One of our esteemed correspondents found this text on the well-known SafeSpeed website.
It was posted there by a gentleman who calls himself DeltaF. We think he's got his head screwed on, and he expresses himself with pith and vigour (that's a compliment, in case you weren't sure) so we've lifted almost the whole thing …
by DeltaF, Tuesday 10th July 2007
Freedom has two aspects: the freedom from things we don't like (such as oppressive laws), and the freedom to do things that we do like (such as driving our cars).
In Britain for several decades most people have tacitly assumed that freedom is guaranteed to continue for ever. This complacency is one reason why there has been so much hollowing-out of freedom. Our freedom is hollowed-out when the powers-that-be rob us of what lies at the heart of freedom, while allowing us to keep the empty shell. For instance, they may try to confine our freedom into particular areas of life that pose few threats to the status quo. But freedom is not all about shopping and sex. It goes much deeper than a free choice amongst soap operas or designer labels.
Freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of action and freedom of movement are major freedoms with big implications for anyone who seeks to exercise freedom and anyone who seeks to restrict freedom. However, some anti-car campaigners seem to imagine that freedom of movement can be restricted without anything important being lost.
One of the most significant freedoms is the freedom to do things which well-organised campaigners such as the anti-car movement vociferously oppose.
Dumbing-down is incompatible with freedom, because it keeps us ignorant about what is possible in life, and what freedom we can have.
We need to make full use of our freedoms. Otherwise, the powers-that-be may come to think that losing our freedoms wouldn't bother us.
Politicians have a well-developed sense of their own importance. However, their fame and power are generally short-lived. Most of them are utterly forgotten only a few years after their political career has come to an end. This should give us confidence when confronting them.
Inevitably, politicians live in a media-saturated world and lose contact with ordinary people who have no great interest in politics. Politicians thus could easily gain the impression that the anti-car views expressed on TV, on radio and in the newspapers are the views of an overwhelming majority of voters. We need to correct this impression.
Some politicians (the more pretentious ones) stake a claim to the moral high ground when they promote and pursue anti-car policies. This claim does not stand up to scrutiny. Most of their anti-car policies are essentially about power and money - that is, increasing the power of politicians and bureaucrats and fashionable pressure-groups over us, and depriving us of even more of our money.
Other politicians who impose anti-car policies on us justify their actions by saying that they are democratically implementing what they promised in their election manifesto. But the decision of millions of people, to use their cars day by day, is far more democratic than a one-off ballot held a few months or a few years ago.
Whatever policy the politicians come up with, their PRopaganda will trumpet that it was a brilliant idea and its implementation has been a resounding success. That is, unless everyone can see that it was a disaster - and in that case, the propaganda will claim that it was a brilliant idea that ran into trouble due to unforeseen circumstances.
Politicians are weather-vanes. If the direction of the wind changes, they will obediently swing round, while assuring us that they have done no such thing.
Politicians are not friends of people who like to travel by car, but they are people with whom we can do business.
Environmentalism has become a false religion. In the media, many TV reporters, interviewers and continuity announcers give environmentalists the same reverential treatment that bishops and archbishops were granted in the 1950s.
In environmentalist thinking we find analogies (intentional or unintentional) with Christian doctrine about sin, guilt, sacrifice and salvation (the slogan "Save the planet!" is one aspect of this). Many environmentalists are nostalgic for a golden age that never existed, or obsessed with the prospect of creating an everlasting golden age in the future - and they are willing to take drastic steps so as to hasten, or re-create, the golden age. In these respects, environmentalism is an echo of Marxism. Far from ushering in a golden age, environmentalism threatens to plunge us deeper into the mire of regulation and legalism.
The followers of environmentalism have two myths to tell us, and these myths are not entirely compatible:
Myth one is that we shall bring about hell on earth by excessive consumption of natural resources, especially the fossil fuels used by cars.
Myth two is that we are in danger of running out of natural resources, especially the fossil fuels used by cars.
Critique of myth one: this myth is much heard at international conferences held in luxurious conference-centres. At such events it is often propagated by delegates who could participate only by making a journey of hundreds or thousands of miles, and who shuttle between the conference-centre and their five-star hotels in a fleet of limousines. Clearly, such people either do not believe the myth that they preach, or do not believe that it is relevant to themselves.
We rarely hear suggestions that half-empty buses, trains and aircraft are wasting fossil fuels, or that we ought to decommission our manufacturing industries, or take fewer hot showers, or shut down our gas-fired central heating and our gas cookers. The car is hypocritically singled out.
One aspect of the myth is that if we detect any changes (real or imagined, welcome or unwelcome) to the climate in any part of the world, those changes must be attributable to our consumption of natural resources - to CO2 emissions especially, and to emissions from cars in particular. The underlying assumption is that everything that happens on planet Earth must be the consequence of human action. Perhaps we should adopt a less inflated view of what human action can and does achieve. In other contexts, we doubt the sanity of people who insistently attribute everything to some single all-powerful cause.
Critique of myth two: one of the ideas underlying this myth is that natural resources exist in fixed quantities which must (since they are being used up) become smaller and smaller as time goes by. This is absurd. The types and the quantities of natural resources available to us are very much dependent on our ingenuity and on the technology that we can deploy.
The world is not going to run out of fossil fuels, or liquid hydrocarbon fuels, any time soon.
In many parts of the world there are vast reserves of coal, which some governments have chosen to turn their backs on. Technology for producing liquid hydrocarbon fuels from coal has been available for many years: it was used by Germany in the Second World War, and has been used by South Africa since the days of apartheid. In the Athabasca tar sands in Canada, there is estimated to be the equivalent of 280-300 billion barrels of recoverable oil, which is more than the Saudi reserves of crude oil in liquid form. This estimate does not take account of tar sands from which oil cannot be recovered using current technology. (Source: Petroleum Economist.) There are substitutes for fossil fuels, in the form of organic fuels such as biodiesel, biogas and methanol. The use of these renewable fuels will tend to slow the rate at which the reserves of fossil fuels are depleted. The ultimate source of the energy in renewable organic fuels is the sun, which is expected to continue shining for a very long time.
Use of the internet can reduce the demand for travel, and thereby save vast amounts of energy - including energy from fossil fuels.
Hydrogen-based technologies such as fuel cells are expected to come on stream in the medium term. The ultimate source of energy in these technologies can be fossil fuels, or a renewable source whether organic or non-organic.
What sort of society?
Bureaucrats en masse, more by accident than by design, have risen to a position of unaccountable power and influence, similar to the position of trades union shop stewards and officials in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of us can tell a story of how bureaucrats prevented us from doing something that we very reasonably wanted to do; or of how they did something or forced us to do something which, again very reasonably, we did not want done. Others of us have experience of legal proceedings where the only ultimate beneficiaries were the well-paid solicitors and barristers; or of crass business decisions whose rationale was pandering to the short-termism of the institutional investors who dominate the stock market. More and more, it seems that everything in Britain is set up as best suits the interests of the rich and powerful and well-connected.
In Whitehall, the mandarin culture of complacency, arrogance and secretiveness is alive and well. I am sure you don't need to be reminded about the Matrix Churchill affair, the contamination of the water-supply at Camelford, BSE/variant CJD, depleted uranium, GM food, and foot-and-mouth. These are of course only the high-profile cases that everyone knows about.
In the administration of justice, liberties that we once took for granted have been diminished by the restriction of the right to trial by jury, and by the authorities having much more frequent recourse to the civil law in which cases are decided on the balance of probabilities, rather than to the criminal law in which guilt has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt. At some point on this illiberal road, and probably not very far down it, we must surely cease to be the kind of society that supposedly we are trying to protect.
A highly-regulated, dumbed-down society soon becomes one in which there is less and less possibility of any rational discourse between those who govern and those who are governed - and that rational discourse is something our society urgently needs more of.
Marketing, journalism, public administration, scientific research, politics and show-business are coalescing into a single world of glitz and brand-image, where nothing is real except the money and the fame.
We are witnessing a dangerous decline in the respect that our institutions accord to the individual: the false and arrogant assumption underlying the surveillance is that it is very much the business of the powers-that-be to know what kind of people we are, and what we choose to do with our lives, and to know these things in as much detail as they see fit. The authorities seem terrified at the thought that we might do things of which they would not approve, or things of which some highly vocal but unrepresentative pressure-group would not approve. ... Surveillance technology has a great deal to do with projecting power at a distance, and its pervasive, systematic use in the long term may well steer the majority of people in the direction of being more cautious, more conformist, and more deferential to authority. Taking all this to its logical conclusion, even the optimistic scenario is that Britain would become a bland, sterile, Singapore-style society: one whose citizens were free to accumulate money and possessions, but not free to do very much else - a society in which every attempted deviation (good or bad) from officially-sanctioned behaviour would swiftly and effectively be forestalled. ... Why should we imagine that our open, liberal society is somehow guaranteed to continue for ever? No doubt we have been lulled into a false sense of security, after a long period of time in which our rulers were, by historical standards, remarkably tolerant and benevolent.
Even though the sweeping powers of the police are intended for use in fighting serious crime, we should remember that, to paraphrase Lord Acton, power tends to corrupt, and sweeping powers tend to corrupt sweepingly.
What sort of transport?
My particular interest in all this is road transport. I write as someone enthusiastic both about cars and about the opportunities and freedoms that the widespread ownership of cars has conferred on millions of us in Britain.
In the never-ending process of determining what freedom we have and what freedom we should have, road-users (particularly those who drive cars) have been granted a front-line rôle which they never sought and which they find unwelcome. It is difficult to think of any aspect of life in Britain upon which so much extra surveillance, restriction and regulation has been heaped in recent years as it has upon motor vehicles and those who drive them. We are all familiar with road closures, speed humps, width restrictors, superfluous mini-roundabouts, additional traffic lights and other junction "improvements" that impede (and may have been intended to impede) the flow of traffic, wheel-clamping, controlled parking zones in residential areas - and this is far from being an exhaustive list. No prominent politician seems ever to argue in favour of our having more freedom to use our cars. A goodly number of prominent politicians frequently argue in favour of restricting the freedom to use cars. Other than in the ghetto of car magazines and the few motoring programmes on TV, the case for freedom of movement by car is never presented in the media.
Much of today's anti-car propaganda echoes racist propaganda of decades past: "They're dirty/noisy/dangerous, and there are simply too many of them." One can also make analogies between the policy of apartheid formerly pursued in South Africa, and the divisive, restrictive anti-car policies pursued in Britain in the 1990s and 2000s: for instance the reduction in the road-space available for cars, resulting from the increase in the number of bus lanes - which are now found on motorways as well as on urban roads. Another kind of divisive measure awaits us, in the form of city-centre tolls and eventually perhaps in the form of a comprehensive system of electronic road-pricing which city-centre tolls are probably meant as a first step towards. There are several reasons why we should oppose tolls, one of them being that they will be a regressive form of taxation. Wealthy people will easily be able to afford tolls, but people on lower incomes will not; in consequence, on tolled roads we shall see, proportionately, more S-class Mercedes but fewer Ford Escorts.
I don't think that cars are the solution to all transport problems, any more than bicycles, trams or airliners are the solution to all transport problems. However, in the world of the internet, where with each successive year fewer and fewer businesses will need to be housed in city centres or in any particular location, and more people will be able to work at home, it must be doubtful whether we should be investing billions in providing additional capacity on public transport rail, tram and tube systems designed to shuttle large numbers of people from the suburbs to the city each morning, and back home each evening. ... A more flexible system of transport, suited to a decentralised and networked world rather than wedded to the centralised and linear model of 20th-century industrial society, must surely be our goal. With any foreseeable technology, a more flexible system of transport will road-based, not rail-based.
None of the above should be taken as a plea for libertarianism, either on our roads or elsewhere. Libertarianism implies a highly optimistic view of human nature, which is a view I do not share. However, it is precisely because human nature is so fallible that the present concentration of power in the hands of unaccountable élites is so dangerous.
What sort of measures?
I don't have a detailed blueprint for solving all the problems in our society. However, I am sure that any solution to our fundamental problems must involve a large transfer of power away from the institutions that have usurped it, and back to individual citizens and their democratically accountable representatives.
The powers-that-be often put forward arguments or reasons to justify what they do when their actions would otherwise seem outrageous. These justifications are usually hypocritical.
In the past, justifications such as "The king commands it", or "This is the will of God" were frequently used. These justifications have lost their power to convince, and have been replaced by others.
Nowadays we hear:-
"This will increase efficiency"
"This is all part of living in a globalised world"
"This is required for security reasons"
"This will help the fight against crime"
"This will preserve the environment"
Hypocritical justifications should be exposed for what they are, and the underlying motivations should be brought to light. These underlying motivations may be:-
"This will concentrate power in our hands"
"This makes us look good/wise/progressive"
"This will buy off an influential pressure-group"
"This is a favour we owe, in return for a big donation"
"This will make our jobs secure for life"
"This will give us a nice warm glow of self-importance"
Also keep an eye open for hypocritical behaviour. Some people in the anti-car movement loudly advocate coercive methods to force other people onto public transport, but themselves drive above-average mileages - or are driven everywhere by their chauffeurs.
One especially hypocritical claim sometimes made is that road-tolls are necessary so as to fund improvements to our transport infrastructure - as though road-users were not already subjected to taxation far in excess of what is spent on our transport infrastructure.
A bureaucrat aims first and foremost to consolidate and expand his bureaucratic empire. Restrictions and controls are most welcome to him, because these things help justify why we have so many bureaucrats now and why we need so many in future. This is one reason why bureaucrats have a limitless appetite for intervening in our lives.
Bureaucrats like regulation to be complicated. Simple regulation does not help expand the bureaucratic empire enough. A skilful bureaucrat can use salami tactics (i.e. deliberate scopecreep) with a view to turning simple regulation into complicated regulation.
Politicians come and go, as a result of elections, but bureaucrats were never elected to their positions and never have to put themselves up for re-election.
Bureaucrats occasionally forget themselves and express contempt, in public, for the views and aspirations of ordinary people. But their actions often make it clear that they feel such contempt even when they do not express it.
Regulation benefits regulators first and foremost. Some regulation brings some benefit to the rest of us. But even when regulation is bringing no benefit, or is doing harm, the regulators draw their salaries and enjoy the trappings of power.
Whenever a problem (real or imagined) in society is identified, the solutions put forward by politicians and the media are almost always defined in terms of new laws, tighter controls, more regulation, and new bureaucratic structures.
It is much better for our lives to be governed by our values, rather than by regulation.
Regulation tends to proliferate without limit unless we take firm action to curb it. In other words, there is a ratchet effect. If regulation continued to proliferate, ultimately the whole of life would consist of complying with regulations. There would be no time and no scope to do anything else - and therefore no freedom.
Politicians have occasionally promised deregulation, but so far they have hardly begun to deliver on their promises. Serious deregulation would entail Parliament and other law-making bodies spending much of their time repealing old laws rather than passing new ones.
The anti car movement
People have various motives for behaving in the ways they do. The anti-car movement is a coalition of all sorts of people. Some are ascetics, people who believe that pleasure is sinful. They are horrified or disgusted by the fact that cars can be beautiful, luxurious, and pleasurable to own and to drive (asceticism has been around for a very long time, in many forms. Some people adopt it as a strategy for coping with feelings of guilt about the success and prosperity of Western society - a success and prosperity in which we all share to a greater or lesser degree).
Some are authoritarians who cannot stomach the freedom to go where we please, when we please, that the car has bestowed on us. There are many such people in the police.
Some are bureaucrats who see anti-car policies as a way of expanding their own powers and prerogatives.
Some are eco-fundamentalists, worshippers of the Green God. To be opposed to technology is part of their religion. They oppose the car because it is one of the most visible and beneficial aspects of a technological society. If they got their way and cars were banned, they would start working towards a ban on something else technological. We cannot appease eco-fundamentalists, any more than our forefathers could appease Fascists in the 1930s.
Some are elitists who want to stop other people driving cars so that there will be more room on the roads for their own cars. They hope that taxes and tolls will price all the riff-raff off the roads.
Some are political extremists whose plans came to nothing when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Trades Unions were emasculated. They restored purpose to their lives by joining the anti-car movement.
Some are feminists who oppose the car because they see it as a symbol of masculine aggression and dominance (they ignore the inconvenient fact that lots of women like cars, and some men don't).
Some are grudge-bearers - a member of their family, or a friend of theirs, may have died or been injured in a road accident. Their reaction is understandable, and we should treat them sympathetically. But they are as misguided as if, on the basis of a bad experience with one person from Ruritania, they bore a grudge against all Ruritanians. Grudge-bearers often bear a burden of self-imposed guilt in addition to their grudge. They would like to offload this burden onto road-users. But their attempt is doomed to failure - ordinary human beings have no power to shoulder the burden of someone else's guilt. Other grudge-bearers, sad to say, are simply out for revenge.
Some are megalomaniacs, people who have a passion for grandiose schemes or isms that they want to inflict on everyone. Such people often rise to the top of bureaucracies and other organisations where there is little or no democratic check on them. Some of them, for all that we live in a democracy, become prominent politicians.
Some are narrow-minded people who want others to conform to their views and their behaviour ("If I don't have a car, or if I use my car only in some particular way that suits me, why should anyone else be different?").
Some are neo-Malthusians, people who have half-understood the writings of Thomas Malthus. They hold the over-simplified view that growth and progress cannot be sustained and so must lead society towards disaster. Time and time again, what happens in the real world has given the lie to neo-Malthusian ideas.
Some are tax-and-spend politicians who see the motorist as the goose that lays the golden egg. They don't want to ban cars altogether, because that would be like killing the goose. Instead, they want the goose to lay bigger golden eggs, and lay them more often.
Some are the public transport lobby with a different hat on. They may earn their living from buses, trams and trains, or they may simply be enthusiastic about them. Self-interest, or misguided loyalty, makes them anti-car.
Some are slaves of fashion. They oppose freedom of movement because it is unfashionable, and support anti-car policies because they are fashionable. There are many such people in the media.
Most anti-car campaigners belong to more than one of these categories, and they may or may not realise what their true motives are.
Some anti-car campaigners are prime movers in their campaign; others are what Lenin described as useful idiots - people whose motives may be good but whose minds are blinkered, and who are manipulated and exploited by the prime movers. With a cynicism equal to that of Lenin, the more unscrupulous prime movers eagerly recruit children to their cause, and indoctrinate them so that they will serve as "useful idiots". Some of these cynics pretend that they espouse anti-car policies purely on the grounds of child welfare.
In the past, one of the guarantees of our freedom of movement was that the powers-that-be did not know much about where we went or what we did, and could not easily find out. The widespread introduction of surveillance technology is quickly eroding that guarantee.
More and more surveillance cameras scan the roads, 24 hours a day. However, what has been installed so far is (in general) only the first stage. Much more powerful and intrusive surveillance technology is being introduced, which makes use of image processing software to recognise car number plates and people's faces without any need for human intervention.
Vehicles can also be tracked by satellite, using GPS technology, with a high degree of precision.
Increasingly, the powers-that-be will be able to know more and more about our comings and goings (from and to where, when, how, and with whom).
The powers-that-be exercise surveillance over us, but try to stop us from exercising any surveillance over them.
Surveillance technology can help produce a more compliant and subservient population, one that cannot step out of line (even for the best of reasons) without the powers-that-be knowing about it. This is incompatible with freedom.
It is highly likely that the people who will have us under surveillance will be the very last kind of people that should be allowed to have anyone under surveillance.
Knowing more about us, the powers-that-be will be tempted to seek more control over us. They are already looking beyond the world of surveillance and towards a world of remote control, exemplified by the ISA (Intelligent Speed Adaptation) system whose development is now well advanced.
The powers that be
Who are the powers-that-be? The answer depends on the situation.
For instance, a judge has wide-ranging powers in court, but he is subject to the power of a ticket-inspector if found travelling on a train without having paid the fare. And both of them are subject to the power of a tax inspector when they have to fill in their income-tax returns.
In any situation, it is usually clear who is wielding the power, and who is being subjected to that power.
Some people are powerful in their own right, but most people who wield power can do so only because the power has been delegated to them.
In the context of road transport, it is generally bureaucrats and police officers who are the powers-that-be. Theoretically, they wield only the power delegated to them by politicians and the state, but in practice they have great latitude to act as they see fit.
Power is not good or evil. But the purposes that the power is used for, and the results of the power being used, can be good or evil.
The powers-that-be often put forward justifications for what they do. These justifications usually contain a large dose of hypocrisy.
Throughout history, the powers-that-be have usually been neither wise nor benevolent.
Prisoners of language
Language is not a neutral medium in which we express our thoughts. On the contrary, the words we use will tend to govern our thoughts in all sorts of ways.
Anti-car campaigners, politicians and bureaucrats use all kinds of loaded expressions. Some of these expressions imply that travelling by car is immoral. Others are intended to deceive and mislead us in more subtle ways. For instance:-
The freedom to use our cars to go where we want, when we want, is described as Car-dependency.
Road-tolls are described as Congestion Charges.
Short-cuts and back doubles are described as Rat-runs (watch out for alliteration - it can often be a substitute for clear thinking, or a catchy slogan behind which an ulterior motive is being hidden.)
Speed cameras are described as Safety Cameras.
Surveillance cameras are described as Security Cameras.
Turning a road into a spine-jarring obstacle course is described as Traffic-calming.
Making it inconvenient (or impossible) to drive a car through a given area is described as Traffic Management.
Everyone in Britain is now subject to four or five levels of government. These levels are: local, regional, national, European, and global. Each level consists of democratically elected politicians, plus an unelected bureaucracy. (The exception is the global level of government - we do not have elections for the UN or the WTO.) This complicated system of government is excellent for politicians who want to disclaim responsibility for anything bad or unpopular. For instance, anti-car policies devised by higher levels of government are often left to be implemented by lower levels.
The voters at an election cannot choose directly between policies. Instead, they are restricted to choosing between candidates or political parties. A political party usually requires its candidates to support all the main policies of the party. The policies of a party are determined by the leaders or by the activists - a small number of people. Consequently, there is very little democracy in policy-making even though we have frequent elections that all the politicians (half-truthfully) say are democratic.
Generally, opinion polls about policy options attempt to manipulate the democratic process rather than to find out what the public wants.
The law and legalism
The law can liberate - though it rarely does. This is especially true on our roads.
It is much better to be subject to law than to live in anarchy, or to be subject to arbitrary government. But nowadays we are not so much subject to law, as subject to an unjust and legalistic system that enriches lawyers and empowers bureaucrats and the police.
There is sometimes an overlap between what the law lays down, and common-sense ideas of justice and fairness. But very often there is no such overlap, and there may often be a direct contradiction.
Legalism is defined as "excessive adherence to the letter of the law". Anyone who follows the path of legalism soon loses sight of the values on which the rule of law was originally based. This losing sight of underlying values and principles is one aspect of the bureaucratic mentality, but the problem is not confined to bureaucrats.
Enforcement of the law should not be an end in itself, nor a profit-oriented business, but should be a means of implementing justice and upholding our freedom.
Legalism on our roads is particularly oppressive in the way that speed limits and parking controls are enforced.
If politicians follow anti-car policies, we should not vote for them.
But if politicians come along who promise to follow car-friendly policies, should we vote for them? Before deciding whether to vote for such politicians, we need to ask ourselves a few questions:
Do we believe that the promises have been made sincerely? Are the promises too good to be true? If they seem too good to be true, they probably are. If we believe that the promises have been made sincerely, is it likely that, after the election, these politicians will be in a position to deliver on the promises? If they are not in power after the election, they cannot deliver. If they are in power they may still not deliver, due to constraints of time and money. We must take account not only of a politician's promises but also of:
his prospects of gaining or retaining power
the constraints on his power.
The state and its scope
Let's first distinguish between the government (that is, the politicians who happen to be in power at any given moment) and the state (that is, the system of institutions and laws by which the country is governed).
For a long time, the state has tended to involve itself in more and more areas of our lives, and to monitor what we do in ever-greater detail. In the world of management, the term scopecreep is employed to describe how a task or a job or a project will tend to expand its scope far beyond what was originally envisaged, unless that scope is kept under firm control. We can see an equivalent scopecreep in the rôles of many organisations, particularly the larger ones, but most especially in the rôle of the state.
Scopecreep in the rôle of the state is mainly due to the way that bureaucrats and politicians cannot resist serving their own interests. This scopecreep has probably been accelerated by the encroachment of business principles and business methods into the public sector. A private-sector business is normally subject to the disciplines of the marketplace, but the institutions of the state are very imperfectly controlled by these disciplines.
The scope of the state is a moral question, a question of values. Some people talk about the nanny state, but that term is inaccurate, because a nanny really does know better than the children who are in her charge - and we are not children. A better term is the busybody state.
Very little that we see on TV or hear on the radio, and very little that we read in the newspapers, is quite what it is made out to be. Even when something appears to be spontaneous, it probably has been stage-managed.
Much so-called news is nothing more than recycling of propaganda that lobbyists and government departments have created and distributed. The media regurgitate this propaganda uncritically, and without making it clear where the material has come from. In this way, the media have become allies of those people who want to restrict freedom of movement.
In general, radio and TV are anti-car. Outside the ghetto of motoring programmes on TV, the case for the car is hardly ever allowed to be broadcast (on the rare occasions when the case for the car is broadcast, it is usually treated as an "Aunt Sally" - set up only so that it can be knocked down). Supposedly realistic TV programmes use sensationalised video footage to imply that people who drive cars can be relied on to behave irresponsibly.
More and more, society suffers from the "TV illusions" :-
If something has been shown on TV, then surely it must have happened.
But if something hasn't been shown on TV, then surely it can't have happened.
And if a point of view isn't receiving favourable exposure on TV, then surely only a tiny minority can support that point of view.
Most newspapers that seek to be read by intellectuals are wholeheartedly anti-car (except in their Motoring sections that are full of lucrative advertising for the very products that the editorial pages decry). Mass-market newspapers are half-heartedly anti-car.
Motoring magazines occasionally put the case for the car, but they are read by few people who do not already like cars. However, motoring magazines tend to be product-oriented, concentrating on telling us about what cars and car-related gadgets we can buy (this is understandable - like the newspapers, they could not survive in their present form without the revenue from advertising).
In general, journalists are not much interested in printing or broadcasting the truth. What they are always after is a good story - some juicy scandal, or some startling revelation. They go in for eye-catching headlines even when (or especially when) the facts do not justify them.
The demand for travel
The internet is making many journeys obsolete. This is particularly true of journeys related to work and shopping.
Providing broadband internet access in most people's homes would do more to cut traffic congestion than could be achieved by a whole heap of restrictive measures.
It is not only some journeys by car that are becoming obsolete. Using the internet can replace journeys by bicycle, bus, train, and aircraft - and even journeys made on foot.
Buses and trains do a good job of taking people from the suburbs of a town to the centre of that town and then back again, or from the centre of one city to the centre of another. For other types of journey, they are uncompetitive. Nonetheless, whenever long-term transport plans are unveiled, the media are quick to report (or invent) complaints that the plans are biased against buses and trains, or not sufficiently biased against the car.
In the world of the internet, the importance of city centres is set to decline. Prestige office-blocks in prime locations are becoming expensive luxuries that we can do without.
In a world where fewer and fewer journey need to be made by any means of transport, it would be both rational and popular for politicians and bureaucrats to make it easier and cheaper for us to travel by car. They will do no such thing unless we say loud and clear that this is what we want - and then back up our words with our votes at election-time.
Propaganda (a.k.a. PR, or public relations) is one of the great evils of our time. Truthful propaganda is very rare. Most propaganda consists of disinformation - that is, information intended to deceive or mislead. A steady stream of disinformation can lead people to believe all sorts of things that are questionable or simply untrue.
There are various techniques of falsehood that are used in propaganda:-
Sometimes we are told outright lies - but this is not so common as some people think. Lying propaganda is usually less effective than subtly deceitful propaganda.
Sometimes we are told half-truths - truth and falsehood mixed together. Sometimes we are told half of the truth - when the half we are not told is the more important half.
Sometimes we are told a slanted version of the truth - slanted because it uses loaded expressions (see also Prisoners of language).
Sometimes we are told things that are perfectly true in themselves, but are misleading if we don't know the full context. This is one of the subtler forms of disinformation.
There is a barely-concealed bargain between the media and propagandists. In return for helping to disseminate propaganda, the media continue to be supplied with plenty of it, to help fill their printed pages and their broadcasting schedules.
At present, there is no democratic accountability in the way that bureaucrats are appointed, promoted, and removed.
Modest proposal 1 is that senior bureaucrats responsible for road transport at each level of government should be elected, by a postal ballot of everyone who holds a driving licence and is resident in the town, region, country or other area where those bureaucrats hold office. The bureaucrats should be elected for a period not longer than three years, but should be eligible for re-election.
At present, there are many traffic offences that can be committed by the driver of a moving vehicle.
Modest proposal 2 is that the law should be simplified so that "driving dangerously" would be the only traffic offence for the driver of a moving vehicle.
This would be a significant step away from legalism.
The GOS says: Hear, hear!
In the light of what DeltaF says, it seems appropriate to draw your attention to this recent newspaper report …
"Labour faces being kicked out of office by angry motorists if it continues to 'unfairly demonise' the car, a top Government adviser warned today. Families are 'rebelling' against unfair car taxes, restrictions on their freedoms, and attacks on 4x4s and luxury cars by politicians and campaigners driven by 'ideological dogma' rather than hard-facts, Richard Parry-Jones claimed.
"Mr Parry-Jones was appointed by the government to look at how technology can be used to cut pollution. But the former Ford Motor Company executive turned on his new employers yesterday urging them to stop the war on the motorist. Unfair motoring taxes and attacks of family runarounds were the result of 'muddled thinking' based on prejudice and dogma rather than hard scientific facts, he said. 'If you price consumers out of their cars, they will probably throw you out at the next election,' he said.
"He added that Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his ministers must 're-assess the political bias against cars'. He accepted that cars did have some impact on climate change - but pointed out that they represented only 8per cent of the problem while appearing to get 100 per cent of the blame. Tax raised from motorists and motoring was 'disproportionately high', he said.
"Mr Parry-Jones is a world-renowned motor industry expert who has just been appointed as a ministerial adviser to John Hutton's Department for Business. He is chairing Mr Hutton's Automotive Industry Growth Team, looking at how to create 'greener' cars and cut costs. His speech follows a visit this week by Mr Brown, Mr Hutton, and Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly to the British International Motor Show in London's Docklands where the PM met motor industry bosses to discuss 'green' cars. Mr Parry-Jones recently retired as chief technical officer and head of research at Ford.
"He said politicians must carry the confidence of Britain's 30 million voting motorists if they want achieve or maintain office: 'If politicians go too fast, ultimately they get detached from the electorate and get thrown out.'
"He noted 'What on Earth are we doing allowing our elected representatives to decide for us what we should be allowed or encouraged to drive, or what should be banned or penalised in the name of climate change?'"
Yes, what indeed? But as to the likelihood of the government falling just because it has viciously targeted motorists, dream on, Mr.Parry-Jones. Would that it were so.
Certainly the government has targeted motorists. Certainly motorists are fed up with it. Certainly motorists are being blamed for global warming which, if it exists at all, is almost certainly a natural phenomenon (see yesterday's post), and certainly a government that persists in victimising substantial portions of its electorate deserves not just to fall, but to find itself in the dock facing a jail sentence for fraud and the misuse of power.
But governments have a habit of surviving such things. Blair lied and cheated and went back on his word, but when called to account was always able to just shrug it off.
Think back to Margaret Thatcher. Some still applaud her strength and determination, but some of the things she did were dreadful. She decimated the mining industry and destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of miners. She embroiled us in an impractical war which was conducted with heroism by the armed forces and turned out rather well in the end, but could so easily have been a hideous disaster. She set the privatisation ball rolling and thus stole away from the ownership of the British people billions of poundsworth of property.
And did any of these things bring about her downfall? She didn't even resign promptly when forced to abandon the Poll Tax because of the violent opposition to it, although it certainly played a part in her eventual demise.
But what really brought her down in the end was the ambition and jealousy of her fellow politicians. And to this day our political system is so arranged (by politicians, of course) that the only thing politicians have to fear is not the law, not the media, not the public, but other politicians.
In other words, we're stuffed.
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