The Cloud-Dwellers

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 Tony Benn says, “addicts have a way of killing to get what they need.”

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.]

The Suppressed Basics of Cars & Capitalism

On Stop Me Before I Vote Again, Michael J. Smith noted how one now has to subscribe to leftist blogs and mailing lists to obtain the most elementary facts about the state of the nation and the world.

In this case, the topic was the simultaneously picayune and deeply rotten nature of Barack Obama’s (is “Obama” Bantu for “Reagan”?) pledge to further subsidize the automobile industry.

Here’s what I wrote as a comment over at SMBIVA:

Well, corporate capitalism runs by six industrial complexes, plus government spending to boost and grease it all.

The complexes are:


Remove any one of these six legs, and the money-changers’ table tips over.

The auto-industrial complex, however, is the one that is in big immediate trouble, due to the inherent pipe-dream of using two tons of materials to transport individuals to and fro every day of the year.

Finance will always renew itself, thanks to the basic structure of income distribution, and is also set up to expect some down times.

Medical ain’t going nowhere.

Military ain’t going nowhere.

Household (being food-clothing-shelter) certainly ain’t going nowhere, and is, size-wise, largely a shadow of the automotive complex. The car gives you the suburb, which sells everybody washers and dryers to replace the shared laundromat room, etc.

The car is the linchpin of the system, and, hence, it is non-negotiable, from the overclass (read: mainstream + confused/cowed/captive “alternative”) perspective.

Posted by Michael Dawson | August 6, 2008 1:44 PM

Posted on August 6, 2008 13:44
Michael Dawson:

P.S. re the numbers:

If you tote up vehicle purchases, repairs, fuel, insurance, parking, parts/tires, and road construction/maintenance, the yearly US expenditure on automobiles easily tops a trillion dollars. These days, it’s probably >1.5 trillion…

So, the Neo-Gipper is talking about pumping in something like one-third-of-one-percent of the overall endeavor.

Such is the fruit yielded by the tree of Klintonism and its imported “balanced budget” rootstock.

And P.P.S.

Where the fuck is all the new electricity for these supposedly workable electric vehicles going to come from? Wind and solar are break-even propositions, at best, in EROEI terms, and using nukes or coal to make the juice would last about a decade before it would hit the self-same supply limits now looming for petroleum.

I know it’s been said before, ala Chicken Little, but here we go again: Only a mass green-socialist-public enterprise uprising against the system will solve this coming crisis…