Beatification by Toyota

July 15th, 2007  |  Published in etc

Emily Bazelon of Slate asks “Is our family annoying because we own a Prius?” This mention of a poll in the NYT set off her fretting:

“According to a marketing survey (which the Times ran in a graphic I couldn’t hide from), more buyers bought the Prius this year because it ‘makes a statement about me’ (57 percent) than because of its better gas mileage (36 percent) or lower carbon dioxide emissions (25 percent) or new technology (7 percent).”

Because one of the local news stations went out once and did interviews with owners of the Prius’ diametric opposite, the Hummer, we have grounds for an unscientific comparison.

Hummer owners confronted by reporters asking why they bought their vehicles stammered out reasons like “the snow” and “I need the cargo space” and “handling on rough roads.” None of them seemed to register the irony of providing the answers they did in front of a Best Buy in Beaverton, and not a one said “Because my Hummer conveys a sort of callous brutality I want people to know about me.”

O.k. That was cheap. But if 57 percent of Prius owners are willing to admit that their car purchases were made at least in part to make a statement about themselves, I want my next car to be a Prius. The model evidently uses the energy savings it provides to fuel some modicum of personal honesty not to be found elsewhere.

Then there’s this passage from Bazelon:

“I want to make sure [my children] never utter the kid version of the sort of overbearing environmentalism exemplified by this New Yorker quote: ‘I do daily yoga with my wife. We live in an energy-efficient house with solar-panel appliances. We use organic linens and towels. We try to ride bikes to work.’ Don’t you want to punch this guy? I do.”

No. I don’t. Someone asked the interviewee about his lifestyle. He answered. I’d want to punch him if he came in my house uninvited, maybe carrying a weapon, and not to tout organic linens but to take all my stuff. Or maybe if he came to tout organic linens regardless of how much I begged him to just leave, then stood over my non-solar toaster clucking and hectoring and keeping me from getting at the microwave. I still doubt I’d punch him. I might want to, though, so you’d have me there.

I think it’s “overbearing” to her because it’s further than she wants to go. To the extent the list of virtuous behaviors wasn’t followed up with “unlike all the people who hate our planet,” it’s hard to find any effrontery worth even metaphorical violence.

But how do you have a democracy when people are so thin-skinned they can’t even read someone else making an assertion about a personal choice without conflating the assertion with confrontation?

Maybe the short answer is that you can’t.

Maybe there are too many of us, we’re too stressed out and paranoid, and the political language is too escalated for citizens to undertake the simple work of exchanging ideas with each other, unless it’s done at a safe remove.

That seems like a bad way for things to be.

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