Transportation as a Peace Issue
by A. Streater(originally written around 1987 or so but even more applicable today, with the current artificial, imperialistically imposed ..'oil glut'.., which is itself becoming, as it causes the world to become, more precariously unstable all the time.) __It is clear to many of us that the western lifestyle is environmentally unsustainable and as a result is detrimental to the development of a peaceful world order. Western culture applies a very materialistic measure of "quality of life" that almost guarantees ecological disaster and wars. Many of us feel that the long term goal of the progressive movement must be a cultural change that would lead to a less greedy and more sustainable lifestyle.
__What is not so clear to many progressives is how to initiate this cultural change and in what directions the change should occur. What aspects of our lifestyle and economic system are most directly responsible for pollution. wars, and social injustice? We're good at spraying unfocused blame at large, tenuous institutions. The government is to blame because it has abandoned its responsibility of looking out for the people's welfare and instead is looking out of the welfare of its corporate supporters. The military is to blame because it is there. In an abstract way we blame the people for succumbing to the corporate-supported media blitz election campaigns. But when we ask what aspects of our personal lifestyle are direct causes of war, injustice and pollution, our minds shut down in a protective reflex-response to mental pain. There is a blind spot in our lifestyle that oozes moral filth like the gash in the hull of the Exxon Valdez. It may be hard to admit, but our automobile dominated lifestyle is largely to blame.
__Most wars are fought over resources, or concerns about access to resources. The selling off of a country's resources leads to temporary local wealth. The disparity of wealth inside the country and the disparity in comparison to neighboring countries bares the social injustice of landowners reaping huge amounts of money which far exceeds the value of their labor. As social unrest grows, nervous landowners bolster the system they control with armies and weapons. Western countries support this arms buildup out of concern for access to the resources.
__One resource, oil, dominates our concerns to the point of irrational behavior. The present middle east crisis is a perfect example. We were perfectly content to stand by and watch countless acts of "naked aggression" between countries in Africa, Central America and Asia, sometimes supporting the aggression and even perpetrating it ourselves as in Panama. But then Iraq invaded Kuwait for its oil. The invasion has popular support in Iraq and other Arab countries because the gross disparity of wealth has become a social issue. In the U.S. the troop deployment has enjoyed popularity, or at least silent complicity, because of our psychological and physical addiction to oil.
__We pay for the oil we burn in our automobiles in more ways than "just" the lives of our young boys in the army. The U.S. stated policy in the middle east is that we will start a nuclear war if "our" oil supplies are threatened. This threat was first made explicitly by President Carter, and is now called the Carter Doctrine, although it was developed before his administration came to power. Thus our addiction to oil might lead us to a nuclear holocaust. Our dependence on foreign oil is also economically devastating. Our trade with middle east countries is basically buying oil and selling back weapons. For each weapon that goes to an Arab country we feel obligated to give Israel an equal or superior weapon. Then we spend an additional amount to assure that our own rapid deployment force (The Central Command) is individually strong enough to achieve its objective of preserving the flow of oil from the region.
__Besides causing wars and economic hardship due to our addiction to oil, automobiles have plenty of other negative effects. On the global level cars contribute substantially to the dumping of CO2 and other waste products into the atmosphere, causing climate changes and acid rain. On a more local level, people living in our larger cites choke in a cloud of ozone and other health threatening pollutants. More importantly, growth patterns associated with our automobile culture have led to urban sprawl and the decay of our city centers. Wealthy white collar workers commute long distances to work from suburbia (which used to be agricultural land), leaving the poor (usually minorities) smothering in the automobile waste products in a decayed city that politicians, who are controlled by the wealthy and are usually wealthy themselves, don't care about. This is a social issue, and one that will eventually boil over if it is not properly addressed by our society.
__Violence is the use of or threat of superior strength to achieve a desired goal. Guns are perfect instruments of violence because they are convenient to carry. In many ways cars are even more convenient instruments of violence than guns. They are certainly deadly, and they carry themselves. About 45,000 Americans die each year in car crashes, which is roughly as many as died in the entire Vietnam War (55,000). About three times this many Americans are permanently maimed each year. Nearly everybody has friends, probably family members, who were maimed or killed in car crashes.
__Speed is violence, according to "Mahatma" Gandhi. Violent acts of reckless driving are commonly used to spice up an otherwise dull plot in a movie or television drama. These violent scenes are now so common that we scarcely notice them, but violent habits are often developed from a lifetime of saturated viewing. People who are normally thoughtful and considerate often undergo a personality change when behind the steering wheel, becoming tense, impatient and oblivious to the danger to both themselves and others inherent in operating a several ton machine at 40 miles per hour, or even faster.
__This casual attitude has been carefully nurtured by the automobile industry and now permeates our courts. In Michigan, possessing cocaine can bring a life sentence with no possibility for parole, but killing someone with an automobile rarely results in jail time. Often there is no charge at all. Even intentional acts of violence cannot be prosecuted because in this country the vehicle registration number cannot be used to identify the assailant. Thc victim must be able to identify the driver's face, which is almost never possible because the driver is inside the vehicle which is traveling at a high speed. Where there is no justice, there is no peace.
__The thought control used by the large automobile and oil companies to suppress the social costs of automobiles is completely effective. Through saturation advertising and control of the media, people are conditioned to accept the violence, pollution and injustice as part of the sacrifice for living in God-blessed America. The conditioning is aided by a natural tendency we have to avoid the pain of admitting to being duped. Even the most progressive dissidents in our society turn a blind eye to the devastation and tyranny of the automobile. The progressive activists in America who are fighting this battle against the automobile giants, oil companies and big brother can be literally named individually. The strongest group is Transportation Alternatives (NYC) in New York City (494 Broadway, New York, NY 10012) (Note-may have relocated- see their page (linked here).
__Your automobile is directly related to war, injustice, pollution and violence. Fight for peace with real action. Don't drive.