Thursday, March 3, 2005

The Car Invention

I've had the privilege to be called upon for jury duty and have been thus predisposed. I'll try to write about it when I've finished.

In the meantime, I have managed to have a small email conversation with one of my friendly opponents on the right on the nature of evil. That conversation led to the question of whether immorality need be intentional. To that end, I offer the following story.

Imagine, please, that we lived in a culture where there were no personal automobiles. Then, one day, someone suddenly announces that they have a new invention called the “automobile.” It will allow us to travel around the city or around the state with astounding speed. We won't have to wait for buses or trains. We won't have to bicycle or walk.

However, in return for that speed and convenience, one million (give or take) people will die world-wide due to the inevitable car wrecks. An additional three million will die each year due to the effects of air pollution, an existing problem which will be exasperated by this new invention.

In addition to those four-or-so million deaths each year, there will be countless millions maimed, injured and restricted due to automobile crashes and air pollution.

Furthermore, this new automobile will require billions – maybe trillions – of dollars in roadway construction and healthcare costs. Damage to the environment would be hard to put a price on, as our environment is priceless. Suffice to say, it would be significant.

Finally, this automobile will require horrendous amounts of fossil fuels. Perhaps more than we can sustainably obtain. It will require that the U.S. spends billions - eventually trillions - of dollars in military spending in order to protect “our” oil.

Now, once the benefits and the costs of this new invention, the car, have been explained, it is put to a vote: Is the convenience of the personal automobile worth the millions of lives that will be lost each year and the trillions of dollars spent in roadway construction, military protection and environmental degradation?

Just because we've inherited this car-centric society, does not mean that we must maintain it. Compassion, morality and logic dictate that we should seek other answers.

How would you vote?


ricklibrarian said...


I would vote against the car. I fully hope someday to live without one, but I am trapped by my need of a car right now.

I think about how oil is pumped out of the ground in the Middle East and the enemies we make doing this, hauled in and spilled from huge tankers to our country, refined at great cost to the environment in places like Texas City, and taken by trucks to service stations, so I can put it in my car to burn so I can drive. The cost of driving to work or the store or to the movies is more than the $1.89 per gallon.

Our cars own us. This will have to change someday.

Rick Roche

Dan Trabue said...

I would, too (vote against The Car). Perhaps our recognition of its immorality will be the starting point of this revolution.

Great comment about cars owning us. I'd recommend the writings of the now-deceased thinker Ivan Illich to anyone interested in this topic.

James said...

Rick, it's an interesting Rubic's Cube you have left us to ponder. If there were a world with no cars, what else would per force be different as well? As you turn the cube to eliminate cars, what else have you inevitably changed? In this ficticious world how many people are being killed by the effects of alternate transportation (or lack of it)?

There's a Catch 22 in your posited question. We are using up unsustainable fuel and exposing ourselves to needless danger and expense because we use transportation unwisely. Residents of City A commute 70 miles to work in City B while residents of City B are commuting to City A. Most of them have make-work jobs that do not put one potato on anyone's table. If we used personal automobiles wisely, how much would it cost us in resources and lives? And if we used alernate transportation foolishly, how much would that cost us?

Perhaps what we need to lose is not so much our cars, but rather the notion that there is some greater happiness in some place other than where we happen to be at the time.


Dan Trabue said...

Aah, but there may indeed be greater happiness than the place we currently find ourselves.

Sure, we might develop a car that runs on water that has no great negative environmental impact. But if we are still driving around at 35 mph in the same place where pedestrians exist, there will still be thousands and thousands dying every year.

The point is: We must choose to live sustainably or we shall have chosen to live unsustainably and that is no choice.

We must lose the personal highspeed auto as the norm.

James said...

But the odds are terribly against it ... there being some other place where one would be happier. All the flying about in a rush appears to me to be a symptom of our trying desperately to get away from ourselves. Yet, wherever you go, there you are. How many people have you known who for whatever reason are not at peace with themselves and so they fly about feverishly to change everything around them: their clothes, their hair, their college major, their job, where they live, their spouse, and yet they are still not at peace. If we weren't in a dead heat all the time trying to run away from ourselves, would there even be a car and oil problem?

Dan Trabue said...

I'm not arguing against your suggestion that we are always looking for geographic solutions to spiritual and psychological problems. I certainly agree with that. Further, I fully agree with your suggestion that driving 70 miles to work is insane.

I was just suggesting that people tend to make excuses for not solving problems and we thereby have an everincreasing number of cars and the associated problems. But I do agree with you insofar as you're saying that living our lives in smaller circles is a part of the solution.