Archive for November, 2009

A Rant on Dubious Freedom (Buddhism and Bicycles)

November 13, 2009

My biggest personal insights on freedom occurred around 2003 when Bush was going on and on how we had to shed blood for our “freedom”.

At that time, I was reading books on Buddhism. One of the biggest lessons I got was how our defilements take away our freedom. Buddha was a man who sought to liberate himself. However, instead of taking up arms against an external oppressor, he sat and examined what things were making him unfree. This is kind of interesting if you understand his background. He was a wealthy prince who had three palaces. Basically, he could do whatever he wanted. Yet he still felt unfree.

At the time, I was struggling to make ends meet. Worse was the huge student debt I had. I felt trapped by my circumstances, and I felt that if I only made enough money that would be the way out. All I wanted was enough money so I could have enough free time to write and to not worry about making ends meet.

Now here’s someone from 2600 years ago telling me that even if I had as much money as Gates, I’d still be unfree.

In a sense, that sucked. In another sense, that all ready made me feel more free. Like the Buddha, I began to question what it really meant to be free. I had all ready known that having a big house and an SUV wouldn’t make me free.

Also, free time wasn’t looking like the big benefit that I thought it was.
I had all ready spent over a year working part time only, student loan payments be damned, and I still wasn’t completely happy. I was spending more time cyberslacking as well as trying to put together enough part time jobs to keep myself in rent, food, and beer. I had no discipline, and I vacillated from one extreme of wanting to work long hours and make a lot of money to wishing I could work not at all.

In meditation, I found, in very short intervals, freedom from the oppressive thoughts of my own mind. I didn’t have to worry about my junky PC getting repossessed, nor getting tossed into a gulag, nor living to be 40 and feeling that I had wasted my life. I could just spend some time at peace.

This feeling made me really sit up and take notice when Buddha spoke of freedom. According to Buddha, one was under the influence of three poisons: hate, greed, and delusion. Only when free of these poisons was one really free. I saw the wealthy politicians constantly losing their anger (hate). No matter how rich they were, they were always struggling to secure more contributions (greed), and nothing they said really made any logical sense (delusion). If even the president was not free, how could I ever hope to gain freedom?

Then I read that my mind was all ready pure, clean, and radiant beneath the mental poisons. That really gave me hope.

I thought I had a really profound thought. However, having had trouble articulating even my most pedestrian ideas to others, I really didn’t talk about this notion of freedom too much. It would only lead to BS arguments except, of course when speaking with my wife or my good friends (you know who you are).

I really thought I had an original idea: “Americans talk so much of freedom, but while they continue to let the media poison their minds, they are just making themselves less free.”

It turns out I wasn’t so original.

In a back alley, I found a stack of books called Book of the Year from Britannica. Of course, I took home, 1973, my birth year which to me is the nexus of all things cool. It turns out that in this book, they speak of the same notion: “…most of us wanted freedom to do anything our hearts desired…this notion of freedom is only a childish desire to violate the laws of cause and effect, and you pay a heavy price for this delusional freedom.”

Seeing the economy collapse beneath consumer and housing debt, isn’t that what’s happening right now?

It goes on, “…we think we have freedom in everything we do, but our behavior is shaped by influences that our cultural traditions hide from us.”

This ties in with another book, I am reading, Autophobia. It’s a great book because it tries to take a balanced view in the automobile debate. This is huge for me because I am trying to find my way as a cycling advocate. I am finding that in many ways cycling is seen as a threat even though where I live only one in two hundred people regularly cycle.

Cyclists are blamed for traffic jams, car accidents, and all sorts of ills, probably swine flu.

Cyclist advocates are accused of trying to take away people’s freedom that the car offers. For years, I had been trying to be neutral in the car debate. I reasoned that cars and bicycles can co-exist. I do still believe this. However, to focus on the feelings of automobile drivers puts cycling advocates at an extreme disadvantage. It severely limits what an advocate can do.

It’s also an absurd situation to put cycling advocates in as it’s a double standard. No negotiator has to factor in their competition. Good negotiators figure out what they want then they ask for me with the intention of backing off from there so they still get what they want. Cycling advocates are too afraid to even ask for what we have been promised by law because we don’t want to offend anyone. We are weak, and we wonder why we never get anywhere.

We are too afraid of what other people think of us. For example, in latest news, McCain called cycling and pedestrian advocates elites. Of course nobody in the media mentioned the obvious. Here’s a guy who, on one hand, is advocating a fight for “freedom”. On the other hand, he’s taking away choices (biking and walking) and basically mandating in terms on infrastructure that we have to drive. Taking away choices is the opposite of freedom.

A strong cycling advocate would mention this. A weak advocate would try to prove why we are not snobs perhaps by showing how bicycles take cars off the road and make things better for motorists. A good negotiator doesn’t really care what McCain thinks. They would take steps to eliminate McCain by campaigning to get his ass out of office.

I have heard cyclists who don’t like critical mass because it might turn people against us. People all ready are against us. These people are selfish and they have bought into the billion dollar auto industry delusion that a car means freedom and that “roads are for cars, only.” This is seen as fact, but it’s just a belief and a recent one at that.

Because most of us were born with legs and none of us with wheels, we are all pedestrians at one time or another. Therefore, idea of roads is delusional.

Worse, people are so threatened by bicycles, it’s not even funny. Even some so called liberal environmentalists go ballistic when you mention critical mass. “It should be banned,” said a friend of mine. That’s right, we must save the earth, but do it in a way that makes driving as much as we want feasible.

Note most of the 0.6% bicycle commuters own and operate automobiles. So it’s not even like a small elite of cyclists taking on drivers. Many cyclists swing both ways. If that’s not weak enough, figure that while cyclists are accused of being “elites dictating how people live,” note that the US government supports driving directly. Not only by building highways and destroying any other way of getting to places, but by actively helping auto lobbiests using taxpayers money. How does this work?

I got a CA license recently and shortly afterwards guess what I got? A letter from the AAA asking me for a membership. Why would an organization that I despise contact me without my permission. Where could they have possibly gotten this information. That’s right, my private information was given away by the government to an organization who’s job was to lobby the government. It’s one big happy circle.

Imagine if the local cycling club wanted the government to divulge the names and addresses of all the new motorists so they could solicit them for donations. People would go ballistic. This is an outrage. Communism. Unfairly using the government to dictate how people act. And so on.

But automobile advocates all ready do this. How many bike lanes should we have according to the AAA. None. They are against any bill that allows for any alternative to driving. They feel this way because they are interested increased “mobility.”

What does “mobility” mean? For me, it means making things further apart so we need to drive more. Why do this? Because there are many groups that get money the more that people drive: the oil industry, the automobile industry, the insurance industry, healthcare (obesity and accidents), and the asphalt industry (see Autophobia for details).

I wonder who’s interests AAA really supports. If they supported the common person, they’d advocate for more “accessibility” that is things being easy to get to instead of their empty and pointless “mobility”. People want to get places and do things. To drive for driving’s sake is a big waste of money. In fact, if it were seen as a tax most people would be against it. Imagine all the money you’d save if you didn’t have a car. That money is in your pocket. You could retire quicker, work less, and worry less. You’d have more time with your family. If you walked places, you’d get fresh air, excercise, and a chance to meet people. This is how I live, and it’s great.

Instead, the auto industry spends vast sums of money getting the government to limit our choices under the banner of empty “mobility”. And they see cyclists as “elites dictating how we live.” Give me a break.

If you think of things this way, you will see how vastly unfair this advocacy is. There’s not a single politician in California who really gets behind bicycles. Even so called environmentalists go for the dead end solutions such as electric cars and monorails. The media is totally against us in every way. Not only do they slant everything towards auto drivers, but they demonize us by printing nonsense like what McCain blathers without even putting in the other point of view.

With everything stacked against me, why do I cling to the piece of metal between my legs?

Because it makes me happy. I’m serious. If you don’t believe me, stand on a street corner of a busy street. Is it pleasant to be there? No. Look at the faces of the drivers. They will be distracted and look a bit annoyed or bored.

Look at me when I cycle. I usually have a smile on my face even when people are trying to drive me off the road. Why am I happy? Because I made a choice. Most people drive because they think that they have to. I actually thought things through and cycle because I want to.

Do I want auto drivers to be unhappy. No. That’s why I am a cycle advocate. I want to share the joy I have with others. I practice sending goodwill to drivers each time I bicycle. At this point, it’s a habit to wish well to drivers.

Think about all the money people spend on their cars, and the amount of money the government spends catering to their every whim such as the huge boondoggle that the highway system is. Yet people’s commute times are roughly the same as they were 100 years ago, and people don’t seem any happier. Truly an example of running to stay in place.

Yet, mention any downside to driving and people get hostile and angry. Then they blame cycling advocates for being hostile and angry. Sounds like projection.

May all drivers be happy and without hostility. May they see me so they don’t run me down. 🙂