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.

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.

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.