Archive for kritik debate

Kritiking Transportation Infrastructure Investments, Part 4—A Little More

Posted in High School, lectures, tactics with tags , , , , , , , on June 26, 2012 by kevin kuswa

Strapping the family dog on the car and heading out for a family vacation is just the beginning.  Strapping the notion of transportation—the lengthy noun form of “transport,” to move from port to port—on top of the complicated concept of infrastructure and converting both of these thick words into adjectives modifying a favorite empty signifier among capitalists, “investment,” is like driving an old Toyota with llamas on the roof next to a suspiciously observant motorcyclist.  If you cannot critique the process, critique the vehicle.  If you cannot critique the vehicle, critique the situation.  If you cannot critique the situation, go back to the dog on the car and run politics.

image from blog.

Transportation takes countless forms and directions, as we are all discovering by researching this year’s high school policy debate topic:

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.

Some introductory information can be found on the transportation infrastructure threads on this web site.   This post will jump from those starting points into a few specific thoughts about the wording and the possibilities for kritikal argumentation against and past the topic.

image from home page.

 As mentioned in the “maternal mobility” post, it was a little over one hundred years ago that Alice Ramsey took three companions from New York to California in the first crossing of the continent by a woman driver.  Now, a mere geologic blink of time later, we are completely saturated and defined by auto-mobility and the in/ability to move ourselves and our products along roads and highways.  Traffic congestion is probably only common among humans and ants.  Moving along railways, through the air, through the water, and even through the internet are also significant forms of transportation and circulation, but they are all supplemental to vehicles with wheels and the routes they traverse.  Even the primary forms of transportation most humans start with—knees and feet—have become secondary in many instances to the rush to drive.  Coming of age is often as much about the driver’s license and a set of keys than it is about something like the right to vote or an achievement representing maturity.

How did we get to this form of circulation? What are some ways to think transportation differently? And, ultimately, what is the purpose of building new platforms for movement?  Take a look initially at the resolution’s core and central descriptor: transportation.  Even if transportation is placed at the weak point in the three word phrase (the base of the topic is about investment, then you ask, “what kind of investment?”, before asking “what type of infrastructure investment,” etc.) it is still in essence a topic about transportation.  In other words, no one is going to call this “the investment topic.”  With that in mind, what do we mean by transportation itself, independent of infrastructure investment?  We should ask this question forcefully because if the affirmative cannot defend the concept of transportation, it makes more sense to simply increase infrastructure investment and not worry about the problems embedded in transportation (accidents, reliance on technology, building in capitalism, human-centered resource management, etc.).

Let us assume that for transportation to occur something of substance—some form—is necessary to bring itself to the “port” or to be delivered to the port; and, subsequently, that material substance is expected to undergo a certain portage in order to leave the portal in question and arrive at a distinct portal—whether it is a driveway, carport, airport, air terminal, train terminal, computer terminal, bus station, or dock—located at/in/of a different place, at/in/of a different time, or otherwise changed by a certain medium.  Let’s assume that this is what constitutes transportation—the movement or circulation of an item, person, or particular form like text, sound, or image.  If that is transportation, we need to think about the parallels and differences between transportation and transformation.

image from home page.

The reason the topic matters and the justification that must be provided by the affirmative is that an investment in transportation infrastructure has a purpose beyond an instrumental policy goal.  Many of these purposes—things like safety, jobs, economic growth, national pride, security, etc.—can be satisfied in other ways besides investing in one form of transportation over another.  The push to improve and expand transportation infrastructure is inevitable on a number of levels (population growth, technological advancement, private funding, to name a few reasons), and is perhaps more inevitable than many other human behaviors. The question is more about what types of infrastructure for what types of transportation and who will have what type of access to those modes?

Building a national railroad system is an example of a major investment in transportation infrastructure.  To what end was the railroad constructed and what purpose has the investment served?  There are a lot of good answers to those questions and the railroad is still quite essential to many components of society.  It is the ways that big questions about transportation are answered that can show how many justifications for transportation are simply conduits to other goals and aspirations.  What, intrinsically, then, is a defensible goal of transportation by itself?  Is it the process of movement in a type of exercise model?  Is it a notion of progress built on the human capacity to grow exponentially like a virus?  Transportation is certainly a mechanism for colonialism and warfare, not to mention slavery and other terrible atrocities.  We should not forget the ways transportation has led to oppression and death, for there are many instances where mass numbers of humans have been forcibly transported to prison camps and prohibited from any movement or worse.

A solid book by Paul Gilroy about the transatlantic slave trade, cultural studies in general, and the racial terror associated with the Enlightenment.

 Find a good combination of kritik arguments and articles and look for a niche.  There are a number of options beyond statism and capitalism, both still helpful for framing much of the problem with transportation infrastructure investment.  Better transportation implies more efficiency, better use of energy, and a sustainable view of the environment.  The three E’s (efficiency, energy, and environment) are a good matrix for coming up with some sophisticated kritik positions.  What types of structures are being made more efficient?  What type of access and authorization governs these new mechanisms for transport, including the sources of power necessary to maintain the system?  What places are transformed and how are those places occupied in order to accommodate more and more people moving further and further while linking themselves to more and more products and services?  The topic will be conceptualized as extremely human-centered through most affirmative cases, even more so than last year.  The earth itself becomes a mechanism to transport humans, let alone the de-valuing of the planet’s ecosystems and condition in the name of moving more items at a faster rate (Virilio).  Not only is the earth and its surface objectified and subordinated to human use through transportation infrastructure, so is subjectivity itself.  Humans and humanity do not matter as much as the technology that moves us and our items from place to place.  We lose agency by ceding it to our means of circulation—a giant revenge of the crystal hiding as the perfect crime.  Talk about ceding the political!, “How animals interact with human travel machines”

 Ever see a tollbooth without a road on either side of it?  Circulation is crucial to capitalism and an infrastructure investment in today’s economic climate reaffirms that relationship between technology, labor, and capital.  This is where it makes sense to unpack “infrastructure investment” and move into a criticism of market manipulation and “great works.”  Lots of tourists travel to Mount Rushmore to see the carvings of certain well-known Presidents, only to discover that the parking structure and base foundation are more impressive than the monument.  It is also more expensive to park in the infra/parking structure than to see the monument itself.  Hoover Dam is still more impressive than its quite amazing parking structure, but it is a close contest.  If you add the massive suspension bridge for humans and vehicles that rises high above the dam to the magnificence of the parking structure, the dam loses out.  The infrastructure within Yellowstone and Yosemite has started to rival the natural beauty of the parks.  It is often tough to keep the infrastructure from taking over the structure, making investments in such a process more parasitic than creative. Infrastructure is typically divided into hard forms of physical support—things like roads, canals, runways, potentially sewers, electricity grids, equipment production—and soft forms of institutional support—financial institutions, the judicial system, government management, etc.  The distinction between hard and soft infrastructure, however, is potentially a flawed line to draw because physical support requires administrative support and vice-versa.  Infrastructure is potentially everything that assists in the transportation process—anything that offers “structure” or “potential” to the act of transportation.  The affirmative has to increase that.  It should not be hard to tie the affirmative to an alliance with globalization, modernity, and structuralism, let alone the hierarchy and labor exploitation built into theories of the “base” and the “superstructure.”  “Infra-“ is beneath, within, below, or further.   These are words that tilt infrastructure toward order and a suprastructure, not toward criticism and the possibilities for poststructuralism.

A piece of road in the ocean.  A moving airport.  A view of the USS Midway.

 The telegraph was a popular form of communication in the 1800s, picking up from the use of smoke signals or flag symbols in previous eras.  Does the transmission of a telegraph demonstrate the link between communication and transportation?  Has communication ever separated from transportation?  If the internet is a form of transportation, what is its infrastructure and what does this mean for the place of transportation and the relevance of physicality?  These questions about what is being transported and what type of infrastructure allows the movement to take place are good ones to pursue.  Whether we are talking about the human body as a transportation vehicle, the first wheeled chariots or riverboats, the domestication and saddling of horses, the wheelbarrow, the first hang gliders and moments of flight, the submarine or steamboat, the commercial jet engine, or the space station, we are talking about physical movement.  In a way, so is the telephone or computer terminal (speech?)—sound and electricity can be transported—but there is still something different (or totally the same) about technologies of communication and technologies of transportation.  Ending there for now is as good as any, for this text has to move to your port (screen) to be shared.  Sharing ideas may be one good way to invest in transportation infrastructure.

Image appears in Igor I. Solar, Digital Journal, May 16, 2012 “Beijing’s Summer Palace ‘The Garden of Health and Harmony,’”