I’m on a train from the Hague to Amsterdam. Earlier today I described the place like going to Disney land, but for human rights, having never been before. The meetings went well and the city is beautiful, but it’s the train ride that got interesting.
Being on the phone, I didn’t notice getting onto the quiet car. The Dutch “stilte” didn’t help clarify, but “silence” should have been good enough. In the middle of my conversation, a rather polite older blonde Dutch woman came over and explained that this was the quiet car. I immediately hung up (sorry Em) and noticed two boisterous young black men behind me. She promptly explained the same to them.
Their initial response was “who are you” to which she replied that “it is the rules.” they laughed, saying “who’s rules. Not ours.” it quickly got worse and she threatened to call the police, walking off. Initially in English, they switched to Dutch where all I could identify were dirty words & the name “wilders”, the conservative leader vying to be the next prime minister and often associated with fascism. Here, this is a sure way to stifle debate, as it is basically calling her a racist.
After a few more minutes of their cursing, a man intervened in English, calmly explaining that there are silent cars and non-silent ones and that they happened along the wrong one, which was their mistake. He noted that the woman had a point. Another laugh and curse and they were gone.
How effective are the police as a middle man in the situation. They quickly told her that the ride was an hour to Amsterdam, and they would not go peacefully. But the system itself has a logic that defaults in peer to peer communication. The decision to make the car silent was, in theory, collectively decided and very much collectively enjoyed. Police involvement? As NWA stated decades ago and, they reiterated, “fuck the police.”
What if the woman threatened to take a picture of them and upload it to a “citizen watch” type site. The man would never have had the time to intervene and neither would the cops. Would it have gotten hairy or would they have backed down? Is there a third way.
Certainly as tools continue to demcratoze it’s important to consider that in socieites with divides, those get echoed online, as danah boyd notes. How can societies learn to develop better behaviors in tandem with new tools that offer new options for civil society. Particularly bridging tech, language, culture and age divides.