As part of a hilariously paranoid attack on the very idea of railroads, none other than the forever grimacing George F. Will has recently tinkered a bit with the long-prevailing mainstream incantation that automobiles spring from, deliver, and secure personal freedom.
But, along the way, Will’s description of how this supposedly happens skates perilously close to an admission of the trickery and denial at the heart of prevailing doctrine:
Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy.
Will, of course, is being sarcastic here. He contends, as must all right-thinking opinion makers, that these “delusions” are not delusions at all, but hard and enduring realities.
Nonetheless, the wording is pretty telling. Indeed, taken out of Will’s larger obfuscatory context, they actual provide a pretty well-written and sociologically powerful description of an important dimension of reality. Automobiles, as objects, do indeed foster delusions of independence, adequacy, and sovereignty. They, in themselves, do indeed tend to distract attention from collective situations and decisions, if not from the outside world itself. Never mind that shared attention to and management of collective situations and decisions is DEMOCRACY.
Of course, the great tramping elephant in the room, the ultimate thing Will labors to conceal, is exactly and precisely corporate capitalists’ constant and careful scripting, supervision, and tutoring of the transportation choices of the American masses. Will and other mainstream dogmatists are simply not going to acknowledge that dimension of reality, huge and unchanging as it is, no matter the circumstances. Instead, they know their story and are sticking to it.
But, still, who knew? George Will, closet cultural materialist!
In case you missed it, China’s state capitalists are now saying that they are pushing to be manufacturing 40 million automobiles a year by 2020.
It will be interesting to see if capitalism makes it that far without the onset of the mother of all depressions. Personally, I doubt it.
But this news is extremely important, nonetheless. Not only does it support the thesis that few things can boost corporate capitalism like cars, but it is also an enormous indictment of China’s worst-of-both-worlds overclass. If their efforts come to fruition, they will spell catastrophe for the Chinese people.
The ruling ideology, distinctly including its academic manifestation, holds that automobiles are freedom machines and social equalizers. Cars-first transportation “unites [Americans] across class, racial, ethnic, and religious lines as few other aspects of our society can,” alleges Rutgers University transportation engineer James A. Dunn.
Of course, this familiar incantation is about as counter-factual as you can possibly get.
The claim, as DbC has explained before, doesn’t even hold water at the level of automotive usage. There, the rich enjoy the luxuries and choices, while the poor scrape, suffer, and go without. The distribution of cars, if one bothers to actually look at the uncontroversial facts, is one of the least equal categories of “consumer” goods.
The much more significant link between automobiles and social stratification, however, enters at the level of business ownership and the question of who benefits from selling cars. If you examine the institutional facts here, you discover that cars-first transportation is — literally — lifeblood to the investing class. Without it, the enormous privileges and prerogatives its members continue to enjoy, despite the times, would be in severe jeopardy.
If you doubt this link between cars and the upward flow of surplus wealth, consider the news that one of the major proponents of the latest, just-announced Obamian cave-in — the extension of greatly reduced estate tax rules — was none other than the National Association of Automobile Dealers. In the middle (or is it still the beginning?) of Great Depression III, you might think that NADA would favor measures to equalize income and wealth at least a little. After all, despite the inequities on the matter, it is commoners who buy most of the cars.
So why did NADA instead lobby for further extending the supply-side cap on estate taxes, a rule which overwhelmingly benefits the already-rich and, thereby, deprives the masses? As Automotive News reports:
WASHINGTON — In a victory for auto dealers and Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl, President Obama and congressional Republicans agreed on a tentative tax-cut package that would head off a huge increase in the estate tax.
The agreement yesterday, which still has to be approved by Congress, would set a maximum estate-tax rate of 35 percent for two years with an exemption of $5 million for individuals and $10 million for couples.
“This (proposal) will help restore consumer confidence and speed economic recovery,” the National Automobile Dealers Association said in a statement today.
The NADA and other groups pushed for the estate-tax rate in the proposal as an alternative to the Obama administration’s plan earlier this year for a 45 percent rate with an exemption of $3.5 million per person.
The average net worth of an auto dealership was $2.2 million in 2009, according to NADA data, suggesting that most dealerships would not be subject to any estate taxes under yesterday’s proposal.
About half of all U.S. dealerships are second- and third-generation family businesses, NADA spokesman Bailey Wood said.
In other, more honest words, car dealers are capitalists, and, as such, they always place themselves first, because they can and are used to it and believe they deserve it. “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people,” as one radically misinterpreted social critic once observed of the first principle of all overclasses, clearly remains the maxim of “the masters of mankind.”
This amazing piece of short-sightedness, of course, is but the tip of the iceberg. The automotive industrial complex remains a pillar of corporate capitalism and its drive to maximize and maintain overclass wealth flows. Automobile dealerships are small potatoes inside that order. As always, across the whole system, even when its own interests are close and easy to see, today always trumps tomorrow for our self-described “entrepreneurs.”
And, in the real world, that’s cars for you: Heedlessness machines and social polarizers.
The arrival of greenwashing as a top priority in corporate capitalism’s core industrial complex is expanding and refining the art and science of halo-ware as a 21st-century marketing strategy. “Halo products” are newfangled loss-leaders designed to provide cover for business-as-usual.
Two times in just the past week, Automotive News, an insider gossip and news publication, has mentioned the h-word in its reporting on forthcoming “green cars”:
October 1, reporting on the pathetic gas-electric hybrid Chevy Volt:
The Volt is being marketed as a “halo car” to underscore GM’s green credentials.
October 4, reporting on the “fashion-statement” (translation: over-priced, under-efficient) subcompact Fiat 500:
Jesse Toprak, analyst for TrueCar.com, believes the 500′s Italian design will help those Chrysler dealers who win the franchise to lure new customers. “The halo effect of this car and the utility of this car will grab younger clientele and early adopters,” he says.
“Green cars,” of course, are not the only major form of halo-ware. “Green energy” is right there, too, if the truth be told.
Just received a forward of a new moveon.org appeal. The group, founded to protect the horrendous Bill Clinton from facing perjury charges, wants us all to join Presidents Bush and Obama in their diagnosis of “our” disease and then “tell” Congress* “It’s time for a bold plan to get America off of oil. Please learn from the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and take action to end the U.S. addiction to oil.”
Hey, dipshits: It’s cars, not oil. And its capitalists, not “us.”
*The last time a major “highway bill” was before Congress, in 2005, it passed 503-12, with all 12 of the nays coming from ultra-right Republicans happy to get a puffball chance to grandstand their supposed hatred of government spending. Zero Democrats spoke or voted against the bill, which reduced the “traditional” share of money going to public transportation.
So what does Parents magazine, a property of Meredith Broadcasting, do? It gives a “Car of the Year” award, of course!
Once again, Orwell couldn’t imagine worse…
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