Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Ghost of Henry Ford

How much are inventors responsible for the aftermath of their creations? I’m sure that William Winchester inventing his rifle could not have imagined the AK 47’s gunning down innocent children in school or the rise of the NRA. That whoever made the first explosives would be aghast at the latest news from Pakistan or Brussels. That Philo T. Farnsworth working in his Green St. laboratory in San Francisco to create television could never have dreamed about Fox News, the shopping channel or Reality TV.

What would Henry Ford have thought if he shared the taxi with me in Bangkok or Manila or Singapore? Spent an hour and a half traveling a few short miles in bumper-to-bumper traffic at 10 o’clock at night? Would he have thought twice if he could have known about an endangered ozone layer looking like Swiss cheese from stalled traffic with air conditioners blaring? Would he have wondered about the stress and anxiety of 24/7 traffic-snarled- streets and just opted to keep the status quo of horse and buggies? Or invested in bicycles?

It’s true that Mr. Ford is responsible for some great pleasures. Making out in the back seat in Lover’s Lane or the Drive-in Movie, visiting grandma and grandpa out on Long Island and the exhilarating freedom of the Kerouackian “Road Trip!” It would be hard to lose one’s virginity on the back of a horse and the wagon train bumpy road trip was certainly more grueling than fun. But were those few pleasures worth the price?

American culture has long been arrogant about our standard of living, pitying those poor Europeans riding in trains, those hundreds of thousands of Chinese riding bicycles or those nomads on camels or horses. “If only the rest of the world could live like us” was our strange notion of progress and in a short 30 years or so, it has become true with a vengeance. So many of the Asian cities I’ve visited are choked day and night with traffic. (Tokyo, with its amazing subway system, a bit of an exception.) It’s bad enough the sheer numbers of cars and the effect of gas guzzling, but it all gets multiplied geometrically when it takes a gallon of gas to move a half-mile down the road. With air conditioning on. With rush hour at all hours. If Americans have cars, then all the world should have them. Yet cars times seven billion is a bad ecological and human health equation. To put it mildly.

Henry Ford, what hast thou wrought?!

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