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The Despotism of Speed

The Despotism of Speed

This was published in the early 90s by someone in or around the Encyclopaedie des Nuisances, at the time of the vast extension of the TGV (fast-speed railway) into all parts of France.

Translated from the French.

PROVISIONAL SUMMARY OF OUR GRIEVANCES AGAINST THE DESPOTISM OF SPEED

On the occasion of the extension of the T.G.V. fast-speed railway track.

“The entire railway network is destined for people who are always in a hurry. Anyone who could avoid travelling like this would do so one way or another. They would take their time to travel at their leisure amongst the hills and vales and not through tunnels and cuttings. And anyone who in spite of everything would prefer this kind of journey such a person could not possess a developed sense of beauty sufficient afterwards for us to express our opinion on railway stations. In this perspective the railway is a business lacking all interest which we should get rid of as quickly as possible. It changes man from a traveller into a living package”.
- JOHN RUSKIN

The countryside in the 19th Century had been turned upside down by the first wave of industrialisation and in particular by the generalised construction of the railways. This new means of transport was criticised by a leisured fraction of the dominant class who through its tastes and sensibilities was attached to the bygone pleasures of the journey which the train was going to abolish. On the other hand it did permit a real development of the freedom of movement with all its happy consequences on social life.

A number of perceptive arguments utilised formerly against the first trains could be used still more tellingly today against the T.G.V. All the more so since its construction does not this time bring with it any compensation. On the contrary it contributes to a new zoning of entire regions, to the desertification of what remains of the country and to the impoverishing of social life. And it is not now in the working dominant class, whose feet never touch the ground elbowing each other out of the way on the economic treadmill, that the risk arises of judging this lot from personal tastes - not to mention proposing an historical truth of some kind. Necessarily, it is at the other pole of society that individuals having no careerist axe to grind of any sort, not even in so far as being “opposition experts” or official protesters, have taken on the task of proclaiming all the proper reasons, as much subjective as objective, for opposing this new acceleration of unreason. The alliance they have formed in order to publish this text will without a doubt have other occasions on which to make themselves known and extend in.

THE BEST OF POSSIBLE WORLDS

The modern world isn`t anything if not happy (viz. its abundant pharmaceutical array). It can, in the name of “consensus”, chalk up an undeniable success: up till now it seems to have succeeded in reconciling the scarcely ruffled authorities that dictate what life must be and the poor who have lost all idea of what it could be, into a kind of harmony. It goes from food processing manufacturers or the manufacturers of adulterated culture to consumers placed in the position of being unable to enjoy anything else, from developers who in their destruction of towns and the countryside stop at nothing, to inhabitants who are not attached to where they live other than by their enslavement to some kind of job; from technocrats who view the existence of countries and landscape only as something to be crossed with ever increasing speed; to transport users who are ever more compelled to leave towns that have become unliveable and escape the throng by throwing themselves en masse into rail terminals, airports and onto motorways. In short, all is for the best in the “best of possible worlds”, at least whilst the modern world is perceived as the only possible one, as incontestable as its entire technical progress. In other words as long as no one raises any of the elementary questions about the use of life. Why should travel time have to be constantly reduced at any price whilst it is precisely this transformation of the journey into pure transit that makes it seem that much longer, similar in truth to forced labour? As a distraction from such boredom it has got to the point of introducing T.V.s on the TGV – as it will shortly be into cars where the French spend at least three hours a day. The de-realised manacling of the journey shall be perfectly secured when TV, in the form of tourist clips for us to contemplate, shows the charms of the regions passed through.

Local opposition, which appeared in the Southeast against the proposed TGV line, certainly did not aspire to putting the world to rights once more. Other forces are certainly called for, but it is precisely such occasions which can allow them to unite. As a matter of fact, these types of opposition - by virtue of their pure existence - have the merit of bringing together individuals determined not to let past aspects of their life be cast aside which technical progress cannot offer them. They are more numerous than they would have us believe. Consequently, it destabilises the false truth of such a peculiar “general good” made up of particular wrongs done to so many people. To break it down first at this point then at other points - to overturn things by half - will not do. If someone agrees with the “reasons” for the TGV as a potential user, he will not be in the best position to refuse them as a beleaguered resident. On the contrary, it must be recognised that the acceptance of all the other well known “necessities of modern life” deprives oneself of all the good reasons, as a person, for being opposed to the TGV – at all events of reasons which could interest those who do not live in the vicinity of the projected railway line.

It used to be said in the 18th Century “if you don`t know how to be free at least know how to be happy”.It must be affirmed quite clearly by way of reply “if we do not wish to learn how to be unhappy know how to be free”. The first freedom to take consists, for us, in judging and denouncing everything that disguises a constraint as its opposite and pretends to make it loveable.

TO STAY SILENT IS TO CONSENT

It is claimed sometimes that a crime committed in common founds a society. What is certain is that all “honourable society” – every Mafia – imposes its law of silence by implicating in its affairs the maximum number of people. The Mafiosi of progress do not do things any differently - seeking in some way to implicate us in maintaining their hold on us through a slight advantage, which makes us their accomplices. Following the model of a recent Electricity Board ad, according to which we all should have an interest in nuclear power-stations because it enables us to prepare a dish of gratin dauphinois [/i]or listen to the music of Bach, what counts is our reduction to silence in the name of cui prod est (“who profits from the crime?”). Clearly we profit from crime; as we are unable to prevent it the only thing to do is to remain silent.

All the propaganda in favour of the TGV can be reduced to two sophisms (or rather to a single readily reversible one): what is damaging to everyone nevertheless profits each personally and from the general bad comes the particular good - the countryside is devastated, villages and wayside towns become impossible to live in or disappear and assets like silence and beauty, which belonged to no-one, are taken from us and we then appreciate how they were held in common. Yet separately, everyone draws a petty profit from progress, interested as we are in criss-crossing France two or three times a year in a few hours. At a stroke you are there and then hooked, forbidden to hold an opinion on this, as much as on wage labour as the commodity, which each passing day tells us we can't get rid of. Still opposing itself to the truth this sophism can be reversed. It then becomes: what harms some nevertheless profits everyone and from this particular evil there springs a general good. This latter version is used everytime that somewhere real specific individuals - not “transport users” in general, the chimera of SNCF statistics – are opposed to the diktats of developers. In a society so unanimously devoted to the universal interests of humanity - what an unparalleled unforgivable egotism!

What’s behind these wretched lies is the supposed interest of the transport user in ever increasing speed. But who today, prior to the needs of the TGV being imposed on everyone, is really interested in increased speed if not precisely those who, with all their baggage, are going to further the process of devastation? The TGV is competing with the plane over this clientèle. And all because of this packaged standardised human freight, these “turbo cadres” (as they call themselves), the majority of towns in France are treated like Parisian suburbs.

Only those who command a sufficiently high price for the sale of their own time on the labour market have a stake in buying the saving in time proffered by the TGV. But the major difference with the former social hierarchy, even if it is still an incarnation of the old class society, is that from now on these privileges of mobility, imposed rather than allowed, are hardly to be envied by anyone who has not lost all sensibility. No speed of movement shall ever recapture the flight of the time of money, sold for work or ransomed for leisure. One more reason to vilify such “advantages” which are a misfortune to some only so that others can succeed to a pale semblance of happiness!

[i] MOBILIS IN MOBILI

If mobility still preserves a little of its former prestige it cannot however any longer permit anyone to escape mobilisation by the modern economy. What freedom of movement had promised has in fact been destroyed, at the same time as the possibility of using it. Tied down to wage labour, to the search for a living and to leisures identically organised, individuals have, in this economic race, collectively lost their reasons for moving on as for staying put.

Freedom of movement has been one of the surest reasons for overthrowing despotisms but in the last analysis it has been commodities which have conquered it, whilst it is people, degraded to the level of commodities, who pay, who are conveyed from one place of exploitation to another. At the end of this process the promise of liberation contained in the fact of no longer being obliged to spend ones life in one spot only, has been reversed into the unhappy certainty of no longer being at home anywhere and of always having to look elsewhere if you find yourself there. The TGV corresponds to this last stage: there is however a certain logic to travelling as fast as possible across a space where more or less everything disappears, that merits pausing awhile. In that way we shall always be able to go and consume its reconstitution in parody form in Eurodisney opportunely placed at a “junction” on the network.

People have always sought to break free from the subjugation in which power has held them when setting a boundary to space. Former communities had already been eroded to the degree people preferred the temptation of making a life for oneself to the stifling regulated forms of life. Economic development leading to the questioning by new generations of achievements, technical innovation and a much greater social mobility had long been able to lay hold of this desire to invent ones own life and create ones own values. Once the obstacles constituting various historical vestiges were got rid of, the ever growing speed of the movement of the Economy only showed that, in the self destruction of society, it led to nothing other than a stationary gyration. Inevitably the desire to no longer seek the new elsewhere but in some way the old, grew massively – i.e. what had been destroyed in our locality right before our eyes. And it is not by chance if the word “escape” describing the flight of the slaves, prisoners on the run or the voluntary exile of East European refugees, serves today to specify in the same way the “civilised” rush in the south easterly direction away from the cities and the exhausting rhythm of wage labour.

Though in the end it is possible to vary individual journeys, from repetitive movements to furtive escapes, the destinations of this society to which all journeys lead are, across the entire span, identical, and everyone has to submit right there and then. Speed then, is only an additional necessity, an imbecilic illusion.

LOSING TIME TO GAIN IT

All promoters of the means of transportation consider, as some kind of incontestable evidence, the fact that “speed shortens time” never failing to recall it for each new project. In accordance with the laws of physics common sense acknowledges this fact. But practise seems,rather, to undermine it because time lost for or by transport increases with speed. For physical science speed is a function of time and distance. But,unhappily for technocrats – who hardly ever appear to go further in their calculations – we do not live in the conceptual world of the physical sciences. The more the instantaneous speed of a vehicle is increased the greater is the resistance from the physical environment (resistance from the air, surface friction), the natural environment (physical terrain) and from the human milieu (locals reacting to all the nuisances to come) the greater are the means necessary to overcome unwanted resistances in order to annihilate them and the more work is needed to produce these means and deploy them. All in all the actual speed of passengers (the relation between the distance travelled and the time devoted to travel) is increased.

Adding up the totality of the social time spent on transport (construction, the running and maintenance of the means of transport as of various spin-offs, hospital care and the like) it is noteworthy that modern societies devote more than a third of their time on it world wide, a good deal more than any pre-industrial society has ever spent on getting about including the nomadic Tuaregs. Beyond a certain speed, rapid transport becomes counter productive, costing users more time than they gain – which does not make them any the less profitable to their owners. Wage earners waste their time to earn their keep and consumers waste their life to gain time.

People however want to suppress this constraint, which makes time a scarce product and their existence an endless race to keep pace with a mode of life, and which is represented to them as desirable – and their real life slips between their fingers: “can't wait for this evening, can't wait for the weekend, holidays, retirement”. This defenceless aspiration leaves the road clear to the technocrats who can, with the appearance of cold objectivity, propose technical solutions, that is, substitute for peoples whims, smoothly functioning machines and solid objects. Function thus creates the need and not the opposite and what the means of transportation have permitted becomes obligatory. If our ancestors could not travel great distances for want of means, we have to.

Transport has allowed us to go farther and quicker giving us access to more places, which have had to be developed primarily because they are much frequented and are thus rendered banal. From this development there has resulted a specialisation of space and a redistribution of activities concentrated at different points (techno parks, leisure parks, famous places, industrial, commercial & administrative centres, supermarkets, dormitory towns, suburbs etc.) which obviously necessitate still more rapid transportation to get round the distances created. If we travel in one year a greater distance than our ancestors during their entire life it is not therefore to go elsewhere but to return always to the same spot.

THE RAT RACE

The desertification of the countryside, the congestion of nameless suburbs, the standardisation of existence, a life totally dominated by economic imperatives, so-called 'free' time and leisure which has itself become a commodity, the gnawing feeling that such a life is absurd and the continuous headlong rush to try and forget it - this is the common lot of our era. From a basically economic need, the rapid transport of commodities and people has become an end in itself (“we have shrunk the world” a charter company proclaims). The functional necessities of the stereotypical life of cadres, courtiers and courtesans of this commodity mobility and veritable biological appendices of the economy has been imposed on the mass of the population as the dominant need.

Whatever one might think of the rather unenviable character of this perpetual motion of business men, of those charged with “responsibilities” or of Mr. Average young man who nearly always seems to have leapt on his mountain bike from a metro entrance or from an office – unfortunately one has to admit their allure has become a model. The irony of history is to have given to the May `68 slogan “life without dead time” this utterly pathetic content.

The psychosis of urgency in all things has gripped the populace. Effectively disposable for all their different practises and all tarred with the same brush, our contemporaries frenetically appear to want to savour them all and especially not miss out on a thing: you’ve just got to go there, the door has scarcely closed behind you and off you go here, there and everywhere - to the mountains and coast, to the tropics and Arctic circle and in record time - so much has a literally exhausted existence appeared to have narrowed with the passing of time. This despotism of speed is universally expressed in the first instance in the toings and froings of professionals: economic fluctuation, present everywhere “in actual time”, being all the more volatile, the frenetic race of business men is all the more desperate because everything has to recommence endlessly. The glitzy adventures which neo-liberal ideology has woven around the gesturings of the captains of industry, yuppies and other gits shall have finally born fruit: the journey must be suppressed, arriving is all that counts.

For a host of reasons – and a resigned acceptance of the mystery of what happened to the invention of their own life is not the least of them – people no longer want to move around at an appreciative pace. It is not because deep down they have a taste for speed, rather they no longer put up with slowly moving around from place to place. The obliteration of all possible community, like that of any individuality, has produced a near schizophrenic isolation in modern transport like in urban life of which it is the extension. Station reading matter that appeared with the railway is now accompanied by Walkmans and banks of videos crowning the heavy silence which reigns there. What no longer attracts has to be cut short and made entertaining; travelling (metro, car, ferry, plane ) is no more than lost dead time, a time of boredom.

To travel far and fast was desirable in the abstract at first. It has become concretely indispensable for the majority of people in so far as they have nothing to do or meet on the way. The TGV responds perfectly to this fallacious need; it is not a mere improvement of the train but something else entirely, “an airbus that skims the ground” as an imbecile in the pay of Le Monde so delicately put it. The conditions of air transport have descended to the ground and nothing shall let them take off.
The abstraction of air travel has been legitimately imposed on the ground when it has become as empty as the sky. To travel far without stopping anywhere, to fly over countries without ever setting foot on them and never knowing anything about them – this is the experience democratically disseminated by the TGV. With the completing of a countrywide network and the gradual elimination of older tracks, the communal conditions of modern transport are going to hurl themselves in the same democratic obligatory manner on the entire population. Spic and span décor like fast food, air conditioning and passenger conditioning, synthetic foodstuffs, an anaesthetic environment – everything has to prove to the transported and mistreated folk, pressurised by the computerised orders of the transport machine, that the conditions of mass air transport on which ergonomists and psychologists have calculated their norms are his and hers by right. Packed full – and total isolation amidst a crowded lack of privacy.

WHAT END DOES UTILITY SERVE

Responding to a false need, force fed by the contradictions of a slavish existence, the TGV belongs to the family of microwave ovens which are so practical when a person no longer knows how to prepare a meal in advance. Technical development drawing every one into an infinite spiral of wrongs, each time aggravated by their false remedies, is imposed as a fact of life on the ever more civilised dispossessed, eager to flaunt new prosthetics in order to remedy their utterly damaged abilities and aspirations. Whoever has forgotten or has never known, that to travel signifies changing routes and stopping at whim, the TGV can denote undeniable progress as the chances of being able to travel are progressively forbidden by further progress of the same ilk. What is left of the countryside is hardly worth passing through other than at great speed because anything that is not manifestly economic has been removed and what remains are only steaks on four legs, rationalised fields and quotas of udders.

This peculiar computer-aided happiness would be perfect if industrialists and consumers were able to remain suspended in mid-air, the one obsessed by the profitability of their investments, the other greedily savouring their short-lived ever renewable unreal compensations. Yet as nuisances multiply, boredom, which is of the same magnitude as speed, by which this world translates every living thing into an economic equation, shall always have this unknown and the reject-reaction it provokes.
Commodity illusions have hardly been blamed when lo and behold there is the technicist smugness that straightaway replies that only past realisations were singularly insubstantial and lacking a future and that things giving rise to annoyance do not remain insoluble indefinitely. Each nuisance can go much more further creating new novelties provided during the trial period its trajectory is considered unstoppable and a process forging new things. The repeated failings of successive technical panaceas continually invade, a reliable witness to the blind alley society is careering along. At this point, as a consequence, there is a rapid increase in dispossession. Happening naturally, it appears to call for new urgent recourses in response to the same precarious palliatives. And the same specialists, held in a state of readiness, are sought out.

Such a headlong rush has no end: everything will always be engulfed to begin again indefinitely. The perspective of achieving some result beneficial to the vast majority (less work for example) is no longer even raised by leaders. The real utility of the technical development of the modern world is henceforth about that; its social function is to prevent the solution of problems it poses by always creating new ones. In accordance with the adage “why make something simple when you can make it complicated”, the proliferation of a self-destructive technology allows the historical contradiction of a perpetually confiscated richness to be skirted.

Consequently, one can describe the TGV as one more arm in the arsenal aiding present day society to combat the emancipatory possibilities it contains, tearing apart the different regions of existence. Ever since a defence minister compared the entry of French troops in Iraq with the TGV`s speed, the functional import of those means of transport in the imagination of those who control should be more apparent. Had not the model – patently Japanese – already been called the “bullet train”? The real effects on the people benefiting from it are, without a doubt, as obscure as is the link between the triumphant military campaign in the Gulf and the “drama” of the Kurdish population or the catastrophe of the blazing oil wells. What’s at issue here rather is war, and the TGV`s penetration (sweeping aside everything before it) is a decisive moment in it. But more than any other cycle of destruction-reconstruction, in this war two operational strategies meet and merge into one another, giving it, in the name of development, a special character.

As it is a war where everyone is on the losing side in some respects – the illusory prospects of betterment, the saving in time etc. disappears and the nuisance remains – it is tempting to see in its unfolding a fatality easily drawn from “technical questions” or “modern society”. The indignation which is directed against impersonal circumstances which therefore are no longer considered as an attackable, modifiable reality must necessarily exhaust itself quite quickly. Enemies to be singled out and attacked are not lacking to anyone resolved to go beyond the stumbling block of democracy to the people responsible for everything from a vexing nuisance to the plain noxious.

THE NETWORK OF TYRANNY

The sponsors of disaster themselves have now come round to deploring the degradation of life that has befallen us. Joining in the chorus of lamentation even offering their services (in accordance with racketeering principles), in order to remedy in an illusory way what they have actually destroyed, they try to continue to cover up their preponderant role in the disaster. Also they continue to insinuate that if the trajectory of the economy patently escapes everyone no one particular person shall profit from or has any interest in allowing this madness to continue. Assuming collective responsibility against adversity, the craftiest – we have politicians in mind – have the impudence to pose as devoted servants. Their task consists in persuading the populace that it is in their interests to totally put their faith in them and acknowledge that their arbitrary choices serves the general interest. They are, of course, the same people who send for the troops when society has a mind to take another direction to theirs'. Having annihilated the perspectives that were taking shape, they subsequently claim that nothing else is possible and that it is irresponsible to want to cast doubt on the submission of life in its entirety to their ends.

In order to get the proposed route of the TGV accepted and to hide their petty interest in the matter, the propaganda of the decision makers has a large battery of lies at hand. With former lies as a basis they sometimes invent new ones, illuminating the initial arbitrariness and, at a trice, the enormity of which they are a part. Thus if one believes that without the Economy it is impossible to exist in society and are of the opinion that the Economy will decide without the TGV, then it is logical to conclude without the TGV it is no longer possible to exist in society. This is a raw nerve in the conflict over the proposed TGV route because, with reason, opponents are convinced otherwise and that under the blows of such like developments, society decomposes. The economic dependency of the population, leading to either a deepening or a questioning of it, is the real point at issue in such conflicts, but it is not entirely useless to detail the manner in which the misleading arguments of pro-TGV propaganda have been articulated.

First, thanks to the ecology fashion, what should count, above all, is a mode of transport that consumes the least amount of energy and is ecologically sound – though, by-the by (and its no mystery to anyone ), the power required to achieve high speeds necessarily consumes more energy and the electricity used by the TGV of nuclear origin is an ecological perfection whose delights the planets inhabitants have far from finished enjoying. We have here the current procedure which reverts to contrasting realities by comparing them. However they are objectively linked and complimentary. There is no real competition between motorways, railways and the plane, rather there is a simultaneous, co-ordinated development. Motorways crammed with the transport of commodities or crowded railway stations at holiday times and the plane, quicker over short distances, doom the TGV to functioning as a suburban supertrain, completing the surbanisation of the country. At best it profits some conurbations, at worst just the region round Paris where the growth rate, superior to the rest of the country, won't fail to grow as a result of this new centralised network.

Developers seek, ever more blatantly, to stud the earth with their paranoiac raving in the name of ever necessary growth – by definition never achieved because the stakes are upped at each new competitive stage, undermining the equilibrium maintained hitherto with difficulty (employment). They speak of economic spin-off when the example of Creusot-Montcharin on the Paris-Lyon TGV line, a conspicuously isolated neo-suburban parking place, says otherwise. They bend centuries-old landscapes to the ballistic imperatives of rapid movement “rectifying” regions by specialising them. To crown it all, they want us to make us all believe in the ridiculous fantasy of a France which - thanks to the TGV - will undertake the organisation of European transportation with alacrity, so that all economic spin-offs shall rebound to the benefit of French local residents.

In fact, the so-called public bodies no longer have the mastery and monopoly of initiative in matters concerning public projects. Increasingly in tandem with the construction and public works Mafia, all that remains for them to do, as when they respond to so-called pre-existent social needs, is to sell to the public all manner of Pharaohesque projects conceived by the concrete lobby. This collusion of the “private” and the “public” produces the inversion transforming and falsifying social needs through subjecting them to imposed, perpetually renewable, devices. The powerful interests of the construction and quarrying industry - i.e. cement and bulk loads - have become such financial monsters requiring each year a greater volume of building projects that it has become all the more urgent and imperative for the authorities to supply them with new tranches of megalomania. The latter are in turn avid for fame through some “architectural gesture” or technological feat. Undeniably the professional know-how of building companies has been considerably enriched at least in one department: the art of persuasion. Above all, it has managed to make itself indispensable to their political masters by offering service guaranteed invoices, real or false.

The all but pantomime character of the government of people and the regimentation of their activity would be cause for laughter (MPs can even be heard in parliament accusing each other of having bought votes with “motorway by-pass” projects – c/f Le Monde, 21/6/1991 ) if this comedy of power, where expediency vies with lying, did not lead to a dramatically irreversible situation.
Let’s just mention here the distinct threat of the catastrophic warming of the planet due to the greenhouse effect which energy costs contributes to, regardless of what form of transport and the industries manufacturing them. As a consequence, all official experts, for once in agreement, advocate a drastic modification of the mode of production, the only solution to hope stabilise the change in climate towards the middle of the next century. Besides, in the name of other imperatives (the private interests of industry, the interests of the nation state, the particular interests of politicians in furthering their careers) there is, on the contrary, an uninterrupted growth of energy costs that other specialists “competent” in another field regard as their soul objective. As developers speak to us about the general interest, let’s seize the opportunity to take these matters over – amongst other transport needs – from the catastrophically omnipotent web of by-passed local authorities, restricted private interests and robotised technocrats. The sole general interest worthy of being discussed is how to put an end to the destruction of life and not how to cut ten minutes off the journey time through the Rhone Valley. And the soul worthy growth is the qualitative one of a human existence, the only escape from this murky economic pre-history.

THE GRAIN OF SAND

It is sometimes claimed that opposition to the TGV has been somewhat late in appearing, that Provence and the Rhone Valley have already been spoilt by motorways and urbanisation. But, aside from protests with a narrower scope that arose at the time against motorways and nuclear power plants, it is normal that the inexorable addition of projects that partition space into functional expanses should finally finish up provoking a fear not to be able to even breathe, let alone sigh. To underestimate present protests is to especially fail to recognise the importance that this attempt to put a stop to developers' fancies can have for everyone. No-one escapes from disaster. If we do not all live locally to the TGV we are all locals of the Economy.

People who want to subject everything in life to an accountants criteria, to their equivalents in Mtep (signifying millions of tons in oil equivalents), etc. won't shrink from denouncing the “mean-spirited” interests which could be the lot of anyone opposed to their projects. As limited as these protests might be, they do, in these very sombre times, have at least one advantage – they oblige the authorities to backtrack a little on their scorn for real life. Anyway, against the arbitrariness of projects catapulted from the technocrats' heaven, what other recourse do people have, other than to begin with the touchstone of what they know to be better – the precious environment in which they live – and which is simply thrown in their face as being so egotistical? When cold economic unreason claims that no future is to be had outside it, those who refuse to follow in its wake are bound, to begin with, to do so in the name of a past that is now threatened and which once they enjoyed. They do this by defending the conditions of their previous existence – which in some cases was hardly noble, by defending what they know against what they fear is a disaster in the making. In any case, the people affected defend the general interest better than the scientists, experts and officials who, each within their own domain, tot-up the costing terms of wastage without being able, nor wanting, to put a stop to it.

At the opposite extreme of this utter farce of compromised generalities and hypocritical laments, only by its tenacity can practical movements begin to make the link between the different dispossessions overwhelming the living and create the terrain where apprehension of the future reverts from passive unhappy consciousness to a re-appropriation of the present. Other local struggles against the dams on the Loire, against nuclear dumps, industrial discharge or toxic waste sites have already provided examples and contributed to improving the general atmosphere. The same basic intuitions which are at the root of opposition to environmental pollution are their best weapons when it comes to broadening the range of opposition to such pollution, finding support and side-stepping publicity via media channels. The perspective in which they are reported in the media is the most impoverished possible, concerned with only knowing farmers, wine growers and angry locals and not the constantly widening intuition that the world we live in is only capable of coming up with proposals which make matters worse. What everyone feels has to be said. To go back to the bargaining table in the hope of obtaining a respite, serves no purpose. No sacrifice is capable of guaranteeing a truce. On the contrary, all one can do is to spike the wheels of this project and equally all those that go along with it or will unfailingly come after it.

It is also particularly shameful that some ecologists, FRAPNA (the Rhone-Alps federation for the protection of nature) or Rene Dumont dares pretend that the TGV will save us from motorways when anyone can tell how, over the past ten years parallel to bringing the TGV into service, air and motorway traffic has grown remorselessly. Far from leading to the creation of new motorways (which others are also rejecting in the south-east) or the straightforward doubling of the lanes on the Autoroute du Soleil (a motorway running along the south coast), the success of the opposition to the TGV could open a breach in the forced consent which makes less and less sense to anyone. The gnawing question “why refuse this environmental destruction when you have accepted and legitimated so many others” shall be definitely settled once lots of other protests follow this one. It is hard to imagine all the different kinds of developments taking place and not provoking an opposition determined to put an end to this organised madness – unless their crushing weight ends up disorientating and lobotomising the population on the quiet.

We can judge the dynamism “without preconceptions” that the cadres and technicians of the reproduction of environmental destruction are nowadays expected to display from a certain Nicole Le Hir, a high flying recruiting agent for the food industry – another major sector – who declared “Thinking too much today is out – you must go for it”. We can also pause at the discovery by Pierre Verbrugghe, the Parisian Prefect of Police, on the mutation of anthropoids entered upon under his protection: “The Parisian today hasn’t two legs only four wheels” (Le Monde April 27 1990). Or further, appreciate the brutal blindness of a local manager, the vice president of the Poitou Charentes region who said, justifying the projected Nantes/Nice motorway through the Poitou marshland, “between frogs and men I choose men” (but what kind of men?). All these statements are not exceptional, they are witness to the determination at work to impose the irreversible everywhere. This desperate obstinacy of the authorities in continuing to make matters worse, whatever the cost, proves they no longer know any better. What they have set in motion, eliminating preceding modes of life and repressing this century's attempts at emancipation, they have now lost all control over, having at their disposal no other means other than those that produce this disaster. Their narrow practical spirit is mirrored in the scandalous narrowness of their conception of life. Prior to any other public health decision, comes the necessity to fight it, whatever disguise it wears. It is down to protesters, casting aside their modesty and hesitation in order to occupy the deserted terrain of thought, in order to construct their arguments and find there the universal reasons for their refusal which will enable this refusal to expand.

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Samotnaf
Jun 14 2009 14:31

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