Last week I was up in Coventry. The drive there was almost all dual carriageways and motorways and, predictably enough, I didn’t see one cyclist. Of course, there were no pedestrians to be seen either. On trips like that, all you’re interacting with is your fellow human cargo in motorized metal boxes.
It struck me that the journey there had given me no realistic impression at all of the countryside I’d travelled through: the view from the motorways varies as you go but it’s all been smoothed and smothered by the needs of the motor vehicles. You can’t get any ‘feel’ for how it is to live in the regions you’re driving through. There’s no interaction with the people of different regions either, of course, and that’s just as much of a shame because there remains a remarkable variation between the peoples of the different locales in Britain.
Coming home, we went across country in the main – the lanes of Warwickshire and the B-roads or minor A-roads of Oxfordshire, a lot of the more northern parts of which are wholly unfamiliar to me. It looked like good cycling country – the roads were relatively quiet and, until you get around the Oxford City area and below, in far better condition than I’m regularly putting up with. The scenery seemed attractive; the landscape lacks any grand features – big hill ranges or rivers – but, I’m sure, it would prove interesting on a more intimate scale if you get to know it. You’ll never get to know it from a car.
I’m not a fool – I know we have a society structured around motor vehicles and that’s not going to end tomorrow. Perhaps because I’m not a natural traveller, I still marvel at the fact that I can drive to places that are so far away so relatively easily. It’s great! Not that many generations ago, the trips I’ve taken recently, to Cornwall and to Coventry, would have been massive undertakings.
At the same time though, we need to remember what we’re doing to ourselves as we continue to live in a society and with a lifestyle that’s predicated on so much travel, most of it by motor vehicle. It is no exaggeration to say we’re de-humanizing ourselves.
I know I’m saying nothing new – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t merit repeating. De-humanization, however innocuous it might seem, is, surely, an essential foundation for the inhuman. We all need a shared sense of our humanity if we’re going to build a society we’ll want to live in.