‘Walking for pleasure! Why didn’t I drive?’ Frodo thought, as he always did at the beginning of an expedition.
?The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter Three (Ballantine, p. 108)
Statistics prove that it’s safer in bike lanes, a bicyclist tells me, when I mention to her that our people don’t believe in consigning humans to such reservations. “Stick a pot of frogs on a fire,” Peter Duga used to tell me, “and they’ll stay in the pot because they feel warm and safe.” Peter Duga’s dog ate my chicken, so there’s been bad blood between us for forty years. But he knew critter mentality.
Hi, I’m DAVID Ker THOMSON, local off-rez personality and general all-round dickhead. Your quarter-panel’s as safe with me as is a virgin with my friend Genghis. You may have seen me in your mirror, where I’m even closer than the mirror lets on. Hey, it’s a car mirror?you think it’s going to tell you the truth?
Here in the urban part of the south coast of what they call Canada, you might say that there are two solitudes. There’s leaderville, designed by the masses to keep themselves working hard against their own interests, and there’s the rest of us, who don’t support the system with a single farthing of tribute that isn’t taken from us at gunpoint. And not one of our farthings is a vote, we’ll tell you that straight out. There are at least three billion of us worldwide who don’t deliver vote tribute to The Franchise. You might know us as seewalk-the-ungoogleable, but probably since African savannah days we’ve mostly just called ourselves ‘the people’. Call us radical environmentalists if that’s the jargon you’re into, but we think if anyone’s radical it’s you folks who vote for better wars and “green” car culture and “phased withdrawals” of this and that and biofuels effing up the Midwest and giant solar farms effing up the desert to enrich big corporations?that whole way of living in the past as if the world can support such abominations. Abominations such as vast wind megaprojects and all the other supposedly progressive refurbishings of nineteenth-century modes of temporality and allocations of human resources.
The best icon for your progressive delusion is surely the hybrid automobile, which solves the “problem” of how to get someone with two functioning legs from one point in the city to another point not by asking them to walk, not by asking them to get rid of their motorcar, but by putting two motors in their car! The hybrid driven an eighth of a mile past the subway to the voting booth?this is the symbol of progressive delusion. Four fat tires, two motors, one satisfied customer. The hybrid is not even a particularly useful piece of equipment for someone with bad legs?it’s hard to get in and out of. It’s an expensive, complicated piece of equipment with thousands of moving parts assembled by forced labor of one sort or another. The hybrid in the city is not merely useless; it is actively destructive in every facet of its existence. Its real hybridity is Chanadese-style monstrosity?collusion between Canada and China, between the procurer and producer of social contracts and other fetish items: Ikea lamps, democracy, slave hours, cars, and other unendurable goods.
My friends the progressives, like even more systemically obedient democrans and republic rats deeper into the system, these friends of mine who believe in tinkering with the system, are living an old dream. They’re like Luddites for slowness but not for ethics, as if Luddite resistance to the future had been grafted to Scroogian business protocols.
We’ve seen your smirks when we suggest the paddle over the ignition key as the once-and-future means of getting around, or when we suggest that not traveling is the new traveling, that voyages are most beneficial when made within, or that spacetime can now be reconfigured to align ancient wisdom and post-leaderville exigencies. Bizarrely, you tell yourselves that those of us who have understood the future and adequately reckoned with the resources of the planet are somehow living in the “past”!
With a fraction of the resources devoted to beating the dead horsepower of a moribund automobile industry and greening it up like snot we could have had a space elevator in geostationary orbit by now, for example, built bit by bit in consensual, capital-free communities around the planet. For added effect, the beanstalk cable could have come down over an Iceland that had thrown out the banksters and thrived on a free-leak hacker community trumping the disinformation of the established press. The real Luddites understood their time and responded ethically and wisely to reshape the machinic world to fit the human one. But in your leaderville your lust for leaders at any cost has been allied with the combustive power of refined oil to create a juggernaut of complacency. Time itself has become a reservation to which you consign yourselves.
Here along the urban south coast, leaderville and seewalk are The City and The City, two solitudes eternally wrangling. The position of seewalk in relation to leaderville is of an abutment or juxtaposition so tight that it can be said that The City and The City are against each other. In fact, this juxtaposition runs deep, far, and high in the xyz of the urban space. Seewalkers are everywhere. Wherever there are off-rez people who reject in part or in whole the junkstate apparatus of traffic lights and line drawings on asphalt and prudish glances and prim Canadian politeness, all of it an obeisance to an authority which is no authority because it has never been recognized in the first place, there is seewalk, The City in the midst of The City.
Seewalkers do not routinely spray poisonous gasses into schoolyards as leadervillains do. Seewalkers do not routinely roam the city at the controls of their blunt-object hybrids to kill bicyclists and children as do leadervillains. Seewalkers do not lie to themselves about “needing” a car in order to pick up a few groceries as leadervillains do. Seewalkers are not content with gassed-up houses, and do not think that they are green if they have added some insulation like a band-aid to yet another bad nineteenth-century idea, the North American gashome. Seewalkers are not content to live in the past.
Is it too much to ask you to move forward with us into our shared future? We see you there clutching white-knuckled to the handle of your hybrid and to your early-capital notions of jobness and lateness and ontimeness and dutifulness, and we tell you plainly that there is another way than living in 1824 with a 2011 paint job. If you’re a teacher, you can meet with students and call them to themselves in love and ask them to love themselves and think for themselves and to think through the essential paradox of your call to them to mistrust your leadership. If you’re a fireman or an architect or an engineer or a farmer or a framer, you can start thinking ahead to help people who are cracking open their roofs to the sun?help them to do it safely. Such solar frontiersmen need specific, practical help, not the recitation of platitudes and recondite jargon about nineteenth-century balloon architecture that is the stuff of current city fire and zoning codes. Help us frame a new way of constituting the city, a new constitution framed with hands, not words. If right now you’re that thing that has come to define you, if you are your job, even though you knew all along you didn’t want to be defined by any job let alone this one, then quit that form of temporality and obedience and move forward in nervous emancipation into this uncertain future with us. Anticemancipation. If you aren’t willing to quit your job and even your profession, at least in principle, who then is the master?
Give us just the people who sold their green vote to the system in the last Toronto election (letting it know that it’s okay to marginalize environmentalists as long as you allow them a pretense of participation) and we could bring this city not only to its knees but past that?to its feet. We could bring this city not just to a standstill but to a walk, a neighborly stroll, always keeping in mind the prime directive?find good food and get rid of most of the rest. Roll eight hybrids upside down (sixteen motors) into each intersection and explore the true liberatory potential slave-laboured into every such product.
Do this for starters in 2011: stop driving routinely in the city. Just stop doing it. Do this for the children. It’s the easiest, most practical thing you can do.
But do this for yourself: emancipate yourself by emancipating every leader, from this moment forward. This is the least you can do, but also the most. A powerful step. Just take a moment, right now, to abjure that whole lazy life of following leaders and sending them votetribute and of exacting votribution from your neighbors, and tell yourself you will step out boldly right now. From this moment on, you will have no leaders. You will take care of your own shit. You will be responsible for yourself and your community. Do it right now. Live in this century. Be here now.
DAVID Ker THOMSON lives in the city of T’onto in the province of ’rio in the country of ’nada. Pertinent articles in the Against series include: “Against Bike Lanes” and “Against Democracy,” both in CounterPunch. email@example.com