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To ask the question of the usefulness of the automobile is to ask the question of the need that it generates and, more generally, of the relationship between the need and the machine, with this question: is it the machine that responds to human needs or the human who creates needs based on the machine? 

We make our life choices and activities based on the means of travel we have available to us. If we prefer the use of our legs or the bicycle, we can 

We will think about space according to our possibilities of displacement and will look for places of life closer, whether it is the children’s school, leisure or work, if it is possible for the latter. Thus, we will be reluctant to go and put our young child 5km away from our place of life when there is a local school 500 meters away. Some may say that the school 2km away is « better ». Of course, perhaps it will have a more interesting pedagogy, but isn’t that accepting a kind of social shopping made possible by the car, which carries the refusal of any localized change? Because if our neighbors do not have their children in the same school as ours, if they have delocalized leisure activities, there is something of the social link and of the struggle for change in our places of life that is lost; if I choose what suits me in an increased perimeter, I ratify the refusal to improve what could be improved near me, a profoundly individualistic logic to which we too often succumb. 

The machine is thus part of a larger movement of inversion of causes and effects. Just because you choose a school that is a long way to walk or bike doesn’t mean you need a car, but just because you have a car doesn’t mean you can choose a school that is far from your home. This inversion is sometimes blatant: some people, once they have a car, decide their destination according to their car. One person will eat in a restaurant 30 km from his home because he has a car; another will travel thousands of kilometers to go on vacation without even knowing the places near his home. In the same way as the exchange of goods, the individual reduced to the state of rolling merchandise, will make distance the objective of his movement, and no longer a means. 

Thus, a whole other world is set up where simple habits are modified and where, the more we use the machine, the more we feel we need it, the more we use it, the more it instrumentalizes us and enslaves us. From then on, it is often no longer the desire that dictates our choices but the possibilities of the machine that determine our desires. There may be a fantastic place to discover a few hundred kilometers away, easily accessible by public transportation, but getting there would deprive me of going further.  » I could have gone all the way to New-York « … and not doing so is then experienced as a lack, all the more glaring as the others display on their Facebook wall their distant peregrinations. Why spend a weekend in the Ardennes when a low cost flight would have allowed me to go on a city trip to Malta or Milan? When the machine determines the choice in this way, what is never thought of is the additional happiness that the new device brings. It is far from certain that a city-trip to Milan brings more than a weekend train ride in Pajottenland. An essential difference being that in the first case, the journey is not part of the trip. 

But let’s get back to the car. Once the subject is convinced that it is he who chose the car and not the industrial propaganda that chose it for him, he makes it an object that becomes a symbol of his freedom. We are obviously far from the time of the beginnings of the massification of the individual car when propagandists were able to admit the subterfuge of the car:  » The psychologists of Freud’s school, especially, have shown that our thoughts and actions are compensatory substitutes for desires that we have had to repress. In other words, we sometimes desire something, not because it is intrinsically valuable or useful, but because, unconsciously, we see it as a symbol of something else that we dare not admit to ourselves that we desire. A man who buys a car probably thinks that he needs it to get around, when deep down he might prefer not to bother with it and knows that it is better to walk to stay healthy. His envy is likely due to the fact that the car is also a status symbol, a proof of business success, a way to please his wife « (1).

One day, we will have to admit that we have been fooled. To finally change, individually and collectively.


Notes et références
  1. Bernays, E., Propaganda, comment manipuler l’opinion en démocratie, Éditions La Découverte, Paris, 2007, p.63.

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