Robert Heilbroner reported that “At a business forum, I was once brash enough to say that I thought the main cultural impact of television advertising was to teach children that grown-ups told lies for money. How strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that generates a ceaseless flow of half-truths and careful deceptions?”
The problem, of course, goes even deeper than this. It isn’t just the surfeit of lies, but also the legitmization of an overall attitude that celebrates irrationality and defies grown-upness.
Consider how this recent General Motors Corporation advertisement somehow both dismisses and flips the middle finger to a question that, if we had an ounce of healthy democracy left in this society, would actually be at the center of national debate: How in God’s name can we still be making cars, to say nothing of “luxury” cars?
To extend Heilbroner, how strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that, despite continentally obvious prospects of calamity, simply refuses to face up to the simplest costs of its core, defining technology?
The United States Department of Transportation “is requesting proposals from applicants to form an initial network of multiple proving grounds, focused on the advancement of automated vehicle technology.” Why is the public doing the automotive corporations’ job for them, to say nothing of the question of why THIS, this subsidy to one of human history’s worst, most dangerous technologies, rather than to test sustainable transportation/societal reconstruction/ecological survival projects?
It’s all iced with the usual Orwellian pronouncements. “Safety is our top priority,” says the Transportation Secretary, despite the sheer impossibility that any conceivable cars-first transportation order will ever approach the safety and fitness of the civilized, walking-and-bicycling-and-rail arrangement that has always been anathema to our market-totalitarian overclass.
That is Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which represents the branch of the capitalist class that collects its rents from tweaking basic public inventions like computers, cell phones/radios, satellites, and the internet.
It turns out, to the surprise of nobody who cares about elemental reality, that the products Mr. Shapiro’s clients sell are extremely dangerous when combined with capitalism’s #1 product, automobiles. As reported by Automotive News:
10 percent of the 35,092 fatal crashes in 2015 involved at least one distracted driver, resulting in 3,477 fatalities, up 9 percent from 2014. Distraction was also factor in 16 percent of the 5.6 million non-fatal crashes in 2014, the most recent data available, the [NHTSA] said.
The NHTSA has responded to this public health emergency with — you guessed it — voluntary guidelines for the slightly less deadly deployment of the offending products.
This is where Mr. Shapiro comes in:
Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, called the guidelines “de-facto” regulations that defy calls from lawmakers for the Obama administration to refrain from issuing new regulatory actions until the next administration.
“NHTSA doesn’t have the authority to dictate the design of smartphone apps and other devices used in cars — its legal jurisdiction begins and ends with motor vehicle equipment,” Shapiro said in the statement. “Under their vision, they would have the influence to control the design of technology products down to the fitness tracker worn on a driver. Such a vast and extreme expansion of NHTSA’s authority, if it were to happen, would have to be explicitly granted by Congress.”
The research doesn’t get any clearer. But the topic is the lifeblood product of corporate capitalism, so the research gets curtly and utterly ignored.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands die. Per today’s New York Times:
[H]ighway fatalities last year recorded the largest annual percentage increase in 50 years. And the numbers so far this year are even worse. In the first six months of 2016, highway deaths jumped 10.4 percent, to 17,775, from the comparable period of 2015.
This is America. These are our priorities, our values.
It will be somewhat interesting to see who Drumpf picks as Transportation Secretary. Evel Knievel is dead, so it’ll have to be somebody else. Not, of course, that it matters, since no topic is more thoroughly “bi-partisan,” a.k.a. shielded from any kind of democratic, humane scrutiny.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Orwellianly-named (ponder the concept: “highway safety”) federal agency in charge of making sure the inherently dangerous, planet-killing technology known as the automobile keeps a viable public image, “car crashes are one of the leading killers of U.S. children age 1 to 13.” That’s the audio product. When it comes time to put the story in print, the NHTSA writes: “Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children 1 to 13 years old.” [emphasis added in both quotes]
Why does the NHTSA pull its punches in this blatant manner? Can anybody think of a reason? Could it be that perpetuating cars-first transportation is “one of” the sociopathic behaviors our corporate overclass can’t live without?
He sees production of “millions and millions of electric cars and buses” as the road to a sustainable future. That this outrageous claim does not instantly disqualify him from his perch atop what passes for a green movement speaks volumes about the weakness and subjection of that tendency, as well as about the depth and power of automotive delusions in this most propagandized of nation-states.
Tellingly, Señor McKibben chose The New Republic magazine as the venue for announcing his proposed plan for perpetuating cars-first transportation. Yes, let us rally the Blue Dog Coalition in support of one of history’s three worst inventions!