What do the acolytes of the State want to ban this week? Which bootlace eyelet will they lubricate with eager spittle? Oh, the usual stuff. Fun. Your fun. Vox writer Dylan Matthews twittered his demands, and they’re quite ordinary — except for one new requirement. See if you can spot it.
I want really high taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and sugar. I want to ban human drivers ASAP. And I want gun control. It’s not an either/or.— Dylan Matthews (@dylanmatt) October 2, 2015
Let’s make this happen, people. Higher taxes on sugar are necessary for all the usual reasons: Other people eat too much, other people are too fat, and fat people are gross — except when we’re celebrating the diversity of body images and struggling against all the media images beamed into our cerebral cortex by the orbital brainwashing machinery. Then fat is beautiful!
If it’s genetic. If you got fat from soda, then you’re a sad-sack pawn of King Fructose. If only high-fructose corn syrup was made by fracking, these people could save time by hating one thing twice as hard instead of diluting their bile amongst two. Although they always seem to have sufficient hate to go around. It’s a renewable resource.
Anyway. Alcohol must be taxed because other people drink too much, or perhaps just because Matthews doesn’t want people to drink at all. I guess if you make it expensive or difficult to obtain, people will just shrug and say, “Well, it’s a sarsaparilla for me, then.” Look at the late Soviet Union, which attempted to cut down on drinking with the usual government tools, and people did indeed drink less vodka. They drank more lighter fluid flavored with industrial lubricants, yes, but less vodka.
It goes without saying that tobacco taxes should be readjusted according to his Puritan metric; remember, he wants them to be “really high.” If you do not think they are really high today then you are, perhaps, really high. Note: Really high taxes on weed would be bad, because . . . uh, because? I don’t know, it’s like, they just would. Who ordered the pizza? Did you? You forgot? Oh Man Come on Man.
All this wonderful new revenue should be offered with gratitude to the State, because the State has graciously accepted the responsibility of paying for the results of eating and drinking and smoking. Thus the State should have a say in what you do, because the State cares. That company that makes ten cents a pack from cigarettes: Merchants of Death. The State that makes $4.76 in taxes per pack: a loving mother.
You hope the Democrats take Matthews’s advice; you want Bernie Sanders to totter up to the podium and rail about the perils of reasonably inexpensive beer. Be my guest. In any case, the tweet was rather rote, for the Left. Higher taxes, you say. There’s a stunner. It’s like Salon calling for trigger-warning labels on bananas and corn cobs because of their coded assertion of the phallocracy. Par for the course. (Speaking of which, let’s tax golf!)
Never mind the line about guns. Again, tell me something new. It’s the penultimate demand that’s the most revealing. “I want to ban human drivers ASAP.” This does not stand for “A Silly Asinine Proposal.” It’s a sign of the new enlightened man, who has identified — correctly — the interior of the automobile as the last place where one can go about one’s business and do what one wishes. Right now there is a man in a large car who is smoking a cigarette and drinking a Coke, and possibly listening to a talk-radio show that’s ginning up the Benghazi Hoax for the 600th day. We can tax the jeebus out of the items he ingests, but he’ll still have that big car, which (1) will make the oceans rise like the gorge of a New York Times reporter sent to cover NASCAR for the Style section, and (2) allows the driver to live anywhere he wants and go where he pleases.
It baffles the mind that these things are still allowed.
So we must ban human drivers. We need to do it ASAP. Once we have the technology, and self-driving cars are available, Wham! Down comes another tranche of glorious laws to forbid people from manipulating their own possessions in a manner that suits them. This would require everyone to sell their cars, I guess, except no one would buy them. So the state would buy them from you, perhaps, and give you a voucher to buy a little Google put-put that does 50 mph, unless the U.N.’s daily Carbon Report decides that India belched out a bit too much CO2 yesterday, and everyone has to do 42 mph between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., after which you can wind ’er up to 45 mph, if you don’t mind your cheeks rippling from G-forces.
Would the ban be for cities only, or for everyone? Would rural North Dakotans have to trade in their pick-ups for dinky bugs, or be required to retrofit their old trusty Chevys for self-driving units? Oh, what a madcap movie someone could make about the gubmint man who has to go to Elk Groin, Mont., and tell the lads down at the garage that they can’t drive their trucks anymore. Let me give you a web address with information about the new laws, fellas, and you can see how it’s just win-win for everybody. Amused at first, the locals decide to humor the fellow, and show him all the quirky joys of small-town life, and he becomes enchanted by a free-spirited woman who raises horses and drives big trucks, and takes him for a wild midnight ride where speeds exceed the legal limit. He goes back to the regional office, a changed man, his heart full of newfound admiration for the ways of these independent people and their curious, outmoded, backwards attachment to “shifting” and “steering” and all those old folkways. He starts to write a report about how the ban shouldn’t be applied to these people, but then shrugs and realizes he has a job review coming up, so he sends the IRS a memo: “You might want to audit all these people.”
You might think that’s a lot to get out of a tweet, but it reminded me of something I saw in a BuzzFeed article about self-driving cars, and why they’re awesome. The author, Mat Honan, made a good case, and I was right with him until the end, when the mask slipped and the Angry Man — whose excess of certainties is balanced by his deficit of wisdom — came snarling out.
Cars are giant, inefficient, planet-and-people-killing death machines. Self-driving cars — especially if they are operated as fleets and you only use one when you need it, summoning it Uber-style — would mean we could have fewer vehicles per person, less traffic congestion, less pollution, far fewer vehicles produced per year (thus lowering the environmental impact of production), and, best of all, safer streets. The blind, people with epilepsy, quadriplegics, and all manner of others who today have difficulty ferrying themselves around as they go through the mundanities of an average day will be liberated. Eliminating the automobile’s need for a human pilot will be a positive thing for society.
So go f*** a tailpipe if you love cars so much. Your love for cars doesn’t supersede the lives of 1.2 million people who die in automobile accidents every year. It’s not more important than the energy savings we’ll get from not manufacturing 60 million or so vehicles every year that spend most of their time idle. Turned off. Parked.
Yes, parked like barnacles on the hull of the good ship Gaia. The 1.2 million figure is worldwide; nationally, it was 32,000 in 2013. The fatality rate per 100 million is half what it was in 1990. In 1972, 54,000 people died — in a country with 100 million fewer people. But those are just statistics, and they are irrelevant, because go f*** a tailpipe if you love cars so much.
It is not enough to welcome the possibilities and opportunities of self-driving cars. The old order must be swept away, because go f*** a tailpipe. The pleasures of driving must be dumped in the dustbin with other pleasures of life that have fallen out of favor, like pie or a cigar, because go f*** a tailpipe. We need a BAN and we need Laws enforced by officers of the state with guns, and by the way, f*** the police and guns are bad, but we’ll be fine with cops pulling black people over 24/7 because driving your own car is now probable cause, because go f*** a tailpipe.
If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot, stamping on the floor where once there was an accelerator pedal, forever.
— James Lileks is a columnist for National Review Online.