23 March 2007

terrorism, anyone?

in this week's london review, john lanchester opens with a provocative scenario:

"It is strange and striking that climate change activists have not committed any acts of terrorism. After all, terrorism is for the individual by far the modern world’s most effective form of political action, and climate change is an issue about which people feel just as strongly as about, say, animal rights. This is especially noticeable when you bear in mind the ease of things like blowing up petrol stations, or vandalising SUVs. In cities, SUVs are loathed by everyone except the people who drive them; and in a city the size of London, a few dozen people could in a short space of time make the ownership of these cars effectively impossible, just by running keys down the side of them, at a cost to the owner of several thousand pounds a time. Say fifty people vandalising four cars each every night for a month: six thousand trashed SUVs in a month and the Chelsea tractors would soon be disappearing from our streets. So why don’t these things happen?"

(read the rest.)

gee. i had never considered the ethical and instrumental possibilities of SUV vandalism. lanchester is completely correct about the ease with which a few committed souls could make SUV ownership considerably less attractive; moreover, i'm not convinced that such measures are unethical. certainly the ownership of an SUV (at least, a traditionally powered one) in an urban area is manifestly unethical -- as a response, mere vandalism seems eminently reasonable. unlike petrol station sabotage, a good old fashioned keying wouldn't render the monstrosity undriveable (hence no one suffers material harm beyond the cost assigned to the scratches) -- just unsightly. avoiding neighborhoods that are less well off (and where big chunks of assets are likely to be bound up in cars, rather than banked or put into housing stock), and/or conducting a sticker/leaflet warning campaign ahead of time, could lead to even better targeting. in my dream scenario (dare to dream!), SUV's become uninsurable in urban ZIP codes.

but to return to the question lanchester poses: why doesn't this happen already? deeply ingrained social contract? the Left's unacknowledged respect for even the most unrespectable private property? the fact that you don't have to be radical to be terrified about climate change? (i think this last is a strong contender.) it's hard to say but interesting to ponder.