I’ve got a bit of a first to report.
We’ll get back to that in a moment, here.
Jake Mohan has a piece in the Utne Reader about conservatives bicyclists…
…which was a concept that took a bit for Mr. Mohan to wrap his brain around:
But eventually a few needling questions penetrated my insulated sphere of thought: What if there are conservatives who ride bikes? What the hell do they look like? And where can I find them?
On the Internet, of course.
“I am a gun-owning, low-taxes, small-government, strong military, anti-baby murder, pro-big/small business, anti-social program, conservative Democrat,” wrote Maddyfish, a poster on Bike Forums, an Internet discussion forum where everyone from the casual hobbyist to the obsessive gearhead can discuss all things bike-related, from frame sizes to the best routes downtown. There are dozens such forums for bicyclists and I recently crashed three of them—Bike Forums, MPLS BikeLove, and Road Bike Review—with a simple question: Are there any conservative cyclists out there? Maddyfish (an online pseudonym) was one of the first to reply: “I find cycling to be a very conservative activity. It saves me money and time.”
And just like that, biking conservatives came out of the cyber-woodwork, offering their own mixtures of bike love and political philosophy.
My parents will be happy to know that I, their conservative Republican black-sheep son, has done the improbable; gotten written up in the Utne, that palimpsest of upper-midwest Liberalism:
Mitch Berg is a conservative talk-radio host whose blog, A Shot in the Dark, is divided between political content and chronicles if his experiences commuting by bicycle [Well – among a few other things – Ed.]. “I grew up in rural North Dakota, and biking was one of my escapes when I was in high school and college,” he told me. “It’s my favorite way to try to stay in shape. And if gas fell to 25 cents a gallon, I’d still bike every day.”
Berg doesn’t believe there’s anything inherently political about riding a bike. “But people on both sides of the political aisle do ascribe political significance to biking. The lifestyle-statement bikers, of course, see the act as a political and social statement. And there’s a certain strain of conservatism that sees conspicuous consumption—driving an SUV and chortling at paying more for gas—as a way to poke a finger in the eyes of the environmental left.”
Mohan and I had quite an exchange; read it at your leisure. The piece covers a lot of ground – most notably, the non-biking conservatives:
Conservative cyclists don’t tend to get help from all their political allies, however. Some right-wing personalities know that biking is a hot-button issue and make pointed attacks on cyclists while reinforcing the liberal-cyclist stereotype. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s hard-right columnist Katherine Kersten earned the ire of the Twin Cities bike community in 2007 when she characterized Critical Mass as a mob of “serial lawbreakers” bent on ruining the lives of honorable citizen motorists. “Are you rushing to catch the last few innings of your son’s baseball game? Trying to get to the show you promised your wife for her birthday? Critical Mass doesn’t give a rip.”
I defended Kersten on that one, of course; I’ve attacked the arrogance of “Critical Mass” in the past.
Last fall, Twin Cities talk-radio host Jason Lewis made on-air remarks decrying the “bicycling crowd” as “just another liberal advocacy group.” He recycled a common anti-bike canard—that bicyclists have no rights to the roads because they don’t pay taxes to service those roads…
…and Lewis is wrong, and I have the property tax statements to prove it. It’s not our fault that some previous legislature, in its infinite wisdom, chose to tie the state road budget to gasoline taxes which we bikers, largely, don’t use.
We disagree. That’s nothing new; indeed, it’s stock in trade for conservatives, who do disagree on a lot of things, and still share a party pretty civilly.
Conservatives on bikes represent the breakdown of party-line stereotypes. They are heartening examples of crucial divergences from the lazy red/blue dichotomy the pundits are relentlessly hammering in these last frenzied days of campaign season. They are a microcosm in which a stereotype falls away to reveal an actual individual.
And that, to me, is the important part, not only of Mohan’s piece but a much larger lesson indeed.
Most of the “isms” that have made the past hundred-odd years such a miserable time in the history of the human race – racism, collectivism, Naziism, whatever – trace back to the big one, “We-ism“. The best way to defend your group’s we-ism is to convince each other that those who are not part of “we” are less intelligent, less coherent, less human than “we” are.
The first step to true hatred is in finding a way to seeing your opponent as something – a set of cliches, stereotypes, abstract evils – other than human.
(Via this guy)