Lileks and I were talking last Saturday on the NARNII show about the real “Two Americas” in this country. There’s a pessimistic America that believes the nation is spinning into a vortex of decay, global warming, and rich-vs.-poor civil war on the one hand – an American that thinks the rest of America needs its soul “saved” (not to name any names here). And there’s an America that is optimistic – that retains the spirit of its immigrant forefathers who came to this land to find a new, better life.
One America thinks our best days are behind us, and gets a secret tingle up their leg watching The Day After Tomorrow (“That’ll teach you to drive SUVs and ignore Mother Earth!”), and believes that we’d better quit nattering about freedom and the market and liberty and just hush up and listen to our older, wiser betters in China and India. One America sings “America: F*** Yeah!” with simultaneous comic irony and pit-of-the-gut sincerity.
One America voted for Jimmy “Malaise” Carter, Walter “Sure, I’ll Raise Your Taxes” Mondale, Michael “Look At Me In My Tank” Dukakis, Algore, John Kerry and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, and quietly waits for the inferno to overtake them; many of them even avoid having children, either because their thoughts of the future are so dismal or, in extreme cases, because they believe the human race should voluntarily extinct itself. The other America elected Ronald Reagan, flocked to see Rambo, waved the flag at times that made that other America blanche with embarassment, bought Smith and Wesson Model 29s and dared you to pry them from their cold, dead hands, and quietly contributed to the downfall of a genuinely evil empire, leaving the world a much better place than it’d been ten years earlier.
Now, I believe a couple of things:
- The world’s going to run out of oil. Not real soon, but eventually.
- The free market – assuming it’s allowed to be free – will anticipate and react to that inevitability faster than government will. People will adapt their behaviors in the short run (as they are today with gas prices); as the supply of oil contracts, the market will present alternatives.
- The market will present these alternatives long before government can mandate them. Long before the government can lay a half-mile grid of trolley tracks in every American city, industry will have developed an electric or fuel-cell car, running from something we do have in great profusion – nuclear-generated electricity, waste material, paperwork from failed Tic programs, whatever.
- Government actions will exacerbate the problem.
Let’s go back to optimism for a bit.
James and I were talking about how crushing pessimism was one of the dominant leitmotifs of American pop culture over the past fifty years. We also noted that next week’s Minnesota Street Rod Association convention at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds (at which the NARN will be broadcasting!) harkens back to an era when America was profoundly optimistic – where the sky, and beyond, was the limit. Cars were big, brawny, cheery and optimistic.
I noted, in contrast, that this is the face of the current American car-buying public (or at least the stereotype of it):
Now, the Prius is a perfectly fine car – Toyota builds a good vehicle, yadda yadda.
But I noted that other car makers had tried their hands at building hybrids – Honda, Volvo et al – and gotten dicier results in the hybrid market; they’d made the “mistake” of merely building hybridized versions of their regular cars. In other words, their “normal”-looking hybrids failed in the market, while Toyota dealers can’t keep the dorky-looking Prius in stock.
The reason, of course, is that the people who are concerned about “global warming” today want to be seen doing the vehicular equivalent of wearing a hair shirt. They want to drive a car that looks like a rolling cockroach, thus to feel closer to the nature into which they feel we are all about to decay anyway.
My statement; America – at least, the part of America that flies the flag and hears “God Bless the USA” with a certain tingle of pride even as they cringe at the mawkishness, the America that flies the flag on June 14, right-side up, no flame involved – will take the notion of alternative transportation into their hearts only when electric vehicles look like this…:
…only when hybrids look like this…:
Only when a ride on a light rail train looks like this:
…rather than some exercise in self-abnegation and penitence to Mother Earth (like Michelle Obama envisions for us…):
Then – when the idea of “alternatives” are seen not as expressions of shame, of crabbling about after the crumbs of our betters, of finding comfort in societal doom, but rather of progress rather than decay, of skill and prowess rather than doom – then, America will embrace these ideas.
So sign me up for the first electric Porsche 914.
Er…maybe the first one in the third year of production, anyway.