In the very first edition of my attempt to spread propaganda across the world, I alluded to the fact that I came to a sort of epic realization on the journey to The Islands. These past few weeks Iâ€™ve focused on several topics, all with an underlying theme. An astute reader probably would have picked up on this already; an astute writer wouldnâ€™t have to spell it out like I am now. Without wasting any more of your valuable time (since mine, as a writer, has no value), I will dedicate this rant to my recent epiphany. The theme is this: our attempts to remove ourselves from the risk and dangers of reality will ultimately leave us wanting.
The Automotive Atrocity
We demand cars that we feel limit our potential for danger, even though we may have the full intent of nearly killing ourselves when we reach our destination. We insulate ourselves from the possibility of doing harm to ourselves or others; yet in doing so, we dilute our ability to avoid these situations to begin with. Think about our modern cars. Try to purchase one without the following features: Anti-Lock Braking System, Stability Control, Traction Control, or Airbags. Each one of these items, it can be argued, â€œimproves the driving and safety experience.â€ Hogwash, I say and hereâ€™s why. Every one of those control systems: 1.) takes control out of the driverâ€™s hands/feet/brain and turns it over to computer programmers, 2.) massively increases complexity of a simple system, adding exponentially more potential failure points, and 3.) installs a smug sense of invincibility within the driver that absolutely nothing can harm them anymore.
I like my controls to be direct and raw. (Not raw in the chafing sense, but more in terms of a medium-rare Porterhouseâ€”full of flavor.) The gearshift should be crisp & positive. My brakes had better feel firm and progressive. I want my steering wheel to communicate the imperfections of the road to my palms & fingertips. Why would I want that? Wouldnâ€™t it be better to have a nice, soft feel to the wheel?
No. In telling me the road faults, the car is letting me know what to anticipate & how to react properly to those conditions. Wheel is juddering: The road is rough & speed should be brought down. Wheel soft & spongy: Road is wet and inputs should be smoother & less pronounced. Wheel offers no feedback: Car is in the air. Every time an active control is introduced into a system there is less feedback and greater chance of failure. Itâ€™s just the way it is. Every had an ABS sensor fail on you? I have, and itâ€™s not pretty. Your foot goes to the floor, and there is no stopping power as the ABS module pumps furiously in an attempt to unlock the wheel that is not actually locked. That is not safe in my book. Ever try to gently merge into traffic with a bit of stone dust under your tires? Traction Control kicks in just after your front bumper enters the path of oncoming cars, leaving you in the extremely vulnerable position of staring out your driverâ€™s window and seeing a rapidly approaching bumper. Again, not safe. A touch of wheelspin is actually beneficial in a situation like that, allowing the car to power through the dirt to find the traction underneath. Have you ever witnessed an airbag deploy? It is an extremely violent eventâ€”not the soft, pillowy slow-motion event that you see in the commercials, but an action with all the subtlety of a 12-gauge going off in your front seat. So violent, in fact, that an associateâ€™s wife was decapitated by this safety feature while navigating the parking lot of a strip mall. Gruesome, but true.
We trust these devices to save us from our lack of driving skills and inattentiveness behind the wheel. Why canâ€™t we trust ourselves to take the correct action and trust the car to follow our lead instead? I greatly respect Mercedes-Benz as a manufacturer, designer, and leader in structurally-safe vehicles, yet their newest commercial really irks me. â€œI didnâ€™t know I was drifting into the other laneâ€ says the well-dressed woman. â€œI didnâ€™t see the car stopped in front of me,â€ states the graying man. Really? Why not? Why were YOU not paying attention? Should you even be trusted behind the wheel? These cretins go on to praise the carâ€™s safety systems for saving them. Ultimately, improved driving skills would have avoided the situation entirely. We have come to expect the car to do our driving for us; to be our navigator, our protector, our savior. Just remember one thing: the car isnâ€™t doing this. Some nerdy electronics engineer is telling it what to do in these situations. So I will ask you this: Who would you trust to have more influence in how your car drives: Michael Schumacher or JÓ§rg Nerdmeister?
Another aspect to consider: these â€œsafetyâ€ systems not only add significant cost to a new car, but a fair amount of weight, too. Added weight means lower fuel economy. I would lump those narcoleptic Mercedes drivers in the â€œunnecessary ballastâ€ category, too. Imagine how much safer the highways would be if people actually thought about what they are doing behind the wheel. Forget the electronic nannies. Proper driver training and attitude is the greatest safety advancement we can make.
Thin walls and Thicker skin
We live in isolated cocoons of homes that keep us warm and snug at night. True, they have their benefits, but they can also keep us from appreciating the world around us. Nature is in a constant ebb & flow of seasons, of temperatures, of predators and prey. Iâ€™ll hold fast to the truth that you will never appreciate the arrival of springtime until you stop shivering at night. While Iâ€™m not suggesting that everyone live in a lean-to, I will suggest that there is nothing like a cold night spent in the wilderness for you to appreciate what you take for granted. And there is nothing like hearing the snarling snort of a wolfâ€™s pre-howl inhale–just meters outside your tent–to make you appreciate the solid stone walls of home. Thankfully, it has not yet made me appreciate the security of adult diapers.
We do whatever we can to shelter ourselves from the potential social harm of the outside world, yet we crave a taste of something that is â€œreal.â€ So we watch reality TV to see real people fall in love, lose weight, or have their houses ransacked, all without having to go through the trials ourselves. Reality television is the new coliseum and the participants are our gladiators. We watch in serene security while peopleâ€™s lives are ruined for our pleasure. The weapons are words, and the blood is emotions. All hail Caesar.
I find myself wondering: why would this appeal to anyone? We want to experience the glories and failures, but from the safety of our living rooms. Are we as a society trying to avoid humiliation or are we just cruel? (Middle-school students are exempt from this judgment.) Do we consider the hard work of exercising our own bodies not worth the effort, so we watch strangers struggle for us? Is it a fear that the pursuit of love drives us to do so many stupid things that weâ€™ll watch a dozen hussies fight for a bachelor rather than attempting it ourselves? (As a bachelor, I have mixed feelings about this. Not so much about the hussy factor.) We have to be willing to turn off the television and contest our own jeopardies. I know first-hand that the pain of love can be extraordinary and its effects deeply scarring, yet I hope the reward will be far greater in the end. It must be. It has to be. Otherwise love would have no reason to exist. And I fear that I would not either.
Life can be so difficult at times, yet we need to get out there. Take the risks. Endure the pain. Reap the rewards. Take responsibility for our actions. This roller coaster of highs and lows is a reminder of what it means to be alive. And for the love of everything right in this world, sell the Corolla and buy something rewarding to drive. You would be amazed at how enjoyable the journey can actually be when the carriage doesnâ€™t lull you to sleep.