My wife took this photo of me and my Wabi outside our home in Toronto on Saturday evening. Notice I’m sporting my “Eddy Rode Steel” t-shirt from Pista Collective. She also captured this video of my riding down the street like a bolt of lightning!
I found this article in The Atlantic today: How the Bicycle Paved the Way for Women’s Rights.
“By the 1890s, America was totally obsessed with the bicycle—which by then looked pretty much like the ones we ride today. There were millions of bikes on the roads and a new culture built around the technology. People started “wheelmen” clubs and competed in races. They toured the country and compared tricks and stunts.
The craze was meaningful, especially, for women. Both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are credited with declaring that “woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle,” a line that was printed and reprinted in newspapers at the turn of the century. The bicycle took “old-fashioned, slow-going notions of the gentler sex,” as The Courier (Nebraska) reported in 1895, and replaced them with “some new woman, mounted on her steed of steel.” And it gave women a new level of transportation independence that perplexed newspaper columnists across the country.”
The writer Adrienne LaFrance continues:
“The bicycle, as a new technology of its time, had become an enormous cultural and political force, and an emblem of women’s rights. “The woman on the wheel is altogether a novelty, and is essentially a product of the last decade of the century,” wrote The Columbian (Pennsylvania) newspaper in 1895, “she is riding to greater freedom, to a nearer equality with man, to the habit of taking care of herself, and to new views on the subject of clothes philosophy.”
What struck me about this passage was that the bicycle had become a political tool almost as soon as it was invented. In this case, it became a tool to advance the cause of women’s suffrage. LaFrance goes on to explain how women’s fashions changed as a result of cycling and how newspapers columnists and reporters reacted. Read the whole thing: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/06/the-technology-craze-of-the-1890s-that-forever-changed-womens-rights/373535/
There is a lesson here for conservatives. As I stated in an earlier post, right now the bicycle is a political tool of the Left, a means to demonstrate your environmental and left-wing bona fides. But, just like the environment, the bicycle properly belongs to conservatives. Consider this closing passage from the article:
“…I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have felt like—in an age when American women were still decades from the right to vote and inundated with men’s opinions about their ankles—for a woman to to go outside, hop on her bicycle, and ride as fast as she could wherever she wanted, leaving the rest of the world wondering where she might go.
Indeed, “to ride as fast as she could wherever she wanted, leaving the rest of the world wondering where she might go”, no government regulations to hold her back; no bicycle paths to hem her in, to keep her “safe” from the buggies and Model Ts. Just a woman and her bike and a sense of freedom and adventure.
So what is the lesson here for conservatives? Consider that, in Toronto, only 35% of the cycling population is female, and I would surmise that most of those women tend to be left on the political and cultural spectrum. Conservatives need to make cycling attractive to conservative women by going back to the early days of cycling and appealing to the spirit of a “woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle”. In today’s context, that would be “conservative woman riding to political change on her bicycle”. It’s a stretch, but come on ladies, let’s ride!!! You don’t need bike paths, provincial strategies or Olivia Chow politics to enjoy your bike. Just ride.
Consider what has happened and what is happening in the United States. Here Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writing in The Week:
“Several long winters ago, when President Obama was thunderously elected amid Messianic fervor, and much of the right was in the throes of apoplectic confusion, some liberal writers warned of a phenomenon among right-wing intellectuals, which they called “epistemic closure.” The charge was that conservative thinkers had lost the ability to process the idea that the world of 2008 was not the world of the Reagan Era, and more generally to consider new ideas or, really, reality. The word “derp” entered our lexicon to mock forehead-slappingly stupid statements, defined by the liberal blogger Noah Smith as “the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors.”
Meanwhile, two things are particularly striking about the current Democratic agenda. The first is that it’s so tired. Raising the minimum wage, raising taxes on high earners, tightening environmental regulation — these are all ideas from the ’60s. The second is that nobody on the left seems to be aware of it.”
It seems to me the Ontario Liberals are in the same position as the Democrats of 2012: they have a popular leader who was elected by the Left with Messianic fervour (or what passes as Messianic fervour here in Ontario) and are brimming with triumphalism. But their policies are already tired: a new and unnecessary pension plan; raising taxes on high earners; deficit spending that even Keynes might have balked at. I predict in four years the lustre of Kathleen Wynne will be greatly tarnished. Obama promised to “lower the oceans”; Wynne to balance the budget in 2017 without cutting spending or raising taxes.
So what is the opportunity for Ontario’s conservatives? Gobry continues:
…even as they [Democrats, progressives] were making that point [i.e. the right is undergoing a period of epistemic closure] the smartest writers on the right were already rising to the occasion. A flurry of innovative young writers like Yuval Levin, Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat, Tim Carney, and Avik Roy put out fresh, 21st century ideas on everything from tax reform to healthcare to social mobility to poverty to curtailing the power of big business. Many of these ideas are now compiled in a seminal new book. And many of these ideas have been adopted by the most prominent GOP [i.e. Republican] politicians and presidential candidates. Only with the right leader will the GOP truly embrace what’s been called reform conservatism, but it’s clear that the GOP is becoming the party of ideas again.
What Ontario conservatives need to do over the next four years is to work through our apoplectic confusion and rise to the occasion. Let’s commission our best and brightest young minds to make Ontario conservatives the party of ideas. First idea: drop the adjective “progressive” – it’s effectively meaningless – and develop a reform conservatism for Ontario. Maybe Christine Elliott will get it.
Here’s a link to PEG’s article: http://theweek.com/article/index/263711/vox-derp-and-the-intellectual-stagnation-of-the-left?utm_source=links&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=twitter Read the whole thing.
I’m fairly new to the Twitterverse so I was pleasantly surprised when I retweeted a Tweet (can you retweet anything other than a Tweet?) from Pista Collective (http://www.pistacollective.com/). Their Tweet said the first person to retweet will get a free t-shirt. I was the first one and they sent me three t-shirts!!! I think they sent me three because I mentioned in a subsequent email that I have two teenage sons who also ride fixed-gear bikes! Thanks Pista Collective. Classy guys and gals. Check out their site.
Here are the tees.
A tribute to Marc Demeyer, a Belgian cyclist who won the Paris-Roubaix race (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris%E2%80%93Roubaix) in 1976 and who died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 31.
A tribute to the great Eddy Merckx. “Eddy Rode Steel – so do I. That’s where the comparison ends.
So I’ve put forward the premise that cycling is conservative but I have yet to make the case. Of course my entire blog is designed to do that but I think it’s worth a separate post on the topic.
Yep, that’s Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman!!
Why do I think cycling is conservative? One way — albeit a very hard way — to explain is to use Kirk’s ten principles of conservatism and apply them to cycling. I’ll give it a try.
“First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order”. According to Kirk, “that order is made for man [humans], and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent. This word order signifies harmony”. Cycling promotes that harmony, harmony with the machine, harmony with the environment, harmony with your fellow cyclists and other commuters, harmony with the urban landscape. Other activities do this as well, but cycling is an exemplar.
“Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. It is old custom that enables people to live together peaceably; the destroyers of custom demolish more than they know or desire”. Cycling has a long history and has it’s established customs and rules. The basic technology itself has not changed in over 100 years.
“Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription. Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time”. I’ll cheat here and ask you to see above! It’s the same principle – history, tradition, longevity, the wisdom of our elder cyclists.
“Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. There is nothing more prudent than cycling – it is a relatively cheap and easy way to navigate the city.
“Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.” Cycling is a long-established social institution that resists conformity much to the chagrin of the Leftist who wants to make cycling a political activity with a “narrow uniformity” (e.g. you cycle so you must think like a Leftist) and “deadening egalitarianism” (e.g. cycle paths). Just look at cyclists in European cities – for the most part, they all ride the same style of bike and use the same bike lanes and ride at the same speed.
“Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man [humans] being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created”. The conservative cyclist denies we can create a cycling utopia and believes the attempt to create one will only lead to tyranny.
“Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.” We own our bicycles. They are a part of us unlike a subway or street car. Kirk adds” the conservative acknowledges that the possession of property fixes certain duties upon the possessor; he accepts those moral and legal obligations cheerfully. The conservative cyclist obeys the rules of the road and keeps his or her bicycle safe and in good repair. I wonder how abused shared or Bixi/Citi bikes are?
“Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism”. The key word for the conservative cyclist is “voluntary” – we come together or not as we see fit locally. We resist government-sponsored or sanctioned associations. We rarely participate in Critical Mass rides – way too radical and authoritarian . We form associations based on mutual interest and are free to disassociate when those interests are no longer mutual. And we resist the call to make bicycles political tools of the Left.
“Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions”...The conservative endeavors to so limit and balance political power that anarchy or tyranny may not arise”. Leave the government out of cycling. It’s one less thing for government to usurp from the people. Did you know that Ontario has an official cycling strategy? http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/pubs/cycling/ How ever did we survive as a province without a cycling strategy?
“Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world. When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects”. The conservative cyclist agrees. Now I think I’ll enjoy a whiskey and a cigar and watch a classic movie.
Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly on the set of “Rear Window”
Coincidentally, an editorial in this week’s Macleans magazine (http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/the-editorial-can-we-end-the-car-bike-detente/) asks the question: Can we end the car-bike détente?
I’m not sure the editors are using the word “détente” properly unless they are advocating for the ending of the easing of tensions? Does that mean they want things to get worse or better? I’m not sure from the headline. But the text suggests the latter so I’ll take them at their word.
There are some interesting stats here: “Academic research from Montreal, which boasts a well-developed 600-km system of bike paths, reveals separate cycle routes have a 28 per cent lower injury rate than comparable roads where bikes and cars are forced to compete for the same road space. Elsewhere in North America, the experience is similarly noteworthy. Between 1996 and 2005, 225 bicyclists died on New York roads in collisions with vehicles, but just one fatality occurred when the cyclist was in a marked bike lane.”
I wonder how many of the 225 cyclists were crazy couriers? I assure you couriers do not and will not use bike lanes. And how many pedestrians were killed by vehicles in New York? In 2013 alone, 286 pedestrians were killed in the Big Apple. (http://www.villagevoice.com/2014-02-05/news/nyc-pedestrian-deaths/)
But this Calgary pilot looks promising. “Like many other big cities, Calgary is planning a major bike lane development in its downtown core, set to open next summer. And yet, this plan is not being presented as a fait accompli in favour of cyclists. Rather, it’s a one-year pilot program, after which the city will judge its success or failure against numerous performance indicators that take into account the interests of all parties.” Maybe Olivia Chow should not flippantly commit to constructing 200 more kilometres of cycle paths until the city takes into account the interests of all parties.
I guess now is a good time to show you what I drive when I’m not riding my bike:
If I was 20 years old again, I suspect I would be riding like these guys and gals. This video from YouTube shows life as a New York City courier – a little extreme for most but I would have loved to have tried this, just once, 30 years ago. Try not to be sick to your stomach!
If you are interested in the courier life, there are some good documentaries on YouTube. Here’s a link to one titled pedal by fractured media.
It’s not an easy life, especially in NYC. I knew a few Toronto couriers when I was much younger and they had a similarly hard job. I admired their fortitude — they rode in all kinds of weather and despite injury and fatigue. Meanwhile, I had a cushy job in the bookstore warehouse.
Most of these guys and gals would not consider themselves conservative in any way so why am I posting these videos, you may ask? I guess they reflect my inner libertarian.
Mayoral candidate, Olivia Chow, announced on Friday that, if elected, she would oversee the construction of 200 additional kilometres of “on-road” bike lanes in Toronto over the next four years. I have yet to write my post on why I think cycling is conservative so I won’t give everything away here, but I will confirm that “bike lanes” on city streets are NOT conservative. If you’re not riding a bike now, a bike lane is not going to make a big difference. And if you are, then you don’t need a bike lane. The last thing this city needs are more ways for drivers to hate cyclists.
My position is this: A bike lane tends to make a rider feel entitled and complacent. You think you’re safe in the bike lane so you don’t pay as much attention. Remember there are others riders using the lane – slow riders and bad riders. I prefer that they just get out of the way. And dare anyone to step or drive in your precious bike lane – the outrage!! The best way to ride in the city is to use the lanes we already have on the major routes (e.g Bloor Street viaduct) which do not in any way impede traffic) and to learn to ride within the existing infrastructure. It’s not that hard and is very safe if you do it right.
But I also fell that it’s the left-leaning cyclists who tend to like bike lanes because they think more people will use use them. And they may be right. But I suspect only lefty cyclists will use them. So more bike lanes, means more lefty cyclists, which means more whining and more complaining, which means more bike lanes, which means more lefty cyclists. Aaaahhhh!
Here’s Dan Amira in New York Magazine (which of course is full of ads for luxury items and expensive New York real estate) making fun of conservatives for their dislike of the Citi Bike model. Of course he doesn’t mention the real reason for our dislike: it’s a money-losing business that requires the City of New York and other cities that had adopted the model, including Toronto, to subsidize it.
The trick of every liberal journalist (I know that’s almost redundant) is to find the most unlikable person to say the most outrageous thing about something liberals like then label that person a conservative. I guess it’s supposed to demonstrate that all conservatives think that way and that we are as dumb as posts.
Well, let’s dissect Mr. Amira’s stupid Venn Diagram (I know it’s satire but it still pisses me off).
Bloomburg: Conservatives don’t like Bloomburg because as mayor he was a nanny, plain and simple, and used government to infringe on people’s freedom and to hector those below him in the social strata. Sure, drinking a 12oz soda is not the best thing in the world but why is it the government’s business? Meanwhile, Mr. Bloomburg can fly around the world in his private jets but I can’t enjoy a 12oz soda.
Health: sure conservatives hate health and hate vegetables – what is that all about? Michelle Obama’s school lunch program, just like the silly healthy eating policy here in Ontario, doesn’t consider that parents know what is best for their children and we don’t need the government telling us what to feed them.
Sharing: fact: conservatives give more to charity than liberals. Period. Why? Because liberals rely on the government to dole out benefits thus absolving liberals of responsibility. Bike share is fine as long as you don’t ask me to pay for it.
Environmental: protection of the environment is conservative – what I object to is that environmentalism is now a pseudo-religion, impervious to reason and rational disagreement. Global warming or climate change or climate disruption, whatever, is a case is point. There is no sense in trying to argue with a convert. Making cycling about the environment just pisses off people like me. I don’t ride for that reason. Oh, and where’s Bloomburg? Oh yeah, not riding a Citi Bike – he’s flying to France in his private jet.
Vaguely French: again, nothing wrong with the French – great food, great cycling – but the French do dumb things that piss off Americans and some Canadians like me. But France has some good conservatives too like Nicolas Sarkozy.
On a side note, I love how the liberal press characterize the recent swing in European politics. They call national socialist, anti-Semitic, anti-free trade, anti-capitalist parties like the National Front in France “far-right” which is designed of course to associate them with conservatives. But if you look carefully at the platforms of these parties (Danish People’s, Greece’s Syriza, Swedish Feminist Initiative), they are radical LEFT-WING parties with radical left-wing proposals.
Keep your Citi Bike – I have my own bike.
Here are a few definitions of conservatism I’ve heard from a few of my lefty acquaintances:
– they are for unfettered free-market capitalism
– they represent reactionary elitism
– they are religious fanatics and warmongers
– they hate human rights, gay rights, “gay marriage”
– feminists are not conservatives
– they are all big businessmen and white guys in suits
– they want no government at all
– and they are imperialists and royalists and love the military
Of course, these definitions are all stereotypes and caricatures. My favourite insult is when conservatives are called Nazis. Why is it my favourite? Because it demonstrates immediately that I am dealing with someone who is utterly ignorant not only about conservatism, which is expected I suppose, but also about socialism and leftism. They are shocked when I inform them that Nazis were socialists and the farthest thing from conservatives. Nazis had more in common with communists.
So once these folks climb off the wall and ask me the question what is a conservative, here’s my response.
Conservatism is not an ideology, like communism or progressivism. It’s a disposition. There are no manifestos or guidebooks. It’s pragmatic but not dogmatic. It’s principled but not fundamentalist.
Conservatives come in many stripes and labels: fiscal, social, religious, cultural. And in different settings, they are different creatures. But what do they have in common? The best definition of conservatism comes from Russell Kirk, the father of American conservatism. I’m quoting Rod Dreher of the American Conservative magazine who cites Russel Kirk’s “Ten Conservatives Principles” in a September 22, 2012 blog post:
Dreher writes: “I should start by saying that I don’t think there is only one way to be a conservative. There is not conservatism; there are conservatisms, and they draw from each other. The best general definition of “conservative” that I know is Russell Kirk’s essay on Ten Conservative Principles. Kirk begins:
Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word “conservative” as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.
The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.
In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy “change is the means of our preservation.”) A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude.
It is not possible to draw up a neat catalogue of conservatives’ convictions; nevertheless, I offer you, summarily, ten general principles; it seems safe to say that most conservatives would subscribe to most of these maxims.
“I [Dreher] cannot improve on Kirk’s list, but I would say that for me, the first of his Ten Conservative Principles speaks deepest to why I am a conservative”:
First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.
This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. The problem of order has been a principal concern of conservatives ever since conservative became a term of politics.
Our twentieth-century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order. Like the atrocities and disasters of Greece in the fifth century before Christ, the ruin of great nations in our century shows us the pit into which fall societies that mistake clever self-interest, or ingenious social controls, for pleasing alternatives to an oldfangled moral order.
It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society—whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society—no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be.
Dreher adds: “I, for example, don’t see how anyone can call himself a conservative in a meaningful sense and be in favor of the unrestrained free market. But that’s an argument worth having. I don’t think it’s prudent or wise to declare that anyone who disagrees with me is therefore not a conservative. I don’t understand economics as well as I ought to, so perhaps I have something to learn from them. And, many free-market fundamentalists on the libertarian side don’t understand culture and society as well as they might, and have something to learn from people like me.
Anyway, as Kirk said, conservatism is an attitude toward the world, not a dogmatic religion. It irritates me to no end that the American conservative mind is so closed, even to thinkers and resources in its own tradition. As Kirk’s tenth canon says, “The thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.” That means that we have to be willing and able to think creatively about conservative principles, and apply them to new facts and circumstances.
I suppose one way to think about conservatism — sorry, conservatisms — is by asking the question, “What do you want to conserve?” Kirk once said that the traditional family was the institution most important to conserve. I agree with that, and most of my conservatism comes from that conviction. That’s why, for example, I don’t place as much value on economic liberty as many conservatives do. If an economic practice undermines the integrity of the family and the familist order (which itself depends on a strong religious sense), then I am likely to oppose it. One of the reasons I have come to be much more skeptical of the aggressively militaristic and nationalistic foreign policy many conservatives advocate is the effect of war on family life (that is, of soldiers deployed and returned), and of what the acceptance of torture does to our moral sensibility. Similarly, I am in principle willing to accept more involvement of the state for the sake of shoring up the family and the moral order than libertarians are.”
Here’s a link to Kirk’s essay: http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2013/12/conservatism.html
Here’s a link to Dreher’s blog post: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/what-is-a-conservative/