After a keen comment about the dubious effects of honking back at cars, Cara and I had a discussion and I've come to a few conclusions.
First, some background. In general, I am a pretty non-violent person. It's less a belief system - tho' I do think it's a good one and one I often aim for - but more simply my nature. I don't get angry easily or often. One reason for this is that I have very few absolute ideas. In other words, I see very little as simply good and evil. Instead, I see many many shades of grey and justifications. While something might not be what I'd do in a situation, I often can't blame a person for their attitude.
That said, bikes happen to be one of the few things that I see as an absolute "Good". So while it might be easy to suppress any violent urges about things I might not have much attachment to, when someone attacks bikes/biking (i.e. me on a bike), I tend to react...poorly. So, naturally, my inclination is to lash back out.
This is further compounded by the nature of the interaction. First, it is remote. This is not a face-to-face by any stretch of the imagination. It's like both driver and biker have been reduced to mere objects. The driver sees a biker in the way. I see a life-threatening machine that has just insulted one of the things I care deeply about. Thus, we violate the social contract. If someone was walking slowly in the sidewalk, odds are you wouldn't yell at them to get out of the way.*
Secondly, the interaction is effectively one-sided. While in theory, biker and driver are equal, one has all the advantages (I'll let you decide who I'm talking about). One is protected by 3,000 pounds of metal, can see the other one from a higher vantage point, has all the time they need to make a statement, and is insulated against any counter-arguments by a sound-proof booth. In this situation, I can't help but be more frustrated than usual. In this impromptu debate staged on a busy street, I'm handicapped with a frickin' gag.
Finally, while a horn does have utilitarian uses, these uses are usually lost in a sea of road rage. It's one thing If I accidentally merge into a lane right in front of someone; those encounters are not the ones that drive me yumpy. When I'm being honked at in these cases, it's simply an expression of disapproval.
Thus, I feel like I'm pretty justified in seeing a honk as a (hopefully only) verbal attack in most cases. Up to this point, my innate reaction has been one of boiling wrath. But is that the best one?
I can say from personal experience that shaking with ire isn't fun. So yeah, hardly an effective reaction. Furthermore, most times the driver can't hear me if I shout back; or if they hear me, they simply hate me more. And while a really creative curse will make me feel a little better (as does honking my horn), it really has no effect in the long run. Engaging people like this is what they want. They want you to feel bad! Therefore, the best reaction is, as my anonymous friend pointed out, simply staying quiet. Yelling back at them, crazy as it seems, is actually positive reinforcement for them! The real negative reinforcement is simply not letting them get to you. And hopefully, with enough of it, they'll simply stop doing it. And while it may not seem satisfying at first, think about it this way - your response is simply being in the road. Being out there with traffic is the ultimate active response.
So, to you, Mr. Anonymous Poster On My Last Blog Entry, I say thank you. Today is new leaf day!
All that said, I still like my mega blaster. It really does make a really unexpectedly loud sound and it's alotta fun. But I won't be using it to honk at cars anymore. Just for fun! Besides, the Memphis Municipal code section 11-24-6 states that "No person shall operate a bicycle on any city street unless it is equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least one hundred (100) feet." 'Course, it goes on to say that "a bicycle shall not be equipped with nor shall any person use upon a bicycle any siren or whistle." But hey! It's not a siren or whistle, it's a MEGA BLASTER.
* - Of course, in some cases, the honker would say that bikes don't belong on roads, while people are supposed to be on the sidewalk and shouldn't be mad at someone else who happens to be moving slowly. This person is simply ignorant, but it's hard to communicate that fact in the half second you have while they whizz past you.