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Re: <nettime> Iraq: The Way Forward
Dan S. Wang on Thu, 11 Jan 2007 15:36:38 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Iraq: The Way Forward

Hello nettime,

Yes, and a couple of days after this thread started I was stunned to read on
my Sunday morning Chicago Tribune the headline Tribune Special Report: How
Do We Stop the Carnage? At last! The proper question in the proper
terminology, in a big American daily paper!

Then my eyes saw the small type in the middle, a sort of Special Report
sub-head, which read TEENS AT THE WHEEL. So it wasn't about war at all, just
the ever-present tragedy of teenagers getting into fatal traffic accidents.
Oh, well. 

That's the thing, though. While Felix's communitarian critique would suggest
that structurally or architecturally-reinforced passivity, a kind of
apathetic alienation that rules the country (and in some places it certainly
might), I think that is too easy an answer to the question of why Americans
are not more concerned with and involved in, say, the anti-war movement.

The case is made for a more complex view by the widespread existence of
citizens' causes all over the social landscape, as exemplified by the
Tribune's report on teen driving. The series was conducted over a whole year
and profiles many parents, siblings, and friends of teens killed in car
accidents who have taken the experiences and turned them into causes. Some
of these people are seriously dedicated to...what? Educating their fellow
citizens by speaking out publicly, pressuring or persuading lawmakers to
introduce legislation, constantly improving their own knowledge base,
partnering with others who have an interest in change--all of these things
and more. Basically, these people become politically and intellectually
active and put all their (often newly-discovered) powers as participatory
citizens to work for their cause, and for the inevitable tribe which forms
around a cause. In the Tribune article there was a big picture of a
mother-turned-activist, a sort of minor Cindy Sheehan of the anti-speeding
contingent of the emerging Safe Teen Driving movement.

This newspaper series exposed only one species of citizen-activist. There
are scores, maybe even hundreds of types, inhabiting all roles from the
expected (ngo intern in DC for the summer) to the boutique (breed-specific
dog rescue volunteer) to the surprisingly extant (members of a 'women's
board' of a big museum). And it is not simply the variety and distribution
of these causes and tribes that impresses me--what's really amazing is the
passion and commitment exuded by these people.  In America today there is no
shortage of warriors for a cause (in regular joe clothing). And no shortage
of causes.

This is part of the problem. Many points of social life which were once
either located in the terrain of apolitical service organizations or only
marginally acknowledged if at all, somewhere along the line became the
subject of advocacy and even struggle. No doubt about it, in America today
the personal is political. Heavy emphasis on the personal, lite on the
political. That means there are practically as many causes as there are
people. In the meantime, when it comes to the traditional great concerns of
an idealized public sphere--matters of war, social policy, and public
funds--in America the deliberative mechanisms have become so corrupted by
the professionalization of both lobbyists and legislators, the remoteness of
the representation, and the taint of electorial fraud, that there is
perceived to be no meaningful role for the public anymore in those debates.

But the American people will not be denied a carnage around which to
organize, even if the big one is out of reach. We will all find our own, and
move full steam ahead, even though that means being unable to advocate for
the best solution at hand, if that solution has anything to do with The Main
Carnage. So, of the many recommendations offered by the Tribune, in its own
manufactured 'teachable moment' (as created by wrapping up the epic series
with a 'Special Section' of the paper), none of them argue for reducing the
overrall amount of traffic on the roads, much less a car-free future.

How the earnestness of the politically-innocuous cause can be harnessed to
the cause of Ending the Main Carnage, to pull on the same rope, as it were,
is the challenge. Boy, once these parents of dead car-wrecked teens, some of
whom work with amazing passion to keep other parents from having to go
through the same thing, become convinced that a car-free nation is the only
way to achieve their goal...that's when we could say the movement (which
movement--at that point, does it matter?) has grown. Maybe not in a
'teachable moment' kind of way, during which a greater awareness or
re-consideration of one's worldview happens, but in the more human way of
assimiliating causes into one's own matrix of demands.

Dan W.

> On 10/01/07, Felix Stalder <felix {AT} openflows.com> wrote:
>> Now, we are in a situation where nobody has any good idea what to do. [...]
>> There are no community rituals, no community centers, often there are no
>> sidewalks.  People live in empty soulless houses and drive big empty cars on
>> freeways to Los Angeles and sit in vast offices and then come home again.
> I've just read a very thoughtful book, _Carfree Cities_, that begins
> with an analysis of how cars destroy communities.  The author goes on
> to provide a detailed design proposal for car-free cities, borrowing
> heavily from Christopher Alexander's architectural design patterns.
> In essence, the proposal attempts to combine the best aspects of old
> European neighbourhoods with an urban topology that allows for very
> efficient public transport based on a metro or tram system.  A
> comparison of car-centric Los Angeles with car-free Venice runs
> throughout the book.

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