Mr. Kunstler on the phone, and a hat tip to Kash

Bikescape has a podcast with James Howard Kunstler this week. For those not in the know, Mr. Kunstler is probably the most active and acerbic professional commentator on the trouble we’ve made for ourselves with car culture. He doesn’t tie it all in so relentlessly to cars as some of us do, but I think that’s more a matter of rhetorical tact than of substantive disagreement. Speaking the truth too plainly is a fast way to the outer margins of most discussions involving mass behaviors.

And a podcast, well, that’s the new name of an old way to publish without a lot of typing. I’m listening right now, sort of wishing I could skim a transcript instead. I say skim only because Mr. Kunstler quotes himself quite a lot, and, well, I’ve read all of this. I think I’m supposed to be walking around or biking or driving while listening to it.

Mr. Babilonia, in comments elsewhere, cited this bit about why cars are the root of our mess. I’m a sucker for prophetic statements:

Every man on horseback is an arrogant man, however gentle he may be on foot. The man in the automobile is one thousand times as dangerous. I tell you, it will engender absolute selfishness in mankind if the driving of automobiles becomes common. It will breed violence on a scale never seen before. It will mark the end of the family as we know it, the three or four generations living happily in one home. It will destroy the sense of neighborhood and the true sense of Nation. It will create giantized cankers of cities, false opulence of suburbs, ruinized countryside, and unhealthy conglomerations of specialized farming and manufacturing. It will make every man a tyrant. R.A. Lafferty

While you’re at Bikescape, don’t miss Kash’s interview. Kash was one of my inspirations to forego my former line of work to become a more present father, and to try to contribute substantively somehow to bike culture, other than as a person who buys and rides cool useful stuff. Less than three years ago, Kash and I discussed his idea to mount an electric motor near the cranks of a bicycle, with a worm gear to drive them. Kash wanted to be able to haul his girls thirty miles over the coastal range to the beach on his trike, and there wasn’t anything on the market to make that possible that wasn’t heavier than the load. He also loaned me an electric assist bike of his — the first I had ridden. I then bought the best-reviewed electric bike, hooked up an Xtracycle, and rode it to destruction. Then I set out to do better.

My son is yanking on my leg to get off the “peeber.”

8 thoughts on “Mr. Kunstler on the phone, and a hat tip to Kash”

  • Paul

    Who is this R. A. Lafferty? This is the second time I have come across this quote in the past couple of days. People keep quoting this as being written in the 19th century, but the R. A. Lafferty I find when I search was a 20th century fantasy/scifi author. Can you give more details about this guy?

    Reply
  • Todd

    I don’t know, Paul. We’ve probably seen the same sources.

    Reply
  • Paul

    OK, I haven’t found anything definitive, but I did find this.

    http://blog.ianbicking.org/on-the-subject-of-the-automobile.html?version=1

    Towards the bottom of that page somebody says the quote comes from the book “Okla Hannali” which seems to be a bit different than Lafferty’s scifi stuff.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0806123494/qid=1122694726/sr=8-11/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i9_xgl14/002-8465013-6083262?v=glance&s=books&n=507846

    Here is a site dedicated to Mr. Lafferty who apprently died about 3 years ago, or so.

    http://www.mulle-kybernetik.com/RAL/MT/bio.html

    He apparently did not drive a car, which explains the quote, and seems to have been quite a character. The news of his death was gleaned from the forum on that site.

    None of this takes away from the quality or truth in the quote, but it does make it a little bit easier to believe.

    Reply
  • Mauricio Babilonia
    Mauricio Babilonia July 30, 2005 at 1:53 am

    Chuckle.
    I’ve been spreading that one around quite a bit, though I usually include a caveat about its attribution. Especially the date, since even though the word “suburb” is quite old, I doubt that any sort of opulence would have been associated with suburban living. The second part of the attribution that usually accompanies it (“as quoted in Adbusters, Spring 1996) is also pretty telling. Anachronism at its finest.

    But the quote, regardless of its heritage, is brilliant. It sums up in six sentences exactly what industrialism, and in particular automobile dependency, has done to our culture. It’s an effective quote exactly because it is retrospective.

    What’s really funny though, is that although I did post this quote to a blog recently, I can’t remember where. I don’t think it was here. Todd, help me out! X-o

    Reply
  • Paul

    That quote is apparently from the story “Interurban Queen” ca. 1970. It can be found in the R.A. Lafferty anthologies “Ringing Changes,” “Lafferty in Orbit,” and perhaps others. Here is a synopsis of the story taken from the R.A. Lafferty Devotional Page.

    “What became the transportation means of choice ? The railway or the automobile ? Why, the trains won of course, and god bless – for the world is still a rural paradise. Or isn’t it really unfortunate, because America remains stagnant and boring ?”

    So despite the date being a bit later, Lafferty was apparently not a fan of car culture at all. I need to find this story and read it now.

    Todd, I hope you don’t see these comments as criticism of you or your blog, because I find your blog quite inspirational due to your small business and car free lifestyle. Every use of this quote in cycling and alt transport sites date it to the 1800s.

    Paul

    Reply
  • Todd

    Thanks Paul. I just found this:

    Science fiction author R. A. Lafferty wrote a seminal short story back in the late 1960s called ââ?¬Å?Interurban Queen.ââ?¬Â? It describes an alternative world in which certain wealthy American investors chose to put their resources into light rail instead of the automobile back at the turn of the previous century. Itââ?¬â?¢s enough to make you cry for what could have been. If you canââ?¬â?¢t find it under the authorââ?¬â?¢s name, try looking for it in an anthology called Orbit 8, edited by Damon Knight.
    — http://blogs.salon.com/0001811/

    I’ll edit the post to correct the attribution date.

    Reply
  • Mauricio Babilonia
    Mauricio Babilonia August 1, 2005 at 2:15 am

    Paul, you’re quite correct in stating that doubts about the attribution of the Lafferty quote are not criticisms of Todd’s blog. In fact, I’m tickled that he’s featured it so prominently.

    Reply
  • Ian Hopper

    Wow Todd… you inspired me to blog about your blog. See it here: http://nollij.blogspot.com/2006/02/cleverchimp-drops-quote.html .

    Reply
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