December 07, 2004
Too much fat in the argument?
Why is the idea of treating SUVs like guns (or guns like SUVs) so preposterous that it can only be written about in satirical terms? And what is it about shame that makes the whole thing so incapable of logical analysis? I'm wondering about similarities between the shaming SUV owners (scolding them about wasted fuel, oil spills, and conspicuous consumption), and whether that's grounded in the same mentality as the shame typically directed against gun owners (what passes as a safety issue -- children might be killed, you might get depressed and kill yourself, the burglar might use your gun against you, etc.)
I mean, why aren't safety arguments directed against SUV owners? How would it sound?
"If you drive an SUV, you're more likely to kill other people if you have an accident than if you drive a small car!"
"SUVs are more likely to overturn and kill the occupants!"
"You're more likely to run over your own child with an SUV because you have less visibility!"
Instead, they scold about the environment, but the scolding quickly escalates to an ad hominem level of rudeness.
Isn't that a moralistic expression directly evocative of gluttony -- (one of the seven deadly sins)? SUV drivers are equated with gluttons who get in everybody's way and consume more of their "fair share." Yet the traditional glutton is someone who eats too much. A fatty!
Yet wouldn't publicly scolding a fat person by calling him or her a "glutton" be considered the height of rudeness? I certainly wouldn't do that, and I wouldn't call an SUV driver a glutton either. But the nature of the attack is the same, which means I must delve deeper -- to get past the fat.
I try not to be a moralist, and to the extent that I am, I try to limit it to casting moral judgments on myself and not other people. If I get fat or I spend too much money, or use too much gasoline, that's my business and my problem and I have just as much right to be hard on myself as I want. But if a friend or neighbor does these things, it's not my business unless I am asked for advice. (Even then, I'd hesitate, because it might be interpreted as rudeness.)
But for the sake of this argument, let's assume that consuming "too much" food and consuming "too much" gas are both gluttonous activities. Why should the latter be considered the more reprehensible? I haven't seen bumperstickers against fat people, nor have I seen editorials blaming the obese for food shortages. While there are health advisories about how Americans have become too fat, they don't take on the same moral tone as the imprecations hurled at SUV owners.
Might it be that eating too much food is seen as involuntary, while driving an SUV is seen as a voluntary act? Eating is an addiction, but driving is an evil? I'm not sure how much sense that makes, really. Why can't driving be seen as an addictive activity just as much as eating or gambling? Certainly, driving is a necessity for many people who work.
And what about fear? Many SUV drivers drive them because they are big, and offer more protection in case of accidents. Is this the same thing as eating too much? How is it morally worse to do something out of fear than it is to eat too much for the pleasure of eating or to fuel a food addiction?
Looking at the overall picture, I really can't see a moral argument against SUVs which is any stronger than any moral argument against overeating. So, what's with the scolding? Behavior modification by cultural busybodies? It's about as fair as telling homosexuals that they're selfish for not having children.
(And about as much someone else's business.)
However, if we give the communitarians their due, perhaps (if we're all in it together) there's some moral responsibility to other people not to eat irresponsibly, to use gasoline irresponsibly, even to screw irresponsibly.
Why single out SUVs for the moral lectures? As I pointed out previously, the Northeast consumes far too much fuel. And if morality includes the risk of death, the argument could be made that SUV drivers are behaving not in a less but in a more morally responsible manner:
In 1999 USA Today analyzed federal crash data and concluded that 46,000 people had died because of the shift to smaller, lighter autos. This research is backed by a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health by Leonard Evans, on staff at the Vehicle Analysis and Dynamics Laboratory at the General Motors Research and Development Center in Warren, Michigan.If we could save just one life?
How many people are killed in accidents with SUVS, anyway? According to Dan Ackman, writing in Forbes, it's 5,579.
And how about eating? According to the BBC the numbers are a bit larger:
....400,000 deaths in the US in the year 2000.Again, I don't want to be a scold; I'm just trying to weigh the arguments.
posted by Eric on 12.07.04 at 09:37 AM
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