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The Apocalypse Will Be Brought To You by Car, Not Truck

“Cars are bourgeois and trucks are proletarian.” An analysis of the truck-driver’s strike and diesel crisis in Brazil.

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

You can hear this article read by the author here:

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Cars

In high school, I failed an economics class. Now, 11 years later, I look back at that situation as symbolic of the capitalist indoctrination in the public school system.

The assignment was to develop a business plan. It was 2007, so most students came up with online businesses that could maximize profits by not having storefront rent draining money.

My idea was a bike sharing system integrated with the metro, where people paid a small fee monthly or yearly for unlimited access. The goal was to make cars obsolete, improve personal health and urban life standards (by minimizing all kinds of pollution, and death).

The class voted against the plan because it would definitely not be profitable. In fact, it might drain money with people breaking or stealing bikes. What I didn’t know at the time was that I wasn’t in an economics class, I was in a Capitalist economics class, because in “America” there was no other type.

Unlike everything else in high school, I actually got invested in this project. Public transport was awesome to me. Taking the bus alone made me feel free, in control, and in harmony with my surroundings. The metro pulsates through the city, and gives life to the urban organism. Adding public bikes to the mix would be next level awesomeness (I even made a cheesy youtube video).

Cars, on the other hand, are the embodiment of capitalism, and its sickening properties. Those that make us forget that we are a part of a community, of nature, and trick us into believing it’s possible (and desirable) to be at the driver’s seat of personal property, crushing everything on the way (the planet and everything on it). Even people’s temperament gets toxic in traffic.

Six years after receiving my memorable failing grade, my mom sent me a picture of herself on a Citi Bike (in New York) with the caption “Look, your idea”. Now these bike stations are in several major cities, I’ve just signed up to the one in the city where I live for 3 dollars a month.

A community owned not-for-profit initiative sounds pretty anti-capitalist, so how come are they all sporting Bank logos?

Because, as activists of React or Die have put it, we’ve become minimally content with symbolic gestures of generosity by Capitalists and the State; pacifying and trapping those with the slightest inclination for dissatisfaction with the system.

“We do not trade our pains as cheap merchandise from the colonial period, we do not bargain for crumbs.” –Winnie Mandela Tribute

There is a difference between smashing a capitalist state, and helping capitalist institutions improve. This here might be a third option. Neither revolution nor reform: revitalization. Or what urbanists call: make-up (in this case for tourists).

If we were to paint these Bank Bikes white (covering the logos) and keep them always unlocked, they would be outlawed and reduced to a teenage vandal art project (Provos).

I took this picture yesterday at the supermarket near my house in Salvador, Brazil.

Trucks

This week, the streets had the post-apocalyptic vibe you would expect from any tasteful Sci-fi pilot. The grim atmosphere of scarcity, and the controlled anxiety of people becoming aware that things have not yet turned into the Walking Dead- but might next week.

Lines for gas are growing around the few places that still have it, people praying at gas stations, some flights are not taking off, there are almost no fresh vegetables at supermarkets, the few street markets left are 7 times more expensive than usual, the T.V. is fuming with sensational stories about medicine not arriving at hospitals, people who “might” die and right-wing propaganda…

Indignation is widespread. While the left blames Temer’s failure at managing inflation and protecting people from Petrobras’ price fluctuation, the right blames the truck-drivers for not prioritizing the people who need food and medicine over their own “profits”. Of course the truck-drivers that get no wage readjustments based on the outrageous price spike are pissed, and so is anyone else who just wants to drive to work.

A place like Brazil, with such abundance of food and oil resources, not having enough for its own people reveals the catastrophic potential of the global Capitalist system. The middle class can’t imagine going to work by bus or bike, and had to be reminded of how supermarkets are stocked and the true power of workers.

These workers on strike are not representing any political party, no grand scheme coordinated by politicians on election year. This is a fairly mild wake up call, reminding us of how fragile the (in)balance of power is, and how our relationship with foreign markets is not in the best interest of the masses.

“A good pricing policy for fossil fuels should have two focuses. First, encourage biomass fuels and discourage fossil. Second, make a division between individual fuel and cargo fuel and public transportation, discouraging the former.” Caio Almendra

Unfortunately, individual fuel is still a priority in many people’s minds, and most of the the upper and middle classes have not learned to respect truck-drivers. Things will have to get a lot worse before we wake up to the reality of our daily exploitation and submission to foreign currency.

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Anti-development

“Development” is often reduced to road building. The higher the number and quality of roads, the more advanced and modern a place is; meaning, car and cash flows go hand in hand. This is not only an issue of class struggle and Capitalism, it’s about White Supremacy as well. We must not underestimate the affect this aspect of Capitalist development has on Indigenous and Quilombist communities.

Our Western lifestyle and backward politics make their way of life virtually impossible. Roads in particular play a major part in suffocating Indigenous and Quilombist land.

A leading figure of the Quilombo Quingoma told me she hates it when massive groups of motorcycles and random cars drive through their territory, and that paving roads is not good for their horses. Suburban “development” surrounding their land is directly connected to their lack of agency towards the preservation of the forest, and therefore the resources they need for autonomy.

Colonialism (and capitalism) have lead to the Western belief that being of the land is “less developed” than being on the land. The concept of ownership lead us to stop seeing ourselves as a part of our environment, to becoming people on or in property. That’s why the American dream is reduced to owning land of your own, and by doing that earning true freedom (meritocracy).

The tribal concept predates this capitalist concept, and it’s no surprise that after so many years of racism in the field of anthropology, that the term has had the derogatory connotation of underdevelopment.

The “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” shows well the ways in which the tone of anthropological research of tribal behavior is deeply problematic (Eurocentric). The Othering of Navies shows our inability to look at ourselves as ritualistic, and utterly nonsensical in our own behavior.

“While much of the [Nacirema] people’s time is devoted to economic pursuits, a large part of the fruits of these labors and a considerable portion of the day are spent in ritual activity.” -Horace Miner

The way we deal with our property is savage. The way we treat each other is horrific. Honestly, we have enough ways to kill, torture and enslave to make anthropophagy look honorable and humane. Still, somehow an incredible amount of people have the audacity to look at Natives as underdeveloped, just because their lives don’t revolve around screens, cars and money the way ours do.

If there is one thing we can do, in this seemingly helpless situation, is to unlearn what has been taught to us about order and progress, and learn what it really means to be a “developing” Nation.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

1527654533485_photois site editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


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5 Comments »

  1. In spite of more than a decade living in the US, I never learned to drive. It was a conscious decision and I have borne the social consequences of it, including (for many months and years) waiting for more than an hour at a bus stop for a 15 minute ride, walking by the side of the road and enduring stares as if I were doing something deeply offensive just by walking in my regular clothes. Curiously, being semi-naked and jogging in those same environments provokes no stares…as long as you’re skinny and upper-middle class looking, and preferably “white”.

    Being in a car feels like having constant armour against the environment. The outside landscape exists purely as a fleeting image, it cannot be touched or lived in. Lonely and solipsistic.

    I used to love travelling in many parts of the world, especially those considered “poor” or “backward” by the mainstream, partially because they were shredding to pieces whatever was left of my middle-class upbringing before the war which made me a stateless refugee. They were reminding me of how harsh life is outside the secure chatting bubble of educated classes, to which I belonged merely by status. But now I have completely minimized travel abroad because I cannot stand the underlying military-consumerist structure of airports, and I have seen how hopeless the cause of public transportation is in most places.

    Once I got the chance to return to Europe, economically (job) and politically (immigration papers), I seized it immediately.

    I recognize that having a car represents not just a necessity, but also a small amount of personal freedom for those who live in car-centric places and who often do not have a choice to renounce it. But for me, it has become a crucial marker of boundaries; I’d rather make half the salary (such as it is) and live in a place where I can walk or take the public transportation. My resolution has only become firmer as I have gotten older.

    I suppose you are correct about trucks and arrogance directed toward them. At the same time, from a perspective which firmly rejects cars (and I have earned this perspective through years of suffering), the difference between a regular car and a truck is minimal — in worst case, rather like the line between a smug bourgeois racist who knows how to sugarcoat his “opinions” and a working class racist who “tells it like it is”.

    Like

  2. Good article. I remember high school being boring obedience training as well. No fun.

    Thanks for the update on the truck driver strike. It can be fairly hard to get perspective these days on things like this that isn’t rightist opinion manufacture.

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    • Yeah, when I teach I’m always paranoid I’ll reproduce this.
      About the crisis, the left is calling for our biggest oil company to become 100% state owned again.
      They don’t want things like US sanctions of Iran to influece our food distribution.
      (Ps: my english is getting rusty! I’ve been spelling “anarchism” with a “qu” instead of “ch”)

      Like

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