The Anthropology of Roads
My anthropological study of roads emerged from my observation that motorists and pedestrians seem to ignore the existence of cyclists, as if they are not really present with them on the route ways they traverse.
Of course, this led me to suspect that much is going on at the subconscious level, where cyclists are being “filtered out”. It was also quite telling that when motorists and pedestrians do seem to notice cyclists, it is to engage in violent altercations with them.
The invention of the bicycle in 1861 represents the beginning of the modern era. Those who remained pedestrians after this watershed moment represent a backwards-looking and resentful tendency that has greeted modernity. Fear of technology, and a belief that everything was better in the past, has given rise to the pedestrian of today. It is notable that even though the noun “pedestrian” is neutral in meaning, the adjective “pedestrian” is exclusively pejorative. However, the pedestrians have been, in some sense, right to fear technology. Motorists, in the ascendant since the invention of the automobile in 1885, represent an extreme of modernity, that anti-human and antisocial tendency that threatens society.
In the motorist, we observe major psychological dysfunctions emerging from the ego.
Motorists are egotistical. Hence, the ego manifestation boxes (“cars”) in which they propel themselves about the planetary landscape. A car is always physically larger than the motorist’s own (human) body, as it is the physical manifestation of the ego that has inflated beyond the physical space the body occupies. Motorists will not always be aware of their ego problem, subconsciously inventing the “need” for a car, such as the placement of their habitat (“home”) far away from the place where they must forage (“work”).
Motorists are antisocial. Their immersion in their own egos results in a loss of interest in society. They are happy for people to be kept at a distance from one another, as they see interaction as mere ego-clash. Their own egos are so inflated that they see all egos as equally in need of ostentatious physical manifestation. Motorism promotes the redesign of towns, cities, countryside, and the planet in general to meet the needs of the car. In essence, the motorist wishes to replace the presence of interactive human society on the streets and greens with the constant traffic of machines. The car is thus more than an ego manifestation box – it also has an antisocial function, separating people from one another.
Motorists are subconsciously homicidal. If you are egotistical and antisocial, the next logical step is obviously going to be the desire to kill other human beings. The reason the car is so fast, and so heavily armoured, is to satisfy this subconscious urge to kill. The homicidal impulse is indulged with car ownership, which is the attainment of the power to kill. This feeling of power can be enough to keep the homicidal impulse tamed, but motorists find it difficult not to desire “accidents”, in which their urge to kill is finally sated. Motorists will always claim that cycling is “dangerous”, because they want to be able to murder cyclists with impunity, by making it look like the cyclist’s “fault”. But cycling is not inherently dangerous. Cyclists are only in danger from those people who profess it to be dangerous, i.e. those who deliberately wish to make it so.
The pedestrian leads generally a more positive existence than that of the motorist. The pedestrian is, after all, out in society interacting with other human beings, without the distancing effect of metal armour. But pedestrians are seriously psychologically dysfunctional, and these dysfunctions stem from their self-loathing. Unlike the rampantly egotistical motorist, the pedestrian suffers from a lack of ego. Pedestrians hate themselves, and that is why they don’t cycle. This is the explanation for their rejection of the bicycle’s invention in 1861: their self-hatred disallowed their participation in the elevation of quality of life that the bicycle represented. Pedestrians know cycling would be good for their health, yet they don’t cycle, taking perverse pleasure instead in their psycho-physical deterioration. They know too that cycling will save them the money they would otherwise waste on public transport, yet they don’t cycle – in fact, they will often choose a habitat at an awkward location in relation to their “work”, which guarantees them the necessity to use the most unpleasant form of public transport, as they enjoy being miserable, packed in like sardines with other miserablists. For many of these ego-depleted self-loathing individuals, ego-compensation can only be achieved through escape into the sickness of car purchase, which is, of course, over-compensation and leads to egotism and the other psychological dysfunctions of the motorist.
As I noted above, the pedestrian is not antisocial in the way that motorists are. But the pedestrian is antisocial in relation to the cyclist. The cyclist represents to pedestrians the symbol of everything a pedestrian could be: healthy, sane, thrifty etc. and this causes deep resentment. The pedestrian wishes to physically attack a cyclist, so will subconsciously filter out all visual and aural information relating to cyclists, only “noticing” the cyclist in an “accident”, or near-“accident” situation. The more desperately aggressive pedestrians will “notice” cyclists at traffic lights, zebra crossings or in parks, and will hope for some kind of altercation. Unlike the motorist, however, the pedestrian is not homicidal. Rather, the pedestrian prefers to enact beatings and maimings, and does not require the need for the certainty of killing power (unless, of course, the pedestrian goes on to become a motorist). The archetype of the pedestrian is the street thug. Pedestrians, if they are not already in a street gang, are sad, frustrated people itching to join one.
It seems to me that cyclists represents the “norm” in terms of healthy human psychology, and they exist in a dysfunctional society, sandwiched in between two frighteningly dysfunctional groups, motorists and pedestrians.
barry at December 20, 2004 11:31 AM
Well...you almost had it right. Petrol-heads are the bane of society. All would be wonderful without them. We would all be happy and very social creatures.
Us bicyclist are the crazy ones. Who else would be competing with two+ ton tanks for a bit of asphalt on a daly basis? At least when I go pedestrian, I'm out of the way of those ego-stroke-boxes -- except at the intersection where petrol-heads don't notice both pedestrians and bicyclists.
It takes a special person to ride a bicycle -- especially in large cities. That person tends to be very friendly, but something makes you weary of this person. Perhaps its the enormous Popeye like fore-arms? The constant wind-blown look to them, even on very mild days? The too much white around their eyes? Whatever it is, people rightfully think we are nuts.
Don't pick on the pedestrian. We always play that role at some point in the day.