The history of technological progress is, in large part, the history of speed. For centuries, scientists and engineers have tried to build faster means of transport to extend man's natural freedom of movement. And with their achievements have come economic, political, and cultural challenges.
Hannah Arendt wrote about progress and technology in The Human Condition. She deems technology a tool of emancipatory character that facilitates the growth and development of man in his different dimensions. She warned at the same time that scientism and modern technology could send us hurtling toward tyranny. For a while, the push for technological progress was a genuine push for progress. But progressives embraced environmentalism and gave rise to a new totalitarian threat: the "watermelon environmentalist" who is green on the outside, red on the inside. The threat posed by these types can be summed up in the creepy communist slogan of the WEF's Agenda 2030: "You'll own nothing, and you'll be happy".
Motivated by the watermelon left, governments and organizations such as the U.N. have declared war on the automobile. The only exceptions to their ire are electric vehicles, which millions of people in Europe and the United States have been forced to acquire, either by national regulations, bans on diesel-car circulation, institutional pressures, or state aid. And as the number of electric vehicles grows and the world surprises us with an unexpected energy crisis, charging the car has become not only a luxury expense, but is seen as a new threat to the planet's survival. The same people who have insisted that you buy an electric car to save the world from climate apocalypse are now asking you not to charge your electric car to minimize the risk of blackouts. Maybe the real point of the electric car was to restrict free movement.
When Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot built the first model of the fandier à vapeur in 1796, he sought to satisfy man's desire for autonomy and freedom. The only problem was that the machine didn't work. It was a three-wheeled model with a huge pressure-cooker at the front, which had to be fed with wood for 45 minutes to muster enough steam for the vehicle to move 5 kilometers per hour. Berta Benz, wife of inventor Carl Benz and investor in the project, has the honor of having made the first automobile trip in history, when she drove her children from Mannheim to Pforzheim, some 96 kilometers. On the way, she had to clean the carburetor with her hat clip and used her garters to protect a peeled cable.
The fascinating story of Henry Ford in the 20th century is better known. Ford revolutionized the history of transportation with his Ford Model T and his use of Fordism, the assembly-line-style production model
In the past, Fordism was applied to the mechanical industry. Today, it is apparently in force in the political sphere, as idiot politicians seem to be manufactured on an assembly line. Perhaps that explains the political madness we have experienced since the beginning of the 21st century on matters related to transportation and pollution. First, the watermelon left insisted that we abandon petrol—not because it pollutes more than diesel, but because diesel engines consume less. It was not just a recommendation; in some countries, governments harassed and coerced us to leave our old gasoline cars behind. Fortunately, in a short time, manufacturers managed to bring out diesel cars that equaled or even outperformed gasoline vehicles.
Another blow to freedom, in light of legislation that would ban gas-powered vehicles, came last spring in Europe, when the European Parliament voted to ban the sale of cars and commercial vehicles that use gasoline, diesel, or hybrid engines. In other words, in just over ten years, it will only be possible to buy electric cars that politicians will be able to force us to turn off as supposed energy threats appear.
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It is not clear whether all of these moves are intended to return us to Middle Ages-level technology, or whether they are intended simply to increase the power of the government and undermine the individual. The "ecological crisis" that supposedly necessitates these actions is a handy excuse for progressives to seize control.
The problem was rightly defined years ago by P. J. O'Rourke. Neither the legislators nor the activists have the slightest idea of what they are doing. "The college idealists who fill the ranks of the environmental movement seem willing to do absolutely anything to save the biosphere," O'Rourke said, "except take science courses and learn something about it."
This New Urbanism series is supported by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Follow New Urbs on Twitter for a feed dedicated to TAC’s coverage of cities, urbanism, and place.