Transportation? Qualities for the future
Sunday, December 26, 2004
, Paris, France, Europe
Many of you know Peter Wiederkehr, the man who for years has been the principal force behind the ETS (Environmentally Sustainable Transportation) project of the OECD Environment Directorate, an approach which he is now hoping to extend to the developing countries as well. Two days ago he was kind enough to come over to have lunch and share his views on our nascent New Mobility 20/20 Emergency Initiative, and in the process he talked about what he viewed as the realities and forces that in fact underpin whatever it is we decide to collectively do in the transport sector or any other.
I was fascinated and impressed. So I asked Peter if he would not mind writing it down in note form, so that I could post it to our new “A day at the office” gizmo that you will find on the New Mobility Agenda site (a sort of rough compendium that attempts to seize and share some of the most interesting of the many interesting things that pass though here each day) .. to which he kindly said yes. The attached is the result of his kind efforts and I find that it is sufficiently challenging, fundamental and important that you too would want to have a look.
As you will see in his cover note to me just below, Peter welcomes comments and challenges, so let me get out of the way now and leave it now to Peter, and to you.
Note: I find this particularly timely in the context of our collective attempt to see what we might do together possibly to reshape some elements of the Principal Voices program as it attempts to deal with a sector which we of course know rather well.
Hi Eric, Please find below the amended text for your daily log.
Thank you for challenging me and I look forward to your reaction. Please feel free to edit, if needed.
Thank you. Peter
Dr. Peter Wiederkehr; 12, square Gabriel Fauré; 75017 Paris
Tel./fax: +33 1 46 22 03 46 ; mobile: +33 6 30 15 70 40
I am taking up your challenge to write down the few ideas on what I think would be needed for the future in terms of human qualities individually as well as collectively to make the new mobility agenda work. This is very much in line with what we had kept in mind in the EST project, where we continuously insisted in our discussions and proposals to preserve a human face for the future of transportation and not just the realization of a perfect and smoothly functioning system, but in fact a complex mechanically organised mobility life.
What I am going to develop is neither original nor revolutionary, as it is inspired from many thinkers present and past, based on my cultural, educational and ethical background - a very personal synopsis of a few decades of errors and struggle with life and destiny.
Of course, this shouldn’t be understood and is clearly not my intention that the following ideas should take the form of any sort of declaration of principles or societal goals (we have seen the many of them, which had more than doubtful impacts and primarily remained paper with little if at all relevance of the day-to-day behaviour and actions), quite the contrary, I rather think that this could be a starting point of a discussion for rethinking future needs, our approaches towards them and how we could apply it to influence that mobility agenda.
Before I will develop these ideas, let me make a preliminary remark on the premises that I am starting from, as I think this is important, since the non-articulation of these premises is one of the main sources of misunderstanding among people. If we would be aware of this fact, we could avoid many conflicts and increase understanding and tolerance.
To the premises: I think a modern and future oriented view of the world has to get rid of some old-fashioned, outdated and false concepts, in particular concerning the very nature of us as human beings. We ought to understand and take into account that, despite any other declarations from powerful institutions, the human being is a threefold entity that is simultaneously physical (the body), emotional (the soul) and spiritual (the mind). There are numerous facts that underpin this statement and even the latest research proves this, although largely ignored or wrongly communicated in the mainstream media channels (yet, there are some films that project these findings with a surprisingly clear message).
Thus, I believe that we are neither only a physical body with its basic needs, capacities and limits, nor an urge-driven greedy beast that so many commercials are trying to make us believe nor an invisible spirit hovering over and above the lowlands of darkness and misery, but we, as human beings, are all the three-in-one, interacting, interfering and influencing one another. Recognising this fact of a threefold entity with different requirements and capacities for each of his parts would bring clarity in how we think, talk and act, and thus help to understand of what is going on in the world with us, the persons surrounding us, and possibly our own destiny and those of these people and our time. This view of the human being as a both spiritual and physical entity has serious consequences on what we are going to project, propose and actually do and how we do it, as each part claims its recognition and thus, the need for our self to reconcile them by conscious action.
Our approaches will entirely depend on these premises:
1) If for instance we are convinced that the human being is primarily a physical entity with some emotional annex then we look for maximizing and facilitating the fulfillment of the physical needs, primarily through technological means to make life easier and people “happier” (yet many surveys showed that children of lower social classes experience the feeling of happiness more often than children of wealthier classes – how comes? and what was it again that triggered the student revolt in the late sixties?).
2) If we are of the opinion that the human being is basically influenced or even driven by emotional factors than the emphasis is put on trying to comfort people by controlling the emotional sphere and influence it accordingly through different stimuli to achieve a high level of pleasure and so- called satisfaction (e.g. by providing specific devices to deliver all kinds of drugs, painkillers, psycho-pharmaceuticals and tranquillizers of all kinds aimed at mitigating the impacts of the more than visible ugly face of modern life and the society at large.
3) If the prevailing view is that this is all wrong and the human being is primarily a spiritual entity incarnated in a body (there are still some parts of the world that share this conviction), the physical body is considered just a painful appendix or annoying hindrance to the actions and requirements of the mind and consequently, the body and soul will have to be ignored and subjected to the toughest constraints and sufferings so that it is completely subordinated to the mind. This extreme representation will lead to ignorance of our senses and neglect of the wonderful physical world, and ultimately ending in degradation and cultural decay.
Thus, it is obvious that these different views of the world have much influence on our behaviour and are supported, underpinned and projected by the many of proponents in each category with specialists and authorities (who in many circumstance know more than their scholars) that exercise their power and influence with strong voices and impressive means. Yet, I don’t think that the problem is primarily in these single-sided views rather than using it in an unconscious way in their undertakings. I think that if people would be aware of this and recognised it when dealing and interacting with each other, it would help resolve many problems and completely blocked situations. Thus, we might be well advised to observe this in our in individual and collective endeavors.
It is therefore my conviction that the view of us as human being as a threefold entity is capable of providing more balanced approaches and solutions of our problems (at least as a possibility), but has of course its own difficulties and challenges, as this entity is living and the interactions are dynamic; that means, they change over the time of the day, the months and years of our life; they might have fundamentally changed after several decades (the physical appearance provides testimony of the actions exercised upon it). Of course, this has broader ramifications on the view of the world, its course, etc. which would have to be discussed, but go beyond the scope of these initial comments.
On the basis of the considerations so far, let’s look at some of the human qualities desperately needed and have the power of making progress towards a more human society and world.
- Qualities that would be a pre-requisite for making real progress in any undertaking may include: showing interest and understanding; being concerned, showing compassion and empathy for people and life in general, being committed and reliable; trustworthy and truthful; defend individual freedom and diversity of opinions, but also show humor and tolerance, and above all be patient and endure on action taken, and finally, being aware and raise self-consciousness.
Note that to all of these qualities would make sense for doing good business, figure in almost all humanitarian charters, but are quite absent in the actually prevailing motives and behaviours in today’s business world. Of course, there are noticeable exceptions.
Basically, we would be looking for a fully conscious and responsibly acting individual.
This is quite in contrast to the always heard call for everything to be smaller, faster and cheaper – certainly, the individual is too complex, too slow, too expensive (thus, the attempt to replace it by machines). But the solutions have to have dimensions that we as individuals can manage (too small is not accessible either is too big; or too fast or complex exceeds our capacity to follow it with our mind and body; thus, it get’s out of our hands and finally, cheaper is an illusion, as there are enormous hidden social costs (externalities!). What will be required is the right measure, the human measure, and of course, everybody is called to determine this for himself. Lest there be no doubt: the human body is the perfect, sensitive physical apparatus that exists and we far from any understanding of its processes: striking examples of the wonders of our body are in the news almost every day.
Thus, we would need creativity, courage and endurance to implement some of the new ideas, but also tolerance, respect and civism, and finally self-organising activities to use efficiently scarce resources.
Our general ideal would be to give more than we take (if applied in general we would all gain enormously), be something for someone rather than to have it or him/her; i.e., to make a contribution to the world rather than just being a greedy, extremely clever consumer taking the resources wherever they are. What is this contribution like? What is its nature? What its magnitude? Who can do it? Who will take the lead? Who follows? It will need a lot of education and good examples; there are many, but largely unknown, ignored or belittled.
Where could we get some guidance from? Maybe from the three principles or ideals that were advocated during the French Revolution: freedom, equality, fraternity. Are they of any use or guidance in our endeavors? Maybe this is too big of a complex of issues in this initial discussion, as this would lead us into a general analysis of current society and social systems. I would prefer to develop this on another occasion. I think these ideals could be useful to have them in the back of our minds when we examine the positive potential of a future activity.
To conclude these preliminary comments with a view to our new mobility agenda:
There are striking examples that work and deliver impressive results in terms of efficient resource use, economic savings, individual gains and social benefits. Just take one example: integrated mobility services combining public transport and individual car use (I would call them PTCarPlus) or any combined transport chain management for freight. A brief review of these initiatives shows that the above mentioned qualities are key ingredients to make them work, and at first was a strong concern about the present situation and its failures and the search for new, unconventional solutions.
The personal qualities are becoming more critical as the service content of a product becomes more important. It is no longer the product and its performance that matters, the service itself is the product and thus the individual persons matter at the first place.
Most of these initiatives work a small scale, where individual qualities have a great impact, corrective measures can easily applied and problems solved. To make them work at larger scale, the group possessing these qualities has to become larger, but there might be a limit in size in order to keep it working (remember the right measure). Thus, the term is decentralization of initiatives and competences, while communicating through networking including social gatherings to exchange ideas and experience (“every meeting is a transformation” is a saying from the Indians at the Canadian West coast, north of Vancouver); and building friendship. We should certainly work on a new meeting (conference?) culture.
Such exchanges will be excellent opportunities to discuss initiatives, learn from them, create and encourage new ones that try new ways for solving problems, including those related to our ever increasing mobility demands. The experience from promising practical examples will be of great value as it will motivate people in their own endeavors. The analysis of all aspects of the initiative, in technical/scientific, social and economic terms is important, but more important is to draw conclusions from them and agree on specific actions.
In any case, it would be useful to think about mobility systems that can function at an oil price of even more than 100 dollars per barrel of oil….Don’t you think so?. Encouraging the further development of integrated mobility services is just one example to exercise our ability towards a sustainable transport future.
So far for today….
I look forward to your reaction, Eric.
Dr. Peter Wiederkehr; 12, square Gabriel Fauré; 75017 Paris
Tel./fax: +33 1 46 22 03 46 ; mobile: +33 6 30 15 70 40