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I’ve got a major road rage problem. Ever since I first got my driver’s license, my anger behind the wheel has grown worse and worse. It’s gotten so bad that my girlfriend won’t let me drive her around any more, and even my friends are freaked out. And even when someone else drives, I still can’t help cursing out other drivers and screaming the whole time. It feels like being on the road is a battle and every other vehicle is my mortal enemy. It’s really draining and puts me in a bad mood that lasts long after I get out of the car. Yesterday I punched my car’s ceiling so hard that I put a dent in it and badly bruised my hand. I’ve never had an actual car accident, but I’ve had a few violent confrontations with other drivers and I can see this whole thing ending badly. Meanwhile, it’s just making me a miserable person. How do I become a peaceful driver?
Thanks for your help,
Road Rage Fink
Dear Road Rage Fink,
Driving, by its very nature, isn’t really peaceful. I’m actually writing this response while riding in a car. We’re hurdling across the landscape over a concrete slab, in a metal container being propelled by thousands of contained explosions. While there is a meditative state that occurs while driving, especially over time when the techniques of maneuvering the vehicle are second nature, we should never forget how inherently intense and violent the entire experience is. Next time you’re in a car, look out the side window at how fast the road is flying by. And if you’re someone who has been fortunate enough to survive one of the millions of accidents that have taken place since the invention of the car, you’re already well aware of just how nightmarish cars can be. Few inventions have had a more beneficial and simultaneously dehumanizing impact on daily life than motor vehicles. While automobiles are beautiful and helpful in connecting us with the world, they have also had an equally deep and disorienting effect on human perception and social behavior.
People behave in ways towards other people in cars that they never would dream of when outside of cars. If we’re walking down the street amongst a crowd of other folks, there’s an entirely different dynamic to the interaction as well as the way we feel about the people around us and their conduct. Automobiles have a personality of their own that we experience separately from the people they contain. The human beings inside become an abstraction or an idea of a person, almost like a toy has been placed in the driver’s seat just to make it seem like someone is in control. A car is a moving room that contains us and confines us, and while we feel we are in control of the vehicle, and that it is confining us for our own safety, it also results in an incredibly influential distortion of how we experience the world.
We don’t usually think of ourselves as a person on the road with other people. We are a car on the road with other cars. The car not only separates us from seeing the other vehicles as machines carrying other people we’re driving amongst, but the car also separates us from ourself. It absorbs us and we become another part of the car — another aspect of this moving shape — like it’s paint color or body style. We don’t judge the car by the driver, we usually judge the driver by the car, making all sorts of assumptions in the process. Think of how different types or vehicles literally give off different feelings, tones and attitudes. How does it actually feel to look at a pick-up truck? What is the personality of a police car? What spirit resonates from a minivan? Or a sports car? Or a bus? The power of automobiles comes from our closeness to them, like the fact that we enter them and they move us around the planet or the fact that most of us have been interacting with cars since we were born. Your entire life is tangled up in cars, and this extremely intimate interaction only increases the depth of their spirit and power over us. These vehicles have become living machines, almost like pet dogs we can ride in. But we seem less in charge of cars than we do a pet dog, or even a horse. Unlike horses we have broken and mastered for transportation in the past, we don’t ride on top of them, we ride inside them. There is something very important to notice here – something maternal, something humiliating, something desperate, and something wonderful.
Road rage is a unique phenomenon related to transportation and the driving experience. But at the same time, rage is rage. Your rage is likely related to something deeper and more personal than just driving. Getting to the root of otherwise unexplained anger requires a deep and penetrating self analysis. We must search our souls and try our best to be honest in identifying why we feel the way we feel, especially when we experience a feeling we don’t enjoy. Overcoming rage is different than directing anger. Rage is less logical and more unruly. When it overtakes us, it’s harder to remember our other feelings and tap into them. Rising above the urge to give into road rage takes an incredible amount of two seemingly opposite strengths: relaxation and calm on the one hand, and extreme concentration and focus on the other. When you’re driving, you can’t just tune out entirely, or your mind won’t be able to do all the little things it needs to do in order to help you drive safely. So what do we do?
It seems that the best approach is one of high awareness and respect. Be aware that cars contain real human beings, just like you. Be respectful of how intense driving is for everyone and resist the urge to engage in behavior you know to be dangerous and unnecessary. Really keep in mind what’s on the line – your life and the life of other people. Is it really necessary to get to that red light two seconds faster? If you’re late for something or even completely miss an appointment, isn’t that still better than getting mangled in a wreck? Learning to master our patience and awareness while driving will help us in all sort and other areas of day-to-day life. It helps us remember what’s really going on around us, what’s really at stake, and what really matters most.
Being able to drive is a privilege. Automobiles give us miraculous power and freedom. We must respect this and the responsibility and danger that comes with it. We must not become so arrogant, distracted, and caught up in petty emotional games that we forget how soft and fragile our little fleshy bodies are compared to the crushing muscle of these massive metal machines. Be strong enough to be calm. And while it may seem more “manly” or exciting to behave aggressively and with unjustified urgency, 99% of the time the place you most need to get to is where you already are: alive.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 20, 2014
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