Automobiles and the Drake Equation

Earth as dot in space

As Carl Sagan once explained, the odds for the existence, out there in the cosmos, of intelligent life-forms we might someday meet or talk to can be guesstimated using the so-called Drake Equation.

Ironically, at least in Sagan’s view, the main determinant of whether there are probably millions of existing advanced extraterrestrial civilizations or few-to-none “comes down to economics and politics and what, on Earth, we call human nature.”

On those planets that yielded intelligent life and complex civilizations, did the smart beings we might someday encounter manage to avoid destroying themselves, in the heady and naive early days of their sciences, with their own clever inventions?

Such self-destruction might be, Sagan observed, “the overwhelmingly preponderant fate of galactic civilizations.” And our own collective life-course could certainly not yet be taken as evidence against this thesis:

“And it is hardly out of the question that we might destroy ourselves tomorrow.”

Carl Sagan, Cosmos, pp. 318-319

TCT holds that one of the cardinal technologies that seems quite likely to embody the kind of deadly species adolescence that worried Sagan is the supposed freedom machine we call the automobile.

Barring the invention of a truly sustainable technology for turning sunlight into electricity or liquid fuels on the needed scale, the idea that every individual commuter ought to maintain for their own personal use a complex and fragile two-ton machine has certainly always been a rather wild gamble with the universal laws of physics.

And yet, led along by our capitalists, we have — especially in this, the world’s dominant society — watched this wager be built into the very stuff of our social, economic, and geographical affairs. If we are ever to retract this living bet, it will cost us very dearly, as it will require a thorough-going reconstruction of our spaces and places, as well as our social relationships.

As of 2019, it is not looking hopeful for such a sober move. The topic of cars’ centrality in American life still goes, as the would-be radicals dwell on symptoms and the car ads roll merrily on, all but unmentioned.

EVs Doing Their Real Work

evil angel image “Electric” automobiles will go down as one of the greatest hoaxes in human history.

In the early 21st century, as the reality of greenhouse gas pollution became less and less deniable, the corporate capitalist overclass continued to sell its core product, automobiles, on the same premise as always — bigger vehicles for bigger profits.

The auto-making corporations simultaneous sold a few loss-leading “electric” vehicles, partly as a way of researching possible future adaptations but mostly to put a halo around the insane idea of continuing to rely on automobiles for everyday transportation.

The would-be critics generally ate it right up.

By now, it’s clear that this trick produces spectacular results.

According to Cox Automotive research, light trucks now account for a record 69 percent of new automobile sales in the United States. In other words, of the 17.3 million new vehicles sold here last year, 12 million of them were pickups, SUVs, and “crossovers.”

“Electric” cars sold here in 2018? 361,307 — reported with an celebratory exclamation mark!

So, for every new “electric” car sold, there are 33 new light trucks entering the ever-expanding U.S. automotive fleet. Quite a feat!

By the way: At the average late-2018 new-automobile selling price of $37,000, new vehicle sales accounted for $640 billion in effective economic demand in 2018 in the USA. That is roughly the same as the Pentagon’s annual budget.

Department of Yes

money cornucopia imageTrump is a logical endpoint of Reaganism, which has never yet — not even now — been opposed, since it emerged.

In subtler times, the overclass merely used GM heads to front the Pentagon. Now, they need not feign even that much distance. Boeing execs now sit themselves right down in the public seat, to zero controversy.

The attached talk, never very subtle, is now utterly shameless.

According to The New York Times, here is what the new Defense Secretary said at a recent insider meeting:

“We are not the Department of No,” Mr. Shanahan told Pentagon officials after Space Force was announced.

Not the Department of No. Mark that one down.

The military being a department of yeses is extremely relevant to the ongoing reign of the automobile, since both that phenomenon and the Pentagon budget pass the social order stringent apublic-spending litmus test. The terms of that test come straight from corporate capitalism, which mandates that government spending be huge and growing, yet occur only in the very few product-usage areas that neither directly supplant capitalist sales nor establish precedents harmful to the reigning insistence that profit-maximizers’ schemes are the only possible way to meet human needs.

Barra-barians at the Gate

So Trump is getting ready to relax federal rules on automotive fuel efficiency, as the second great SUV-selling bonanza continues apace, with the crucial help of the loss-leading “EV” haloware schtick. In the automotive industry and press, this astounding stupidity is known as “modernizing CAFE standards.”

Here is GM CEO Mary Barra’s totally shameless statement on the topic, per Automotive Age:

“A single, national standard would allow us to focus our resources on innovations that benefit our customers and society as we pursue our vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion, instead of diffusing resources to meet different rules within the United States,” Barra told GM’s workforce.

Benefit society? Zero crashes? Zero emissions? Here’s major proof that you don’t need cojones to have world-class chutzpah.

Childlike, Indeed

It’s something of an insult to children, but it’s hard not to be struck by the profound childishness of American culture. That outcome is largely a result of the social primacy of corporate marketing, which has long been the main engine of off-the-job ideations and activities in this society. Big business marketing places a premium on encouraging juvenile mindsets, which optimize the brain for absorbing and acting on implanted sales stimuli.

Selling corporate capitalism’s most important product, which promotes and embodies childish fantasies about pure independence and unlimited resources, is squarely part of the infantilizing wave. To wit, this shameless TV ad:

Speaking of kids, you have to wonder what our grandchildren will make of such amazing narcissistic idiocy, should they somehow get lucky and inherit the capacity for remembering and studying human history. And this stuff is very carefully planned, not a mere accident.

Good Times in Texas

To update you on the wonders of a good natural disaster:

Steven Wolf, chairman of the Houston Automobile Dealers Association, said there has been a big spike in customers streaming into dealerships after quick settlements with their insurance companies.

They are mostly looking for pickups and utility vehicles, since that’s about 70 percent of the market in Houston, said Wolf, dealer principal at two stores in the Helfman Motor Sales group. “In our stores, there’s a lot of push for Jeeps, pickup trucks, F-150s, Explorers, Expeditions, Escapes,” he said. Some of the most popular Jeep and Ram trims are in short supply, but dealers in other parts of the country are forgoing inventory so that it can go straight to Houston.

Cooperation between lenders and insurance companies has sped up the process, with flood-damaged cars quickly being declared total losses so that titles are cleared and customers qualify for new loans.

“I’m surprised at how well the insurance companies and banks are working together,” Wolf said. “But remember, in Houston, Texas, we don’t have a tremendous amount of mass transportation, so people need to get a car so they get back to work and get their lives back to normal.” [Automotive News, 28 Sept 2017, emphasis added]