Friday, June 03, 2011

You can't have that!

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."

-Daniel Webster-

Every morning's bag of e-mail brings at least one call to arms and sometimes many more. I'm getting tired of the blaring slughorns and fraying pennants, whether or not I support the basic premises.

Take private cars and fuel economy. I got one from NRDC today; that's the Natural Resources Defense Council, a group whose purposes seem reasonably clear from the title. The headline purports to tell me how much I would save by switching to a 60MPG vehicle - one of those hermetically sealed capsules from which I could observe the glory of the ocean and dunes and the beauty of vast natural scenes through tinted windows, darkly. Think of how much money I would save and of course think of how I, an aging superhero, could "go green" and "save the planet!"

Numbers don't lie, people do and when I plugged in my actual figures, it told me I would save about 333 dollars a year. No I wouldn't and whoop-di-do if I did. First of all the cost to all things natural and to me of building another vehicle isn't factored in at all here nor is the possible 60+ year lifespan of my car Vs that of a Japanese post-modernist disposable gumdrop. I 'd have to sell the glorious red 190Mph convertible that may be worth more in my grandchildren's senescence than it is now and buy a rolling toad with those tiny wheels, primitive suspension and a ton of batteries ( which will have to be replaced at a high cost not added to the alleged savings.) Is life and the joy of living worth 300 bucks a year? I could save a fortune by selling the house and moving into a trailer in Central Florida after all. I could choose for myself.

The Modernist movement of the last century brought us the idea of minimalism in architecture; the idea that our homes were machines for living and that living in them made us better and more efficient -- efficient being the key word, I think. The stripped down, unornamented minimalized life of maximum efficiency isn't all that compatible with what most of us would consider a life. Integrating man into the means of production, minimizing private space and emphasizing public and communal areas and mechanizing the whole experience of life doesn't, in the mind of this inefficient life form, make for an existence I would enjoy, to say the least. It hardly allows for experiencing the intense joy of being alive on a minute to minute basis, unless you consider a brief two week packaged vacation from the cubicle to be living.
I don't know about you, but I'm not a machine or a piece of production equipment. My house is not a machine and my preferred transportation would not resemble one of those pneumatic capsules you put your checks and deposit slips into at the drive-through bank.

Send a message urging the government to strengthen pollution and fuel efficiency standards to deliver 60 miles per gallon by 2025!

screams the headline. It doesn't mention that the glut of huge, heavy, clumsy, dangerous hunks of iron now clogging the curves on our roads was the direct result of that same message sent back in the 1970's as a hysterical response to the Arab Oil Embargo. That was a perfect example of the "here's a problem - let's pass a bill" kind of knee-jerk politics that's clogged our arteries for decades and no, we can't hardly pin that on the Republicans.

You can get a 60 mpg vehicle right now if you want it - a 100 mpg vehicle that costs a thousand dollars. They sell them in several places around this town, you just have to sweat in the heat and get wet when it rains, and you can't go very fast but hey, it's all about efficiency and going green, right? Many people choose that, many enjoy it -- including me, for what it's worth, but it's a choice, not the result of a Federal mandate. Sometimes you feel like a truck, sometimes you don't -- you consider the need and the budget and you makes your choice. But is it "saving the planet" to drive one of those terrifying "smart Cars?" Did anyone stop to notice that the US military is the largest single fossil fuel burner in our country? Is our problem really cars or is it how much we drive. How much of the passion is really that same stale neo-Luddism that nestled into Liberal thought back in the 60's when it was oh so hip to destroy cars in the name of whatever you call it?

Sure Americans waste untold resources driving to work, waste a fortune to drive fashionably military-looking "safety" vehicles that cause 4 times more accidents and have to crawl through maneuvers like airships, but is the answer to regiment us, to furnish us with little steel boxes and proclaim "only this and nothing more?" Maybe it's time to let Dracula out of his coffin and raise the fuel tax! (gasp) Let people work out their personal mathematics by themselves - maybe move closer to work, maybe use a small car to drive to the train station, maybe buy a scooter. Raise the taxes steadily and put the money into high speed rail and local light rail. Eventually our obscene sprawl will contract and the mall to mall crawl may become a trip into town or down the block and people can make choices that suit them and their needs - you know, like free people in a free country. We don't trust you to use that ( insert anything here) wisely, we don't think you need it and therefore, you can't have it. It's the recipe for bad measures indeed.

Sure, I'm strongly convinced that something needs to be done, but I'm strongly convinced that it doesn't require us to become soulless gears and cams in the efficient, regulated machine of commerce and the State, if there's any difference between the two.

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