Motorists and Freud, Revised

I’m on a trip “Back East” for some family business, one that will allow for a break to go into New York City (Manhattan) and try out the Citibike bikeshare (now in limited operation as it shovels its way out of “Snowzilla”).

I’ve ridden in NYC before, during one of my Summer bike tours, and that previous ride was one of my all-time favorites. That ride did have a few things going for it: Summer, July 4th (so far less traffic), and no ugly-ass snow/ice/slush mountains adjacent to the right lane throughout.

So tomorrow and Saturday might not be quite the pleasure cruise I had a few Summers back in NYC, but I’m still looking forward to it from a cycling perspective.

Why is that? And this is where we get into psychology…

In terms of cycling psychology, perhaps the most powerful aspect of bike touring is the liberating-meets-adventure feeling of riding in new areas with unknown quirks and possible dangers. It’s fun, which is what got us on a bicycle in the first place, combined with a heightened, almost primordial survival mechanism at work. We largely miss the combination of fun and survival mechanism in our daily lives.

Then there’s the motorist’s side.  Dr. Jennifer Kunst, writing for Psychology Today, takes Sigmund Freud via social psychologist Jonathan Haidt to look the id/ego/superego of driving thus:

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, puts a great twist on this (Freud’s) metaphor by saying that the mind is a little bit like driving a horse and buggy “in which the driver (the ego) struggles frantically to control a hungry, lustful, a disobedient horse (the id) while the driver’s father (the superego) sits in the back seat lecturing the driver on what he is doing wrong.” I can just picture it!

If we bring the metaphor into the 21st century, life is about trying to drive a car. We want to learn to drive it safely and mindfully—not recklessly (as the stereotypic teenager racing down a mountain road at midnight) nor overcautiously (like the stereotypic little old lady putt-putting at 30 mph on the freeway). If we have the discipline to drive the speed limit, stay in our lane, pay attention, and follow the rules of the road, then we have the chance to really get somewhere in life.

I’m no psychologist, but do think cycling in traffic for a few years allows for some insights into the psyche of drivers, insights that aren’t nearly as apparent to many motorists themselves. That’s a big reason why the single best thing we could do to improve cycling safety and infrastructure would be for every single motorist to ride a bike along our roads in traffic…just once.

And as amateur psychologist via cycling in traffic, I’m going to posit that while readers of Psychology Today may, in general, have higher than average ratios of ego to id, there are many, many, many, far too many drivers who don’t read Psychology Today and sure as hell have less than average ratios of ego to id. In other words, we’ve got some just about pure id drivers out there.

They are the car.

And it is this id bunch that “drives” traffic engineering, just as its the drunks who generate 90% of the profit at a bar.

Looking forward, this id/ego balance is one very interesting angle to the arrival of self-driving cars. How will we adjust, both as a society and individual containers of ego/id/superego, to losing our identity as drivers? Maybe most importantly, how will we pry the steering wheel out of the clenched, perhaps dead, fingers of our just about 100% id motorists?

All this will be rolling around in my head as I interact with one of the busiest sets of streets in the world the next couple of days.  It will be fun and there will be survival (I’m counting on it), yet there will also be calculations of probability and a most definite lookout for what one might call “Id Driver Eye (IDE)” in the faces of the thousands and thousands of cars, delivery trucks, taxi, Ubers and more taxis I come across in the next 48 hours.

Wish me luck.




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