Hegemonic Mobility on a Highway to Hell

Just read John Tierney’s New York Times Magazine article “The Way We Drive Now” (Sep 26, 2004, pg 57-65). The same issue of NYTM has an article on bloggers. Tierney’s article is distressing. He argues for more cars, more roads and more tolls. He speaks from the hegemonic heart of neo-liberal ideology forwarding an ironically titled “Autonomist Manifesto.”

The basic argument is that cars are good because they allow individuals to be autonomous, more car ownership and use is good because running a car is cheaper than using public transport, automated road tolls are good because they cut down traffic congestion, and besides all the social and environmental costs the main thing wrong with car use is traffic and congestion. His argument against cities and sub-urban areas designed for easier access to public transport is that, like philosopher-kings, urban designers determine the fate of the masses, rather than letting individuals – ala Kant’s moral autonomy – determine their own respective fates.

Where is the possibility for collective ‘mobilisation’ in all this? The car is possibly the most ruthless ideological weapon in the armoury of those that primarily benefit from the current state of affairs. People are going to look back at us in the 20th and 21st centuries and think how fantastically stupid we were.

Tierney’s argument is flawed because he makes the tragic assumption that the contemporary era of hyper-mobility does not enter in for questioning. Sure the subordinate classes of Empire may want to escape from where they are in the social-spatial center-periphery distinction, but is this because they want to be literally mobile or is it because the extravagant physical mobility of personal automobility allows them to dream – to have the ideological illusion – that they are free from their exploited subordinate socio-economic position. Witness the hoons who cruise down to Millers Point (near The Rocks in Sydney) and piss off the local property owners.

Tierney invokes the notion of the ‘self-mover.’ I wonder how much he realises how much of our personal mobility does not derive from ‘self’ movement, but comes from the fact that various polarities organise the social-spatial urban field and movement across this field for us. There is little self-movement, we are moved. From home-work, home-school, home-socialising, and so on. His argument becomes catastrophic, not only is he arguing for greater individualisation and therefore an exacerbation of the anxious desires that invoke and promote personal automobility, but he wants us to be further exploited – through road tolls – when we are moved by extraneous forces.

Besides the economic and environmental costs, personal automobility appears to be a key site in the struggle for Empire. The organic emergence of collective action appears to be absolutely impossible if our cities and our lives are mobilised near completely for us. We need to mobilise ourselves, in a collective manner, that does not rely on the individualising social technologies of personal automobility. I can only imagine what will happen when the social costs of personal automobility becomes too great…