I’ve been wanting a fixed-gear bicycle for about four months now and often find myself reading about them. Came across one enthusiast’s statement about the fixed gear cog that “Simple tools tend to have the most power.” Seems that Spinozists and fixies share a few axioms.
Last year, around the time the Mexican Presidential election was being decided, I heard John Ross on Democracy Now! discussing what was happening among the Mexican people in response to the stealing of the election. Because he has written three volumes on the Zapatistas and the struggle of the people in Chiapas, two of which are the only extensive histories written about the Zapatista movement, Amy Goodman asked him about the Other Campaign. His response was that he had been unhappy with it because it was like bicycle, if it wasn’t going forward it fell over. This is a common cliché, but doesn’t it also delineate an image of thought? The Bicycle verses The Automobile image of thought for philosophy and politically philosophy especially.
What is the logic of this cliché? Isn’t that a bicycle isn’t as good as an automobile because the car, unlike the bike, doesn’t need to be in motion to retain its usefulness? In a car, for instance, you can go backwards and on a bicycle you have to keep going forward or get off (though this forgets the more fun option – a track stand). This is true, but what of the image of thought that this facilitates? What does it mean to think like one is riding a bicycle?
There is an interesting history of the bicycle in relation to warfare. After the invention in the 1800’s of what was called the “safety bicycle”, but what we just know as “bikes” (basically a triangular frame and two wheels of the same size), European and American military officials began to experiment with the uses of the bicycle in warfare. During World War I the bicycle was used extensively in infantry units and provided a relatively silent, quick, and cheap way of transporting men and materials. Unlike horses they couldn’t be shot and unlike motorized vehicles they could be manufactured quickly without heavy monetary losses if destroyed. It was after the war and the advent of blitzkrieg that the bicycle fell out of favour for modern nation-state warfare. Aside from a few exceptions like the use of Japanese bicycles to surprise the Chinese Army, Hitler’s Germany effectively killed the State’s use of the military bicycle. However, guerrilla armies continued to use it for the same reason guerrilla armies use anything – cheap, available, inconspicuous, and efficient. The French lost Vietnam due in large part to the use of the bicycle to transport supplies from the North to the Vietcong by way of the Ho Chi Minh trail. Though these were usually too loaded to ride, they would provide quick transport for the guerrilla after delivering the supplies.
Is it any surprise that the Zapatista Other Campaign is like a bicycle? It’s a guerrilla mode of thought. Keep moving forward or fall over. Be quick, cheap, inconspicuous. It’s a tricky way of thinking philosophically as well. Just as dangerous in its own way as riding a bicycle into battle against an army of mechanized vehicles. In a way the bicycle is a way of committing to the future regardless of whether that leads to ruin. Thinking as if you’re on a bicycle means you have to learn to improvise with the road itself, with the area of thought you’re traversing, while also being unable to forget your body. For thought this translates into a way of thinking that often leads to philosophical ruin, the ride was not good. You’ve taken a path that is difficult and far from home, and you’ll only be more exhausted when you find another path or road. But, unlike with a car, you don’t have an easy out, you’re pretty much alone and on your own power, but you could have never gotten there with a car. The bicycle is more rhizomatic, more free to traverse disparate territories. Still, there is a kind of excitement of the bicycle that you don’t have with a car. You’re more attached to the earth as the bicycle, unlike the car, does not become a kind of earth for you. The bicycle is an extension of your body, or your body is an extension of the bicycle, either way it presents an experience of motion that is not analogous to a car or train. It’s bio-mechanical.
Learning to think with cycle logic as opposed to the logic of the automobile. A bio-mechanical way of thinking that does not play into the modern thinking of the post-human. A way of thinking that presents the best of humanity, a humanity more in the earth that does not move but is traversed. A becoming-bicycle of philosophy is a political task of thought.