Saturday, August 11, 2012

Picktures and Pieces 2: Dangerous Crosswinds May Exist

“Dangerous Crosswinds May Exist”
by Randall Auxier

I mentioned in my last post that I had been driving along “Future I-26 West” in North Carolina. As we always do these days, my spouse looked it up to see what was going on.
The wireless modem has replaced family sing-alongs, but I’m not sorry to see 99 Bottles of Beer take up its place among the forgotten music of the 20th century. Besides, traveling is more educational, interesting, and dare I say, memorable, when one can supplement the sights and sites with the history connectivity brings. I like to think that long before we could get such easy access, all that history was still hovering like a cloud at each place, waiting for some change in temperature, condensing it into drops of clear thought.

Future I-26 doesn’t come up to federal standards for an official “interstate highway.” (Now, now, there can be no civilization without bureaucracy, so don’t go there and I won’t either.) Apparently there are a couple of curves that are too sharp and grades that are too steep, or some such. So somebody has to come up with the money to tear up a perfectly good road and bring it up to federal code. Pretty expensive. No one seems in a great hurry to do it. Hence, this road has been “Future I-26” since 2005. With my fellow motorists I drive into a perpetual “not yet.” I couldn’t help wondering whether I was seeing “Past I-26” in the rearview mirror. Probably not.

But by the law of association, I considered other places and other signs that led me to similar ponderings. Most closely related is the sign marking several acres of empty lots just north of Cairo, Illinois, a place appropriately named “Future City.” All we have to do is wait, right? But then, when the city descends from the sky, or erupts from the ground, will it not, then, need a new name?

This sign, and others like it, have opened up a new branch of philosophy, which I call “Highway Ontology.” This is a study of the modes of temporality, space, and even Being, Itself, based on our difficulty describing things as limited by road signs. We use pictures when we can. But that doesn’t always work. It’s not easy, for instance, to find a picture showing crosswinds. This is what the Irish worked out. To me this seems to say “Used Rough Rider Condom Ahead.”

On the other hand, the state of New Mexico decided to try a more discursive approach. On both I-40 and I-25, one encounters yellow caution signs saying “Dangerous Crosswinds May Exist.” And so they may. No, no, that isn’t strong enough. I insist, as an empiricist that they do, in fact, exist. I have written to the NMDOT, as a philosopher, to advise that they strengthen their stand on this issue. I see this as my civic duty.

Then there are the signs that say things like “Caution Possible Flooding.” And here I really do worry. Possible flooding has never taken a single life or damaged so much as a gopher hole, but actual flooding, now, that’s another matter. If I am constantly on my guard for possibilities, how can I give adequate attention to actualities? Possibilities are not few in number. I am writing a treatise on this to send to all of the highway departments, just something introductory.

“Bridge Ices before Road” is solid empiricism, and some states, states that surely employ philosophy majors, also make these signs for seasonal display. On the other hand, that approach makes more sense for “Watch for Ice on Bridge” than for this sign. Even in July, the bridge would ice before the road, so folding the sign wastes tax money. And “Watch for Ice on Bridge” seems to promise a spectacle where Elvis Stojko may appear. Elvis sightings help tourism. As a professional Highway Ontologist, I endorse it.

I think every highway department may need more than a mere philosophy major as an adviser. I think we might need graduate level radical empiricists, people with expertise in temporality, space, and possibility. I have a feeling that someone pretty advanced came up with this sign in Ireland. It reduces things to their most iconic significance. One need not describe this possibility; one truly sees it. The subtlety of this piece of work is ontologically amazing. It is here, after all, to prevent what it depicts, right? By virtualizing a possibility, it prevents the actuality. And we all thought that possibilities were powerless, but this may be a principle we can appeal to in life as well.

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