Excerpted from Autokind vs. Mankind
by Kenneth R. Schneider, 1972
Ecocity pioneer Ken Schneider contemplates the world of cars in the early days of their takeover.
Man has always had his tragedies. Today he has the automobile, a tragedy of love.
Of course, the automobile is different. A plague, a famine, or an old-fashioned war was always disapproved, at least in public.
But the car? Well, this is a tragedy man invented and builds. Unblushingly he founded a mechanical harem of immense numbers. He tries to love and support them all. He claims he can’t do without any of them.
Love and necessity! What steps toward disaster could be more irresistible?
As always, love and necessity are connected. Man first took his love into his urban habitat. Then he rooted about to make the habitat commodious for her. In time the human environment is shaken apart for her. She demands pavement voraciously. She commands entrance to man’s most exclusive courts and plazas, parks and promenades. She takes her private space in homes and office buildings, as well as in those edifices her special make-up requires for her very own.
The amazons of the harem eagerly help remake the whole city to suit her own special scale and behavior. The result is an uprooting of man’s civic and social heritage. He is soon rudely disenchanted about his harem. But it is too late. Automobiles are in control. They are now a necessity.
Without doubt the automobile is a marvelous thing. It could not have succeeded otherwise. But whenever we find anything so attractive to man as the automobile, we must always beware of tyranny. Autos are a serious affliction, one of those peculiar to modern man’s touch of Midas: television, nuclear fission, rich foods, California. The wealth and power behind these tyrannies of progress grow.
The social malignancy underlying automobility, tyrannus mobilitis, draws men into inescapable dependence. Dependence arises from a vicious circle in which the charm of the car and the remaking of the environment reinforce each other. Automobility gradually permeates the daily behavior of people, the purpose of institutions, and the structure of the cities and countryside. This tyranny has been promoted under the cunning popular myth of expanding freedom and affluence.
The current reality of auto tyranny is cultural power, social blackmail, physical deprivation, injury, and death. We must not mistake the brutal grip. The automobile is defended by a tradition of three generations, by a popular belief which finds expression in prayers for parking and by a disciplined establishment spanning the highest and lowest levels of industry, government, and science. When the automobile is challenged, Detroit and its allies brandish the specter of economic decline as an open threat to our whole society.
And automobilism still grows amidst us. The city is becoming ever more deranged by freeway divisions and parking wastelands. The auto’s claims on iron and petroleum resources are accelerating. What’s more, the tyrannous forces brag about it and claim that more and more resources are required. They are able to construe the acceleration of consumptiveness and systematic waste as ideals.
There can be only one meaning: a new will of immense power and wily ego steadily saps the very sovereignty of Mankind. History and language present neither examples for comparison nor terms to describe such a phenomenon. Tyranny it is. But more, it is a new social purpose defined by the new sovereignty. The sovereignty is the possession of what we will call Autokind.
The lines of the coming conflict, therefore, are clearly set: Autokind vs. Mankind. The goal for man in the struggle is simple: to recapture his sovereignty. Understandably the struggle between man and motor will be revolutionary, for the aggressive tyranny now enjoys a Quisling’s support from the conservative tradition of Mankind itself.
Imagine clean air, fifty thousand fewer dead, and the end of congestion. Imagine the city renewed man-size. Imagine converting the tense journey to work into a stroll, possible with a brief, comfortable, and direct ride by aerial tramway.
The city design for man will assure the diverse and intense interests of urbanity: the many shops, plazas, and places for easy congregation; the large open areas of serene urban beauty, all within minutes of every door. But today both urbanity and openness are lost experience in the vast Lakewoods and Levittowns. The automobile disperses and isolates the homes and places of interest that together constitute urbanity, while it simultaneously divides and therefore destroys natural openness.
In liberating the city from the car we will make the city efficient, ironically, just as Henry Ford made his auto factory efficient with the assembly line. But our efficiency will be organized for people – their behavior, their bodies, their senses, their associations, and even their casual inclinations. It will accelerate the incestuous cycle of runaway production and compulsive consumption. The environment will be made free for new, not wild machines.
For our rebellion to succeed a revolutionary leadership is required to purge the motor myths, rebuild the human ideals and social goals, formulate the grand strategy, recruit and organize the cadres, and lead the uprising. And through the struggle and victory we will discover new wellsprings of the human spirit, as we have in other struggles against tyranny.
Before man can be freed from servitude, the machines must be totally subordinated. Ideally they should be as obedient, silent, and unobtrusive as the city’s sewer system. For the first time in the modern era it will be possible for society to be organized, of, by, and (without question) for people. Yet to exercise their renewed franchise the people require considerable rehabilitation. Their will has been reduced to buying habits and route planning.
The tasks for this volume are to describe how the human defeat took place, analyze the nature of the auto tyranny, report how autokind continues to advance against us, prepare the general strategy for reconquest, and, lastly, to plan for the new free society.
Article excerpted from the introduction to Autokind vs. Mankind, An Analysis of Tyranny, A Proposal for Rebellion, A plan for Reconstruction by Kenneth R. Schneider, Shocken Books, New York, 1972