Falling out of love with cars
Jon Rynn suggested that this comment to another thread be posted, so, by request, a repeat for the holidays! I would have posted it yesterday but we had a long power outage as a winter storm caused a transformer to blow up, putting several thousand of us without power.
It was a fitting problem to have on the darkest day of the year and in relation to James H. Kunstler, who writes about the increasing trouble we’re going to have managing our complex technical undertakings during the era of "converging catastrophes" (climate change and peak oil) that he has dubbed "the long emergency.”
It seems to me that lots of greens are starting with the proposition that "cars must die" and then look for reasons why. (And I give K the blame for starting people thinking that way.)
I start from the premise that Americans who have (and everyone else in the world who has or expects to have) a car will greatly resist doing away with cars.
This doesn’t compute, to borrow your term. If people love cars so much and will "greatly resist doing away" with them, then either greens aren’t people or your premise is mistaken.
And isn’t it odd that a mere "buffoon" would be able to "start people thinking" in a way that suggests that the "love affair" with the auto is more than anything else a creation of Madison Ave. (plus a remembered affection for a time in the US when the future seemed endlessly bright, resources seemed endlessly available, and hunger was something discussed in terms of China and India).
In other words, if this machine, this chariot of the gods, is so beloved, then why do so many people find that its costs far outweigh its benefits, and why would a mere buffoon find an audience for his jeremiads?
Growing up as a suburban kid in the 60s, I found a small paperback from the 50s called The Insolent Chariots. From the dust-jacket:
"Once upon a time, the American met the Automobile and fell in love. Unfortunately, this led him into matrimony, and so he did not live happily ever after."
This is a book about what America and the automobile have done to each other.
Do you ever wonder why today’s cars look the way they do, and why they cost so much? Is the public at the mercy of Detroit? Or vice-versa? Are the new highways drawing the nation together — or are they merely homogenizing it? What goes on behind the facade at your friendly dealer’s, and when you buy a car do you know how to penetrate the Byzantine snarl of auto "financing"? Is our marriage to the automobile part of our greatness, or is it a disaster — and what can we do about it, anyway?
Wielding a rapier tipped with wit, edged with anger and forged with the facts, John Keats slashes aside myth and chrome, to reveal the truth behind our fateful match. Whether you want to get a horse or settle for a horse laugh — you will never again look at your car yourself, or your native land in quite the same way …
Kunstler is not the first to notice that our "love affair with the automobile" closely resembles Michael Douglas’s experience in "Fatal Attraction."
Despite reading and enjoying the Keats’ book, I grew up with the typical uncritical acceptance of motorhead, buying my first car before I even had a license using money saved from washing dishes in a restaurant and mowing lawns. I know I sure didn’t start life with a "cars must die" mindset. I grew up in a neighborhood where a teen 16 or older would rather have gone to school naked than in the school bus (a/k/a "loser cruiser").
I took that car with me to duty stations across the country, never quite wanting to notice that the costs of insurance and repairs did more to keep my bank balance on low than anything else I did, including developing a real fondness for bourbon and beer, which I indulged greatly without ever reducing my driving much. I get a pit in my stomach when I think of the number of trips I took home from bars, three sheets to the wind, in the woods over windy rural roads. I easily could have killed someone (other than myself). I’m grateful I didn’t.
Drinking, driving, and dying were a big problem in the military. We had to attend mandatory education about alcohol abuse in those days — which led me to say, "If you’re going to learn about something, learn from the pros," and boy, were we ever the pros of alcohol abuse.
When I got out of the service, I had an experience not unlike that at the end of Lord of the Rings, where the hobbits returning to the Shire can barely recognize it because it had become an ugly wasteland. For whatever reason, I was able to note that essentially all the ugliness in what had once been indescribably beautiful land was connected to the automobile. The land was covered with a scabrous sprawl of concrete; the air was now dangerous (literally) and had a distinct petroleum scent; the water was spoiled at every point, burdened with oil, gasoline, and antifreeze. The first signs of the obesity epidemic were present — between the new "cable TV" and MTV and automobiles, kids didn’t seem to do much involving their own muscles any more.
I didn’t read or hear of James Howard Kunstler until the late 90s; he didn’t put some weird loathing of automobiles into my head. The only thing Kunstler has done is get a few people to look at all parts of the bargain we’ve struck with automobility and motorhead thinking — the slaughter on the roads, the destruction of the natural and civic environment alike.
What suggests to me that Kunstler is onto something is the rabid scorn he generates from people who disagree with him. It’s always more venomous than simple disagreement merits. It seems people in the First Church of Carburbia hate him because he’s heretical — not because he’s wrong in his critique, but because he’s right.