#35. REDUCING INEQUALITY. Reducing inequality is a good thing. As Wilkinson and Pickett show in their famous book The Spirit Level, societies which are more equal tend to have lower levels of health and social problems.
That doesn’t mean that everything done in the name of equality is equally good. Just as Jim Davidson doesn’t always make people laugh in the name of comedy, governments and their redistributive policies don’t always work. Deciding what counts as a fair distribution of wealth involves so many details and civil servants that the whole process can become woefully inefficient and ineffective.
A more direct way of reducing inequality is to influence the way people seek status. In conspicuous charity, status comes from acts of kindness rather than the accumulation of wealth and power. We rightly look up to generous people, yet their actions narrow rather than widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Cycling culture is better than car culture at fostering human nature’s community-spirited side. In automobiles, drivers tend to feel grandiose. It happens to all of us. In a luxurious, high-tech cockpit, controlling a big, shiny, fast machine we develop a sense of entitlement, at least subconsciously. We come to view other road users as irritating obstacles (pedestrians or cyclists) or challengers (other drivers).
In contrast, cycling fosters a more modest mindset. On a bike you’re at close quarters with other road users, more of a participant than an overlord. You encounter pedestrians and fellow cyclists directly and openly – face to face, eye to eye – and you co-operate to give each other room. Good cyclists also communicate their intentions and make their presence known to drivers through frequent eye contact and other friendly gestures such as waving and nodding. Conscientiously sharing the road brings humility and empathy. And, whether you're JFK or Joe Bloggs, you come as you are on a bike.
Of course there are exceptions, but generally the more people cycle, the more people develop a gentler approach to their fellow human beings. London – a sadly unequal place with lots of aggression – could certainly do with more cyclists.
The London Cycle Network is big enough to accomodate tens of millions of cyclists each day. What a great leveller that would be! To make it happen we need a London Cycle Map and properly signed cycle routes.