The Front Porch Cyclist talks Autarchy


I have been remiss in following up on some superb thinking that has been going on, partly prompted by my earlier link to his blog, but mostly prompted by the author’s own good sense. (Would that I could make my thinking and my commitments and practice come together as well as he!) Anyway, I hereby repent. John Buass, an English professor and bicycle commuter and friend here in Wichita, has been inspired by Front Porch Republic–and in particular by Patrick Deneen’s introductory essay to this site, and James Matthew Wilson’s wonderful essay last week, “The Need for Autarchy”–to think rather practically, as well as theoretically, about what a simple commuting tool like the bicycle might have to do with protecting–or recreating, as necessary–the space within with notions of property and local economic sovereignty can be take root without being assimilated into the expansive, acquisitive paradigms of modern capitalism, wherein all uses of one’s property and one’s self seems to become a mere “lifestyle choice.” Well, quite a bit, he concludes. Here’s a taste from the first of his two “Front Porch Cycle Chic” posts:

I would like to suggest…that bicycles can play a significant role in [a front porch revival] by in effect serving as a kind of virtual extension of our individual front porches: as we cycle through our communities, we have an intimacy with them simply not possible when in our cars–and those neighborhoods through which we commute become, if not our own, then certainly something more than some streets with houses on them that automobile travel converts them into. Indeed, I have come to feel an emotional tie to that part of south Wichita I regularly ride through that, I feel certain, simply would not have occurred had I driven that same route. Yet, bicycles’ practicality and portability create that version of independence that arises not from mere mobility but from self-reliance in all its senses….Far from being merely a “lifestyle,” cycling is, in the deepest senses of the phrases, life-enhancing and life-affirming in ways no lifestyle ever could be.

And here’s a snippet from the second:

[The] car culture is both symptom and cause of our consumerist mindset: the automobile consumes and occupies those resources known as raw materials and not just the physical space it happens to occupy but, by extension, the physical space the automobile’s infrastructure occupies as well: not just roads and parking lots, but car dealerships and repair shops, gas stations (and, for that matter, a goodly proportion of the petrochemical industry) and, in a more virtual way, the state bureaucracy devoted to the regulation of automobiles–even, indirectly, the space and resources occupied and consumed by the fast-food industry. Yet, as the events of the past year have made abundantly and painfully clear, if no one is interested in buying cars anymore–at least, not this country’s current version of cars–suddenly they don’t seem nearly as essential as they once did . . . even as their revenue-generating centrality to both commerce and the state has likewise become painfully clear via the loss of much of that revenue. The centrality of car culture to American life thus encroaches on the individual’s access to private property as defined by Arendt; moreover, the direct and indirect expense of participating in that culture puts at risk our independence (both individual and national) from others–if not actively excluding many from autonomous participation in it by forcing them into dependence upon others.

To say the least, everything he’s saying here is true. So let’s give credit to all the FPR-style thinkers and doers out there (perhaps by taking the time to link to their blogs and read their thoughtful words), and may their tribe increase.

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