Cars are not "addictive" in the strict sense; but cars are the only point of the capitalist lifestyle where survival instincts connect to immediate physical action and hence are some peoples' "heart-starters", their only means of attaining enough arousal and alertness to preserve life and health (more 1). Many older people from the first widely car habituated, World War 2, generation, suffer a rapid decline in their health and die shortly after losing their driving licence or car. Subsequent generations are even more dependent and get an urge to drive periodically or in response to anything disturbing, they find excuses to head for their cars even without a real destination and this interrupts discussions and makes non-drivers as disorientated as any other spectators on an addiction. So car use can function as if it were addictive.
Car culture also dominates driver's psyches; their use of car analogies to describe new stressful phenomenon or logical processes marks out driving as the peak stress, the most deeply impressed centre of psychic gravity round which all other activities are made revolve. Only in driving do drivers "get into gear" or "put the pedal to the metal", after driving they've "run out of gas" so with all problems that aren't analogous to driving they "put the brakes on" and enter denial. Driving physiologically absorbs their arousal; personal courage capable of changing the world is drained off in unnecessary, contrived and fetishistic death avoidance driving a few city roads, which they could have travelled more safely as transit passengers. This is convenient for the hegemony as it de-politicises people, cars become "the opiate of the masses"(note 1); when this courage was embodied in moral and intellectual debate democracy came into being as viable and functional, but even with more individual physical power car culture has helped weaken democracy. Meanwhile real objective dangers like ecological catastrophe build up but are blanked out in denial, not addressed or acknowledged. This also is like addiction, an addict's life problems, not addressed or acknowledged, usually just backlog until disaster.
A widespread car ban would bring problems like some that follow army disbandment after war (more 2) (appropriately called "demobilization"): ex-drivers would suffer depression oscillating with misdirected and disproportionate arousal. The solution lies in mental transformation and redirection of the energy; but this can take a long time because the aroused response to stress and danger stems from a physiological change in the brain, the amygdala; and once this is set the person becomes less experimental and more closed minded and fixed in their ways, new learning is more blocked and new challenges often bring inappropriate reactions and overreaction. People used to taking their necessary stress from the focus and hazard of driving will need to learn to respond, appropriately, to real but more attenuated, non manufactured, stressors. Health wont change, we'll need sources of arousal; but nor will the universe change, no majic technology will make current consumption sustainable over centuries; so car culture is unsustainable and arousal is not only needed in a patronizing "therapy" way; humanity faces real dangers which will only be solvable if people can move their minds to adapt to ecological reality, the first few to manifest will probably be petrol (causing transport and economic) crises, water (causing food) crises, and heatwaves (causing energy/wildfire) crises; the resources devoted to the car, including personal time and attention, are really needed elsewhere.
Car normalized Western society uses a psychiatric/propaganda approach to problems whose real solutions impact on consumerist ideology and economic dogma, chemically suppressing excitation with one hand and proffering moronic mass media distractions to suppress disturbing facts with the other. This methodology yields a tranquillized culture of alienation and wasted potential for the individual and delusional sleepwalking into suicide collectively. The key to restoring a viable future is to directly connect the instinctive agitated response to danger with solving the problem instead of sidetracking it into contrived adrenaline fix of driving; the real problems in the world do cause stress and arousal and stimulate action; but people need to learn to include them in their framework of reality and engage in solving them. We are all doomed to be hostages to one another's decisions, particularly ecologically, so the proper place for this arousal to go is politics. But representative/ corporate politics only yields position-holders and alienates everyone else; if we can secure some direct democracy, where people vote on laws and policies; not representatives; and policy debate rather than position grubbing rules the day; then many people's arousal can have positive outlet. The antipolitical nature of capitalist corporations, their power as employers to determine what their employees do, and their preference for only having a few people making the laws, so they can concentrate their wealth on manipulating, corrupting, lobbying and bullying just these few, is the greatest obstacle to this kind of rehabilitation.
A ban advocate encounters a Catch 22, needing to politicise people for the ban to happen and needing the ban to happen to effect politicizations; the only resolution of the impasse is to continue militating until one or other eventuates. A car ban will bring changes most do not expect and some will handle it well, some will need sustained support, some will require deliberate mental training, some will keel over and die. Some will enter reaction to bring back "Our God Given Four Car Family Way Of Life" by aggression against any who would say otherwise. The universe will carry on indifferent and still won't yield enough space or oil for more cars, making it difficult even if one was a willing appeaser of impossible reactionary demands, so those making these demands will need be handled in the time honoured fashion, argued with, hit back when violent, and if they take to arms fought for as long as is necessary for their movement to be eliminated.
Written 2008-06-24 Plympton SA Copyright Justin Moore
Revised 2009-07-01 JM