This post on Sailer’s site the other day struck a chord with me. I’m beginning the process of buying a car so I have been thinking a lot about cars of late. I truly hate the car buying experience for a number of reasons. The biggest one is that it feels like a waste of time. The dealership model is a carryover from a bygone era when a man would spend a lot of time on purchases. Most of us buy on-line now so walking car lots looking for the right car just feels like a time suck to me.
That last bit reveals a bit of reality with regards to how societies work. The car selling business has been immune to change and it has a lot to do with the political power of car dealers. Tesla found that out when they wanted to sell cars in New Jersey. The state had a law requiring car makers to have a dealership in the state in order to sell cars. Tesla finally got the state to yield, but they had to bribe half of Trenton to do it. Car dealers are a powerful lobby in every state and they use their influence to make life tough on anyone with new ideas.
That Sailer post reminded me of something I have noticed among my friends and acquaintances, as I have got into car shopping. It is a very emotional subject. For instance, I’ve asked people for their recommendations and to a man they have refused. I always get something like “You need to test drive them and pick the one you like.” The alternative to this is to just change the subject entirely. It’s as if there is a taboo against giving anyone advice on cars.
I think the reason for the reluctance is two-fold. One is people still view their car as an extension of themselves. If they recommend a car and you reject it, it is as if you told them they have bad taste. On the other side of it, thinking it is an emotional experience, people don’t want to talk you into something you may come to hate. Alternatively, the people I know may not give a damn about my new interest in cars or they simply don’t like me very much. You can never be sure about these things.
The other thing I see, something that turns up in the comments of car posts like the Sailer one, is the car scold. Whenever someone starts showing enthusiasm for buying or owning a car, car scold comes along to tell them he thinks owning a car is a great burden that he suffers through for the good of mankind. This guy has a lot in common with TV scold and music scold. It’s as if enjoying life is such a great sin that the righteous must always be letting everyone know they are in constant pain.
There are, needless to say, a lot of these vinegar drinkers on the right. It is an affectation and a silly one in my opinion. You have but a short time on this earth. Making the most of it, including the fun bits, strikes me as the heart of conservatism. It is the ultimate acknowledgement of reality. Every man has his tastes, but if owning a snappy car brings you pleasure, best of luck with it. I may not share your passion, but I do share your desire to make the most of our time on earth. What’s wrong with that?
The root of this, I suspect, is the dominance of the Left in American culture. The neo-Puritan hags have been screeching at us about how form must always follow function for so long we have lost our sense of style. You see that in cars where the goal of designers is to make them more aerodynamic and pack them with useful functions. The result is a fleet of well-built cars that look like they came from East German film noir during the Cold War. Our cars are ugly because inside, we have become an ugly people.
If you doubt this, look at pics of parking lots from 40-50 years ago. They were a carnival of colors, shapes and sizes. A person’s taste in cars said something about him, a form of advertisement. A people embracing life and its potential were out buying all sorts of cars in all sorts of colors. We are now a people marching to the inevitable end of our miserable existences so we buy cars that are suited for the task. The top three car colors in America are black, grey and white, with dark gray the top interior choice.
Now, one aspect of this self-loathing has been a focus on the engineering of cars and that has resulted in some fantastic options. The cars of my youth were better looking, but they were in no way better built or better engineered. I test drove a Camaro SS the other day and it was like flying a jet. It was fast as hell and so packed with technology it is not accurate to call it a car. It is a transportation platform. Last year I rented a Cadillac on a trip and I needed ten minutes to figure out how to operate it. It is an amazing age.
Even so, we have become a cautious and frightened people, like herd animals waiting to be processed. The sports car buyer in 1965 was looking for risk. He wanted to rocket down the road in something that was probably not entirely safe, but that was part of the thrill. Today, sports cars are packed with safety features intended to let the buyer know he can have the kind of fun that is permitted today. It is part of the overall feminization of the West. Engineers today care about you like a mother.
I saw the other day that a company now sells an add-on for cars that allows parents to spy on their kids and even take control of the car, from their smart phone. The ad is not all that clear on the particulars, but it appears to be a GPS system that also provides some ability to disable the car, sound the horn and flash the lights. That way, if your son is out enjoying himself, you can put an end to it from your couch. Nothing says freedom like having mom watch you as you make out with your girl in the backseat.
The ultimate expression of this is the self-driving car. The quest to take all the fun out of life, and all the risk, leads inevitably to the nanny-state providing a ride service so that you not only get to your destination safely, you get to the correct destination. People naturally think the surveillance state will be Orwellian. No, it will be run by Google and Apple, sold as a market solution to public safety. After all, when it comes to your safety, we can’t let things like freedom, pleasure and privacy get in the way. You’re too important to us!
In the end, that’s why I will be buying some sort of hot rod in the coming weeks. I look around and see that the fun cars are only for the Cloud People, while the rest of us will be stuck with the dreary conveyance units. There are not many mid-priced sports cars on the market. Toyota does not even have a fun car on offer. Neither does Honda. I figure I better get a sports car before I’m too old and the before the state decides, for my own good of course, that they are no longer safe for Dirt People.