Archive for the “Society” Category
I know how to fix the world… But it’s complicated. It will work but it’s not a solution you get from a vending machine; or through sitting all Cargo Cult-like waiting for politicians to deliver their solutions. It’s to do with what I call ‘Car-Mind’; and how to get rid of it…
The story starts with the concept of how ‘big’ might an idea be before it makes our brains hurt and retreat back to watching The Simpsons instead. Let’s start with some mind-hurting ideas like ‘the world view of the infinite’ versus the more localised notion of ‘our finite mental backyard’. Finite versus infinite. What’s the tipping point that separates these two dimensions? Presumably, somewhere along the line, the finite breaks apart to become the infinite. Where’s that point? And why should we care?
Now the mathematical boffins out there will be able to provide some ideas on this. But anything they will say on this would side-track us from the argument I want to present. You see, the tipping point from the finite to the infinite is all in our minds. And every person’s mind will have a different take on that particular journey. Because the concept of the infinite is, as much as anything else, what we might all a ‘cultural construction’ (rather than just a technical mathematical construction).
Now all this might sound pretty abstract. But it’s not. This is actually the killer argument that explains everything! So keep reading.
Consider a story through which to illustrate the ideas here. Consider Global Warming (or Climate Change to be more politically correct). Our Globe is a pretty big place. The Earth is bigger than your local neighbourhood. It’s even bigger than your local State. We know this. But do we really know this?
Here’s where I need to define infinite and finite as the cultural notions that they are. In my view, finite is the local reality space our minds can grasp. The infinite is everything outside that zone of localised reality. We appreciate that super-local stuff exists. We can go visit super-local stuff by plane. That’s what tourism is. We might even hop on a rocket and visit the moon, and the moon is hardly in the local zone of most peoples’ mental back yard. The point here is that the border between the locally finite and the otherworldliness of infinity is a changing context thing. It depends on time and place; it’s shaped by the journey of your life.
Returning to Global Warming, I think that this separation between the lived-reality of the locally finite and the abstractions of the infinite explains the mess we are now in. You see, I reckon most people really consider that Global Warming is a notion from the infinities of beyond; beyond our zones of local relevance and lived realities. We know about the idea of Global Warming. But most of us haven’t really adopted the idea as a part of the furniture of the localised-reality of our mental backyard. If it’s outside of the finite, then it’s an idea that sits in the abstractions of the infinite beyond. And that’s always in Someone Else’s Backyard. My sense of responsibility only extends within the white painted picket-fenced boundary of my home mental zone.
Now, let’s extend this argument to cars and bicycles. Let me put it this way. We are told that Global Warming is to do (at least significantly, in part) by the fumes emitted from cars. You might have a car. You might know that your own car is a contributor to Global Warming. But you know that your car is only one of millions (700 million or thereabouts). So the contribution of your car is pretty darn small! So, working the the idea of finite realities and the incomprehensibility of the infinite beyond, you might conclude that your bit is soooooo small as to not be a major concern. It’s all those Chinese motorists out there… Or all those folk in Pakistan. Or pick any other place outside the place you call home. That’s ‘Car-Mind’. Your world is nicely bordered by a reality zone of the finite you can touch, feel and smell. A car is a perfect illustration of a local reality zone contained within a hard, emphatic skin. That tin and glass separates the realities of your space from the spaces of everywhere else. You can touch, see and smell everything within your car. That’s your space. Beyond, is someplace else. Outside is the infinite beyond (unless you crash in which case the infinities of beyond can then become an exercise in instant augmented reality…). Your fumes are, importantly, outside the bubble of that mobile reality zone you might otherwise describe as your car. So, you might not take ownership of the fumes your car emits. Those fumes have become part of the abstraction of the infinite beyond. Just like the idea of Global Warming.
Now, take a bicycle. With a bicycle, there’s no roof. No tin walls. No glass. Your reality is a twisted space. Outside is inside and woven all around. The borderlands of your mobile world are less ‘precise’. Now you can smell, feel, and touch everything around you and, as you are continually moving, you keep on keeping on touching, smelling and feeling places as places merge into other places and then into places beyond. Your mind is relieved of the hard mental comforter of a metallically reinforced skin through which to calm the mental challenges of interfacing with the infinities of beyond. The unsettling metaphysical challenges of opening to the ungrounded infinities of beyond are harder to escape. You can’t air-condition off your mental comfort zones with walls of tin and glass. ‘Cycling-Mind’ is a bigger metaphysical embrace than anything with which the driver of even the largest monster SUV can contend. Cycling-Mind is a more expansively worldly place to be.
Now try this. If we are to really convert the infinite abstraction of Global Warming into the lived-zone of peoples’ finite local reality, you might want to think about this. To insert the reality of their fumes into the backyard of their minds, perhaps you might conduct an experiment. Take a Car-Mind afflicted, constrained reality thinker, sit them in their car, place a tube on the back-end of their car’s exhaust and channel it back inside the cabin. They’d start to notice a few things about the realities of their fumes pretty quick smart. That’s precisely the kind of reality zone twisting that cyclists live with all the time. The borderlands of finite local realities and the un-realities of the infinite beyond would be twisted around pretty profoundly as those fumes pump back inside. The physical barriers of the car would separate from the mental barriers they were once held to be. Consequences would twist back into the actions that gave them cause. Just as is always the case with those blessed with the more expansive possibilities of reality-extending Cycling-Mind.
I bet you this. If we tried this little exhaust re-plumbing twist with the more ‘finitely-bordered’ minds out there (any gas guzzing SUV driver will do), Global Warming would become a more lived reality for those with the most closed-off minds. The tide would then turn pretty fast. As the folk begin to take ownership of the consequences of their environmental actions, progress would make pace at last. Then Car-Mind might open out to the more infinitely-touched realities of Cycling-Mind.
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Lots of things enrage those who are easily enraged. Life’s little wars, them-against-us. Why can’t people see what I see? And so it goes. The game of context; my context, your context, the car-Borgs’ context. Everyone with their own context and all seeing things in never, ever, quite the same way. Tell it to the judge (who has her own context to apply, even then). Go tell it to the guy who just ran over your $10,000 bike thinking a muted ‘sorry’ might suffice; or that you weren’t even worth stopping for, lying there in a pool of blood and broken carbon fibre.
How many of those daily assaults to the safety of the cyclerati are deliberate intentions to destroy; or how many are just the result of unthinking, unknowing, self-obsessed delirium? How many of those car-carriaged hits and near misses possess any more intentionality than a meteor compelled via gravity to construct a big hole in the ground? Or have more malicious intent than a tree falling onto a seedling; or indeed, falling onto a human hiker’s head?
But even when you, the cyclist are the target for a car-Borg’s fury, does that blighted coffin jockey know you name? Does he know you personally? Consider that motorist who veers intentionally into your path; who throws a can at your head, or screams tirrades of hate at you when you both pull up to the traffic lights. Why would a motorist hate a cyclist he/she has probably never met? What’s that rage all about? Is it about the inconvenience the cyclist momentarily represents? Or is this fury fanned by jealousy? Or is it some kind of tribal thing? Who knows how to disentangle the S-bend sludge that clogs motorists’ minds. Is the freedom, efficiency and joy with which we cyclists apply ourselves an affront to the miseries of driving a car? Do they object to two legs out gunning the 300 horses their wallet-draining, screaming, environmentally-defecating engines command? Do we make them look and feel stupid for all the money they spent and continue to spend via enforced contributions to the insurance and registration Mafia?
Or are we simply in their way? Even Alberto Contador could get in the way of a car-driving grannie off to lawn bowls or boule at the village pub. Are cyclists really just another road furniture hurdle to be avoided in the never ending array of distractions that confuse the modest minds that are a prerequisite to driving a car? For sure, finding a cyclist on the apex of a hill-cresting blind corner can be kind of exciting for some. And yes, an on-coming cyclist holding mid-lane can get in a road raged overtaking motorist’s way. I understand these things. But then again, other motorists using the road are as much a nuisannce to that kind of driver as any cyclist. We are all in the way of raging kings-of-the-road.
No, this war of contempt is a complex litany of cause and effect; just like surfacing the causes of World War I. And let’s not overlook the reality that many cyclists deserve the contempt they receive. Wobbling around the highways on a mountain bike without sense or sensibility is hardly an endearing trait. And I can’t imagine curb hopping, urban single speeders weaving in and out of traffic lights, crowded pedestrian walkways and through sidewalk cafe’s would endear those riders to any but the most sociopathically insane.
I have an observation to blow the air out of the argument that cyclists enrage the rage-gorged psychoses of drivers-of-cars through simply being in those drivers’ way. I am a motorcyclist too. Car drivers react to motorcyclists just as do with cyclists; if not worse. All the astonishing ignorance directed at cyclists is directed at motorcyclists too. All two-wheelers are subject to that great car driver’s delusion that all the rules pertaining to giving way don’t apply to anyone proceeding on fewer wheels than themselves. Or, that mad, bad, astonishing urge to overtake anything more diminutive than the mountain of oil-fired tin they’ve chosen to promote their fantasies of self-worth.
Picture this. A few of us know that some motorcycles can go pretty fast. Faster than any car, in fact. If not faster than a missile, or even faster than teenage fashion shifts. But, does that stop that fat age-faded, he-man in his hero-2 tonne SUV wanting, needing, to overtake? No chance. Old fatty is going to overtake. No matter what. ‘Overtake…overtake…me biggest Tarzan in the jungle…where’s Jane at’? I am always amused at the sight of a loaded Landcruiser pulling out to overtake the likes of an MV Augusta being nursed diligently to within a micron of the almost-at-a-stall posted maximum legal speed.
No, dear cyclist comrades, motorcyclists get it all too. So it is not about our speed. It’s all about us having less wheels. And being smaller. Or being smaller period. We two wheelers present less of a threat in the jungle of the road. From the motorists’ point of view, we are in the leaf litter of the jungle pecking order.
I have an additional theory. Perhaps it’s a bit controversial. But I’m sold. Cyclists, you see, are more intelligent than any car driver on the road. You have to be, fundamentally, intellectually-blighted to drive a car. So, it’s hard for us cyclists to interpret the behaviour of those who persist with four wheeled coffin-box predilections. You can’t judge them from the context of what and how we more enlightened souls think. You’d need to euthanise half your brain to understand…
But we do need to understand if we are to survive on roads infested with those crippled by car-mind; by the mental desolation of the car-mind-car-Borg.
Here’s my tips for surviving the cycling-challenged contexts of those-who-drive-cars:
- Don’t take anything car drives do, say, or throw at you, personally. They no not know what it is that they do…They don’t think like us. They usually don’t think at all.
- Don’t assume the car-Borg will ever see you, even if you are wearing the fluorescent-green kit of the Liquigas team. You are invisible until just after that point when they’ve run you down (and sometimes not even then).
- Let them go. They disappear fairly quickly; out of your way and out of your mind.
- Pity them. They travel in a festering box breathing their own toxic fumes. That’s why they are so angry. Where would you rather be: at the top of a scenic mountain purveying the view or rotting in a box exorcised from the sounds, smells and freedoms of the open-air? We don’t travel in coffins. Pity those who do.
- Smile a lot. This might encourage them to escape the market-driven, sheep-flocking follow-the-leader-over-the-cliff automotive purgatory entrapment to which they have succumbed.
- Never throw the flaming match of response to the tinder dry grassy plains of their minds. Anything a cyclist says or does through which to redress wrongs committed will be interpreted from the context of their car-Borg minds. The language of reason is beyond their capacity to understand (or why would they be driving cars?)
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Because cycling and living are like strands meshed within a woven steel rope, I ain’t going to no nursing home…
I’ve been reflecting on this concept of lifecycling of late. I’ve been reflecting on the reactions of people to my riding behaviour. I’ve been reflecting on what it must be to lead a life without cycling woven into the core. So, I started thinking what it must be like to be an astronaut, politician, or to get really really surreal, a cricket player. Imagineer living the life of a total alien. Not so alien as to be from Planet Xinguishposh, but alien enough to be using words, language and meaning I simply don’t understand. What’s it like to be in shoes such as those? Shoes without cleats; a person with hairy legs!
To those mainstreamed into the pre-programmed socially constructed highway of life, I suppose, it must seem a bit unusual, if not intimidatingly over-enthusiastic to ride 60km to pick up the weekend papers, to ride a daily ride, every day, every single day, for two hours a go. Or to house bicycles in every room of the house. Strangeness badged with lycra, singing to the hymns of Italian crafted carbon to a score no one else seems to understand. It must seem, I suppose, a little unusual to those unused to such things. Unusual, orbiting the fringe, posted to mental compartments reserved for loonies and assorted over-individualistic antiestablishment types.
But to a cyclist, so what?
Now if I were an enthusiastic cricket player, or stylist of the boardroom, my devotions to the slow motion rituals of hitting a bat with a ball and/or endless entertaining in the leather upholstered ego chambers of the corporate BMW, I’ve no doubt I would lead a life to which more people could relate. And, when my knees became as stiff as a cricket bat, and my fancy Italian suits could no longer fit, they’d know, and understand. That’s the way it ought to be. When my conversation descended to the tribulations of doctors’ waiting rooms and never, ever, again being able to see my feet over a rising mountain of midriff fat, they’d know and understand. They’d know and understand a standard hard-railed journey to the tune of off-the-shelf lifestyle goals: aspiration to wealth, realisation of wealth, senescence on the foundation of wealth and … end-of-days in a plush nursing home. With a few games of golf, cricket, football and over-fancy eating along the way. Whether a person hits that curve or comes in permanently below, they’d understand that too. Life’s a band of existence at or under that wealth accumulating curve.
What I have trouble with is the inevitability most folk place on conventional lifestyle plots plotted out to follow the wealth aspiration curve. More specifically, I have trouble with the fatalism most folk apply to the various hits and misses they suffer as they follow the curve. Even more specifically, I simply cannot comprehend the inevitability most folk seem to place on the health impacts of following the curve. I listen like some kind of alien trying to understand the mentality of folk who talk about the encroaching enfeeblement of age. They talk about visits to medical quacks like a necessity of life. They talk about pills and potions, remedial this and remedial that and the inevitability be being unable to bend over to tie their shoes. They laugh about aching backs, and the inevitability – the sheer unmitigated predestination of folk to become fat, sedentary and enfeebled.
To me, the nursing home is the ultimate coda to lives lived on the social construction of a wealth-curved lifecycle path. I know we all get (or hope to become) old, and I know that the body breaks down. I can even accept baldness and wrinkles as being something other than a disease. But I can not accept the unrelenting predictability of a life lived out like a journey pre-programmed to follow a set of rails. I can’t understand the mentality of those who succumb to a trajectory guided life, plotted out with hard targets of increasing decrepitude; funnelled like automatons into the programme-planned inevitability of a nursing home. I can’t understand, empathise or comprehend those who talk about all their bits falling off as they journey to a nursing home room reserved in their name from birth.
There’s a name for a hard-railed, pre-programmed concept of a life. It’s called managerialism. I know all about managerialism. It’s the disease of all diseases I loath and detest most. That’s a disease that kills innovation, destroys lateral thinking, and smothers the inspiration of difference. It’s the disease of those who believe life can be lived, organisations can be managed and society can progress like the engineered confection of a train. A managerialised life is a life hard-wired to targets and programme plans. Life there is about staying on the rails. Rails deployed on routs visioned by experts; in directions determined through the accumulated baggage of societal mores, prejudice and superstition. If we accept life-on-the-rails, we accept the targets posted along the way and that final shunting yard in the nursing home. Life reconfigures to a process to keep us on those rails. What we do and what we think is all about keeping our lives attached to rails constructed by psychopaths who truly, really, believe in their rights to direct a command-and-control approach to life.
Going off the rails is, I would contend, something to which we all might usefully aspire! This might usefully be catalysed by simple-seeming diversions. Like cycling; mountain climbing or heading off like Forest Gump on an endless running spree. To step off the rails you have to take that first step. Step off onto a bicycle and you never know, you might end up entirely someplace else; a place where the detritus of a socially-normed, managerialised life falls someplace else other than on your head. Perhaps I might end up like Tom Simpson and die asking to be put back on my bike, on the side of Mont Ventoux. Now that’s better than fading away in some home…
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Territorialism. That’s what driving a car is all about. Think about it and perhaps you will agree with me. People stick with cars because they need the protected space cars provide.
It’s no fluke that cars have windows and doors. Locks too. Cars keep drivers in and everyone else out. Cars protect and assert your private space. A space you have customised to your peculiarities, eccentricities and valiant statements of individualism. Seat covers, rear view mirror fluffy dice dancing about. A nodding toy dog on the rear shelf. The music you play. Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries or Rap boom boxing for assaulting pedestrians. Car colour, carpet on the dash board. Religious symbols and symbols of rebellion pasted to your rear end. Perhaps a picture of a loved one strategically displayed. Or perhaps an entire temple shrine to fringe the windscreen, or a miniature Eiffel Tower blue-tacked to the instrument cowl. A machine gun mounted to your door as an expression of the road rage you feel is your right to assert. That’s your space in there.
You take your personalised space out onto the road. Wherever you go, your space goes too. Your mobile, individualised territory of glass and tin. Have you ever noticed how a car tends to reflect the character of it’s driver? Pedantically polished mirrors of the soul for the prim and properly permed. Trashy mobile muck for the hairy armed, singlet wrapped, beer can chucking yobs. White, polished and saintly for the godfull. Black and evil for the sneering one-finger-at-you punk establishment haters. Workabout for the work-a-days. Dog adorned for the canine walkies poop-scooping set. Tiny, rounded, pastel plastic for the girlie-texting, image-manicured trendies boot-loaded with Body Shop bags. Loud and overpowering for insecure doubtful males. Bag-of-cement and self-sown grass sprouting tray back utes for the DIY utilitarians. Prestige polished badge-badged wallowing barges for those with ego-aspirations to mobile penthouse display. Mouldy, rusty for the rusted-out wrecked and dented crowd.
We take these identity displays out on the road. The space within is your kingdom; your coocoon. If someone cuts you off, refused to give way, takes your space or overtakes without deference to the messages you are at least subliminaly seeking to display, your territory has been violated. You are under attack. Your steel and glass shields are raised. You descend to rage. Or perhaps you retreat to the corner of your mobile cave – behind the security of tinted glass. You hide; you confront. You might be a balding lardy bellied ageing git, but hey! …when you are behind your wheel, you are the king and your petrol powered horses are like the hair piece you just purchased off eBay. Surround yourself with polished, sparkly, rippled-with-power and look-at-me exhaust-enhanced bellow, you can pretend a presence lost only when you step out of your car. That’s why you probably use it everywhere; down to the letterbox at the foot of your drive or to the look-but-don’t-touch freeway promenades. Moving castles, fortresses and battering rams. That’s what cars can become. A personalised space. Your personalised space. The space of your delusions to grandeur.
If my theory’s even 10 per cent correct, you can kind of understand how the egotistically less secure amongst us might react to the concept of riding a bicycle on the road. That prospect must be something akin to the X-Ray revelation of your inner most secrets, or going nude on a public beach. A holocaust of fallen security barriers; a globally warmed hurricane tidal erosion of your beach front yard. To step from a car to a bicycle is to loose at least 90 per cent of your territorially stamped personal space. Exposed! Dragged out into the light. Removed of your security zones. Stuck like a shag on a rock on a bicycle instead.
If my theory’s even 5 per cent correct, this notion of the automotive territorialism explains a few things. It explains the abject contempt so many motorists display towards cyclists attempting to share the road. Cyclists have no territorial assets to display! They have no territorial rights. They must be below and beneath the baseline of what matters in this modern freeway world. Run them over. Who cares! It’s the primeval rutting rights of aggressive display. He with the biggest bellow wins the respect of the rest of the flock. Run ’em over and blast your petrol-megaphoned horn as a victory display! Big man … biggest bullfrog in the pond.
Or is it a bit more complex? Could it be that the sight of a cyclist on the road puts these primal territorial urges into some kind of black hole sucking logic loop spin? Clearly, that cyclist ahead is a lesser being than you in your 2 tonne metallically enforced V8 mega space. But…you can see that he/she is so evidently fitter than you. You, with your balding, flabby, lardy, lounge-cringing frame. Where’s the logic in that? To resolve that conundrum takes more brain power than answering that bleating mobile phone, or checking directions with your matron-voiced GPS autopilot. So you answer the phone, check your directions and run him down. Superiority asserted. Personal space defended. Darwin 2.0.
Link to photo used above
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One piece of my past that got left on the lost baggage carousel of life was a stint as an economics professor with a passion for iconoclasm – if not econoclasm – and certainly bicyclism! I’ve still got some vestigial memories of the theories, fantasies and postulations of how markets work; including that grand-old-dirge of the valuation of priced and unpriced benefits (which allows us to calculate really cool things like ‘optimal’ levels of pollution, the monetary value of a life and the social benefit from ploughing up 10 hectares of National Park to create a new uranium mine – and other related disturbing notions of that kind). In these, my days of reflection, introspection and lots of bicycle riding, it occurs to me that I am as much taken in by the ‘vagaries and psychoses of value’ as anyone else.
By which I mean, I too tend to be a little ‘non-linear’ when contemplating the relative virtues of the next bag of coffee beans vs. a new bicycle vs. a trip overseas vs. policy choices to forestall greengassing our planet into the new Mars.
There’s this theory about how people value stuff. We are just a bunch of tanks filled with that fuel of life called ‘utility’. Utility is an always imprecise metric for happiness, joy, bliss, satisfaction or the absence of pain, depending on how you consider such things. Just like a petrol tank, some of us tend to run utility-guzzling V8’s, and others run on the one million-to-the-gallon we cyclists get.
To economists, utility can be approximated by money. The closer that approximation, the uglier the person, in my view. And it should not go un-noticed that most government policy these days assumes this equivalence to be pretty well perfect. Money is happiness. Mathematically, Money=Happiness. Wealth=Utility. Empty tank=chronic depression. Gross Domestic Product is the stock of community bliss… Greed is Great! Growth in wealth is the purpose of life…
You know the routine. But of course, every politician and bureaucrat knows that the equation is not one of perfect equivalence. The equal sign is a bit blurry. The equation is confused by ‘noise’. People are riddled with imperfections like an appreciation of the arts, the quests of religion, running with the bulls in Pamplona, and choosing to ride the alps for no pay…, and a litany of related challenges to the mathematical precision, if not economists’ utopia, of rational human behaviour. No, the archdeacons of Economia wring their hands on the challenges unruly folk present to the equations of their religion. So much of economics has become an exercise in patch-ups and cosmetic make-overs via a tool box of policy fencing wire and pontificational spin. Which is why economists invented politicians to take the blame for their dodgy theories on why it is that people do what it is that people do.
But, to return to my theme. Knowing about the uncertainty storm that confuses the sacred equivalence of money and happiness, perhaps that’s the place to look to find answers to the more exasperating behaviours of those who resist all arguments contrary to what you or I might believe. In that hazy-fazy place lies an explanation for the persistence of cars, obesity, global warming, Kim Il Sung, Country & Western music, recumbent bicycles and Microsoft Windows…
Which means that any attempt to cajole, encourage, incite or otherwise encourage cycling as a universal transportation choice will always be filtered through that sink-clogged space where the stars of human rationality collide. Which is why the global posturing on global warming is an inevitable frustration for those of us who continue to breath the reality of what it is that cars do to the world we all share. Politics is a diversion from the actions that really count. All that posturing and first class pin-stripe-suited posing is the displacement activity show to which those who refrain from change turn when change is the need with which they really know they must personally engage. Far better to blame the inactions of political stooges than to take up the challenge of personal responsibility. Far better to fixate on the pace and outcome of climate change forums than to do something about the problem yourself.
The problem is that our brains run on multi-utility fuel. The bliss points to which we all aspire can be fudged. We can feign a trip to nirvana with dodgy drugs, cashing cheques on the income streams of future generations and via enslaving the opportunities of others without empowerment to respond. Such as the other species which inhabit our world. That’s the coward slothard’s path to utility optimisation. It’s also a furphy. The consequences of poorly made choices usually hit like the toxic hangover global warming has become.
There’s something clean, pure and encouraging about utility that’s hard won by the virtues of choices that inflict nothing on the opportunities of others (be they vegetable, animal or mineral; earth, wind and fire). Which is why the buzz we get from summiting a hill via the power of pedals, walking a river via the self-containment of a backpack, or meditating towards nirvana cross-legged on a cushion are pathways to glory that’d escape those who aspire to Prada via the plastic-surgery of oil-powered consumerism. That’s a fast burn parody of the rewards to which those directly, intently and insightfully connected to the consequences of their personal actions are more rightly entitled.
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“National Recall for Unsafe Dummies“. A headline to really capture the imagination! ‘Thousands of babies dummies have failed safety tests and are expected to be recalled nationally…’ the lead-in explained.
I mean to say… think about it. This bit of national newspaper editorial referred to the plastic dummies (known as pacifiers in the USA I believe) some local distributor was diverting to their un-discerning customers here in Australia. These el-cheapo Chinese plastic baby plugs have, it was determined, the capacity to fall apart (fancy that for stuff made in the ‘World’s Workshop’ of the Peoples’ Republic of unbreakable China). By falling apart, they might cause distress to the babies into whose mouths these things had been inserted by parents seeking legal relief from their screaming offspring.
OK, fair enough I suppose. But, that’s not what caught my attention here. My attention diverted to the cause of recalling unsafe dummies of a more generic kind. I know some dummies out there that pose a vastly greater threat to the peoples’ health than these Chinese plastic baby plugs. And these dummies I’m thinking of did, once, pass someone’s safety tests.
I am, of course, referring to that permanent centrepiece of my own personal death-related anxieties: car drivers. Think upon this. If any product you could pick off a shelf could possibly come even close to the unmitigated dangerousness of the average car driver, these goods would be cordoned off by SWAT-Teams, defused by remote robots, and put on a space ship targeted for disintegration in the general direction of the Sun. Dangerous dummies indeed.
Think upon all the fuss over that great fizzer of Swine Flue. How many died? Couple of hundred? Around the world, thousands die every single day via assassination inflicted by dummies driving cars. And you don’t see the folk panicking into paroxysms of mask-wearing paranoia every time they spy another person driving a car.
The unreality distortion fields most of us wear when it comes to our generic acceptance of the terrorism of cars is one of the world’s truly great feats of mass-psychosis. Accepting car drivers in our midst is like some nutter’s predilection to use a nuclear weapon in his house to rid the place of ants.
Think about it from the viewpoint of a visitor from, say, the enlightened Planet of Bicyclism. You are from the utopia of a cycling culture and are suddenly confronted with the fixations of Homo sapiens with cars. These bozos are all propelling themselves around at a hundred kilometres or so per hour with control asserted via the grip of frequently enfeebled hands rack-and-pinion tuned to the mental distraction of minds utterly pre-disposed to distractions of any kind – right into oncoming lanes defined by the safety barrier of a strip of paint.
Think about it. Consider those nationally recalled dummies again. Think about the threat to the poor babies’ lives as they suck on their Chinese plastic plugs while strapped into the seats of a car hurtling down the road on the wings of a collage of bolts, some of which might be loose at any point in time, under the control of parents whose competencies to control their vehicle at best resembles the capacity of a surfer to outrun a tsumami – and they are worried about the safety of the dummy shoved into the mouths of their kids?!
That’s the real dummy to be recalled. The dummies who cower at the ephemeral terrors of the world while blinkered to the accumulative holocaust cancer of cars. Yes, I truly wish we could recall dummies like that.
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Some things are universal. A universal mindset that recommends the motorcar as a replacement for our legs, a universal mindset that medical doctors ‘know best’, that qualifications are a fool-proof measure of intelligence, that we really do need to earn $300k plus a year to be happy, that football is an entertaining pursuit for the post-Neanderthal generations…
I have another one. This is for those already on the inside of the cycling promised land. That it’s always a struggle to find time for riding. Get together with any group of fellow-bicyclists and you will hear the complaint: ‘I need to ride more but never seem to get the time’. How often do you hear non-professional cyclists complaining about ‘too much’ riding? It’s always ‘never enough’.
I love to watch the games we play under the direction – if not dictatorship – of the mental models of our minds. Watching your own mental models is a bit like watching yourself from a mirror. It’s hard to see past the reflection of the vision we self-project. Remember Arnie Schwarzenegger in Total Recall? That’s the one where our hero took a holiday from himself to become a spy to unravel the intrigues of subterranean Mars. That’s what taking on a different mental model is like: taking a holiday from yourself.
So if the person you are insists that you never get time for a ride, why not take a holiday from yourself and become someone who does make time? Perhaps in that other parallel universe the reasons you currently cite for accumulating frustration instead of miles might simply cease to exist. Putting it all another way: are you SURE you can’t find the time to ride? Or is that your inner-dictator mental model trying to strangle your fun?
Now the universal first response to questions such as these is this: ‘I don’t have a mental model’ and ‘what you say simply does not apply to me’. That’s basically the same logic we might use to claim that ‘global warming is caused by everyone else but me’; that it’s always them, the other folk out there, who do bad things. ‘My issues that prevent me from riding are real’. ‘I can’t possibly change the way things are’. Sieg Heil!
Here’s how I did a coup on my own inner Fascist-In-Charge.
Work and cycling, were, for me, different spaces within my mind. Work was work and riding was something I did for fun. Work is not fun and fun stays at home… I didn’t ride to work. The commute was 60km (about 40 miles). 60 km in a car seems like such a long way. 60km by bike is… Hey! wait a minute. I do 100km rides on weekends and that is OK. I did 250km rides in my serious training days… I CAN ride 60km. But not to work. Why not? Because… See what I mean by mental models? So I rode. Once. It was a bit like going off to Mars. This was cycling of a different, new, kind. I did it again. I did it for a week. I did it for two weeks. Then it became routine. My mental model admitted a new culture of riding to work as a normal thing to do. Then, in that new world, I had the occasion to drive to work. Now that felt wrong. Bad. Ugly. The essence of giving in. Defeat. Never again…
The key point is that to transcend one mental model to the other will indeed seem like a change of life. But, and there’s the thing. You DO get used to life on the other side. And life on that other side can actually be far better! I suspect that all the excuses we make to stick with the models of life we currently lead is to do with our fear of the unknown; a fear of leaving the familiarities of life as it is currently lived. A bit like heading off in a boat when we all used to believe the world was flat; and fringed by this dirty great waterfall…
So I made time to ride through riding to work. But that’s not all. No, not even by half.
The ‘V’ shaped channel of my life had excluded time before 7am. ‘Ha!’ I hear you say… ‘I knew that was coming.’ You are now reacting just like the old me. ‘You’re not going to recommend rising at dawn…to ride – are you?’ That’s not for me! Not according to the mental model that tells me life starts each day at 8. You’ve seen them out on the road when the exigencies of work demand an early flight or that early early trip by car. Flashing-lighted cyclists riding the tragedy of their fate in the cold misery of dawn. The tragedy you attribute is the attribution of your dawn-excluding mental model. To see things in any other light is to take another trip up the hill of the mental model range that blinkers all our minds. You can’t see life on the other side until you climb that range. Climbing is so very hard; the hardest thing that many of us will ever do. I am not going to disguise that fact. But once you stand on top of Great Dividing Range of your mind, the views can reveal a life to be lived that you might never have imagined could be yours to have!. Those dawn rides are, simply, magic. Tragic are they who perceive what it is you do as a tragedy of being out of bed.
That’s two mental model shifts I’ve taken to shift from a casual tinkerer with cycling to become a real life-cycling cyclist for real. The shifts were hard; the excuses were palpably real. But as any mountain climber will tell, once you make the climb, life is never the same again. That’s how we can all make time for cycling. By re-inventing the lives we live to live a life of a more active, fulfilling, environmentally resilient kind.
Speaking of changes… I am sure you won’t mind me giving my new ‘other’ blog a plug. Some of you were readers of my environmental blog: EnviroBlog. I discontinued that blog yesterday after two years of regular posts. I have decided to consolidate all my interests more completely via a new web space that I’ve modestly named rodericgill.com. Attached to that site is my brand new blog called PhotoEssays. PhotoEssays is the second generation of EnviroBlog. It’s a place to combine my environmental ponderings with my passion for environmentally-focused photo image making. I’d be more than curious to hear what you think! There’s already a couple of posts there to read (the latest is an essay on how religion appears to profoundly un-religious types such as me…)
Naturally, Bicyclism.net and this bicyclism blog remain unchanged. Like Enviroblog before it, PhotoEssays is to be my ‘other’ blog.
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There’s something deeply disturbing and ugly about consumerism. Even worse is consumerism with the intent to construct an image of one’s self for others to consume. Of course, the careful construction of an image of one’s self as we would hope others will see us is a universal human condition. It’s a preoccupation and it’s the first symptom of personal suffering. Its the first symptom that our delusions of self have taken hold.
That’s why there’s such a thriving business in plastic surgery for the aged and increasingly wrinkly. That’s why hair dye exists. That’s why people buy expensive cars when a geared-up, de-bladed ride-on lawn mower is probably all they need to waddle down to the local shops.
I’d been thinking, hoping, fantasising that cycling was an oasis of retreat from egotistical matters such as this. Cycling and its more sedentary counterpart of meditation sessions at a remote buddhist retreat (where the accoutrements of the meditative life are definitely NOT for sale), are the two great oases of retreat.
I’ve been keeping a weary eye out on my cycling attentions for all these years. I ride because I love the sensations of speed, the totality of control over the instrument of my progress and the fitness to ensue. I tell myself that I don’t ride to be seen as, fortunately perhaps, no one ever sees me ride. Except the local sheep, an eagle or two and the drivers of cars (and they never ever see cyclists of any sort). Why, then, is there this need to order a new S-Works Roubaix branded riding shirt? Don’t ask such difficult questions! Cynicism is evil…
I tell myself that my indulgences in different shades of carbon are an impersonal aesthetic thing. I struggle to maintain the fancies of my mind placing too much store on the fact that my new Specialized S-Works Roubaix was the bike Tom Boonen used to win Paris-Roubaix twice in a row! Pride in ownership is ownership of an ego heading out of control. The bike’s a thing and the thing is not me. After all, Big Tom could win Paris-Roubaix on a Trek Madone if he were deluded enough to so choose (!)
The story I tell myself is that I chose this bike because if it can withstand those roads, it can withstand ours. It’s fascinating to know how a bike such as that might ride under my own control. Why then do I have a full screen desktop image from Specialized on my computer screen to celebrate their second victory at Roubaix… Could it be that I am in need of some meditative regeneration of my desired desire-free state?
That amazingly outrageous sage, Chogyam Trumpa, once said that merely knowing that you are subject to the games our egos play is the first step to enlightenment. To be reflexive of such things is to be on guard; to be on the proper pathway of life. Which means that being reflexive, I can now hop on my 2009 S-Works Roubaix and ride past and past again the local road cycling clubhouse with an insufferable smug grin…
Oh how I am suffering as I dare to remind everyone I know how my bike won yet again…
Well done Tom Boonen and well done for the Specialized S-Works Roubaix!
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Tighe lives on the wall. It towers above his village and falls away below it. It is vast and unforgiving and it is everything they know. Life is hard on the wall, little more than a clinging on for dear life. And then, one day, Tighe falls off the world…
from On, by Adam Roberts
Have you ever read one of those stories that deliver an utterly unexpected, otherworldly ending? I refer to stories that construct a picture of character ambitions, dreams, anxieties and passions that are all revealed, through an utterly twisted ending, to be misplaced diversions when scaled against the reality finally revealed. I’ll give you some examples of stories such as these: Inverted World by Christopher Priest; The Fabulous Riverboat Series by Philip Jose Farmer and On, by Adam Roberts
The surprise ending comes through the revelation of incompatibly parallel contexts; the one that we assumed was real and the one revealed to be so. The context we assume that shapes the lives of the characters we observe or the life we lead ourselves is the framework of meaning that makes what we see and think seem real. Of course, these life shaping contexts shift with time and experience but that shift is evolutionary, or emergent; our context changes bit by bit. Even if the context becomes revolutionary, we still can track the history of that context shift. We can recall where we came from as a way of giving meaning to where we are now. Unlike the characters in the stories I mentioned above, we don’t usually discover that our life contexts are a total fraud.
Context wraps up the notion of objectivity. What we say is so, or should be so, is usually shaped by this background context. Many of us devote our entire lives to progressing along pathways that are valued or validated by the contexts we have constructed. The context tells us what is good and what is not; and how to measure how well we do and how bad things can get.
What if, though, we do live in a world where there are multiple contexts all twined together; some similar and some totally at odds. What if through one context what it is that you do is measured to be a success but through another would be regarded as abject failure? Scary huh?
Guess what? We do live in a world of multiple contexts that sometimes sharply diverge. That’s how come we can have sustained argument, disagreement, hatreds and war. And that’s how come a critic at iStockPhoto managed to reject a photo I recently submitted when it was a winner to me. I understand that his context is his and mine is mine; and that to him, mine is wrong and his is right. I also understand that his context is that one that stopped me selling that picture…
It’s at this point when one person’s context is asserted over others that I get riled. Much worse, though, is when those who would assert their own contexts reject the existence of any others. That’s context fundamentalism. This says that my belief system (context) is right and yours is wrong because yours is not mine and mine is all there is. Much much worse is when those who would assert context fundamentalism do so in a position of empowerment. That’s called the privileging of positions. Privileging via empowerment to judge or to be privileged via access to a gun.
That’s why the world’s gone to pot. That’s why my photo got rejected…
My plea is simple. We need to make people know a few simple things:
- Your context or world views are not the only ones possible
- You could be wrong (your context could be a fraud)
- I could be wrong (as you would maintain)
- We all could be wrong!
- When our disagreement is at the level of divergent context, we will never agree; and we are both right when right is defined by conformity with individual context.
I’ve had misery from this context thing for years; and so, I am sure, have you. Years and years of having research papers rejected by context blinkered funnel vision thinkers with an incapacity to see outside their personal cave. Years and years of battling moronic motorists whose context asserts their uncontested ownership of the road. Years and years and years of battling moronic context besotted motorists who contemplate complexities like roundabouts as the setting where only they have the right of way…
Years and years of hearing critics trash art that I think is both powerful and great. Literature, paintings, photography, music and ideas that send a quiver of shivers to my sensibilities are rubbished by those whose context of vision is not the same as mine. Why can’t we all just agree to the richness of discursive difference? There’s a huge power of enriched intellect and pleasure to be had by embracing difference; because in difference we can often find insight that could answer the problems that our prevailing certainties sustain.
My problem is that I sincerely do not believe in experts. In a world that is too complex to define definitive understandings, there is no one or no group of ones who can know all that there is to know about, really, anything at all. By the time we think we might know, the show moves on. Just looking causes the stream to diverge.
In a world without experts, or definitive uncontestable knowledge, there is no objective truth. Which means that truth is always subjective. Which means that what we think is true might not be true at all. We might all be living a cargo cult of delusion via attachment to a context that’s a dismal fit to everything that’s going on around us. Like the truth proposition that we need to live in an economy of perpetual growth. That money is a metric that matters. That personal value is tied to dollars. That personal value is tied to peer-referentially asserted pedigree (the experts’ plague).
I have a simple recommendation. If you are feeling committed to your own personal cause; if you are feeling nice and confident in your vision, if you believe that there are sages who really, really know, I recommend a simple but challenging tonic. Read Adam Robert’s book for a taste of what’s its like to transcend from one context to an utterly disconnected other. Once experienced, a crash-like context challenge is like cycling for the mind. Transformational and invigorating. Life changing and a thrill.
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‘I’ll give you a piece of my mind’! So says an irate mother to an unruly child. This is usually a bad thing. You are, apparently, about to receive a lecture you don’t want to hear. Mind you, there are some other people’s minds I wouldn’t mind a piece of to prod and poke with a laboratory probe. That way, I might be able to comprehend the astonishing confusions of people like this.
Thinking upon this sage maternal advice, and having been in the business of handing over pieces of my mind to sometimes willing, usually reluctant students for years, I can’t help thinking about incompatible plugs and the wrong kind of AC current when trying to connect to some people I encounter.
Take this morning. I was off for a most wondrous ride to the local lake. I am a diligent adherent to the letter of the law of the road; so I guess I hope and even expect others to play that game as well. There I was, riding through a half swashsticker leg (left, straight and then right in the space of 100 metres or so) when a ute driving motorist decided to copy my exact route. Only, instead of following me over the inconvenience of 20 metres before he could legally overtake, this turkey wove right around me from behind, alongside and then cut right across my path forcing me into the gutter. Of course, I presented a few spontaneous comments to suggest the dangers of such a manoeuvre, and behold! He stopped his truck right in the middle of the road, opened his door and leapt from his seat to give me a piece of his mind in return. The look on his face was priceless. But ever so instructive. There’s some learning in here.
You see, like most motorists, this guy had interpreted my presence on the road as something akin to a pothole to be avoided or as a subliminal impediment observed without observation. Here’s his thought process: ‘Bicycle. Overtake. Road. Mine. Gotta Get Home to Do Some Cave Paintings.’ Well, perhaps we’ll skip the cave paintings bit. He didn’t look intelligent enough for that. So, he hadn’t actually noticed me. All he saw was some kind of an abstract obstruction that tickled the more simian places of his ‘mind’. But when he was dragged into the reality of the situation by my righteous outburst, he was awoken from his torpor to stir up an electric flight and fight response from the sludge of his sleeping brain.
That’s when the humorous part of the story kicked in. This character was an elderly, portly, balding, terry towling hatted, off-to-the-golf-course kind of guy. Spurred by his quick flight into fight, he leapt from the car ready to assert the righteousness of his self-imagined saintly predisposition. Only to note that I was this fuming fit cyclist guy with the attitude of a venomous cataclysm from the depths of his worst imaginings. He got back in his car and bolted the door. I rode off and left him parked diagonally across his lane. Our minds connected without the need for words; a mental connection of rare lossless bandwidth.
The point to be made here is that we cyclists frequently fall into a trap. We imagine that motorists actually see us on the road. I mean, really SEE us in terms of observing our movements and evident trajectories, and placing these things into the context of the road and local landscape through which we are travelling. Putting it another way, I’d like to think that a motorist might provide us with something like 60% plus of their attention while negotiating around us on the road. Fat chance. In my experience, validated by the experience related here, 5% or less is more likely. We are but a mobile pot hole in the road. A blurry obstruction to be passed and bypassed. Bike. Overtake. Doh! [Beer. Sex. Beer. Steer. Beer. Bike. What?]
That’s, realistically, the best we can ever expect from those who would drive cars. Let’s face it. Unless the motorist is a cyclist using his/her car for saintly cycling-connected purposes, motorists are going to apply the intellect of a white-anted tree to the preservation of our progress. Cock roaches would be more attentive. Magpies certainly are (especially in Spring time…).
So, I’ll give you a piece of my mind. Ride as though you are negotiating an enemy firing range. All motorists are morons. Don’t ever, ever, expect them to give you right of way. If, perchance, they do, it might be because they have fallen asleep and might well take off and run you over anyway. Remember. When you encounter a motorist, consider the possibility that he/she has left her/his/whatever brain at home. Tucked up in front of reality TV.
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