Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Automobile and Happiness

I'm convinced that the invention of the automobile has led to a great deal of unhappiness. After a steady stream of technological precursors, the automobile finally freed man from the last bonds of daily toil. And he hasn't been happy since.

There's something decidedly uncomfortable about driving a car and working in an office. Ask yourself, "Does it feel right?" Muscles have been evolving on Earth for hundreds of millions of years, only to be tossed aside as obsolete in the last hundred. This is not how the vast majority of human beings, much less mammals, have felt as they lived out their lives. The discomfort of driving extends to the mind. Automobiles allow us to escape from our environment to an insular and artificial one. But we are very much not free inside a car; we are much of the time stuck helplessly in traffic and all of the time compelled to think about driving. Lastly, physical strength was one thing that made men useful to women. I would be willing to bet there's an inverse correlation between marriage longevity and use of an automobile. Do women not agree that easy life has left men altogether less necessary than they once seemed to be? And man did this to himself!

The answer to the problem is not to freeze technology—progress is an inspiring and beautiful thing. Our transportation paradigm is critical to our economic output, which gives us the food and medicine to survive, and the science and technology to explore the cosmos. No, the answer will require far more creative and subtle ways of integrating physical and mental struggle.


  1. "No, the answer will require far more creative and subtle ways of integrating physical and mental struggle."

    How about a "such as ..."?
    I've got no idea where you're going with that.

    Andrew W

  2. Well first of all, I'm not implying anything coercive. I think a lot of people would choose arrange their lives in ways that require physical labor beyond just going to the gym. The problem with the gym is that you can just decide to skip it at the last minute. A lot of goals, however, are achieved because people make it very inconvenient to bail out when the going gets tough. Signing up for classes or taking on an "unnecessary" job are two examples of that.

    I imagine that all-walking or biking communities would be attractive to some people. It would only work, though, if the entire community was organized based on certain methods of transport. If you look at Venice, there are no cars allowed on the island except for emergency vehicles. I don't like the idea of restrictions on the government level, though, so this only makes sense to me as a change based on voluntary association.

  3. Here's how I see how progress has changed human activities.

    Historically Human day-to-day activity had both physical and intellectual components. Progress has seen much of the physical nature of human activity diminish because with technology thus far it has been easier to replaced the physical component of that day-to-day activity; the industrial revolution was about using energy sources available in nature to do physical work, early on that actually required fit people to feed the machines, but more recently comfort in the work place and ever cheaper machinery has reduced the need for fit workers, as an example, it used to be that truck drivers had to be very fit people to steer, load and unload their trucks, today people in that occupation are often very unfit because there's power steering and machines to do the loading and unloading. So cars are just a small component of the changes we've seen.

    What I find interesting is; what happens as machines start to take over a larger share of the intellectual component of human activity? Do we humans get sidelined, or do we get a balance closer to what we evolved with, or do we end up with something else?

    Andrew W

  4. Ive often wondered if people would be happier living simple lives, living off the land sustainably. After the industrial revolution we really cut our ways with nature, has there been any studies done on depression before and after? these days everyone is popping pills just to feel normal due to the stress of our daily lives, in being stuck in our cars, in the office, watching tv and playing video games. Maybe the Amish have it right, who is one to say until they have tried both ways?

    I do also believe women dont respect their men as much anymore due to their seditary life style, not being able to fix up the house and not being able to physically dominate them is an issue, there is a reason why men and women were built differntly.....
    Good Blog

  5. I would not be surprised if depression is more common now than it was in pre-industrial times. But, nowadays we have much more wealth and medical technology to fix sickness and physical injury. So, I'd say life back then could be good--if you were lucky enough to stay physically healthy and safe!

    Also, I believe some Amish have tried it both ways. I thought that as young adults they go out into regular America for a year or two and then decide whether to return home.