Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Usually this blog is dedicated to releasing one relentless progressive meme after another (along with the occasional otter video). But today I wanted to present a few thoughts that run counter to traditional progressive thinking. In each case I would ask you to kindly hold your ire until after reading my explanation.

1. From an individual perspective, the case can be made that perhaps Hummers were a rational choice for some people during the era of $2 gasoline (and inexpensive steel). If you lived in LA (or NY or Chicago) where you rarely drive more than 5 miles an hour and are stuck in traffic for hours at a time, it made a certain amount of sense to travel around in a little mobile house. In LA traffic everyone basically occupies the same square footage in length -- Hummers just build vertically on top of that. Furthermore, given the ever present danger of death or disability from a collision (which we all assume every time we get in a car) it made a certain amount of sense to travel around in a little steel fortress. From a collective perspective they probably never made sense -- they started a vehicular arms race that introduced ever bigger and heavier (and more lethal) cars to the road while also increasing pollution. And the era of cheap gas is over so Hummers will probably never make sense again (even on an individual level) -- better to get out of the car altogether and take public transportation (which was always the better solution all along). So I guess I'm saying they made short term sense on an individual level for some people during a brief period in history -- which really isn't much of an argument at all.

2. McMansions can be a rational choice. It seems to me that the biggest costs in construction are the land and labor of bringing a crew out. If you are going to be building on a site anyway, one may as well build two stories as just one. I gotta figure the marginal cost per square foot of the additional story is less than the cost per square foot if one just builds one story. Furthermore, in many neighborhoods -- after one or two generations -- single story houses are often converted to two story houses. I bet one could even make the case that building a two story house in the first place uses less materials and costs less over time than building a single story and then later adding on to it.

3. I wonder if the rise of the iPod is actually a worrisome sign. Yeah we love the sleek little iPod. But it's a shift from the collective to the individual. Back in the day people invested in stereos. Stereos are, by definition, collective music devices. Stereos are designed for collective gatherings like parties or simply sharing music in the presence of other people. iPods by contrast are individual listening devices. iPods seem to make sense if one is on public transportation or in a shared living space or in a shared work space. And yes I know that increasingly manufacturers are making devices to play iPods out of larger speakers. I just feel like iPods give us a sense of being able to hang on to the music (and our way of life) even as, in fact, our standard of living is shrinking all around us -- as we live in smaller and more crowded spaces and feel increasingly isolated and disconnected even in the midst of community.

4. The rise of twitter perhaps is also an indicator of a decline in our standard of living. It seems to me that twitter makes sense if you are chained to your desk in a job that takes all of your time (which is incredibly common these days). In that case, twitter is a way to stay connected to friends virtually even though you don't have time to connect with them actually. Twitter is also great for cell phones -- but the irony is that it creates a situation where we are out and about -- with the chance to interact with real people -- and we're still chained to a device that takes us out of the potential for human action all around us. I love some of these tools but I've yet to find a tool that makes me feel anywhere near as good as I do by being around people.

Okay I guess points 1 and 2 contradict points 3 and 4 (Hummers and McMansions also increase isolation and disconnection -- so I should not have given them as pass on that). Duly noted. I'm prepared to be proven wrong on each of these other points as well (I guess that's how growth happens). Just for the record, I hate Hummers, want a McMansion (there, I said it!), have an iPod, and don't use twitter (so it's not like I'm consistent either).

Now we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

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