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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Suburban Traffic, Anger, & Conservativism: My Theory

I think that city life forces people to be more liberal in their thinking. You have no choice but to accept other people for who they are and you must learn to live and play well with others. You are in direct contact with many people every time you leave your apartment. Cities are a constant reminder of the need for cooperation and compromise, the hallmarks of civilization. Cities teach us that we must balance liberty and order if we are to survive and prosper. The Unabomber suburban lifestyle seems to say that you can have everything your own way if you have enough land around you and are far enough away from any neighbors. Conservatives go on and on about not wanting to give up their “freedoms” but just what are these freedoms?

Most of the teabagger crowd undoubtedly thinks that Europe is less “free” than America.  If you ask conservatives to be specific about what rights Europeans have relinquished as they live under more socialist governments you are likely to hear a lot of stuttering.  I will grant you that it is a lot more difficult to purchase a firearm in Europe than in America but I just don’t see this as an essential element to my overall level of happiness.  Most of these conservatives have never been to Europe, they haven’t taken advantage of a freedom that I do feel is essential: the freedom to travel. Perhaps they would visit Europe if they could drive there from Arkansas or North Dakota.

To many people the automobile is the very symbol of personal freedom. These same people probably couldn’t even imagine a life without a car. Few of the people I know here in Valencia own a car and many have never even learned to drive. I could say the same thing about the people I knew in Seattle. It is difficult to look at the San Diego Freeway in Los Angeles at rush hour, with 18 lanes of backed-up traffic, and think about freedom. But it’s not just LA, there is horrible traffic in some of the smallest suburban areas of America and the more roads we build the more people drive (something traffic planners call “induced traffic”). If you were to gage the mood of every individual stuck in rush hour traffic I think you would probably find it to be angry, resentful, and not particularly accepting of other commuters (AKA citizens). Gage the mood of people walking, biking, or taking mass transit to work and I would wager that the mood is completely different and enormously more positive.    

Folks in suburbia spend a good deal of their day locked inside an automobile going from one activity to another. In the weeks after the passage of Obama’s health care reform we have seen outbreaks of incredibly anti-social behavior on the part of many conservatives. I would blame a lot of this anger and frustration on the fact that they probably spend too much time behind the wheel of a car. Automobiles bring out the very worst in people. Just take a look at drivers in heavy traffic, not many of them are enjoying it.  Automobiles also isolate individuals so that they don’t have to take direct responsibility for their actions. If you act like an asshole in traffic there usually are no consequences. Act like an idiot while walking down a busy sidewalk and someone will probably sort you out, one way or another.  No one would ever give someone the finger while on foot.  I would theorize that the entire modern conservative movement in America was hatched among commuters listening to insipid, political talk radio as they angrily drove to work. Pissed-off drivers are a perfect market for the bitter rhetoric of conservative talk radio. There aren’t many people listening to Rush while they take the subway to work.

The sclerotic philosophy of conservatives has been stalled in traffic for the past 30 years, if not longer. There was a time when I thought that the conservative/liberal poles in American politics were essential for balance but I have altered my position on this radically in the wake of conservative opposition to Obama. I don’t know how anyone could view the worst of the conservative behavior as anything less than anti-democratic if not fascist. Obama was elected president by a very wide margin by citizens who wanted him to reform health care. Not that he has implemented these reforms and carried out the will of the people he is being vilified by many on the Right as some sort of pariah.  Maybe all of these crazy teabaggers just need a bit of fresh air and exercise. Maybe they should walk to work once in a while.


  1. You're right--automobiles isolate people. I am so glad I sold my car. Life is infinitely better, and everything I need is in the hood.

    Miss you! Sorry about your bike. :-(

  2. Off topic, but this comment pertains to an earlier post -- one with no comment option.

    The last time I ate at a McDonald's? March 1990. I had just arrived back from Germany and was craving a Big Mac. Don't ask me why. I ordered one at the restaurant (Should we even refer to a McDonald's store as a 'restaurant'?) on West Colfax Avenue, just east of the place I was stationed -- Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado. I was so hungry that I ordered a Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, large fries and a large drink. This was before fast food places started creating 'value meals,' as I recall. The whole bill came to some outrageous amount (probably $10 or so), which I paid because I was so famished (or so I thought). I ate the entire meal in my car in about 15 minutes, and immediately felt nauseous -- probably as much from the bill as the food. With 100% certainty, that was the last time I ate at McDonald's!

    How many sick American behaviors can I put into one blog comment? God, I feel nauseous all over again. Thanks for the memories?


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