The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Nowhere roads

April 12, 2006

Thanks to Dan, I read the interesting AU piece about Patrick. This is what caught my eye:

“We wouldn’t have a car culture if it weren’t for superhighways,” he says. “The whole idea of being able to drive a car depends on the existence of a certain set of infrastructures. Material infrastructures, certainly, but also conceptual. Think about the metaphors we use. Someone who’s in control is in the driver’s seat. There’s something significant about that. What I want to try to do is pull it together and look at the way the construction of superhighways has this effect of producing us as the kinds of modern subjects that we are.”

My father built interstate highways.

Thus, I think Patrick would agree, the interstate highway system produced me.

When I was growing up, in fact, my family moved from town-to-town, constructing bits and pieces of I-35 in Kansas and Oklahoma. There were other construction jobs, including parts of hydroelectric projects and sludge pits for power plants, but the interstates were the high profile jobs.

I learned to ride a motercycle and drive a car on unpaved interstates. In the farm state of Kansas, kids like me could acquire a driver’s license at age 14. In college, I wrote my first environment-related paper on construction company requirements vis-à-vis green legislation. I could go on, but will spare you the details.

Perhaps in some small way, my father’s management position in the construction business led to my interest in defense and security politics. Indeed, Patrick may have to take into account this social fact:

When President Eisenhower went to Kansas to announce the interstate highway system, he announced it as “the National Defense Highway System.” In 1956 President Eisenhower signed legislation establishing the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (about 41,000 miles of roads)…

The National Defense Highway System was responsible for building many of the first freeways. Its purpose was supposedly to allow for mass evacuation of cities in the event of a nuclear attack. The Interstate system was designed so that one mile in every five must be straight, usable as airstrips in times of war or other emergencies.

Ike, of course, was a fellow Kansan — and it is relatively easy to build straight, flat roads in that state.

This is probably much more than anyone wanted to know, but I for one very much look forward to Patrick’s next book project.

One caution: “Car culture” clearly implies something very different in commuter cities like Washington than it does in the middle of the country. Wide open spaces create different opportunities and needs. “Car culture” also means something different in LA and Hollywood. Did I mention that my father-in-law Sam was apparently a neighbor of George Lucas, who learned about “car culture” in Modesto, CA? Man does my father-in-law like to drive…

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.