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America’s Auto-Addiction

How our car culture ravages the psyche, community, and the natural world

March 19th, 2008 · Written by · 1 Comment

This leads to yet another important form of separation caused by the automobile – the over-emphasis of individualism. By definition the word involves being alone or alone in your ideas. This inevitably narrows your window of perspective. Without perspective you lose knowledge, and without knowledge you become cold and insensitive. You can’t relate to people different from yourself. You drive around in your individualized automobile, safely surrounded with stickers, colors, flare, music, and attitude. Encased in your “moving living room” you’re comfortable enough to not do one of the hardest things a human can do: experience vulnerability.

And, you might ask, how does eschewing the car make you vulnerable? Because, gulp, you are more likely to have to engage with other human beings. The bus driver, for example. Or that old woman at your bus stop who smells like dead roses and carries twenty plastic bags. Or maybe you’d have to carpool with Dale from HR who won’t stop talking about his difficult home life. Without such social interaction to juxtapose your own internal reality with, self-awareness is severely stymied.

There is another much more heinous way that cars separate people from one another – they result in the brutal deaths of 1.2 million people worldwide every year.

There is another much more heinous way that cars separate people from one another – they result in the brutal deaths of 1.2 million people worldwide every year. Car crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths in America – around 6,000 teenage drivers are killed annually. In the U.S., driving has become a right rather than a privilege. This has created two ingredients that, when combined, are a recipe for death. One: a pervasive lack of respect for safe driving, and two: there are simply too many cars on the road.

People drink and drive. They speed. They make passes in non-passing zones. They run stoplights, stop signs, and they run over pedestrians. They drive with their knees while eating and drinking. In the last ten years cell phone use among drivers has become on epidemic. Cell phone chatting drivers are four times as likely to get into an accident, and some studies have concluded that cell phone users are more dangerous than drunk drivers.

Now, we can hope for a world where cars don’t run on gasoline and, more importantly, far fewer are blazing by on our roadways. But that’s not the world we live in. Instead we’ve got smog, traffic jams, long commutes, honking horns, middle fingers, road rage, fender benders – this ugly car culture that brings out everybody’s worst nature. How many of you have uttered words to complete strangers that you’d never want your children or your grandma to hear? How many of you have floored the accelerator in a moment of pure testosterone angst? How many of you have acted in ways you never act, while in you automobile just because you were in a hurry or frustrated?

It’s amazing that the automobile has gotten to this point in American history. Fueled by capitalism, giant corporations, and our addiction to convenience and independence, the car has become the literal backbone of our society. We depend on it for transportation, identity, power, status, and livelihood. The mere mention of alternative forms of transportation is met with scorn and a complete lack of understanding. People aren’t willing to part ways with something so accessible. Human nature is like Mother Nature: it will always take the easiest course of action.

There are over 600 million passenger cars worldwide with that number expected to double by the year 2030. In the U.S. there are an average of 1.9 passenger vehicles for 1.8 drivers or 240 million vehicles for 191 million drivers. That means many people own more than one vehicle – a reflection of how the automobile has become a twisted offshoot of the American Dream. Fast, easy, convenient – the ultimate status symbols of progress and freedom. Yet, the costs to our psyche, air quality, environment and the very nature of being caused by this disruptive and destructive technology make one wonder what the buzzword of economic “progress” really entails.

So do yourself a favor. Start riding the bus, biking, and taking trains. Put those legs to good use and do some walking. Because, regardless of climate change, ditching compartmentalized car culture is the first step to reclaiming community.

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Tags: Opinion · · · ·

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