F*cking Cars

No, this title does not allude to autosexuality (hurr hurr) but rather expresses the utmost contempt, yes disgust I have of cars. I don’t really know where to begin. A must read on cars: The Social Ideology of the Motorcar. Written in 1973 but still very actual. It starts out as thus:

The worst thing about cars is that they are like castles or villas by the sea: luxury goods invented for the exclusive pleasure of a very rich minority, and which in conception and nature were never intended for the people. Unlike the vacuum cleaner, the radio, or the bicycle, which retain their use value when everyone has one, the car, like a villa by the sea, is only desirable and useful insofar as the masses don’t have one. That is how in both conception and original purpose the car is a luxury good. And the essence of luxury is that it cannot be democratised. If everyone can have luxury, no one gets any advantages from it. On the contrary, everyone diddles, cheats, and frustrates everyone else, and is diddled, cheated, and frustrated in return.

The car, in essence, started as luxury good for the bourgeois, one of the toys they could play with. The point with a car, though, is that it isn’t for the masses. But as capitalism entered the post-war period, its golden age, the latter part of “a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage” started to be fulfilled. The result is disastruous, and wrong on so many levels.

As I briefly touched upon in a previous blog entry, car as a mass means of transportation is incredibly bad for cities. While you could travel pretty well in a car if you were the only one driving, when everyone does it, it leads to disaster. The roads in the inner cities (as well as other places) get full, the city gets full of parking spots specifically for these steel bubbles, and it becomes a more dangerous place to live in. Another result of this is so called urban sprawl, which, to quote Wikipedia, is characterized by the following:

  • High car dependence
  • Inadequate facilities, e.g.: cultural, emergency, health, and so forth
  • Low public support for sprawl
  • High per-person infrastructure costs
  • Inefficient street layouts
  • Inflated costs for public transportation
  • Lost time and productivity for commuting
  • High levels of racial and socioeconomic segregation
  • Low diversity of housing and business types
  • High rates of obesity due to less walking and biking
  • Less space for conservation and parks
  • High per-capita use of energy, land, and water
  • Perceived low aesthetic value

Cars, in other words, have made cities, which possibly could have been pleasant places to live, into f*cking hell holes. Or as The Social Ideology of the Motorcar puts it:

Maybe you are saying, “But at least in this way you can escape the hell of the city once the workday is over.” There we are, now we know: “the city,” the great city which for generations was considered a marvel, the only place worth living, is now considered to be a “hell.” Everyone wants to escape from it, to live in the country. Why this reversal? For only one reason. The car has made the big city uninhabitable. It has made it stinking, noisy, suffocating, dusty, so congested that nobody wants to go out in the evening anymore. Thus, since cars have killed the city, we need faster cars to escape on superhighways to suburbs that are even farther away. What an impeccable circular argument: give us more cars so that we can escape the destruction caused by cars.

The car is so deeply ingrained, ideologically, on both the left and right. It’s not merely a means of transportation. As “Bil Sweden” (yes, that’s what they’re actually called (“bil” meaning car like the bil in automobile)) puts it: ” The car is a symbol of freedom”. If it is a symbol of freedom they’re after I’d like to build a Statue of Liberty or something instead. But the truth is that the car is one of those things the neoliberal society worships. As Fossilized Subjectivities: Petroprivatism, Neoliberalism and Entrepreneurial Life puts it:

As postwar accumulation was materialized through the construction of vast sprawling suburban housing tracts, liberal ideas of government intervention and the social safety net were slowly transfixed into more and more privatist forms of politics. As many suburban historians have shown,7 the political victories of the right in the United States – and with it the neoliberalization of American capitalism – depended upon the mobilization of a pettybourgeois strata of white suburban homeowners increasingly distrustful of government handouts, high taxes, and the redistribution of wealth. While this suburban geography was in many ways laid during the immediate postwar period, sprawl and suburban and ex-urban development intensified and expanded after the crisis of the 1970s (Garreau 1991; Duany et al. 2001). Underlying the suburban geography of private homeownership is what Evan McKenzie refers to as an “ideology of hostile privatism.”(McKenzie 1994:19). The hostility itself emerges from what Edsall and Edsall (1992: 147) call “conservative egalitarianism” which posits that everyone has an equal opportunity to work hard and succeed in life and, moreover, that life success was itself purely a product of entrepreneurial life choices.

The car thus is an integral part of the creepy and twisted world view of the neoliberal. And they will stop at nothing to defend it.

This has so far been about the negative effects of the car right now. Let us ponder what happens when peak oil, which is when the demand of oil outpaces production, occurs (it may have already occured, or is occuring right now). The car enthusiast is not at all fazed about the prospects of mass automobility. The electric car is the salvation, they say. There are currently about 900 million-1 billion cars. One has to question if it is economically defensible ever to replace such a large amount.

It’s not just about building electric cars, as if that wasn’t bad enough ( for example: lithium, a resource badly needed for other things such as electronics, are used for batteries), it’s also about the infrastructure needed to use these electric cars, and most importantly: the electricity used for driving them. The energy needed for this are simply very hard to come by in the postfossil era. One litre of oil contains about 26 tonnes of plant and animals, compressed over the ages. Common sense should dictate that it would be simply nuts to try to continue with mass automobility. But no, gotta have f*cking cars, gotta continue with everything as before. This obsession with cars will have very bad effects for the future if it continues.

The only good car is a dead car.

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3 Responses to “F*cking Cars”

  1. procrastinationembodied Says:

    One thing that struck me afterwards: The postwar period is also known as “Fordism”, as in the company Ford, a car producer.

  2. Sick Man in America « Procrastination Embodied Says:

    […] obvious thing, as I described in a previous blog post is of course the heavy reliance on cars. America is a car culture. Though most of the Western […]

  3. Volvo Chases the Yuan « Procrastination Embodied Says:

    […] Party. It’s packed with numbers, statistics, history and personal experiences, and gives a car hater such as myself plenty of high octane fuel in the tank. I’ll probably have reason to return […]

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