Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why Automobiles are Inherently Godly and American

The Washington State Auto Dealer's Association chose Hawaii as the venue for its annual meeting, and I'm so glad I got to tag along with one of their keynote speakers this last weekend.  I snorkeled next to Honu, large sea turtles who nonchalantly grazed on algae just inches from me, and I contemplated how completely and admirably our society relies on cars.

  Cars Express our National Character
Cars represent our craving for initiative and independence, American national traits ingrained by immigrants who took huge risks to come here, pioneer this country and strive for success.  Deprive us of our cars, and you thwart that fundamental enterprising spirit.

Because the individuals who chose our land endowed the national character with their industrious and competitive stock, we cleave to our cars.  We love the power they offer, the personal control, the ability to harness and direct energy.  Our nation thrives on verve; the chance to plot one's unique direction and arrive there is the engine of our economy and the purpose of the engine under the hood.  Cars allow mobility and robust change; we should encourage and honor use of the automobile rather than foment politically-motivated disdain over some phony environmental threat.

I do believe gasoline-powered vehicles affect the environment (I grew up in a smog-choked Los Angeles that improved once gas additives were controlled).  But instead of forcing people onto government-run public transport, policy should encourage using our creative spirit and ingenuity to make our individual cars environmentally green, as well as cleverly and satisfyingly designed.  The billions taxpayers are forced under threat of imprisonment to pay toward constructing now-empty light rail stations should go toward enhancing and improving highways.
Cars Let America Spread Out--and Prosper
Here's the nearly-Darwinian reason why even Al Gore can't and won't force Americans to give up our cars:  their evolution enabled our nation's survival.

In the early years of North American settlement, cities formed to allow efficient specialization of tasks.  Proximity let the candle-maker, the fabric weaver, the grocer and lumber vendor conveniently distribute their wares.

As the nation's population burgeoned, automobiles met the need to colonize our open spaces , first with cities, and then with suburbs. A unique American culture formed inside suburbs' proverbial picket fences, figurative moats around each man's (and family's) "castle."

Unsettled spaces and autos allowed us the unique privilege of freedom from meddling; an expectation of privacy and its liberation from censure I believe fed our already self-selected industriousness and entrepreneurial energy. Thanks to corporations competing to make cars affordable, after World War II families could buy spaciously situated homes with front and back yards, space enough to acquire, spread out, and, with this buffer from the world--relax. One-car garages morphed into two, then three-car garages.

The average size of a home built in 1970 was 1,500 square feet. By 2000, it had grown to 2,200 square feet. By 2008, the Census Bureau reports US average home size expanded to 2,473 square feet.  Everyone's heard the term "McMansion;" residential narcissism recently spawned the jaw-dropping MTV series "Cribs," where teens tour tv-voyeurs through their folks' conspicuously consumptive houses, loaded with science-fiction amenities.  Andrew, for example, knows the water at his bathroom sink is hot because it lights up red; blue water's cold. Another bath in his home boasts a gushing waterfall and remote controlled toilet. His bedroom includes an actual tree house, and outside is his custom-built hobbit-cabin and a warehouse holding a full-size basketball court with electronic scoreboard.

Andrew's parents and all the workmen and service personnel who built and tend the estate all depend on cars.  No Light Rail could bring any of them to Andrew's house--or even to the vast majority of transformed-countryside developments that compose and ring every metropolitan area.

Cars Help Us Emulate God
It's not only our immigrant heritage that makes it intrinsically American to crave the autonomy and independence that automobiles afford.  Just as God's essence is creativity, we humans have a similar yen to create, using our individual capabilities forging technology, devising solutions to environmental problems, and advancing efficiency.  We want to go where we want, when we want, with or without whomever we want. This is the essence of creativity--striking off on your own to take a risk, start something different.  Traveling at set times on a fixed rail may serve confined cities, but people who need independence, privacy, space and flexibility--freedom!--want cars.  Those in Manhattan who can afford it take the subway when convenient, but also pay the $431 average (up to $800) monthly fee to park their cars in a garage.

An underlying reason is that Americans, with our sense of the possible, value time.  People love their cars largely because a driver's in control and can minimize waiting, not subject to a governmentally-set timetable or schedule.  That's why traffic can be so frustrating--here you are in your own car, administering your own affairs--and then all these other cars get in your way--they limit and constrain what you had planned to do.

Americans' cars express our drive to determine how we change the world, often producing something valuable from nearly nothing--and how we allocate our time.  Some tasks can be accomplished in a noisy terminal while waiting for a bus or train. Most creative activities can't.

We are hampered in emulating the creative nature of God by losing or wasting time we could spend creating.  Clearly, most people waste scads of time (watching "Cribs"?) and create very little.  But we lose our collective zeal when enforced lines and imposed schedules become a daily expectation (Russia under Communism comes to mind).

It's worrisome, then, when politicians and politically-correct pundits insist dependence on governments' management of our time and transport is more noble, patriotic and humanitarian than our automotive independence.  Giving up our cars dulls the American independent spirit, shrinking us nationally into more limited options and smaller worlds.  Those who would eliminate God and religion from the marketplace seek to eliminate our Godly urge to act independently and creatively. (Thus it's not more humanitarian, but perhaps more humanistic to push Light Rail.)

If there's consumer demand for high-mileage cars that run on, say, kudzu (my personal suggestion for biofuel), some entrepreneur will invent it and clean up, uncovering lots of rusted cars in Southern fields while adding to our national prosperity.  Hooray for the car dealers of America, whose difficult efforts to serve the public fuel the innovative, independent spirit that keeps our nation zipping along...

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