it's dangerous and stupid, the law is there for a reason), and doing something because you think you know better than the law. The latter is usually the case here in Israel and it drives me up the wall. Everyone here thinks they can do whatever the hell they want and that goes from not standing in line, ever, all the way to driving on the wrong side of the road in a no pass zone even with another car coming in the other direction because "I deserve to not be stuck behind a slow truck". People here argue with police regularly, it's somehow culturally acceptable. Following the law is seen as a weakness. So often I see people yelling and screaming at eachother because they think the other one is trying to screw them over (even just butting in line), when everyone would just be so much happier if they just followed the rules. Oy. I feel better now, as you can see this topic pushes a button with me. I grew up in the US and what goes on there is nothing compared to Israel.

:) and here I thought that "it happened only in India"...

Zero driving sense, blatant flaunting of road and safety laws, smoking and spitting in public places, littering ... the list is endless.

we tend to think only of the murderers, rapists and thieves as criminals. and that is our biggest offense.

*LOL* For a moment I thought you might have moved to Germany.

Same here.

Yeah. I, too, blame society when I shoplift cheese.

I have to say that driving offences (speeding, using a mobile phone, not wearing a seatbelt, drink driving etc.) really get to me, but I also work in a major Australian trauma hospital, so I'm dealing with the results on a daily basis. I really think that people underestimate the power of cars. Even if the risk of hurting yourself or someone else is small, the consequences are bad enough that it's not worth risking.

I guess there's levels, some things will definitely cause harm (murder) and others have the possibility to cause harm (speeding).

Well said, Tertia. It annoys the crap out of me when people comlain about lawlessness but will casually drive drunk or speed or buy merchandise that "fell off the back of a truck". For all you know, somebody was shot in the face in their driveway so that you can buy a cheap stereo, dude.

At OR Tambo airport a few months ago, my suitcase was(ahem) a little heavy. The chap doing the weighing shook his head: "Eish, you are overweight!". I assumed he meant my suitcase (!), I said I knew and could be please direct me to the excess luggage counter so I coudl pay and be done with it. He then became all coy and told me how he was just trying to make his way in the world. I said that's lovely, where is the excess luggage counter. He then suggested that perhaps there were some heavy gifts in the suitcase that I could remove and give to him to lighten the load (!!). I played totally dumb and asked again where the excess baggage counter was. At this point he decided I was too stupid to bribe and waved me through, heavy bag and all. What annoyed me the most is when my (law-abiding) friends criticised me and said "oh, you should just have slipped him R20 and he would have let you through. It happens all the time" as if that somehow makes it OK!! If people stopped slipping him fooking R20, then maybe he'd give up asking for bribes and do his job!!

For a second there I thought you were talking about Portugal. Heavy fines have led people to be a little bit more cautious when it comes to driving, for example, but in general people like bragging about the laws they've broken...and taxes they haven't paid.

I'm an American living in Germany and I always notice that drivers break traffic laws on a regular basis regarding tailgating and extreme speeding, but if a pedestrian jaywalks, strangers will scold him!! The same with riding a bicycle (even slowly) on the sidewalk or on the 'wrong' side of a bike path.

Also, in supermarkets, etc. linebreaking is common.

But the talk is always of order and correctness. (???)

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