For class, week two: Degrees of restraint

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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Now typically I think people in the U.S. are perceived as having all of the basic and many additional freedoms.  We are of the mindset that "I can do what I want, when I feel like it," although usually with the caveat that it doesn't interfere with the well being of others.  I would also wager that we envision countries believed to have less social freedoms as having more laws or more restraints placed on the people there.

The inverse, in practice, appears to be true.  Where in the U.S. we have all of these freedoms to press and religion and so on, we actually practice a great deal of restraint.  We typically allow pedestrians the right of way.  Most of our protests are peaceful (although boring).  Graffiti is usually confined to certain areas of towns, and typically appears on not the nicest of places.  We speed in our cars for sure, but there's still some degree of order ("the flow of traffic," as well as hefty fines for blatant disregard of the limit).  We do not smoke in most places, public or private, unless specifically permitted, and never in cars or buses without the consent of those around us. 

Here, I have seen the opposite.  Pedestrians have no rights, and you play chicken with cars and buses and bikes and mopeds at nearly every crossing.  Taxi drivers cruise at twice the maximum speed on busy avenues, coasting over the double yellow line to pass buses on the left.  Protests are in their blood: they riot over trains that don't run on schedule, they protest transit strikes by crashing burning motorcycles into the gates of the Subte stations.  I just have a hard time seeing a typical 5pm rush hour crowd in the US realizing that the train is not coming today and starting a ruckus in the middle of the town square.  Graffiti is ubiquitous - in every barrio, on every type of building - government, schools, businesses (although most churches are spared, indicating that there is some force providing guidance in the chaos here).  The other day the driver of my bus lit up a cigarette as we're all packed like sardines in the aisles around him. 

There are several causes involved in separating degrees of social restraint among countries.  Main players in this would seem to be the priority of the laws and the consequences or perceived consequences of the punishment, as well as cultural norms within that society.  If no punishment exists, or if the police force is slow and rare to act, or is the system is corrupt, then people will certainly disregard some of the laws, which is the case here (it seems pretty close to impossible to get a moving violation in a vehicle, and with the right amount of cash you can exempt just about anything here, as I've heard).  If you grow up in a place where a military coup, massive workers strike, or huge public celebration over a soccer match is equally likely to happen in the plaza in near your house, I would wager that you'd be more likely to join one of the frequent protests later, keeping the tradition alive out of habit.  And while all of these consequences of less restraint may seem negative, they achieve positive things too; for example, the people here certainly seem to take a more vocal and active part in the working of the country and of their companies, and I would say that because so much of this happens in the public sphere, the general public may be more informed as well. 
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