published in GLOBE magazine, Pakistan,
in August 1990

In days long past, it was an interesting pastime, while being stuck in a traffic jam, to reflect on the clumsiness or dreaminess of the person causing the congestion at the top of the queue. These days, however, this no longer applies, as there is no top, middle or end to traffic: cars are simply everywhere. The longest traffic jam that has so far been recorded in Germany had a length of 100 km.

Getting from A to B by car in West Germany has become quite difficult. Thirty million cars are meanwhile jamming roads and competing for parking spaces that are becoming ever more scarce. This means that with a population of 61.7 million, almost every second person owns a car. There are already 60 cars to a kilometre, or, put in different words: If every car has an average length of 4 m, and if all cars stood bumper to bumper on the total road network of 500,000 km, the queue would have a length of 120,000 km, that is 140 times the north-south distance of Germany!

This may sound like a wonderful technological advance, but at what price and wherein lies the progress? If our grandfathers walked for 20 minutes to get to work, our parents used the bicycle or tram to arrive in time and also needed 20 minutes to get anywhere. But the end nowadays is open: you never know now if there will be some traffic jam due to an accident or road repair works. Then there is all the hassle to accompany us: exhaust fumes, the noise, the destruction of natural landscapes, as well as the overcrowding of our towns with cars.

The car is looked upon as the German’s most favourite toy and as a status symbol of one’s worth in society. It could be that a bright, shiny and fast car just might contain a bright and dynamic personality! A certain age-old hunting and chasing instinct from mankind’s earliest days is also done justice to, and a pseudo philosophy of freedom and liberty is conveyed in the car. These secondary functions are even effective in a traffic jam. It is much more comfortable to sit in a car, on your own, to listen to the radio or to pick up the newspaper while waiting for the traffic to continue, than to stand upright in an overcrowded tram, catching some virus, or being tossed about by the alternating stop-and-go of the bus.

The politics in the 70’s was to promote the private car industry and to economize on the public transport system which was running at a loss anyway. Only 10% of all passengers are now carried by public transport. Saving public money on one side, even making a profit from the car owner by levying car and fuel taxes which far surpass the subsidies that are necessary to maintain the roads, made this policy seem logical and reasonable. And every sixth job is dependent on the car!

But the drawbacks are now being felt: one million new cars on the road every year cannot be absorbed endlessly. Quoting traffic expert Hans-Joachim Meyer of Dusseldorf, the capital of the state of North-Rhine-Westphalia: “Our roads need to be made twice as large in our city centre, but then there would no longer be any city centre. New parking spaces only attract more cars. People will leave their cars at home if no parking spaces are found. This is the only way to reduce the trend.”

The future lying ahead of us is uncertain. In Athens a temporary ban on all cars was recently pronounced on account of the ever-increasing smog in the capital of Greece. Plans have already been designed to introduce the same measure here, should the need arise, in spite of the filters that are now being used on a larger scale. (65% of all newly manufactured cars.)

The government in Paris is considering building a tunnel system for cars even below the underground train network. Space is becoming rare!

But France has been more lucky than others in persuading many drivers to use the train to cover longer distances, by building the ‘train à grande vitesse’, the high-speed train, greatly reducing the time needed to travel between towns, and at the same time protecting the environment from pollution. In Switzerland, too, more rapid and more frequent trains, combined with reduced prices, have encouraged the Swiss to use the train twice as often as the Germans do.

But the slogan: ‘free passage for free citizens’ (at full speed if possible) had been drummed into them with colourful advertisements for many years, cannot be pursued. Different solutions need to be found. A total abandonment of the car will not be possible.

Research is now taking place into a ‘convoy-pilot system’, by which cars drive at a general speed of 120 km/h on the left-hand side of the motorway, bumper linked to bumper, with the driver being able to have a complete rest. Politicians are also considering building ‘intelligent roads’. With the help of sensory electronics built into the roads, computers could then measure the frequency and speed of cars and communicate the data to the public via radio, so that certain diversions could be recommended in case of traffic congestions.

More flexible working and shopping hours, as well as the spacing out of the beginning and end of school holidays in the various states of the Federal Republic of Germany, could also improve the situation.

Perhaps the solution lies in listening to what nature has to teach us: All systems which need growth in order to survive are doomed to outlive themselves, because, according to the rules of logic, permanent growth is not possible. These same rules of nature, by which only those systems are stable which have a low turnover of energy, could apply to the car industry as well.

By 2025 the planet’s resources of petroleum might be depleted, if the present trend continues. New technologies are needed: solar energy or the hydrogen-driven car may be the alternatives.

The President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Richard von Weizsacker, recently stated: “Only those industries which support and protect the environment may say that their technology is in the service of mankind.”

And, who knows, some day in the far future, many of us will not drive to work at all. The computer, combined with a two-way television channel and a telephone, will make communication via great distances possible, and will make many journeys superfluous. The teleprinter is already in widespread use. Aldous Huxley’s vision of the ‘Brave New World’, his famous book which he wrote in the 1930’s, is approaching reality.

At present, however, traffic in towns is getting on top of people, and for the more agile of the drivers in Germany: try using a skate board”



The STAR, Pakistan
(DAWN group of publishers) Sunday, March 5, 1989

Business men in the Federal Republic of Germany have seized the opportunity of making money with a demand that seems to be on the increase: gambling. Around 1.7 million slot-machines are installed in West Germany. Gambling hells are popping up like mushrooms in many towns, particularly in areas of high unemployment. Roughly 1.5 billion DM disappeared in these machines in 1988. The industry concerned is therefore not very worried.
But many others are: The retail trade fears a loss of income as the shopping districts have become less attractive because of the gambling hells. Self-help groups that have been formed to deal with the many people who have meanwhile become addicted to the gambling passion are also warning of the great dangers involved: heavy debts, broken family ties, and a rising crime rate.

“When you are in front of your slot-machine, you can think of nothing else, and there is no other place in the world where you want to be!”, says Klaus B., around 21, who already has a gambling career of a few years and who has literally lost thousands of marks that he has pushed through the slots of the various ‘one-armed bandits’ around town.

According to the Federal Health Ministry, there are about 20,000 people in the Federal Republic of Germany who could be called compulsive gamblers. Psychologists and social workers speak of ½ million of problem gamblers, of which around 360,000 gamble daily, and 90% are male.

There are stages of the gambling addiction and different types of gamblers. There is the cool and calculating type, who gambles out of curiosity or out of a wish to make quick money. He wants to be sociable or just switch off for a while from the pressures of every-day life. They are able to stop when too much money has been lost, or too much time has been spent, so that other interests have to be neglected.

The addicted type in the final stage, however, has to cope with severe disorders: Everything revolves around his gambling habit, his work shows deterioration, his friends turn away from him, high debts are incurred, he shows fits of sweating or trembling, he sleeps badly and, above all, he feels very guilty. All these symptoms, however, will disappear as soon as he enters a gambling hell, or 1 of the 30 casinos in West Germany.

Yet what makes some gamble in a controlled manner, whereas others fall deeper and deeper into the addiction trap? What are they looking for? What are they fleeing from? In each case the underlying conflict has to be determined. Scientists have discovered several factors behind the non-material addiction, or, in fact, behind any kind of addiction. The desire is to bring about a change in the emotional state. Special stimuli or reactions are sought after in order to create a pleasant emotional sensation, and to avoid any feeling of displeasure. It is an attempt to satisfy certain needs immediately, instead of following normal rules of conduct, that would naturally lead to the desired result, but which would mean practicing self-restraint and patience.

The aim and the essence of addictive behaviour therefore is the creation of an illusory world, a particular way of escapism. Relieving oneself from the burden of a problem, without actually solving it. The alternating states of tension (the uncertainty of winning or losing) and the subsequent relaxation (as soon as the cylinders of the machine have come to a standstill) are the desired results. Flashing lights, hooting sounds, and the occasional flow of cash help to produce the intoxication.

“Playing so that I don’t have to talk” is the comment by Hans W., aged just 19. Trouble with parents and companions, the loss of a job and bleak prospects for the future are usually the background set-up of addictions of any kind.

Of great importance is also the personal view of destiny. Somebody who is convinced that life is controlled by external factors such as luck, coincidence, other people, or fate, is more likely to become a gambler, than somebody who will see the consequences of their actions in the light of their own ability, motivation or efforts.

A general low self-esteem causes some juveniles to be unable to cope with failures, and to lose a sense of reality. In their phantasy world in the gambling-hell they feel all-powerful, whereas sub-consciously it is really their feeling of guilt which drives them to punish themselves.

Why the guilt?

Very often, conflicts to back to childhood. In his essay: ‘Dostojewsky and the murder of his father’ Sigmund Freud has analysed the hidden desire to rebel against the father, even to subconsciously wish to kill him.

As soon as the gambler has lost a lot of money, his work has been neglected, or even money has been stolen in order to continue the habit, ever greater feelings of guilt will start to develop in him. This gives him all the more reason to try to forget these unpleasant feelings, all the more reason to have the subconscious wish to be punished: - all the more reason to gamble yet again. A vicious circle!

But back to the visible and conscious world. It is a fact that our society is increasingly offering us instruments that satisfy our needs such as stimulation, distraction and relaxation by indirect means, instead of encouraging personal initiative, creativity and imagination. The stronger our habit to use impersonal devices such as television or other push-button instruments, the more likely we are also to use impersonal means to remove feelings of displeasure: drugs, alcohol and, in some cases, gambling.

Self-help groups show a way out of the dangerous habit. By meeting regularly and talking about the problems of the people involved, they point out ways to encounter reality and to deal with certain situations in a positive and active manner.

The solidarity inside the group will help each member to increase his self-esteem and to handle setbacks more constructively. The one-time addict will think twice before entering another gambling-hell. – He prefers now to talk about his father (or any problem he may have) instead!

The End

March 1989