Slaves of the Combustion Engine

As someone recently and happily freed from the need to drive very often, I can relate to this new piece at New English Review, in which Dalrymple recounts a recent experience of being stuck in traffic:

How soul-destroying are the seemingly endless stops and starts and false hopes aroused by the sudden acceleration to 17 miles an hour (which feels like supersonic speed after half an hour of walking speed), hopes only to be dashed after a few seconds by the grind to an absolute halt, progress in total having been made of a length that in the mud of Flanders during the First World War would have cost 800,000 lives to make.

Imagining an eternal traffic jam, his thoughts soon turn to the dystopian works of J.G. Ballard and Ballard’s analysis of human behavior under crisis:

This argument, or rather trope, is one whose force I understand and yet which irritates me. Why is character revealed more fully by disaster or catastrophe than by the continuance of ordinary, everyday life, say, or good fortune? Why is any behaviour not ‘real’ if we would not continue it under all possible circumstances or conditions whatever? A man may be brilliantly effective in a crisis but perfectly useless in conditions of routine: but routine is just as real as crisis, indeed crisis could not exist unless routine prevailed most of the time.

Read the entire piece here

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