Cars

Z points out that there’s one good line in what we both consider a disappointing article, and annoyingly so given the promise of its title, “The Computer Does Not Dictate the Uses to Which it is Put,” by George Grant. The good line asks us to imagine someone having said a hundred years ago: “the car does not dictate the uses to which it is put.” Hah! This is smart. Because the car, like the computer, promises not to dictate and then does. The car promises freedom and provides slavery.*

Okay that’s an overstatement. But anyone reading this blog knows I’m given to these. I defend myself by quoting Jacques Derrida, who, in Monolingualism of the Other, says that everything he’s ever said has been hyperbole, and that he’s never told a lie.

So what about cars? I still remember learning in Grade 7 History (a class where, to get an A, all you had to do was liberally drop the phrase “they adapted to their environment”) that cars changed the world by liberating people from their small towns, thus fostering class mobility and moral license in ways that were eventually revolutionary.

Not a note of doubt crept in: nobody asked about the spiritual health of suburban living, or whether the car didn’t enshrine as much stratification as it eroded (them blacks don’t need to live near us; they can drive to their own neighbourhood). Certainly nobody mentioned that there’s something sickeningly grotesque about covering the world with asphalt.

I started asking questions later. But it wasn’t until Eila was around two that I realized, viscerally, how much the car binds and restricts us. For the car is the reason we don’t shove our two-year olds out the front door and say “go play.” It’s as simple as that. It’s not fear of abduction, though we claim it is. It’s the car. And if freedom is lost between the ages of two and seven, a world of freedom is lost.

*A little like Grant promises a profound critique of technology and provides tedium.

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7 thoughts on “Cars

  1. The name of the article is “The Computer Does Not Impose On Us the Ways It Should Be Used.” I don’t think it mentions 100 years, though it’s a good rhetorical effect. And about asphalt, I’ve always preferred Jim Morrison to George Grant: “The streets are fields that never die.”

  2. I am studying Urban Philosophy (from the grave), and there is a lot of literature on the effects of asphalt. Try Kelbaugh: “Repairing the American Metropolis” (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 2002). Or Jane Jacobs.

  3. Hey Elv, nice to hear you’ve had a change of heart. Death does that sometimes I guess. So what’d you do with the 1965 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible?

    And thanks for the correction Z. Post on technology and immortality forthcoming.

  4. Hey guys, I gotta practice for speaking up in Sandel’s class and getting on the next Harvard vodcast. Here goes.

    If philosophy is the art of dying, then religion must be the art of Elvising. But Mr Elvis, I’ve heard that Morrison ate more chicken ‘any man even seen, so why aren’t there Morrison sightings too? It’s not very urban of you not to let him study in the grave. Wait: maybe there’s a war between Elvis and Morrison and everything’s caught in the middle. King or Lizard King? Cheeseburgers or chicken? Polyester or leather? White or black? Graceland or Paris? I’m glad I’m plastic and already immortal.

  5. Dear Ms Andy — it is Ms, isn’t it? — your enthusiasm is commendable, but I should point out that moral philosophy does not, indeed cannot concern itself with questions of ultimate Good and Evil. It must confine itself to the rational, to questions of whether or not to push fat people in front of trains that they may or may not stop, no matter whether they’re willing to be pushed or, for that matter, whether they bounce.

  6. If I was the fat person, would you push me? Pre or post mordem? If there is confusion surrounding my death, would it be “killing” someone? Is it ethical to push a dead body in front of an unstoppable train to save lives? What if he is a King? Uhhhh thank you very much.

    And Andy, I think that you will find me immortal in wax. Where does that leave religion? In Vegas?

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