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Can We Be Proud Of The Global Car Industry?

Illustration for article titled Can We Be Proud Of The Global Car Industry?

Auto manufacturing is an over one trillion dollar industry that does the very important jobs of (1) keeping a good percentage of the world's population busy from 9 to 5 and (2) giving us machines to zip around in. But can we, as humans, really be proud of what it produces?

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I normally think abut the car industry, as a whole, in a positive light. When it comes to all of the inventions ever produced by humankind, I like to think that cars are right up by the top. Cars have granted the world's population a degree of mobility and independence never before seen. Trains, ships, planes, dirigibles, motorcycles - they all have been nowhere near as effective or wide-reaching as automobiles when it comes to increasing the global population's mobility.

But a line by rifraphy in response to Jason's question about 'what car would you show off to aliens' made me wonder.

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This article is excellent, and I applaud the author.

It ideally explains why I like cars. Cars are everything that's good about humans. Cars are a representation of everything.

Although to be honest I think sending them a car would give them false hope. When they buzz down here and find all the bad stuff - and let's be honest, there's a lot of it - they'll be disappointed.

This has me wondering, can I really be proud of the global car industry? As a whole, it's very good at building very marketable vehicles that make a lot of money, but are they really as good as they can be for the wellbeing for humankind? This isn't just a question of safety or pollution - are today's cars something we can be proud of as humans? Are they really demonstrative of the best technology we have to offer as a population? Does the typical car show off our ability to produce speed, comfort and design we've never reached before? Are our cars representative of the fact that we, as a people, are at the pinnacle of our technological development?

I would say no. What about you?

Photo Credit: Getty Images (VWs and Audis ready to be shipped out of Wolfsburg pictured)

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DISCUSSION

Roland Barthes is still correct.

Here's what he said on the occasion of the launch of the Citroën DS:

I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.

To be more explicit: the car industry consumed more resources than any other - from iron ore to imagination, from bitumen to ingenuity - in the pursuit of an illusion of individual freedom. It is obscene and magnificent in equal measure; 'proud' isn't really the word.