Car Culture, Indeed

The forces of reason and human progress have done a particularly lousy job of explaining the immense problems inherent in cars-first transportation, which remains, despite the times and for very deep reasons, a central project of corporate capitalism.

When such forces have dipped their toes into the pool of analysis, they have often done so by observing that, in America, we have a “car culture.” This, of course, is a tautology. The question is why we have a car culture.

Here, well-meaning folks have either parroted the longstanding — and hugely preposterous — quasi-official dogma that “Americans are having a love affair with the autmobile” is all there is to know about this key subject, or we have simply fallen silent, leaving such petulant falsehoods unchallenged.

I mention all this because one of the things that’s happened in the process is that, having chalked the topic of cars up to the realm of the inexplicable, the self-same forces of reason and progress have also stopped paying attention to how automobiles do indeed act and react as elements of American culture.

Consider, for example, yesterday’s multiply-gobsmacking announcement, by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, of “the most powerful SUV ever.”

Where would this corporation be without the continuing hold of toxic masculinity, nationalism, cowboy mythology, and sheer childishness? And, conversely, what would happen to those declining but still very pertinent trends among us “Americans,” if our main industry and #1 sponsorship source weren’t carefully perpetuating things like this?

We don’t know and generally don’t ask, in large part because the forces of reason and progress don’t pay any attention to such matters.

Ah, the 120-Year-Old Question

thinking skeleton image

The New York Times today reports that urban officials around the nation are spending time rethinking transportation, now that SARS-CoV2 has hinted at what a wasteful clusterfuck cars-first transportation really is.

Here is what Randy Clarke, “president of Capital Metro, the Austin [Texas] public transportation system,” tells the Times he’s pondering these days:

“How do we make a system that’s more equitable and sustainable, and give people more options besides cars?”

That, of course, was the pertinent question roundabout 1902, when, a year-and-a-half before chartering the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford was gushing to his brother-in-law that “there is a barrel of money in this business.”

Or, somewhat more generously, in 1917 or 1918, during U.S. involvement in World War I, when automotive road construction had not yet triumphed as the master plan for our spaces and places.

Unfortunately though for Randy Clarke and his peers, by this point, no technocratic answer to this always-epochal (and still-never-democratically-asked) question exists. We have long since built our entire, continent-spanning society in such a way as to compel maximum automobile use. The facts now are very much on the ground.

If we are ever going to undo this still-heavily-sponsored (read: business-dictated) mistake, it is going to take a gigantic, aggressive, and clear-eyed Green New Deal. Nothing else stands a chance of making a meaningful difference.

Speaking of Incalculable…

Here is this morning’s banner headline in The New York Times:

It is macabre and self-defeating to get very far into the fool’s game of comparing mass deaths. But this description of 100,000 premature passings just simply uber-begs the question: Why isn’t every 100,000 excess deaths an incalculable loss, a scandal, a moral challenge?

The only reasonable answer, of course, is that it is.

So, why then do the 100,000 people who die early every year (40,000 of which lose their lives via the violent horror of automotive collisions) in the United States as a result of cars-first transportation not only not a scandal, but not even mentionable?

The only reasonable answer to that question is that TPTB and BAU dictate that only certain incalculable losses are to be calculated and discussed. The ones that arise from ordinary profit-making endeavors are certainly not among these.

Priorities: A Quiz

Okay, you’re seeing it here, so, yeah. But, still, play along, if you will.

See if you can guess what this object is:

photo of ornate hi-tech contraption

A Star Wars drone? A prototype for Elon Musk’s Tesla undelivered ventillators? A perpetual motion machine?

Nope. It’s an award-winning new headlight unit for a $200,000 automobile.

The description, from Automotive News:

The h-Digi lighting module from Marelli is a digital headlamp that uses a micromirror electronic chip to control 2 million pixels of illumination. Using a combination of cameras, sensors and circuitry, the technology can precisely detect objects and road conditions to make nighttime driving safer without causing glare to oncoming drivers. The module also uses a pair of 1.3-megapixel projectors to put graphics into the driver’s line of sight to communicate safety messages.

Such are the endeavors into which our social order directs its most serious and intense research-and-development efforts.

This, DbC suggests, is a fact worth pondering.

COVID Revelations: Traffic

thelma and louise car

According to Apple’s cell phone tracking data, driving automobiles in the United States is down from normal by about 1/3. [Note: See line 148 of the underlying spreadsheet.]

As a result of this one-third reduction, U.S. freeways and streets are now, in the experience of your humble DbC editor, operating roughly like they are supposed to operate. Traffic jams have become truly rare, and travel times pretty reliably approximate what distances and speed limits together suggest they should.

The obvious conclusion from this natural-experimental result is that our existing automobile facilities are under-built by some factor that explains all the headaches and waste of normal automobile travel. That factor has to be at least 1/3 — and might be higher, since there are probably issues of greater-than-1:1 scaling in the infrastructures that would have to exist in order to allow the now-missing 1/3 of normal automobile traffic to enjoy the optimal results now occurring in these abnormal, reduced-use conditions.

So, in order to allow today’s stock of automobiles to work as advertised, we would need to have about twice as much roadway capacity as we now do.

Likewise, if we were to try to sustain this level of functionality, all future accommodation of still-more automobiles (i.e. the normal plan and assumption) would have to be roughly twice as big as we are accustomed to such projects being.

The fact that we don’t (and won’t, and could not) provide such accommodation speaks not just to the material and geo-spatial insanity of cars-first transportation, but also to the gargantuan time-theft that inheres in it, under corporate capitalist normalcy — something, btw, that our overclass is positively quivering to reopen/re-impose.

McKibben Gets Exposed

DbC has always held that Bill McKibben is a mis-leader. The new Planet of the Humans movie, which is provoking a veritable firestorm of hate from green photo-op “movement” types, includes a scene that raises the addictional question of whether McKibben is conscious of his own awfulness.

The scene, which shows the would-be saint being asked the most basic question in the world, runs from 1:24:32 through 1:25:45 of the film:

Draw your own conclusions, as Preacher Danny Radnor once said…