The More You Drive, The Less Intelligent You Get
My city councilor recently drove through a fence and into a house. She was not drunk, she was just driving like an asshole. (She was also driving an uninsured, uninspected car with no license, but that stuff, while interesting, and probably pertinent to her reelection chances, doesn’t figure into what I’m talking about here.)
Now, my city councilor consistently advocates for policies that will show kindness and care to the most vulerable people in the city. And, she drove her car in such a way that she was very lucky not to have killed someone. I’ve been thinking about this contradiction a lot. I’m not surprised when someone on the right drives like an asshole. It’s entirely philosophically consistent to advocate for the idea that only some people matter and to drive in a way that shows you view other people not as people, but as obstacles. But how can you be kind and compassionate in your policies and an asshole behind the wheel?
I’ve come to believe there is something inherent to driving that brings out the worst in people. I certainly do not exempt myself from this, though I am on a continual quest to be a better person in all aspects of my life. But I suspect it’s true of you too. How many of us can say we are the best version of ourselves when we’re driving?
I think one part of the equation is that driving offers a freedom it can never deliver. We get in a car and think it’s going to be like walking, only faster. That is to say, you choose your route, and you just go. But of course other drivers slow us down when we’re driving in a way other walkers don’t slow us down when we’re walking. And this seems profoundly unfair. How dare you people deny me my right to get where I’m going as quickly as possible!?
There is something about driving that makes us disregard the humanity of everyone else on the road. This is particularly egregious if you are walking. Every day I take my dog to Franklin Park and have to cross Walnut Street at a crosswalk with a stop sign. And at least once a week I wind up yelling at someone who blows through the stop sign because they’re not paying attention, or they just don’t feel that the laws apply to them or because they stopped when the person in front of them stopped at the stop sign, so that totally counts. It’s also very frequent that people give me an annoyed face, or gun the engine as soon as my back foot clears the front of their car, or otherwise demonstrate that they think I’m the asshole by delaying them by ten seconds, which is about how long it takes me and my dog to cross the street.
I don’t think all of these people are sociopaths. But I do think there is something about driving that brings out sociopathic behavior.
As I said, I do have a car, and I do drive it, but I’m trying to drive it less. I think we all should drive less, not only as a response to the climate emergency, but because it will make us better people. I don’t think most of us want to be the kind of people who put other people’s lives in danger because they inconvenience us. But more that that, we’re facing some very serious challenges right now, and I don’t believe we can meet these challenges as a bunch of individuals fighting for scarce resources (like space on the roads, for example.) We’ve got to work together and recognize that we’re all in this together, and driving subverts this mindset. It’s literally killing us.
Okay, Brendan, great philosophy, but I still have to get places. What’s your plan?
There’s a center lane busway near my house that has completely transformed my experience of riding a bus. These are exponentially cheaper to build than light rail. They should be everywhere.
Public transportation should be free. Always and everywhere.
So, advocate for these policies.
If you’ve got the money, you can snag an ebike for as little as a thousand bucks. Which is a lot of money, but not compared to the cost of fueling, insuring, parking, and maintaining a car. You might or might not be able to use it year round, but for doing little errands near your house, they’re unbeatable. I put a basket on my (regular, not e)bike and found I was able to dramatically cut the number of car trips in my neighborhood.
Don’t feel safe riding a bike on the road? Advocate for better bike infrastructure. Actually you should do this even if you are devoted to your car and never want to ride a bike because you hate sharing the road with bikes, and they hate sharing the road with you, so get ‘em some protected lanes!
And, of course, you can do what you do when gas prices are high: be thoughful and intentional about when you get behind the wheel. Combine trips. Don’t go for a drive for fun, or to clear your head, or whatever. Take a walk!
Appendix 2: The title of this post is a quote from Repo Man (1984), which is a great movie, marred only by one homophobic slur aimed at John Wayne. It’s a weird, hilarious movie about a young man trying to pick the right mentor. Its’ also got aliens, Harry Dean Stanton, a fantastic punk rock soundtrack, and a scene with the Circle Jerks doing an acoustic cover of “Pablo Picasso.”