If Hitler ran a bakery, all full of doughnuts and pastries and sweet streudel delight, would I shop there? What if I knew that the proceeds from Hitler's Bakery went to fund Auschwitz and Dachau, would I continue to patronize his establishment?
What if it were legal in my country and the norm? What if everyone else in my community shopped at Hitler's? Knowing that Hitler used this money to fund mass starvation, torture and murder, could I continue to shop there?
What if I weren't sure if I'd be able to get baked goods anywhere else? Would that make it justifiable?
To all of the above, I'd have to say, No. Given the Hitler scenario, I certainly hope I would not follow the path of least resistance. I'd hope I would find an alternative to baked goods or do without. I'd hope I would not go along with the crowd.
The choice actually seems quite clear, doesn't it?
Consider this, then:
In the U.S., 40,000 people die each year due to car wrecks (world-wide, there are millions killed each year in auto accidents). Auto accidents have killed almost three million people in the United States since 1900, disproportionately killing the young and the elderly.
Additionally, air pollution from sources including motor vehicles is estimated by some to cause an additional 30,000 deaths each year in our country. Add to all of these deaths the huge number of lives disrupted due to respiratory problems or physical trauma resulting from cars and their offal and the human cost soars into the millions each year.
Furthermore, we have astounding damage to our environment that has resulted due in part to pollution from automobiles. Our air is less breathable and our waterways are polluted to the point of being unsafe for humans to swim in or fish.
On top of all of this death and destruction, we pay billions of dollars on our military to keep "our" supply of oil safe so that we can continue to inflict this damage to ourselves and our environment. (For the record, our defense budget for 2003 was $396 BILLION, more than three times the budget of any potential U.S. enemies. Our next closest competition, Russia, spends $60 billion.)
The facts are not disputable. The reality is clear. Our automobile culture kills millions, costs hundreds of billions and destroys the environment.
Are we shopping at Hitler's Bakery?
I will concede that this analogy is imperfect. Hitler, after all, was a fiend and a deliberate murderer and no one drives a car with the intent to kill.
I use the Hitler analogy because it is difficult to find a better one. Generally speaking, when something has the potential to cause the amount of damage driving does, we either outlaw it or avoid it out of common sense.
This is not the case with motor transportation. I believe this is true primarily because we “eased” into the situation in which we currently find ourselves. When we began driving over 100 years ago, there were few cars, few drivers and, as a result, few negative repercussions. As we know, however, driving cars for personal transportation caught on and now it is the ideal to which the citizens of the world aspire.
Of course, another reason we have become dependent upon cars in spite of logic is because this is what the oil and automobile industries want of us. They have bought and paid for the support of the government and the governed as part of an effective marketing strategy and we have entered this relationship consensually.
So, what now?
Now, we begin to change our lives. It is not utopianistic wishful thinking nor is it impossible. It is in our best interests and very do-able.
If we truly believe that individual driving should be the exception rather than the rule and that, indeed, driving cars is a practice we and our world cannot abide, we simply change.
Let us live our lives in smaller circles. Live within five miles of where we work, play and go to school. Once we've shortened our commutes, we can then easily walk, bike or use mass transit. Families might begin, if they must, by becoming one car families, but the goal must be to become car-free. The exception rather than the rule.
Let us demand that our government quit pushing for more roads and bridges for autos and instead focus on mass transportation solutions for our mobility questions. Let us end subsidies for the oil and automobile industries. We have better uses for our money.
We lived without cars for most of history. Many people still live that way today. It is completely feasible if we believe it to be the right thing to do, and this, of course, is the question that must be answered.
There are those who will say, "This is the world in which we live. Our culture is dependent upon the use of automobiles and we cannot do anything other than continue to use cars. The best we can do is to work to make them more clean and less damaging."
This is the excuse of an addict. We "cannot" change significantly our dependence upon cars precisely because we do not wish to. We have a monkey on our backs and it is made of oil and asphalt.
Would it be absurd and horribly immoral of us to shop at Hitler's Bakery had it existed when he was alive? What if there were no easy alternatives? What if everyone else was shopping there and it was legal? Wouldn't it have been acceptable?
Is it immoral of us to shop at Hitler's Bakery today?