This recent post by Morten Svenstrup at time culture describes and then discusses the implications of the blockage of a residential street to motor traffic in Denmark. It’s wonderful the way the simple addition of a few posts set in the ground transforms a neighborhood. Morten discusses the various velocities of life and the way our experience of time is affected by them. I highly recommend a full read.
What I want to do here is bring up some thoughts that spiral out from his points. It’s funny, he describes the blocking of traffic as a “destructive” act! I think this shows how deeply we are conditioned to the “needs” of transport.
I am much more attuned to the violence of transport, from traffic accidents, death and mayhem; to the destruction of habitat every road represents and its constant introduction of senseless death into any habitat it traverses. We think of a new road in a jungle as destructive, but forget that every road has contributed to the destruction of the life that had once been possible there. Not only are our neighborhoods turned into isolated and precarious islands for the human inhabitants, but even more dramatically for any kind of mobile life-form that attempts to live in their proximity. We all look back in horror at the way the arrogant aristocrat of old would run down peasant children without a second thought. I hope to see the day when it is equally inconceivable to have highways littered with the corpses of wild-life seen as mere nuisances or completely ignored as we roar by.
Morten brings up Deleuze’s “deterritorialization” and “reterritorialization.” The way in which our conception of a space is tied to how we use that space. This post also has me in mind of Ivan Illich and his work on transportation as it is outlined here in Energy & Equity. He shows us the way the speed of transport has shifted our perceptions and altered how we interact with our world. In the end, either of these concepts connects to the way our increasing fascination with somewhere else and with something else has destroyed our ability to inhabit here and to make use of what is already around us. Today we value transportation and instant communication ever more highly. I would say that this is out of desperation. The more our transport and communication technologies alienate us from here and now, the more frantically we strive after “fixing” these “problems” by piling on ever more elaborate “solutions.”
As with all the doublespeak of civilization, transport and communication are the opposite of what they claim. Transport obliterates our sense of place, leaving us without a destination or a home. Communication strives to connect us but just adds noise to a stressed condition and shows us how little we actually are able to connect with anyone.
I’ve written many times about the need to be conscious of the way violence permeates our lives. Also that this awareness is not ammunition to build up new enemies’ lists, but a way to sensitize ourselves to our own complicity. If we couple this with a gentleness directed as much at our selves as anyone else, we begin to find a way out of the bonds of this tangled net of violence ultimately enforced by our own violence towards our selves.
It’s only by seeing the projections brought about by a striving after “change” that we can begin to see that the “solutions” offered are just an escalation of, and a proliferation of problems, stemming from our inability to see how we ignore basic needs to flatter an illusion.
We need a place to inhabit. We need the web of life that also must have space to inhabit. We have all the time in the world if we can let go of our hyped-up urgency. Time’s flow can be as quick or as slow as our attention will allow. Experience as rich or as hollow as our attention will allow. Neither of these are external “problems” to be solved.
Contrast a view of a mature forest floor, hell! a desert! Seen as we bend over in a crouch or lie belly down upon the ground, as against a similar stretch of asphalt. Contrast the experience. Note the complexity and richness, the abundance in the one – yes even the desert if we have the eyes for it! – with the death and sterility of the other. Contrast the feeling of connection – let’s add in a companion to the picture! – in the one with the fear and anxiety – with good reason, the traffic is barreling down on us! – of the other.
Now tell me which is a violent act, building another road? Or joining together to close one off!