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Re: <nettime> The car park theory of American takeover
Keith Hart on Sun, 7 Nov 2004 22:17:05 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> The car park theory of American takeover



I thought the car park theory was a good metaphor for the black hole that 
is public life in America. At the risk of descending to banal abstraction, 
I would put the main difference between the USA and EU down to the 
relative dominance of private property over public provision. This 
accounts at once for Americans' greater economic dynamism, work ethic, 
insecurity and religiosity. Europeans have not yet abandoned the welfare 
state and that allows them to be less productive and more secular. Put 
another way, they are still struggling to keep the idea of citizen 
equality alive, whereas the Americans never imagined that capitalism could 
be anything but unequal.

Bowling for Columbine was a great success in Europe because it featured 
those gun-crazy Americans. What could be mnore conducive to insecurity 
than kids massacring their schoolmates? But I felt that Moore's analysis 
was weak. He wanted to attribute the violence to America's history of 
racism, whereas I would start with the system of private property that 
leaves individuals isolated and afraid. This insecurity attaches itself to 
many symbols, including fear of black people.

One American dictionary's definition of fascism is "business-driven 
government linked to an aggressive nationalism". It is not hard to see how 
the Bush government's drive towards global corporate domination and 
lawlessness at home and abroad would find resonance in the desire of many 
Americans to escape from their own market dependence into the imagined 
integrity of religion, family and community. Precarious national finances, 
the threat of another great deflation and Asia's inexorable rise as the 
centre of world production all reinforce the downward spiral of economic 
insecurity, religious nostalgia, lawless violence and fascist politics. 
Compare the 1930s.

The importance of the car in this cultural complex cannot be exaggerated. 
In the middle ages, only the aristocracy got to jump on a horse to go fast 
wherever they liked whenever they liked. The car democratizes that 
freedom, but it is socially and ecologically unsustainable. The rate of 
car ownership in rich countries the last time I looked was 400 per 
thousand, as against 16 per thousand among the rest. So the car is not a 
bad symbol for an unequal world in which privatization runs amok, creating 
a wasteland where the public interest used to be..

A former Tory minister of transport once said that he wanted everyone 
driving cars, since he personally couldn't stand the people you meet on 
public transport. He didn't say that the car and television were the two 
technologies Margaret Thatcher relied on to break up social democracy in 
Britain.

Yes, there is some mileage to the car park theory. Indeed it is 
irrefutable, since it could never be put to the test of empirical 
evidence.

Keith Hart




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