MOTORING: Must the road to salvation be full of megaphones?

Saturday February 13 2016

A woman mechanic fixes a car exhaust pipe as she works in an innovative garage and auto repair workshop catering exclusively to female customers, in Saint-Ouen-l'Aumone, in the suburbs of Paris, on May 14, 2014. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR

A woman mechanic fixes a car exhaust pipe as she works in an innovative garage and auto repair workshop catering exclusively to female customers, in Saint-Ouen-l'Aumone, in the suburbs of Paris, on May 14, 2014. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR 

By GAVIN BENNETT
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Everybody knows what a noisy car exhaust pipe, and a loudspeaker attached to the outside of a meeting hall, have in common: both are illegal.

But it may be unfair to equate these two sources of extreme noise pollution because, as well as having some things in common, they are, in several respects, very different from each other. 

First, the noisy exhaust usually assaults the bystander for a few seconds before the vehicle moves out of earshot, while the caterwauling and pulpitry of a megaphone can go on for hours in the same place.

Second, the noisy exhaust is usually the result of  a rare and  accidental malfunction which the car owner will try to rectify promptly and permanently, while the megaphonically amplified harangue or piped hosannah is a deliberate assault on a neighbourhood

that is willfully caused and —  in the case of religious meeting halls — a frequent, sustained and chronically recurrent invasion of non-participants’ living space. All homes within earshot are denied the statutory “off” switch.

Yet the lesser of these two disturbances is likely to attract immediate intervention and prosecution, while the more severe version appears to be granted immunity.

On what grounds do these mortals grant themselves the right, in violation of statute law, to impose their noise on any and all others? And on what grounds do those charged with upholding the law not exercise their authority and responsibility?

The test questions are these: if a motorist parked in the middle of a populated neighbourhood and for several hours (sometimes all day, sometimes all night) blasted his car horn, would that be okay... as long as his reason for doing so was to announce and

celebrate his religious beliefs, or to get you to buy his product, or to demand your vote for his political cause?

And if another driver roared around a populated neighbourhood in a car with no exhaust silencer (sometimes all day, sometimes all night), would that be okay as long as his radiator was filled with holy water?

The test principles are these: the very noble concept of “freedom of worship” axiomatically and with equal force implies  “freedom not to worship”, or at least not to have someone else’s style of worship imposed on you. The disturbance is annoying, the content may be offensive, and the presumptuousness is profoundly inconsiderate. Which creed advocates that?

No one expects the town or the countryside to be in a state of constant hush. And if 10,000 people want to cheer a football match, or gather to sing rousing songs of praise, for a reasonable time at a reasonable hour, they will have the understanding of their neighbours, including even the most determined agnostics and atheists... and those “believers” who choose to pray by listening, not by shouting.

There is no general disapproval of the spontaneous expression of the human spirit, by humans, with due consideration for each other. What the law forbids, and the majority public find objectionable, is deliberate and wholly inconsiderate mechanical

amplification of noise through open-air loudspeakers. That is not a road to social harmony or salvation. It is selfish; the sort of disregard and disrespect that is the route to, and the root of, almost all social discord, and almost all traffic jams and road

accidents. That’s why the law — both statute and moral — forbids it.