Cars And Posthumanism Chapter 13: Loaded Pistol


[ "Do ya feel lucky, punk?" ]

(This post is part of a series: see Chapters 1, 23, and 37)

True story: A few days ago a neighbor of mine who’s a mother of four young children told someone who was driving too fast down her residential side street to slow down. In response, a person in the car aimed a pistol at her. Totally sick and twisted, but probably more a result of deep-rooted cultural issues than of the dehumanizing effects cars have on people.

What I find more revealing about how people devolve when they get behind the wheel of a car are the things average people do every day. My current pet example: people who run lights going red when there’s a crowd of pedestrians about to step off the curb to cross the street. I work in downtown Seattle and I see this multiple times pretty much every day. And especially for right turns — apparently many drivers believe there is a special rule that says you get an extra time window to blow a red if you are turning right.

It is undeniable that drivers who do this are taking a gamble on seriously injuring or killing someone. They are making a choice that saving a minute or two is worth this risk. But here’s the thing: Were they not intoxicated with the power of a big machine, these same people would do anything to avoid putting others at that sort of risk. Imagine a person walking in the street in front of a crowd of pedestrians waiting for the walk sign, and imagine, as the signal changes to “walk,” that person waving a big sword inches from the faces of the people standing there. This is in effect what drivers are doing when they push red lights.

The amazing thing is that not only are the drivers stripped of normal healthy human compassion by cars, but that the pedestrians put up with it with nary a complaint. No doubt most people are shocked and enraged to hear about an incident with a gun such as I described in the beginning of this post. So where’s the outrage when they are threatened to essentially the same degree by a driver in a car? Just another sad quirk of a culture enslaved, both mentally and physically, to cars.

3 Responses to “Cars And Posthumanism Chapter 13: Loaded Pistol”

  1. Dan Staley

    The amazing thing is that not only are the drivers stripped of normal healthy human compassion by cars, but that the pedestrians put up with it with nary a complaint. … So where’s the outrage when they are threatened to essentially the same degree by a driver in a car?

    I think our lives being structured around jumping from climate-controlled box to climate-controlled box is individualizing more than dehumanizing. I’m sure the isolated individuals in these cars may be thinking highly of themselves or their immediate families.

    When I lived in Sacramento, I was a three-day a week bike commuter. A couple of miles away from work, I shared the road on an old narrow drawbridge, where once a week I’d get beeped at to get out of the way so the driver wasn’t delayed 15 seconds. Almost without fail, at the bottom of the bridge, I’d catch up with the driver at the red light. Their attitudes changed dramatically when they saw my head in their window, asking them if there was a problem. Connecting to the offense, see.

    Anyway, I think there’s no outrage at being assaulted by a 4000 lb weapon, because we all are in that position in our society – fighting isolationism and individualization to some degree. Some realize this, most don’t.

  2. mistamatic

    The situation downtown for right turns is nearly impossible at some intersections (think 6th & Pine, for example). I’ve noticed a few starting to hold the pedestrian traffic or give it a head start to help alleviate the timing issues. It would help a lot to give right-turns an early arrow that also holds pedestrian traffic for just a few precious seconds, allowing for 3-4 right turns and unsnarling the backup behind!

  3. gecko

    This is further affirmation of the notion of “structural violence” of transportation systems highly dependent on cars:
    http://www.livablestreets.com/streetswiki/structural-violence

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