Monday, March 7, 2011

George Will: Fashion Police

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, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.
If not a different planet, perhaps just an alternate reality possibly aided by hardcore hallucinogens. The theory of individual automobility clearly sounds far more compelling to him than the reality of it.

Yes. We're all four-wheeling across the amber waves of grain. We're not at all dependent upon publicly built and maintained infrastructure, nor the daily variegated ebbs and flows of traffic as dependent upon the amount of other drivers clogging said roads. Clearly Will lives in a car commercial where no other cars exist and other people only exist in order to admire the metal cage you occupy. In a country where millions upon millions of cars are either discarded daily or sit idly upon a shipping port, something about there being more cars than people in this country upsets Will's ideological assumption equation a bit.

But, my other favorite part is Will's citation of this blog's favorite, Randal O'Toole. And by favorite, I mean punching bag:
Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute notes that high-speed rail connects big-city downtowns, where only 7 percent of Americans work and 1 percent live. “The average intercity auto trip today uses less energy per passenger mile than the average Amtrak train.” And high speed will not displace enough cars to measurably reduce congestion. The Washington Post says China’s fast trains are priced beyond ordinary workers’ budgets, and that France, like Japan, has only one profitable line.
Point 1: So nobody works or lives in downtowns (except that those numbers are rising uniformly across the country), therefore we shouldn't invest in downtowns, the very bellweathers of social consciousness and iconoclastic representations of our cities, our homes, and how we identify ourselves.

Point 2: So we're going to use China's low wages as an example of the proportionally high cost per capita of transportation? Really? At the same time gas here is rounding $4/gallon and headed for $5?

Clearly, they would be against new roads out to exurban areas where previously nobody lived. Except they're not. That's freedom! Or something like it. They're all for that kind of public spending and even if they dissent, they'll suggest some private form of infrastructural investment which doesn't exist to "unlock the real estate potential at the edge." Unfortunately, for them the only place where value potential is greater than value existing is within the city in the areas abandoned as we slowly begin to remember all the benefits and inherent efficiencies of urbanism and spatial integration.

In that way, Will is a true conservative in that he wants nothing to change. Everything is perfectly fine as it is and he's willing to (post-)rationalize everything to make sense within that worldview. Getting around seems way more like freedom when things like cars, roads, parking, and gas are unnaturally subsidized and seem something like free. If car culture actually had to pay for itself in complete, maybe it wouldn't seem so much like market forces propelling it.

Welcome to Will's bizarro-world where you can't get anywhere without buying a car nor without filling said car with the unpredictably priced fuel that powers it. Call it a private tax on connectivity that in another, better world you could do for (virtually) free by walking (wherever, however, whenever to use his parlance) or bicycling or maybe even a train, but then you're completely beholden to 10- or 15- minute headways. The horror!

But remember, your individualism, according to Will, is completely and utterly defined by the gunmetal gray or forest green mass produced machine that everybody else also has. Not anything, ya know, like your actions, because you're not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You're stuck in that traffic jam just like everyone else. Plebeian loser.

It all reminds of Tyler Durden's misunderstood call for purpose (cuz hey Nazis had purpose too), "you are not your f'ing khakis." You're also not your BMW 3-series, but everyone else is of course.