Smile Politely

A Brief Interview with Chris Carlsson

Chris Carlsson is the author of the recent book, Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists and Vacant-Lot Gardeners are Inventing the Future Today! He also writes a blog for Lip Magazine called The Nowtopian. In one section of his book, he examines the progress that underground bicycle culture has made toward improving their communities. He also profiles people who make their own biodiesel, as well as the other pursuits mentioned in the lengthy subtitle. For this very special bonus edition of I’ve Got a Bike, he was gracious enough to ignore the poor construction of my questions (actually, he seemed a bit annoyed) and gave some thoughtful answers.

Smile Politely: What are your thoughts about the Critical Mass incident in Seattle in late July? The link on your blog to the Stranger Slog made a lot more sense of things, but I was wondering if you had anything else to say on the matter?

Chris Carlsson: I don’t know more than appeared in those online postings. It seems to be a very typical case of motorist-led aggression, followed by bicyclist self-defense (and some revenge), and then completely distorted media coverage, since according to the MSM paradigm, anything that happens in this context is the fault of bicyclists and the motorists are innocent victims, by rule. This is a more extreme version of how police and motorists and cyclists interact around the daily accidents that plague the roadways… if a bicyclist is hit or doored, and cops come up to take statements, witnesses who happen to be in bicycle garb or on bicycles are systematically disallowed from contributing their eyewitness accounts… at least so it is in SF, and as far as I know that’s pretty typical in other U.S. cities too…

SP: What has the response to the book been like? Have any of the topics touched a chord with readers more than the others?

CC: Kind of hard to answer this broad question. I think the response has been great! the most important and frequent response has been the lifting of a kind of despair that a lot of folks have, a reinvigoration of their own political agency, a new reconnection to their own daily behaviors as fundamentally political… but you could say that’s my wishful thinking too. The inchoate quality of a lot of what I’m talking about, its prefigurative nature both in terms of political movements, and in terms of the activities themselves (they are usually new-ish and only at the beginning of whatever deeper dynamics they’re likely to unleash or contribute to), means that it’s very hard to draw any conclusions from any of it. Maybe in five years we can say I was off the mark on specific examples, but I don’t think it detracts from the deeper analysis, that we’re at a turning point in which the working class (very broadly understood) is “recomposing” itself on a new basis, challenging work in various ways, especially outside the wage-labor paradigm.

SP: During your tour, did you visit any communities that you hadn’t been to before? Any surprises?

CC: I visited lots of new places, projects, and communities. The surprise was mostly how closely they corresponded to my analysis!

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