Bicycles, Life of Carmen

When I am no longer angry at car people

When I am truly without anger toward people who own cars I will know that this buddhist stuff is really working.

It’s hard. I’ve never owned a car, but I still have to look at them, hear them, smell them, pay for their infrastructure, and avoid being crushed by them every day. They don’t do me any good, but their damage to my environment is in my face all the time. When you are inside a car the car is invisible, it’s just a shell with air-con and good tunes. Other cars are visible of course, and they are irritating—but those cars are called traffic, i.e. every car other than yours. When you are a car driver, your car is not a problem and you go blithely on your deluded way. When you are not a car driver, every car is a threat and a blight.

It’s not that I envy car owners. I am ever grateful for my car freedom. From what I can see individual car ownership creates way more financial and physical and psychic suffering than it solves. Car-sharing or renting or cabbing can be skillful means, but individual car-ownership is simply not sustainable and comes at such a high price. Convenience is slavery, to habit and addiction. We are not lazy, I think “laziness” is actually a false direction. We are just lab rats and we know no other way.

And then there is the assumption of privilege. The anger I feel toward car owners is similar I suspect to what most people of colour always feel at some subtle level toward white people. They are never aware of what they take for granted, and who is being harmed by their assumption. They won’t know until they get out of their cars—which many never will.

I try to be empathetic but the seeds of anger still rise. God knows I have addictions and habits of my own and this particular one mirrors them and triggers the hell out of me. I need to be gentle with them and with myself. I need to go for a bike ride.


5 Comments on “When I am no longer angry at car people

  1. Cars are killing the planet, forcing us to engage in needless resource wars, and promote unsafe communties and unhealthy people and lifestyles. Not to mention they consume tons of tax revenue that could go to better, more healthy ways, for our society to get around. I am not totally against the car, but I am all out against its “dominance” in our society and the great infrastructure we have built for it; infrastructure that divides our communties and kills our children. Not into it. You have every right to question, and yes, dislike, cars and car culture. Even the Dalai Lama speaks out against China’s cruelty and terror, as should you, bicycle Buddha, speak against this travesty we call “the car”.

  2. I am old enough (70 already!) to remember when cars were liberating. When I was a kid, before freeways, before huge traffic jams, my family used to take drives in the country. There weren’t a whole lot of cars — a family certainly had only one, if that. There were still streetcars and trains and convenient traffic. At times, though, the car was useful and fun. Then things changed. Everyone got a car. Governments thought cars were the solution. Streetcar tracks were ripped out; buses ran less often; passenger trains disappeared. Year by year more cars appeared on the road, bigger, more powerful (far more power than anyone needed), with enormous tail fins. Highways, then freeways were built. Enormous resources went into the TransCanada, the US Interstate systems. They ploughed through city neighbourhoods. And yet more cars appeared – every family had one, some families had two. Gasoline was cheap. Suburbs were made possible by automobiles, and took up more and more land. Soon, for well over half the population, there was no alternative to the automobile, especially in those suburbs. And yet more cars appeared. Highways were widened to 6 lanes, 8 lanes, 10, 12, more. … and so we have the world in which everyone except us oldsters grew up in.
    To many, this is just the way it is. There has been a reaction against cars, especially by younger people, over the past decade or so. In cities that were shaped before the automobile monopoly took shape, it is possible to begin to bring back alternative, appropriate transportation. In Vancouver this is beginning to happen, far too slowly, but it is happening. Still, where most people live, people are stuck… stuck in their cars, not just on the streets, but perhaps more importantly, in their minds. Just as 100 years ago there were hundreds of horses on the streets (and tons of droppings), and trolley tracks down every main thoroughfare, and this was just the way people lived — today, for many, using the car for all transportation, including a 3 minute drive to the corner strip mall, that’s just the way people live. Indeed, many are rats in a maze, not realizing that it’s a maze that they’re in.
    The problem isn’t so much the car as the mindset. Cars can be useful, in their place. If I have a heart attack, I want the paramedics to come, quickly, in a motor vehicle, and use it to take me to the hospital. But “their place” should be much, much smaller than it is today. And, yes, it makes more sense for most people to share vehicles than own them. This will happen – is happening – too slowly – but it is happening. The Car2Go experiment is very interesting, along with the co-op and even Zipcar. One can live quite well in the City of Vancouver without owning an automobile – we need to expand that choice to Burnaby, Surrey, Langley, the North Shore. Maybe someday we can ban non-essential use of the automobile – or maybe the cost of running an automobile will seriously curtail its use. Maybe some day people will wake up and smell the roses – possible walking, or on a bicycle, but not in a car. The big job is to change the mindset. You don’t have to drive everywhere, people, you really don’t.
    Buddhists I believe must show compassion toward all sentient beings. Sometimes its hard to believe some drivers are sentient, but they are. And most are trapped. Compassion is hard when a motorists zooms within inches of your bicycle, I agree. But remember, they know not what they do, or what without cars they could be.

  3. All true and i thank you for your articulate comments. I don’t doubt that my anger toward car drivers is justified. Cars suck, no question. But the problem here isn’t cars, it is my anger at cars, that prevents me from acting effectively. How to work through that is my challenge.

  4. I had a conversation with one of my coworkers this morning – he has just bought himself some brand new type of sports thing (sorry, I don’t know car makes or models – it’s black with red stripes if that helps) – anyway, I got a ride in it last week on work related business, and he was telling me about it – and in no small part, he was justifying it to me.

    I met him for work again this morning, and amid our conversation about water, diurnal rhythms, the quantum nature of the Inuktitut idea of time, again, this justification of the car came up. I mentioned I don’t drive, I let my license expire, and I manage walking, taking the bus and cycling everywhere I need to go. There was no hostility between us (as has often been the case in the past when getting on this subject), just an acknowledgement that we are on different paths in respect to our views on transportation, and on very many similar paths in other respects.

    much better result than if we’d both ended up screaming and angry at each other. more anger doesn’t help anything.

    love to you BB

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