Clearing the Fog
in the
War of Words


  logomachy--1. A dispute about words. 2. A dispute carried on in words only; a battle of words.
logomachon--1. One who argues about words. 2. A word warrior.



Narcissism on wheels

A case study in thinking locally and acting globally

What do you think of when you get on a bike? That it is a ”noble form of transport” that makes you less selfish than motorists?

Whatever you are thinking, you can’t be more lofty-minded than Becca Hutchinson, for whom cycling to work is a way “to save the world or improve myself” or ““to make a statement about saving the Alaskan wilds or ending the war in Iraq, and whatever benefits the Earth might reap”.

If this sounds too good to be true, just look at her picture. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, and one look at Becca and you know she is not a woman to be trifled with. She is of a decidedly stern, no-nonsense demeanor. It is clear that she suffers no fool gladly, and she is never beguiled by frivolities or distracted by the unrighteous. Seeing her picture, one is comforted by the knowledge that the English language holds in reserve the expression “crack a smile”, should it ever be needed.

What the picture tells us, the thousand words of her essay confirm, for nothing can hide from her those opportunities to bike for good, even though she began biking to work in the cozy hamlet of Newark, DE, because she “just wanted to save some Franklins on parking.”

Nor does she falter as the miles roll by. Her eye is fixed on the most unselfish and virtuous behavior, even though it eludes her in practice.
I'd like to be able to say that since those early days I've done a 180 and broadened my focus, boxed up the money I've saved on parking and gas, and mailed it off to a worthy organization such as the Sierra Club or Doctors Without Borders, but that's not the case.
For Becca, bicycling has been an invaluable occasion for moral preening of her sensibilities. But enough about her. After only one of her allotted three columns, she turns her attention to others and discerns areas where her fellow commuters could stand some shaping up, especially in their attitudes toward her.
Pedaling to work each day, fighting cars for my share of the shoulder, has started me thinking about greed and excess and what it means to tune out the other guy in the name of progress.
She is impelled to both struggle and these melancholy meditations on her fellow man because she is being attacked by the weighty auras of hostility projected by passing drivers.
On a bike on any given workday, the aggression you feel from passing cars is immediate and powerful enough to shave you off the shoulder in an instant. . . . It's amazing what a few layers of metal and glass can do to dull a person's humanity, and more amazing still what having a full tank of gas and the spare change to buy it can do to boost his false sense of entitlement. [Ed.A-hem! His] His]]] Does dulling a person’s humanity ipso facto make him or her male?]
Isn’t it enough that ”you suck a fair amount of exhaust as a cyclist”?

Amazingly, her—apparently unremarkable—ability to read the minds of her fellow commuters has not enabled her to ameliorate this insufficient concern for her, the noble cyclist. Her sedulous efforts to arouse drivers from their dulled humanity have been unavailing:
You can flip as many birds to as many selfish drivers as you like, but your feeble attempts to humble them are like the voice of the wind down the road.
The frustration of her attempts at gentle one-on-one suasion has not discouraged her. The nature of the road block to Becca’s utopia is clear, and Becca doesn’t boggle at the solution:
If more motorists put down their car keys and hopped on their bikes . . . the shift couldn't help but improve bike lanes, traffic and attitudes.
She offers her modest proposal with some initial diffidence . . .
I don't know where an answer for the question of road-sharing lies. But if the wheels in my head are spinning in the right direction, I'm certain that some sort of balance can be reached.
. . . but only at first. The gas-free “revolution” is just too good not to share . . . with the whole wide world.
. . . imagine [Imagine!] what the world, or at least my town, would be like if everyone went gas-free. It's been years since all the places we need to get to have existed within walking or biking distance. If we downshifted from motors to manpower, even on a small scale, the possibilities for change would outstretch I-95.
You may be wondering why I am bothering to lift the rock from a blogress so self-centered, ungenerous, judgmental, severe, irritable, frustrated, and passive-aggressive. How can we expect any wisdom from someone who displays in such pure form every twitch and trope of the narcissistic liberal psyche?

Look at her last paragraph. Is she saying the world should change for her convenience, or that making her life easier will induce earth-shaking changes? Either way, it’s pretentious megalomania. If cars are necessary, then in a carless world change wouldn’t be a “possibility”, it would be necessary and unavoidable. What change does she anticipate? What change would be desirable? She hasn’t thought about it at all, let alone imagined it. All she knows is the liberal credo: A better world is possible; I am justified because I wish for that better world.

So, why? Well, first, she is not a blogress. She laid bare her spiritual failings and macadam persecutions in My Turn, Newsweek, 4 October 2004. More important, her essay is a distillation of liberal rhetoric: Moral posturing with politically correct clichés to excuse a lack of moral action. Projecting her own anger onto others, and casting them as the sinners. Arguing from hypotheticals. Thinking it is sufficient to put words together in a sentence, no matter how discordant their meanings. Seizing the victim’s mantle. Confusing levels of abstraction. Confidently deploying convenient scientific factoids (contrary to Becca, cyclists inhale less pollution than car passengers (see here , here , and here).

And then there is the bad writing. In service to all the bien-pensant boiler plate, she deploys platitudes, false antithesis, consequences without antecedents, absurd redundancy (”a full tank of gas and the spare change to buy it”), and phrases of judicious reflection to introduce shibboleths that were cut, dried, and canned long ago. I urge you to read it, for the sheer wonder of it.

Second, my mother clipped the article for me.

And third, I have some experience with other solutions to Becca’s “problem”, and I will write more about them soon.



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