How do you turn the tables when you’re overpowered? You lure your enemy into a trap. What I’m going to write about here is a simple trap you can help set that would ensnare our capitalist overlords—the ones enjoying the current imbalance of wealth—making them the ones who correct the imbalance. I’ll come around to bicycle transport. First though, a metaphor from the movies.
In the 1997 survivalist movie, The Edge, billionaire Charles Morse (played by Anthony Hopkins) and photographer Bob Green (played by Alec Baldwin) have survived a plane crash in Alaska but aren’t going to hike their way out without being killed by some godawful miserable bear. Baldwin’s character has resigned himself to the inevitability of death. The bear is just too determined. Not Hopkins though. He’s a billionaire. A billionaire! These are our modern day heroes. And Mr. Billionaire is going to show us all how it’s done!
How does Mr. Billionaire do it? He gets the bear to chase him at speed using himself as the bait. You can see the bear salivating at the thought of human for dinner as it runs after Hopkins, right onto the pointy end of Hopkins’s spear. Wow! How’d he do dat? Well, before luring the bear Hopkins (Charles / Mr. Billionaire) cunningly buried his spear pointing out of the ground. Then all he had to do was run right at his own spear and cower at its base waiting for the bear to jump on him. Stupid darned bear killed itself.
All the talk post GFC is about corporations having way too much power. Fight the power we keep being told. How though? If we strike, our jobs will be off-shored and the banks will take the keys to our houses. We would be like Hopkins and Baldwin squaring up to the bear.
Like all cunning plans mine would bring humiliation upon us, in the first instance. We’ll look like Ali on the ropes, or Cavendish appearing to struggle, or Anthony Hopkins running like a girl, afraid of a bear. We’ll be laughed at—and I often am—but that’s how it is with games of deception.
Know thy enemy. Capitalism always produces a surplus. Here’s a 4 minute clip where David Harvey explains how that surplus is typically spent:
As the man says, since 1945 the surplus capitalism produces has been spent building freestanding houses. The genius of it, is the resulting urbanism further enslaves the working classes. As though it’s not enough that people have mortgages as large as any farmer’s and all they got were quarter acre slithers of farmland, they spend as long as any farmer just driving to town. In fact they spend their whole lives stuck in traffic.
Suburbia disempoweres the masses. Militarily, when things really go sour, suburban dwellers can’t be insurgents. Look at these insurgencies I recently got a whiff of in Bogota. They happen in streets that can be blocked at each end, not freestanding houses that can be encircled.
Maybe insurgency is an extreme form of resistance. Maybe you just want to boycott the big corporations. Go ahead amigo. Don’t buy jeans made in sweat shops or crops that displaced some gorillas. If you want an education or job though, you’ll be buying their petrol and cars. You’ve got a mortgage for life that ensures you are trapped paying fuel bills and car registration.
Eighteen years ago when I bought a tiny terrace house in the city, I didn’t know I would be quitting my job in my forties. I fully expected to be working to pay for holidays and cars for the rest of my life, as I saw my parents do in the suburbs and did myself in my 20s. It didn’t occur to me that living in the city would soon lead me to be living car-free. I didn’t know either that living in the city would make day to day life more vibrant than a vacation. When vacations come around, my family and I prefer to stay home. Before I knew, my house was paid off and I was quitting my day job to follow my passion.
Don’t congratulate me for my vision or willpower. I’ve never had either. The only reason I moved here was for the nightlife. The good fortune that followed was purely due to environmental factors.
Our cities are filled with redevelopment sites where millions more houses like mine—small, dark and without any parking—could be built in two years. The CEOs of the banks though, worry that if they financed such houses (the ones that bring fortune) that nobody would buy them. They assume people want freestanding houses with off-street garaging, so that is what they continue to fund. I’m sure a few conspire to keep us enslaved. Most though would fund anything for the short term return. They don’t finance the housing that in the long term would free us, because we, the housing market, aren’t giving them signals we want it.
Just as you can influence the production of eggs by buying free range, you can influence urbanisation by choosing a small flat without any garaging. We can signal that we’re not interested in using trains either, by choosing small flats without parking that aren’t even close to train stations.
So all that is clear? Capitalism loves building cities. While ever you are part of the market for housing that comes with garaging, you are the source of the oppression. So contribute to the market for bike centric housing, that will lead to more people with the means to resist. Lure the banks onto the end of a spear.