The Defeat Device

September 29, 2015

The basis of the appeal of the private automobile has always been a kind of mystically perceived total freedom. In practice, it is the freedom to go wherever one wants to go (wherever the roads go, which opens up another socioeconomic can of worms), whenever one desires to go (whenever the car is ready, when one has paid the price in preparation and maintenance, in taxation and legal qualification, whenever one has the wherewithal simply to feed the machine), at whatever rate one desires to go (assuming the traffic will allow, that congestion eases – and at rates up to but not beyond the arbitrary standards established to protect one from the dangers of excessive use of his own freedom).

Never mind the cavils, however; mobility, or the illusion thereof, has indeed been the prime attraction, the dream for which we have so cheerfully paid all those other costs. The tragedy is that if mobility alone had been the single goal in the development of the modern private automobile, we could have achieved a better measure of it for a fraction of a percentage point of the cost we have paid.

— John Jerome, The Death of the Automobile, 1972

It should be unsettling to all of us that we have built our lives around, designed the places we live and work to, hinged an unhealthy segment of our economy on this “mystically perceived total freedom” of the private automobile. deathoftheautomobileSo engrained is this perception of the individual life enhancing power of the car that we cannot imagine a future without one, a future, like the past two generations, of unimodal transportation policy revolving entirely around our use of private vehicles. Anything else is inconceivable.

Our mayor will be pursuing an item at city council this week that will, if successful, drain $350 million from the capital budget in order to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway, shrinking the timeline from 20 to 8 years. So important to our local economy that people not be hampered in getting around the city in their cars, Mayor Tory believes this to be a wise and prudent expense of public dollars. Just like spending hundreds of millions more money to keep a small eastern section of the same expressway elevated makes sense to him.

The primacy of the automobile is simply self-evident. As it was so it shall ever be. carad5Stopping such madness only serves to reveal it was madness from the very beginning.

While you can certainly accuse the mayor of lacking much imagination and even less foresight, you can’t necessarily fault him. The car mythology has been deeply engrained in us, sold to us unrelentingly, in 30 second spots during the Super Bowl, filling up magazine pages, providing regular content in pop culture. Little Deuce Coup to the Fast and Furious. Baby, you can drive my car and we’ll have fun, fun, `til your daddy takes the T-bird away. (That makes no sense but nothing about car adulation does).

We have been bamboozled by marketing and PR. In this way, the automotive industry has much in common with Big Tobacco. Actually, in another important way as well. Mass deception and perfidy resulting in a steady march of hundreds of thousands to the graveyard.

Truth in advertising.

We laugh now at the outrageous claims of pretend doctors pitching their favourite brand of cigarettes. Cool menthol. Lucky Strike. It’s Toasted! Low tar and nicotine. I’d Rather Fight Than Switch. carad4Come To Where The Flavour Is, you Marlboro Man Men, a succession of pitchmen dying of lung cancer.

But how much more realistic is your everyday car commercial? Mostly, drivers and their freedom-loving passengers, tearing it up along the open road, nary another car in sight, even in the most populous of cities. Ads highlighting the new features that a company has developed to keep your family safe deny the obvious. Your family would be much safer not travelling around the city in a car.

One of the most cynical spots on TV right now is one featuring the band X Ambassadors, touring America in a Jeep, writing lyrics, listening to music on the radio, taking in the sights. And where do they wind up for a gig? At a venue that says ‘Portland’ on its marquee. Portland, Oregon. Perhaps the leading North American city committed to reducing its dependence of private automobiles.

Renegades, my ass, you TV jinglemakers. Fuck you, X Ambassadors. Fuck you, Jeep. Fuck you, car industry.

A little over-the-top? An unfair comparison, cars and cigarettes? One is a delivery system for an addictive, toxic virulence which was well-known but hidden and denied by corporations and the other…

Volkswagen: The scandal explained. ‘Diesel dupe’. ‘Defeat device’. carad2A mammoth multinational company consciously working to defy regulations in order to sell their product which dumps untold amounts of dangerous, deadly shit into the atmosphere. Yeah, that’s the other.

It’s not like this is some singular event by an outlier. Car companies have been slipping and dodging government environmental regulations for, well, probably since the advent of environmental regulations. “Manufacturers have long been accused of using specially prepared cars to produce the best possible [miles-per-gallon performance] figures.”

The entire Age of the Automobile has been predicated on lies and slick, misleading advertising. Like all advertising, it’s based on a perceived lifestyle with the promise of easy, economical and efficient mobility at its core. Like all advertising, it’s not entirely true. Not even close.

This is not news, particularly. There’s nothing revelatory in that statement. Car dependence is killing us, and disfiguring our cities and communities in the process. But we’re too far in, it seems, to do much about it. carad1We just continue to dig the hole deeper, tossing more money after bad, hoping to find a solution somewhere in that deep, dark pit.

The denial sits heavily. We can’t possibly have been this stupid to have bought so whole-heartedly into such a fantasy, spun by corporate entities. Can we? No. Let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing.

More than 40 years on, we refuse to accept the reality of what we’ve done.

Technology isn’t evil, but the uses of technology often are. The car is a bad machine – and the solution is not to build a better bad machine, but rather not to build bad machines. Yet this huge, wealthy nation is trapped with what is virtually a single transportation system, and to suggest simply abandoning that system is to suggest paralyzing the nation. We have become addicted to automobiles; they have become literally a necessity to sustaining life.

autohatingly submitted by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate XXX

September 10, 2010

It’s Friday, so turn your ball caps around, show us the price tag and we’ll bring you our latest installment of Meet A Mayoral Candidate!

This week: James Di Fiore, OddmanicMayor!

If you have to ask what exactly OddmanicMayor means, it means you’re an old fart, yo. Which is why we didn’t inquire about it for fear of looking like, well, an old fart. Let’s just leave it as one of those tics of the youth vernacular us grown-ups just weren’t supposed to understand.

You see, the James Di Fiore mayoralty campaign is all about getting young people out participating in the electoral process which they do not do at an alarmingly low rate. According to Di Fiore, the youngest voters (ages 18 to 35) represent over a third of Toronto’s population but only 18% of them decided to cast a ballot in the 2006 municipal elections. That’s well below an already embarrassingly 39% of all eligible voters who voted in `06.

So it would seem to be a huge demographic bracket to try and engage but that rarely seems to happen. Is it that whole chicken-and-egg, which came first dilemma? Young people don’t vote because candidates overlook them or do candidates overlook them because young people don’t vote? It’s not a new phenomenon, yet it would seem to be an important nut to crack for any candidate willing to try especially in what’s shaping up to be a horse race here for mayor where every vote will matter.

Into that gaping disconnect steps James Di Fiore. A self-described ‘media maverick of Canadian journalism’, Di Fiore gained notoriety when he was charged and convicted of violating the Canada Elections Act after he obtained 3 ballots at three polling places in the June 2004 federal election and wrote a piece for NOW magazine to tell the tale. While the stunt earned him it a $250 fine, it also led to an amendment in the voting law requiring voters to produce picture ID or to have someone vouch for them in person.

This wasn’t the first foray into actual newsmaking for Di Fiore. He also liked to hoodwink TV networks like CNN, CBC, the BBC into granting him panel space on their talking heads shows where he would proceed to cause a ruckus. Or so he claims unless he just punked us into writing that and help burnish his iconoclastic image that goes over well with the kids.

But will displaying attitude be enough to drag the young cohort out from in front of their Xboxes and Wiis and down to the polling stations come election day? If that were the case, we could just roll out, I dunno, Pauly Shore and run him for office. The youngsters still dig Pauly Shore, don’t they?

Mr. Di Fiore’s answer to that is simple. He’s got policies and platforms to back up the hip, subversive perspective. Oh yeah, that’s right, gramps. James Di Fiore will beat you over the head and back with policy ideas.

If elected, he would bring in a 3 year freeze on rental rates (although we’d be curious if that falls within a municipal government’s domain). Di Fiore would also like to see more tax breaks given to single people in the city who don’t get the same consideration as families, businesses or religious institutes. Di Fiore’s downright Dawkins/Hitchens in his animosity toward organized religion. No tax exempt status for you, churches et al, under a Mayor Di Fiore administration although, again, we’re not exactly sure how much of a hand municipalities have to play in that matter.

Di Fiore would also like to see tax incentives used to encourage businesses to foster virtual office space. That is, making it easier for people to not bother getting dressed in the morning and work from home. It would help alleviate congestion in business cores and contribute to a greener city enivornment. Di Fiore would continue the environmental policies of Mayor Miller and expand upon them.

A Mayor Di Fiore administration would intensify the waterfront redevelopment and extend a tourist initiative throughout other parts of the city including utilizing locations like Downsview Park much more. A daily transit user, Di Fiore isn’t one of your typical TTC haters even though he thinks it is weighted down with too much bureaucracy. He’d make it an essential service. He is also concerned about the number of sex offenders who are relocated in Toronto and would endeavour to halt that practice. His concern for the youth even extends to those not yet able to vote.

We wondered if having a campaign platform focused on young voters would be enough to get them out to vote in larger numbers. Did Di Fiore have any tricks up his sleeve to further help entice them to participate in the upcoming election? He did, yes, but when he started talking about using non-political events and online entertainment “that will allow [younger voters] to make a statement when they vote, not just cast a ballot”, we had no idea what he meant. But then again, we don’t have to. We’re not the demographic Di Fiore’s aiming for although he did assure us that as the election drew nearer his approach would become clearer. Even to codgers like us.

So we posed the question we’ve been asking all the mayoral candidates: If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Di Fiore like to see his legacy written? I would like my legacy to be that of a candidate who exposed young non-voters to the political process, he told us. I want 2010 to be seen as a turning point when disenfranchisement is replaced with a gradual inclusion between young voters and the system that represents them. I hope to be the catalyst who facilitates that turning point.

Hear that, front running candidates? There’s a big block of young people out there, wanting a seat at the table. If you’re not going to help make that happen, step aside. Candidate James Di Fiore will. Ignore him (and them) at your peril.

— dutifully submitted by Cityslikr