On a future without the car…

I read an article today that prognosticated the death of personally owned vehicles and the internal combustion engine within the next 20 years. It made many fine points projecting how much safer, more convenient, less expensive, and environmentally conscience eliminating the traditional family car would be. We could all hail them like an Uber, let them drive us to our destination while sleeping or fidgeting with our spinner, and paying a “nominal tax” for the maintenance and upkeep of this new and exciting public service.

It’s an interesting concept, to be sure. Then, of course I look at how well we’ve managed to maintain the current generation of public infrastructure and wonder what madman would willingly give up his clean and well maintained personal vehicle in perpetuity for the joys of the sights, smells, and sounds of public transportation in automobile-sized formats? I’m thinking of the guys I’ve seen taking a leak on the DC Metro and the noxious mix of whatever it is that makes taxi floors so disgustingly odoriferous. Add in the part that one of these marvelous transportation pods might not be available when and where you need one, and it sounds like a real winner of a plan to me.

Look, maybe it’s the kind of thing that would make some flavor sense for someone living in a dense urban environment or those consciously deciding to forgo privately owning a vehicle – a group that already seems largely served by things like trains, buses, taxis, and ride sharing schemes. For those of us who made the conscious decision to live in a rural part of the country, I have no idea how something like this makes sense. The density of pods needed just to get people in my rural county to and from work would seem to be prohibitive at first blush. Then add in the times you need to have something like a pickup truck to haul trash, or furniture, or firewood, or just to make a trip to the garden center and the plan frays even further around the edges. Are there going to be special freight pods that come with even less unit density than the normal passenger pods and how much inconvenience are people as a group going to tolerate to make this concept work?

It’s an interesting notion, but for the foreseeable future is going to be a hard no from me. I like knowing I have a machine only a few feet away that I can climb into and, with a reasonable amount of maintenance and upkeep, transport myself anywhere on the continent at the time and route of my own choosing. I have no intention of giving that up that level of freedom and convenience to feed someone’s nightmare hellscape dream of a “future without cars.”

The point of the exercise…

After scrolling through my twitter feed and Facebook timeline this afternoon at lunch, I’ve come to the not-particularly-surprising conclusion that social media isn’t fun any more. Maybe it never really was fun, but it was once new and interesting and held loads of promise of being the for people to communicate in the new century. Now it’s become something more like a never ending grudge match of who can shout loudest, post up the most toxic memes, and get the most reverb from their echo chamber of choice.

Although I have occasionally learned new things thanks to a random post on social media, I can’t think of a single time that Facebook or Twitter have gotten me all turned around on an issue. The way in which we discuss our politics or other issues of the day on these platforms leaves me wondering if anyone has every actually changed their mind based on what they hear and see. It feels more like the perfect tool for those with their minds largely made up to entrench and find others who agree with them.

Look, I know I’m as, if not more mouthy and opinionated than the next guy… so if I’m managing to glam on to the idea that beaming these electrons back and forth at one another is an exercise in futility maybe there’s a thin layer of hope that things could improve. Given the absolute and total rage being thrown by the left and right and the moment I don’t see how any of it ends well. Maybe seeding that kind of division is the point of the whole exercise. If that’s what our benevolent electronic overlords were going for, well played.

We remember…

I remember growing up hearing stories about where people in my parent’s generation were when President Kennedy was assassinated. My grandparent’s generation could tell you where they were on a Sunday in December when news broke of a sneak attack on America’s fleet in the Pacific. To me, those dates and names were pages in a history book. I was too young then to appreciate that these events weren’t dusty history to the men and women who lived through them. They were visceral, living parts of their life’s narrative.

As each year we’re further removed from the shock and disbelief of a September morning. For more and more of our citizens, September 11th is just one more of those dates that mark an historical reference point rather than a life experience. For those of us who lived through it and the days that followed, though, I have an increasing suspicion that the day will always feel a bit like current events – a recent memory, still very much alive and tangible.

The stories of where we were, what we were doing, and who we were with will probably always be seared into our individual and collective memories for as long as one of us remains to tell it. The confusion at first report, the wide mouthed disbelief at seeing the second plan burrowing in, the continuous loop of smoke rising from the Pentagon, and two buildings that crumbled in front of us are were a clarion call to arms, to unity, and to remind us that our long experiment in democracy was and remains surrounded by those who would snuff it out.

Seventeen years on, it’s a punch to the gut I can feel just as strongly today as I did all those years ago. Over all the long years from then to now, we sought justice and rough vengeance, we rebuilt, thousands of families found the internal fortitude to go on living and endure, but most important, on this day and always, we remember.

Stupid hillbilly…

As a fiscal conservative with mostly libertarian social leanings, I’m regularly amused/annoyed by the classic liberal argument that runs along the lines of “conservatives are stupid hillbillies who have never picked up a book.” I can only assume when I hear that that what they really mean is “Mine is the only opinion that matters and if you disagree with me you are Satan/Hitler and I’m going to put my fingers in my ears so I’m not forced to listen to or attempt to comprehend dissenting opinions so I can go on trying to make myself look big by making others look small.”

Yes, I am a moderately conservative American raised in Appalachia. I suppose that, in and of itself, earns me the “stupid hillbilly” title in some eyes. You should know, thought, that I’ve also read Plato, Locke, and Rousseau. I’ve read the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. I’ve read Aurelius’ Meditations and St. Augustine’s Confessions. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged, too, and the Bible, and more biographies of great leaders of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries than I want to list. My economics shelf covers everything from Smith’s Wealth of Nations to Marx’s Capital. History? Yeah, those shelves are groaning under the weight of volumes ranged from ancient Greece and Rome, the religious wars of Europe, to the space race that I’ve read and synthesized to help inform my view of the world. I won’t bother to deep dive the fiction that’s passed through my hands over the years. Suffice to say that Dickens, Twain, and a couple hundred others are on the list.

I say all that to say this: If you want to have a frank discussion on policy or the proper role of government, I’m usually all in. If you come at me with some version on “All Republicans are…”, well you should feel free to immediately go fuck yourself. I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in the social media shitposting that would inevitably follow. It’s enough for me to know that by insisting in dealing in absolutes and arguments that rely on painting “all” of one group or another with a particular brush, you are far bigger part of the problem with the social discourse in this country than this stupid hillbilly could ever be.

Choice, vice, and the Protestant ethic for the 21st century…

Note: The following is loosely based on a recent conversation and nicely sums up what’s probably at the core of my life philosophy. It has been sanitized for your protection, or ribbed for your pleasure, or whatever…

Look, if you want to kill yourself, have at it. You want to whore yourself out? Go forth and do great things. Want to chase that high six times a day? You do you, kiddo. Want to escape from the world and go live in the woods or under a bridge somewhere? Help yourself. I don’t have any business telling you how to live – or rather it isn’t my business right up until how you want to live starts having an out-sized impact on those around you who are just trying to live their lives too.

You see, the thing is, I don’t really care about what are commonly called “vice” crimes. Drugs, gambling, prostitution – the old classics. As long as everyone involved is a consenting adult, why the hell do I care what they choose to do with or to themselves? Experience tells me that trying to save someone from themselves is almost the textbook definition of a losing proposition. I’m fully prepared to let people go on drinking and drugging and whoring and gambling to their heart’s content if that’s what they want to do.

Here’s the catch. When their decisions start interfering with other people who are just out in the world trying to do their own thing, I’m perfectly willing to see society crash down on them like the clenched fist of any angry god. When they start killing and thieving and generally making civilized life impossible for others, my level of sympathy with their “plight” drops to damned near zero.

When the drunk climbs behind the wheel or the addict breaks into a home or the gambler starts embezzling from their employer, I cheerfully advocate a policy of zero tolerance and swift, harsh retribution. In life you make your choices and the consequences should naturally follow. It’s not my job to shelter you from those consequences. It’s not society’s job to pick up the tab and bail people out because they’ve made shit decisions.

Some people call me misanthropic. They’re not wrong. Based on a lifetime of observation, I like to think my general misanthropy comes from a place of reason. Couple that with a firm belief in self-determination across all circumstances, and well, there’s a pretty high risk of sounding like an asshole. Of course just because you sound like an asshole doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
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I feel like I’m on to something here. Do the work. Be responsible for yourself. Basic guidelines for life not spent as a complete and utter drain on society. Maybe I’ve stumbled upon the Modified Protestant Ethic for the 21st Century.

Diplomacy…

I’m not, either by training or disposition, suited for the world of diplomacy. There they use find words and polite phrases to make even the simplest issues sound complex. The complex issues, well, they make sound too difficult for a mere mortal to comprehend. Certainly not all people will ever grasp the detail of policy but the brad strokes don’t feel like they should be out of reach.

While I can’t in good conscience support all of the activities on the world stage of our current president, I do have something of a gut feeling that an occasional shake up in the polite world of diplomacy might actually be a net good overall. Turning the polite, made-for-tv photo op frippery of international diplomacy on its ear makes a dark little corner of my heart just a little bit happy.

With the G7 conference left in a tizzy, I’m waiting with great interest to see what news comes from Singapore. I fully expect the hand wringing of the international media, talking heads, the left here at home to be something worth seeing – even if only for its entertainment value.

No, I don’t want to watch the world burn, but I don’t mind at all seeing it dragged out of its comfort zone from time to time.

Like I said, I’d well and truly suck as a diplomat.

What a difference thirty years makes…

When I was about eleven years old, I remember distinctly watching coverage on the then fledgling Cable News Network of protestors in their thousands pouring into the streets of Eastern Block countries to demand liberty and the rights of citizens from their Communist masters. Moscow itself trembled under the weight of these demands for freedom.

This afternoon on the same news channel, I watched as thousands of American citizens took to the streets to demand their government strip away centuries old, foundational rights of their republic. As they say, those who don’t know history…

Honest to God, the longer I live the less I recognize my own country.