Saturday, April 29, 2006

Automobile Politics

I believe the automobile is the worst thing that ever happened to the planet, and by extension, to the human race. Not just its disproportionate contribution to greenhouse gases, but its effect upon our culture and our attitudes.

Can anyone out there claim to have never regarded another motorist as an enemy? The timid driver holding a lengthening snake of the impatient behind them, or the transport truck driver careering along a winter road with his own fogbank of blinding snow in his wake? Even in the most insular of societies, a lengthy journey in public transport eventually leads one to recognize our common humanity, if only in a timid, grudging way. A lengthy journey by automobile leads one to detest other drivers.

The fragmentation of human society into suburbs, satellite towns, and acreages grew from our dependency on the automobile, and is the very antithesis of the meaning of the word civilization. Cities originally grew where people found the means to prosper in the common good. Today, half of our electorates decry the common good as the opposite of economic efficiency. What an illusion. The common good is the institution which provides the hospital you were born in, the school where you were educated, and the company where you earn your living. Don't be deceived by the lie that self made men are those who prosper by their own efforts – if there were no society bound together by the give and take of the common good – those individuals would be as impoverished as any other peasant under feudalism.

Corporate managers and their think-tank minions, who decry government for its waste and inefficiency – and claim it's holding them back – have gained more from the common good than you or I. They benefit more from good order, effective government, and the whole edifice of laws than you or I. Who is it has recourse to the courts most? Not those of us who cannot afford the lawyers' fees. The majority of society has always looked to a champion to protect their rights – an aristocratic patron, a king, a representative, or a president. Good government is the champion of the common people, not just the rich and powerful. If it's not serving you now it's because it has been subverted to other, insider interests. Business gets the tax breaks and the royalty holidays.

So how did I get here from decrying the automobile? No matter how much we may mistrust and oppose it, some kind of carbon tax may become inevitable. The automobile manufacturers and the oil companies vehemently oppose it – supported by all the little people who hang onto their coat-tails. The result will be that the eventual legislation will come in with the stamp of those antagonisms, and lose sophistication and clever policies for a sledge hammer of authority. And who will suffer most? The common people, of course.

You with a home in the suburbs or the country will inevitably bear a larger share of the burden than the apartment dweller in the city. You will be the one paying an outrageous price for gasoline while others take public transit. But it doesn't have to be that way. It would be fairer for the shift in taxation, and the subsidies our governments pay to vested interests, to start small and create the shifts in spending and investment patterns over the long, rather than the short term. Instead of the high cost of commuting become a burden upon your investment in country property in one fell swoop, it would unfold gradually; hopefully giving you and your heirs ample time to adjust their expectations and their savings accordingly.

That will only happen if we – the people who depend upon the common good – cease supporting the policies that benefit those other people. Let's shed a crocodile tear for the poor shareholders of Exxon and Shell, but don't be fool enough to vote their politicians into office where they can shift more burden onto you. We've been suckers long enough. Polish the damned things that you depend upon for travel and pay those dollars to keep them in safe order – but don't worship them. If you can find someone's deep frier that will keep you in bio-diesel, more power to you, but the best solution is likely the fuel cell. That technology improves almost daily. Don't let it be manipulated out of existence the way other examples of the common good have been. If its greatest advantage is in public transport, applaud it. Lobby to have public transit come your way, for your benefit as well. One day the fuel that powers society may be growing in the field beside you. It will smell like a new future.


Blogger Stephanie said...

I despise suburbs. I am a happy city dweller and I walk to my gym. In fact, in that entire complex, which is a 10 minute walk from my place, there's a gym, a grocery store, a Supercuts, a Best Buy, restaurants, and everything I could possibly need.

1:25 PM  

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