Monday, August 29, 2011

Bloody-Minded Collectivist Cyclist (an Irene-delayed post)

Read an interesting article by British environmentalist George Monbiot, about how the car is turning England into a nation of antisocial bastards. First, I love that you can use the word "bastard" in the headline of an editorial over there. But more importantly, he makes a lot of good points, and gets in some well-deserved cracks in at Americans and Australians. The article's from 2005, but as cars still exist, I think it's relevant. A quote:

"When you drive, society becomes an obstacle. Pedestrians, bicycles, traffic calming, speed limits, the law: all become a nuisance to be wished away. The more you drive, the more bloody-minded and individualistic you become."

I can say without a doubt that this is true for me. I've logged around forty hours in a car since getting my permit in January, and while it hasn't turned me into a Tea Partier, I have noticed subtle shifts in both my mood and attitude during and after driving. My fuse is shorter, and considering that it's already pretty short, that's saying A LOT. Extrapolating from this, I come to the conclusion that if I had to spend two hours in a car five days a week, I'd basically become a fire-breathing dragon.

Get out of my way, I'm a motorist!

In a car, you basically can live in a pod if you want to, shuttling from home to work and back on an interstate where you won't have to see another living soul other than yourself and the shadowy beings ensconced in their own pods. Never before in human history has it been so easy not to associate with people you don't choose to associate with, and at the risk of being controversial, I think that's a bad thing. When you don't know that people other than you and your immediate family exist, when they're only hypotheticals, it's easy to say things like "schools (other than my kid's school) are over-funded" or "Social Security doesn't help me, why should I pay for it?" Because you have less real-world experience. And sure, a commute is only a small fraction of one's day, and maybe not everyone feels as I do. For all I know, everyone else in a car is appreciating the full and rich humanity of every other human being on the road. But I am saying that I, personally, feel a lot more misanthropic (and keep in mind, I'm already pretty misanthropic) toward humanity after being in a car, and probably less inclined to support social programs to benefit those ants who dare to suck my mighty fumes.

I also feel less creative after I've taken a long drive or car ride. I'm one of those writers who needs to work over an idea ad infinitum in my head before I feel comfortable enough to write it for real. (Note: don't be this kind of writer if you can possibly avoid it! I'd be so, so much more prolific both blog-wise and fiction-wise if I could "write by the seat of my pants." Alas, I am and will always be a follower of the 99% inspiration, 1% perspiration philosophy.) And the one thing that makes me get into the groove of writing, aside from smoking which I no longer do, is physical activity. Either walking or cycling works, but cycling has the added benefit of getting me to my destination faster, and varying the sights I see along my journeys, which aids in my ability to put together my plots and rework my sentences over and over (and over (and over)) again. I don't know exactly why exercise works this way for me, but it does, and driving for me is like an anti-exercise, making me less able to think and write than I would have been if I'd just stayed home.

I thought these "quirks" were limited to me, a by-product of being an old (in relativistic terms) practically-non-driver who hates cars, and also of being a hot-tempered rage-face in general. Yet, I've been driven in cars with people who are normally very sweet-tempered and not normally prone to rages who get absolutely apoplectic when things slow down or pedestrians step in front of them or they are stuck behind a bike. I won't name names but think about who I ride with most often, heh. I don't think it's that far-fetched to speculate that the car has something to do with this Jekyll and Hyde transformation. And I also don't think the liberal vs. conservative/collectivist vs. individualist dichotomy is that far-fetched either. Perhaps someone in the liberal media should conduct a survey seeing if long car commutes correlate with conservatism on the political spectrum.

Monbiot is also a pro-nuclear environmentalist, so clearly this is a man after my own heart!

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