Image from David Cronenbergs adaptation of J.G. Ballards novel Crash.
Image from David Cronenberg's film adaptation of J.G. Ballard's novel Crash.

The Seattle Times recently ran a feature story that examined the roots of road rage. Its title: "How to keep your head from exploding in Seattle traffic." Its findings: "80 percent of U.S. drivers at least occasionally experience serious anger, aggression or road rage," and "driving is the most dangerous thing the average person does on a regular basis," and a "staggering 8 million Americans per year engaged in over-the-top violence, like ramming another vehicle or getting out of their car to confront another driver." Some of these bad encounters escalated "to gunfire." Its basic conclusion: Road rage is primarily caused "by our inability to communicate with other drivers in all but the crudest ways." As a consequence, "every gesture can be misinterpreted."

And so, what is most human to our species, complex communication (or transparency—"even making eye contact, a basic staple of human interaction, is problematic")—is stunted by the technology that defined the previous century and may bring about the extinction of this species by the next one, if not sooner. But none of this is surprising or edifying. A little cultural history is all it takes to expose the root problem with the car.

It is the massification of a mode of transportation that, initially, only the elite members of European society could afford, the personal carriage. And this mode of transportation was valued because it separated the rich from the rest and provided the passenger with a position (or view) of domination. If you think along these lines, you will see two things. One: Any human social endeavor is bound to fail if each of its constituent units relates to the whole from a position of domination. The car says: You are in command. But in reality, you are not. You are among many others who also believe they are in command. But back in the day, the princes, dukes, and what have you were splendidly isolated. Bad traffic did not exist. Their domination wasn't frustrated. Carriage rage was unknown.

Two: You can also see the root of the self-driving car. It's apparently the massification of a luxury that, in its original form, involved coach drivers. These became chauffeurs in the age of the automobile. And this luxury was vastly expanded by the recent introduction of ride share. The motive-force of the self-driving car is the creation of a market that universalizes the couch driver. This makes perfect sense because the life-blood of capitalism is not the commodification of needs, but of things and services that were initially luxuries. There's more.

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The great and late British science fiction author J.G. Ballard published the short novel Crash in 1973. Some read this novel as mainly concerning symphorophilia, in which a person achieves sexual arousal from witnessing or experiencing a terrible accident (a house burning down, a car crashing into a car or tree). Ignore that interpretation. Some think the novel is just pulp porn (people fucking in cars and so on). Really ignore that interpretation. But if you read the brutally repetitive novel with the right intensity, it reveals itself to be a study of the unconscious human attempts to rupture the social/cultural barrier that has limited the defining post-war civilian technology. From the very beginning of the massification of mobile domination, the problem has been how to make the car more human and vice versa. For Ballard, this was not merely about augmenting apperception but physically fucking this culture/nature chimera into existence.

The ejaculations. The dashboards. The fingering. The steering wheels. The penetrated anus. The plastic. The nipples. The polyester. The road head. The crash. Maybe one of these carnal accidents would not leave corpses but leap (saltus) horribly into a new techno-animal (a hopeful monster). And this human/car thing would eventually find another of its kind on the freeway, and hump/crash it. Another monster is born. It can move like a machine and feel like a human being. This, I think, is a more interesting way to think about Crash.