Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Machine Age


Through cool weather one day I rode with the Orange Ninja into corners that we know fairly well. It was the day after we made slight adjustments to my bike’s suspension, so I was intending the bike perhaps more than usual on the ride. Did the bike just turn faster than before? Should I make another adjustment? Perhaps on a race track I would have an easier time noticing the difference. Still, the machine moved well and there were turns to enjoy.

On a long, straight and boring road headed northward a dog crept up from a ditch where it was previously hidden and strolled directly into my path. Two fingers leapt from the throttle to the brake lever and pulled it back. Fluid traveled from the master cylinder through hoses that don’t flex to the brake calipers. I heard the shush-like scrape of sintered pads on the front rotors as the springs in the front forks compressed a few centimeters. The muscles in my arms came alive and I was properly upon the dog when it finally noticed us and ran to safety. It had a collar.

I avoided an accident through decision, physical action and the response of a network of engineered parts. That is pretty much how things are done these days and for the most part the arrangement works well. So well, in fact, that it contributes to self-deception.

A neighbor of mine came into contact with a canine while riding and died at the scene. He rocked gear, rode sober and didn’t have a particularly fast or unwieldy motorcycle. He also had more years riding experience than I have years. I mourned the loss and resolved to continue the development of my skills. I had to be better. I had to get this shit down to a science, ride like a well-oiled machine or some other modern improvement metaphor. Yeah. A look at my scarred hand reveals that such a style was not to be done.

On a teched out planet, one that the founders of the World’s Fair could not have imagined, our patterns of expectation have made an illogical jump. News wires are rife with breakthroughs of some kind. A gene is isolated. A better fuel cell is created. A new method for whatever the fuck is devised. Slowly the narratives have simmered, until at last we have come to expect that the answer to all problems will come, that it will take only effort and focus.

Kenneth Kaunda called it the Machine Age Heresy. He said that people are quick to apply the patterns of advancement in technology to politics, to the social sphere, and that this is a mistake of the highest order. It causes us to desire and expect that which simply cannot happen. Sometimes there is no X factor waiting to be discovered that will dissolve our personal and social problems. Sometimes there is no team of professionals who will uncover a secret hidden in nature. Sometimes the only thing that can bring an end to our troubles is time. And this, only because death is the point to which everything tapers.

Similarly, there will never be a time where I can become as reliable and precise in my thought and action as my bike is in its function. Nor can I get the world to behave with the regulated harmony of a tuning fork. I may rock safety gear. I may increase my skills every time I ride but I will always, ultimately, be naked before the road. On the bike as it is in life, at the mercy of the forces in the periphery and the fore. Hope I can pull the brake lever in time.

1 comment:

Ana said...

Parts of this post remind me of a movie. Have you watched The Surrogates? It was not an exciting movie plot-wise-- somewhat predictable and there was a hole in the logic of the "villain" at the end--, but it was philosophically intriguing in a "ghost in the machine" kind of way. :)