Judging from what I am reading all over the political map, I suspect that autonomous cars are the new Juiceroo.
A lot more people are skeptical about self-driving cars or Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) since the recent killing of Elaine Herzberg by an Uber SUV, not just the usual gang objecting to progress and modernity or us bike riding left wing pinko urbanists who hate cars. In fact, worry about AVs comes from all parts of the political spectrum. Writing in the very conservative American Conservative, Matthew Robare sounds like a serious pinko urbanist in his post Self-Driving Cars and the Hostile Takeover of Our Streets. He recognizes that Herzberg’s death was “little different from the other 30,000 or so deaths of pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists that will occur this year as a result of automobiles”- the cost of doing business in the USA.
The conservative luminary Russell Kirk called cars “mechanical Jacobins.”[LA: seriously worth reading] While Kirk’s all-too-brief 1962 essay concerned the automobile’s effect on culture, the car has been at its most revolutionary in overturning common law, in exiling people to narrow or non-existent sidewalks and, in truly totalitarian fashion, running over all who resist.
Robare goes over the the story of how this happened, how the auto makers “exiled people from the streets and overturned common law decisions: Now it would be up to the pedestrian or cyclist to avoid getting hit; pedestrians could be fined for walking against the lights or crossing the street outside of the crosswalk.” He concludes with a paragraph that doesn’t sound like an American Conservative to me:
The technical issues involved in Herzberg’s death may or may not be solved by AV engineers—and even if they are, it won’t matter. The fundamental safety flaw in the automobile has never been human error, but the shared attitude of traffic engineers, automakers, politicians, and drivers: this is a culture that prioritizes the speed, convenience, and storage of automobiles over human lives, human flourishing, and human justice.
Just to be fair and balanced, we have also the view from Rebel Metropolis, which “chronicles the ongoing work of people to shape urban space and protect wilderness, the current bicycle resurgence against car culture, and the Right to the City movement.” They write that Driverless Cars Will Be Allowed to Kill Us, Because Capitalism Is A Death Cult.
They raise the question that we have too: who are these things for? They believe that the auto industry is trying to deal with its shrinking audience (the kids want bikes!) and is grasping at straws and inventing a product with no real market.
But capitalism has never been about responding to actual market demand. It has always been about extracting wealth from labor, creating monopolies, and lying to consumers about the things they supposedly cannot live without…The capitalists are dumping billions into technology to do something totally unnecessary, that most can do with a vehicle that uses tech 200 years old. We need to stop these arrogant technocrats who’ve made clear their willingness to put profit over people.
See you in the streets.
Both Matthew Robare in the American Conservative and our very pinko writer in Rebel Metropolis are really saying the same thing: Whether driven by people or robots, cars are cars and they have taken over our cities. It is time to figure out an alternative to them that takes back the streets.