Systematic Waste

Corporate capitalism operates — normally and increasingly so — by selling people more stuff than rational design requires. The automobile is a linchpin of the system. It is also the most wasteful mass-distributed product in human history, by a wide margin. This picture, from the Muenster, Germany city planning office illustrates depicts the amount of stuff (and, hence, space) involved in using cars versus buses or bikes:

waste depicted

It would have taken an massive, intentional, coordinated effort (ala Vance Packard‘s rocket blasts of excess goods) to have squandered more energy and materials than has been wasted on automobiles-ueber-alles in America. It’s going to be understood as one of our country’s many huge criminalities, if we somehow figure out how to survive its coming implosion, which promises economic and military chaos.

Green Smoke Indeed!

James Howard Kunstler today posts this useful news nugget:

Blowing Green Smoke Up America’s Ass # 23:General Motors – referred to nowadays as “the sub-prime loan company that also makes cars” – has opened a public relations campaign on National Public Radio to convince the public that its heart is in the right place. The centerpiece of the campaign is the Chevy Volt, GM’s venture into hybrid cars. The voice in the radio spot announces that the Volt is an environmentally-friendly electric vehicle assisted by what they call “an on-board range-extending power source.” Wonder what that means? Think gasoline-powered internal combustion engine.

And, of course, the smoke being blown here is much worse than just this.

First of all, the Chevy Volt is a concept car, not a production one. If you could buy one -and you can’t– it would carry a price-tag of $100,000!

Second, even the great General Motors, with its long track record of delivering high-quality, cutting-edge cars (that thud you just heard was people everywhere falling off their chairs in paroxysms of laughter) admits it isn’t planning to sell a Volt until at least 2010 — despite the fact that they are advertising them now! (This tells us something crucial about the role of supposedly “green” vehicles in the car corporations’ plans. Even as they sponsor NPR propaganda campaigns, you can hear the rustle of accumulated capital fleeing somewhere, anywhere, other than into future investments in car-making…UAW take note.)

And, of course, all of this jive talk presumes and promotes public ignorance about the most basic fact of the science of energy — the reality that all supplies of energy for fueling cars are not just finite, but up against the wall of history. Plugging your car into the wall is hardly a viable answer to the arrival of Peak Oil, as explained by Kunstler and others. Nevertheless, talking as if it were underlies everything GM and the other auto-capitalists are now saying.

The extent to which more well-meaning folks, who might otherwise see through the outdated, increasingly murderous capitalist scam behind automobiles-ueber-alles, fail to resist this “green smoke” is the exact extent to which we are all doomed.

MPG Disinformation

Capitalists know only one solution to any problem: redoubled doses of the same old medicines.  The reign of the automobile and the auto-industrial complex is clearly doomed.  There is simply not enough energy in the world to make it last past roughly the middle of this century.

So, what do corporate car-marketers do? They heighten their efforts to misinform their “targets.”

The latest form of this trend is the change in the way car-capitalists state their miles-per-gallon claims in advertising. The old practice was to state two MPG ratings, one for city driving, the other for highway. So, my 1998 Toyota Corolla was advertised as having 32/41 MPG.

Now, in these increasingly dangerous end times for the automobile, the marketers have taken to simply shifting the city part of the MPG rating into the footnotes. Virtually all new ads that bother to mention MPG now only state the highway rating.

GM's Version

This is neither more nor less than planned disinformation, an intentional attempt to alter people’s access to and perceptions of vital information about products. Though you will never see this fact admitted in public, it is a standard method of big business marketing.

Capitalism, you see, is a just a well-disguised form of humanity’s 6,000-year run of pre-historic barbarism. A a social system, it is entirely of a piece with the older forms of class coercion that its apologists have long tried to distinguish it from.

Courting Carmageddon: The Real Meaning of Gore’s Nobel Prize

Al Gore has just won the Nobel Peace Prize for making the movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” So far, talk of the consequences, however interesting and important, has entirely missed the deepest meaning of the award: By endorsing Gore’s insidiously wrong-headed film, the Nobel committee has seriously worsened the already terrible ideological climate shielding the reign of the private automobile from the serious democratic scrutiny it requires.

Read moreCourting Carmageddon: The Real Meaning of Gore’s Nobel Prize

Marketing and the Thoughtless Society

If I were asked to choose the word that best describes the quality of daily life in corporate capitalist America, that word would be “thoughtless.” Ordinary people here aren’t often really consciously hostile to one another — just as they aren’t often conscious of real political and historical facts. Instead, they are simply heedless of anybody and anything that doesn’t reside or resonate within their bubbleworlds of home, car, workplace, and cell phone PIM.

The lion’s share of the blame for this rests not with ordinary people, but with corporate capitalism. This socio-economic order performs its function of further enriching the already rich by the constant growth of marketing and commodification. As this process unfolds, corporate media and messages, all of which are anchored in profit-making, increasingly crowd out non-commercial activities. As a result, the stuff of salesmanship — flattery, encouragement of navel-gazing and the acquisitive attitude, fear of a “mean world” beyond the supposed safety of packaged entertainments — increasingly erodes the social-psychological basis for thoughtfulness.

Sometimes, this crowding out is literally physical. Take the ongoing decline of automotive turn-signaling. This safety device (within our insanely unsafe corporate capitalist/autos-first transportation regime) is losing ground not just to continuing marketing-induced cognitive and ethical impairment, but to the cellular telephone itself, which, despite its peddlers’ denials, is now part and parcel of driving for growing numbers of ordinary Americans. The task of holding a steering wheel and a cellular phone simply leaves no hand free to flick the turn blinker.

Raymond Williams called this whole crucial process of decline “mobile privatization,” and knew it stemmed from the normal operation of modern capitalism. Alas, thoughtlessness is not just a core symptom of mobile privatization, but it serves as a very effective vaccine against criticism of it and resistance to it. It takes thoughtfulness to care about thoughtlessness!

Funny, isn’t it? In this supposedly “religious” society, institutional normalcy is killing the very basis of all but the pettiest, most selfish, least ethically relevant kinds of caring.