Big trucks and judgement

Walking composition

“It has been my experience that I am always true from my point of view, but am often wrong from the point of view of my honest critics.” —Mahatma Gandhi

I can’t remember before seeing such a quantity of Very Large Trucks (and Also Jeeps) as I’ve seen over the past month in my area. They are . . . Very Large. I know this is a recent design change to make trucks look more intimidating (insert massive eye-rolls here), and I’ve been a bit angry, I guess, at seeing such large numbers of them on the road, wondering if they’re people who moved to Montana recently looking for a mythical place where “government” will leave them alone. It feels telling but also completely prejudicial of me that I am constantly noticing their license plates, almost all of which are Washington or California.

The article I linked to above has some telling quotes from car manufacturers about this new design shift:

“The specific design trend of the massive hood sticking way out in front of the driver, with a cliff-face front grille obstructing the view several feet out in front of the wheels, is entirely a marketing gimmick. The explicit point is to create an angry, aggressive face that will intimidate others, especially pedestrians. Don't take it from me, take it from the guy who designed the latest GM Sierra HD: ‘The front end was always the focal point . . . we spent a lot of time making sure that when you stand in front of this thing it looks like it's going to come get you. It's got that pissed-off feel.’”

Certainly working on me, and I have little doubt that it works for the people who choose to drive them for that reason. What we definitely need in this world are larger vehicles that make expressing superiority and killing or maiming people easier.

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Everything I wrote above is saturated with judgment, and there are far more words sitting at the end of my tongue that I either didn’t let out, or deleted. I struggle with judgment, like everyone else who’s trying to be more compassionate, empathetic, and generally just not an asshole. It’s one of the reasons I loved the book Eating Dirt so much—I kept waiting for Charlotte Gill to write just one line passing judgment on the timber companies, the Canadian colonial government, and the practice of clear-cutting that has caused so much damage. She never did, and she managed to not do it without avoiding the issue, somehow, magically, such a hard thing to do as a nonfiction writer. Her ability to write with honesty and clarity about dirt and forestry and the labor of tree-planting without explicit judgment of the forces that caused the damage kept throwing me back on myself.

Why did I want her to judge so badly? How did she manage to write of extraction and its harms in a way that felt like . . . I don’t know, like the eons-slow process of creating soil itself? Is the urge to judge and condemn, even when it’s justified, its own kind of strip-mining?

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Watching those trucks has got me thinking a lot about how it feels to be in a vehicle, which is something I pondered a great deal while writing my book. About how a car is not just an expression of identity, but an extension of our physical self. When other parents here complain about the length of the car line for dropping their kids off at school, there is no consciousness that when you’re taking yourself and/or your kids somewhere in a car, you’re not just taking your bodies and selves; you’re taking several thousand pounds of self that you deem necessary, or is necessary due to lack of transit and a walkable life, to your movement in the world. Those trucks and Jeeps are a clear manifestation of the hunger to take up more space, to declare that nobody can limit not just your chimeric-like freedom, but how you exist in this world, what you do, how much you consume, how much space you can spread your self into. Not just yourself. Your self. All its desires and angers, its needs and wants, its craving for judgment and control.

To keep that self contained barely within your own body, to subvert the need to surround it with more space, more power, more declaration of your existence and entitlements, is incredibly difficult.

I should stop saying “you.” It’s not like I don’t drive.

Is my desire to judge, my craving for righteous indignation and anger, little different than those big trucks? I can argue that it causes less harm, but that is not something I know for sure. Maybe they’re both just manifestations of a need for control.

I still think those designs should be illegal, not because they prompt anger and fear but because they truncate drivers’ sightlines (it’s hard to see past the high, straight hood, especially hard to see children) and are partly linked to an undeniable rise in pedestrian deaths over the past few years (see also: road design). So just, no. I can’t say no, we shouldn’t have this thing in this world while also refraining from judging it, can’t I? I can try.

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Some stuff to read, watch, listen to, or tinker with:

  • Somewhere I stumbled across this amazing interactive map that uses USGS data to allow you to follow a raindrop from anywhere in the continental United States to its eventual spill into an ocean. I have a longstanding obsession with waterways, creeks, rivers, hydrology, watersheds, and the general unseen role of water in our lives, and plan on leaving this up to play around with whenever I feel like wasting time stalking news or poking around Twitter.

  • Filmmaker Neil Halloran’s half-hour somewhat interactive (only on the website) documentary about uncertainty in climate change science is probably the first new thing I’ve seen about climate change in years. Small insights, but well-articulated ones.

  • Scott Santens was one of the first people I ever talked with about Universal Basic Income, back when I was still on Twitter a few years ago. He wrote a post for Humanity Forward that does a great job of explaining why unemployment insurance isn’t the reason that business owners and managers are having a hard time finding people to work for them: “The employees they want are doing unpaid work at home that they can’t or don’t want to stop doing. People aren’t lazy. They’re working outside the labor market. . . . Second, employers are finding that by raising their wages, they are in fact able to find willing employees. It’s like this one neat trick that just seems to work.” (Emphasis in original.)

  • Lucy Jones writing in The American Scholar about researching the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature for her book Losing Eden, and how her understanding of those benefits deepened during England’s Covid-19 lockdowns. I’m intrigued by what she says about access to nature and the biophilic city movement: “The biophilic city movement reimagines a human habitat that allows for nature and incorporates the nonhuman world into all its aspects, with walkable neighborhoods, bicycle-friendly towns, rewilded roundabouts, greened parking spaces, city forests, equal distribution of tree cover, car-free streets where children can play, meadows instead of lawns, and playgrounds and schools filled with greenery, trees, and flowers. . . . Can we balance a respect for nature, a humble reverence, an absence of arrogance, with a new kindness?”

  • I’ve had Greg Jackson’s essay in The Point queued up for ages to share here as I tried to get my own head around it. It’s kind of about how politics is colonizing our humanity, but also about other things that I’m having some trouble grasping. Somewhat about how art can mitigate the colonization effect, but he also mentions that he was surprised by how shallowly art has responded to the upheavals of the last several years (one example is that the bestselling books are mostly political, and that our daily activities involve “scouring social media for fresh political stimulation,” but I wonder if there’s a lot of other art he’s missing—as in, the art might be there but you have to look hard for it—plus what about the success of books like The Overstory?). Anyway, there’s a lot in there and I obviously have no hot takes or quick conclusions, which is probably all to the good. “It is not clear that politics is improved by our relentless fixation on it” is likely true in the context that he’s discussing, but it’s not improved by our ignorance, either.

  • My copy editing work the last couple weeks led me to the book The Cat Man of Aleppo, and the story of Mohammad Alla Aljaleel and the cat sanctuary he established in Aleppo during the ongoing Syrian civil war. If you want your heart filled and broken and brought back bigger for a couple of minutes.