When you’re not free to choose, you take what you get. More precisely, you get what those who’ve taken away your choices decide you’ll have.
No more – and a lot less.
This taking away of choices does more than diminish our options. It diminishes our humanity. One of the easiest ways to see this – literally – is to have a look at a group of people wearing the same uniform. It makes them look all the same, the literal meaning of uniform.
It is not accidental that uniforms are common in contexts where the individual’s choices are reduced to nil – as in the military. As in tyrannies, where the old school uniform was the dreary black or grey suit worn by the Dear Leader – and by everyone else, too. Or – in modern tyrannies – the Chin Diaper, which serves the same essential purpose as a uniform. Which is to establish the look of universality and – just as important – to make it clear that choice is no longer yours to make.
Americans used to have all kinds of choices – especially when it came to cars, which were a visual affirmation of the choices they were free to make, generally.
There were very basic cars and there were very fancy cars, with a spectrum of prices that made it possible for practically anyone to buy a car that suited their means and their preferences. You could buy something not far removed from a lawn mower – old VW Beetles had air-cooled engines not much different from the air-cooled engines that powered what you used to cut your grass with. The old Beetle didn’t have air conditioning and it wasn’t very speedy but it was very different by dint of being very affordable. Almost anyone could afford to buy it. Or you could buy something more evolved, which suited your needs and budget better.
Practically anything you might want was available – and you were free to choose it because the car companies were free to build it and offer it, if they thought there were probably enough people interested in buying it.
These expressed preferences determining what was available.
This was called the free market – and it existed (more or less) from the dawn of the automotive age at the beginning of the last century to nearly the end of it.
It does not exist any longer – which accounts for the uniformity of current cars. The market has not decided that all cars must look and actually be largely the same cars (modern cars are as functionally homogenous as they are aesthetically homogenous). That choice has been made for us by the government, which over a period of about 50 years gradually acquired the power to effectively winnow down the choices we’re allowed to make to size, color and the number of doors.
To be precise, it is the government bureaucracy that has winnowed down the choices available to us to those choices.
Which is not unlike the choice to receive the Jab or lose your job.
This is noteworthy because we are told we live in a democracy, which is to say a place where the people have the right to make choices and the government is bound to defer to them. But there is nothing democratic about the federal regulatory apparat, which is just a few people making choices for all the people.
Agencies such as the Department of Transportation issue uniform regulations that all car makers must abide by, irrespective of the expressed choices of the people buying cars – whose choices are never allowed to be made in the first place by dint of the regulations that preclude them.
You cannot buy a new car like the old Beetle – something very basic and thus very affordable – because the few who are the unelected regulatory apparat have decreed such cars may not be built. The interesting thing about that being no law specifying such a prohibition was ever passed by the people in this “democracy.” Rather, the regulatory bureaucracy – which is never obliged to submit itself to the choice of the people – issues regulations that serve the same purpose as a law, without the bother of having to pass a law.
The people be damned (with apologies to the phraseology of William Henry Vanderbilt, who actually meant a very different thing; the opposite thing, in fact, of today’s meaning).
It works very much like the way things work in an army, where the soldiers wear the same uniform and eat the same food and do the same things – with the difference being that they are under no illusions about having much choice.
For us, the facade of choice remains, when it comes to the cars we’re allowed to buy – and which the car companies are allowed to build. We can choose to buy a Toyota or a Chevy or a BMW. And they still let us pick the size and the color. Also the number of doors – though even that choice is winnowing, a function of the same regulatory pressure that is winnowing choices, generally.
You may have noticed that there is not much choice left in the way of sedans, for instance. And of cars, generally. Only a few car companies still sell cars at all – and there are only a few sedans (a form of car) still available. Superficially, it may appear that people prefer crossovers – the homogenized form of vehicle that is becoming the only form of vehicle we’re allowed to buy – because they are more versatile and thus more practical than sedans and cars, generally.
Which is true, but only superficially.
Why are sedans and cars generally less versatile and practical?
It is because of the choices made by the regulatory apparat that place a maximum priority on gas mileage rather than physical size, which has led to smaller sedans with smaller trunks that are much less versatile and practical than crossovers – which are shaped homogenously so as to maximize the amount of interior space available inside the box. The sedan shape can only be made more spacious by making it longer – and that means bigger and heavier, which means more engine – which means lower gas mileage, which the apparat makes more expensive, via fines for noncompliance with the ever-higher uniform “standards” it imposes.
The new standard – that all vehicles be electrified – via the imposition of regulations that winnow the choices available to build them otherwise and thus, for us to have the choice to buy something else – will leave us with very little choice to buy anything that isn’t an electric crossover.
The Universal Transportation Appliance.
Small, medium or large.
But we’ll probably still be allowed to choose the color.
. . .
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