Friday, December 01, 2006

Cars and blogs

Over the Thanksgiving weekend we rented the animated film “Cars”, which, like all Pixar productions, was excellent. Something about the emotional feel of the movie, however, has had me pondering about many a political and/or blog discussion.

Central to the plot of “Cars” is the story of the small towns on Route 66 that became ghost towns overnight when the Interstates opened. As one character says, “Bypassed to save ten minutes.” The movie, and even more the director’s commentary, spoke of an entire lifestyle lost.
The interviews of the people who lived along Rte. 66 were poignant- but it struck me that they were oblivious to the fact that Rte. 66 and her sisters had themselves been the death knell of another way of life, the passenger railroad.
“Good morning America, how are you?
Don’t you know me- I’m you’re native son.
I am the train they call the City of New Orleans;
I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done.”

A further bit of irony is that Arlo Guthrie and all the others (like my wife) who lamented the passing of the railroads were just as oblivious to the fact that they, too, had destroyed a way of life- the Stagecoach lines. The first generation of ghost towns in America were created by the railroads who didn’t need to stop for food and water as often as the stagecoach; wide-spot-in-the-road towns were “Bypassed to save ten minutes.”

It struck me that this was a basic principle to many an argument. Don’t like WalMart because it drives under the local supermarket and department store? Well, that same supermarket had shed no tears for the single purpose green grocer, butcher and baker it had driven out; the department store had no pity for the single purpose haberdasher, tailor, toy store and appliance dealer it replaced. Worried about losing the manufacturing base? Those factories didn’t worry about the smithies and cottage industries they ruined. Shedding a tear for that historic downtown theater, restaurant or bar that’s closing? I’ll bet you don’t know or care what had been bulldozed before to build it. Worried about the “browning” of America, because our immigrants no longer come from Northern Europe? You’re probably not as worried as the Native Americans had been about the “Whitening” of America.

We cannot allow public policy to be driven by this generation’s nostalgia; change has occurred in the past and will happen again. It’s only natural to fear the future- as both Shakespeare and Captain Kirk have said, it is “The Undiscovered Country.” Ways of life will in fact be lost; we must face that- as our forefather had to. If we allow ourselves to be guided by any principle other than the greater good, we betray mankind for nothing more than a very temporary extension of our current comfort zone.

P.S. If anyone is keeping track, this is my 100th blog entry!


Anonymous said...

"If we allow ourselves to be guided by any principle other than the greater good, we betray mankind for nothing more than a very temporary extension of our current comfort zone."

I dare say that I can see a totalitarian society saying something like this to justify its policies and pogroms. . . Who decided what the greater good is Joel? This principle can seriously backfire and I expect that it has in terms of the U*U religious community's decision to totally betray the principles of U*Uism in favor of what some U*Us believed was "the greater good". . . Unfortunately this betrayal of U*U principles, in a deeply misguided effort to serve a false and even quite delusional perception of "the greater good", has not provided anything more than a very temporary extension of the "comfort zone" of U*Us. . . The day may be coming when U*Uism is something of a *dusty* old "ghost town" itself. . .

Joel Monka said...

The second half of your post borders on non-topical, as I'm unaware that the greater good was a stated reason for your problems.

As to the first part, you raise a valid concern. my answer is that as long as the people are deciding the greater good, we're safe. In the examples I gave, it was the decisions of the individual consumers that drove the results- nobody forced us to bypass Rt 66, we are the ones who decided to save the extra drive time. WalMart is huge because the people shop there, not because the government dictated that we do so. In both cases we knew full well we were killing off entire industries, but it was our decision.

My fear is that some people allow mostalgia or fear to deny useful change. Look at the opposition to NAFTA- it was all based on fear, Pat Buchannon saying "That giant sucking sound is all our jobs moving south". They're still saying it today, despite the fact that employment and the stock market are at all time highs, and South Americans are still streaming north to find the jobs Pat said had gone South.

Here in Indiana we didn't observe daylight Savings Time until just this year because of nostalgia for our farming lifestyle... but it cost the state tens of thousands of jobs. And now that the state legislature has changed hands in the recent election, they're talking about repealing it. Is our bucolic, corn-fed image worth all the unemployment? I say no.

Anonymous said...

Who said anything about "the greater good" having to be "stated" reason Joel? Lot's of underlying reasons for doing things go unsaid. . .

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie, "Cars," a few weeks ago and when it was over, I said something very similar to the other people I was with (though I didn't elaborate as much). We all agreed that nostalgia is not always true to history.

I do, however, think we should be careful and thoughtful about what it is we are losing, particularly when it comes to things like architecture. I do think our consumerist culture lends itself to a disposable sort of way of thinking. The reason I instinctively reject that is because it is wasteful. My impulse generally is to modify or improve what is existing before tearing it down completely (note: I don't necessarily feel this way about abstract constructions).

But little towns have always come and gone. Little towns tend to be based on one economy, and when the economy changes, the town has to as, well.

All that being said, the movie was hilarious. The voice acting was excellent.

Joel Monka said...

Yes, the voice acting was particularly good in "Cars"- Pixar films always look so good that sometimes we forget to mention when the voice actors do a really excellent job, and they surely did that time.

M.D. Shellhammer said...

Congrats on your 100th post. Your blog is very insightful, and I will visit often!