Monday, February 18, 2008

Two/Ideology and the Right Brain (conclusion)

If we shift thinking from left brain to right brain, and from wrong to right, then ideology can shatter as thoroughly as the countless cities devastated by the automobile and the planet being destroyed by its fuel. The process of making this shift is extraordinarily simple—and excruciatingly painful. When an idea that has functioned as a Truth gets physically forced over to the creative right brain from its entrenched position in the linear and orderly left brain, there's a definite throbbing pain in the hole that's left behind.

For example, you might think by now that I hate cars. But if you do, you're wrong. I love 'em, and always have, since I was a ten-year old kid walking or riding my bike to the local library each week to read the latest issues of Hot Rod and Car Craft and Popular Mechanics. Then came a driver's license, a Mustang, Charger, Duster, and Challenger, engine and transmission swaps, body and suspension customizing, and street racing. And once that stuff gets into your blood, you can't get it out. Pictures of cars cover a wall in my garage. 1:18 and 1:64 scale models of all the classic Ford and Chrysler muscle cars are everywhere in my house and office at work. When I was 17, I let a blue Plymouth Roadrunner 383 slip out of my hands, and for the next 32 years, I vowed to replace it one day. There wasn't a week, over those three decades, that I didn't think about my lost love at least once.

The day to replace it has finally come.

And I will not be getting the car.

This is an ideological shift that physically hurts, because my heart is broken, and I've been in mourning for half a year. I deserve this car, my left brain screams. I've worked hard for it. I've been patient, and I've let all of the more important aspects of a responsible adult life come first—children, jobs, mortgages, insurance, retirement fund, maturity, boredom. Hundreds of thousands of other guys have classic cruisers in their garages, so why shouldn't I have what they have?

I'll tell you why: because when I look at the two cars in my driveway now, one built in 2001 and the other in 2007, I see two wretched machines representing unforgivably antiquated old tech. The best of the two gets a respectable 37 miles per gallon, but it's still the same basic contraption that my great-great grandfather used to get himself around town more than a century ago. His didn't have as many options, but it still had a big, heavy chunk of iron under its hood where gasoline exploded and made parts go up and down and around.

I don't play my music on 78s, I don't keep my food cold with a huge block of ice, I don't wash my clothes with lye on a ribbed board—but I transport myself from one place to another in a piece of centenarian technology that has long outlived its usefulness.

This has probably been the most challenging ideological shift I'll ever make. The positive idea of the automobile as an eternal, unquestioned Truth was finally wrenched out of its stuck position in July 2007 when I lived in Chicago and walked everywhere for 30 days. Everywhere. Always. No machine of any kind took me anywhere; my feet did it all. The new experience felt wonderful—and the two cars in my garage back home felt, with each day of walking, like oppression. They represented the fact that, beyond this wonderful self-contained city, I had no choice but to drive. The resentment grew steadily, and by the time I boarded the train to come home, the Truth about cars was not only dislodged, but radically transformed. I still love them—as I said, if you've ever been a gearhead you can't get it out of your blood—but I also recognize them as weapons for committing slow and agonizing suicide.

With that shift out of the way, all others seem featherweight in comparison. But what must it be like for someone like Bill Ford, Jr., whose quote heads this blog (and appears at the right)—someone who's not even aware that the first half of his statement is completely cancelled out by the second half? "Cars and trucks have begun to be seen by some as a social liability, primarily because of the impact on the environment," he says. And then look carefully at what follows. Mr. Ford does not say, "I want to address those concerns." What he says is very different: "I want to talk about what we have to do to address those concerns." The focus isn't on the concerns—the liability of environmental impact. And it's not on tackling the issue of a car's environmental footprint. The focus is on the best plan of action to set the people's minds at ease, so that they will love cars again, and buy them. He's thinking like a company chairman. He's stuck.

He's not alone by any means, though. After Oren Lyons, an Onondaga Iroquois faithkeeper, represented American Indians at the December 1992 United Nations opening ceremony for The Year of Indigenous Peoples, he made a lot of contacts in the business community and was asked to speak to many of them, including the 1993 gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In an interview, Lyons recalls that things began to sour after he asked one CEO where he drew the line between his public role as a corporate leader and his private role as a grandfather to an eight-year old child—i.e. where the former's business decisions were offset by the latter's concern for his grandson's future—and the CEO couldn't answer because, like Bill Ford, he was stuck. Maybe to break the uncomfortable silence, another CEO asked if Lyons could make an "Indian prophecy":

I said, I sure can. I said, how about a guaranteed prophecy? Every hear of a guaranteed prophecy? And they said, no. Want to hear one? And they said, sure. I said, you guys are going to meet next year and nothing will have changed. I guarantee it. 26

Oren Lyons

The faithkeeper recognized the importance of ideological shifting, and he saw that, for this group of people in this particular year, none was going to occur. Lyons is a proponent of Seventh Generation philosophy, wherein actions and decisions taken today have to be considered in terms of how they will affect the generation of people seven generations into the future. The principle behind that philosophy was illustrated, in allegorical terms, by Garrett Hardin in a breakthrough 1968 article published in Science, and the title of that article, "The Tragedy of the Commons," is now the name of the social and environmental dynamic that it illustrates.

In Hardin's allegory, ten cattlemen share a common pasture where each man's cow grazes. One of the men, wanting to boost his profits, considers the benefits and costs of putting another cow out to graze with the first one. The positive aspect is that he'll have another cow to sell; the negative is that the cow will use up more grazing space, but that cost will be spread across ten people. Increasing the number of cows costs the man only one-tenth of a full share of the resource, offset by one full share of profit, so it's clearly worthwhile. Each of the other cattlemen, by the same rationale, adds a cow of his own. And soon the pasture is gone since the men have effectively doubled the number of cows consuming it. 27 Dr. Carl Safina of the Blue Ocean Institute at SUNY Stony Brook has movingly invoked the Tragedy of the Commons—and although not by name, the philosophy of Seventh Generation—while addressing the issue not of overgrazing, but of overfishing. In a panel discussion on National Public Radio, Safina, like Oren Lyons, recognized the imperative to shift ideological patterns:

Since we don't have to pay the costs of these things in our time, some people feel that it's just better to go and get what you can get while you can get it.... It's a question of short-term thinking versus long-term thinking. But there are a lot of people who should be in the political debate who are not in [it], and those are all of the unborn people who are about to come in the next generation and all the other generations.... They'd have something very different to say than the people who say "Well, for right now, I don't have to worry about these things that are going to happen in 50 years." ...The Tragedy of the Commons happens not only in space, it happens in time. We're putting more than our share into the future, and we're inflicting that cost on people who have nothing to say about it. It's a deep moral transgression, and it becomes an ethical issue and a religious issue that is based on what the science tells us will be happening. 28

That is what Bill Ford, Jr. should have said. That is right-brain thinking, and a breathtaking example of Right Thought. And no elementary school history teachers have any right to tell kids about "taxation without representation" unless they're also ready to join this ideological revolution.


26 Tim Knauss, "Onandaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons Speaks Out On the Environment." Syracuse Post Standard, Feb. 8, 2008.

27 Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons." Science 162 (1968).

28 "State of the Oceans." NPR Science Friday, February 15, 2008.

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