I begin my forthcoming book, Automobiles Über Alles: Capitalism and Transportation in the United States, by reviewing the main reasons why the insane, super-dangerous, ecocidal capitalist boondoggle known as the automobile-industrial complex (a.k.a. “the backbone of our economy”) has never reached the public agenda in this, its lodestar and cradle, the USA.
One of the major reasons for this increasingly dangerous failure of democracy is the abject failure of aspiring critics to transcend prevailing ideology, which has long insisted that “Americans are having a love affair with the automobile” is all anybody ever needs to know about where cars-first transportation comes from.
The core claim of prevailing ideology is, of course, that capitalists are mere servants of the pristine, pre-existing wishes of the spontaneously car-enamored masses.
Alas, that has always been less than half the story. The truth is that whatever amount of love ordinary Americans might hold for the horseless carriage (and this quantum is always imputed, never documented or qualified) is thin soup compared to capitalists’ unyielding ardor for it. Indeed, as I demonstrate in the book, corporate capitalists don’t just love selling cars to ordinary Americans. They are deeply, systemically, literally addicted to it.
Meanwhile, by failing to pierce prevailing obscurantist, capitalism-excusing dogma, even the best would-be car-critics have inadvertently helped render autos-über-alles unintelligible and undebatable.
Many (maybe most) car-critics seem never even to have troubled themselves over the need to explain capitalist interests. Alan Thein Durning, Jane Holtz Kay, Katie Alvord — all hate cars, yet each treats them as nothing more than seductive but ill-chosen spouses, as a love affair gone wrong. Reading their work provide literally zero opportunity to see and contemplate how big business proprietors have participated in shape transportation options. As a result, where there ought to be a framework for appropriate, effective, and efficient democratic action, such thinkers produce only pie-in-the-sky harangues about changing one’s lifestyle — “Divorce Your Car! (Alvord) — and pathetic political quarter-measures — “leave a copy of this book on the bus” (Durning).
I call these fluff-meisters “the lifestyle haranguers.” “Shop your way to a better future!” is their idea of adequate politics.
Alas, as I also document in the book, even the most strident and open would be-radicals have also remained prisoners of euphemism and psycho-babble. I call these fiercer but no less vague and discombobulating critics “the cloud-dwellers.”
To be sure, the cloud-dwellers seem to yearn to connect the dots between the masses, the classes, and the cars. But, probably due to a combination of fear and their own unwitting indoctrination, they have never actually done so to any meaningful degree. Instead of careful explanations of interests and institutions, we hear, once again, only of airy, amorphous, undiscussable things like “the car culture.” If and when issues of corporate capitalism arise among the cloud dwellers, they get treated — at best — as mere things done by a rogue “industry,” rather than as what they patently are: the extremely carefully calculated profit-maximizing actions of corporate capitalist planners.
This is not the place to present my whole book-section on the cloud-dwellers’ failure to lay the groundwork for bringing reason and reconstruction to America’s planet-wrecking transportation order.
For now, I merely point you to the magnum opus of Derrick Jensen, “an anarcho-primitivist, author, lecturer, philosopher, and tireless fighter for a beleaguered, dying planet.”
For Jensen, as for basically all green activists, the story of autos-über-alles remains one of “culture.” Despite their occasional claims that “I’m more focused on capitalism right now,” contemporary greens continue to prefer generality to specifics. In their seemingly larger harangues, capitalists may receive a mention, but corporate capitalist interests, actions, and powers get no serious explanation. None.
The problem with that is that, by telling far less than half the story, the public continues to be deprived — by its own would-be champions — of the chance for developing a sharp, realistic understanding of the nature and logic of the dire crisis emanating from capital’s continuing dictatorship over transportation in this country.
I think it’s no exaggeration to say that, if we don’t soon develop and share such understanding, we will remain roadkill beneath the wheels of the vested interests, who are not about to tolerate serious change in this, their “backbone” area.
As any medical scientist knows, talking about “the drug culture” merely explains the results, rather than the cause, of substance addiction. Precisely the same point goes for “the car culture.” It is less than a beginning.
We have not yet begun to fight, despite the lateness of the hour and the scale of the threat…
[Afternote: Check out the interviewer’s use of the word “consumerism” in the interview containing the “Im more about capitalism” quote above. Obviously, despite her scorn, the speaker of the word hasn’t thought for a second about its rotten history and its discombobulating bias.]