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!