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June 25, 2009

Ominous Parallels

Filed under: Economics,Literature — rmangum @ 10:39 pm

I keep finding parallels to dystopian science fiction in Kevin Carson’s Organization Theory. For instance, he writes in connection to America’s car culture (I discussed his view of sprawl-by-design previously) that, “In car-culture dominated cities like Los Angeles and Houston, to say that the environment has become ‘inappropriate for feet’ is a considerable understatement.” He then quotes Langdon Winner:

In cities such as Los Angeles, where the physical landscape and prevailing social habits assume everyone owns a car, the simple act of walking can be cause for alarm. The Supreme Court decided one case involving a young man who has enjoyed who has enjoyed taking long walks late at  night through the streets of San Diego and was repeatedly arrested by police as a suspicious character. The court decided in favor of the pedestrian, noting that he had not been engaged in burglary or any other illegal act. Merely traveling by foot is not yet a crime.

And, “In Beverly Hills, Jane Jacobs reports, police actually stop pedestrians and demand proof of their reason for being there, followed by a warning about the inadvisability of traveling on foot.”

Readers of Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Pedestrian” will recognize this scenario. That story was inspired by a real incident too, and was the initial idea of what became his famous dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. The object of Bradbury’s scorn was television, not cars, but the comparison still stands. The fact that the notoriously health-obsessed culture of southern California would be so hostile to walking also reminds me of Lewis Black’s comedy routine where he marvels at how New Yorkers, in a city with more stairs than anywhere in the world, take the elevator and then pay dues to a health-club where they get on machines that simulate walking up stairs.

The parallels are less exact, but Phillip K. Dick’s “Autofac” can be read as a parable about capital-intensity, overproduction, and the permanent war economy; and J.G. Ballard’s “The Subliminal Man” about planned obsolescence and the “push” model of production. Carson himself mentions Brave New World (briefly, though I find that prophetic work to be key) and Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano, which I have not read.



  1. There’s also the Isaac Asimov story It’s Such a Beautiful Day that fits nicely into this topic.

    Comment by JMangum — June 26, 2009 @ 2:45 am | Reply

  2. I’m curious to know Carson’s take on car culture and urban sprawl. The work is mentioned here, but the idea is still a bit unclear to me.

    Comment by Michael — July 9, 2009 @ 9:53 pm | Reply

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